Cedu Documentary Clip 5 – Who Is Mel Wasserman?

Former Staff and Students talk about the Guru of Cedu, and the father of the “troubled teen” industry. It was the 1960s, anti-war protests and a bursting drug culture. Mel Wasserman owned a furniture store in Palm Springs, CA, when destiny called…


  • How much money was made? The student body averaged at about 100 to 120 at a time; new students arrived year-round, and the program ran an average of 2.5 years. There was an influx of approximately 20+ students every four to six months.
  • What was the monthly and yearly cost, per student? At the start of the program? By the late 1980s? How much did the program cost in the 1990s? In the 2000s?
  • What did it cost you, and your family financially?

Viewers will note the absence of Photographs of Mel Wasserman. We would like to rectify that. If you have photos, or first hand knowledge of the man, and would be willing to lend pictures or an interview to the project, please leave a comment, (mark it public or private), and the producers will get in touch with you.

Did you know Mel Wasserman? Do you have a Wasserman memory? Write us.


Long-time Cedu employee, child “escort” specialist (paid kidnapper), and ex-Synanon-member Bill Lane reflects on Papa Wasserman [Here].

“I met [Cedu founder] Mel [Wasserman] in San Francisco several years before he started CEDU, while I was working for Synanon, a drug rehabilitation center,” Bill said. “I remember talking with him about his ideas and thought he might have a better way of working with teens and younger students. But as the years passed, we went our separate ways with Mel moving to Palm Springs, and I never really thought much more about it, until I began hearing about a new non-profit organization that had opened a school in Running Springs, CA.”

According to Bill, Mel started the first program in about 1966, but it was several years after that when Mel approached him about working for CEDU.

“A few years after the program opened, I started reading and hearing about it, and we began communicating back and forth, but I was pretty content at Synanon, which was how I became involved in working with all ages, from teen to adult,” said Bill. “However, when Mel asked me to come down and take a look at CEDU, which at the time consisted of a very small school in Running Springs and an office in Los Angeles, I agreed and was pretty excited about what I saw at the program. He offered me a job and I started working for Mel in January 1974…”


About Liam Scheff

"Author, Artist, Film, Permaculture." Liam Scheff is a writer, artist and stand-up lecturer on issues that people usually don't make comic books about. (Visit liamscheff.com). Liam's highly-praised book "Official Stories" reveals the complex details behind the myths of our times.

Posted on February 10, 2009, in Surviving Cedu. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I’m pretty sure it was $52,000 a year for me. 1994-1996…I still can’t believe how expensive it was!

  2. I remember a figure being stated during the 88-90 era of about 200,000 for the length of the program. But then, we were also told it was between 3 to 5 thousand a month, so 40 to 60 thousand a year (at 2.5 years). Need to hammer these numbers down with specifics, if anyone has them.

  3. Northwest Academy

    Remember tuition doesn’t include other expenses. My Mom said they charged her for the rides to the doctor when I had a nasty toe infection. I’m sure they nickled and dimed people quite a bit, not to mention donations from parents who believed in this bullshit.

  4. My parents paid around 40K per year (1989-1991) to have them make me do slave labor… We were the cleanest campus in America…. haha.. yeah. DUH! Of course we were!

    And remember.. tuition does not include the “extra” costs for the wilderness trips, propheets, and workshops… Those were all extra cost.

  5. Northwest Academy

    They made you pay for propheets….wow

  6. The more I reflect on this the more it becomes very transparent. On every level.

    The intimidation wedge.

  7. Who was Mel Wasserman? He was a guy that read a lot of psychology books, and I bet this one was one of his personal favorites.
    Double Bind: The foundation of the communicational approach to family. C 1976 [1, 2]

    To give a summary, this book compiles and analyses a variety of works that were integral to the development of the theory of schizophrenia, mostly done between 1959-69. The basic theory states that schizophrenia is the result of living within a family or social situation that creates a double bind that the “victim” cannot escape. An example of a double bind in communication would be for me to say “I am lying.” If I am lying I am telling the truth, and in that case I am then lying. Once you adopt a position it changes the situation to then disqualify that position. This is a simplistic idea to demonstrate a double bind, but this book goes on to explain the function of double binds in life situations where one is dependent and considers their relationships to be vitally important.

