Dr. Tiebout felt that he was an early pioneer in coupling the principles and philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous with psychiatric knowledge of alcoholism. He was a strong supporter of A.A. throughout his life, and he persistently worked for acceptance of his views concerning alcoholism by the medical and psychiatric professions.
Dr. Tiebout was chairman of the A.A. front group called the National Council on Alcoholism (which later morphed into the NCADD) in 1950, and served on the Board of Trustees for Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. from 1957 to 1966.
Dr. Tiebout was also Bill Wilson's psychiatrist, and he treated Bill for many years. In the mid-nineteen-forties, Bill went into a deep fit of chronic clinical depression that lasted for more than eleven years.
Dr. Tiebout criticized Bill Wilson by saying that he had been trying to live out the infantilely grandiose demands of "His Majesty the Baby." Most of the simplistic, stereotypical ideas that Tiebout had about just what an alcoholic was came from Tiebout's study of Bill Wilson.
In 1950, Dr. Tiebout became the leader of the National Council on Alcoholism. A.A. traditions state that A.A. will not engage in any "outside controversy," so A.A. uses front organizations like ASAM — the American Society of Addiction Medicine, NCADD — the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, and NAADAC — the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, to engage in public controversy for it. The NCADD was originally named the NCA (the National Council on Alcoholism), and it was founded by Marty Mann, the first woman to get and stay sober in A.A., and authoress of the Big Book chapter "Women Suffer Too." Ms. Mann saw the need for an organization to publicize and promote Alcoholics Anonymous, so she started NCA, and Dr. Tiebout was chairman of it in 1950.
Dr. Tiebout ran an alcoholic treatment program at Blythewood Sanitarium, a residential treatment facility in Greenwich, Connecticut. Back in 1939, he had Ms. Marty Mann as a patient when he received a multilith copy of the first edition of the A.A. book Alcoholics Anonymous. He gave it to Marty Mann to read, and she was converted, and became a true believer in A.A., as she described in her autobiographical story in the second edition of the Big Book.
Apparently, Dr. Tiebout was converted and became a true believer too, because he decided that tormenting patients into surrendering was a wonderful way to treat alcoholism.
Dr. Tiebout was insane, of course.
Here is a letter written by Dr. Tiebout, back in the early nineteen-fifties, where he explains the use of the Twelve Steps to break down people's wills, and make them surrender to the cult:
Now let's go through that again, slowly, piece by piece, and see what the Doctor is really saying.
For reasons still obscure, the program and the fellowship of A.A. could cause a surrender, which in turn would lead to a period of no drinking. It became ever more apparent that in everyone's psyche there existed an unconquerable ego which bitterly opposed any thought of defeat. Until that ego was somehow reduced or rendered ineffective, no likelihood of surrender could be anticipated.
This is ridiculous on the face of it. Dr. Tiebout was a psychiatrist, supposedly a competent, experienced psychiatrist. He should not have been mystified by how any cult could use rapid conversion techniques, mind-control techniques, and "brainwashing" to get people to surrender to the cult. In fact, I don't think that he was mystified at all. Rather, he just didn't want to admit to us that he knew full well how to torture people into submission, and that that's what he was doing. So he said that it was all a big mysterious miracle, how people surrender, for reasons still obscure...
To say that we all have an "unconquerable ego" is a gross distortion. Our ego is our concept of ourselves. It is an idea, our idea of who and what we are; what we believe we are, as seen through our own eyes. We can't just stop having any idea of what we are. We must have an ego at all times, if we are to be functional human beings. We can't get out of bed in the morning, dress ourselves, and make a cup of coffee without having a functioning ego. The only people who don't have a functioning ego are some mentally ill people, who are invariably institutionalized, because they are totally incapable of caring for themselves, and a few very rare saints who have transcended ego by becoming cosmically conscious.
