My 17 month Covid lockdown in India became a long retreat for sorting out my confusion about spiritual teachers and what they teach. My experience was fueled by reviewing stories of sexual misconduct and outright abuse. I know at least one of the teachers plus several students who became entangled in the scandals that plagued several large and important Zen Centers. With deep sadness, I found the names of several friends on lists of priests who have been credibly accused of molesting adolescents. I revisited my shock when I attended Ösel Tendzin’s funeral, and meditated on the way my teacher Issan Dorsey used his own dying and death from HIV to teach his students about what matters in life. I felt forced to examine my own transference and countertransference in a long painful relationship with Bob Hoffman, and his sexual abuse. He stalked and raped me 5 months after I finished the first group Fisher-Hoffman Psychic Therapy.
After reading one of my blog posts about Hoffman, a longtime friend contacted me. He is a former director of the Hoffman Institute and a Process Teacher. And he also had a very difficult relationship with Bob Hoffman. He agreed with my assessment of Hoffman, labeled him a malignant narcissist, confirmed that he was a sexual predator, a bully, and nearly impossible to work with. Yet my friend spoke of a life-altering experience working with Hoffman. He compared it to receiving a sacrament from a corrupt priest. By luck or grace, my friend feels that the Process arrived unpolluted by the sins of being human.
I do not accuse my friend of being duped: his experience was life-changing and valuable in itself. He is very skilled in self-observation, and I believe him when he says that the experience was not an illusion or a panacea. Nor did he surrender to a weirdo messiah. He’s not blind to Hoffman’s flaws or inflated self-importance. But he is far more cautious than I am about revealing Hoffman’s dirty secrets, and I’m certain he feels that I ought to be circumspect in describing Hoffman’s shortcomings as if anything negative might dissuade people who might benefit from the Process.
My friend describes Hoffman as a wounded healer. Carl Jung coined the term to describe one aspect of the transference between patient and therapist; he created an archetype by alluding to Greek mythology. Hoffman dealt with so many “sick people” as he called us, he was always restimulated. Yes, wounded and healer can be used in the same sentence, but identities and functions must remain separate–even if it was the experience of being hurt that allowed the healer to gain insight.
In my own case, unresolved transference as well as dealing with Hoffman’s sexual abuse lasted for years. My friend’s reluctance might also be transference. I cannot say, but he does attribute his life-altering experience, his healing, to some action by another person or source. The basic mechanism of transference is confusing the names of the actors with their roles in the playbill. If we allow our experiences to remain tangled up, we become the unwitting targets for what I call the Big Hoax.
There’s a blind spot embedded in the way the Hoffman story is framed: the guru figure receives a healing message from a spirit visiting from an unseen world, and he himself is healed. If we separate the healing from the story of the healer, it neuters its potency. We don’t even need to believe the story. Once we submit to the process, we’re inevitably tied to it, and it’s impossible to separate our healing from whatever actions we attribute to the guy in front of the room expounding his theory of the universe, or a guru seated on a colorful couch telling us the secrets of our individualized personal mantra. “We” are told that we can’t have one without the other. No Hoffman, no breakthrough. No savior, no salvation. No chicken, no egg.
The conflation of our experience and the guru’s narrative also leaves room for the Source, the Guru, or the Process (legally protected under international intellectual property copyright) to command allegiance, obligation, and money. It’s an escape hatch for any distortions that violate common sense–I had an insight that healed me, but I’ll ignore the obvious fact that, sadly, Hoffman was not himself healed.
Money is one of the prime movers in the Big Hoax, and at the same time one of the reasons for the coverup. I know from first hand experience over many years that Hoffman was very interested in money. He was keenly aware of his competition in the marketplace of personal development, and he was childishly jealous of anyone who was a “successful” guru, i.e., made money. Hoffman attacked every guru on the block for doing exactly what he dreamed of, but his greed prevented him from appreciating the irony. The exchange of goods and services becomes a sleight of hand, like the one at the carnival sideshow where the huckster hides a coin under one of three cups. He shuffles them quickly, promising to double your 20 bucks if you can point to the one that hides the coin, but if you fail, you lose. Inevitably you’re out 20 bucks.