    Here’s some of what this book contains:

    “Of particular interest to the research project was the observation that schizophrenics and hypnotized subjects often behave in similar ways. This observation raised the question whether there could be a similarity between the ways a hypnotist induces trance in a subject and the ways a mother induces schizophrenia in a child.”

    “This type of family is an organization with great ongoing stability whos dynamics and inner workings are such that each member is continually undergoing the experience of negation of self.”

    “The approach described in this paper in respect to certain forms of neurosis could be applied in the sense that intermediate steps must be found between double bind theory and each clinical picture. The second step would be to operationalize the concepts thus developed by applying them to the verbal productions of patients, and finally verifying them through longitudinal studies… “Crazy” behavior may thus be the only acceptable way out of any injunction demanding, “Learn to live up to our expectations, but independently of the way we tell you to,” or, in other words, “Distrust your senses and learn to see the world as it really is.”

    “Our model takes into account an essential and well documented feature of any learning process, namely the fact that, in any concrete situation in which learning occurs, there also takes place a transmission of the rules implicit to learning itself. We are referring here to the phenomenon of acquiring a predisposition. Also know as deutero learning.”

    “This is exemplified by an experiment in which a subject was told that a bell would ring when a board of buttons was pressed in the right way. Then, as the bell ringing occurred with increasing frequency, each subject developed a theory, often intricate, which was based on his distinctive way of punctuating or organizing the sequences of buttons which he had pushed. However, when the experiment was stopped and each subject told that there was no connection between what the subject was doing and the bell ringing, the subject told Bavelas he was lying, so convinced they were of the validity of their belief system. The subjects could be persuaded that the meanings they had found were erroneous only when they tried the procedure out on somebody else.”

    . . . . .

    “Double binds in disturbed families…..

    1. If an individual is punished for correct perception of the outside world or of himself by a significant other he will learn to distrust the data of his own senses. As a result he is likely to be told by others to try harder in order to perceive correctly, the implication being, “You must be sick or you would not see things that way.” Consequently (a) this person will find it difficult to behave appropriately in both impersonal and interpersonal contexts, and (b) he may tend to engage in a fruitless search for supposed meanings which the significant other(s) see very clearly, but he himself cannot. This behavior would satisfy the diagnostic criteria of schizophrenia.

    2. If an individual is expected by a significant other to have feelings different from those which he actually experiences, this individual will eventually feel guilty for being unable to feel what he ought to feel in order to be approved by the other person. This guilt feeling may then itself be labeled as one of the feelings he should not have. A dilemma of this kind arises most frequently when a childs normal, occasional sadness is construed by the parents as a silent imputation of parental failure. The parent then typically reacts with the message “after all we have done for you, you ought to be happy.” Sadness thus becomes associated with badness and ingratitude.”

    “…Their experimental task was to interpret the meanings in the letters, which contained ambiguous and contradictory material. Two kinds of punishment were involved: false feedback to the subject about the appropriateness of her interpretations, i.e., she was wrong but everyone else got it right, intended as an operation of Sluzki et als (1967) disconfirmation of ones own perceptions; and three seconds of white noise (at annoyance but not painful levels), intended as an analogue of the nonverbal punishment in the double bind situation. Increase in anxiety was used as a criterion measure of disruption of the subjects ego functioning.

    …Results were interpreted as supportive of double bind theory: The no punishment-no contradictory materials condition (control) was least anxiety arousing; conditions of punishment alone and of contradictory materials alone were equally anxiety arousing and more so than the control condition; the combination of these two components (the double bind analogue) was the most anxiety arousing. Furthermore anxiety levelsincreased to a point and leveled off in the punishment alone and contradictory materials alone conditions. No such leveling off occurred in the combined elements condition. The behavior of the subjects after the procedure offered corroboration of disrupted functioning; some subjects remained upset and kept apologizing for their inability to get the answers right, even after the experimental procedure had been explained to them….

    She is asked what is really meant in the letter that said, “Youre getting awfully fat.” And “ I’m going to show you how much I love you by sending you a box of your favorite cookies.” Subject answers, is told that her answer is inappropriate, and that most everybody else’s answers were better. Subject is surely puzzled, as the task does not seem so very difficult, though ambiguous, and notes that everyone else seemed able to do better. Blast of white noise.

