Bindrim himself was a licensed psychologist with academic qualifications from Columbia and Duke University and he was careful to package his therapeutic innovations in the language of scientific advancement. Moreover, his therapeutic discoveries drew heavily on the work of the then-president of the American Psychological Association: Abraham Maslow. World-renowned as one of the fathers of humanistic psychology, Maslow had a long-standing interest in nudity dating back to his graduate work as a primatologist in the 1930s. Although he had never written extensively on the topic, Maslow’s work was the inspiration for nude psychotherapy and as APA president he publicly endorsed the technique as an innovative avenue for growth.
Likening the experience to a “visit to a personally defined heaven,” Maslow (1968) described peak experiences as moments of maximum psychological functioning. “He feels more intelligent, more perceptive, wittier, stronger, or more graceful than at other times” (Maslow, 1968, p. 105). Not only was a person generally enhanced during a peak experience, but he also felt a heightened sense of oneness with himself and the world around him. “The person in the peak-experiences feels more integrated (unified, whole, all-of-a-piece) . . . and is more able to fuse with the world” (Maslow, 1968, p. 104).
Like other encounter groups, nude marathon participants traversed culturally anomalous emotional terrain. Most of the participants were strangers to each other, yet they were expected to share an unparalleled level of emotional and physical openness with the group. Aware of the anomaly, Bindrim moved quickly to create an ersatz community.“Basically, I conceive of the first half of the marathon as a means of producing a good functioning group in the nude” (Bindrim, 1972, p. 145).
Bindrim began this process by employing familiar encounter group techniques. Participants were invited to “eyeball” each other (stare into each other’s eyes at close range) and then to respond in some physical way (hugging, wrestling, etc.). After this ice-breaker, participants disrobed in the dark to musical accompaniment before joining a small circle to perform a “meditation-like” hum. This process, Bindrim felt, gave rise to the “feeling of being all part of one human mass” (1972, p. 145).
Like a psychological impresario, Bindrim carefully walked his “human mass” through a series of emotional displays. Freely blending psychoanalysis and Maslovian theory, Bindrim told his participants that they needed to reenact the hurt and frustration in their life in order achieved a psychologically hallowed state. “The idea is to regress, if possible, to the trauma that caused the distortion. That’s the way to start toward a peak experience” (cited in Howard, 1970, p. 95). Under pressure to disclose, participants offered up their intimate secrets and Bindrim masterfully sought out those human dramas that could deliver the greatest emotional payoff. During the first marathon, a participant “Bob” complained that his wife didn’t give him any love:
Paul grabbed a rolled package of magazines, pulled over a bench, shoved the package into Bob’s hands, and screamed to him, “Hit her, hit her, get it out. She wouldn’t give you any love.” Bob in a frenzy, started to hit the bench harder and harder, screaming and swearing vindictively. Paul cried with him. The group cried with him. We were all swept into it. . . . When it was over, we were all limp. (Goodson, 1991, p. 24)
Nude therapy was based on the idea of the naked body as a metaphor of the “psychological soul.” Uninhibited exhibition of the nude body revealed that which was most fundamental, truthful, and real. In the marathon, Bindrim interrogated this metaphor with a singular determination. Bodies were exposed and scrutinized with a science-like rigor. Particular attention was paid to revealing the most private areas of the body and mind—all with a view to freeing the self from its socially imposed constraints.
“This,” Bindrim asserted gesturing to a participant’s genitalia and anus, “is where it’s at. This is where we are so damned negatively conditioned” (cited in Howard, 1970, p. 96). Determined to squelch the “exaggerated sense of guilt” in the body, Bindrim devised an exercise called “crotch eyeballing” in which participants were instructed to look at each others’ genitals and disclose the sexual experiences they felt most guilty about while lying naked in a circle with their legs in the air (Bindrim, 1972; cited in Howard, 1970, p. 94).In this position, Bindrim insisted “you soon realize that the head end and the tail end are indispensable parts of the same person, and that one end is about as good as the other” (Bindrim, 1972, p. 146).
There was an extensive popular and academic literature on the “decline” of the self-made “inner-directed” man and the emergence of a feeble, mass produced self who passively responded to the blandishments of consumer culture (see Gilbert, 2005). Nudist motifs and nude therapy in particular promised deliverance from modern despair through a nostalgic invocation of an idealized biological self. Taking off one’s clothes would restore “authenticity” by taking the self back to its precommercial, biological foundation.