On this week’s episode of Cover Story, we follow “Susan” as she goes through training to become an underground psychedelic therapist at the same college, and within the same circle of people, to which collaborator Lily Kay Ross belonged. While training, Susan’s mentor crosses emotional and physical boundaries, blurring the line of how a trusted therapist should behave and using Susan’s altered state to his advantage. Also, host iO Tillett Wright travels to meet Françoise Bourzat, the trainer and leader whom Ross confided in when recounting details of her rape in the Amazon.
To hear more about Susan’s experience and how it ties in with Lily’s, listen and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen, and find the full transcript below.
Just a quick note: This series deals with sexual assault, so please keep that in mind when you decide when and where to listen. Also, you’ll be hearing from a woman we’re calling Susan. In order to protect her privacy, we aren’t using her real name or her real voice.
iO Tillett Wright: We’re in a forest. We’re on a tiny winding road with these giant redwood sequoias… I don’t even know. They’re like multiple stories tall, reaching for the sky, like nature’s fingers. To Françoise Bourzat’s house, we go. Oh my God. There’s a fucking deer. Hey little friend. Oh my God. You’re so beautiful. This is a magical place. We’re pulling off onto a dirt road. There’s the house.
It was the Spring of 2021. And we were on our way to meet Françoise Bourzat, the grand maven of psilocybin therapy. Let me remind you, Françoise Bourzat is the honey-voiced, French woman that Lily first met at the Guild of Guides.
Wright: Hello? Hello. Hi, Nice to meet you!
Françoise Bourzat: Nice to meet you
Wright: Lily ended up leaving that underground community. But Françoise went from underground to center stage. She went on the wildly popular Tim Ferris podcast.
Tim Ferriss on the Tim Ferriss show: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss show. I think it’s worth saying that your influence extends a lot further than people may realize into the medical communities, into the research and scientific communities.
He’s recently added a disclaimer to the episode, but this was well before that. Tim and Françoise get pretty winky-winky, jokey-jokey about what it’s like to use the drug salvia.
Françoise Bourzat on the Tim Ferriss show: Different people have different sensitivities towards salvia. Some people are not sensitive to it. Very much. (laughing). Inside joke. Memories, memories.
Wright: When I smoked Salvia, I stared deeply at a fire hydrant for 12 minutes, but maybe that’s just me. If you ask a wealthy tech mogul to recommend a psychedelic guide - Françoise has been a go-to for off-the-radar trips – sometimes for five thousand dollars a pop. She wrote a popular book that Michael Pollan promoted; she advised local governments looking to legalize psilocybin, and she runs psychedelic retreats for grief-stricken parents out of Jamaica.
Between Trump, Covid, police murders, and global warming, it feels like we’re at our limits with existential pain. People are desperate for relief, and the purveyors of modern psychedelic therapy are only too happy to offer their services. People have been doing psychedelics for generations, but now they’re looking to trip with some expert guidance, which means Françoise’s phone has been ringing off the hook.
So naturally, we called her too when we first started looking into psychedelic therapy. That’s how we ended up at her house.
Bourzat: We need a little safe haven when we start doing this work.
Wright: I’m from New York City so this is nurturing.
Bourzat: Yes, yes…you guys want to come in?
Wright: I’m under the impression that you train other guides? Is that correct?
Bourzat: That’s right. There’s a lot of people who want to be trained. Everybody understands that this is coming around the corner. So they want to acquire the skill before, or as the doors are becoming more open.
Wright: Even though it’s still really early days with the research, Oregonians have already voted to make psilocybin therapy legal starting in 2023. Psilocybin, by the way, is what puts the magic in magic mushrooms.
So Oregon has all these task forces working out what - exactly - psilocybin therapy will look like in the state. And at the time we spoke with her, Françoise was advising them on best practices.
Bourzat: Other people are developing their training, but we have had an extensive curriculum for all these years that we know has been refined and works well. We have trained hundreds of people. We’re doing that in Jamaica and we’re training people in Canada. We have been training trainers here, so now we have about 50 trainers that can train groups. So it’s going to be scaling like this. The bottleneck is we need to train enough trainers to hold trainings.
