“Aharon said it was healing:” How psychedelic therapy was undermined by abuse

When Will Hall started therapy with Aharon Grossbard in 1994, he had no interest in pairing his talk therapy with psychedelic drugs.

Hall, who struggled with his mental health for years, hoped Grossbard would help him address some difficult things from his past. Grossbard recommended psychedelics, or what he called “the medicine.” Psychedelics can include but are not limited to psilocybin, MDMA, and DMT (N, N-dimethyltryptamine).

“From the very beginning, there was a very strong sense of, ‘He knows what’s right for me,’ and I’m on this conveyor belt of treatment that he uses with everyone,” Hall tells Inverse. “Later, my fears and my hesitations — what I now see as caution — were redefined by him as my ego and my own unwillingness to ‘embrace love.’”

Grossbard continued to suggest that Hall would benefit from psychedelic-assisted therapy, despite his reluctance. Eventually, Hall agreed to try it, with Grossbard as his guide. Decades later, Hall’s experience would become a catalyst, inspiring other survivors of sexual abuse to speak out and question how psychedelic-assisted therapy should safely move forward.

Editor’s Note: Some of the allegations in this story are of a sexual nature, graphic, and may be disturbing. Given the sensitive nature, several sources have asked to remain anonymous. To the extent that a name has been changed to protect the source’s identity the first instance of the name referred to in this article is marked with an asterisk (*).

Will Hall (left) with Aharon Grossbard in the ‘90s at a campsite in Northern California.Photo courtesy of Will Hall.

Part I

Grossbard and his wife, Françoise Bourzat, hold outsized influence in the world of psychedelic-assisted therapy. For the past 30 years, they have led a tight-knit, secretive group that goes beyond teaching people how to be psychedelic guides. (For the purpose of this article, this group is referred to as Grossbard and Bourzat’s community.)

Neither Grossbard nor Bourzat responded to Inverse’s request for comment on the allegations in this story.

The couple work with psychedelics directly, giving these powerful substances to people seeking help, as well as those hoping to become guides. While studies suggest these drugs, paired with talk therapy, can alleviate a range of mental health disorders, including depression and PTSD, the practice outside of a clinical trial setting is illegal in many places.

Bourzat is one of the leading voices internationally in the field of psychedelic-assisted therapy. She appeared on “author and lifestyle guru” entrepreneur Tim Ferris’ extremely popular podcast (more than 700 million downloads, according to his website) in an episode titled “The Maven of Consciousness Medicine.” She is an Alumni Faculty at the Esalen Institute. Journalist Michael Pollan recommended her book, Consciousness Medicine: “This important book on psychedelic guiding by one of the luminaries in the field is now out on audio — don’t miss it.”

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the most influential nonprofit dedicated to psychedelic research in the country, “fiscally sponsored” the northern California-based Center for Consciousness Medicine, which was co-founded by Bourzat and Grossbard, during its start-up phase. (Though CCM now denies this.) CCM is the most recent incarnation of a previous entity: The School of Consciousness Medicine.

Grossbard and Bourzat have taught at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), and have close ties to the Hakomi Institute of California; both institutes teach alternative methods of psychotherapy and healing. According to Hall, the couple’s ties to the Hakomi Institute would come to harm him later.

In August 2021, Grossbard and Bourzat were listed as founders on CCM’s website.The Wayback Machine

The couple is no longer listed on the site’s “About Us” page. This screenshot was taken on November 14, 2021.CCM

Grossbard and Bourzat have been prominently displayed as co-founders of CCM on the group’s website. They are also listed as co-founders on CCM-related business documents filed with the state of California. CCM offers training for “psychedelic guides.” A “guide” is someone who sits with the client during their psychedelic experience. Often, this person is a licensed therapist, there to address any issues that come up during the experience.

(The other co-founder listed in previous versions of the website was the couple’s daughter, Naama Grossbard.)

But those founder designations for Aharon Grossbard and Françoise Bourzat are ones that Naama Grossbard has walked back in emails to Inverse:

As described in our statement from October 4, 2021, I founded CCM. Aharon and Francoise provided me with advice during the founding process. They were initially represented on the website as founders, however as time went on it was clear that this was not how they were engaged in the organization. Together with them, CCM concluded it was best to update how they were referenced on the website.

(On its website, CCM is described as a “value-driven” 501(c)3 non-profit organization which “does not engage in activities directly involving psychotropic substances,” and that a for-profit subsidiary, CCMC, “provides therapeutic treatment and administer psychotropic substances only in accordance with the laws of the jurisdictions in which it is operating.” In the Bay Area, where the alleged events took place, the only legal form of psychedelic-assisted therapy is ketamine-assisted therapy.)

