Michael Pollan’s hugely influential new book on psychedelic medicine, How to Change Your Mind, is a watershed moment in calling a truce in the war on drugs. And decriminalizing psychedelics, including MDMA and psilocybin mushrooms, is, generally speaking, a good thing. But Pollan’s wide-eyed account is overly enthusiastic and largely uncritical, and there is at least one danger he and other psychedelics promoters are overlooking. All the new hype about miracle psychiatric treatments and the next wave of cures for mental disorders leaves out the risk of therapy abuse.
Therapy abuse—including therapists and doctors having sex with clients—has a history that reaches back to the early days of LSD, but you wouldn’t know that reading Pollan’s account or listening to today’s psychedelic proselytizers. Pollan seems to not understand that psychedelics, for all their strange powers, are still drugs, and therefore we need to be alert to their dangers, not just sold on their benefits. If we end the war on drugs by just medicalizing psychedelics instead, we also risk unleashing another wave of pharma marketing and commercial profiteering in a society that is daily looking more and more like Aldous Huxley’s pill-taking dystopia Brave New World.
Although I do work with people interested in psychedelics and plant spirits in my own therapy practice, and have sometimes found taking psychedelics can be useful, I wasn’t planning on writing publicly about any of this until I read How to Change Your Mind. To my surprise I discovered my former San Francisco psychedelic therapist Aharon Grossbard—and likely my own story—made a disguised appearance in Pollan’s book. And since the version I read is so different from what really happened, and Grossbard and his wife Francoise Bourzat are today leading teachers of psychedelic therapy internationally, I decided to share my own experience of being mistreated. (I provide a more detailed account of my work with Grossbard and Bourzat here.)
Years of widespread use in the underground shows that psychedelics are relatively safe as far as drugs go, and far safer than psychiatric meds such as benzodiazepines or SSRI antidepressants. And there’s no doubt that, even in the much-misunderstood “rave” scene, MDMA, psilocybin, LSD and other drugs aren’t just used for escape and recreation; many users also report healing their feelings of anxiety, depression, and other emotional pain. There’s nothing new or surprising here: this has been true for decades. So by raising an alarm about therapy abuse, I’m not exaggerating the dangers of psychedelics or calling for continued drug criminalization: I’m calling for more honesty about the implications of putting psychedelics in the hands of therapists.
What’s new in the “psychedelic renaissance” is that, at a time when other medications have lost their momentum, pharma and the mental health industry are moving in on the underground market in search of money and power. And to do it they are rebranding psychedelic drugs as, well, not really drugs at all, but psychiatric treatments. In order to position therapists and doctors at the center of this new gold rush, they have to gloss over the fact that psychedelics—as weird, unpredictable, mind-shaking and life-altering as they can be—are still the same underground marketed drugs: they intoxicate you, get you high, and you come down. As Joanna Moncrieff writes, any psychoactive substance that changes consciousness can trigger a powerful experience that might feel beneficial, but the perceived benefit arises from subjective response to a drug intoxication, not a disorder cure. (And there are many other ways to induce altered states and “change your mind” without substances, such as breathwork.) The claim that psychedelics somehow treat mental disorders is as fanciful as the propaganda about antidepressants correcting chemical imbalances or lithium targeting bipolar disease.
All the gee-whiz psychedelic jargon we hear in the media today about “default mode networks,” “brain rebooting,” and “neural connectivity” is just a return of more of the same neurobabble that gave us the last wave of quick-fix faith in SSRI antidepressants. Psychiatry’s amazing new neuro-tool Prozac (and the other drugs) turned out to be just active placebos (with huge risks), an echo of Freud’s early enthusiasm for cocaine. The “second generation” antipsychotics were promoted as safer than older drugs but quickly ran up against the reality of more honest research and huge court settlements. Psychotherapy’s most recent darling, mindfulness, today has a deflating reputation in light of more nuanced and balanced research. All medical treatment outcomes are driven in part by expectation and placebo: eventually the hype around new psychiatric products wears off, and then we are on to the next marketing wave—with iatrogenic harm to patients left in the wake.
One of the great ironies of today’s interest in psychedelics is that drugs celebrated for illuminating the spiritual and aesthetic mysteries of the human mind have instead fueled a burgeoning brain research industry based on the crudest of mechanistic determinism. In their zeal to credit psychedelics with tantalizing promises of new potentials, today’s wide-eyed psychedelic advocates have gone all-in on neuroscience determinism, as if the explanatory gap of the hard problem of consciousness—how mind arises from body—were already solved. Psychologist William James’ warnings about “medical materialism” are today more apt than ever (see for example, the study “Superfluous neuroscience information makes explanations of psychological phenomena more appealing“).
Which, again, is not to say psychedelics shouldn’t be available: yes, some feel they are helpful, and continued criminalization just adds more harm. A functioning healthcare system would provide counseling for whoever needs it, and your psychedelic trip is just as valid to talk about as anything else. If you want your therapist instead of a dear friend or a spiritual guide you found online to be your tripsitter, that should be your choice. But if we get lost in brain connectivity neurobabble, draw big sweeping conclusions from small less-than real world research studies, and (most disturbingly) pander to exotic colonialism about “shamanism,” we are going to lose sight of the most important fact about the psychedelics we are about to mass market as medical treatments: these are still drugs.
And seen as drugs—intoxicating substances that get you high and that you come down from—it should be clear that among their dangers, psychedelics also pose an increased risk of therapy abuse.
In the imbalanced power relationship of therapist and client there is already a heightened danger of authority being misused. That’s why ordinary standards of consent do not apply: a client cannot simply give “consent” to a therapist for sex, financial exploitation, physical intimacy, neglect, emotional control, or other mistreatment, The therapist, listening from powerful and distant heights to the painful secrets of their vulnerable and dependent client, has too much influence, and the consequences for clients are too severe to see each side as equal. And so we protect clients from therapists in the same way we protect children from adults, especially from the most exploitive and extreme violation of therapist trust, sex with clients. And even where mistreatment doesn’t include sexual contact, harm from emotional betrayal can be just as devastating. Therapists have an enormous special duty to protect their clients from that betrayal.
When you add psychedelics, the risks only get magnified. Drugs affect judgment, drugs can enhance idealization, drugs can promote risk taking, drugs can lower defenses, drugs can amplify suggestibility, drugs can lead to dissociation… all drugs. Imagine if you heard therapists were giving their clients alcohol to get them talkative, lines of cocaine to get them confident, or cannabis to get them relaxed? You would easily recognize that even if some clients do benefit, the client is also put into a heightened and more easily exploited state. Despite their many unique and often positive qualities, this is still true of psychedelics. And the influence is magnified when the therapist is supplier of and expert about the drug, when the drug has a taboo cultural aura of esoteric healing powers, the media are hyping miracle cures, and scientific experts are waving their hands and calling it “medical treatment.” Add that psychedelic therapists are typically also themselves users of and true believers in these substances. The dangers are obvious.
You start to see the picture more clearly: psychedelics present some of these same common sense risks of any drugs. Unless we name these risks, and are especially vigilant about them, psychedelics in the hands of therapists, though they will no doubt help some people, will also likely end up doing harm. And as the history of psychedelic therapy abuse shows, they already have.
You may want to convince yourself, as the psychedelic crusaders and entrepreneurs want you to believe, that legal medical psychedelics will somehow be immune to abuse because a therapist’s office is controlled, supervised, and safe. I disagree. I was harmed by a licensed psychotherapist and a credentialed counselor. Challenging abuse may be more difficult, not less, when it is done by someone with a license or degree.
Unlike community and underground settings with their implicit ethos of personal responsibility, reputational accountability, and “buyer beware,” drugs sold as medical treatments and administered by experts strip people of protective caution. You marvel at the hyped media accounts, invest your hope in a magic cure, rely on a doctor or therapist to take charge, and set aside your own judgment, all because they presumably have expertise that you don’t. And then if your therapist or doctor mistreats you and you try to get your voice heard and your experience seen, they have the entire power of their profession backing them up. And appealing to the licensing authorities to protect you and hold therapists accountable is a nice idea, but works about as well as appealing to the police and criminal justice system to hold any abusers accountable—as I found out in my own experience. Psychedelic medicalization risks investing even more power in this institutionally entrenched group of people.
The power to diagnose clients puts therapists at a huge advantage when challenged: labeling someone with emotional problems can effectively discredit their judgment. It is very difficult for a client to question mistreatment if the therapist blames the problem on them and says, directly or more subtly, “you’re crazy.” You came to the therapist in the first place because you doubted yourself, were vulnerable, and needed outside help. They are the expert and you depended on them. When that trust is used against you, it’s often too hard to stand your ground. Bystanders who could support you are more likely to doubt your version of the story.
This has a New Age version that cult survivors know well, a kind of “spiritual clinical gaze” where the teacher points to some presumed unenlightened state inside a challenger in order to discredit criticisms and redirect the problem back on them. The person trying to speak is labeled with a closed heart, inability to surrender, ego blockages—or just “being negative.” Once used, this tactic can become entrenched, reinforcing an entire culture of accepting abusive authority: Followers of popular Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa defended his misconduct for years with this tactic, and even after Trungpa had been publicly exposed they continued in the same way for many more years to defend other abusers in their midst. It has a term: DARVO. Defend yourself, attack the accuser, and reverse the victim into the offender. You’re not the one who has done anything wrong, you are the victim of one of the “crazies” unfairly accusing you.
It’s also perilous to base drug safety on the superficial pigeonhole of a person’s psychiatric diagnosis. People need careful understanding of their specific needs: diagnoses are notoriously imprecise and offer little detailed insight into present experience. Everyone deserves informed choice about drug risks along with tailored, individual protections: Psychedelics are unpredictable, and present dangers for everyone who takes them. Pollan only adds to this confusion with his sweeping edict separating the psychedelic eligible from the ineligible: “no one with a family history or predisposition to mental illness should ever take them.” Such simplistic exclusion is a recent development: the history of psychedelics and psychosis research shows a more complex picture.
While underground psychedelics use has not worsened mental health outcomes, psychedelics can stir strong emotions that can be unmanageable. Many people, with or without a diagnosis, need special considerations (such as around dosage, frequency, and support), or might be smarter staying away entirely (and exploring alternatives such as breathwork, silent meditation, fasting, or going alone into the wilderness). Basing eligibility for psychedelic therapy on a diagnosis assumes dangers only apply to “those” people, when drug responses are diverse for everyone. Past experiences can be useful signposts, and larger doses pose higher risks, but psychiatric diagnosis itself doesn’t allow you to predict how psychedelics will affect someone.
Some psychiatric diagnoses are seen as contraindicated for psychedelic therapy, and while it seems this would protect clients, it can instead easily serve as a cover for mistreatment. If something goes wrong, the therapist can just do the diagnosing after the fact, and point to the client’s diagnosis retroactively as an excuse. Being able to “uncover” a diagnosis readily allows blame to be put on the client, not the therapist’s own behavior or drug risks. The only fault becomes not knowing the person was crazy beforehand, and now that the problem has been “uncovered”, the therapist can exonerate themselves and the treatment for anything that happened (often handing troublesome people over to psychiatry’s stigma, pills, and coercion), and move on to the next client.
