On the latest episode of Cover Story, transgressions multiply, and collaborator Lily Kay Ross confronts psychedelic leader Françoise Bourzat about the accounts of abuse within the community Bourzat and her husband, Aharon Grossbard, run. We hear more stories of the rules of consent between therapist and client being breached, as more people begin to speak out. Still, when both Bourzat and Grossbard step away from their co-founder positions, it does feel like listeners receive some degree of closure. But as more people learn about the issues within the community, what will psychedelic healing look like as it becomes mainstream?
To hear from two other women about their experiences with psychedelic therapy, 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. As in previous episodes, we’ve changed the names and voices of some of the people that we’ve interviewed to protect their identities.
iO Tillett Wright: Lily and Dave love this song called “House Full of Shit.” The lyrics are: “What are we gonna do with all this shit? We’re gonna need a second hallway.” And that’s basically how they feel ever since they started digging into the underbelly of psychedelics, and especially since we started dropping episodes. Lily and Dave have been inundated by stories of all kinds of abuses by psychedelic guides.
Dave Nickles: Oh look at this! It’s like we’re sitting here on a mountain of…
Lily Kay Ross: Evidence
Nickles: That sheds light on what’s going on…
Wright: Some of the stories Lily and Dave are discovering have nothing to do with sexual abuse.
Ross: We started looking into a lawsuit against Aharon that we found quite intriguing. It accused him of a breach of confidentiality.
Wright: It never made it to court but…
Ross: That lawsuit led us to two women.
Wright: And the stories of these two women get to the heart of something — a dynamic that shows up in a lot of different ways between guides and their clients — where the client sees the guide as a kind of deity, and the guide, in turn, gets high on power.
Claire: This is Bodhi.
Ross: Hi, kitty.
Claire: Hi Bod! What do you want? He’s making a little snory sound.
Ross: First I want to tell you about Claire. Claire was a dance teacher and for her, this story starts in about 2005. She was living in the San Francisco Bay Area not far from where Françoise and Aharon live. Claire was a victim of child sexual abuse, and she had started dating a man who had had his own stuff kind of going on.
Claire: A trauma survivor.
Ross: And for a while, the relationship was going really well and they actually moved in together.
Claire: He had told me that he was working with a therapist who was doing plant medicine with him.
Ross: So he was working with Françoise doing psychedelic therapy and at first it was going really well, so Claire also tried it.
Claire: I felt a kindred spirit.
Ross: But one day her partner comes back from a journey with Françoise and she says that he had just suddenly, completely lost touch with reality.
Claire: He came back eyes wide open and like he’d experienced God. He told me that he had taken ketamine. He was so fragile that he didn’t have any sense of his own ability to care for himself. He was a shell. He would leave for work in the morning, but apparently was sitting somewhere in his car. He was fired from his job. He was holed up in a bedroom, a second bedroom in the house. He had a Tempur-Pedic mattress and I found when I was changing the bed one day, all these knife marks in it. He had apparently been taking a butcher knife out of the kitchen and stabbing this mattress when he was angry.
Ross: Claire talks about how she would call on Françoise for help.
Claire: I would call her and say “he’s not okay. What should I do?” And she would say, “well, can you get him here?” I don’t think that she was doing anything purposefully harmful. My impression was that it was more of backtracking, trying to fix a mistake.
Ross: Ultimately this whole thing was really painful for Claire because this man she really cared about was just getting more and more distraught.
Claire: I found this series of emails, where I had said, “I don’t understand what happened. All these things happened after you did that ketamine journey with Françoise.”
Ross: All that time, Claire said she didn’t really blame Françoise. And then about five years later, Claire met another woman who was going through a hard time with her husband. We’re going to call her Catherine. And her then-husband was also seeing Aharon for psychedelic therapy. And Catherine told me that – at first– it seemed like Aharon was really helpful. It was the first time her husband had spoken about some really hard things.
Catherine: Aharon said, “you have to tell your wife what’s going on.”