Wright: Françoise along with her husband and daughter, co-founded the “Center for Consciousness Medicine” —or CCM—to teach future practitioners of psychedelic therapy.
Bourzat: There’s a certain criterion to be certified at CCM, at the organization that we have, and we train them in the art of delivering this work.
Wright: When you talk about this work, what is this work?
Bourzat: It’s about creating a collaboration between me as a therapist/guide and someone else who wants to heal, grow, become more mature, heal some trauma, discover life, spirituality, or purpose. Psychedelics are not meant to be taken alone. It’s a very disorienting territory. It needs to be supported by skillful people, someone who can support you, someone who can create the place in which you can unravel, essentially. The more the guide has experienced, the deeper the journey.
Wright: Remember when Dr. Charles Grob explained what’s going on in our heads when we take various psychedelics? Like that “the ego boundaries tend to dissolve.” Françoise sometimes talks like Dr. Grob, in psychological terms, like saying “We are melting down the structure of the ego.” But Françoise also speaks in more mystical terms about mushrooms.
Bourzat: There is an entire realm of energies - of spirit, of ancestors, of a sense of love and possibility - that is totally beyond this concrete and everyday consciousness. Mushrooms are made to liquify us. This is what they are. They are an organism that liquefies themselves very quickly on land, right? And that’s what it does to us. So the mushroom kind of makes you a corpse, makes you be a liquefied being, and then you sink in and lose your body. To die. What is it like to disappear? And then once you die, you become more available to other dimensions.
Wright: But it’s not always easy to agree to disappear. We left Françoise at Sunset, the California golden hour cutting through the trees. My impression of her is that she’s lovely and that she’s extremely skilled and extremely experienced. She has devoted her life to this work and knows it as well as she knows herself. It wasn’t until several weeks after our visit that I first talked to Lily and Dave about it. I wanted to do psychedelics with Françoise.
Lily Kay Ross: We’re interested to know what were those things that captured you about it?
Wright: Well, I was raised by people who were not so much into giving a handbook for life. By the time I got to psychedelics, I was in a lot of pain but had no idea how to handle it or what to do about it, and I didn’t know that I had PTSD yet. I was just doing drugs willy nilly and hoping for the best. But if I’d had someone experienced to help guide me, maybe I wouldn’t have had to take so many in weird, shady, precarious situations before I stopped wanting to die.
Dave Nickles: Totally
Ross: PTSD is quite difficult and I think being able to feel comfortable with somebody that knows what they’re doing, can help you work through really difficult things that come up if you’re in an altered state. I get why that’s appealing and I get how nurturing Françoise seems. But, my view of Françoise changed over the last two years.
Wright: How so?
Ross: So, basically in December of 2019, Dave got an email from this woman: “Hi there I am a student at the California Institute of integral studies in the weekend program I had an experience in my first two years where I was essentially recruited by a TA into an underground guide training program.”
Ross: She’d been training to become a psychedelic therapist with Françoise and her husband in this underground training program that they had. And she’d already reached out to James Kent, another podcaster that we know because she was feeling really weirded out.
James Kent (phone): Hi, this is James.
Susan: Hi, how are you? I felt like I woke up from something and I was like, “who else is awake?”
Kent: You’re on speakerphone. Do you mind if I record this conversation?
Susan: Um, uh. I was just sort of reaching out to you cause I’m like… I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t use my name or anything.
Kent: No, no, def…
Susan: …for now
Ross: Listening to the tape of her, it’s really clear that she was trying to find other people who understood what she’d been through or who could see what she saw. And, eventually, she was sent to us.
Susan: I was searching for anyone who would get it.
Ross: And talking to her is actually what kicked off our investigation. Do you have a pseudonym so that if we are going to say a name, we just say it?
Susan: I just keep thinking like Susan. A generic name.
Ross: Susan works.
Ross: Well, thanks for being flexible, Susan.
Susan: I’m like, “wait! Who’s Susan?” [laughter] It’s going to take a minute.
Nickels: It’s kind of wild to be along for the ride.
Susan: Yeah. I’m glad you all are here.