Psychiatrists already routinely do a version of this when, for example, a manic reaction is blamed on uncovered “bipolar” instead of an antidepressant side effect, or violence is blamed on an uncovered “paranoid delusion” instead of a response to forced treatment. The president of my former therapy school had sex with a client and then blamed her diagnosis after she reported him; the pattern is not that far removed from abusive partners who justify themselves by labeling their exes borderline or narcissistic. Vulnerable individuals are best protected by understanding individual needs, not relying on stigmatizing and misleading diagnostic labels.
As someone who has used psychedelics and sat while others were taking them, I’ve seen how these drugs often trigger overwhelming emotions. When we are overwhelmed, we sometimes use compartmentalization, dissociation, and self-deception as ways to cope. The “high” state can become much more desirable than the old self, so you forget about things to keep yourself elevated. Anyone who has avoided making a painful decision by somehow just forgetting about it knows this basic human psychological dynamic. At the extremes, denial can become defending abusers through trauma bonding (“Stockholm Syndrome”), or the “honeymoon phase” that enables intimate partner violence. “Spiritual bypass” is another name for this, and therapists often emphasize drug-free “integration” sessions to protect against denial.
Whether on psychedelics or any other drug, it’s called getting “high” for a reason: we lose our feet on the ground. The new perspective can be illuminating, but avoidance might come as easily as insight: “Expanding” consciousness can be based on dissociation, not awareness. Psychedelics can increase suggestibility, the tendency to accept beliefs of others most strongly on display in hypnotic trance states and conditions of social pressure for conformity. It’s clear psychedelic drugs can make some people more dependent on outside influence and more unwilling to consider they have misjudged their safety.
While MDMA research has recognized the drug’s role in unwanted sexual activity (dramatically less than alcohol, for example, but still a danger), research exploring the heightened risk of ethical violations in psychedelic therapy is only now being conducted, with the publication, for example, of “A Qualitative Exploration of Relational Ethical Challenges and Practices in Psychedelic Healing” by Brennan et. al. in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology. The study scrutinizes loose professional boundaries in the psychedelic underground; within a day of announcing the paper in a community forum, authors received an email from a reader who said they were sexually assaulted by their psychedelic therapist.
Therapy Abuse and Psychedelics
From the early research days, it was impossible to see psychedelics as anything other than drugs. Like other drugs, psychedelics affect different people differently; there is not one “treatment” for everyone. LSD discoverer Albert Hofmann’s first trip was by no means enlightening: He was convinced he was poisoned by an amphetamine, and in a panic rushed a doctor to his house. Only later did Hofmann and others reframe the drug along more positive and healing lines. (Aldous Huxley’s famous epiphany under the influence of mescaline was only after he had already devoted himself to Eastern philosophy for years.)
As historian Steven Novak writes, “LSD researchers in the 1950s understood the subjective nature of drug responses and how often the results merely mirrored subjects’ personalities….” This malleability is true to such a degree that US psychiatry has repeatedly re-defined psychedelics into their opposite: first as a psychosis-mimicking substance useful for laboratory research on schizophrenia, then as a healing psychotherapy treatment, then as a mind control weapon, then as a drug of recreation and escape, and now back to a healing treatment.
Psychedelic drug response is so subjective that researchers can induce psychedelic drug highs through hypnosis or using only cues in the environment, without the person taking any drugs at all (a fact already well known in the drug underground as a “contact high“). This suggestibility, summed up in the idea of “set and setting,” undermines any simplistic claim that psychedelics are themselves treatments for mental disorders—and points to how psychedelics in the hands of therapists pose new dangers of greater influence over clients.
One of the earliest alarms about psychedelic therapy risks was first raised by leading UCLA researcher Sidney Cohen in the 1950s, when LSD was used legally in psychiatry. At first, Cohen was an LSD enthusiast whose reports contributed to the early positive media attention about psychedelics benefitting Hollywood stars and the elite. But Cohen grew more cautious when he saw therapists in Southern California become enamored of LSD’s power, obtaining LSD from manufacturer Sandoz on a pretense of being researchers and then misusing it with clients. Cohen became aware of cases of therapy abuse, and it became clear there was more harm to clients going on than was made public, hidden behind what Novak called a “veil of silence” among psychiatrists and therapists.
In a debate with the avid LSD proselytizer Timothy Leary, Cohen warned that psychedelics “expand one’s gullibility.” For Cohen, the psychedelic state was a “completely uncritical one” able to “overwhelm certain credulous personalities….the discriminating, critical capacity is lost,” he wrote. “The ability to observe oneself, to evaluate the validity of one’s ideas and swift flowering fantasies, is lost…” And what was his view of the mental health professionals drawn to using these drugs with clients? Cohen said that psychedelic therapists “included an excessively large proportion of psychopathic individuals.”
The usual narrative about why LSD and other psychedelics were made illegal goes something like this: Promising cures and fresh views of the human mind were shut down by an intolerant law-and-order culture too frightened by the antics of Leary and the hippie scene to try something new. Novak, however, challenges that story, and points to safety warnings prior to psychedelics arriving in the counterculture: “Before Timothy Leary, who first took LSD in 1961, catapulted to the national scene by being fired from Harvard in 1963, Sidney Cohen had sounded the alarm that LSD was being abused and hurting people.” In How to Change Your Mind, Pollan repeats the usual historical amnesia: His list of the reasons psychedelics were made illegal includes cultural rigidity, Leary’s provocative media stunts, and Richard Nixon’s new war on drugs. No mention of warnings about therapy abuse and client harm.
Therapy abuse continued to haunt psychedelics, including the criminalization decades later of a new drug on the scene: MDMA. In the 1980s psychiatrist Richard “Rick” Ingrasci was widely known among psychedelic researchers and therapists as a founder of the leading New Age Journal magazine and frequent presenter on the holistic conference tour circuit. He was also a crusading promoter of MDMA: He published research studies, gave psychedelics to his patients, and advocated for psychedelics prominently in mainstream media appearances, including on the CBS Evening News and Phil Donahue Show. Ingrasci worked alongside top psychedelic therapists and researchers as close colleagues, and in 1985 he even testified to the US congress that MDMA had a “low potential for abuse” and should remain legal.
Four years after his congressional testimony that MDMA was safe, Ingrasci’s photo was on the cover of the Boston Globe newspaper with the headline “Therapist Accused of Sex Abuse of Clients.” He faced allegations he raped at least three clients after giving them MDMA and other psychedelics. A series of Globe reports recounted the violence he was accused of doing to multiple women: He told one he could heal her cancer and that their sexual relationship was curative; one patient attempted suicide. Ingrasci lost his license, reached a settlement with former clients, and left the area.
Searching through the voluminous historical publications, studies, wikis, and reports in the psychedelics research world, however, I could find no accounting for or repudiation of Ingrasci by his colleagues. Not a word. No reckoning, no statement of support for Ingrasci’s victims, no gratitude for them coming forward, no “what does this mean for us.” There was also no attempt to root out any more abuse on the logical assumption Ingrasci was only the tip of the iceberg. Ingrasci was at the center of the psychedelics therapy and research scene, knew everyone, was known by everyone. And when he lost his medical license because of abuse, instead of alarms going off, it was as if that same “veil of silence” noted by Novak had again descended.
The leading psychedelics advocacy group Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) cites Ingrasci on its website news section and MDMA archives as an MD, with no mention that he lost his license or why (much less a link to the cover of the Boston Globe). Erowid, a leading internet resource on psychedelics, includes Ingrasci’s research but similarly omits the abuse story. Ingrasci appears in psychedelics anthologies, and his presenter biography at the Hollyhock retreat center just says he is an MD, as if his doctor’s license were still in good standing: It describes him only as “a social entrepreneur with a rich background in psychiatry and holistic medicine.”
Another prominent researcher, a friend and colleague of Ingrasci well known among psychedelics luminaries, was Francesco DiLeo, who also faced public scandal when he was sued by a patient who alleged he sexually abused her: DiLeo told her she needed sexual touch in “fulfillment of her oedipal wishes.” (Strangely, Passie’s authoritative history of early MDMA therapy omits details of the allegations against Ingrasci, saying only that “The case of Francesco DiLeo serves to illustrate both.”) John Perry (whose innovative Jungian work on psychosis I otherwise admire), was a leading psychiatrist in Northern California with many colleagues and friends in the region’s psychedelic therapy underground: the Jung Institute expelled Perry and he lost his medical license after there were allegations of sex with some clients, some of whom went on to disrupt Perry’s public events.
Keep in mind what a sexual abuse survivor faces coming forward—personal torment, public shame, and widespread dismissal of their experience. Studies repeatedly show sexual abuse is dramatically under-reported in society, and speaking up about your therapist might be even harder. Sexual misconduct is also just the most extreme expression of misuse of power—other violations fall short of criminality but still harm clients, such as invalidating their experience, using clients emotionally, abandoning them, betraying their trust, and exploiting them financially. So it is likely that more people were harmed by Ingrasci and DiLeo than just those with the courage to come forward with allegations of crimes, and it is also likely that many more incidents of mistreatment were still to be found among other psychedelic therapists.
The Ingrasci scandal was minimized by the psychedelic leadership, but had its effects: One of Ingrasci’s victims became an advocate who worked for greater awareness of therapy abuse. She co-founded TELL, the Therapist Exploitation Link Line, a leading resource that has been quietly helping abuse survivors for decades. In the late 1980s, TELL and other advocacy groups were vital to bringing the problem of therapists having sex with patients to public awareness. The New York Times reported how new regulations were boosted when the Ingrasci scandal made headlines, expanding jurisdictions that criminalized therapist-client sex and leading to greater patient safety. But again, I could find no support for these new protections or discussion of their implications in psychedelic leadership circles at the time. Ingrasci’s multiple patient abuse scandal on the cover of the Boston Globe did have a big impact—just not in the psychedelics community.
With one exception: Allegations against Ingrasci prompted later MDMA researchers to establish the research protocol of two therapists, a woman and a man, to protect against crossing the line into abuse. The new standard, reported in Passie’s account, became a widely observed norm that continues throughout MDMA therapy research today. But even though such guidelines as the MAPS Canada study and A Manual for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder adopt this two-therapist protocol, they don’t explain why it is in place, where the protocol originated, or the risk it aimed to protect against. Clients aren’t advised they are seeing two therapists because being alone with one therapist is considered too great a risk of being sexually violated.
Richard Yensen is another prominent leader in psychedelics research for many decades and colleagues with the same psychedelics hierophants reaching back into the 1980s, including being a friend of Ingrasci and DiLeo. As Olivia Goldhill reported in Quartz, Yensen now faces recent sexual abuse allegations from 2019, not just as a psychedelic therapist but as a therapist in an official psychedelic research clinical trial in Canada. This is a remarkable indictment of psychedelic therapy safety. MAPS, who led the trial, had every opportunity to create ideal conditions for the research, given the huge stakes and enormous scrutiny of the MDMA approval process. It was a prominent, high-profile study with tremendous power and money riding on its success, and MAPS had incentive and capacity to appoint only the top qualified therapists under strict conditions and safeguards for this role. Not ending up with a therapist having sex with their client is a low-bar standard to meet.