“This feels sexual”

“I guarantee you, if that client hadn’t been so powerful, Aharon would have tried to stick his hand up the guy’s ass.”Will Hall/Inverse

Hall tells Inverse that, in 1999, during a talk therapy session in Grossbard’s office in the Bay Area in which they were clothed and psychedelics were not used, Grossbard touched Hall in ways that felt sexual, even after Hall expressed discomfort. (Grossbard is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California.)

Hall tells Inverse he agreed to be hugged. Grossbard then pulled Hall on top of him, wrapping Hall’s legs around his waist so that Hall was “sitting genitals-to-genitals in his lap,” Hall says.

The touching didn’t feel right, Hall says, and he told Grossbard, “This feels sexual,” to which Grossbard allegedly replied, “No, it’s not,” and continued.

“Looking back,” Hall says, “I wonder if I was being groomed for more intimate contact.”

California law defines sexual contact between therapist and clients as “touching of another person’s intimate part — a sexual organ, anus, buttocks, groin, or breast” and defines touching as “physical contact with another person, either through the person’s clothing or directly with the person’s skin. Sexual contact can include sexual intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, fondling, or any other kind of sexual touching.”

“This is sexual abuse and how sexual abuse gets perpetuated.”

Hall is not the first person to accuse Grossbard or his wife of sexual misconduct. Seven sources in or close to the couple’s community allege to Inverse a decades-long pattern of sexual contact between guides and clients, as well as Grossbard and Bourzat acting as leaders who felt “above” professional and ethical norms. All spoke on condition of anonymity.

These sources allege to Inverse the pair exploited blurred lines inherent in underground psychedelic-assisted therapy to perpetuate systemic abuse, and that they passed those beliefs onto their trainees, some of whom then repeated similar behavior.

In many instances of the alleged abuse, psychedelic drugs were involved, complicating an already fraught situation.

“This is the story that needs to be told.”

A resurgence of research is pushing psychedelic-assisted therapy to a crucial moment. After nearly 50 years of severe restrictions on research, a wave of new studies have confirmed what some Indigenous peoples and the earliest psychedelics researchers knew: These are powerful drugs with the potential to alleviate suffering. Pollan, the journalist who blurbed Bourzat’s book, has helped legitimize such treatments for the mainstream, too.

But with the wrong hands at the helm, these drugs also have the capacity to harm. Psychedelics can be powerfully suggestive drugs. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the CIA used LSD to attempt mind control. Depending on the person and the dose, it can be difficult for the user to move or speak while they are under the influence of these substances.

Boundaries and consent are vital in any therapeutic or medical setting, and in psychedelic-assisted therapy, even more so. Psychedelic-assisted therapy could help people with historically difficult-to-treat conditions, but experts say strict protocols around consent should be maintained for the safety of vulnerable patients. If allegations of misconduct arise, experts tell Inverse, there should be a clear process for swiftly addressing them.

Time and again, the sources who spoke with Inverse claim they reported misconduct to Bourzat, others in leadership positions at CCM, and other leaders in the field, but those complaints were ignored. The survivors of abuse say they were often blamed for any emotional distress they experienced.

“This is sexual abuse and how sexual abuse gets perpetuated,” says Jan*, a person close to the community. “This is the story that needs to be told.”

A complicit marriage

Of the seven people who spoke to Inverse, five sources say it was not uncommon for Grossbard to give his male clients high doses of psychedelics, and “ritualistically anoint” their naked genitals by touching them and sometimes inserting his finger into their anus. Grossbard allegedly claimed to his clients that this action was to “clear the root chakra.”

Pat*, a longstanding member of the community, claims this sexual contact is well known among many in the community now. Pat has spoken with one man to whom it happened and has heard from about five more, adding, “I am sure there are many more.”

Another source says the sexual contact didn’t happen to him but that he spoke with several men to whom it did. “Some [survivors] said they told [Aharon Grossbard] they didn’t like it, and they wanted it to stop. But Aharon just kept going and insisted it would help them,” he says.

“Aharon is a very big guy and these men, often young men, are on very high doses of ‘medicine’. They’re not physically in a position to resist.”

According to two independent sources, Grossbard’s behavior has been brought to his wife’s, Françoise Bourzat, attention, on at least one occasion. One source says when the information was brought to Bourzat, she allegedly dismissed it as innocuous because he only does it to “the men, not the women.”

Pat believes “[Bourzat] is complicit. And so hungry to be famous. I think she probably started out with good intentions, but her ego has just taken over.”

“She probably started out with good intentions, but her ego has just taken over.”