Ross: So the reason that I want to tell you about Susan is that I think her story offers a really good window into what Françoise’s training and teachings are all about. But first, let me just back up and tell you a bit about how Susan ended up in this training in the first place.
Ross: All right. So she grew up back east.
Susan: Small town. Both of my parents were social workers.
Ross: Her dad…
Susan: I’d come home and he’d have the DSM open and like, “you should read this.”
Ross: The DSM is the core diagnostic text for psychology and psychiatry.
Wright: Like a dictionary of conditions?
Susan: I was always interested in how people’s minds worked and things like that.
Ross: Her mom was into transcendental meditation or TM.
Susan: My dad was never really into it. My dad wanted my mom to stop doing it because I think he realized that they’re putting her in trance states and then she’s giving them all this money. But then I also saw that my mom was so loving and wonderful and she helped so many people.
Ross: Susan had a terrible time in her twenties when her mom was diagnosed with cancer. Her mom died shortly after that. She endured a string of traumatic events around that age.
Susan: My brother’s child died.
Ross: She was living in New Orleans when Katrina hit.
Susan: I was sexually assaulted, um… and raped.
Ross: So, she ends up moving to California and her east coast friends are sort of worried about the west coast woo-woo culture. And it was when she had gone to the west coast that she got really into the idea of psychedelics for healing.
Wright: Mm-hmm. As you do.
Susan: I was getting really into the fact that there was now this psychedelic science. I could see the concrete evidence.
Ross: Susan does a really big mushroom trip on her own. She’s in her bedroom. She has the door closed, she’s by herself, and a lot of grief around her mom’s death comes up.
Susan: Growing up, it was like, if you show emotions other than positive emotions, you’re sensitive and dramatic.
LILY: The mushroom trip really helped her. She decides she wants to volunteer at a big psychedelic science conference in 2017. She’s moved by the talk about psilocybin for end-of-life cancer patients.
Susan: These people who are going to die, they’re in stage four or five cancer, and they would do a large mushroom journey and it would remove their fear of death essentially. That really spoke to me because I watched my mom go through that anxiety at her death. And I watched her be very confused. And so seeing that you could relieve someone of that anxiety, that felt so powerful to me.
LILY: Susan is starting to think seriously about becoming a psychedelic therapist. She enrolls in a small alternative college, the California Institute for Integral Studies, which is the same school that I went to for undergrad after I did three years at UC Santa Cruz.
Susan: And I was thinking, by the time I graduate psychedelic therapy might be legal. It was really exciting
Ross: She’s in her first semester at CIIS - which is, you know, this alternative but accredited and above ground institution. And she’s doing a program to become just a normal psychotherapist. She’s interested in using psychedelics with the therapy, but there are no hands-on classes at her school because it’s still illegal. But it turns out that there was also a sort of portal to the underground if you looked for it. So she’s immediately invited to an Ayahuasca ceremony - which is a sort of retreat to drink this psychedelic tea with a bunch of people from school, which is exactly what happened to me my first semester there.
So Susan goes to this ayahuasca circle and one of her TAs starts doting on her. His name is Eyal Goren and he’s a licensed therapist who also assists the teacher of one of her classes at CIIS – and now he’s here at this underground ceremony and he’s doing a bunch of eye gazing with her and telling her how empathetic she is, and right as they’re going to drink the drugs and take the Ayahuasca…
Susan: We were about to go into the yurt to begin the ceremony. I remember thinking this is so weird. He was like, “wait a second”. And he pulls out his phone and he’s like, “let me have you look at this.” And then we went into the yurt to begin the ceremony.
Wright: I just want to jump in here to tell you two things. One, New York Magazine reached out to Eyal to ask him about this – and all the details you’re gonna hear from Susan – and through his lawyer, he generally declined to comment, except to say that Susan’s allegations are false.
And Two, our team has reviewed almost 200 of Susan’s text exchanges with Eyal and spoken to a few friends she was close with at the time and we’ve not found anything to contradict her story.