But when MAPS appointed the therapists to run the trial, the worst-case scenario—therapist abuse and sex with a client—allegedly took place. Why? It appears the problem was still ongoing: Yensen was part of the same psychedelic therapy culture whose history reaches back to the days of abuses by colleagues Ingrasci and DiLeo.
A public lecture Yensen gave a few years ago strongly suggests that therapy abuse remains an open secret widely tolerated among leaders in the psychedelics field.
In a video of the lecture, Yensen says casually he knew of “large numbers of therapists” having sex with “multiple clients” in the 1980s. He doesn’t say if he reported any of them—or if any are still working today. And he doesn’t say if he or his colleagues have tried to do anything about it. He does, however, recount another research study years ago during which he was tempted to have sex with his client but didn’t, someone he described as a “lovely young lady.” He said he stopped himself not because he realized he needed to protect her, but because the department chairman happened to walk by and see them together. Otherwise, he admitted, “I don’t think I could have handled it.”
That Yensen would describe all this so openly, in a videotaped public lecture, suggests several things: It was accepted by his colleagues that widespread abuse was happening; Yensen feels he himself bears no responsibility; and he apparently shares the profession’s attitude of using diagnosis to blame the clients for these problems. In the lecture, Yensen described the woman he almost violated as “sexualized,” therapy-speak language to again subtly diagnose the situation as happening because of something inside the client, not because of the therapist.
Which is also what Yensen did to defend himself from the allegation that he sexually abused the MAPS client in the Canada MDMA trial. After being exposed, Yensen still wouldn’t acknowledge any mistake and instead used his diagnostic power to discredit the client he allegedly violated. According to CBC Canada,
“In a civil claim filed in B.C. in The Supreme Court in 2018, Buisson alleges she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Yensen, with Dryer’s knowledge, while in treatment with the couple. Yensen does not deny having sex with [the client], but in his response to her lawsuit, he accuses her of initiating it, describing her as ‘a skilled manipulator.'”
“Skilled manipulator” is a code-phrase: Yensen sounds like he is subtly suggesting that the client has “borderline personality disorder,” which is a notoriously disqualifying label used to silence abuse survivors since the days when it was previously called “hysteria.” As in “you’re hysterical—you’re crazy.” Therapists who read about the Yensen allegations—and have their own challengers to contend with—may sympathize with blaming manipulation by one of the client “crazies” they are taught to fear and avoid. If a professional colleague culture is going to systematically rationalize therapy abuse, this is how they will do it: pathologizing the victims. (The president of my training school did just this, after he had sex with his client, lost his license, and continued to teach and practice at the school with the support of colleagues).
And another example: The Horizons psychedelic conference, a longstanding venue featuring leaders in psychedelic therapy and research, in 2018 had to oust prominent researcher and board member Dr. Neil Goldsmith from participating because of credible accounts of sexual misconduct. Multiple women came forward, but even after a restorative dialogue, Goldsmith apparently would not face his actions or take responsibility for the harm done. The Horizons board also announced they would “not reply to any questions about the nature of the reports that were made, or our decision-making process…This is our final statement on this matter.”
After the Yensen abuse allegations in the Canada MAPS research trial emerged, MAPS was forced to discuss the case publicly and finally address therapy abuse as a broader issue. They admitted that in their required disclosure of all the risks associated with MDMA that they hadn’t told the FDA about therapy abuse: It was kept out of the informed consent required for drug trials. They had just somehow forgotten to include this information, omitting any warning about a potential risk of MDMA so serious it had landed top MDMA researchers in trouble from the very beginning and had reshaped MDMA research protocols.
“Yet neither the FDA nor patients were warned of that risk ahead of the trial. In all clinical trials, subjects must sign “informed consent documents,” which lay out the risks they accept by participating. Quartz has seen the informed consent document given to participants in MAPS’s Vancouver trial, which lists possible risks including dry mouth, fatigue, feeling cold, anxiety, and numbness. It does not mention that MDMA can increase sexual arousal, or warn of the history of therapists abusing patients.”
The MAPS MDMA therapy protocol also has other problems. Along with including no mention of therapy abuse or the origins of the two-therapist protocol, it prohibits sexual touch between therapist and client but, strangely, also says “If the participant wants to touch one of the therapists, the therapist allows for and/or provides touch,” and that “withholding nurturing touch when it is indicated can be counter-therapeutic and, especially in therapy involving non-ordinary states of consciousness, may even be perceived by the participant as abuse by neglect.”
The distinction between “sexual” and “nurturing” touch is never defined. Do lingering full body hugs, snuggling, spooning, or kissing a client count as nurturing, or are they sexual? Who draws that line? And why does denying client requests for touch suddenly mean a therapist risks “abuse by neglect”? Therapists routinely hold boundaries for clients who may be vulnerable and disoriented in their distress. Increased vulnerability and lowering defenses might make MDMA useful in therapy, but not if therapists are explicitly instructed to set aside customary precautions and also given the benefit of the doubt to define what is “sexual” or “nurturing.”
If therapy researchers want to introduce intimate touch into psychotherapy, they should hold this up for scrutiny directly, not quietly add it into protocols on MDMA. These vague recommendations loosen protective boundaries and are alarming in a document shaping standards for psychedelic therapy as a whole—especially after a prominent therapist chosen for a high-profile clinical trial ended up facing allegations of abusing his client.
Meanwhile, Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind doesn’t talk about any of the history of therapy abuse with LSD or other psychedelics. Pollan devotes limited attention to MDMA, despite the impact of the Ingrasci scandal, and creates a distance between MDMA and other drugs even though the psychedelic therapy leadership typically uses all of these drugs with clients, often in combination. Pollan describes MDMA in positive terms only, as “a drug famous for its ability to break down barriers between people and kindle empathy,” as if these are always good things. Sometimes those barriers are there for a reason.
My Experience with Psychedelic Therapy Abuse
I didn’t know about any of this history when I did psychedelic therapy in the 1990s with a licensed psychotherapist in the San Francisco underground, Aharon Grossbard, and was in workshops and trainings with Grossbard and his wife, Francoise Bourzat. I wasn’t seeking psychedelics, but Grossbard encouraged them as treatment. He told me the drugs were safe: no mention of the risks, no warning that all drugs have downsides, and no caution about therapy abuse. As a result, I was repeatedly mistreated, including crossing professional boundaries and violating touch. I later talked to other clients who told me I wasn’t the only one.
My experience has cautionary lessons for psychedelic medicine in general, because Grossbard and Bourzat are today both leaders in the field, teaching at the influential California Institute of Integral Studies and therapist training programs internationally. They set a standard of behavior for psychedelic therapy as a whole, including the importance of admitting mistakes and supporting survivors when they come forward. (My more detailed account can be found here; when I sent Grossbard and Bourzat drafts of this essay and invited dialogue, they replied that they had done nothing wrong and hired a San Francisco legal firm to threaten me with a lawsuit if the essay were published; the resulting legal dispute delayed publication for a year.)
Pollan interviewed Grossbard in How to Change Your Mind under the pseudonym “Andrei,” and Pollan’s portrayal isn’t just unflattering, it’s disturbing. In an echo of researcher Sidney Cohen’s earlier warnings about psychedelic therapists, Pollan meets Grossbard thinking he might take psychedelics with him as his guide, but quickly decides not to. Grossbard, he writes, “made me want to run in the opposite direction.”
(Grossbard confirmed to me that Pollan interviewed him, and what “Andrei” says is familiar to what I and other clients heard “Aharon” Grossbard say over the years. But when I sent him a draft of this essay his lawyer replied that “Mr. Grossbard’s understanding is that ‘Andrei’ is not intended to represent a single, real person, but is instead a fictional figure.” Pollan, however, is an award-winning non-fiction journalist; he introduces Andrei in How to Change Your Mind by writing that “all the people you are about to meet are real individuals, not composites or fictions.”)
Even after all these years, Grossbard was still unable to acknowledge he might have mistreated clients. Pollan writes:
“‘I don’t play the psychotherapy game,” he [Grossbard] told me, as blasé as a guy behind a deli counter wrapping and slicing a sandwich…. ‘I hug. I touch them… those are all big no-nos.’ He shrugged as if to say, so what?”
Grossbard does tell Pollan he was challenged by a client who said he mistreated him, but Grossbard doesn’t say he did anything wrong, just that it led him to decide “I don’t work with crazies anymore.” Pollan sees through Grossbard: “I told Andrei I would be in touch. The psychedelic underground was populated with a great many such vivid characters, I soon discovered, but not necessarily the kinds to whom I felt I could entrust my mind—or any other part of me.”
Reading Pollan’s portrayal of Grossbard as recklessly self-assured, I kept hearing things familiar to me: Pollan asks Grossbard, what if a client thinks they are having a heart attack, and it’s not just their imagination under the influence of the drugs, but real? Grossbard again just shrugs, and says, “You bury him with all the other dead people.” I’ve encountered that same “so what?” many times, as Grossbard smiled and with a brush of his hands and a shrug dismissed my efforts to get him to listen to how negligent he was being as my therapist.
And Grossbard’s interview with Pollan reignited deeper concerns. I am convinced psychedelics—powerful suggestibility drugs, powerful dissociative drugs—themselves contributed to my vulnerability as Grossbard’s client. MDMA is a notorious love drug that dissolves defenses and emotional protection; psilocybin at high doses can be so terrifying you rush to protection from whoever offers it to you as a “guide”; and all psychedelics confuse the ordinary self and create radical openness to suggestibility and influence. But psychedelic therapists also take these drugs themselves, often repeatedly over many years. I suspect psychedelics can magnify a therapists’ own problems—getting high can convince you that spiritual elevation entitles you to devotion from those around you and the freedom to disregard client protections.
Pollan later acknowledges that psychedelics carry this risk of putting people into such states:
“It is one of the many paradoxes of psychedelics that these drugs can sponsor an ego-dissolving experience that in some people quickly leads to massive ego inflation. Having been let in on a great secret of the universe, the recipient of this knowledge is bound to feel special, chosen for great things…. For some people, the privilege of having had a mystical experience tends to massively inflate the ego, convincing them they’ve been granted sole possession of a key to the universe. This is an excellent recipe for creating a guru. The certitude and condescension for mere mortals that usually come with that key can render these people insufferable.”
But this isn’t just a recipe for creating a guru: when mixed with the power imbalance between therapist and client it’s also a recipe for therapy abuse. Despite Grossbard openly blaming his client and these other red flags in their interview, Pollan still doesn’t connect the dots: There is no mention of therapy abuse as a risk of psychedelics in How to Change Your Mind. Meeting one of the world’s leading trainers of psychedelic therapy so unsettled Pollan he was concerned for his own physical safety, but he doesn’t mention what this might mean for the safety of other clients.
Like many survivors, it took time for me to break the spell of my conflicted loyalties to Grossbard. Drug epiphanies were at times helpful, and therapists can also be kind and generous, but things quickly took a darker turn. After Grossbard encouraged me to use psychedelics in therapy sessions, my critical thinking was set aside in favor of “surrender” and “letting go.” Grossbard told me to ignore my increasing fears about his conduct so I could “break through” my ego and rational mind. I believed he took a liking to me: I felt special, chosen to have a privileged place alongside his work.
