The following essay is my attempt to bring to light aspects of my personal experience with the School of Consciousness Medicine (SCM), and the often unspoken harm of the Psychedelic Renaissance in its current hype, culminating in the loss of a dear friend. I want to explicitly say that this is my personal experience with the death of Cody Wiggs. I hope to hear and read other accounts of love, admiration, heartbreak and appreciation of him, too.
This essay may be activating or difficult to read. It is only a brief telling of my heartbreak as a woman in SCM and the Psychedelic Renaissance. Over the last five years, as a psychotherapist, eager to learn the potency of how these entheogens and empathogens may support the healing agent of psychotherapy, I found myself shattered at the hands of unconscious transference, patriarchal agendas, and emotional abuse. I often felt like my feminine values of attunement, softness, clarity, fierce truth-telling, and relationality were thwarted or ignored entirely in the face of overtly masculine approaches to healing.
Every one of us is multifaceted. We all have shadows, light and dark parts to us. I do not claim to know the full story of any of the people I talk about in this article. As a therapist, I have made mistakes along the way in my own counseling practice and personal life, too.
I am not here wanting to condemn anyone. Instead, I want to bring voice to what is often silenced or hidden in the current American psychedelic hype. I know that if I would have read a story like this before I entered into psychedelic-assisted therapy, I would have been more careful, which might have prevented a lot of unnecessary hurt. This is what I desire for others: that they would be spared entering into power dynamics with therapists, healers, or shamans that reenact trauma, leading to further traumatization—or even psychosis or death.
* * *
A living stone carries the memory of our dear friend’s body. It is a foreign place we have not seen.
Our Cody vanished. We have not seen him but in spirit, through our imaginal memory; the soaring hummingbird above the waters.
What if Cody died and he didn’t have to? What if he could be here with us still?
* * *
It was the end of March 2021. Jeremy, my partner, and I drove from Boulder to Golden, Colorado, to see Cody before we all went different directions. The three of us gathered around the firepit in his yard, touched by the spring heat of a cloudless blue sky. We were discussing our upcoming adventures and communicating beyond words through the soft gaze of our eyes. I was headed to Aravaipa Canyon to do Animus Valley Institute’s first all women’s vision quest. Cody was a couple weeks away from venturing to Hawaii for a plant dieta on the Big Island before moving to Austin, TX, to work at Kuya, an up-and-coming psychedelic therapy clinic.
“My friend and new boss at Kuya introduced me to a shaman on the big island of Hawaii,” he said. “I am going to be doing a plant dieta there. I will be fasting alone, and will participate in ayahuasca ceremonies.” Cody looked pensive as he leaned back in his chair, his eyes gripped by the horizon. I noticed a tinge of fear below the surface of his confident voice.
I felt impressed and hesitant about the intensity of the experiences ahead of Cody, especially after my own horror-filled winter months. I listened and affirmed his restless heart with a nod, and then moved on to tell him what had recently unraveled in my world.
“I’ve been coming out of a winter of multiple panic attacks a day,” I said. “The fear I have been feeling has nearly kept me from work and driving. It feels like the world is going to disintegrate at any moment, and my body keeps shocking and jolting.”
“It seems like sometimes these intense emotional states are just part of the work with psychedelics, they are things we just have to feel to move through,” Cody said, his voice calm and soothing. As one of the first above-ground ketamine-assisted psychotherapists, his demeanor communicated unshakable assuredness.
Jeremy and Cody met at Dharma Ocean on a meditation retreat a couple of years before this encounter. Two years after this, several Dharma Ocean staff and participants surfaced a series of unethical and abusive interpersonal dynamics within the organization in an open letter. I had no idea then how often spiritual organizations fall into patterns of hierarchy, emotional grooming, and abuse. At this point in our friendship, none of us had the awareness or language of all the painful realities we were about to face.
Cody and Jeremy instantly became friends and then very dear friends. They both had deep ocean eyes of effervescent illuminating love. Each of them talked slowly, opening up galaxies of space to feel, and they shared an easy relational quality; they are men I felt deeply safe around.
As we were gathered around the stone firepit in Cody’s backyard, Jeremy and I began to talk about the end of our training with the School of Consciousness Medicine.
“My psychedelic guide and I are slowly falling out,” I said. “We’re still talking but our relationship is strained.” I was floating above my body, my heart clenched in confusion. Cody responded, relaxed and assertive.