Ross: So Susan is about to drink ayahuasca, which she’s never done before, and this guy is showing her his phone and saying “you should do this psychedelic therapy training with me.” I think it merits pointing out that she was about to take a suggestibility enhancing drug.
Susan: I was laying there and Eyal had turned to me and was actively facing me and looking at me. And they had stated in the beginning not to enter anyone’s space, energetically or physically. And there was something inside me that was like, don’t look at him, don’t look at him. But then there was something else inside of me that was like, I want to look at him. I want to look at him. We were just smiling and eye gazing and giggling. It was very childlike but intense. And then the ceremony ended and he looked over at me, he said, “let’s go get some tea.” And that’s when he said to me, “I know I should be your mentor.”
I think I was just in that receptive state. I’ve never done ceremonies before this. I didn’t know what was normal, what was not normal. And then he kept being like, “oh my God, Susan, there’s one more spot left. I thought there were no spots left, but there’s one more spot for you. You’re gonna learn from my teachers. This is the last training they’re doing together.”
I’ve never had anyone speak to me this way and talk to me and say it was meant to be. So it was a rollercoaster, a whirlwind of me just being like, “okay, let’s do it.”
Ross: So this TA is her mentor and she is going to use her student loans to pay part of the $7,300 fee for the underground training program.
Susan: He would be like, “you’re going to get into the training and the training will start and you’re going to be with my teachers, Françoise and Aharon and you’re going to join my community and then we will be a family.”
And I kept being like, “I think I need to work with a woman” because I felt uncomfortable with him. And he kept saying, “no, that’s your resistance. That’s your resistance to this.” Then I was thinking, oh, is it me being resistant?
Wright: Just to clarify, this person, the TA from Susan’s school, has now brought her to Françoise and Aharon’s underground psychedelic therapy training?
Ross: Before she can get to the actual training with Françoise and Aharon, she has to prepare by doing a series of drug sessions with her mentor. That’s what’s required for her to get into the training.
Wright: Oh, it’s like mushrooms.
Ross: And MDMA yeah.
Wright: He’s teaching her something or what’s the purpose of those sessions?
Ross: Yeah. I think part of it is that you’re supposed to have these kinds of experiences to be able to offer these kinds of experiences.
Susan: I don’t know what the processes are for psychedelics. I have no idea. So I was trusting him, and always not trusting him, too. I was always holding both.
Ross: Is this okay? Is this not okay?
Susan: I was always confused. Because any of my questions he would frame it as my own resistance. It was always my resistance.
Ross: So, some of the journeys are helpful to Susan, but most of that is despite this guy. He talks nonstop.
Susan: Gossiping to me about other people in my program, talking shit about one woman who had a borderline personality disorder, talking shit about my friends.
Ross: He says that all of his clients look like models. That they’re all gorgeous.
Susan: He’s like, “oh, she’s in love with me. She’s so beautiful and everything, but she was sexually abused when she was young.”
Ross: And she’s thinking – none of this should be shared with me.
Susan: Anything I said, though, he would always go, “no, that’s wrong. No, you don’t understand.”
LILY: One time, Susan is on MDMA. He’s at her house with her and she’s lying on a mattress on the floor.
Susan: I had deep catharsis for some childhood trauma. It was wonderful. It actually really helped me a lot.
Ross: Towards the end of this whole journey as Susan is coming down from the trip, she has this vision of a wolf.
Susan: I told him that I saw a vision of this wolf bringing me to a water source. And he was like, “that’s me. I’m the Wolf.”
Ross: Yeah. And she has this voice in her head saying like…
Susan: What? I was like, “you don’t get to decide what you are in my head.” He’s like, “well, the Wolf’s my spirit animal.” And I was like, “I don’t think so.”
Ross: This guy is not acting like how Susan thinks a mentor or guide should be acting. She feels like he’s crossing all kinds of boundaries that he’s not supposed to be crossing. One time she asks for a hug after a really intense psilocybin journey.
Susan: He hugged me, but then he moved back and just stroked my body, like slowly moving down the side of me. A slow, stroking of my whole side and him like looking at my body. So that was weird and uncomfortable. But there was always the thing in my mind of like, he’s helping me.