I became a student of Grossbard and his wife, Bourzat, went to their workshops and assisted their teaching. I suddenly had two gurus I had never signed up for, enrolled under the powerful influence of drugs. I joined a secret underground circle of clients who clung onto them like a salvation, the at times terrifying drug trips reinforcing the need for safe refuge that made me seek therapy in the first place.
The relationship devolved into worse and worse professional boundary violations: staying at Grossbard and Bourzat’s home, doing childcare and landscaping work for them, going out to dinner and to a concert, hearing Grossbard’s offensive sexual jokes, him greeting me naked in his kitchen one night to tell me to keep the noise down. He held my hand in sessions. We hugged and cuddled on the office floor. He and Bourzat told me they loved me and would never leave me and I’d never be alone again. It was wonderful—until it wasn’t.
During one talk therapy session in his office, which was not using psychedelics, Grossbard continued to touch me in ways that felt sexual even after I complained: He embraced me face to face, with my legs wrapped around his waist, sitting genitals-to-genitals in his lap. The touching didn’t feel right (it certainly didn’t feel “nurturing”). So I told him, “This feels sexual.” He dismissed me by stating firmly “No, it’s not,” and continued. (California law defines sexual touching between therapist and clients to include clothed contact of buttocks with groin. I had never, then or previously, consented to any such embrace with Grossbard.) Looking back, I wonder if I was being groomed for more intimate contact.
Grossbard did all this presumably because he was convinced his spiritual healing powers entitled him to not play by the rules as a therapist—exactly what he boasted in his interview with Pollan.
After taking psychedelics two more times after this happened, it became clear my emotional problems weren’t going to be solved by a course of therapy that just included getting high, feeling you’ve discovered secret knowledge, and visits to your therapist who snuggles with you and says he loves you. Grossbard had nothing else to offer, it seemed.
I deteriorated, finally reaching a crisis point that the psychedelic-induced spiritual states could not cover over. My distress persisted, and I became bothersome to Grossbard. I fell out of favor: less attention, fewer invitations, and no more feeling special. I was set aside. With that same shrug that Pollan had found so unsettling, Grossbard told me that my downward spiral was just some personal failure of my own. To get over my crisis I needed only surrender, let go, and have unquestioning faith in psychedelics—and him. He referred me to another practitioner—a student devotee who recommended even more powerful drugs.
Grossbard’s betrayal was devastating. Without the intimate support I had depended on so deeply, I collapsed, left my school and training programs, and self-destructed my life. I plunged into an extreme emotional crisis, and admitted myself into a mental health residence where I was debilitated for months. I was not contacted by either Grossbard or Bourzat with any effort to help.
That was more than 15 years ago. Then Michael Pollan’s book was published. To make sense of what happened to me, I met others harmed by psychedelics, including people who said they were harmed by people trained by Grossbard and Bourzat, and had more discussions with the woman from the Canada MAPS trial who was studying abuse patterns in the psychedelics world. After talking with more than 10 other former clients and colleagues of Grossbard and Bourzat, I concluded I wasn’t the only one harmed, and that their San Francisco therapist colleagues had apparently enabled misconduct for decades.
Grossbard had been fined by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences for unprofessional conduct in 2015, which was reported online without any details. But there is also a 2000 lawsuit against Grossbard and Bourzat which was unavailable until a friend retrieved it from the San Francisco court. The lawsuit alleges sexual battery, fraud, professional negligence, and 12 other violations by a client of Grossbard and Bourzat who said Bourzat had sex with him. The suit points to patterns that were disturbingly familiar to me. Both Grossbard and Bourzat denied all allegations in the lawsuit. You can now read the lawsuit here.
In the suit, their former client alleges that Grossbard and Bourzat administered psychedelics without providing information about risks. He alleges that Bourzat began a four-year sexual relationship “not limited to, acts of kissing, hugging and fondling” and contact with intimate body parts including “sexual organs, groin, and buttocks… Bourzat told [plaintiff] that their kissing was therapeutic. Bourzat encouraged and allowed [plaintiff] to kiss her, as well as kissing him… On at least one occasion Bourzat told [plaintiff] that her love would heal him and that he was lucky to have her as his therapist. Bourzat told [plaintiff] she would never abandon him….” The plaintiff said he did childcare and landscaping and stayed at Grossbard and Bourzat’s home. The complaint also states the client suffered “humiliation, mental anguish and severe emotional distress” as a result of the six years of treatment by Bourzat and Grossbard.
I spoke with a former colleague of Grossbard and Bourzat who said they knew the plaintiff personally: they told me the suit was settled only after Grossbard and Bourzat made a large cash payment. They said the allegations were in fact true, that Bourzat had sex with the client, and they had even been asked by Bourzat to pressure the client to drop the suit. The colleague also told me Bourzat had sexual contact with two additional clients. And three other former colleagues of Grossbard and Bourzat corroborated this account: They told me the same thing, that the allegations in the suit were true, that Bourzat had sex with the client who filed the lawsuit, and also with two more clients.
Bourzat told clients and students she was a credentialed therapist, which implied legitimacy and accountability for their work. Bourzat had indeed been certified in Hakomi therapy—a San Francisco school closely linked to psychedelics that Grossbard and Bourzat encouraged all their students to enroll in (the MAPS MDMA treatment manual lists Hakomi alongside such methods as Holotropic Breathwork). But the Hakomi Institute chairperson and past director both told me that decades ago, before I met her, Bourzat was discovered committing what they described as “multiple ethical violations,” and her therapy certification was unconditionally revoked without possibility of reinstatement.
Crucially, Bourzat losing her certification for ethical violations was never made known, because the Hakomi Institute never bothered to tell the public about it. Other credential oversight institutions publish disciplinary action details openly, but clients, employers, and community members (and journalists such as Pollan, who publicly endorsed Bourzat’s book) had no possibility to learn that Bourzat was misrepresenting herself. She just ignored the Institute’s decision and continued to falsely represent herself in public as a certified therapist (including in her book and on her website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the faculty page of the California Institute of Integral Studies, and elsewhere). Only this year, decades later, did the Hakomi Institute threaten legal action after a complaint, and as a result, Bourzat stopped describing herself as Hakomi certified—and now tells people she is “Hakomi-trained” instead.
And apparently this wasn’t the only way therapists shielded Grossbard and Bourzat. I was myself enrolled in the San Francisco Hakomi training when my relationship with Grossbard was unraveling, and I turned to one of my Hakomi teachers for help and told her about the sexual mistreatment by Grossbard. She didn’t report it, refer me, or advise on what to do. Only later did I find out that this Hakomi teacher was also a psychotherapy trainee supervised by Grossbard (and had shared office space with him).
Years later, as part of writing this essay, I asked the teacher what happened: She said she didn’t remember and broke off contact, saying my emails were “aggressive” (judge for yourself here). My subsequent complaint to the Hakomi Institute was dismissed, and when I followed up with a draft of this essay for them to review and to invite dialogue, the Institute sent me a letter threatening to sue me—signed by the same teacher I had originally complained about. I later learned that all during this time, the teacher continued to have a professional relationship with Grossbard and Bourzat, being listed as a formal Advisor at the school they founded (the listing has since been removed).
Hakomi Institute represents psychotherapy practices worldwide, and, as a modality widely recommended as part of psychedelic therapy, is poised to gain even more global influence—and revenue—as psychedelic therapy becomes legal. That they couldn’t acknowledge they had done anything unethical in their response to me suggests a dangerous precedent: not taking reports of misconduct seriously, intimidating whistleblowers with legal threats, and putting conflicts of interest in the middle of complaints resolution. (And I saw the direct result: a client who says she was harmed by a Hakomi-certified therapist and Grossbard apprentice told me that, after learning how they responded to me, they would not trust the Institute with their own ethical complaint).
I also began to hear more about where Grossbard and Bourzat may have learned some of all this: from their own teachers. They trained with Pablo Sanchez, a licensed social worker and underground psychedelic therapist, and Grossbard studied with Sanchez’s teacher Salvador Roquet, a psychiatrist and prominent psychedelic therapy researcher. A close colleague of Sanchez told me Sanchez had sex with many of his therapy clients, which was known by students and colleagues. Roquet apparently regarded himself so highly he saw no problem in overwhelming clients with high doses of multiple psychedelics, graphic images of violence and pornography, sleep deprivation, and loud chaotic music to destroy their defenses and then rebuild their personalities (which has similarities to drug mind control techniques—Roquet even tortured student activist Federico Emery Ulloa with psychedelics at the request of the Mexican government). Grossbard and Bourzat’s group psychedelics session format was learned from Sanchez and Roquet.
Grossbard’s school dissertation enthusiastically endorses Roquet and Sanchez’s therapy. Grossbard writes, “Participants are pushed to their limits in order to help them see more clearly their fears and blocks and break through them by surrendering and by allowing the disintegration of their intellectual and rational patterns of their relating to reality.” Unquestioning surrender is implicit as clients are moved through an assembly line to tear them down and rebuild them. Any challenges or criticism are just “blocks” and “rational patterns.” The word “consent” is nowhere to be found in Grossbard’s dissertation, much less any discussion of therapy abuse. And another student and close colleague of Roquet who endorsed his method? Richard Yensen, the MAPS therapist casually describing sexual abuse on YouTube.
Despite my own run-in with psychedelic therapy abuse, I do believe it’s a good thing to stand down from the war on drugs. I am also encouraged, to a degree, that some people will choose psychedelics as a safer option than traditional psychiatric drugs, as it appears is happening with cannabis. But just as legal cannabis is being distorted by huge commercial interests, making doctors, therapists, pharmaceutical companies, and capitalist entrepreneurs in charge of who gets to trip on legal psychedelics poses new dangers. Marketing hype and enthusiastic journalism such as Pollan’s will likely fuel another cycle of psychiatric industry profiteering, with the high expectations of quick fixes eventually crashing down to a more complicated reality. And if the history of psychedelic therapy abuse remains hidden, the misconduct of leading teachers in the field goes unchallenged, and survivors are left unsupported, even more patients will be harmed.
Community-controlled decriminalization, not medicalization or full commercial legalization, is a better path to end the war on drugs without just handing power over to professional and pharmaceutical cartels. People should be able to grow and share plants for personal use, get permits for manufactured chemicals like ketamine or LSD, or join churches where psychedelics are sacraments. At the same time, taking psychedelics safely will be up to local communities: We need active community oversight and accountability at the grassroots level, because therapists, professionals, or pharma—much less the criminal justice system—aren’t going to do it for us (even with all the promises of regulation and alternatives to police). That means speaking out, not just staying silent and leaving safety to the experts.
When mistreatment won’t be acknowledged privately, the next step is to speak publicly—otherwise, we start to become part of the same “veil of silence” that LSD historian Novak saw at work in the 1950s. That means also speaking out about communities that have gone along with abuse, and making transparent processes of transformative justice a regular part of our lives.