Others maintain that Bourzat’s ethics and boundaries have been questionable since early in her career. Inverse reviewed a letter sent by Grossbard and Bourzat to the CCM community on September 27, 2021. In it, Bourzat writes that Hall “claims that unnamed people accuse me of sexual abuse of my clients — and this is absolutely false.” Later in the letter, however, Bourzat admits, “Two years into my practice, I had a transgression; I had a sexual relationship with a client which was obviously a mistake.”

In 2000, a former client of Grossbard and Bourzat’s claimed the couple administered MDMA, psilocybin, and ayahuasca to him without first providing information about risks. Inverse is giving the plaintiff a pseudonym, Smith*, to protect his privacy.

In a lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court, the former client also alleges Bourzat began a four-year sexual relationship, “not limited to acts of kissing, hugging and fondling” and contact with intimate body parts, including “sexual organs, groin, and buttocks… Bourzat told [Smith] that their kissing was therapeutic. Bourzat encouraged and allowed [Smith] to kiss her, as well as kissing him… On at least one occasion, Bourzat told [Smith] that her love would heal him and that he was lucky to have her as his therapist. Bourzat told [Smith] she would never abandon him…”

San Francisco Superior Court

San Francisco Superior Court

According to the allegations in the suit reviewed by Inverse, this “sexualization and eroticization of therapy by Bourzat for her own advantage and to satisfy her own needs [caused Smith] to suffer humiliation, mental anguish, and severe emotional distress,” eventually resulting in suicidal ideation.

The lawsuit maintains that, “when the plaintiff informed Bourzat that he was severely and suicidally depressed… Bourzat advised the plaintiff to deal with his depression by taking ‘more walks in nature,’ and to engage in more therapy sessions involving mind-altering substances to ‘open himself up.’”

Bourzat denied the allegations, and the suit was settled in October of 2001 for an undisclosed amount. However, three sources who were in Grossbard and Bourzat’s community at the time claim Bourzat told them the allegations in the lawsuit were true. Smith signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of a financial settlement.

The power to invade

“My father was neglectful; there was a lot missing there. And so Grossbard just stepped right into that gap.”Getty

As is common in people who commit systemic abuse, there is often a loving, non-abusive side to Grossbard, sources say.

“I know he’s worked with men and he didn’t do anything [inappropriate] to them, and they love him,” Pat, a source close to the community, tells Inverse.

According to Pat, these tend to be the wealthier and more powerful clients, which is why Pat believes they are not subject to Grossbard’s abuse.

Pat says there was one very powerful client who had an incredible breakthrough with Grossbard and found the experience quite healing. At one point, Pat says, Grossbard hugged the client, and the client wept with gratitude.

“It was so healing and beautiful,” Pat says. “But I guarantee you, if that client hadn’t been so powerful, Aharon would have tried to stick his hand up the guy’s ass.”

The people who bear the brunt of Grossbard’s abuse, Pat alleges, are men who have a “real wounding” in their life, like with a father. “Those are the people he targets,” Pat explains.

“Grossbard just stepped right into that gap.”

Although Hall never experienced the kind of genital contact Pat describes, he believes the session in Grossbard’s office may well have led to more abuse. His background fits the profile Pat describes.

“My father was very distant,” Hall says. “My father was neglectful; there was a lot missing there. And so Grossbard just stepped right into that gap.”

Hall says Grossbard made him feel special and loved, and between that and the psychedelics, Hall thought he was getting exactly what he needed for his mental health.

“At first, I went through months of elation and euphoria and relief and openness,” he says.

“And there’s a quality of psychedelics that they really open you up into some very expansive realms. When you do that in the context of an authority figure of a therapist or a teacher, who’s embracing you, lifting you up, and showering you with love. It can feel like a spiritual transformation; it can feel like a revelation. But it’s not.”

Two psychedelic-assisted therapy guides outside Grossbard and Bourzat’s community stressed to Inverse that psychedelic “medicine” is just one part of the equation; it also requires extensive therapy before and after the “journey” (a term many in the community use to describe sessions of psychedelic-assisted therapy in which the client has taken psychedelics).

In Hall’s experience, the therapy wasn’t exactly extensive. “There was some therapy,” he says. “But at the end of the day, the answer was always more drugs.”

“At the end of the day, the answer was always more drugs.”

Grossbard’s gregarious, generous personality makes him a magnetic figure, Pat says.

“I’ll say this about Aharon. He can have the biggest, most generous, boundaryless heart. He’ll do anything for anyone and be available for his clients 24/7,” Pat says. “But that is incredible power, and people become reliant on him.”

That’s when the darker side of those lack of boundaries appears, Pat explains.

“Then he feels like he’s got the power and the right to invade every nook and cranny of your body and your soul. Like, he gets into people’s souls and tries to take them over,” Pat says.