Ross: It’s a drug that makes you open and accepting.
Susan: Don’t be weirded out by him. He’s helping me.
Ross: So, Susan decides that maybe a path forward is to ask this guy to be her official therapist, not just her mentor. And the logic behind this is that the boundaries are clearer.
Susan: Maybe mentor/guide boundaries are different, right? But if he’s my therapist, I know what those boundaries are.
LILY: Her therapeutic ethics class would frequently have this kind of call and response with the teacher.
Susan: What is the number one rule? And we all would go, “Don’t fuck your clients!”
Ross: And that’s just in the class that covers ethics and law for normal, traditional psychotherapy. It’s even more of an issue when you’re using psychedelics because they can really open people up, they make people even more vulnerable and they can amp up sexual feelings. So now this guy is her therapist and as a therapist, he’s even weirder. He keeps focusing on their relationship.
Susan: He kept telling me, “our relationship is where the healing happens.” So I was under the impression that we’re supposed to fight and I’m supposed to get triggered.
He tells me “all my clients try to have sex with me during these sessions. All your clients will try to have sex with you, too, and you just never have sex with them.” And I was like, “I don’t think I’m going to try to have sex with you.” And he’s like, “yeah, you will.”
Ross: And this is a guy who, at some point she realizes, has been marketing himself explicitly as a therapist for women who’ve experienced sexual abuse.
Susan: And he also would say, “I work differently than other people.” And I was always like, “okay, cool man.”
Ross: It’s probably worth mentioning that this process and this person are her connection point to this training that she wants to do. He holds a certain key to her professional aspirations.
Susan: He would get all excited and then he would go, “I am your teacher and I am your mentor. I am your teacher and I am your mentor.”
Ross: At this point, Susan is still completing the prerequisites for psychedelic journeys with her mentor - she hasn’t met Françoise and Aharon yet. But she’s still genuinely excited to be part of their training program.
Susan: I was waiting to meet Françoise and Aharon, so I could judge for myself.
Ross: As this is all unfolding, she goes to a psychedelic sciences conference in LA where Françoise is speaking. This is in 2018. So Françoise is already an icon in the psychedelic underground, but she’s blowing up as psychedelics go mainstream. So she’s on the same billing as a bunch of the scientists and experts from fancy universities and major organizations. And typically, even though she’s a white French woman, who lives in California, she’s cast in this role as an expert on indigenous traditions with plant medicines.
Françoise Bourzat at the conference: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me…My teachers along the way were all native people, so when we look at how indigenous practices prepare for this kind of ceremony, we have a lot to learn from them.
Susan: I was like, “oh, she’s legitimate.” She’s being asked to speak at a scientific conference at UCLA. This made me think she’s something. People respect her and look to her for guidance.
Ross: The whole experience of seeing Françoise at this conference leaves Susan really excited to work with her and do the ceremony with her. But before she can start formal training, she’s got to do a few of those group retreats with Françoise and Aharon and their daughter Naama.
Susan: We’re moving away from academia and it’s getting more into this mystical, ethereal sort of magical stuff.
Ross: So yeah, she goes to her first event with Françoise. It’s a women’s ceremony.
Susan: There’s like 10 or 12 of us in the redwoods, in this little secluded, in-the-mountains spot. We were all like dancing around to the drum and we had to build altars in the woods.
Ross: Françoise sings in all these different languages in this beautiful, gorgeous lullaby voice.
Susan: The redwoods are all above us. The wind is gusting and blowing and leaves are falling. These women are all shuffling around us, playing all these instruments, doing all this music. They played singing bowls, they had bells, Françoise is singing all these beautiful songs. There was a Sufi song. There were songs in Spanish. There were songs in Hebrew. There were songs in Russian.
LILY: The ceremonies themselves are often aesthetically really pleasing. There are often a lot of beautiful fabrics and blankets and an altar and beautiful fragrances and feathers or wings that people are using to move the smoke around the room. A good practitioner is a good performer. They’re feeding off the vibe of the room. And make no mistake, this is a highly refined performance. Susan is taken by this and I get that. I’ve sat in several ceremonies that are aesthetically very moving.
