Berkeley Therapy Institute, Psychotherapy Institute both turn 50

At the Berkeley Therapy Institute’s 50th anniversary celebration: longtime medical director Bob Dolgoff, executive director Joe Chernick, psychologist Hilary Goldstine and one of the founders, Charlie Pollack. Courtesy: BTI

In 1972, seismic shifts were under way in the field of mental health. Growing numbers of women, once the major recipients of psychiatric care, were becoming practitioners. Masters & Johnson’s groundbreaking work on human sexuality opened up the fledgling field of sex therapy. Community mental health programs began and traditional therapies were challenged, in favor of more egalitarian approaches. In Berkeley, the free speech movement also had an effect, inspiring people to discover their own authority and voices, not only politically but psychologically.

In such a dynamic environment two Berkeley institutions were founded: the Berkeley Therapy Institute and the Psychotherapy Institute. Both are now celebrating 50 years of providing mental health services to the public, as well as advanced training and study for practitioners. 

The Berkeley Therapy Institute

1749 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, one of three buildings at the intersection of Delaware Street that the Berkeley Therapy Institute owns. Courtesy: BTI

The Berkeley Therapy Institute was founded by psychiatrist Charlie Pollack, clinical psychologists Danny and Hilary Goldstine and social worker Shirley Zuckerman, who had worked at a Contra Costa mental health program in Martinez. While they were there, a research project Danny Goldstine was working on lost its funding, which became a motivation to found their own nonprofit institute not dependent on state and federal funding. 

“We wanted it to be more under our control, more flexible and more in keeping with what was going on at the time, which was a move away from institutionalization, breaking norms and doing things differently,” Pollack said. “We wanted to have more control over our future.” 

BTI is made up of “psychologists, psychiatrists, nurse practitioners and marriage and family therapists working together with psychiatry groups and psychology therapy groups,” said executive director Joe Chernick. “We help people both medically and psychologically, which is very unusual.”

BTI is known for its groundbreaking work in sex therapy and forensic evaluations on cults and brainwashing, based on the work of the late forensic psychologist Margaret Singer, a BTI training supervisor. Singer gained notoriety for assessing Patty Hearst and Charles Manson. Her expertise was also sought after the People’s Temple mass suicides in Guyana in 1978, the enforced conversions of young people to Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, which had branches in Berkeley and elsewhere in the Bay Area in the 1980s, and the Branch Davidian and Heaven’s Gate cult deaths in the 1990s. But it was Singer’s work on schizophrenia and the characteristic disordered speech patterns of sufferers that led to her twice being nominated for a Nobel Prize. 

The institute first operated out of a former residence at the junction of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Delaware Streets and now occupies three buildings at that corner. Over the course of its history, about 100,000 clients have passed through its doors. 

Berkeley Therapy Institute, 1748, 1749 and 1801 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Hours: Daily, 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. 510-841-8484.

The Psychotherapy Institute

The six-sided building at 2232 Carleton St. has been the home of the Psychotherapy Institute since 1994. Courtesy: TPI

The idea for the Psychotherapy Institute began in 1970 when seven women — six graduates of the UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare, and their supervisor at Berkeley Mental Health — began to discuss the idea of a public clinic and interdisciplinary center for advanced training. 

“We were founded in reaction to the climate at the time, which was that only people qualified to do mental health were psychiatrists,” said K. Sue Duncan, the Psychotherapy Institute’s executive director and a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. “They were pushing back against the traditional hierarchies.” 

During subsequent meetings, including one in a Kensington living room, the women set up the organization’s framework. One of its hallmarks was that TPI be non-hierarchical and that major decisions be made by consensus. 

When it opened in a rented space from the Children’s Home Society on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, TPA described itself as a clinic “for the practice of group, individual, family, conjoint and child therapy.” TPI is a low-to-moderate fee clinic, which has a sliding scale of $30 to $150 per hour. 

“We’re dedicated to keeping our prices low to serve a population that otherwise couldn’t afford therapy,” Duncan said. 

The institute does that by having post-graduate clinicians provide therapy in exchange for training in psychodynamic psychotherapy, an in-depth technique, popular in the 1970s, that requires a commitment for a year or more. The institute has only three paid employees. 

For psychotherapists, the institute is also a membership-based organization that provides continuing education and advanced training. 

TPI now operates out of a six-sided building on Carleton Street, which it bought in 1994. From 2000 to 2020, the institute trained 175 clinicians and has about 300 Bay Area member therapists. The institute logs between 6,000 to 7,000 client hours per year. 
The Psychotherapy Institute, 2232 Carleton St., Berkeley. Phone: 510-548-2250. Hours: by appointment only. Connect via Facebook. 

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