    This situation continues for about two hours, during whie the subject continues to be wrong while the others are right, cannot ask anyone what she is doing wrong, c annot get consensual validation for her perceptions, indeed is continually disconfirmed in those perseptions; further more there is an annoying blast of white noise every time she is wrong. She cannot figure out why or how she is wrong, but it must be her, since others are doing things right. I think we can well understand this situation as very anxiety arousing for the subject. I think Smith has devised an effective experimental analogue of the disconfirmation of simple assumptions and its crazy making effects.

    Note the attraction of the subjects to the situation; they hung onto it and kept trying to get it right; they sought information afterwards about what they had done wrong- this after being debriefed, when debriefing should have rendered such questions obsolete; experimental escape was difficult. This phenomenon closely resembles the effect of double binding. She must begin to doubt her perceptions of her experience. She is, so to speak, invited to “distrust her senses and see the world as it really is. [With respect for the need for social validation]

    There is also the consideration that a subject’s experience in this situation necessarily poses a threat to relationships in general- past present and future, including relationships with internalized others. One simply cannot cope with the world without a minimum level of shared meaning. Without tacit faith in the fair reliability of ones perceptions and interpretations of even trivial (and especially trivial) raw data, perceptions of ones experience, history, etc., including relationships are subject to rewrite, and the present and future become tenuous indeed.”

    “It is as if researchers have begun to agree that experimental paradigms shall involve some kind of impossibility joined with some kind of negative consequences and that some kind of disruption or anxiety shall be the criterion measure. The kind of impossibility must be paradox; the negative consequences must be the invalidation of an important relationship, and the criterion measure must be something like conceptual paralysis.”

    “… whatever else these institutions do, one of their central effects is to sustain the self- conception of the professional staff employed there. Mental patients can find themselves in a special bind. To get out of the hospital or ease their lives within it. They must show acceptance of the place accorded them, and the place accorded them is to support the occupational role of those who appear to force this bargain. This self alienating moral servitude, which perhaps helps to account for some inmates becoming mentally confused, is achieved by invoking the great tradition of the expert servicing relation, especially its medical variety.”

    “…He is supposed to tell his inner most thoughts to the doctor, which means the doctor can assume control de facto. Furthermore, by doing so, he appeases his doctor, thereby acknowledging his power. If he does not tell the doctor his innermost thoughts the doctor will assume control of him in another way, by labeling his resistances as further evidence of pathology. He is not supposed to tell the doctor that he sees him as all powerful, even if that is one of the innermost thoughts, and even if obeying the first injuction implies a recognition of that power.”

    “Strategy for obtaining ones speedy release from a mental hospital: (a) Develop a flamboyant symptom that has considerable nuisance value for the whole ward; (b) Attatch yourself to a new doctor in need of his first success; (c) let him cure you rapidly of your symptom; and (d) make him thus into the most fervent advocate of your regained sanity.”

    “The distinctive characteristics of the double bind are described as the following: 1. Two or more persons. 2. Repeated experience. 3. A primary negative injunction. 4. A secondary injunction conflicting with the first ant a more abstract level. 5. A tertiary negative injunction prohibiting the victim from escaping from the field. 6. Finally, the complete set of ingredients is no longer necessary when the victim has learned to perceive his universe in double bind patterns, as is the condition of the schizophrenic.”

    “Let us put it his way: if one were intrigued by a sequence of events proposed to account for certain types of pathology in communication, and that sequence is formalized as a theoretical proposition about what happens when important basic relationships are chronically subjected to invalidation through paradoxical interaction, and it is further specified that an intense relationship, repeated experience, and inability to comment upon or escape the situation are all necessary components, would one do an experiment with college sophomores or VA volunteers? Probably not.”

    ….So hopefully this strikes a chord with everyone. Seeing that the double bind can be thought of as the illusion of choice, I think once you think of the “agreements” (rules) and the Cedu tools it becomes clear that they were developed with this concept in mind.

  8. I saw this and think it is really well done. This part was interesting.

    http://www.paulmorantz.com/characterist … cults.html

    Dedicated to Dr. Robert J. Lifton

    By: Paul Morantz


    I represented over 40 plaintiffs after this movement self destructed. My work covered 5 years and I reviewed more documents than I did fighting Synanon.