“I did one session with the guide you work with, and I never went back. It didn’t feel like he had a softness to him—and that feels really important for therapeutic psychedelic work.”
Although the comment landed oddly in the moment, I couldn’t take it in fully until a few months later when I made a hard break from any communication with this guide and left the SCM. This guide had introduced me to psychedelic therapy and invited me into the School’s first training outside the Bay area—in Boulder, CO. My experience there re-enacted much of my woundedness as a child and woman. Thankfully, I emerged from it alive.
Without the support of Jeremy through my experience with SCM, I might have killed myself accidentally or intentionally. Many others beyond me also experienced trauma and abuse at the hands of SCM and other advocates of the Psychedelic Renaissance. Will Hall, a therapist who underwent psychedelic therapy with the founders of SCM, Aharon Grossbard and Francoise Bourzat, published a piece on the layers of abuse he experienced with them in his article, “Psychedelic Therapy Abuse: My Experience with Aharon Grossbard, Francoise Bourzat… and Their Lawyers.” In the autumn of 2021, six months after we ended our training, The School crumbled because of this article, along with a series of other reports of sexual and emotional abuse.
I met Franciose and Aharon personally in my training. It was clear they were well-intentioned people, but without a true in-depth understanding of relational trauma and the way it not only moved through their clients, but through themselves. Some of their first training was with Salvador Roquet, who apparently blasted them with violent imagery from films and chaotic, loud music while they tripped with LSD, ketamine, or mescaline. Remnants of their experiences with Salvador came through in their teachings to us.
At a weekend training I attended with Francoise, she taught about touch in psychedelic sessions while we sat beneath tall cottonwood trees. We were circled up, filled with awe and excitement to learn from Francoise, an expert in the field of consciousness studies. She told a story about working with a woman who felt trespassed after a psychedelic session for being touched on her belly by Francoise.
Instead of taking responsibility for how she messed up, Francoise taught us that this woman had been sexually abused as a child and thus projected this hurt, that she hadn’t done anything wrong, and that sometimes, clients are just “all wrapped up in what they think happened.” It is common in therapeutic relationships for transference and countertransference to occur, as well as relational ruptures. This situation could have been repaired if Francoise took responsibility and apologized, validating the experience of her client.
I also distinctly remember her saying that people can not be re-traumatized on MDMA. Although this was her perspective, my experience revealed otherwise. A member of our cohort was undergoing MDMA sessions that were re-traumatizing and re-enacting his relational wounds. He spent an entire MDMA journey crying, with his guide continually shooing him to stop taking the eyeshades off, and to go inside and “figure out” how to surrender and let go, which likely left him feeling like he was doing it wrong. Due to the trauma he carried into the experience, and the lack of attunement by the guide, my friend emerged from this experience fragmented and disturbed.
The School of Consciousness Medicine had agendas for people in journey spaces. One example of this was their emphasis on “going inside,” with eyeshades on, which is a common practice for many psychedelic therapy schools right now. This was essentially a relationless practice, actually pushing participants deeper into isolation, reinforcing the Western paradigm of isolated selfhood. When approached this way, the medicines actually accentuate our common relational wounds and lack of attunement upon which our whole wounded culture has grown.
The general feel of this program was that the medicine itself would heal people. The phrase, “trust the medicine,” was one of the most repeated mantras of their philosophical orientation to the “work.” Spiritual and therapeutic drug abuse is a serious problem. In my experience with psychedelics, when I told my trainers how dissociated, fearful, and dysregulated I was, they responded with shrugged shoulders and the statement that “this is just how the process is, you’ll move through it.” Instead, with more trauma-informed awareness, they could have acknowledged that I was clearly resurfacing unprocessed trauma, and needed more support.
In Judith Herman’s book Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, she describes intense somatic symptoms of dysregulation, or hysteria, as representations of painful events that have been banished from memory. All the way back in 1890, psychoanalysts “discovered that hysterical symptoms could be alleviated when the traumatic memories, as well as the intense feelings that accompanied them, were recovered and put into words.” Another common phrase in SCM was, “no story, just feel, no story.” When I came to my teachers, telling them about my intense paranoia and fear, I needed to be met with curiosity and space for whatever repressed memories were wanting to be made conscious through story. Instead, my terror was invalidated and minimized, and I was encouraged to believe that merely feeling my feelings was enough to heal. It wasn’t.