Ross: There were some really rough revelations in the mix, and I don’t want or need to talk about those publicly. But suffice it to say that it’s stuff that would rock most marriages.
As they were trying to work through it, Catherine says that he was going on journeys every weekend. And she describes him as starting to become untethered – from his family, from his job, from his responsibilities. And her friend Claire remembers him seeming delusional. Catherine was thinking about leaving him.
Catherine: “I think we need to get a divorce and we can do it peacefully.”
Ross: She says that Aharon had really encouraged them to stay together. He told them that he could help. So Catherine and her husband both kept doing journeys with Aharon. They spent social time with Aharon and Françoise and their community, and Catherine remembers there was this one group journey with lots of different drugs. And when she told me about it I thought, this really sounds like a Roquet session. In the middle of it, while she was already high –
Catherine: Somebody came around and said, “do you want the LSD?” And I said, “no.” And then they went back to Aharon and Aharon says “she’s taking the LSD.” The person came back to me and said, “Aharon says you’re taking the LSD.” And I was so high, I was like, “okay, I’m taking the LSD because Aharon’s in charge. And he’d be like, no, you need this.” He’s directing things.
Ross: Can I ask how the ketamine came about?
Catherine: Yeah, the idea was that you need to break through and ketamine is the next level. The mushrooms will show you certain things, but if you really need to break out of your patterns, ketamine’s the next step. Some people need a higher dose because their ego is so entrenched and they’re so guarded.
Ross: Looking back, Catherine says this was a terrible idea.
Catherine: His ego wasn’t strong
Ross: At one point, Catherine told us that Aharon sent her to see a psychiatrist in San Francisco. But then that psychiatrist actually cautioned her against working with Aharon and Françoise. So we reached out and spoke to him and he said that he had warned her about their inappropriate use of psychedelic drugs with people that had mental health issues. He told us that he had actually filed a complaint with the California Medical Board.
Catherine: I think they take very vulnerable people and people whose lives are kind of going off the rails. And pull them into this fantasy that, “we’ll build this community together and we’ll cure you and you’ll be like us.”
Ross: Do they deliver on that?
Catherine: They do not deliver on that.
Ross: Catherine said that she could see that her husband was becoming obsessed with Aharon. And she even tried to warn Aharon about it.
Catherine: I said, “he’s obsessed with you. He sees you as a godlike figure. It’s out of proportion.” If somebody warned me as a professional, I’d be like, “Oh shit, I’m in too deep.” And I thought he would say, “oh, this isn’t right,” but he didn’t.
Ross: I think there’s a thing that happens with drugs, especially if you’re seeing a shaman or guide, where you displace some of the awe and the wonder of the drug experience onto the person who gave you the drug. But it’s also such a power trip when somebody starts relishing how wonderful you are and how powerful you are. Playing Shaman, from what I can tell, seems like it’s pretty intoxicating for people. I think some of them feel like a God. And I sort of wish that I could just quietly approach the expanding balloon of their grandiosity with a little needle and just pop it, you know?
When Catherine finally manages to move out and file for divorce, things get even worse. Even just talking about this period in her life, it’s really clear to me that it’s hard for her. Catherine was going to court to divorce him and protect her family. And there comes a point in this ongoing battle where Catherine’s husband is trying to get the judge to prevent her from seeing their kids. And Aharon writes a letter in support. Luckily the judge throws out the request within a couple of days. And then it later dawns on Catherine – that Aharon’s letter was not allowed.
Catherine: You can’t write something unsolicited to the courts without my consent.
Ross: So, that’s the battle that led us to Catherine. She went on to file a complaint with the state of California, and they fined Aharon $2,500.
Catherine: They talked to him. He was very sorry. He was very repentant. He admitted that he did not have a release of information.
Ross: Basically, what’s happening here is Aharon is answering the request of a client who seems pretty unstable, can’t hold down a job, seems to worship him, and supports this man’s efforts to stop Catherine from seeing her family. When they told you he was sorry and repentant…how did that…
Catherine: It just really pissed me off.
