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 the gullible. 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 has been that of aligning 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, who was 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 relates to birth trauma, and is dismissed by more 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.
Many claims have been made for transpersonal psychology, a subject inseparably linked with Grof. The word “transpersonal” was first used by Grof, who did not refrain from commercialising this in his enterprise named Grof Transpersonal Training Inc. Transpersonal psychology was viewed as the culmination of new age spiritual alternatives. The claims are undercut by the fluently commercial and psychedelic dimensions discernible.
Because 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, which means abnormally induced speed and depth of breathing. Grof then claimed the same results for the breathwork as he did for his dubious LSD therapy. Now hyperventilation was dignified as a spiritual exercise, with the doubtful bonus that it 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 explained 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 workshops of Grof Transpersonal Training Inc. The proclaimed “new spirituality” is here a spectacle of drastically delusory dimensions. The delusion is made even worse by the factor of LSD therapy having continued as an underground activity. See further Grof Therapy and MAPs. Grof also 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 the questionable policy of the Scientific and Medical Network (SMN), an “alternative” organisation (associated with David Lorimer) that has cultivated a membership freely admitting 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 verdict from Edinburgh University two years before about Grof hyperventilation and the crucial matter of public safety (see no. 5.5 above and no. 13.4 below). 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 very commercial “therapy.” See Letter to BBC Radio (2006) and Findhorn Foundation: Problems (2009). Even the reckless Findhorn Foundation management heeded the official caution, but not the SMN, who now attempted to justify Grof Transpersonal Training Inc. by their new promotion.
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 (2009).
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 using scientific auspices in their patronage of “new spirituality,” and also for their notable failure to respond to a detailed complaint dated 2005 (which has 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. See also entry no. 11 on the present website.
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).