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E. Paul Bindrim; Father of Nude Psychotherapy

January 08, 1998|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

E. Paul Bindrim, the controversial self-styled father of nude psychotherapy who won a landmark libel suit over a novel he claimed deprecated his techniques, has died. He was 77.

Bindrim died Dec. 17 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his wife, Mary, said Tuesday. She plans to scatter his ashes at sea Jan. 17.

In 1967, Bindrim conducted his first nude workshop in Deer Park, Calif., and almost got thrown out of the American Psychological Assn. But he persevered, and two years later Gwen Davis Mitchell, a novelist best known for "The Pretenders," asked to attend one of his swimming pool therapy sessions for research.

Bindrim's practice consisted of placing several people in the warm pool for long sessions of touching and massaging, talking and sometimes shouting or acting out rage. He called the sessions "nude marathons" or "Aqua-energetics."

Although Bindrim enjoyed feature stories about him and his practice in Time and Life and a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. documentary, he was not happy with Mitchell's description of his therapy in her novel "Touching." In 1971 he sued her and her publisher, Doubleday, alleging that they defamed him and his profession.

The author insisted that her characters were fictional, including the potbellied, "singularly Santa Clausy looking" Simon Herford, a psychologist with a PhD and long white hair, beard and sideburns, who directed her heroine's nude therapy. Bindrim, when Mitchell spent 20 hours in his Hollywood Hills therapy center, was thin and balding with short hair and had no PhD.

By the time the case went to court in front of a Santa Monica jury, Bindrim had grown long hair, a beard and sideburns and gained a PhD from the Westwood-based International College. Founded in 1970, the institution was described in a brochure as having "no classrooms, no lecture halls, no resident faculty."

The jury awarded Bindrim $25,000 from the author and $50,000 from Doubleday. Doubleday later sued the author for reimbursement under an "indemnity clause" in her book contract. That led the Authors League and other writers groups to seek elimination of the clause from such contracts.

Appellate Justice Robert Kingsley, ruling in Bindrim's favor in 1979, agreed with jurors that Mitchell's book impugned nude therapy and that "there is overwhelming evidence that plaintiff [Bindrim] and Herford were one."

Bindrim guided more than 3,000 people through their first experience in social nudity in the 1970s, once explaining to The Times: "Clothing is kind of a mask. So there are reasons to think if you remove clothing, you get a freer atmosphere where people would talk more openly."

When streaking--removing one's clothes and running through a public gathering to startle onlookers--emerged in the early 1970s, Bindrim wrote an opinion article for The Times with this assessment: "Streaking is healthy, and I predict that it is here to stay. It may change form, but its essential ingredient, the tacit sanctioning of public nudity, will remain. . . . Running is the only aspect of streaking that will die out."

Born in New York City, Bindrim earned a bachelor's degree from Columbia University and a master's degree at Duke University, where he did research in parapsychology. He was ordained in the Church of Divine Metaphysics in 1958 and served as a minister of the Church of Religious Science in Glendale. He obtained his psychologist license in California in 1967, and served as president of the Group Psychotherapy Assn. of Southern California in 1978-79.

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