12. GROF TRANSPERSONALISM
Why do you oppose alternative therapy?
Because this is a very deceptive trend harbouring entrepreneurial tendencies which can be harmful. Superstitions like those attaching to crystals are perhaps merely amusing by comparison with certain other activities, but are nevertheless objectionable in the confusions created amongst gullible clients. The constant imposition upon the unwary public of therapy “techniques” is a matter for due reflection. Commercial therapies, claiming the ability to resolve conflicts, have been totally ineffective at venues like the Findhorn Foundation, where dissidents were stigmatised and ruthlessly eliminated. Since the 1960s, a widespread fad aligned the theories of Jung with further manifestations of alternative therapy, a form of justification for a lucrative package. The collective unconscious became the convenience for a glut of facile jargon at centres like the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.
The worst drawbacks occurred in the neo-Jungian commerce of Stanislav Grof, a prominent figure at Esalen from 1973 until 1987. He pioneered the activity known as LSD psychotherapy, which gained an idiosyncratic rationale in terms of the perinatal theory devised by Grof. That theory, relating to birth trauma, is dismissed by rigorous analysts. Grof was obsessed with giving LSD experiences a spiritual significance, maintaining that his sparing usage of the hallucinogenic drug was “safe.” Too many people believed him. His book Beyond the Brain (1985) was based on LSD sessions, or rather his interpretation of these deceptive phenomena. That book was tragically influential in “alternative” sectors obsessed with “transpersonal” experiences. Grof also resorted to "MDMA therapy" at Esalen.
Many claims were made for transpersonal psychology, a subject inseparably linked with Grof. The word “transpersonal” was first used by Grof, who launched the enterprise named Grof Transpersonal Training Inc. Transpersonal psychology was viewed by partisans as the culmination of new age spiritual alternatives.
LSD became a prohibited drug. At Esalen, Grof resorted to the improvisation known as Holotropic Breathwork, a trademark therapy of blatantly commercial proportions. This innovation utilised hyperventilation, meaning abnormally induced speed and depth of breathing. Grof claimed the same results for breathwork as he did for his dubious LSD therapy. Now hyperventilation was dignified as a spiritual exercise, with the doubtful bonus that this innovation somehow represented ancient shamanism. The claims of Grof are considered ludicrous outside the new age.
Many people fell victim to the deceptions and delusions. They paid well for painful sessions of breathwork that were often traumatic, urged on by the emphasis that this was a great “adventure of self-discovery,” to quote the title of a book by Grof on his commercial enterprise (Grof, The Adventure of Self-Discovery, 1988). Grof was here competing with all the other fanciful recipes for “transformation” that were being sold by neo-hippies and commercial therapists. Affluent inhabitants of the new age are too willing to pay for distractions and absurdities which screen out due critical faculties.
l to r: Stanislav Grof, Christopher Bache, David Lorimer
The hallucinatory and related experiences of hyperventilation can be assessed in a very different manner to the neo-Jungian rationale. The medical phenomenon known as cerebral hypoxia, or the reduction of oxygen to the brain, is a sober explanation of what occurs in the Holotropic Breathwork dispensed by Grof Transpersonal Training Inc. The proclaimed “new spirituality” is here a spectacle of drastically delusory dimensions.
The purported LSD "therapy" continued as an underground activity, along with the more visible MDMA "therapy" that is seeking legalisation (Grof Therapy and MAPs). Grof strongly favoured the activity called "MDMA therapy." He is known to have employed MDMA (Ecstasy) with clients at Esalen before this drug became illegal in 1984-5.
In 1995, Grof Transpersonal Training Inc. was welcomed into Britain by a questionable policy of the Scientific and Medical Network (SMN), an “alternative” organisation led by David Lorimer. The SMN membership freely enrolled quack therapists and related categories. The claimed medical status is in dispute. Grof was celebrated in an SMN seminar at Cambridge in 1995. That conference employed the Grof phrase “Beyond the Brain” (associated with LSD) as a distinguishing auspice (Shepherd, Some Philosophical Critiques and Appraisals, 2004, pp. 39-40; see also my First Letter to Tony Blair, 2006).
No mention was made, in the attendant SMN adverts, of the negative verdict from Edinburgh University two years before about Grof hyperventilation. Edinburgh placed public safety higher on the agenda than commercial promotions. Holotropic Breathwork was regarded as a danger commodity by competent medical analysis outside the SMN (considered a high risk factor by critics). The Scottish Charities Office was obliged to recommend suspension of Holotropic Breathwork at the Findhorn Foundation, whose personnel had become very partial to the commercial “therapy” (see Letter to BBC Radio and Findhorn Foundation: Problems). Even the reckless Findhorn Foundation management heeded the official caution. In contrast, the SMN attempted to justify Grof Transpersonal Training Inc. via the new promotion in England.
LSD and MDMA were new age "shamanist" confectionery to the pervasive (and underground) Grof milieu, where all risk factors were relegated. The SMN seminar hosting Grof was co-sponsored by the Institute of Noetic Sciences (based in California), whose reputation has tended to be extremist in more conventional sectors.
In 2003 occurred the sequel SMN celebration (in Britain) of Grof’s American disciple Dr. Christopher Bache, an active proponent of LSD therapy as a spiritual path. The significance of this event, for “new spirituality,” was confirmed by the elevation of a controversial article by Bache on the SMN website (www.scimednet.org) in 2004. That article was entitled Is the Sacred Medicine Path a Legitimate Spiritual Path? The content advocated LSD neoshamanism, a creation of the drugs lobby.
The SMN sponsorship of LSD therapy (neoshamanism) continued into 2010, at the notable expense of a counter to the provocative Bache message from within the SMN. That urgent counter was neglected by David Lorimer, the influential Programme Director of this purportedly scientific organisation. See further Kate Thomas, Scientific and Medical Network and the Findhorn Foundation. For the Thomas critique of the Grof-Bache psychedelic message, see Neglected Papers Against Grof Therapy. See also Kate Thomas and the Findhorn Foundation.
Critics say that the SMN have a great deal to answer for in their pro-psychedelic gesture, on show to a suggestible internet audience for six years, with such potentially catastrophic and socially damaging consequences. There is no due sense of medical ethic or social responsibility within the SMN, who are in query for claiming scientific auspices in their patronage of “new spirituality.” The SMN failed to respond to a detailed complaint dated 2005 (which gained a more appropriate reception from other parties). See Letter of Complaint to David Lorimer. David Lorimer has been, for many years, the key figure in the SMN.
In 2010, the Articles Archive (including the Bache article in question) on the SMN website was moved from public view to a log-in procedure for SMN members. "Six years of public view advocacy of LSD ingestion, ignoring all the complaints made during that period, is something not easily forgotten" (quote from Home page of the Citizen Initiative website, 2010).