The mystical revelations of psychedelics may ease our suffering, but as psychologist William James pointed out, they mean nothing if they leave us afraid to take moral action. What is needed above all is for communities to realize that we have to take care of each other in an increasingly chaotic world, and that means we all have a shared interest in holding each other, and ourselves, openly accountable. And when conflict goes public, it needs to follow the lead of Dr. King’s nonviolence truth-telling: replace tribalism and the outrage politics of us versus them with mutual regard and an invitation for change, not vilification and scapegoating. No one is beyond redemption, and once pathways for return are clearer, therapists might be more likely to admit mistakes and come forward, colleagues might feel more free to break loyalties, and therapy as a whole might create more ways to support clients who have been harmed.
Aldous Huxley’s prescient Brave New World anticipated today’s disastrous embrace of mood-altering pharma drugs; he also warned that the transcendent raptures of psychedelics could easily become just more meds in the arsenal of adapting to a dystopian society. Instead, what is meaningful about psychedelics is how they inspire our primal need for community healing rituals and true loving solidarity, places where we can free our emotions and open our hearts to the yearning for spiritual connection with each other. Not with experts, not with professionals, and not with healers held above others. Overcoming the fear and isolation between us is the pathway to our true salvation. And there’s no pill for that.
Editor’s note: “This essay was updated from an earlier version to correct information about John Weir Perry.”
Editor’s Note: Will Hall’s detailed personal account of his experiences can be found here.
Looks like people seeking the “psychedelic experience” should devote their “pre-tripping” time to scaring up a copy of *The Hallucinogens*, by Hoffer and Osmond, which discusses psychedelic therapy in some detail, including contraindications for the use of these drugs. The book is now quite rare, as it was too pedestrian for both enthusiasts and enemies of psychedelic use.
The Hoffer/Osmond Diagnostic (HOD) test is still around, fortunately. If you have an orthomolecular therapist in town, he/she may have one, if you don’t know a weirdo like me, who also has one. (It was a screening instrument used to screen Canadian alcoholics in H&O’s tests of psychedelic therapy).
If I wanted psychedelic therapy, I’d go to see Maria Sabrina, but she must be gone by now, as she was old when the Wassons saw her back in the 1950’s.
powerful, courageous and very important – I fear the worst as the mental health industry focusses in on more profit in suffering. It appears to be gearing up to bring us ever closer to Soma and cultures of even greater mass psychosis and suffering in the name of ‘treatment’.
Thanks Will. I really appreciate the balanced tone you took, even as you covered some truly horrible stuff! This was very well written, and I hope will help us approach the both promising and dangerous use of psychedelic drugs in mental health care in a wiser and safer way.
This is a well-crafted piece of writing, if (for me at least) a bit over-long. I acknowledge that some courage was involved in revealing the author’s own involvement in that scene for a period of time.
The points and conclusions of this article are sensible from the viewpoint of anyone who has been involved in the mental health field and actually wants it to achieve its (often only implied) goal of an improved level of sanity on Earth.
For me, unlike some of my associates, this even includes my sympathy for the decriminalization process. However, those same associates remind me of where that process has taken us with other drugs: to normalization of recreational use, resulting in chronic use (addiction) in some individuals and the various social challenges that result from that.
We should also remind ourselves that abuse – particularly sexual abuse – in therapy has never been limited to abuse of drugged or drug-dependent clients. It has been a constant problem with therapists which I see as reflecting a larger problem in society, as therapy is not the only social context where sexual abuse exists.
My current feeling about this whole subject is that if we could get Mr. Hall’s attitude about therapy to prevail, therapy would become a safer and possibly more productive human activity. But it would still fall short of achieving the ultimate goal of improved “mental health” that we all, presumably, seek.
That is because, to state things crudely, the New Age psychedelic drug pushers are “onto something.” And that thing is spirituality.
As with every sphere of human knowledge that contains a kernel of truth, the sphere of the spiritual has suffered from continual “abuse” and distortion. I have seldom seen the approach to “spiritual healing” taken by those who I consider actually quite insane as well-recounted as Mr. Hall does in this article. The whole concept of “surrender” and “ego-destruction” is part and parcel of many New Age platitudes, yet has no real conceptual foundation or workability.
I see the New Age as a curated and carefully maintained pathway into the hearts and minds of people who are too smart or creative or “conscious” to go along with the soggy and cynical teachings of secular materialism. It promotes things like UFOs and ET contact not only because those subjects appeal to the imagination of New Agers but because they are factual. Same with reincarnation. Yet layered on top of all that are frankly bizarre pseudo-scientific theories about brain function and “multiple dimensions of reality.” They also have their own religious beliefs based on a multitude of stories derived from (probably) actual ET contact. As if the Bible should not be trusted while ETs should be! Who do we think the Bible’s “angels” really are??
So, while I would be happy to see psychedelics taken out of the medicalization pipeline – on any pretext, really – what about mental health?
I will only briefly restate my basic premise: Real advances in mental health have been blocked – first and foremost – by those I consider as the most insane posing as arbiters of sanity or “correct thought” in this society at this time. Thus those who seek real mental health have two major initial tasks: First, to get themselves and their colleagues totally out of cooperation with the ideologies and methods promoted by the demented “experts.” And second, to seek out and fully explore the areas that have long been deemed fraudulent or off-limits by those same “experts.” Great revelations will greet anyone willing to take these steps. And we will advance, possibly, closer to our real goal of more sanity on this planet.
so the author was part of the problem?
Two pills are always ready, by the way
Thank you for sharing this corruption within the psychological field, Will. And it is a problem within the entire psychological field in general. I have personally never met more corrupt people, than psychologists.
Perhaps the common sense logic of not giving any profession the power to play judge, jury, and executioner to anyone they feel like, for any reason. And taking away the right of the “mental health” and social workers to force drug people and steal people’s children, would be a good idea?
After all, we all know that “Power tends to corrupt; and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
And I know the psychologists of my childhood religion have “partnered with” my childhood religion, and they function as the child abuse cover uppers for the pastors of my former religion. And this, systemic child abuse covering up by my childhood religion’s pastors and “mental health” workers, has turned the bishops of my childhood religion into systemic child abuse cover uppers.
Maybe these paternalistic – to the point of being misogynistic and pedophobic – psychiatric and psychological, systemic crimes against innocent small children, and their mothers, should end? Just the opinion of a mother of a child abuse survivor, who is honestly appalled by, what was confessed to me by ethical pastors of a different religion to be, “the dirty little secret of the two original educated professions.”
Thanks again, Will, for your confessions of the fraud of the psychologists.
I am sorry about what happened to you. It took much courage for you to tell your story. I am of the opinion that all therapy is abusive, whether it involves the kinds of abuse you endured or not. I am also of the opinion that the combination of drugs and therapy is nothing but a glimpse into how “hell” might be. But, that is from my personal experience with the psychiatric industry. I am concerned that if psychadelics become utilized in psychiatry, they will be abused to a great extent and that those who should not use them will be coerced into using them. I still consider them unsafe at all costs and as dangerous as the psych drugs now prescribed like candy to people of all ages. One issue is that each one of us is inherantly unique and very few institutions in our society seem to respect that truth. I also believe that we are all succombing to a drug culture which has many negative impacts on our society, even, perhaps to interfering in our natural need to reproduce and continue our species on Earth. Honestly, I cannot ever feel comfortable with any drugs that seek to affect the brain in any manner for any reason. From experience, I know this is dangerous territory. We must consider that if a drug is “mind-altering” it is also “life-altering” and the results could be devastating. Thank you.
I’d like to offer a reflection. I saw in your comment a couple conflicting ideas: 1. A broad statement that “therapy is abusive” and “the combination of drugs and therapy in nothing but a glimpse into how hell might be”. (I understand the last phrase to be a bit of an overstatement, but I get your point.) and 2. “Each one of us is inherently unique”
Considering the important truth of that second statement, I think it’s important to point out that your first point seems overreaching in tone and sentiment. So many people have benefitted from both therapy AND therapy + drugs (whether pharmaceutical or psychedelic) that it’s just not true to suggest that their abusive or “hellish” outright.
I imagine there have been painful experiences in your life that have led to your perspective – and for that I am truly sorry, my friend. I sincerely hope you find healing – I hope we all do.
I also find that there’s healing value in owning my own experience and not making it more global/universal that it truly is.
Peace to you
This is loaded with way too many unfounded overtones that opponents of marijuana legalization once claimed. The work here yet again conflates the flaws of our society/psychiatric industry with the efficacy of drugs that have a history of human use going back more than 20,000 years. What’s more it doesn’t seem to acknowledge the primary use of entheogens in society today, which is daily or every other day microdosing among employees in the tech industry as well as among artists and other creatives.
And rather than focusing on the benefits these substances have at the microdose scale it unfairly treats their use as if high doses in a therapy session are the only option and drugging someone at that level is of course always more problematic. But that’s a bit a of a strawman really in the greater context of current use / legalization.
Furthermore, there’s now a great deal of evidence that the legalization of marijuana has led to a decline in consumption of more harmful (side effects) RX industry products. As in legalization offers individuals far more options, as well as the power to decide for themselves what works best for them. Because when you give people the power to experiment and decide for themselves, as well as huge new market of creative people, rather than a psych doctor that virtually works for RX industry writing prescriptions without much explanation or meaningful participation from the patient when it comes to product options and dosing levels there’s no learning/decision making process for the patient to learn how to take care of themselves. And that’s always going going to lead to too much abuse.
As in you can catch then feed a fish to someone so they come back to you for more fish, or you can teach them how to fish so they don’t need you.
It’s the difference between having someone deciding what you’re eating for dinner and then preparing it for you, which is problematic/fraught with abuse towards the person being fed, compared to deciding yourself what you want to eat for dinner, going to the store and buying it, and preparing it yourself. Sometimes you make a good dinner, sometimes you don’t. But over time you learn what works best for you and a doctor can help guide which meals are better than others.
In coming years, just like legalization of marijuana (which has psychedelic-like effects), there will be thousands of new products to choose from and lots of reviews from users so the patient is empowered to make their own decisions and fine tune what works best for their needs, especially in a day to day microdose context, which the author doesn’t understand the value of even thought that is primary use for these substances currently in our society.
Will there be abuse of psychedelics once legalization occurs? Yes… Just like any other drug. But the majority of people will use these substances responsibly and become a better person on their own with less control from the overpriced psychiatrist writing prescriptions for over-priced drugs with awful side effects that are driven by patent rights more than efficacy.
Though if I was an RX industry executive trying to prevent legalization so my products don’t loose market share, I’d for sure be contacting this writer and hiring them to write more articles/propaganda like this so as to ensure we keep people drugged up in ways they don’t understand and can’t participate in that much and most importantly doing it at prices they can’t afford because capitalism is always more important than affordable health care.
Your comments are unfounded. This is not an attack on the psychedelics world. This is a story of unethical behaviour by trusted therapists.
Psychedelics do make people more vulnerable than a normal therapy situation, and as advocates in the psychedelics space we must hold those who abuse their positions of authority to account.
Anything less and we are no better than those RX executives doing what they can to better their own industry.
I totally agree and understand with your statement here.
This is obviously an attack on the psychedelic world.
