Friday, April 15, 2016

Synanon:The Game

Moriah Ponder
April 15th, 2016
Professor Delaporte
Blog #1

                                                              Synanon: The Game

            Synanon was founded in Santa Monica, California in 1958 by Charles Dederich. Dederich was an alcoholic and was inspired by Alcoholics Anonymous and their methods. He decided to create Synanon as a place for addicts and individuals with character disorders to recover and get their lives established to re-enter society. Synanon was founded in California as a non-profit corporation. Eventually in 1968, Synanon opened their membership up to non-addicts. During this time, Synanon slowly changed their beliefs from a religious organization to a cult.

Within Synanon, Dederich did not use any medication to rehabilitate anyone. Instead he used a method of group therapy that he created called “The Game”. This method of recovery offered addicts time to talk and express themselves.  Even though it was intended to be group therapy and help addicts, to a certain degree it was mentally and verbally abusive to the individual that it focused on. “The Game” was basically an attack on one person by a large group of people. This was the most influential “medication” that Charles Dederich offered in Synanon.

“The Game” was the core of Synanon; it was the center of everyone’s life while in rehabilitation. According to Charles Dederich, “The Game” was the seed of Synanon:

“First was the Game. Everything came from the Game. There was no thought of a foundation or giving any kind of a name to the community or group when we started to have meetings back in 1958. The Game produced the beginnings of the community. On the date of the first Game there was nothing that looked like it would someday be the ancestor of the community. I was occupying a little apartment in the Ocean Park, there was nobody who lived there that I knew and very shortly after I began to moderate these Games people began to move down and a community formed. No one formed the community. The community formed itself. The community formed because of the game.” (Simon, pg.5)

All residents of Synanon participated in “The Game” on regular bases- at least once a week. “The Game” wasn’t a choice; it was a condition of residence. Even children played “The Game” beginning at the age of four. As Synanon developed, so did “The Game”. While playing “The Game”, everyone was seen as equal.  “The Game” was designed to break down communications barriers between addicts. It was used to produce the maximum communication and flow of information. Employees, officers, other leader personnel would play along with the residents. It didn’t matter if you were young or old; every game consisted of various ages and ethnic backgrounds.   “The Game” began as concentrated attack and defends sessions, lasting an hour each. Synanon grew into the central procedure of management, education, recreation, religion, socialization, art and so forth.

            Synanon consisted of two different sets of norms. One was used outside of “The Game”, while the other set was used in “The Game”. The two norms were very contradictory to each other. The out of the game norms consisted of members being friendly, polite, supportive and helpful. While the other tended to be undisciplined, irreverent, attacking and impolite. All residents must agree to abide by all norms in Synanon.

            “The Game” was supposed to be an educational tool. When everyone participated fully, it helped accomplish unification and healing of the personality. It also helped residents be more appreciative and accepting of new and more constructive forms of behavior and the embracement of new values. When played correctly, “The Game” could become a very intimate session between members. During “The Game”, one’s deepest thoughts and feelings of all kinds of concerning his action, the action of others, and the relationships of people to each other, are exposed to the process of group examination. “The Game” is a ritual in Synanon resident’s lives and is key to forming their beliefs. Those participating in “The Game” are trying to live by what Jesus Christ meant by “to confess ye to one another”. Instead of the traditional relationship of penitent and confessor, Synanon uses an “Omni-confessional” in “The Game”. By participating fully and being trustworthy with others, residents are trying to move towards realizing their true potential as a human being.

            During a “Game”, people do not speak rationally or truthfully. Everyone speaks in anger or rage. They play with a person’s emotions and twist them every way possible. In “The Game”, people do not speak truthfully; the words are not spoken for the truth of their content. While in a “Game” those participating are supposed to exaggerate and distort everything they are saying. Lying occurs consciously and unconsciously during a “Game”, lying is acceptable. Those who participate are not required to speak rationally; in fact it is okay to be irrational. During every Game, those involved have freedom of speech and expression. It’s normal for Synanon Game participants to use language in the Game which they would consider shocking or obscene in other contexts.

