The dirty secret of John Hartwell’s brutal killing

allmychildrenI wrote a song about John Hartwell last week. I want to say more about the background to it, so that you know the full story.

John Hartwell’s death in 1972 was a brutal one. He was stripped, tied, and put in a bath of extremely hot water.

When he was taken out, he had third degree burns over 65% of his body. He died as a result of his injuries, shortly after his 18th birthday.

It may read like a retribution killing from a gangland TV show. But he died at the hands of his own psychotherapists.

The Superstar

He was under the “care” of Jacqui Schiff, at that time a superstar in the world of Transactional Analysis (TA) psychotherapy. He was put in the bath by therapist Aaron Schiff, who was the person in charge at the facility.

The death was not simply an accident. The coroner said it was homicide. Aaron Schiff pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, which was later reduced to a child abuse misdemeanour.

One might think that this would signal the end of their careers.

Yet just two years later, they were given the highest honour possible within the Transactional Analysis world. They won the Eric Berne Memorial Award.

Their peers, far from horrified at Hartwell’s death, lauded them.

Brutal and Punitive

Schiff had become famous and powerful for her theories around the treatment of schizophrenia.

She argued that it was the result of faulty parenting, and so she took patients into her home (later into her facilities), regressed them to a very young age and “reparented” them.

Her reparenting techniques were often brutal and punitive.

Some she openly wrote about. Others emerged as the trail of evidence finally caught up with her. Licenses revoked here, assault and battery charges there, and ultimately an ethics committee investigation that recommended, but did not get, her expulsion from the TA community.

She wrote that she used corporal punishment, even belt whippings.


One account of how she “treated” Aaron Schiff (initially one of her patients, later legally adopted by her) is particularly chilling.

Aaron had a fear of castration. This excerpt is from Jacqui Schiff’s book All My Children. These are her own words, openly shared:

“Naked, Aaron was strapped securely in a restraining chair. As I approached him with a large hunting knife, I was sure that he believed I would indeed castrate him. Maybe he really wanted to be castrated.

“Then as I laid the edge of the knife against his naked genitals, Aaron’s face drained of color.

“‘What am I going to do?’ I asked him. ‘Shall I start cutting so you can never be a man?’

“‘No, no, please!’ he whispered. ‘I do want to be a man!’

“‘I don’t believe you,’ I said. I pressed slightly with the knife, and his controls broke. He began to struggle and scream.

“Untied and safe, the knife put away, Aaron lay shaking in my arms as I stroked him.”

This is effective psychotherapy?

This is “I’m Ok, You’re OK?”

Ethics Committe

When the ethics committee finally investigated her, they found a litany of abuses against her patients. But Schiff was allowed to resign rather than be expelled.

Now dead, she remains an influential figure, having trained many TA psychotherapists. The Cathexis school that she pioneered is regarded in the literature as one of the three major strands of Transactional Analysis.

They do not mention the death of John Hartwell, and they do not mention the controversy and abuse.

She is presented simply as an important figure in TA, and an effective psychotherapist. The casual onlooker would have no idea about the death of John Hartwell, the revoked licenses, and the many abuses inflicted upon her patients.

At worse, Schiff is described in terms that place her as an eccentric, whose methods were a bit “out there.” But usually not even that.

TA’s Dirty Secret

It is TA’s dirty secret, apparently unworthy of mention.

For the past 9 months I have been training to become a psychotherapist, and I am studying Transactional Analysis. Isn’t this something that I and my fellow students should at least be made aware of?

I don’t believe that her abusive methods are representative of good psychotherapy.

Yet she received the support of her colleagues, even after John Hartwell suffered such an horrific death.

Where was the questioning? Where were the champions of those who were entrusted to her care? Where were those who simply demanded some evidence?

Telling the Truth

And why now, after all of this time, is the TA community still dancing around the issue and refusing to claim its own history?

More to the point, if it can’t tell the truth out loud about someone who is now dead, how does it show itself as trustworthy enough to take on the living should something similar happen today?

Why is the death of John Hartwell, an innocent young man and one of our clients after all, deleted from the records when authors insist they are simply stating the facts? Was John’s death not a fact?

So even 42 years on, you won’t find John Hartwell in the standard textbooks when Jacqui Schiff is mentioned.

Instead you will have to hear about it from a songwriter.

So here it is. For John, and the others.

Further reading:

Song For John Hartwell

Well I’m singing this song for John Hartwell
Burned to death in a bath at 18
Tied up and killed by his own psychotherapists
Imposing their brutal regime

But their colleagues they hailed them as heroes
And they gave them their highest award
No mention of Hartwell as they stood
To cheer and applaud

It’s for your own good all these things that we do to you
We know that you’ll thank us some day
Our theories were invented on backs of envelopes
But we won’t let that stand in our way

Hail to the ones who are experts
And worship their fine expertise
Don’t expect evidence
Just let them do what they please

And pity the one they call Patient
Whenever the expert draws near
Any fanatic will sure be an expert
If it’s in their own madcap idea

It’s for your own good all these things that we do to you
We know that you’ll thank us some day
Our theories were invented on backs of envelopes
But we won’t let that stand in our way

And now there’s a sanitised history
Where they hide all the bloodshed and pain
So no supple conscience is challenged
By John Hartwell’s name

But cages are there to be rattled
If dead men fall out when we do
So own your own shit
Just like you tell your clients to do