The confrontation

“Grossbard kept cutting him off and telling Will how much he loved him.”Will Hall/Inverse

Hall confronted Grossbard in 2003. He wrote to Grossbard and outlined how he felt the therapist had harmed him, including the alleged sexual touching on Grossbard’s office floor. Hall says he told Grossbard how he “unraveled” after the incident.

Hall also asked Grossbard for $20,000 to partially pay off the tuition for a California Institute of Integral Studies program Hall was enrolled in at the time of his work with Grossbard. (Hall says he was unable to finish because of his deteriorating mental state.)

Grossbard replied, denying the sexual touching had occurred, Hall tells Inverse.

Hall then wrote a letter to the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) — the licensing organization for mental health professionals — about his experiences with Grossbard.

After Hall contacted the BBS, Grossbard sent the $20,000 payment.

Hall received a response from the BBS saying the complaint was dismissed because the statute of limitations had passed on sexual touching. At the time, the statute of limitations was three years from the incident. Now, the statute of limitations is ten years.

Hall didn’t question the statute of limitations at the time. Recently, however, he’s realized the incident may have been within the three-year statute of limitations. Hall contacted a BBS official, whose name Inverse is not disclosing because a source believes there may be an ongoing inquiry. The official told Hall in an email, reviewed by Inverse, that “Due to Business and Professions Code § 4982.05 (Enforcement Statute of Limitations) the Board does not have the authority to take any disciplinary action against the licensee based on your 2003 complaint, even if the complaint was dismissed in error.” Even if the complaint had been filed within the statute of limitations, and was dismissed incorrectly, the BBS says there’s nothing it can do to correct it.

(Grossbard hasn’t completely escaped the Board’s notice, however. In 2015, he was fined $2,500 for violating patient confidentiality.)

After Hall filed his complaint with BBS, Grossbard paid him the $20,000. Hall says he still owed another $20,000 for the tuition, which he says he just finished paying off in the last few years.

“I wonder if I was being groomed for more intimate contact.”

Hall also says he reported his abuse to Manuela Mischke-Reeds, a teacher at the Hakomi Institute of California. The Hakomi Institute teaches mindfulness and somatic psychotherapy and has training centers throughout the world.

No action was ever taken. Hall later learned Mischke-Reeds was one of Grossbard’s trainees. (Mischke-Reeds confirmed in an email to Inverse that Grossbard was one of her supervisors when she was a psychotherapy intern in 1994-5.)

When Hall later asked Mischke-Reeds over email why she never did anything, she replied that she didn’t recall the conversation, and since Hakomi didn’t train Grossbard, there was nothing she could do.

Bourzat, however, was trained by the Hakomi Institute. Her Hakomi certification was later revoked for unspecified ethical violations more than 20 years ago, something Executive Director Rhonda Mattern confirmed to Hall in a November 2020 email. Inverse has reviewed both Mischke-Reeds’ and Matterns’ emails with Hall.

(Bourzat continued to represent herself as a Hakomi-certified Practitioner for decades after her certification was revoked until a complaint was filed with the Institute. Her website and public profiles now list her as “Hakomi-trained.”)

“It was just so inappropriate and appalling.”

In 2020, Hall again confronted Grossbard, this time via Zoom. He asked two witnesses to attend the meeting as well.

One of the witnesses was Dina Tyler, a counselor in the Bay Area, and Hall’s partner. Tyler had not previously met or interacted with Grossbard in any way.

Tyler says that when Hall explained how the incident — and what Hall perceives as Grossbard’s subsequent abandonment and gaslighting — affected him, Grossbard was dismissive.

“When Will tried to explain how this incident affected him, Grossbard kept cutting him off and telling Will how much he loved him and how happy he should be that [Grossbard] loved him so much,” Tyler tells Inverse.

Tyler says Grossbard admitted that he’d embraced Will in that genital-to-genital way but claimed it was “a technique that he used with the students he felt were advanced.”

“It really felt like grooming,” Tyler says. “Like he was creating this hierarchy to make Will feel special.”

As a counselor, Tyler says she was shocked and horrified that Grossbard was dismissing information from a former client about how something that occurred in therapy had harmed him.

“It was just so inappropriate and appalling,” she says.

Inverse also spoke with the other witness at the meeting, who was Hall’s therapist at the time, and who corroborated Tyler and Hall’s accounts.

Since this event, Hall has gone public, publishing stories on Medium and in Mad in America about his experience.

Even though Hall knew the contact with Grossbard felt wrong and could articulate that, it wasn’t until Hall had fully extricated himself from the community that he realized just how inappropriate it was. It would be many more years before he understood the prevalence of alleged abuse in the community from which he’d just emerged.