            “The Game” was a cruel way to help rehabilitate addicts. Many residents believed it saved their lives. While others feel like “The Game” had a major negative effect on their lives and it didn’t help them at all. I believe this form of group therapy could be helpful if it was only a positive atmosphere, with very few negative aspects. Sitting and yelling cruel things at someone or lying about who they are isn’t going to help them. I feel like this would just tear them down further.  
Dederich. Charles E. "The Synanon Game From Synanon vs. The Hearst Corporations. Synanon Foundation Inc.
Simon. Steven I. "Synanon: Towards Building A Humanistic Organization. Synanon Press. San Francisco CA. 1974 
Simon. Steven I. "The Synanon Game: A Lecture. Synanon Press. San Francisco, CA 1974


  1. Great blog post! I really enjoyed how you lead into your topic of the game and how you inserted a block quote and then furthered that quote by commenting on it, it shows good research skills. What I did notice is that you used a book and that is a solid piece of information to have backing up your blog post. One thing I can recommend is that you put in your own thoughts and feelings about what you are talking about. Granted I am no blog master but a blog should have your own thoughts and comments in it to show your view and what not. The first couple of paragraphs discusses the game and I noticed that the block quote says there was nothing like the game. This is true no one had seen the game or anything like it but there was a group known as the oxford group which gave rise to AA and AA used the Oxford Group's methods of self-reflection, and acknowledgement of character flaws. I think that there was a predecessor to the game, but it was not as violent or irrational. I wrote a blog on what came before the game and Synanon, I would like to see what you think of it and maybe you can put forth some knowledge I missed or don't have.

  2. I agree with what you said at the end of your blog about the Game possibly being helpful if it was done in a positive atmosphere. Yelling and talking down to another person is not way to get a point across or even help them understand their problems. If someone started yelling at me and negatively criticising me in a group setting , I think I would start to shut down I order to keep myself from the verbal abuse. It must have been hard for the new members to adjust to this type of "therapy".

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  4. I still do not understand why the Game was played as it really didn't serve a purpose. Did it make people feel good? Yes because the whole point was to verbally abuse and let out their anger on someone, however violence was forbidden. This is psychologically damaging but if Dedreich did it, his followers would to. What will also never make sense to me is how they made the children participate in the Game, especially growing up and going through developmental stages, young girls and boys not only dealt with insecurity but new and changing bodily functions so the Game, which was nothing but insulting and demeaning was emotionally distressing for many children in Synanon. They didn't have a choice as whether to participate or not, they had to go in there and even if they didn't feel the need to insult someone, they had to make it up. I remember Naomi, the speaker who came in to talk to us about her life in Synanon how even if children did not have a problem with anyone, they had to find a way to during the Game, no matter who it was which I think is just ridiculous and in no way therapeutic.

  5. I also agree with Amy I think The Games were a positive idea to be able to say what you want is a great idea for therapy. I think if it stayed a circle and not turned into a triangle it would have worked well. Sometimes we have issues with being honest with each other about issues and The Game would be nice to have whatever is spoken stay there and not take the problem outside but solve it in the meeting and let it stay there.

  6. The idea of the game I believe started out as a good idea though it could be used in such a way that was more harmful than therapeutic. If the game was truly a safe place where members could voice their feelings and provide constructive feedback to other members than that sounds like it could help. However, if it is done in a way that creates lies, and promotes hatred that is when things could get bad. I am still concerned about having children play the game and how it might affect them.

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  14. I was a guest at a "game" at Synanon at the Oakland facility in about 1973. I understood that the game would break people down, get them to admit their lies, faults. As an ex-catholic, then and now, the process seemed abusive, it felt very authoritative, but there were some good results...I knew some addicts, it did work for a while.