This lack of attunement is tragically common in the psychedelic healing world. From my perspective, it reveals a longer story; it’s a glaring example of the many-millennia march of patriarchy and colonialism, masquerading as revolution. There is such deep pain moving through our collective human field right now. We have been submerged in a war-torn, dissociated, colonial, blood-shedding, dominating, and controlling system for multiple millennia.
Our more feminine human roots have been decimated, as evidenced in early modern Europe and colonial America where six to nine million medicine women were hunted and killed for their connection to earth. We also see this in the estimated 12 million enslaved Africans imported to the New World through the transatlantic slave trade, and the genocide and decimation of Native American peoples. Underneath the long centuries of bloodshed are the unscreamed screams of numbed dissociation.
The suffering induced by the erasure of most people’s cultural inheritance, ancestry, and connection to the land has caused a catastrophic severance within human-to-human relationships, leading to all kinds of extreme spiritual egoism, guru culture, and grasps for fame and power. The sense of worthlessness the human race carries in its underbelly from all the unprocessed grief, trauma, fear, and lovelessness impacts us in the present. Doing psychedelics will not heal these ruptures alone.
And without the depth of understanding of where we come from, what has been, and the loss of mature feminine values in the current socio-global political regime, psychedelics will perpetuate colonial patriarchal agendas. I believe deep in my heart that Francoise, Aharon, and others who grasp for psychedelic fame want to help people, but their own woundedness and abuse keep them stuck in agendas that ultimately devalue the very people they are attempting to serve. I wish I would have known all of this before I gave Cody that last hug. Instead of naively encouraging him to go off to his plant dieta with full trust that he would have been held well, I would have liked to ask more questions to see how Jeremy and I could have better supported his leaving and returning.
When the three of us finished up our conversation, Cody followed Jeremy and I to his front door to watch us put on our shoes in the warm bungalow entryway.
“He’s going to need prayers from me while I am fasting,” Cody said with an edge of arrogance as he talked about a friend who was struggling. It landed in my body with curiosity and tightness. A flash of insight arose. “Is Cody stuck in a helper role?” I wondered if Cody felt safe to receive love, to be helped himself.
I know this territory of the spiritual path; the territory of feeling the need to save others or the world without a lot of capacity to take in saving or nourishment. Cody and I both grew up in Evangelical Colorado Springs, where Jesus’s words, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” seemed to miss the presupposition of loving yourself first.
Cody’s last words to me were something like, “I’ll be praying for you while on my dieta, for all that you asked for earlier; to be held by the earth, to feel safe, and for the quest to give you insight into your next stage of life.” I told him I would pray for him, too. We felt a shared passion for opening up consciousness in these mystical states, with a devotion to holy truth. I hadn’t known Cody longer than eight months, but I felt like I had known him for years. He was one of those friends I thought Jeremy and I would have for life.
After my quest and back in Colorado, Jeremy and I fell asleep after a lovely night of sharing stories in my warm, spacious alabaster living room. We awoke in the morning to a phone call about Cody’s fall. I remember being told that Cody had been sick, and his emotional state had been fluctuating in and out of states of terror. In a manic dissociative state, he fell off a cliff and injured his body and head. He was flown to a Hawaiian hospital.
We drove to Cody’s house in Golden that day. An eerie darkness filled the room. Our hearts fluttered in angst back and forth, debating if we would fly to Hawaii or not, understanding that they likely wouldn’t let us in the hospital because of pandemic restrictions.
I remember hearing a conversation about Cody’s physical state with his new boss that day. He didn’t sound affected or emotional about Cody, which felt strange and disturbing to me. Cody’s new boss at Kuya (who appears to have since parted ways with the clinic) seemed like much more to him than a work relationship. They had been in connection for years and Cody revered his path with entheogenic and spiritual studies. It felt like Cody thought moving to Austin meant moving home to his people in some way.
From what I know of the offer letter Cody received, Kuya offered him much less than he deserved. He would have had to maintain his counseling practice in addition to his new job to make ends meet. From my perspective, Kuya seemed to allure Cody with the prestige of working at a “famous” psychedelic wellness center and the corresponding access to the well-known figures at the center of this growing movement. Fame, prestige, and an inflation of ego seem to be dominant themes in the psychedelic renaissance, which was evident in SCM.