It’s for your own good all these things that we do to you
We know that you’ll thank us some day
Our theories were invented on backs of envelopes
But we won’t let that stand in our way

So I’m singing this song for John Hartwell
And the victims of experts excess
So here’s to love, mutuality and
Some humility won’t go amiss

Just accept that you don’t have the answer
Just bring me your love care and doubt
And speak out for truth, for respect and justice
When it’s the next time to shout

Let there be no more of things that are done to you
Let’s see an end to that day
Hold to the ones who know trust must be won to you
There really is no other way


#death#jacqui schiff#john hartwell#transactional analysis


  1. David M - April 16, 2014 @ 4:12 pm

    I really appreciate the background information, and the weblink. The subject matter is a huge can of worms for anyone to open, and I realise how it has some relation to my life. Recently, someone I know recommended Transactional Analysis as a method for people with weaker social skills to get win-win results from their interaction with others. It sounded amazing, but then I did not know anything about the history of that therapy. I just thought it was a useful social tool and effective communication facilitator. Only now have I found out, and only because of your song.

    I discovered an article online by Pat Crossman [*], in which she is very critical of TA and also Attachment Therapy, which has a more recent fatality, one which I find even more disturbing, that of 10-year old Candace Newmaker, who, before she died, had referred to her ongoing treatment as “torture”.

    For me the cases of John Hartwell / TA and Candace Newmaker / AT raise lots of issues, which I will just mention, though I could write at length:

    • the dubious concept of the maternal culprit, i.e. that problems derive from birth;
    • blurring the doctor / patient divide (Aaron Schiff was still technically a patient);
    • subservience to authority figures and the relinquishment of moral responsibility;
    • power bases defending their own power at all costs;
    • the continuing examples of the abuse of children and young people;
    • the poor understanding of mental health and its care;
    • the danger of restraining individuals.

    You, Alun, are an independently-minded person, and someone who is prepared to critically examine any theory presented to you, and you will reject it, if it seems wrong. As such, you don’t need to fear being tainted by the actions of others. I am sure you will be a great psychotherapist. You can use that which makes sense, omit that which doesn’t, and tweak whatever needs some adjustment to be operable. How much better must it be for a patient to have someone like you, than a therapist who blindly and unquestioningly follows the stipulated methodology?

  2. Devils Advocate - May 13, 2014 @ 9:18 am

    While most people live by the basic concept of ‘wrong and right’ there have always been, and always will be those who who either will not, or cannot, live within these constraints – notice I use the word ‘constraint’. All ‘therapy’ is relative to the individual and just by the nature of that indivdiual needing or seeking help, means they are by default ‘vulnerable’. Some methods will bring positive results and others will not – ALL therapy can become a tool of abuse – as indeed can ALL rules, laws and contraints. Someone who has a predisposition of being an abuser WILL find a way to satisfy their need. Exposing these individuals is very ‘in-vogue’ at present – as it should be – but we should all be wary of ourselves effectively becoming a ‘Patient’ of another kind – consiously and subconciously making decisions which are rooted in thoughts of mistrust, paranoia, doubt and accusation derived from digesting an endless quantity of information made avialable in our modern world via unauthorised and unsubstantiated Blogs, Tweets, Facebook Pages, Email Spam,TV, Radio, Newspapers, Publications etc, etc, etc.
    Now this is only a vague observation BUT I believe we appear to be turning into a massively devided and infinitely fragmented society – each splinter group, wether consisting of 2 or 2 million individuals, developing a very sinister yet tangable fear of other Institutions. We all seem to be looking to ‘take control’ of our lifes while at the same time wanting to find some kind of all-knowing ‘guru’ or ‘leader’ to show us the way forward and spread the ‘word’.
    Anyway, enough for now – I have to get back to writing my self-help sickotherpist book entitled ‘The Joy Of The Disemboweled’.

  3. Michael J Harris - July 30, 2020 @ 4:17 pm

    I hung out with John for years we all played in the band together everything seemed fine. I was at his house today he really lost it even playing his drum and practically put the sticks through them. Even after he was locked up used to show up on my door stop one he would escape from the facility. Just overall a bad situation

  4. Michael J Harris - July 30, 2020 @ 4:19 pm

    By the way John was a great drummer loved the band Cream and Ginger Baker he could play the drum solo on toad like no one else

  5.">Jose Manuel Rodriguez - September 10, 2020 @ 1:55 am

    She Was expelled from the International Transactional
    Analysis Association ITAA

  6. Alun Parry - September 15, 2020 @ 11:17 pm

    Jose, she was not. Mark has it wrong. The ethics committee recommended her expulsion but in fact they fudged it and she was able to resign. Moreover, she is still taught to this day. I was trained at two different centres and both taught her without comment. Indeed in one such lesson the trainer exclaimed “oh I love the Schiffs” and yet nothing was said about John Hartwell or her many other abuses.

  7. S - December 17, 2020 @ 9:10 pm

    Dear Alun, Thank you so much for this song and speaking truth about the history behind John’s death. I was the child of one of Jacqui’s “children.” I suffered the abuses of some of her hurtful “methods” and have endured years of intensive healing to recover. Your use of music as both a memorial to John and those of us harmed by those Avis I’ve “methods” and a history lesson is so important. The song is deeply validating and I am so grateful to hear it.

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