Gnosis Retreat Center | Inspired by the legacy of R.D. Laing
Suppose you come to the end of your tether, can no longer cope, have a break-down, fall apart, go to pieces. To whom would you turn? Where would you go?
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Kingsley Hall © Dominic Harris
Free Association, Inc.
Gnosis Retreat Center
Respite and Life Coaching Program 


Gnosis Retreat Center is an intimate residential community, comprised of about ten residents, that offers an alternative to conventional psychiatric treatment for anyone experiencing an emotional or mental crisis. We are especially sympathetic to those who are not keen to be medicated out of it, and want to take a respite from wherever they are currently living in order to get to the bottom of what is happening to them.


We offer a household of like-minded individuals, in an intimate environment where you can have all the attention you need, and all the privacy you wish, where you can learn new ways of coping with the severe anxiety, depression, or consternation you are currently suffering, until a new day begins.


After about a year of this respite experience, you will be more able to return to the life you were living, and begin a new life, more independently, with a new enthusiasm for relationship with others.


We also offer occasional opportunities for short-term crisis intervention.



Suppose you come to the end of your tether, can no longer cope, have a break-down, fall apart, go to pieces. To whom would you turn? Where would you go? What alternatives do you have when you desperately need help, but have little, if any, say in the kind of help available?


When a person’s suffering becomes insupportable, to him or herself and to others, and yet persists, that person is in a state of distress. Once you find yourself in distress you come to realize that you are at the mercy of other people. Which of those people are you willing to be at their mercy, for better or worse? To whom are you willing to entrust your life? If you don’t happen to know anyone who comes to mind, then how will you go about finding someone you can trust? Do such persons exist?

Gnosis1 Retreat Center aspires to be such a place, by providing a safe place to be, when you are alone and afraid, confused, bereft, and not sure whom to turn to for help. Gnosis is a household that is populated by others like yourself, a refuge for those who are lost, afraid, bewildered, or simply seeking a fresh start, who may, if they choose, get over their ordeal and see it through, without jeopardy.

In today’s topsy-turvy world there are many occasions wherein a person may suddenly feel at sea, can no longer cope with the stress and strain of ordinary living, and needs a time-out. Perhaps they feel anxious, or depressed, or just crazy? They may feel that the world is crowding in, that they are utterly alone without a friend to whom they can turn. Their world is coming apart, and nothing they try seems to help. Drugs, whether prescribed or self-medicated, sometimes offer temporary relief, but can they offer a way of life that is viable, meaningful and rich?

Perhaps such persons are suffering a mental collapse, or spiritual emergency, or existential crisis? Whatever they are experiencing may be hard to put into words, and the words employed by psychiatric diagnosis may feel alienating and strange, or inappropriate. However someone chooses to characterize their particular kind of agony, they need a place where they can be for as long as they wish, with people who are prepared to give them the support they require, as much privacy as they need, without being made to feel uncomfortable or intruded upon. Such a place should offer an attitude of live and let live, where you can be who you are without conforming to standards of behavior that are unnecessarily rigid.

Our program offers a network of fellow travelers who aspire to cultivate skillful means of helping people whose relations with themselves and others have become an occasion of wretchedness and despair. By living together in a perfectly ordinary household with no regimen to follow, we aspire to foster a better understanding of how each of us, perhaps unwittingly, sometimes occasion the predicament we are in, by getting to know ourselves at the deepest level. While no one living at our center is in a conventional treatment milieu, our dwelling space embodies a healing environment at the deepest spiritual level. Those who choose to live there also participate in individual psychotherapy, family therapy, and other healthcare practices that are supportive, with whomever they wish, off premises.

We aspire to provide opportunities to get to know yourself in the company of others who are seeking the same, always mindful of how we treat one another, hoping to form meaningful and enduring relationships, especially with peers. What we offer is nothing more complicated than the attention we give each other, which is the basis of what we take to be genuinely therapeutic. This is why we call our household a place of “re-treat” rather than treatment, a place where you can treat yourself to a more satisfying way of being in the world. This is a place where you can step back, take a look at where you have been, how you got there, and where you want to go, a place to re-think what needs to be thought through. In so doing, you are in a better position to re-kindle your passion for living, in the context of meaningful friendships with people who are genuinely supportive.

Those experiencing a crisis or spiritual emergency may also benefit from a relatively short-term stay with us until they feel able to return home.