Part II

Inverse/Shutterstock

When Will Hall went public with allegations of sexual touching against his therapist and psychedelic “medicine” guide, it was because he believed what Grossbard had done to him was wrong, and Grossbard refused to acknowledge it. Grossbard had pulled Hall into a front-facing hug so they were sitting genitals to genitals and hadn’t stopped when Hall protested that it felt sexual.

But Hall had broader concerns beyond that incident. He felt like there was an overreliance on psychedelic medicine and under-reliance on therapy. He felt like blurred lines were exploited. And he worried about Grossbard and Bourzat modeling inappropriate behavior to their trainees.

After going public, others in the community started reaching out to Hall. These sources tell Inverse that men in the community were coming forward and alleging Grossbard had touched their naked genitals and anus during “rituals.”

Others in the community echo Hall’s concerns about Grossbard and Bourzat’s influence — especially on those who were in training to become therapists and guides. Grossbard and Bourzat’s community primarily consists of guides they are training or have trained, typically former clients.

Sources tell Inverse this goes beyond Hall, and beyond Grossbard and Bourzat. Their influence has spawned further abuse, sources allege, and a culture of silence is allowing this abuse to persist.

The downstream effect

A deleted infographic from CCM’s website.The Wayback Machine

One person sources believe Grossbard may have had a profoundly negative, damaging influence on is a man named Eyal Goren.

Goren is an attorney and licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who trained under Grossbard. He was also the guide for Lynn, a woman who tried psychedelic-assisted therapy in hopes of addressing past trauma, including a rape she’d experienced years before.

Initially, Lynn had no interest in psychedelic-assisted therapy. But when she met Goren, she says, “He pushed and pushed and pushed, saying this is what was needed to ‘fix me,’” she says. Eventually, she acquiesced.

In what she thought was an introductory therapy session, Lynn says Goren talked about himself and his problems for most of the time.

“There was no space for me. That made me even more nervous about him as a guide,” she tells Inverse.

“I collect rape victims.”

Goren came to Lynn’s home for the session. He gave her five grams of dried mushrooms (Psilocybe cubensis), a dose that translates to about 50 mg of psilocybin. Experts in the field call this a “heroic” dose at the upper end of the therapeutic range — not an unheard-of dose but, one guide says, not necessarily a good one to start with.

Lynn hadn’t used psychedelics in decades and says she asked Goren, “Isn’t that too much for my weight?”

Goren allegedly replied, “This is your warrior training.”

After Lynn consumed the mushrooms, she says Goren went over to the stereo. Initially, he put on the kind of gentle, curated playlist typically associated with psychedelic-assisted therapy, which is designed to enhance the experience.

Once the psilocybin began to take effect, however, she says Goren abruptly turned on death metal, turning the volume up so loud she started crying and shaking.

“I covered my ears and my face and begged him to stop,” she says.

Lynn says she was lying on the floor shuddering when Goren walked over to where she was, lifted up her shirt, and put his hands on her bare stomach and pelvis. She says he leaned over to her body, put his lips close to her ear, and allegedly whispered something she’ll never forget:

“I collect rape victims.”

Lynn says she was frozen in fear. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t talk.

Then, she says, Goren gave her salvia.

“In a way, the salvia, she saved me,” Lynn says. “She took me away from what was happening in that room.”

Salvia offers an intense but short high. Lynn estimates she experienced its effects for about 14 minutes, though she can’t be sure. As she came down, she says Goren started chatting with her casually as though nothing had happened.

All she could do was wait for him to leave. Before he did, Lynn claims Goren said, “Well, maybe if things don’t work out with the girl I’m dating, I think you should marry me so I can stay in the country.” (Goren is an Israeli national.)

On Goren’s Psychology Today profile, he lists three specialties: Anxiety, Trauma and PTSD, and Sexual Abuse.

Lynn says she reported Goren to a leader in an outside institution affiliated with Grossbard and Bourzat’s community who told her that she was the one with “boundary issues.”

Lynn says she then reported it to a woman in a leadership position in the community, who allegedly told her that what happened in the session was very serious and not the first time they’d heard such claims about Goren. The woman allegedly asked Lynn if she wanted to go to the community’s ethics committee. Goren was a member of the ethics committee, so she declined.

Goren did not respond to Inverse’s request for comment.

Institutional silence

Grossbard had “unfettered access to vulnerable people,” Jan says.Getty

Sources who spoke to Inverse allege Lynn and Hall’s experiences are not isolated mistakes but a culture of silence and inaction that existed between Hakomi California, CIIS, and Grossbard and Bourzat’s community.