Wright: Mmmm. Sounds epic.
Susan: At one point I was crying. I think it was something about my mom. I was having some grief come up and Françoise came over and took off her shawl and put it around me and hugged me. I mean, I can’t deny it. It was a beautiful experience. I came home feeling great about them. I believe I texted Eyal, “Françoise and Naama are my new heroes.”
Ross: She goes to more retreats and ceremonies and she’s into them and they seem to love her. There’s this story that Susan tells where there’s going to be this potluck thing at some point in the weekend. And she’s been assigned to make the vegan lasagna.
Susan: I stayed up really late the night before making nut cheeses. And I made this incredible vegan lasagna that took me hours and hours to make.
Ross: She’s not vegan.
Susan: It was like this whole thing anyway, but I was pissed off that I got assigned to make that cause I was like, other people like brought fruit.
Ross: Her mentor is running around, making this big point of how excellent her vegan lasagna is and “look at this talented woman that I offer to you.”
Susan: The last day, Françoise said, “Susan, I think next time we’ll have you sing at the end.” The leader woman was validating to me and acknowledging me and saying she wanted me to sing and that felt very good.
Ross: I think part of what some of this gets at is that a thing that keeps people coming back to this group is the sense of belonging. And once you have that sense of a group, it can make it easier to normalize things that might otherwise stand out as odd.
Susan: One of the helpers had us all gathered around him and he read us a children’s storybook. Then he had us sing “You are my sunshine” together. And we’re all singing and then we all got tucked into bed. I mean, they didn’t tuck us in, but it was like then it was bedtime.
Ross: Somebody could have been like, “this is fucking weird. Why are we doing this?” But everybody else in the group seems to be going on with it. It’s like Françoise and Aharon are mommy and daddy. And all these people in this group with you are like your brothers and your sisters. And to reinforce some of that narrative, we engage in activities that connect us to our innocence and our childhood together.
They’re not sleeping very much. There’s lots of self-reflection and self-disclosure happening. People are generally just really open and trusting and there’s the vow that they all take together on MDMA which–
Wright: Excuse me, what?
Wright: Hold on. There’s a vow?
Ross: Yeah. It says, ‘we choose not to become overly preoccupied with our private life. Through and by this commitment we experience that we are all interconnected and that helping others is helping ourselves too.’
Wright: So on the surface, that sounds fine, right? But what it’s actually saying is “remove your autonomy.”
Ross: Put the group ahead of you.
Wright: I would not enjoy this experience.
Ross: I mean, who knows? Maybe you would.
Wright: Anyway, carry on, please.
Ross: We’re still at a part of the story where Susan is vibing on the group training.
Susan: I had this almost unhealthy fascination that was keeping me in it. What is this, what am I doing? What is this that I am a part of?
Ross: Meanwhile, she felt her mentor/therapist just intruding more into her life. And she’s getting more creeped out by him. Susan finally does the last mushroom journey that’s required for her to officially enter into the training. And she takes the drugs and she goes into this deep and vulnerable place. And then she realizes things are getting weird.
Susan: He’s there and then he’s over here and then he’s there and he’s over here. And I’m like, why is he running around the room? It’s very agitating.
Ross: The mentor is making all kinds of noises. He won’t hold still.
Susan: He was trying to get my attention. I don’t know, I was high on mushrooms, too. And so finally I said, “come here! Right now!” And then he came over and I went, “lay down on the bed with me.” And I grabbed his hand. This was my tactic to get him to chill out. But I also invited him into my space then.
Ross: She’s trying to just get him to stop and feels like the best way to do that is to be like, “I need you to come here.”
Susan: I started having a real panic reaction after that, where I was breathing heavy and in my head, I felt like a wounded animal who was trying to get away. It was like a horse and I was hurt and I needed to get away and I couldn’t.
Ross: He’s also playing ridiculously loud music.
Susan: Like death metal or something like that to the point where it was hurting my ears.
Ross: She has to kind of swim up to the surface of her drug trip.
Susan: “You have to turn it down. Please turn it down. I need you to turn it down.” And he wouldn’t. Until I started yelling loud and I started screaming, “turn it down.”