Free Association, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1988. Under the direction of Michael Guy Thompson, PhD, Free Association is modeled on the work initiated by R. D. Laing at his experimental healing center at Kingsley Hall, London, in the 1960s. The principals who founded Free Association trained personally with Laing and are committed to providing a meaningful life for those suffering with what is sometimes diagnosed a psychotic episode. Free Association will soon set up a residential household to support people who need retreat and sanctuary for those in crisis, or for anyone who feels unable to get their life together after many years of trying.

Free Association, Inc. has the wherewithal to provide a genuine home environment due to the considerable experience of working with this model. Michael Guy Thompson lived in one of Laing’s houses in London while training as a psychoanalyst for many years and ran Laing’s organization for nearly seven years. Nita Gage lived in one of Laing’s houses for several years while engaged in therapy training. Nita also has extensive experience as an Executive and Clinical Director at a broad range of behavioral health settings including: general hospitals; outpatient clinics; corporate health; and private practice. Matthew Morrissey lived in a Laingian house in New Hampshire directed by a former student of Laing’s for a several years and works extensively with individuals and families as a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Michael and Nita also established and ran a similar household community called Shadows in Marin County in the early 1980s after returning to America from England. All three are experienced psychotherapists with exemplary track records. Michael Guy Thompson, the Executive Director, has published extensively and has been training psychotherapists and psychoanalysts in both graduate doctoral programs as well as psychoanalytic institutes for more than thirty-five years. (For a list of Dr. Thompson’s publications and biographical information see his website at: CVs for all three are available.

Additionally, Free Association is comprised of other highly qualified professionals who will be available to work with the house residents on life issues from a rich spectrum of disciplines including science, health care, education, diet, and spirituality.

Mad To Be Normal


Free Association has the following primary goals:

  1. Provide respite and life coaching for people living in a comfortable and nurturing community household
  2. Train and educate professionals, paraprofessionals and volunteers to understand deep distress and to compassionately and skillfully support people to live meaningful lives.
  3. Provide in-home therapeutic support to individuals and families in crisis as well as to individuals who require services at their home for other relevant situations.
  4. Organize Symposia and Conferences on a national level to bring together like-minded people.
  5. Host local events, including lectures and film screenings, at our domicile in order to get acquainted with our neighbors.


We believe that some people are more sensitive to their environment than others and that such profound sensitivity is likely a trait they are born with. We don’t know why this is so and despite the remarkable advances we have made in genetic research we will probably never find the answer. Though this character trait may compromise some individuals, it may serve others remarkably well, sometimes accounting for artistic ability that we associate with a heightened awareness of the surrounding world. It’s as though such individuals lack the filters that protect most of us from difficult, sometimes cruel environments, but it also makes them acutely vulnerable to the slings and arrows of everyday misfortune. Some of these people go on to become artists, musicians, and dreamers; others go on to become actors, psychoanalysts, or labeled schizophrenic. The reasons why some people fall into one camp rather than another are often arbitrary, inexplicable, or simply bad luck.

Many of the people who end up seeking psychiatric treatment have problems with making friends and enjoying intimate relationships with others. They feel threatened at close quarters and avoid social contact, but they also dread being alone, so isolation isn’t a viable alternative. Working at a regular job that presupposes a capacity for discipline, punctuality, and a cheerful presence may be out of reach. Though medication may temporarily abate some of their symptoms, they do not provide the tools for living a meaningful, fulfilling life comprised of a rigorous work regimen and network of intimate relationships.

We believe the best way to help such people resolve their fear of relationship is to provide them with an intimate home-like environment where their relationships with the others living there serve as the healing agent of their stay. They will initially experience the same anxiety and trepidation of living at close quarters as before, but in time they will come to trust what these relationships and burgeoning friendships offer, and they will eventually find a place for them in their hearts. Individual psychotherapy, family therapy, and group process are all brought to bear to help our travelers gain self-awareness and insight into the chronic impasses that have stunted their previous efforts to succeed. We believe that living with other fellow travelers who are going through similar problems of their own is the most effective healing agent in obtaining a viable living experience. Our more than forty years of experience working with this model has taught us this simple lesson.

We believe that living in a relatively small home environment with a minimum of staff is essential in providing the kind of experience that is most healing. A larger “facility” environment, no matter how skillful the staff and pleasing the surrounds, makes it impossible to approximate the kind of intimacy and normalcy that our approach features. This is also why the cost of our program is more affordable.


