Synanon was one of the Nation’s best-known alternatives to conventional drug treatment in the 1960s, explained Bill Lane, Founder and CEO of Bill Lane & Associates Adolescent Transport Services to Lon May 23, 2018. In this captivating short interview Lane talked about how Synanon, after a promising start, devolved into cult like behavior that people eventually left to create many well-known and lasting treatment facilities and schools around the country. Lane also described his own journey from being one of the first Synanon students to help develop CEDU, an effective therapeutic boarding school that became a well-known last resort for teens with behavioral/emotional problems. [Our thanks to Rich Simpson, owner of Pathways Abroad for providing our intro music].
This is one of a series of short interviews about developments in the network of private, parent-choice schools and programs helping struggling teens and young adults. The guests are innovative leaders in this network. To hear other interviews in this series, click on “Follow” above, or click on The Woodbury Report .
Bill Lane talked with me on May 23, 2018 to explain his personal experience in his evolution of experiences with Synanon and then moving to working at CEDU, one of the first therapeutic boarding schools in the country. While at Synanon, Lane had met Mel Wasserman who expressed an interest in what Synanon had been trying to do. In 1967, Wasserman founded the program known as CEDU in Running Springs, California and presented Bill with a job offer which Lane accepted.
Synanon in San Francisco was a nationally known unconventional approach in treating substance abuse which used intense methods in treating hard core drug addicts starting in the early 1960s. It took in drug addicts with whom conventional methods had failed. In its early days, Synanon had some unbelievable successes. It was exclusively funded by donations to help young people who had no resources and could not afford to support themselves, let alone pay for the time and resources necessary to help them. Bill was one of its first “students” and after completing the required 2 ½ year program, he stayed on as staff for another ten years.
Lane continued his story, explaining how Synanon had evolved into adopting “cultish” attitudes which included, among other things, dictatorial management, submission of the group to the dictates of the leader and violence to enforce its management. From that evolution, Synanon became essentially a cult. Based on personal considerations, Lane left Synanon in 1974, shortly before it’s well publicized demise and went to work for Wasserman at CEDU.
CEDU was formed in Running Springs, California, in 1967 and grew to include seven schools by the 1990s. The successors to CEDU, Boulder Creek Academy and Northwest Academy in Idaho, as well as many other programs started by former CEDU employees, are still functioning today as successful therapeutic boarding schools. CEDU was founded by Wasserman to work with kids in trouble, focusing on softer and younger students (teens) using softer techniques. Confrontation was still part of the approach but in a direct verbal way rather than through intimidation. After a short time the shaved heads, dunce caps and blatant humiliation methods of Synanon had been discarded. The goal became to encourage the students to take an honest look at themselves and how they were living, often through positive peer pressure within a boarding school format.
Stay tuned for the next podcast with Bill when we will talk about early CEDU up to the 1980s.