Leaders at Hakomi California or CIIS had often completed guide training with the School of Consciousness Medicine, and people who were Consciousness Medicine clients were also often students at Hakomi CA or CIIS.

In the letter from Hakomi Institute of California executive director Rhonda Mattern to Hall reviewed by Inverse, Mattern denies any material connection with Grossbard, Bourzat, or CCM, but sources say the relationship was open and strong.

Jan*, a Hakomi-certified practitioner, said that from her first training weekend there were people from CCM as well as Grossbard and Bourzat’s community attending Hakomi training sessions, something she was told by another Hakomi student was required by Grossbard and Bourzat as part of the “[psychedelic] medicine training.”

When she asked a Hakomi trainer why so many people involved in psychedelic work were attending, he allegedly responded, “It’s better to have them trained than have them do this anyway without training,” she says.

Naama Grossbard confirms CCM’s previous iteration, the School of Consciousness Medicine, “had an agreement with the Hakomi Institute for some of its teachers to teach introductory Hakomi approaches within our program…Hakomi and SCM dissolved their agreement in early 2021.”

This relationship, which some sources allege is still active, served as a bidirectional pipeline between Hakomi and Grossbard and Bourzat’s community, Jan says. As a result, she says, Grossbard had “unfettered access to vulnerable people.”

“I love Hakomi,” Jan tells Inverse. “I met many, many wonderful people through that community who were there because of Aharon and Françoise. Hakomi CA denies any affiliation with [Grossbard and Bourzat’s community] but they knew full well how they got there and didn’t deny access to the students Aharon and Françoise sent them.”

In the wrong hands, the potential for harm is immense.

Since Hall’s Medium post, in which he claims Hakomi Institute ethics teacher Manuela Mischke-Reeds did nothing when he reported Grossbard’s actions, Mischke-Reeds has published a statement responding to Hall’s allegations, maintaining that she doesn’t remember their conversation and that “I am not legally or ethically obligated to report a non-Hakomi therapist for misconduct.”

According to the Wayback Machine, in October of 2021, one month after Hall published his allegations, CIIS removed a link from its website; the page was a 2016 program from CIIS’s Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy and Research program which lists Bourzat and Grossbard under a lecture titled “The Integrative Process.”

CIIS did not respond to Inverse’s request for comment.

Claims of abuse in psychedelic-assisted therapy aren’t limited to Grossbard and Bourzat’s community. For example, in 2015, Megan Buisson participated in a MAPS-sponsored MDMA clinical trial during which she says therapist Richard Yensen sexually assaulted her. She filed a complaint with MAPS in January of 2018. You can find the MAPS statement as well as the actions it took in the wake of the complaint here.

Last month, a lawsuit was filed in a Wisconsin court alleging Douglas “Eric” Strong, a licensed master social worker (LMSW) had committed felony sexual exploitation by a therapist. The complaint contends Strong repeatedly sexually assaulted a client while on psilocybin and DMT under the guise of psychedelic-assisted therapy. The complaint alleges Strong told the plaintiff that she had an “intimacy disorder” as the result of her past “trauma” and that sex with him was the way to “get over it.”

In all these cases, people were looking to alleviate their suffering with a trained professional and very strong substances. In the wrong hands, the potential for harm is immense, and it’s something the psychedelic community is only beginning to fully face.

The aftermath

By beginning therapy, clients are agreeing to let their therapist break a cardinal rule of mainstream psychotherapy: Administering drugs to a client.Shutterstock

As a direct result of Hall’s allegations on Medium and in Mad in America, Pat says, “men are coming out all over the [Grossbard and Bourzat’s] community saying, ‘Oh yeah, this happened to me. I was uncomfortable about it and when I addressed it with Aharon, he told me the genital fondling or the penetration was for healing. He said he was opening up my chakra.’”

This is how sources claim Grossbard capitalized on the largely illegal nature of psychedelic therapy to perpetuate abuse, sources close to his and Bourzat’s community say.

By beginning therapy, clients are agreeing to let their therapist break a cardinal rule of mainstream psychotherapy: Administering drugs to a client.

Unfortunately, that can open the door to confusion about what other methods are “just part of the therapy,” a door through which bad actors can easily enter.

“It’s very cult-like.”

Pat says many of the survivors of abuse are experiencing significant confusion since Hall’s revelations.

“People are having a hard time distinguishing between the medicine and Aharon,” Pat says. “I spoke to one guy [who was realizing he, too, was a survivor of Grossbard’s abuse], and he was having such a hard time of it.”

Pat says the man said of Aharon, “‘He’s like, my dad, he’s my mentor, he’s the most important person in my life. What am I supposed to do?’ And he didn’t like or approve of what Aharon did to him, but he’s having trouble separating what he has learned from medicine and what he learned from Aharon,” Pat says.