We have to give Dr. Tiebout the benefit of the doubt here: in another one of his papers, "Ego Factors in Surrender in Alcoholism", he redefined ego as it suited his purposes:
Use of the word "ego" involves always the possibility of confusion of meaning. For a time, therefore, I considered a substitute term. That idea was set aside because, despite possible misinterpretation, the word ego is current in everyday language in exactly the sense in which it will be employed in this discussion. The expression, "he has an inflated ego," is self-explanatory. It evokes the picture of a pompous, self-important, strutting individual whose inferiorities are masked by a surface assurance. Such a person appears thick-skinned, insensitive, nearly impervious [sic.] to the existence of others, a completely self-centered individual who plows unthinkingly through life, intent on gathering unto himself all the comforts and satisfactions available. He is generally considered the epitome of selfishness, and there the matter rests.
It's very curious that the Doctor said that he wished to discard the professional
medical or psychiatric meaning of the word "ego," and use
the street slang meaning of the word instead. That is very unprofessional,
and downright odd, especially when his "Ego Factors"
paper was targeted at other doctors.
You don't usually hear doctors in a hospital saying that they want to
discard their precise medical language and start using street slang
while discussing patients' cases and their treatment.
What Dr. Tiebout was really doing there was embracing Bill Wilson's erroneous definition of "ego." Perhaps Dr. Tiebout wished to save Mr. Wilson the embarrassment of being told that all of his raving about "ego" was wrong. When Dr. Tiebout embraced Wilson's ideas about ego, he also made exactly the same mistake as Wilson did: he stereotyped alcoholics. He declared that they are all alike, and that all alcoholics have inflated egos, and that they are all "pompous, self-important, strutting" fools. That is simply untrue, totally untrue. Just go to any A.A. meeting, and you will see that far more people are nervous and insecure than are arrogant and egotistical.
But Bill Wilson really did suffer from a hugely inflated ego — he had a messianic complex and delusions of grandeur, and a Narcissistic Personality Disorder, too. Bill Wilson really did need some "ego reduction."
So Bill did some psychological projection and declared that everyone else needed their ego shrunk. And Dr. Tiebout agreed. Bill's behavior was actually very typical of a cult leader: The SOS Europe web site had a great description of cults that included these lines:
A frequent tactic by cult leaders is to divert attention from their own sins by accusing others inside or outside their organization of the very crimes of which they themselves are guilty. (In psychology, this is called "projection.")
It's funny that Dr. Tiebout was unable to clearly see Bill Wilson's obvious psychiatric problems. Dr. Silkworth can be forgiven for not diagnosing Bill Wilson as crazy; he honestly stated that he wasn't a psychiatrist, and that he did not know what had happened to Bill while he was in Towns Hospital, and flipped out on the belladonna cure and saw God. But Dr. Tiebout was a psychiatrist. It's hard to imagine that Dr. Tiebout could not see what was going on, and recognize Bill Wilson's "spiritual" delusions of grandeur for what they were. But, rather than correctly diagnose Bill's obvious delusions and messianic complex and treat the problem, Dr. Tiebout chose to agree with Bill about everything, and let the cult farce continue. Dr. Tiebout adopted Bill's definition of "ego" and also adopted Bill's stereotypical description of the alcoholic.
Dr. Tiebout stereotyped alcoholics as arrogant, undisciplined egotists:
Now that certainly sounds like a guy whom you wouldn't mind kicking. (It is both amusing and tragic that the alcoholic whom Dr. Tiebout studied most, to get all of those ideas about bad alcoholics, was Bill Wilson.)
Other doctors have commented that a "one-size-fits-all" treatment program is a good way to kill a lot of patients. Nevertheless, that was what Dr. Harry Tiebout had in mind for all alcoholics. He did not bother to ask whether any particular alcoholic patient had a massively inflated ego, or a bad inferiority complex, or neither. Dr. Tiebout just wanted to crush all of their egos, whether they needed it or not. Dr. Tiebout must have loved the old Greek story of Procrustes and his bed — stretch the short guests, and chop the feet off of the tall ones, to make them all fit the same bed.
The process of converting someone into a cult member is a process of breaking down their old ego, and making them build a new ego, which is "good cult member." (Please note that I am using the proper psychiatric definition of ego here: a person's concept of himself or herself.) The convert will come to see himself as a cult member, and will redefine himself in cult terms, and will also reinterpret all of his old memories of his previous life in cult terms. This is a very standard part of the conversion process, any conversion, cult religion or otherwise.