Ultimately, Cody decided to go to Hawaii to do this plant dieta and ayahuasca ceremony. He placed himself in the care of a shaman and things went awry. He chose to be in a relationship with Kuya and to trust his boss with his livelihood. And yet, the whole relational field felt off. It feels like an all too common setup within the psychedelic, therapeutic, or spiritual worlds, where a blind trust and a longing to be saved, accepted, worthy or loved, comes at the expense of giving one’s power and trust over to people who cannot actually offer true tracking, attunement, and love. I know this happened to me, and it’s happened to many other people I have met along the way in psychedelic circles.
Now that psychedelics are becoming legal, psychedelic therapy has already become commercialized and commodified by capitalist agendas. Many of the up-and-running ketamine centers or psychedelic clinics promise to “fix” and “solve” people’s anxiety and depression, but fail to address how many people are left emotionally, psychologically, and physically wrecked after these treatments.
I can tell you honestly after five years of being part of the psychedelic movement and participating in many journeys, medicine did not “cure” me. Many of my psychedelic experiences were re-traumatizing because I’m not a “patient” needing to be “cured.” Nor are you, or any of us. We are humans who have undergone hurt from our family, educational, and political systems. Our healing will come through us being mirrored, attuned to, and loved in our unique individual histories with other humans who see us as equals.
It took a long time of sifting through many healers to find my current mentor and therapist Bruce Sanguin, whom I trust with this work, and who has born witness and advocated for me in reclaiming my individual sovereignty. I’ve come to understand that authentic healing comes through mature and attuned relationships. It is a long slow journey of building trust with loving others, unwinding familial childhood and cultural wounds of authoritarianism, hierarchy, domination, manipulation, and control. It’s unlikely that anyone will heal a lifetime of being emotionally, sexually, or physically abused in a single spiritual weekend retreat, or one or even 50 medicine journeys, if they are not held within a relationally attuned context.
Andrew Feldmar, a Hungarian-born psychotherapist in Canada, who apprenticed with the Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, and is Bruce’s mentor, has a radically alternative view to the current popular psychedelic therapy model, emphasizing our humanity through tending to the relational field between therapist and client.
Andrew’s philosophy with psychedelic-assisted therapy is to remain agendaless and relational. He states that his approach to therapy is anti-colonial because colonialism itself assumes that one group knows more than another group, and is trying to convert that group to their way of seeing and being in the world. This means that Andrew has never blasted his clients with pre-scripted psychedelic music or told them they needed to put eyeshades on. In fact, he discourages psychedelic therapists from doing so and says, “You do it by the seat of your pants, it’s always of the moment, you cannot generalize. There is no theory, there is no method.” (For more on his approach, watch this YouTube video).
Unfortunately, while holding this attunement is the role of a therapist or healer, many therapists, spiritual teachers, and healers are still operating out of their unprocessed wounding. This unprocessed wounding often creates power dynamics where the healer “does” things to the client, in the sense of feeling like they know better how the client should be, who they should become, what they need to feel, etc. I often hear clinicians or guides talk about their clients like this, “Oh, my client needs to really get into their body more, they’re super in their head,” or “If my client just surrendered and accepted the process, everything would be fine.” This is all very dangerous because it sets up the relationship as if the guide “knows” and the client doesn’t know, which reinforces inequality and power dynamics.
Who would have thought that after nearly 40 years of therapeutic psychedelic work and Hakomi training and teaching, that Francoise and Aharon and others would be harming themselves and their clients? Being an “expert” or having credentials or power does not equate to genuine relational maturity.
There is much hype within the psychedelic movement right now. Starry-eyed weekend retreat shamans are emerging left and right, often with guides who have only been trained for a few months. In ancient and more mature cultures, shamans train for an entire lifetime to understand the nuances and depths of consciousness. Yet because most people in western culture lack loving childhoods and the support of earth-based mature communities, a short encounter with the mystical power found in psychedelics often inflates their core wounds, accentuating grandiosity and savior complexes.
Psychedelics will not save you or take away the pain of our fragmented society. They can be an ally, but they can also be used to harm and perpetuate trauma, separation and isolated selfhood. Without love, slowness, space to feel the realities of our suffering, and relational intelligence between humans and our non-human kin, commodified, ego-driven agendas will continue to flourish in the guise of wellness retreat centers, weekend spiritual experiences, and ketamine centers, with consequences both severe and unknown.
What if Cody died and he did not have to?
Our beloved friend Cody fucking died. What if he didn’t have to?
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.
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