Gnosis In-Home Services offers a team of experienced therapists and life-coaches who will come into your home and help you contain such a crisis. The senior members of our team have been engaged in this work for more than forty-five years, in Great Britain as well as in California, with amazing success. If your son, daughter, or other family member is experiencing a psychotic break, nervous breakdown, spiritual emergency, or other psychological crisis, and wants an alternative to incarceration in a mental hospital, we are ready to come to your aid at a moment’s notice. Our team will visit your home, appraise the situation, go over your options with you, and arrive at an estimate for our services, should you choose to adopt this option. (For more in-depth information, please visit the In-Home & Family Services page.)


When someone you love is going through a personal crisis it can be incredibly stressful for everyone involved. At times like these it can help to have extra support with people who understand. Gnosis Retreat Center would like to help by offering support groups for families of people going through crisis. The groups will be led by Michael Guy Thompson, psychoanalyst, author, and educator with over 40 years of experience working with people going through psychotic experiences and their families. Support groups are available in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Call 415.683.3353 for a free consultation.
Group price by session: $150 for Couples, $100 for Individuals.


Free Association, comprised of clinicians, staff, and volunteers who have considerable experience utilizing this method, is seeking money to establish such a center in the San Francisco Bay Area. Because traditional sources of financial support from the federal, state, or local governments do not support our long-term approach, we are looking to support day-to-day operations primarily through rental and life coaching fees to residents.

In order to start this program, we are seeking funds to rent a house and provide services for the 6-12 months prior to having people move in and pay for the service. This is for either a shared bedroom or room of your own, two meals a day and supportive life coaching.

Our program will be comprised of three part-time directors, two live-in staff, as well as volunteers and interns from local graduate schools. Ongoing training, seminars, lecture presentations and poetry readings will be organized for the local neighborhood. Days won’t be filled with rote activities, but devoted to forming and deepening friendships with one another, the key agent for the kind of intimacy that promotes lasting change and recovery. Meditation, yoga, mindfulness exercises, and a healthy diet are provided in order to ease the state of uneasiness and turmoil that our guests typically struggle with.

We craft an individual coaching life plan for each resident, tailored to his or her needs, and work closely with their families to facilitate optimal communication. We ask for a minimum one-year commitment for those struggling with chronic issues in order to insure the most desirable benefit. Shorter-term arrangements may be negotiated for those in crisis.

Our team has been meeting together for three years planning this program. We convene a week-long workshop at the legendary Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California every summer, beginning in 2015, to further collaborate with their brain trust on this program. See the attached workshop program to see a sampling of what our theoretical foundation and range of people involved in the program.

In order to procure our place we need start-up funds to get started. The following is a list of categories you may consider giving us money for. Once we find a suitable location and begin to take in clients, you may want to earmark your contribution to a specific category. If not, we will be happy to use your donation for one or all of the categories listed below.

Subsidize a resident’s fees for one year, we suggest a donation of: $72,000; for half a year’s fees we suggest: $36,000; for a quarter of a year’s fees: $18,000. (These figures do not necessarily reflect the cost for a given resident, as our fees are tailored to the needs of each client, but they do represent an average of what we anticipate the cost will be.)

Subsidize a live-in staff person’s wages for one year: $50,000; half a year’s wages: $25,000.

Subsidize a resident’s twice-a-week cost for psychotherapy for one year: $15,000 (based on $150 per session).


  • Secretarial Help
  • Student Stipends
  • Business Office

The Legacy of R.D. Laing



Michael Guy Thompson, PhD, Chairman of the Board & CEO
Psychoanalyst, Author, Adjunct Professor: California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, CA

Nita Gage, Honorary Secretary
Psychotherapist, Author, Vallejo, CA

Fritjof Capra, PhD
Author, Emeritus Professor, University of California, Berkeley, CA

Michael Cornwall, PhD, LMFT
Psychotherapist, Director: Mandala Project, Benicia, CA

Steven Gans, PhD
Professor, Psychotherapist, Scottsdale, AZ

Dennis Jaffe, PhD
Psychologist, San Francisco, CA

James Norwood, PhD
Project Director, San Francisco, CA

Pieternella Pijpaert, AMI
Montessori Director, Long Beach, CA

Sanford Rosenberg, PhD
Psychologist, Oakland, CA

Rinat Tal, MD
Psychiatrist, Beverly Hills, CA

Connor Tindall
Doctoral Candidate, California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, CA

Dashiell Thompson, CPA
Chief Financial Officer, Feld Direct, San Francisco, CA

Bruce Wolfe
Chief Information Office/Social Worker, Alcohol Justice, San Francisco, CA



Michael Guy Thompson, PhD, Executive Director

Nita Gage, Staff Director

James Norwood, Project Director