To demonstrate my case: before me, no one, and I mean no one, not Claudio Naranjo, nor Raz Ingrasi, nor Tim Laurence, nor any of Hoffman’s disciples, i.e. the people who make money from Process, ever bothered to examine the roots of Hoffman’s tale of the birth of the Process. Whether they believe Hoffman’s story or reject it, I assume they all claim, like my friend, that the results of the Process preclude any critical observation. To quote Sherlock Holmes, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
John Tarrant Roshi once said to me that to create a powerful insight, even a life-changing breakthrough experience, was relatively easy. Tried and true ways of breaking down the defenses of the ego allow for an onrush of fresh stimuli. Hypnosis, sleep deprivation, forced concentration, disruption of normal communication and human interaction, alteration of key environmental factors related to perception, light and noise levels most obviously. Alcohol and drugs, a favorite California choice, also make the list. Charlatans and cult leaders as well as authentic teachers have understood how to manipulate these factors from time immemorial, but the hard part, Tarrant Roshi said, is to create real change in a person’s life.
Let’s examine the guru phenomenon and the Hoffman Process.
Marlys Mayfield, Naranjo’s longtime student and an expert in the field of Critical Thinking, told me that she was shocked when I told her that Seigfried Fisher was a real person whose son contacted me after he read one of my blog posts; she’d always assumed that Dr. Fisher, Hoffman’s spirit guide, was a “Source” of channeled psychic wisdom like “Seth” or “Lazarus.”
Fisher’s son wanted to correct some of what I’d said about his father. His Father was German and not Viennese. It was the son, not his mother, who sued Hoffman to stop him from using his father’s name as a source for a process of psychic therapy. His father didn’t maintain the strict separation between social and professional contact currently dictated by the ethics of psychoanalytic practice. Fisher’s son had dinner at Hoffman’s house, and Hoffman had been to dinner with Fisher’s family. This much is true: there were dinner conversations between Hoffman and Fisher, but that’s where it ends.
Dr. Siegfried Fisher treated severe psychosis. Most of his patients at Langley Porter were short term, but Hoffman had been his patient for years. When I pressed Hoffman to tell the truth about his relationship with Fisher, Hoffman substituted a story that he and his wife did family therapy together when they were “having trouble with their son Michael.” I forced Hoffman to admit that Fisher was not a family friend but his therapist, yet Hoffman still evaded truthfully describing their relationship–that sleight of hand once again. Lies cover up lies ad infinitum, and I accepted the admission. In the shenanigans of a conman, truth is a strip tease. Fisher’s son told me that his father claimed he could cure homosexuality, and it’d be a good bet that Hoffman’s sexuality came up in therapy. But I’ll leave any speculation about their conversations dangling like a g-string as a token of modesty.
Fisher’s son bears no animus towards Hoffman, but he does not attribute any value to the Fisher Hoffman Process. “He was a tailor and not a spiritual man.” He legally separated his father’s legacy from Hoffman’s Process. Following a different methodology I will now try to separate Hoffman from the experience of the Process. I’m going to try to kick us out of the Big Hoax, and telling the truth may also be the cure for my resentment.
The first step is to critically examine Hoffman’s narrative. Who was Bob Hoffman? He was a tailor from Oakland California with minimal formal education and no psychological training. Rather he had been the patient of a skilled and distinguished psychoanalytic professional for many years. Before he finished his course of therapy, Dr. Fisher died, and Hoffman remained in transference. He was never “cured” in any sense of the word; he was certainly not professional–the evidence is staggering if you worked with him.
During his years of psychotherapy he learned, perhaps even experienced, one real link in the birth of psychosis. Using as many tricks as he could glean from as many sources as he could, especially hypnosis and auto-suggestion, plus the trance state he’d learned in the spiritualist church and from his teacher Rose Strongin, he pieced together a way of barging into a person’s unconscious with a blunt force that forced an opening and allowed some people a fresh view of themselves, and, if for only a second, to step out of their habitual way of living and clearly distinguish parts of themselves that they’d been hiding from, neglected, or repressed.
Using a true huckster’s innate instincts, Hoffman crafted wares to take to market. But in order for him to sell, he had to convince us that there was something to buy. Thus the story of his midnight visitation. I cannot say that he consciously crafted the story, hallucinated, or really did experience an insight, but it makes no difference. It allowed him to claim infallibility for the knowledge coming from an otherworldly source, knowledge that he could access as a gifted intuitive. We could hitch a ride, but it wasn't free.
I have a strong personal distaste for being forced to take a side in a heated argument. However in this case my happiness depended on dealing with my own transference and the lingering effects of sex abuse. I had to be equally exacting in my self-examination, and tell the truth, or at least examine my own part in the experience.