Wright: Oh my god, I’m so disturbed.
Ross, on tape: Hello, Françoise.
Françoise Bourzat, on tape: Hi Lily!
Ross, on tape: Hi.
Bourzat, on tape: How are you?
Ross, on tape: Yeah, I’m good. How are you?
Wright: Wait wait wait wait wait …
Ross: Yes, that is me talking to Françoise. It happened late summer of this year. After I started talking to Catherine and also reaching out to other people that she had put me in touch with, all of a sudden, I get this email from Françoise. It says:
It has been ages!
I hope you are doing very well in all your endeavors. I would love to hear! 😊
I wanted to reach out since someone I know informed me that you were concerned about the therapeutic relationship Aharon Grossbard had with his clients. You may not be aware of this but Aharon is my husband and is impeccable in his sexual boundaries with his clients. When you were going through what we now can call “the community rejection” and you and I kept in close contact and dialogue, he was also feeling bad that no one besides me would acknowledge the harm you had been through. I also wish to say that I am aware of past clients who have had personal challenges and may still go through difficult phases have decided to attempt to make us look bad: this is truly absurd.
Wright: In the note, Françoise refers to the moment, years ago, when Lily tried — and failed — to get some of the leaders of the psychedelic movement to back her in speaking out about abuses. Françoise calls it “the community rejection.” In the next sentence, Françoise says she’s currently aware of clients with “personal challenges” attempting to “make them look bad” and calls it absurd.
Ross: So a few weeks later we got on a call. And I told her that, “yes, here I am again.”
Ross, on tape: Well you’d written to me and I was so interested …
Ross: I asked her about the lawsuit from 20 years ago, where a client accused her of sexual contact and a bunch of other stuff over a several-year period.
Ross, on tape: …and saw that it was settled in mediation.
Bourzat, on tape: Mm-hm.
Ross, on tape: I’ve also talked to people who were around at that time, who…
Ross: She denied to me that she did anything wrong.
Bourzat, on tape: The people you talked to may have had some anger towards me, or may have heard a part of the story or an angle of the story, or maybe want to tarnish my name or something. It’s a long situation. I was fine with what I did.
Ross: I also told her I was hearing other similar stories about her and Aharon.
Ross, on tape: So, I’ve heard a range of allegations against you and your group and Aharon.
Bourzat, on tape: Well here’s something that I’ve discussed a lot with people in my community. The language I’m hearing is that the more you are visible, the more people will find ways to put you down. They’ll find stories, and they are stories. There are stories in the community, situations that are not good, that the ethic committees are working with more guides…
Ross: And then, eventually, I went all in.
Ross, on tape: So at this point, I’ve heard about practitioners in your community who are engaged in sexual activity with clients and dual relationships and touch without permission, fostering dependence, emotional manipulation, mind control. A few folks have used the phrase: breaking people. Some people have said that you and Aharon have condoned and encouraged behavior that caused them harm. So I’m curious to know what you and Aharon think is going on here.
Bourzat, on tape: Well look, I don’t mean to avoid the thing, but I have a client waiting at 11:30, so just…
Ross: She’d already told me she only had half an hour. But she did give a little more time.
Bourzat, on tape: I don’t know who you’re talking to or with. I’m sorry, but this is not my language, Lily. We have said to people that if you have training in sex therapy and you are licensed to have a contract with the client in a very clear dialogue in consent that is establishing the exploration of sexual healing, again within the context of consent, contract, and professional training, but anything like you are describing is absolutely not what I say or support. So I cannot say. You’ll hear what you hear, but this is not my form of work.
Ross, on tape: Yeah, I guess, that’s not what I’ve heard.
Wright: Since Lily and Françoise had this conversation, we’ve reached out to Françoise and Aharon several times, laying out all the details of what we’ve learned and asking for a response. Françoise answered that she did not want to participate in what she called sensational and defamatory journalism.