    Art Janov’s Primal Scream became a hit in the sixties encounter groups trend after John Lennon called it the greatest in Rolling Stone magazine. So many young, lonely and insecure college graduates wanted to come that Richard “Riggs” Corriere and Joseph Hart broke away from Primal Institute to start the Center for Feeling Therapy in Hollywood. At the time they were teachers at UC Irvine and recruited considerable class students to the center.[67] The therapists purchased several houses and took out common fences to create the “compound.” They sent out advertisements that their programs could cause a complete transformation and cure in six to eight months. But in the end, no one was ever told they were well enough to leave and most had remained 9 years[68] until the Center ended in a patient revolt following a revelation that certain myths taught to all were admitted not true.

    Prospective patients had to first convince their masters they should be taken on by writing long letters showing how bad their lives were and how much they needed the center. When they arrived, they were placed in two-week “intensives,” and ordered to wear no makeup and remove items of identity. Without contact but for long hours each day in isolation they were convinced by the interrogator how bad their prior lives were.

    The Center taught that all people were harmed by not being able to live by their true feelings, starting with being told “no” as children by their parents. The Center patients lived together in apartments surrounding the compound. Patients could date only other patients, and even then they were often selected by the therapists. Permission was needed to break up relationships. Like Synanon, it used horrible punishments and humiliations to control behavior. A woman was made to moo like a cow in group, a man to sleep in a crib and a diaper, and a woman resisting an ordered abortion to carry a doll with weights around its legs. Some patients who tried to leave were tackled and brought back. Therapists routinely struck patients, and patients were taught to strike other patients who were suspected of having negative thoughts. Verbally berating a person in front of others– called a “haircut” in Synanon –was called a “bust” at the Center and in one community “challenging.” All therapists intermarried, but no patient married or had a child. Therapists routinely had sex with patients.

    Riggs and Hart call themselves the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid of psychotherapy and appeared on Geraldo Rivera and Johnny Carson. They preached that their system could make their patients believe anything, including that Atlantis was rising from the sea. Further, their system they admitted in the wrong hands would be like a buzz saw figuratively cutting off hands and feet, only the damage would be mental. “Like Synanon,” they admitted, their followers to keep their sanity– now that they had learned to live from feelings– had to live in a community of similar feeling persons as the world outside would disorder them. Also like Synanon, the Center created businesses that employed patients at cheaper wages. Other patient-run businesses paid consulting fees to a Center-aided business consulting firm. Patients were required to refer new patients and to hand out cards in the street promoting books written by the leaders.

    Not only were lawyers members at the Center, two lawyers gave up law practices to act as therapists with assigned patients at the center. The Center regularly had open houses to interest others and recruit those appearing most suitable. The Center plan was to gross $1 billion a year by making therapists out of patients and opening clinics across the country. The patient – therapists were paid low wages, forced to donate long hours and could be punished or fined for losing a patient or not reaching recruitment quotas. Patients in therapy were convinced to enhance their lives they are to bring their friends to therapy when in reality the ploy was to convince the friends to join. Those clinic patients most suitable would be “funneled” inside to the Center community.

    The way the Center ended proved Lifton’s theory of “hundred flowers bloom.” Patient-therapists tiring of long hours and poor pay finally spoke amongst themselves concerning their negative thoughts during a time period that Riggs was off in Arizona playing Cowboy on a ranch purchased with patient funds that had been raised to purchase a gymnasium for the center. This led to a busting of Riggs and temporary allowing of free thought that in 48 hours became so volatile the Center closed and Riggs departed California.[69]

    Licenses were taken away in the longest license removal administrative hearings in history and has been called the greatest psychotherapy tragedy in history.

  9. Thanks for posting this.

  10. Danny Ray Pursley

    My brother was/is Blake Pursley. If anyone remembers him please feel free to contatct me kinda_wild_02@yahoo.com, please make sure you make the subject Blake.
    Danny Ray

  11. if any one wants to talk e mail me at weissbecca@yahoo.com i would love to chat and be able to heal from that school i like to call hell

  12. what ever happened to mel wassermens son, mark?. what happened to eric melzer. (staff member) what happened to mike allgood?, morty mullen? thx. if you know anything

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