“I keep telling him that the therapy he gained was from the medicine, not from Aharon. But it’s very confusing for him to see the difference between Aharon and the medicine.”

Pat believes this confusion works well for Grossbard.

“He can act all-powerful and all-wise as if he is the only one to hold the truth. This gives him greater access to men to abuse repeatedly without anyone saying anything,” Pat says.

There are other reasons people in the community — regardless of if they’ve experienced abuse — are reluctant to speak about this on the record, sources tell Inverse.

Often, the trainees are licensed therapists or in training to become licensed mental health professionals. Speaking out means admitting to the use of illegal drugs in a therapeutic setting, which is strictly against the law for most licensed mental health professionals. Four sources told Inverse they would like to speak out on the record but believe they would be jeopardizing their professional license.

Eyal Goren allegedly said as much to Lynn. In one of their discussions, she says the illegality of substances and the risk to licensed professionals arose.

Lynn says he told her, “this is why no one will ever incriminate me.”

For other trainees, they worry about invalidating the program as a whole.

“There are people who did the Consciousness Medicine program instead of going to graduate school,” a source who trained with Bourzat says. “Françoise especially is so well known in the field, if her name is tainted, their name is tainted.”

Further, the source says, for people who want to become trained in psychedelic-assisted therapy, there are only so many options for hands-on experience. There’s a fear that away from or speaking out against Grossbard and Bourzat will “leave them with no place to go for this training,” the source says.

“If it stays underground, abuse like this will continue to happen.”

Even outside the community, Bourzat and Grossbard are influential. One source outside their community but still professionally involved in psychedelics says he would lose close friends if he were to speak out publicly about the couple’s behavior.

For others, the challenge is more emotional. Grossbard and Bourzat’s community is exceptionally tight-knit and sources say that’s one of the biggest challenges in speaking out — and likely why more have not come forward.

Two sources have told Inverse they knew about the abuse and wanted to speak out but believed they’d be alienating their friends, and in some cases, the people they now consider their family.

“It’s very cult-like,” a source who used to be close to the community says. “They find these people who really want to help others with this powerful medicine, and the common goal and illegality and sense of community plus psychedelics all combine to make it this thing that’s incredibly hard to walk away from or speak out against.”

Janja Lalich, a sociologist and an expert on cults and coercion, says the atmosphere described bears some strong similarities to cults and cult-like groups.

“If there are people who are considered like the gurus or their charismatic leaders, that in itself sets up a power imbalance,” she tells Inverse. Then you have vulnerable people seeking therapy or help.

“That kind of environment is very ripe for coercion and abuse because of the huge power imbalance,” Lalich says.

Some sources say that not everyone in the community was aware of the kind of abuse that was occurring and that Hall’s public allegations are prompting difficult realizations. Others, multiple sources claim, are worried about damaging the psychedelic-assisted therapy movement.

But that’s precisely why these stories need to come out, the same sources say.

“This medicine has saved my life,” one source says. “It has saved so many people I know. It is beautiful. But if it stays underground, abuse like this will continue to happen. People should know what Aharon and Françoise are doing because it is not what this work really is.”

What sexual abuse does, and doesn’t, say about psychedelic-assisted therapy

Critics of psychedelic-assisted therapy likely will point to these incidents as reasons the practice should stay illegal. However, guides outside Grossbard and Bourzat’s community, all of whom are also licensed mental health professionals and asked to remain anonymous, make a few critical points:

  • Sexual abuse in psychotherapy isn’t limited to psychedelic-assisted therapy. A 2001 study found that as many as 4.4 percent of therapists reported having sex with at least one client, yet few people would say that psychotherapy should be illegal as a result.
  • When illegal substances or practices are involved, reporting sexual misconduct (or abuse of any kind) is significantly less likely to occur.
  • Touch of any kind is not a necessary part of psychedelic-assisted therapy and there’s no reason for sexual contact of any kind. In other words, the kind of touch exhibited by Grossbard, Bourzat, and Goren, isn’t a part of psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Several licensed therapists who took the Consciousness Medicine training tell Inverse they were upset by the lack of discussion about transference, which occurs when feelings or desires related to an important figure in the client’s life — such as a parent or spouse — are projected or transferred onto the therapist (or “guide,” in the case of psychedelic therapy).

Transference can also appear as erotic transference, in which a client becomes attracted to the therapist. This is why practitioners are trained on how to deal with erotic transference as well as countertransference, in which the same occurs with the therapist to the client. Experts argue this is even more true with psychedelic-assisted therapy because serological drugs like psilocybin and MDMA often produce sexual feelings in the user.