Ross: When I asked her about how her community and her training program deal with guides and therapists harming clients, she said this:
Bourzat, on tape: We expect the guides to come to honesty. And we are listening to both the clients and the guide. We’re not doubting the client.
Ross: Basically, she said, “we expect guides to tell the truth.”
Bourzat, on tape: We want the guide to, for the sake of their own healing and their own integrity, come to tell the truth. As part of the healing, to tell the truth.
Ross: My first thought when I heard that was, how do you know the guide knows the truth? And if they do, how do you know they’re going to tell it to you? It’s like she has this supreme confidence in the integrity of guides. I think this opens up something that we really need to talk about in this community, which is the idea that ethics comes from within. If you want to figure out if something is okay or not, you’re supposed to look inside yourself for the answer, like “is this hug okay? Or is this touch okay?” This reminds me of a story that we heard from a fellow named Sergio Rodriguez Castillo. Sergio is one of the teachers with the Center for Consciousness Medicine and he’s trained by Françoise and Aharon. He has this story that he uses as an example of a good way for a guide and a client to work together to figure out if something that happened in a session was okay, and how they might want to proceed from there. So, he’s in a session with a guide…
Sergio Rodriguez Castillo: I’m like a regressed child and in a very vulnerable position. He comes and lies next to me and he just hugs me. It was really, really beautiful and I feel love and I feel held and it was like, “oh. So, so, so much love.” But my own childhood wound of being taken advantage of came back the next day. So I said, “how could he do this to me? He took advantage.” Nothing happened. Let me be very clear, fully clothed, nothing improper, nothing sexual happened. He just hugged me. But that triggers some of my own trauma, right? So I went and confronted him.
I said, “how could you do this to me? You were the guide. I was like a child. I was vulnerable. I was in an expanded state. You should have known better and that this was not the right thing to do.” The first thing that he says is, “let me check with myself. Do I feel like I did something wrong?” And he said, “I cannot find that energy within me. But let me hear more about what happened to you.” And then I kept telling him and I started crying and said, “this happened and it was horrible.” And then he said, “Sergio I can see how what I did could have been interpreted that way. I’m sorry. And tell me what you need to feel better.” In that case that was enough.
Ross: And then later, in a subsequent psychedelic session, they had decided to explore that edge together.
Castillo: Some other time, I was in the same place and he felt that I needed some holding. He came to me and said, “Sergio, would it be okay if I hold you?” And I say, “yes, but remember I said yes the first time too. Are you sure?” He said, “Yes. Let me tell you ahead of time what I’m going to do. Is it okay if I put my arm around you?” and I answered “yes.” He asked, “how does that feel?” and I said, “It feels a little scary.” He said, “Okay. Let me remove my arm.” You get the point. It’s like exposure therapy in a way. Very, very slowly, I’m beginning to heal the wound that if we don’t go there, it’s never going to heal. What an expanded state of consciousness allows you to have is the possibility to go to those places more easily.
Ross: From Sergio’s perspective, this was a healing experience. The way that Sergio saw it, it’s like his guide was asking him for consent and checking in with him about it every step of the way and was open to hearing about what’s working and what’s not working. So to Sergio, the system worked. But when I hear this story, it makes me feel quite worried and unsettled. I see way too much room for error.
I think that there’s an idea of being in the moment as the process unfolds. We respond together to the thing that arises and do what we feel needs to be done at the moment. But there are no clear rules about what’s okay and what’s not. So you’re supposed to just negotiate that on the fly with this person who’s in an altered state or if they’re not in an altered state, they have been recently and they’re still pretty suggestible. What if your guide doesn’t have empathy? What if your guide got really bad training?
Wright: But, by and large, people who are causing harm, I feel like they rarely perceive that they are causing harm.
Ross: Yeah and there is an incentive to do the thing they say because the promise is that you’re not going to be in pain anymore if you do, and that is such a strong incentive. They’re like “ here is the thing I’m telling you is going to make it so you aren’t hurting anymore. I can see it. I know it, just trust me.”