Ross: Then he finally turns it down.
Susan: I remember thinking, oh, he just made a mistake. It was a mistake. It was an accident.
Ross: But the journey is getting so intense that Susan starts vomiting.
Susan: I was vomiting and I had peed myself so I was like, “I gotta go to the bathroom.”
Ross: And when she comes back, her mentor is sitting on the bed…
Susan: He was seated on the bed with his arms open and his legs open. He had a pillow on his lap and he took my head and put it into his lap. My experience is that men get erections when you rub on their crotches. So that was very strange to me. But I was also doing what he said. And then I remember I was holding his foot and just like rubbing his foot and his leg. And he was petting my head. I was feeling all kinds of things. I was like, do I want to have sex with this man? But also he feels like my mom.
When you’re on these substances, it’s not like you can’t think. You think things, you feel things, it’s just that you’re not experiencing reality in a normal way. So it’s like you don’t know what the boundaries are of reality. I didn’t want him to do anything. I was scared that he would do something. But the thing that’s scary about it is that I was frozen.
Ross: It’s one of those moments that you can’t compute or make sense of while it’s happening.
Ross: When she told that story, it reminded me a lot of how I had felt in the Amazon. That similar internal experience of having the questions and – I can’t emphasize enough that she’s on drugs – they’re drugs that enhance suggestibility and make people accepting. She’s with a therapist who was always telling her to give in, to stop trying to control things, and to let go of her resistance. So, yeah. The session ultimately ends with an unsolicited hug.
Susan: He came up behind me and took me by the waist and then hugged me again. And again, he’s like slow-moving his hands down my sides. I wasn’t asking for hugs.
Ross: In Françoise and Aharon’s underground training, you’re also supposed to train in a form of bodywork and you’re supposed to train in a form of esoteric energy work, like Reiki. That set somebody like Susan up to be expecting some of these non-standard interventions, like touch. But in some ways, the rules and the expectations can be confusing. And after it’s over, she goes home to a friend of hers and is telling the friend about her experience, including this part, where the guide is holding her head in his lap.
Susan: She was like, “well, did it help you?” And I was like, “maybe? I was in an intimate position with a man and he didn’t rape me. Was that the healing?” So she was just like, “okay. Want to watch the R Kelly documentary?”
Ross: There comes a point where Susan just cannot take this guy. She decides that he’s ridiculous. She tells Eyal that she’s going to quit therapy with him and she says his reaction to that news is as if they’re in a romantic relationship and he’s begging her not to break up with him.
Susan: He called me, so I answered the phone and he was like, “we’re going to do one more MDMA session. And in it, you’re going to fight me.”
Wright: What the fuck? I would love to know the explanation for the benefit of that.
Ross: We will get there.
Susan: I got off the phone call and I was like, “I’m never speaking to him ever again.” It was deeply disturbing to me. That’s when I reached out to Françoise because I thought that they probably wanted to know.
Wright: Please tell me that Françoise writes back and says, “oh my God, I’m so sorry. Fuck this guy. He’s out.”
Ross: Well, something like that.
Susan: She immediately was like, “I know this is not a therapeutic relationship, Nothing about that sounds therapeutic at all. We’ll get you a new mentor.”
Ross: She BCC’s Susan in an e-mail to the guide. It says, “Hello. I have been in conversation with Susan. It looks like there are some present challenges in your dynamic. I have decided that I want her to work with a different mentor and therapist at this time. In the spirit of compassion and mindfulness, I ask that you do not contact her at all for the time being. This space and silence will be fruitful in easing this process before attempting further resolution. Thank you. Love Françoise.”
Wright: I just want to note here that when our fact checker reached out to Françoise and Aharon about the phone call and the email, they declined to comment. I told you earlier, that when New York Magazine reached out to Eyal Goren to hear his side of the story, through his lawyer, he generally declined to comment except to say that Susan’s allegations were false—but there was one interesting extra detail. The lawyer said that allegations against Eyal were not being made by clients but by colleagues. Meaning he never provided Susan with therapy. But Susan has shown supporting evidence to us – and a state regulatory agency – that he was her therapist. There are texts, there are copies of checks; there’s the email Lily just read you written by Françoise; oh, and there’s a letter to an airline that Eyal wrote, as Susan’s licensed therapist, so she could travel with her emotional support dog.