Leia Friedwoman is an integrative psychedelic coach and co-founder of the Psychedelic Survivors website, which supports “survivors of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and/or direct personal harm within the context of psychedelic therapy, psychedelic sessions or ceremonies.”

“Acting on these urges constitutes abuse.”

She tells Inverse, there may be some occasions in which some kinds of touch are appropriate during a psychedelic session. But, she adds, it must be approached in a very specific way.

“Touch in a psychedelic session is always for the client, is informed by their voice and choice and should be discussed prior to the ingestion of the medicine,” she says. “[After the medicine has been ingested] consent can be reversed; for example, a ‘yes’ can become a ‘no,’ but not in the other direction; a ‘no’ can’t become a ‘yes.’”

If feelings of transference occur, she tells Inverse it is best practice for the therapist to seek consultation with a supervisor, mentor, or another colleague who can help the therapist with their feelings around transference and discuss the most appropriate way to support the client.

“If the therapist cannot show up as a supportive party to the client, if they are seeking to get their needs met through a relationship to the client, this is exploitative,” Friedwoman says. “Acting on these urges constitutes abuse.”

When it comes to dealing with transgressions and sexual misconduct, Friedman says, “as of this moment, there is no overarching ethics board to receive grievances from harmed parties, provide support to them, and address the person or persons who caused harm.”

While restorative justice is becoming more known, Friedman says these tools do not work in every circumstance. Restorative justice is a process designed to repair the harm done by the offender via rehabilitation and reconciliation with the victim. This type of justice contrasts with the standard carceral, punitive process characteristic of the criminal justice system.

“A person who caused harm must want to be accountable and want to try to repair the harm caused,” she says.

Accountability

Sources tell Inverse this goes beyond Hall, and beyond Grossbard and Bourzat. Sources tell Inverse this goes beyond Hall, and beyond Grossbard and Bourzat.

In the wake of Hall’s public allegations, Grossbard and Bourzat have released statements through CCM’s website. Grossbard denies Hall’s allegations; Bourzat denies the allegations in the 2000 lawsuit, though she admits in the same statement to having an affair with a client early in her career.

A statement from CCM on October 4, 2021, repeatedly states that the sole founder is their daughter, Naama Grossbard (see screenshot above) and that Grossbard and Bourzat have only ever been advisors and/or teachers.

In contrast to those statements, however, Aharon Grossbard and Francoise Bourzat were clearly listed as founders on the website until fairly recently.

In September of this year, Grossbard and Bourzat transferred their partial ownership of CCM to Naama Grossbard. September of this year is also when Hall published his essays.

In emails to the community, CCM leadership says they are bringing in a restorative justice expert to address the allegations and mistrust created by them.

“It’s ridiculous,” one source in the community says. “They don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong. You can’t have restorative justice when there’s no remorse.”

CCM leadership also says that Grossbard is no longer teaching, though a source believes he is still planning to teach unsanctioned workshops.

The Hakomi Institute of California and MAPS have published statements in response to Hall’s allegations. Hakomi’s statement acknowledges Hall’s “courage” but maintains they found no ethical violations on the part of Mischke-Reeds. They also note they’ve made slight changes to their process of reporting ethical violations. They now say when a student reports abuse, “the faculty will direct the student to local reporting authorities and refer them to another therapist for support. Faculty must also be aware of regional and state regulatory requirements of counselor educators.”

You can’t have restorative justice when there’s no remorse.”

MAPS’ statement discloses their relationship with Grossbard and Bourzat and offers “safe and confidential” ways to report misconduct in MAPS-related studies.

Betty Aldworth, the Director of Communications and Events at MAPS, confirms to Inverse that both Aharon Grossbard and Francoise Bourzat were listed as founders of CCM on the business documents they submitted to MAPS.

The Hakomi Institute of California did not respond to Inverse’s request for comment.

Other practitioners have signed letters of support or written opinion pieces suggesting better practices for dealing with transgressions.

While decriminalization or legalization might help prevent some of these abuses from occurring, Hall still has concerns.

Grossbard and Goren are still licensed mental health professionals, and reports of their misconduct to the Board of Behavioral Sciences haven’t yet prevented them from practicing. By virtue of being licensed, both Goren and Grossbard have had ethics training at some point in their education. Hall wonders what do you do when that training is ignored?

“What do you do if abuse is happening? What do you do if you hear about it a second or third hand? Right now, so many people in the community are trying to do the right thing, but they don’t know what that is,” Hall says.

“Even without illegal substances, the courts aren’t very good at dealing with sexual misconduct. What systems can communities put in place to deal with these issues when they arise?”

If you or anyone you know has been the victim of sexual abuse or a sexual assault, please visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for more information.

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