Right now it’s a bit of a bonanza out there. There’s a whole bunch of people that are suddenly like, “Ooh, psychedelics.” They’re really excited about this thing that’s gotten so much buzz as a miracle cure and they don’t have a real idea of the risks. They don’t have a real idea of what the rules are supposed to be. They’re sort of thinking, “well, this a radical new treatment anyway. Maybe the rules don’t apply.” If we talk about ethics as something that comes from within, we lose sight of the very well-established, ethical standards determined over many years by professional communities, which exist to protect the client.
Ross: We have a couple more stories to tell you. They’re pretty fucking bad.
Wright: This sucks.
Ross: Yeah, it does suck. But I think we have this conversation because there are more and more people getting into psychedelics every day. And … a lot of guides out there have either been trained by Françoise and Aharon or people very much like them – with this idea that boundaries are something you can figure out on the fly. And that if you really want to heal, you have to surrender. And I think these last couple of cases really take you inside what it might feel like to be asked to surrender to things that you should just never be asked to surrender to.
So, I know that you remember Susan…
Susan: I’m like wait! Who’s Susan?
Ross: Eyal Goren’s client. At some point, she found out about this other woman who was working with Eyal and she wanted to alert her.
Susan: I sent her an email and said, “Hey, I noticed you dropped out of the training. I know that you work with Eyal. And I wanted to say I worked with Eyal, and…”
Ross: We’re going to call this woman Lauren. And at first, Lauren says Eyal actually warned her that Susan was unstable and out to get him. So it took her a year to answer Susan.
Susan: Basically, she just says, “Hey Susan, If you’re open to it, I wanted to talk to you about Eyal/ the medicine community.”
Ross: So then they started having a conversation and the two of them talked about some of the other parallels in their experiences.
Susan: He would talk to me about her. She was like, “yeah, he talked to me about you all the time.” He told her that I had Borderline Personality Disorder and I was dangerous and she should stay away from me.
Wright: I want to note here that our most recent communication from Eyal’s lawyer says: “Mr. Goren denies any allegations of wrongdoing and has no further comment.”
Ross: It was actually just a couple of weeks ago that Lauren agreed to let us summarize some of what she says happened to her. She saw Eyal for three years, much longer than Susan, and he really pushed it further with her.
So it was her first experience of therapy. And she told us that just having someone ask her how she was and say, “tell me more” made her feel really cared for. He was really validating and supportive. She describes him as “very attuned to her emotions.” And she started to trust him. Even though it was therapy, she didn’t know anything about him. It was just the way he was engaging with her felt good.
Wright: Was it regular therapy or psychedelic?
Ross: It was just regular good old fashion psychotherapy. She also said in the beginning, the boundaries felt quite clear. He did make a hugging gesture to her once at the end of a session. And she remembers telling him “I don’t do hugs.” And he said something like, “we’re going to fix that.” He told her that he’s also an expert in psychedelic therapy and that he thinks she’s an ideal candidate, explaining it as a year’s worth of therapy in one session. Eventually, she does MDMA with him. And at first, the sessions were really helpful. But as things progressed and as they started doing psilocybin therapy, she did not like it. She was saying, “I don’t think this is the drug for me. It’s just difficult. It feels like a bad trip.”
So here’s one of the places where Lauren says that the things Eyal did to her are really parallel to Susan and other people that we’ve talked to. She says that whenever she questioned things, he told her she needed to surrender and trust and let go of control. And that it was her ego getting in the way. She says that he also told her “you need to open yourself up and allow yourself to receive love.” Very much like Susan, actually kind of identical to Susan, Eyal told Lauren about the training with Françoise and Aharon, and that there might be one last spot for her. And that they would be like her family. And she did join.
Wright: Like “if you do what I say, I can maybe get you this one last spot.”
Ross: Yeah. But after two training sessions, she decided that this was not for her. The psychedelic therapy continued. And Lauren says that she was believing Eyal about her resistance and her ego. And she talked about how she had this feeling, that there was always a breakthrough just around the next corner, just over the horizon.