Yes, there are unethical practicians in most endeavors, and for
this author to point all the times he has seen this behaviour and
not brought it out into the light of days speaks to author and not
to the thousands of ethical practitioners of this subject.
Amazing that so many will point one finger away from them while the other fingers
are obviously pointing back to them.
My first psychedelic trip I experienced the dark euphoria of reliving and releasing trauma and my second experience rekindled my love of the natural world leading to my current job as a gardener so this article was enlightening to me that many, many people have much darker experiences.. I had gotten too ra ra ra about the resurgence of interest in psychedelics in recent years. Thank you for this very lucid look behind the veil Will!
It’s a difficult leap to differentiate between high dose life altering experiences from psychedelics in a party atmosphere when we’re young, versus the idea that legalization will lead to microdose levels of psychedelics as part of our daily vitamins for a healthy brain.
When I was first given the opportunity/substance to return to a high dose trip of my teenage years of many decades ago I was thinking “I don’t need to get high, I need to work on my mental health in a disciplined/responsible way.
Likewise, when first reading this article and didn’t know the nature of this website (which I now love) I didn’t realize this website was activism in opposition to the worst failings of psych med industry and was thinking this website was “more anti-legalization propaganda” that was preventing mental health sovereignty.
So in general, I’m so happy to find this website and also so happy that what once seemed awful actually turned into something for our mutual common good that brings us together!
Specifically, there’s very little market share for a corrupt RX-industry via the psychiatry profession that wants to control the future of entheogens. Legalization will open up the creative process of how to best use these powerful substances to everyone, which though harmful in some ways, is way more liberating than we can ever imagine.
The problem remains in thinking that we need ANY drugs to achieve a “healthy brain.” The brain is part of the body and we already know that body health has to do with nutrition, sleep, exercise and light exposure.
The mind is not resident in the brain, so thoughts and emotions are a whole other realm of health.
Some think that the fact that some of these substances have been used traditionally make them OK. We venerate tradition, yet how much do we benefit from it? If we still think we need drugs to feel better after all these centuries demonstrating that this isn’t the solution, then how much progress have we really made?
Basic brain science makes it pretty clear that there’s all kinds of naturally occuring “drugs” make our brain function in a healthy away. To pretend that any of us are somehow free a dopamine addiction is nonsense, we’re all hooked on it. It’s perfectly normal. And to exclude certain substances because they are “drugs” is not close-minded, not backed by science. In fact some of the best research indicates the super low doses of certain psychedelics after legalization will be included in our daily vitamins.
The problem, though, is that you are talking about brain science, not psychology! Don’t you get that there could be a difference? Don’t you believe in any sort of spiritual reality in human life? There is abundant evidence for it. And that such a reality would be the higher factor in human “mental health” should likewise be apparent.
This is a reply to l_e_cox: There is no evidence for spiritual reality. There are personal anecdotes describing encounters with the subject’s subconscious mind. Just as there is nothing to prove that the mind is of a spiritual nature, there is nothing to disprove that it’s simply virtual, an emergent property.
There is also nothing to prove that it is an emergent property, nor anything to prove it is NOT of a spiritual nature. The mind remains a mystery which Science has so far not made a dent in. Questions of philosophy must be answered (such as what IS a mind? or Do non-material things potentially exist?) before any claims can be made about the nature of the mind.
You write as if failure to prove a spiritual reality exists means that it doesn’t. It does not. Most people don’t realize that there are THREE conditions for any scientific question: True, False, and Insufficient Data to Determine. The Mind belongs to the latter designation.
Hello Jody R! This is Larry. I think that if you are interested in this subject, you should do more research on it. There is lots of evidence for spiritual reality. Of course this “reality” is not physical! So you will not find ordinary physical objects to study, but it can be studied like we study energy phenomena using meters, or by communicating with it directly. We are spirits, so when we communicate it is actually spirit-to-spirit usually via various physical media. If this whole subject upsets or annoys you, I’m sorry. You don’t have to study it if you don’t want to. But don’t dismiss it as a non-subject just because you don’t know that much about it.
Hey Steve. I would reply that the question is a matter of which side to slice off with your Razor. In my view, it should be the things that require additional explanation, like a “spiritual reality,” rather than those which stand on their own, like the idea the mind is a virtual extension of neurological activity. Obviously, mileage varies depending on your presuppositions.
But why does the mind as a virtual extension of neurological activity “stand on its own?” It only does if we adopt a “materialist” philosophical viewpoint. Science can tell us that we have a brain and what the brain is doing and how it happens, but so far, it can’t really identify what “mind” really is. So how can we conclude that it’s a neurological phenomenon? That only holds if we pre-judge that it can’t be anything else. Which is not a scientific position, it’s a philosophical one. There are plenty who would say that the world doesn’t make sense without a “creator” on a spiritual level. They don’t have “proof” either but are just as convinced of their viewpoint.
Psychiatry, in fact, relies on a “materialist” interpretation of the world to conclude that “Mind must derive from brain, therefore Mind can be altered only by altering the brain.” I think it’s important to take a stand that psychiatry has NO IDEA WHATSOEVER what “mind” is. And my observation is that as soon as we concede that a materialist worldview is the ONLY worldview that is “rational,” we spiral very quickly down the slippery slope into pseudoscience and violent acts on the body to affect the mind. So I think it’s essential NOT to accept that we “know” that the mind is a function of the brain, and that it is, in fact, a mystery. I’m not claiming I know any more about it than anyone else, but the truth is, any speculation about the mind is not based on scientific knowledge, because we don’t really know what it is we’re talking about.
Until you get me a spoonful of “mind” or in some other way demonstrate what it is in a replicable manner, it remains beyond the scope of science to study.
Steve: Totally agree: “Until you get me a spoonful of “mind” or in some other way demonstrate what it is in a replicable manner, it remains beyond the scope of science to study.”
i_e: My research CV:
1986: Lived one year on-site as an adept at the Yoga Center of California ashram of Southern California on Palomar Mountain, CA.
1988: Initiated in the Vedanta tradition of Swami Vivekananda and the tantric shakta tradition of Sri Ramakrishna.
1988 – 1990: Completed two years in the Consciousness Studies program at John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, CA.
1999: Understanding confirmed and a grant of permission by my initiation guru to teach Vedanta.
2005: Started the blog Guruphiliac, one of the first that was openly critical of the commercial enlightenment business.
2010: Once again instructed by my guru that I have permission to teach Vedanta after I reported that I had not been promoting myself as a teacher.
2010: Formulated a critique of how enlightenment is framed conceptually. I gave it the name “the folk theory of enlightenment” and presented it as a keynote at the inauguratory session of the annual ongoing conference known as “Science and Nonduality.”
2010 – now: Practicing as an enlightenment Twitter voice (@Kalieezchild) critical of how enlightenment is framed conceptually by both ancient and modern traditions.
This isn’t to say there isn’t more research to be done, but I’ve done a good bit already as described and while blessed to have studied with some fantastic preceptors, I have arrived at different conclusions than yours, thus, your mileage is likely to vary.
So how have these studies led you conclude that “mind” is an emergent property of neurology? What concrete observations show this to be the case?
BTW, I admire you commitment to these studies. I totally support the study of the mind/spirit or whatever you want to call “it” by individuals and groups. I just don’t see this leading to any scientific conclusions. But I’m open to new information, of course.
Seeing as you have delved quite a bit to Hinduism, you have undoubtedly been exposed to the phenomenon of past life recall. How do you explain this phenomenon?
It seems to me that by far the simplest explanation is that the being carries its experiences from lifetime to lifetime through many bodies. For me, this is the jumping off point. There is much more to learn once you decide that it is OK to ask a person what they remember.
Steve: I prefer it because I feel it’s a more simple and elegant solution to the mind/brain problem. The neurophilosopher Dr. Thomas Metzinger agrees: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5895503-the-ego-tunnel
i_e: The brain has 80-billion neurons with thousands of connections each. These can generate inner realities, i.e., [just realized this is a pun in the present conversational context ;)] the psychic narratives that get labeled past life memories, just as they generate any and all phenomenology that is considered to be of the spiritual category. If there is such a thing as spirituality, it is entirely 100% biological, IMO.
I appreciate that you say you “prefer it.” As I said, we’re talking philosophy here, not science. Until we know something of how neurons “generate inner realities,” we’re speculating. We don’t KNOW a single thing about the “mind” except indirectly by its apparent effects. My opinion is that we will not ever get there, because we’re using the mind to study the mind. The Buddhists have probably come the closest to getting a handle on it, but again, they are focused on effects, not on where the mind actually comes from or what it particularly is.
I note that the blurb on the book you linked refers to “the mystery of the mind.” There are lots of opinions and explanations, but very little hard data to base those speculations on.
Steve: We’re pretty much on the same page. It is possible that just the activity of neurons alone is enough to generate qualia, and it’s possible this occurs against some kind of universal background of consciousness. This is the biological materialist/pan-psychist divide. I agree this may forever be an unanswerable question and remain a mystery, but if I’m going to make the call, I fall on the side of biology alone. I feel this is more congruent with Occam’s razor.
Fair enough. Thanks for the stimulating exchange!
Well, I am surprised you have come to such a materialistic conclusion after studying Hinduism! You may believe as you wish, but if you ever run into any real past life phenomena, I hope you recognize it for what it is! I see the idea that Spirit is the ultimate cause of all physical phenomena as much simpler than the circular idea that biology – obviously a created technology – somehow manifests the knowledge necessary to create itself! Past life recall, at least, has been studied in academia and I think the results are convincing. Of course, many others have looked into this phenomenon, too – as it is quite real – and arrived, usually, at similar conclusions. Furthermore, those conclusions are useful, as they have led to workable mental and spiritual therapies, even a solution to the problem of psychopathy.
I do think you make a legitimate point – Occam’s Razor aside, we can see that the results of assuming a material cause of the mind has certainly not led to any kind of success. From a purely practical viewpoint, materialistic assumptions about the mind so far appear to have led to a complete dead end.
One can not use “harmful” and “liberating” in the same sentence. If something is “harmful” it can not be “liberating.” This may be considered both personally, uniquely, individually, and that which is in the interest of the “common good” or “humanity as a whole.” That which is “harmful” always leads in some way to some form of imprisonment, whether it includes “bars” as in a legal prison or not. Like I wrote earlier, any drug that seeks to be “mind-altering” is also “life-altering” and I shall I add because it is “brain-altering” if not “body-altering.” It behooves us that if we want to continue existing as viable species contributing to the welfare of this planet, the only answer is working towards a culture that is not the prevalent “drug culture” that has seduced us pretty much like the snake (Satan) did to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Thank you.
Sounds like you have had great experiences!
This is a brilliant essay that provokes much thought. So much in fact that I am unable to comment just yet, as I need to read it again!
Will Hall’s honesty is striking throughout.
This is a fascinating explanation of an issue I hadn’t given much thought to before; you brought the matter home for me when you made the “spiritual gaze” connection.
A group of us who are former members of Shambhala, the cult of Chogyam Trungpa (abuse and trauma survivors and others), are discussing your article and we find it to be a highly accurate description of how abuse of spiritual authority was (and continues to be) excused and covered up in Shambhala. Even those of us who departed long ago still experience the DARVO phenomenon from the remaining loyal disciples of the cult.