Ross: This whole “I’m not your therapist” thing is something that Susan says that Eyal tried to tell her on the phone when she was finally trying to break up with him as her therapist. All of a sudden, he jumps in with this whole, “We never did therapy together, Susan.” That’s actually a pretty typical fallback for people who are offering therapies that might break the like official rules or standards of their profession - so they might call themselves coaches or guides, not therapists – Susan was done with Eyal at that point, but she was still really excited to get to learn from Françoise and Aharon.
Susan: Then I started the training. They took our cell phones and put them in a box and put them in the other room. They gave us thumb drives with all of the reading materials for the training on it. Everything was kind of posed like this is all super secret. And we were all like, “oh, we’ve got our super secret thumb drive.”
Ross: The first part is this lecture of an in-depth introduction to Françoise and Aharon’s lineage and how they learned to be psychedelic guides.
Susan: Françoise and Aharon, kind of doing their shtick.
Ross: A little bit of intellectual history. They tell the story of Aharon coming to the US from Israel.
Susan: And he joined TM and became a TM teacher.
Ross: The same transcendental meditation that Susan’s mom was into.
Susan: So for me, that was a red flag.
Ross: She’s sort of like, “oof.” But then Françoise moves from France and meets Aharon and they both start learning from this wild and brilliant Mexican psychiatrist. He’s giving people drugs and keeping them up all night and projecting crazy things on the walls.
Susan: Pornography on one wall, and then like murder on another wall, while these people were on these substances.
Ross: Playing really loud music, flashing strobe lights.
Susan: Six hours in or something, then they’d bring them ketamine and give them ketamine. So they were on multiple things. After that, they would bring in the family members of the people and have them talk to their family members in these states and then keep them up for another day. Then the next day, give them Mescaline. They described it with a laugh, you know, “old days! Back in the day.” Everyone in the group, we all were like, “oh my God. What?” with a grin.
Ross: He was such a young, creative, edgy healer. And Susan goes home and reads more about him on the secret thumb drive they’ve given her.
Susan: When I was actually reading it away from them, I was like, “this is really fucked up.”
Wright: I remember she talked about this guy when we were there. And this thing about jolting people out or pushing past people’s resistance and breaking down their ego and how that helped them get… I remember this.
Bourzat: He was a pioneer. It was the wild seventies or the beginning of the eighties. And he was doing wild work.
Ross: Yeah. Salvador Roquet.
Wright: Salvador Roquet.
Ross: That’s the guy.
Wright: She thought that he was very revolutionary. And ahead of his time.
Bourzat: It was the frontier, it was the wild west. If it was not for people like this, I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing.
Wright: She started talking about how she also uses music in the way Salvador Roquet did. And so did this other mentor guy – Pablo Sanchez - who was also a student of Roquet’s. They wanted to ‘agitate’ was I think the word.
Bourzat: My teacher used to play very intense music for us. Personally, I love it. I love music that is so challenging that it encounters something in me that nothing else meets. You know some people are trapped in very narrow boxes and it takes something to get them out of it.
Wright: My understanding is that a part of what she is known for is agitating people past their barriers.
Bourzat: But you know, I’m kind of weird that way. I have this unlimited curiosity towards weirdness. Anyway. Because I like consciousness. I like states. I liked the territories of the limit. I like boundaryless places. If you love someone who is very constricted, bringing them to the edge of their liberation might require something different than just being nice and tender. I train people like this.
Ross: I think one of the things I often think about concerning Salvador Roquet is that there’s a difference between helping people break free or shake things off and just straight-up breaking people.
Wright: Next time: It’s not just Susan. And it’s not just Eyal.
LILY: So I have some more stories for you. And I think one of the refrains that comes up a lot is that these aren’t bad apples, these are bad ideas.
Wright: Sorry. But it sounds like a bad tree.
LILY: Or maybe a whole orchard?