But note that at no time does the convert have "no ego". He simply changes his self-image, his idea of what he is, from one thing to another thing during the conversion process. And his self-esteem may well go way down, because most cults deliberately subvert the convert's self-respect and self-confidence, in order to make him more obedient and amenable to surrender to the cult. But the convert still has an ego, a fully functioning ego, throughout the whole process.
Thus, to say that a person had an "unconquerable ego which bitterly opposed any thought of defeat" is a misnomer and a gross distortion of the facts. It isn't ego. We may well have a strong will that resists defeat or destruction or oppression, but that is will, not ego. But saying that we must deflate someone's ego sounds far more innocent than saying that we must break someone's will to resist, doesn't it?
"Ego reduction" ends up being a euphemism for destroying one's self-respect, self-confidence, and ability to think and act independently. In other words, destroying their ability to resist cult indoctrination and conversion.
And of course we are "bitterly opposed [to] any thought of defeat." No normal, healthy, sane person wants to be "conquered", "defeated", "reduced", or enslaved.
And it is not some new, great medical discovery, "becoming ever more apparent," that people are not likely to surrender to you unless you can somehow beat them down. It is very old knowledge. Ask any old tyrant.
Dr. Tiebout said, "Until that ego was somehow reduced or rendered ineffective, no likelihood of surrender could be anticipated." No surprise there. But the "somehow reduced or rendered ineffective" part, now that is curious. Just what did the Doctor do there? What kind of "therapy" or torture do you use to render someone's ego ineffective?
Last but certainly not least, Dr. Tiebout began by saying that
"A.A. could cause a surrender, which in turn would lead to
a period of no drinking."
There is no established connection between any surrender and any
temporary period of sobriety — and Dr. Tiebout never gave
any hard evidence of any such connection. That is, he conducted no
with controls, where he could announce some finding like,
No, Tiebout reported nothing like that. He just repeated some of Bill Wilson's anecdotal evidence.
And even if there were such a connection or correlation, this "surrender" method of getting off of drugs and alcohol is just another cult stunt, nothing new or unique. Lots of cults, ranging from Synanon to Straight, Inc. to Reverend Jim Jones' People's Temple, have made people stop drinking or quit using drugs for a while, by quite a variety of methods, most of which involved degradation of the subject's ego and destruction of their self-confidence and feelings of self-worth. Unfortunately, most of the patients soon returned to drink or drugs just as soon as they escaped from their tormenters. Like water seeking its own level, they returned to their familiar "comfort zone".
So just making some people temporarily quit drinking or drugging, by putting the pressure on them and rubbing their faces in the mud, is no big accomplishment, and it is certainly no new medical miracle.
A.A., still very much in its infancy, was celebrating a third or fourth anniversary of one of the groups.
Doctor Tiebout was quick. A.A. had only been in existence for three or four years, and the doctor had already figured out how to use A.A. cult dogma as an excuse to torture his patients with impunity.
The speaker immediately preceding me told in detail of the efforts of his local group — which consisted of two men — to get him to dry up and become its third member. After several months of vain efforts on their part and repeated nose dives on his, the speaker went on to say: "Finally, I got cut down to size and have been sober ever since," a matter of some two or three years. When my turn came to speak, I used his phrase "cut down to size" as a text around which to weave my remarks. Before long, out of the corner of my eye, I became conscious of a disconcerting stare. It was coming from the previous speaker.
Can you imagine how surprised Adolf Hitler was when Dr. Joseph Mengele stood up and said that everything Hitler had said was true, and that he had scientific proof that the Jews really were an inferior race?
In this case, both Dr. Tiebout and the other speaker have decided that everyone must get enough "ego reduction" to surrender to the cult. That's not a big surprise, considering that that's what the program is all about.
And when the speaker talks about how he finally quit drinking, it is obvious that if at first you don't succeed, then try, try again, until you do succeed. His "cut down to size" talk is just some masochistic grovelling.
And this is downright funny, when you think about it:
It is common knowledge that a return of the full-fledged ego can happen at any time. Years of sobriety are no insurance against its resurgence. No A.A.'s, regardless of their veteran status, can ever relax their guard against a reviving ego.