So one evening after an MDMA session, she told us that he usually had food for her. And then this evening he did not. So he took her out to get food and suddenly there, they are sitting at a restaurant on a patio next to a fountain, and she realizes that this feels like a date. And then the next therapy session, a few days later, Lauren says that he told her he was in love with her.
Wright: Oh what?
Ross: He pursued her from there.
Wright: While he was still her therapist?
Ross: She says he told her in her therapy session.
Wright: Dude, come on.
Ross: And the thing is, Lauren told us that at this point Eyal had become a really central person in her life as her therapist. She was worried that she was going to lose that. And it seemed like the only way that she could keep what was feeling helpful and hopeful to her about this whole situation was to kind of follow his lead. So they started seeing each other outside of therapy while they were still doing therapy.
Wright: Wait, seeing each other?
Ross: Taking walks, getting coffee. And Lauren says that he continued to push her to stop resisting, like even little things. So it was like, “do you want coffee? Oh, you don’t want coffee? Yes, you do.”
Ross: Yeah. So eventually there’s an evening where there’s an attempt at physical intimacy, which I’m not going to go into at Lauren’s request. That’s when Lauren says that she started pushing back. She says she told him she didn’t want a relationship and that he shouldn’t have shared his feelings with her.
Wright: Lauren has actually filed a complaint with the regulatory agency in California that governs therapists. She included five statements from people she was talking to as all this was happening. One colleague described what she heard from Lauren like this: “Eyal used private sensitive information he had gained from their work together to invalidate and pathologize Lauren’s experience, demanding that she open herself to love with him.” The colleague continued, and this is a quote: “I remember Lauren telling me that Eyal had said to her, ‘I didn’t realize you were only strong because you had been leaning on me.’”
Ross: He would be like, “you’re fragile” or “you are borderline.” And if that didn’t work, it was like, “we’re meant to be.”
Lauren told us that she was trying to hold Eyal accountable in whatever ways that she could. Because she was wondering: how could you have taken away this therapy and pursued a relationship with me instead? By the time she’s asking that question, she’s really distraught. It was like she’d had this really clear vision for where all these things were going and where this was supposed to be taking her. But after what he had done, she told us that it felt like she couldn’t trust the one person she had been trusting for years. And she told us that she didn’t feel like she could trust herself either. She says that Eyal told her that this was all about the care she’d never gotten from her parents, which really messed with her mind. Of the years that they’d been doing therapy and psychedelic journeys together, she said it felt like he had a blueprint of her internal world that he could just exploit whenever he wanted.
Wright: Jesus Christ.
Ross: And in another conversation, she described it like this: Eyal used the psychedelics like a Trojan horse to get into her psyche.
Wright: Psychedelics are the perfect thing to Trojan horse into someone’s vulnerability.
Ross: And just in case that you’re thinking, this is an Eyal problem, for the last year, I’ve been talking to a woman on the opposite coast from Lauren and working with another therapist who said his teachers were also Françoise and Aharon. There was the pattern again. “You have to surrender. You have to trust.” While she was on the psychedelics, he was holding her and spooning her and massaging her glutes, and singing songs to her while wrapping his body around hers. One of the ways that he touched her was to trace with one finger circles around her tailbone and anus. I’ve heard firsthand allegations against five men trained by Françoise and Aharon. And I talked to a sixth man that they trained, who told me that he’d had sex with a woman while she was on LSD.
All of these stories are stories of resistance. There’s a moment for these people where they start to push back or they start to say, “I’m not okay with this,” or they make a complaint or they try to hold somebody accountable. That’s really important to recognize too, because as you once said, it’s so hard to say no, even once. And in these cases, these people are trying to say no multiple times in some instances, and the people that they’re saying no to just keep pushing.
Wright: We’re gonna come back to that in a later episode.
Ross: There’s one last person I want you to meet.
Connie, on tape: Okay. Hi.