Along with countless others, I was in personal pain. I had attempted a course of professional therapy several times, but when Hoffman promised a loving divorce from mommy and daddy in 13 weeks, I jumped at the chance. I could bypass expensive professional therapy. As Laura, Jonestown survivor, said, “Oh, I was absolutely brainwashed, but I brainwashed myself. I allowed myself to hear what I wanted to hear from Jim Jones because I wanted so badly for it to be true.” Following the insidious mechanism of cult mentality, once I’d made a decision that it had to be true, evidence appeared to support my belief, even experiences that were completely contradictory, even if the guru raped me.
Like my friend’s experience working with Hoffman, my work in the first group Process with Naranjo and Hoffman radically altered the course of my life. This was Hoffman’s first group Psychic Therapy, and I believed there was value for me. I heard Hoffman’s story, and believed at least a part of it. Although I remained skeptical, I fabricated qualifications where needed, and made mental adjustments to stomach Hoffmanisms like “illogical logic nonsensical sense,” gibberish play acting as wisdom.
Rather than getting a loving divorce from mommy and daddy, my work with Hoffman destroyed any possibility of repairing my admittedly strained relationship with my parents. After I dutifully completed the final steps of the process, my parents thought I’d lost my mind, and effectively cut me out of their lives for 20 years. Hoffman fed me a story about my father being gay; I didn’t realize until later that I was being groomed by a predator.
After years of alienation, I did manage to create a relationship with both my parents before they died, but it was my own hard won task. Hoffman had nothing to do with it. In fact he impeded it.
Was Hoffman a Wounded Healer?
My friend looks on his experience with Hoffman as receiving a sacrament from a corrupt priest. I tried to see if Jung’s term wounded healer might help me understand why I was so taken in by Hoffman’s work, connecting Hoffman's own experience of pain and abuse in his life with his path to become a healer. And at the same time, finding in myself grace and forgiveness for Hoffman’s continuing psychotic behavior.
I’ve never had much taste for Jung’s archetypes. It may be just my adverse reaction to being force fed Christian mythology where facts are easily disregarded and myths become facts. I love the Iliad, but I cannot read it with the same kind of attention that I used to give my Sunday morning reading of the New York Times.
The mythological centaur Chiron is the model for Jung’s archetype. Chiron is, as far as centaurs go, a rather upright creature. He doesn’t drink and carouse but rather educates young men in the healing arts that were taught to him by his stepdad Apollo. So far so good. But he has to give up his immortal status to save Prometheus–the exchange is negotiated by the immortal strong man Heracles–and Chiron dies when a poison arrow pierces his ankle.
But Chiron dies immediately; his wound is incurable. At least to my logical mind, I don’t see how he could be continually wounded and use his pain as a balm to heal others if he’s dead. The myth is of course a myth, but Jung had to juggle the elements of a complex mythological narrative to make it fit his archetype of The Wounded Healer.
However, even if we don’t buy into The Wounded Healer archetype, there is evidence that people damaged by abuse or trauma do become healers. A study by Victor et al. (2021)* found that 82% of clinical psychology, counselling psychology, and school psychology graduate students and faculty members in the United States and Canada suffered from mental health conditions at some points of their lives. Even without the visit by Dr. Fisher in the middle of the night, there was some probability that Hoffman might seek a second job in the healing arts.
At the beginning of the Covid lockdown, I woke up in the dead of night and vowed never again to believe nonsense. Reliance on spirit guides giving messages in sanctuaries filled with divine light, simplistic talk of negative love and fictional scenarios of my mother’s emotional child telling me a sad story, staged funerals, forced closure on life’s chapters by ripping out imagined umbilical cords, all this is too far a stretch from Freud’s free association on a couch in Vienna. In a best case scenario, doing the Process could be something like attending an amazing show off Broadway, albeit with an expensive ticket, but deeply moving and life changing in subtle ways. In my case the performance was spoiled by the producer who hid a casting couch backstage, and raped me.
It is possible for a lunatic to be cured, and go on to become a healer of others. Even the fake guru can heal or provide some measure of relief, but at some point the myth has to be stripped away. Our only chance is to move outside the guru’s thrall and claim the experience as our own.
Tell the truth. Recognize The Big Hoax for what it is.
*Victor et al. (2021). "Only human: Mental health difficulties among clinical, counseling, and school psychology faculty and trainees". Retrieved 19 July 2021