Yes, people can recover from torture and brainwashing, and "un-surrender." That has always been a big problem for totalitarian dictators, the way that some stubborn people will unsurrender and rebel after you have defeated and enslaved them.
Actually, the doctor is simply rationalizing the failures of the 12-step program. Lots of people in A.A., almost everybody, eventually relapses, because the program does not work for getting people off of alcohol. (The 12-step program does work for creating a cult religion, but that's another story.) Bill Wilson rationalized the failures by claiming that God miraculously cures us of alcoholism, but God's magic wears off after 24 hours. Dr. Tiebout rationalized the failures by claiming that people's egos return.
Again, this doctor should not be misusing the word "ego." He must know that what he is describing, the "return of the full-fledged ego", is impossible. Impossible, because you can't discard the ego in the first place, and remain a functional person. So the ego cannot just suddenly return later, when it has never left. What can return is the ability of someone to reassert his own will, or someone's ability to control his own will, or perhaps one's self-confidence, and the courage to control one's own mind and life. But that is a very different thing than the "return of the full-fledged ego." I would expect such grossly ignorant psycho-babble from an uneducated man on the street, but it is very strange, coming from a man who is supposed to be a competent psychiatrist.
Even if we redefine the word "ego" to the street slang version that Dr. Tiebout talked about in his other paper — The Ego Factors In Surrender In Alcoholism — the "pompous, self-important, strutting peacock egotism" definition of ego, Dr. Tiebout's remarks are still stupid, and even irrelevant. People do not usually relapse and return to drinking because they suddenly get a "fat ego," or a highly-inflated opinion of themselves. People relapse because they intensely crave a drink, because they feel bad and want to feel good, and they think that they can "just have one" and it will be okay... And fat "strutting-peacock" egos do not just suddenly return like some unwanted house guest who snuck in the back door in the middle of the night.
Dr. Harry Tiebout's whole system of beliefs about alcoholism, ego, and surrender was so grossly unrealistic that it can only be called insane.
This "return of the full-fledged ego" talk ends up being an example of a cult superstition. A cult superstition is some belief that is accepted as fact by all of the faithful inside of the cult, but which is wrong, just plain wrong, just totally wrong, and is not believed by people outside of the cult. This is nothing new:
Dr. Tiebout continued:
The function of surrender in A.A. is now clear. It produces that stopping by causing the individual to say, "I quit. I give up on my headstrong ways. I've learned my lesson." Very often for the first time in that individual's adult career, he has encountered the necessary discipline that halts him in his headlong pace.
Why, it's a regular old sado-masochistic love fest. Beat me harder, master, it hurts so good.
Also, note that Dr. Tiebout has suddenly totally discarded the Alcoholics Anonymous disease model of alcoholism. Now, alcoholism is a behavioral problem, and only a behavioral problem, one of "headstrong ways" and a lack of "necessary discipline", which the good doctor will be more than happy to supply. Sieg Heil!
So Dr. Tiebout said:
Actually, he is lucky to have within him the capacity to surrender. It is that which differentiates him from the wild animals. And this happens because we can surrender and truly feel, "Thy will, not mine, be done."
This is ridiculous. It is not "lucky" to be able to surrender while under torture, it is inevitable, if the torture is intense enough to break the victim's will to resist.
To say that it is "lucky" to be able to surrender is such outrageous double-think that it is like something straight out of George Orwell's "1984": Freedom is slavery. Slavery is freedom.
And apparently, Dr. Tiebout had never heard about breaking wild horses or wild elephants. Both wild horses and wild elephants are broken by torturing them until they surrender. (Was Tiebout really that ignorant and stupid? He was a doctor and a psychiatrist. Or was he just lying to us, and ignoring any facts that he didn't like?)
So it is not the "capacity to surrender" that differentiates man from the wild animals. Funny how the doctor wanted to elevate the ability to surrender under torture to the status of a noble human virtue. That really is sadistic.
Tiebout's whole paragraph there features false, circular logic. It ends with:
Which makes the whole paragraph mean:
Huh? That statement is nonsense.
Unfortunately, that ego will return unless the individual learns to accept a disciplined way of life, which means the tendency toward ego comeback, is permanently checked.
