Saturday, July 12, 2014

#1114: Jacqui Schiff

Best we could find. Sorry.

We have tried to verify the current whereabouts of Jacqui Schiff, but for the last decades she has retained a low profile, and we cannot with certainty assert that she is even still around (at least she may have left the US for places with fewer restrictions on psychological practices). But it is no doubt that her life and work merit a mention in out Encyclopedia. In the 1960s Schiff popularized the dubious treatment of Reparenting as a treatment of schizophrenia. Her book, All My Children, achieved some modest popularity, and she did claim to have successfully treated or cured many patients this way (the evidence being, shall we say, “unclear”). Reparenting involves “regressing” the patient to an infantile state, essentially playing “baby”, with the therapist then acting as a healthy parent figure. The strategy is then supposed to undo the effects of bad parenting from neglect or abusive homes.

It is utter woo, belonging to the same genus as rebirthing, crammed with faddish pop-psychology terminology to cover the absence of empirical support, and even if the idea had been on track Schiff’s parenting techniques would themselves have remained questionable, with e.g. their heavy emphasis on spanking the regressed adult “babies” as an example of healthy parenting. Her book is a narrative testimonial of her attempts at reparenting using a trial-and-error basis – no proper methodology or testing. The technique employs some concepts from Transactional Analysis (TA), which itself is complete crackpottery, and the popularity of reparenting in the 1970s did cause a split in the (at that time) popular field of TA. The International Transactional Analysis Association first embraced Schiff’s therapy, but finally launched an investigation into Schiff's activities in 1978, uncovering reports of abuse, which together with Schiff’s refusal to submit her methods for peer review forced her to resign (much of the story is here).

The list of New Age psychotherapies is a long one, and you may still encounter some reparenting attempts between your rebirthing, regression, primal scream, and hypnotherapy sessions.

Diagnosis: Unintentionally evil, perhaps, but Schiff is still something of a monster. Though her own techniques have had no lasting impact, offshoots continue to thrive to this day.


  1. Jacqui Schiff passed away in the mid 1980's of brain cancer. Although I understand the vilification of her work and approach, it also led to milder forms of therapy incorporating the inner child and stages of child development that were prominent parts of her approach. Times were very different in the few years her reparenting therapy was popular. The 1960's and 1970's were times that such points of views could fit; no longer would people come close to accepting many of her authoritarian points of control over adults.

    1. Ok, thanks for the update.

    2. She died in the mid 1990's of multiple illnesses, including multiple sclerosis. She had been kicked out of Asthma Shakti Vidyalaya, in Bangalore, India, where she had worked with Father Hank Nunn who still runs that institution for young adult schizophrenics and other psychopathologies. She was then kicked out of a Cathexis practice in Birmingham, England, and then was in an adult care facility in California until her death.

  2. Uh, you're both wrong. She died in 2002 and was cremated. I know because I was there, she was my grandmother.

  3. I spent several months at Cathexis Institute in Oakland,Ca. I was austensibly being treated for a reactive depression, but was plugged in,as all were, to a system that included lots of confrontation encouragement for policing others and encouragement to help shame others for having committed some small infraction. It was anything but healthy. I was cut off from mv family, and friends had to be interviewed aND approved before I could interact with them. It became too crazy and manifestly unproductive. I got permission to go to a dental appt. alone and took my leave. It had negative repercussions for many years. Thank you for writing this piece.

  4. Well here we are in 2022 and from what I've seen, unfortunately, reparenting is making a big comeback on the internet. The therapy gurus today promoting it have relatively benign descriptions of it, but who knows what is going on behind closed doors? Many of these are relatively young therapists who might not even know who Jacqui Schiff was and the origins of what they are promoting. And of course in today's climate, sadly, there is no shortage of vulnerable gullible people who will be taken in.