Thanks for helping raise awareness of this problem. As you may be aware, students who were trained by Trungpa have widely infiltrated the secular Mindfulness and MBSR movements and help to perpetuate the victim-blaming culture you are describing in the psychedelic therapy sphere.
Thanks Fred for those observations. The potential for abuse seems to be present wherever there is power, and is true even when someone’s power originally comes from their having helpful spiritual insight. And then, once abuse patterns are enacted, they can embed in families, subcultures, and even whole cultures. It takes a lot of awareness and courage to root them out.
When I was in my twenties or so, I read Trungpa’s “Shamhala” It is supposed to be a “new age classic.” Actually, Shambhala is tragically representative of so many of the new age cults that swept through the world since the sixties or so. Some have mentioned Hoffman and Osmond. They are referenced in Christopher Hills’ book; “Nuclear Evolution.” I believe his “University of the Trees” in California disbanded after his passing. Everyone one of these reflects an example of the many cults of the “new age.” Psychadelic drugs is just another terrible representation of this, too. All of this is extremely dangerous and does lead to the cult of psychiatry, etc. They take away all human free will to make capable adult decisions so that decisions are made by almost god-like authority. In my opinion, there is really is only one way out of these “cults” because all humans are naturally fallible. To put authority into in one human being, group, or idea is always dangerous. I am sorry for what happened to you and your friends, Mr. Coulson. I am glad that I only read the crazy books and some others too. Sadly, I paid by way of the dangerous psych drugs and therapies, etc. I endured for many years until I almost died. I wish you well and please continue to get your message out. Although Trungpa has passed, there are others like him out there and coming generations need to be warned. Thank you.
“Psychadelic (sic) drugs is just another terrible representation of this, too. All of this is extremely dangerous and does lead to the cult of psychiatry, etc.”
Okay, so thanks for sharing your opinion.
“Therapists” are not priests or shamans, and while psychedelics can provide some useful keys to self-discovery they have no place in a psychiatric setting. Enlightenment and “mental health” are very different.
I could argue, though, that enlightenment and mental health aren’t necessarily that different, and that neither belongs in the hands of an MD.
It was a huge mistake to hand over this sector of human health to medical doctors in the first place, and the sooner that mistake can be acknowledged and corrected, the better.
My thought is that mental health and enlightenment are different, but they get tangled up in each other, and people often need help from someone who knows something about both. Which is rare: we don’t have a profession for that, so you have to get lucky to get good help. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to find mistreatment instead.
Actually, we do have a profession for that. There might actually be more than one. But they suffer under the disdain of many people who choose to believe the half-truths of doctors rather than figure it out for themselves.
okay, so you present your opinion right here,
yet give no data to support your opinion.
Opinion does not necessarily need data. The problem is that many confuse opinion with possible “fact” that can be backed up with accurate data and references. However what is fact may actually be opinion and what is opinion may actually be fact. The best way to determine and critically examine what you may hear or read is to avoid mind-altering drugs so your mind is clear and your brain works optimally. In that way you discern truth from falsehoods and fact from opinion. Otherwise life becomes a downward winding spiral staircase that leads to the bottom. One can get back up the staircase, but it is painful. Still it’s worth every little ache. Thank you.
Not many would do what you have done – to put your livelihood on the line for the greater good.
You are going to receive a lot of angry responses for your words. A lot of people, especially those with vested interests in doing so, will not believe you and will publicly denounce you. They will attack your credibility, your historical mental health, everything. They will do whatever they can to discredit you, when they themselves should be discredited. Despite this, you have support in the community, don’t think otherwise.
“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the
world will not grind you under, it will lift you up ”
Removed for moderation.
This is such a thoughtfully written expose – so important and so timely as psychedelic therapy quickly moves toward mainstream acceptance. Therapy with psychedelics certainly comes with many benefits and risks, depending on a multitude of factors. But I hadn’t thought about the huge risk of abuse by the therapist until reading this. Thank you so much, Will, for enlightening us! May your message continue to spread so that everyone becomes aware of this potential aspect for harm, leading hopefully to the strictest safeguards being put in place in therapeutic settings, along with extra training on this topic for all staff involved.
Will, thank you for your tremendous courage in sharing your story, for your thorough, grounded investigation into the myriad dangers posed by psychedelic medicine, and for exposing the many abuses that have so often been held in secrecy.
The harm that you endured cannot be overstated. This type of treatment by caregivers in positions of power causes the worst kind of pain and betrayal, comparable to incest as you mentioned, and is likely to impact a person’s life long term on many levels. Sadly, it is often their lack of accountability, not the initial transgression, that is the far more destructive factor in it all.
It is deeply disturbing to me how unremorseful and self-protective Grossbard and Bourzat appear to be, as well as the other many therapists you have named here. Even more disturbing that these are supposed to be our leaders in this field, and should therefore be pillars of ethical conduct. It’s shameful and cannot be ignored.
What stories like this teach us, among other things, is that we as therapists need to be constantly vigilant against abusing our place of power by preserving boundaries that protect our patients and ourselves. This requires total commitment to ethics, transparency, circles of supervision, constant self-monitoring and humility. It’s also why we desperately need to bring psychedelic medicine out of the shadows of secrecy and into a legal and ethical framework that provides a psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy that is truly safe and accountable.
I am currently a student in the psychedelic assisted psychotherapy program with the recently founded organization, TheraPsil, in Canada. TheraPsil advocates for the safe and legal access to psilocybin treatment in Canada and has a multi-disciplinary team of associated doctors, nurses, therapists, and health advocates. I have thus far been very pleased with the level of integrity that TheraPsil shows with regards to their commitment to ethical conduct, safety measures, proper screening, patient education, acknowledgment of the dangers you have mentioned here in this article, as well as taking your accusations very seriously and implementing changes to our curriculum as a result. I do believe they are on the right track and that safe access to psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy is possible and very worth working towards.
I just want to thank you again for your bravery and very important contribution to ensuring safety in therapy and in psychedelic medicine. I also really appreciate your non-violent stance, such that you are leaving the door open to true healing and reconciliation with Grossbard and Bourzat. I do suspect they would be doing much more harm to themselves and this movement if they decide to take any legal action against you. On the other hand, if they could bravely, humbly and honestly show accountability for their actions, the amount of healing possible would be immense.
Great essay, Will. We know that when people are made vulnerable, it’s possible others will emerge to exploit them.
Unfortunately, that is part of human nature, too, and exists among psychotherapist, doctors, and others in the healing arts.
I say the following as someone who has personal experience with psychedelics, none of it bad (though some incapacitating). I believe that an occasional psychedelic trip is far safer than taking a psychiatric drug every day. BUT….
There’s far, far too much hype about psychedelics to cure emotional ills. It’s the hype that should be mistrusted — and those who would administer the drugs and control the patient’s environment (and the patient herself).
As neither psychiatry, even with its boasting of psychopharmacological prowess, or psychotherapists seem to understand the prescription psychotropics that are so abundant now, probability is low that they have any grasp of the upsides and downsides of psychedelics, or have the capacity of selfless caring to guide someone made vulnerable by a drug. (Agape is something not taught in medical school.)
As usual, they (and the public) are just itching to try the next new thing.
As you say, the effects of psychedelics, like other psychotropics, are unpredictable. Psychiatry’s promising a miracle cure from them is highly inappropriate and will come back as disillusionment from many trusting patients. I hope they are not also harmed.
Thankyou for this well written piece.
I have experienced this kind of therapy.
I believe such therapies have enormous potential and equally great danger. I suspect this duality will always arise where the deep psyche is opened. It is time the sitter danger was addressed openly.
My experience has simplified for me, a major problem in psychotherapy abuse. It is also a key ingredient in all psychological abuse imho. Its not an original idea, but here is what I’ve come to understand. It is the problem in which too many choose to Play Dolls with other humans. Can the therapist, (friend, lover, whatever) be a free space for another to unfold – or do they need that person to act out a scenario for their own benefit. It feels kind of simple to me now.
There are roles in some situations to effect particular, and mutually agreed outcomes – like a haircut, and there are always boundaries, including in therapy.
But can this person be human with another -authentically – or do they need to cast the other in a drama to allow themselves to be or do something they want for their own gratification.
Psychedelic therapy can be a powerful ‘tell’ about the humanity-health of the sitter because the participant is often wide-open. The perfect candidate as a cast member in an unhealthy psychodrama, but also, for lovers of humanity, a unique unfoldment. A special time in which the sitter can be a safe experience of human with vulnerable, open, human.
It is almost unbearably sad to me that so many people cannot be with another in joy and faith, are unable to be trustworthy. They can’t put aside their own agendas about themselves and their personal desires and fantasies, but instead need to direct a script in which they can act out their own fantasies with a human doll.
Extending a big THANK YOU for your transparency, and openly speaking your truth to power regarding Grossbard, Bourzat, and the Hakomi Institute. I’m also appalled by how CIIS/Phelps ghosted you, since that’s my school. It’s really unfortunate how these powerful people and institutions put profit over people’s suffering and vulnerability. That’s not what our profession is about! What you described is emotional abuse, a clear violation of energetic and physical boundaries, and cult-like behavior.
Again, much gratitude for everything you disclosed.
Therapy abuse is common is psychiatry outside of Psychedelic therapy. If you look at the Multiple Personality Disorder Satanic Panic of the 1980’s and 90’s, a bunch of psychiatrists married their patients. This includes Lawrence Pazder, the Canadian psychiatrist who wrote the discredited 1980 book “Michelle Remembers” about so called “Satanic ritual abuse” (total nonsense). One of the psychiatrists from the PBS documentary “Divided Memories” also married his patient. It seems common, I think, because Psychiatrists often would like to see themselves as heroes (to deny their own death anxiety Ernest Becker would say) and rescuers of women to satisfy and gratify themselves personally. To me, the issue of Psychedelic drugs is more about personal access. You really don’t need a therapist to use psychedelics successfully. The war on drugs is a lost cause. Oregon has the right idea. Shamanism and entheogens should not be illegal nor replaced with quackery and pseudoscience as is currently the case.
Thanks for pointing this out to readers!
I agree that the risks of this therapy are rarely talked about and deserve an objective and thorough look. However, the personal bias in this piece renders it unbalanced and hyperbolic. Mr Hall’s experiences, which I am very sorry for, have unfortunately seemed to blind him to the other side of this work.
I have worked extensively in this area with many trained guides and licensed professionals who provide psychedelic services. There are, of course, no statistics on incidents of abuse in this realm but, if anything, I have found practitioners across the country to be hyper-sensitive to matters of ethics, boundaries, and appropriate interactions between guide and client. There is a clear understanding of the power dynamics and trust they are accorded and in every case I have observed these practitioners will communicate to their clients those rigid boundaries.
In every session I witnessed there was, prior to taking any substance, a clear recitation of safety protocols, expectations of both guides and participants, strict boundaries around touch, and an emphasis on the participants being able to say ‘no’ to any and every type of interaction with each other or the guides unless is was for their safety.