Ross: Her story has really stuck with me because what happened to her was pretty extreme.
Ross, on tape: How’s it going?
Connie, on tape: Good. How are you?
Ross: I really want to tell you how Françoise responded when this woman tried to report it to her. We’re going to call this woman, Connie. So a few years ago, Connie scheduled a visit with a psychedelic guide who also does massage and sexual healing. And she says that when he came around to her place for a session, they had an explicit conversation about boundaries.
Wright: Someone from an organization in California that’s advocating for this kind of work told us (1) they don’t condone doing sexual healing on drugs and (2) consent around touch should be in writing, and it should never be changed on the fly.
Ross: Connie says that she told the therapist, she did not want her G-spot touched.
Connie, on tape: And I remember specifically saying, “I don’t think I want that or need that.”
Ross: But it was a massage. So her clothes were off. And she took edibles and mushrooms.
Connie, on tape: An hour into the session, he’s pushing and saying “oh, this is what you need?” and I’m altered so I was feeling very open. So then, of course, I’m getting touched in that area and I’m receiving all these messages. I’m seeing owls fly through and suddenly, I’m in this situation where this person is on top of me and inside of me. I don’t remember when they entered. And there was definitely no request. I had just been raped. I mean, essentially I’d just been raped, and yet it was a person that I had invited into my home.
Ross: It’s her reaction that really struck me in the gut because, on the one hand, Connie has been very clear about how much this hurt her.
Connie, on tape: Let me be really clear that what happened is absolutely wrong. There’s a big part of me that wishes that at that moment I had like fucking called the police right then, or done something because I think that person should absolutely have been arrested and never seen a client again. I don’t care if you have some voice in your head or your spirit guide says, “oh yes, penetrate this person right now.”
Ross, on tape: Have you heard people say that before?
Connie, on tape: Yes.
Ross, on tape: You’ve heard people talk about how they are being guided or instructed by some inner voice to engage in what we could call sexual misconduct or rape?
Connie, on tape: Mmhmm, yes.
Ross: So Connie’s really clear that this guy who came to her house was in the wrong. But there’s something she has said consistently that has really struck me – it’s that she somehow brought this experience on herself. The words she uses to describe it are that she “called it in.” When she said that, I was like, oh my god, there it is! This is the same thing people told me after T raped me. And what Connie did with her thoughts and feelings at the time was to try to help the guy who had hurt her.
Connie, on tape: This is so embarrassing, but I actually thought I had to heal this guy.
Ross: She says it wasn’t until she recommended him to other women and then two of them told her that he had violated them, that she realized the mistake that she’d made.
Connie, on tape: I think at least three women at this point, I felt like a co-abuser because I had been recommending this person. When one of them came to me and told me what happened, I had never felt that level of rage.
Ross: And she sprung into action.
Connie, on tape: That was when I wrote the letter to say this happened.
Ross: She wrote a letter to the practitioner’s teacher, Françoise Bourzat.
Wright: Françoise was the guy’s teacher?
Ross: Yeah. And in a long email, she communicated to Françoise that this man had sexually transgressed against multiple women and that she was really worried about this man’s behavior as well as his wellbeing.
Wright: Oh my God.
Ross: Then eight days go by and there’s no response. She starts to get pretty scared. We’ve already heard in this community and this circle of people, it’s really hard to stand up and talk about these issues.
Connie, on tape: I said, “okay, well maybe it’s not as bad as I thought. Sorry.” I kind of ran away a little bit. “Please forgive me. Forget what I said. Everything’s fine.” What I got was she’s like, “oh, great. Thank you.”
Ross: Here’s what the response from Françoise said: “Thanks for following up and reassuring us. It was a bit startling to receive such alarming news in such a dramatic way. I just hope this manner of speech did not contaminate this man, regardless of what has to be confronted, supported, and learned for him.”
Connie, on tape: I was just shocked. It’s so hard to talk about
Ross, on tape: You are doing a fantastic job. How are you doing?