Yes, if you don't continue the brainwashing and abuse, people will come to their senses, and recover. They might not let you discipline them any more. And once again, this talk about the return of the ego is stupid, grossly wrong psycho-babble. Something else returns, maybe self-assertiveness, or common sense, or will power, or sanity, but not "ego".
This is not news to A.A. members. They have learned that a single surrender is not enough. Under the wise leadership of the A.A. "founding fathers" the need for continued endeavor to maintain that miracle has been steadily stressed. The Twelve Steps urge repeated inventories, not just one, and the Twelfth Step is in itself a routine reminder that one must work at preserving sobriety. Moreover, it is referred to as Twelfth Step work-which is exactly what it is. By that time, the miracle is for the other person.
If you wish to keep people mentally enslaved, you will have to keep working on them, constantly. Keeping a cult together is just such hard, never-ending work...
There is no great miracle in any of this. Just ask any veteran who was a prisoner of war in the Korean War, and who was subjected to a North Korean or Red Chinese brainwashing program. There was nothing miraculous about it.
Speaking of which, one of the American prisoners of war in North Korea was a member of Moral Re-Armament (MRA), which was the renamed Oxford Group cult. The MRA member was struck by the similarity between MRA meetings and North Korean brainwashing sessions, especially the self-criticism and confession sessions.
For that matter, go talk to recovering survivors of Scientology, or the Moonies, or the Hari Krishnas, or Rev. Jim Jones' People's Temple, or Heaven's Gate, or Synanon, or The Solar Temple, or Yogi Bhajan's 3HO, or Straight, Inc., or Aum Shinrikyo, or any other cult.
There is no miracle involved.
It's just another cult, and business as usual — all of the indoctrination, the ego-destruction, the brainwashing, the conversions, the surrendering to the cult, and the deceptive recruiting — it's all just business as usual, not a miracle at all.
While you are checking things out, check this:
This is a very similar story, so similar that some people confuse the two. The similarity of the names Tiebout and Talbott doesn't help any. Dr. G. Douglas Talbott is a former president of ASAM, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, which is yet another Alcoholics Anonymous front organization. (ASAM exists to promote A.A. and 12-Step treatment to doctors, and to fool doctors into thinking that 12-Step treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous actually work to cure alcoholics, which they don't, of course.)
And speaking of aiming at other doctors, Talbott runs a rehab clinic that is specifically for other doctors who have been forced to go through his treatment program by a state review board or professional society. Well, his program makes doctors and nurses commit suicide.
"At least 20 doctors, nurses and other health professionals who have gone through the Ridgeview Institute's nationally acclaimed treatment program over the past 12 years have killed themselves since leaving the hospital."
In May, 1999, just after Talbott stepped down as president of ASAM, a jury awarded Dr. Leonard Masters, of Jacksonville Florida, a judgment of $1.3 million against Talbott, his daughter-in-law Morrison, and other Talbott associates for malpractice, fraud, and false imprisonment, based on Masters' stay at Talbott's Atlanta, Georgia, treatment facility in 1994.
Read the article. It will curl your hair.
Also see this letters page for a description of the trial.
Another interesting aside is the fact that Dr. Ruth Fox, the founder of ASAM, liked to use LSD on her alcoholic patients to make them more obedient and compliant, and "willing ... to affiliate with A.A.". She also insisted that all of her alcoholic patients must get the following treatment before release: She gave them Anabuse and then made them drink alcohol, which made them deathly ill. Two patients nearly died from the "treatment", but she kept on doing it anyway. There sure seem to be a lot of mad scientists who are eager to fix alcoholics.
Tiebout forgot the first rule of the Hippocratic Oath: Do No Harm.
Dr. Tiebout mangled the English language there. The word "impervious" means "cannot be penetrated by." For instance, you may have a special fabric or material that is impervious to oil and water. Oil and water can't get through it or soak into it. But Dr. Tiebout said, "Alcoholics appear nearly impervious to the existence of others." I'm sure that wasn't what he meant. I think he wanted a word like "unaware of" or "unconscious of", or maybe "oblivious to".
But Tiebout was still just stereotyping alcoholics again.
Last updated 27 February 2015.