Admittedly, my experiences remain anecdotal despite being more extensive than Mr Hall’s.
That being said, he lashes out, quite inappropriately, at an entire community for the reprehensible actions of a few. There is no argument that his personal experience was an egregious violation of trust and horrific but he maligns thousands of dedicated and caring practitioners on the basis of that experience and spins his impressions on the entire community into a twisted lattice of biased supposition and directed guesswork.
In the end, this is nothing more than a hit piece with little relevant content to actual happenings, positive or negative, in the psychedelic therapy space. Any and all abuse by guides or therapists in this context must be dealt with, but Mr Hall fails to make a valid case or provide any evidence whatsoever that it’s in any way common.
I would submit that there is plenty of evidence from many sources indicating that doctors/psychologists/therapists, having an inordinate power balance vis-a-vis their clients, will not infrequently abuse that power imbalance to their advantage, consciously or unconsciously. Why this would somehow NOT apply to therapy using psychedelics would be a big mystery to me. There are capable therapy practitioners out there, for sure, but there is little to no accountability or quality control. Once you have your degree, you can do just about anything that can be framed as “for the client’s good” and get away with it. I am glad you’ve had good experiences, but I don’t think we can assume from either your or Will’s experience that any particular practitioner will not take advantage of his/her position. They may do so without even realizing it, and the client then has no recourse, and often lacks the sophistication to even know they’re being misled or taken advantage of.
I don’t disagree with you. My point, poorly stated it seems, is that there is no evidence that the use of psychedelics exacerbates or increases instances of abuse of the therapist/guide and client dynamic, which seems to be the point, if not agenda, of the article. Unfortunately we can’t get that, or any, real data on this form of therapy given the current underground status of the work.
The fact that some people will abuse their role in psychedelic therapy, just as they do in more traditional caregiver roles, is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We need to decriminalise these substances, most of which are inherently safe from a physical health point of view though some like MDMA should have oversight from the medical profession to determine any contraindications, and create a system of certifications and licensure that stands up a framework of protocols and professional ethics so that those who abuse their power can be censured, punished, and removed from their roles.
Psychedelic therapy is a valuable addition to the therapist’s and psychologist’s toolbox that has been forbidden for too long. Clinical trials with MDMA and Psilocybin have shown tremendous results and the healing possible from them can be profound for a large number of people.
Again, I’m very sorry for the experience of the author and I applaud his vulnerability in publishing his account. But we also have to recognise that his experience is his singular experience and does not represent, for good or ill, the experiences of others and that bias is obvious in this piece.
Number One: There is no way that anyone can truly write or post something on this or any site without bias. Each one of us has our unique bias. Perhaps we should learn to respect bias rather than find fault with it. It is when bias is fraught with deception, lies and gaslighting/bullying that we need to be concerned. I did not see any of this is this article. This was an honest article. This man braved his soul to tell his story. We should respect that.
Second: All therapy, with or without psychiatric drugs or psychadelic drugs is uniquely dangerous to the body, brain, mind and spirit of each person. Also, beacuse there seems to be no alleged research does not seem to make it so. We do have anecdotal experience of negative effects of psychadelic use. In my opinion, all this hubbub about psychadelics seems to speak of one thing—a deep down desire or wish to return to what we now thinks were simpler times—the 60s Hippie daze. But, this is now 2021. It is imperative that we awaken ASAP and stop relying on drugs for all our petty needs, whether mental, moral, emotional or spiritual; and in many cases, physical. In the Bible, St Paul speaks of getting rid of childish things. Perhaps, if St Paul was living now, he might mean all mind-altering drugs, whether legal or not, whether prescribed or not. We need to stop relying on drugs before they desroy all that know, love, and cherish. Thank you.
I agree that we all have our biases, that is part of being human. But there is a difference in recognising that and still seeking truth even if it contradicts that bias or using that bias as a compass for our truth-seeking. I see the article as the latter and glaringly so.
On the topic of bias you speak as someone who is entirely unfamiliar with the subject at hand and talk about ‘drugs’ like someone from the Nixon era. I encourage you to look at the scientific research that has been done showing impressive results in psychedelic therapy. Namely with MDMA-based psychotherapy for PTSD and psilocybin for depression. Drugs are tools. We use tools to build our houses and roads, to create electronic networks where articles can be shared with the entire human race, to do every action we take during the day. Using substances as tools to better our mental health is no different than using a scalpel or chemical to fight a cancer.
What happens if you know more about psychedelics and hallucinogens than the doctor does?
That is more than possible, since they seem to know very little about either on the whole. But I think that would make you more of a shaman than a doctor. Of course, if I wanted to use psychedelics for any reason, I’d of course seek out a shaman and avoid anyone claiming to be a “medical practitioner” using psychedelics as “treatment” for some manufactured “disease” s/he decided I supposedly was afflicted with.
I did not see this article as an attack on a “community.”
We are talking about moving these chemicals out of the existing therapy community that has been using them into a larger “community” that does not share the same standards of care and concern. The wider “mental health” community is already broken, and I see no way that a few new medicines will somehow save it.
It’s said that the coverup is often worse than the crime. And the problem can often be not just people actively covering up a crime, or abuse, but people that just fail to create and support systems to hold people accountable. I think a lot of what Will points to is that the psychedelic field has not done enough to confront abuse when it has existed. So it isn’t enough to say “well I don’t abuse people” – are you taking a role to fight abuse when it happens? To hold people accountable? If you aren’t, and if you instead attack Will for trying to hold people accountable, then you are part of the problem.
(Just like it isn’t enough to say “well I’m not a racist” – we need people to be anti-racist, anti-abuse.)
I found the author’s piece to be very enlightening and exceptionally honest in the description of his experiences. The fact that the author decided to share his experiences reflects his caring and moral attribute of being a warning signal to all who contemplate this type of therapy. Actually any and all therapy is inherantly dangerous. Adding drugs to the therapy, whether the drugs are the psychiatric drugs usually discussed on this site or the psychadelic drugs discussed here makes therapy a timebomb. Sometimes, the danger of any therapy is not realized until years later when the person might be significantly more vulnerable or must deal with the physical injuries of the therapy, whether the injury occurs in the brain (its most likely place) or in the body. Anytime you mess with the brain you risk the possiblity of at the very least some kind of brain injury. And, for some this brain injury has left them completely debilitated and disabled. Of course, each person is different and the effects on each person is different. The brain is nothing to mess with and we are just stupid fools when we do. Thank you.
I realize there are many in these times who think being “anti-whatever” is the way to combat any particular wrong-doing or evil. Although understandable, sadly, the stance of “anti-…” most usually intensifies the wrong-doing or evil one seeks to denounce. Another favorite word of these times is “accountability.” But, “accountability” is just another word that is more favored with numbers, data and analysis; rather than truly assisting people in such a way to solve the problem. I think the author of this piece did an excellent job of telling his story which brings the problem to light and “humanizes” in such a way that others who may have had instances of abuse in other therapeutic settings can relate. Like I have written earlier, just the idea of therapy or a therapeutic setting is dehumanizing and creates a nearly robotic state. The drugs, whether psychiatric or psychadelic, assist mightily in this manner. What we really need is less worship of this kind of thinking—drugs, therapies, etc. are the answer to “my” problems or give “me” spiritual, emotional, mental or whatever enlightenment and more attention to truth and reality. True wellness in life occurs when we allow ourselves to breathe fully, live simply, and be honest with who and what we are. If we stop pretending to be someone we are not or if we stop trying to be someone who we are not by living up to someone else’s or our real or imagined expectations, we can live, really live. We need to stop lying to ourselves, to the world and to our Creator. Thank you.
ShavedPrimate, I speak of drugs from someone extremely familiar with psychiatric drugs — maybe, too familiar. I am more than very concerned that you would think of drugs as a tool in a toolbox for one’s mental health. Psychiatric drugs cause all kinds of ills and worse; including brain damage and death. Psychadelic drugs are just another strain of mind-altering drugs which are actually brain and body altering drugs. I can not in good conscience consider any kind of drug in any aspect that can affect the brain in such severe manners. All these drugs are just basically evil. When I consider these drugs, I think of Eve in the Garden of Eden—those who prescribe or advocate for these drugs are like the snake. And those of us who succomb to their temptation are like Eve and yes unless we realize our grievous sinful error, we deserve to be kicked out of the Garden of Eden. But, luckily, we can stop all drug use and repent of our sins. Whatever era this comes from, is unimportant. What is important is to stop the drug culture now and take these evil things out of our tool box now. Thank you.
It is nothing but human hubris who think if there is no scientific evidence then it must not be. Science can explain a lot, but not everything and it is not supposed to; neither is history or art or any other subject. We must realize that we are not supposed to know everything and that many questions must remain unanswered. The realm of the spiritual is just that. We are supposed to take that leap of faith. And unless we don’t take that leap of faith we will never be all we are meant to be. Much of today’s thinking in many subjects, especially science, seems to be bent on preventing us from doing that. Drugs also do that. It is imperative that if we wish to grow as human beings and truly contribute to society, we must fulfill our destiny and take that leap of faith. Otherwise, we will be frustrated and make many useless unwise choices. Thank you.
I’m looking forward to seeing the DEA discover that there are hallucinogenic plants and mushrooms that grow wild in every state in the Union- the perpetual drone of helicopters over cattle country seeking manured fields, squads of “heroes” tramping through swamps as they seek the dreaded calamus, helicopters seeking infestations of jimsonweed to spray with herbicide- sights and sites worth seeing and mentioning.
New York Magazine has picked up this topic for a podcast https://www.thecut.com/2021/11/introducing-cover-story-podcast-trailer.html
“We all want relief — and all of a sudden we’re finding it in psychedelics. From underground parties to Silicon Valley, microdosing and psychedelic therapy have officially hit the mainstream. But what are we overlooking in our rush to feel better? Host iO Tillett Wright and collaborator Lily Kay Ross search for answers in Power Trip, the first season of New York Magazine’s newest podcast, Cover Story. The investigative series uncovers the secrets and exposes the darkest corners of the psychedelic revolution through a twisted, deeply personal tale at the intersection of mind, body, and control. The eight-episode series will be released on Tuesdays starting November 30.”
The full story of the abuse you suffered, and which the so called therapists went onto do to others, reminded me of a hypnotherapist I know who has been accused of sexual assaulting two men I know. The accusations are that he used his hypnotherapy skills, possibly with drugs of some sort, to gain unwanted sexual access to handsome younger men.
I doubt these stories are the only ones, there will be others.
Thank you for composing such a well-balanced article and for sharing your own experiences.
The rapid growth of tele-psychopharmacology, through start-ups like Cerebral Inc. along with its recent partnership with Field Trip Health, who offers psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, is very concerning. These companies are being backed by investments from billionaires and using social media influencers to promote their brand to our tech-savvy generation, while failing to warn of any potential harm.
Considering there are already many cases of mental health professionals taking advantage of their clients/patients, incorporating a “date rape drug” into mental health care, just seems like a very bad idea.
Greatly appreciate your advocacy!
Will’s SOoo r e a l
Surreal. Will’s a trip
S o u l’s tripping out.. f l i p p in G .. surreal
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