Connie, on tape: Good. Thank you. It’s hard.
Ross: I got so much time from Connie. I think one of the things I really appreciate is her willingness to be vulnerable with me and to grapple with this idea of “calling it in.”
Connie, on tape: Because it’s one of the new-ager ridiculous toxic prescriptions. So you “called that in.”
Ross, on tape: I’m just thinking about how the idea that we did call it in. I’m worried that the idea excuses abuse. I’m wondering what you think of that idea?
Connie, on tape: I think there’s a lot of truth to that. I guess for me, I know as a woman, I will never call in a rape.
Ross: That’s what she told me in that interview. And she was really clear about it. But the last couple of times that I have spoken to her, she’s told me again that she knows that she called this experience in.
Connie, on tape: My soul was calling in something to break me. I think that’s what happens. My soul was calling in something to break me.
Wright: This past Fall, while Lily and Dave were frantically investigating and forming almost like a team of people who wanted to come forward with their stories, one of the people they’d been talking to, Will Hall, very bravely stepped into the public eye on his own. He published a piece called “Ending the silence around psychedelic therapy abuse” on Madinamerica.com. Shortly thereafter, other pieces covering the allegations started popping up, and suffice it to say, it shook the tree.
Will Hall, on tape: I started to get so many emails from people.
Ross, on tape: Do you have an estimate of how many emails you’ve gotten from people?
Hall, on tape: Oh, yeah, it’s easily 40. I have a document where I’ve been putting all the emails and it’s now more than 70 pages.
Ross: This whole conversation has blown up in some ways. Since Will published his article, Françoise and Aharon’s daughter is now running that above-ground training organization they all started together. Her father has been officially removed from any role in it, and both of her parents, Françoise and Aharon, are no longer listed on the website as co-founders. The organization put out a statement saying there is now an independent investigation into allegations against Aharon.
Wright: In the last few weeks, both Aharon and Françoise sent out emails to a list of people who’ve trained with them. Aharon starts out acknowledging people’s “hurt, pain, confusion and the disappointment in me and my leadership role.” Then he writes: “While my intentions have always been moral and caring, I wholeheartedly recognize that at times, I have not been able to adequately recognize the impact they have had on some of the people I worked with.” He talks about intentions and transference and power dynamics, and says “I’m committed to keep on looking inside and understand more about my shadow and ignorance.” He says he’s seeing a new “wiser elder psychotherapist outside our community.”
More recently, Françoise also sent an email to the group. She calls what’s happening an “implosion” and she writes that she’s feeling a lot of pain, disconnection, and sadness. She says she’s getting the support she needs to go through all this and “has gained insight into the source of her own wounding.” Then she continues: “I also know that other allegations are floating around, bringing doubts in everyone’s mind, and there is not much I feel I need to speak about, as I reserve myself the right to some privacy in regards to my own choices – which are not related to my professional life.” Towards the end, she adds: “I trust everyone’s intuition to mindfully move forward in a healing direction.”
The thing that makes me hopeful is that we’re hearing more and more every day that people who say they’ve experienced harm or witnessed harm are feeling emboldened to speak up about what’s happened to them. There’s a statement that was published online. It’s like an open letter. It was signed by a lot of people in the community and it’s the beginning of a conversation. People are taking a stand and trying to say this is the thing that is wrong and here are some ideas about how we might mitigate this problem in our community going forward. “Let’s put together an independent ethics council and give people places where they can report harm. Let’s think about how we investigate these sorts of things and take a restorative justice approach to this kind of work.” I’m always on the lookout for is this genuine? Or is this reputation management? Is this just another way to try and handle this whole thing in-house and paper it all over? The thing that I would hope would be at the center of change like that would be the voices and the perspectives of the people who’ve been harmed.
So what’s next? Some people will tell you that when this underground therapy goes mainstream, all this shit will get worked out. The creepy guides, the bad ideas, all of it. Because if big-name universities are involved, and real research labs, and publicly traded companies then surely all these power trippy problems will go away … right?