Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Truth about Bob Hoffman

Despite the public portrait of Hoffman as a kindly Jewish grandfather, he was a fraud, a liar, a conman, a psychopath, a narcissist, and a sexual predator. But I followed him, and tried to be his friend. I had a powerful experience when I did the Fisher-Hoffman Process of Psychic Therapy, and I thought that being grateful was the right stance.

I was wrong, but I am still here and angry that he took me for a ride. In therapeutic terms it was unresolved transference which took years of difficult personal work to resolve, and cost me thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in therapy. I can barely bring myself to look at the other costs, the frustration, lost opportunities and wrecked relationships which I can never recover.


Within 7 months after I finished his course of therapy, Hoffman also raped me. In the real world he would have been subjected to enormous fines and barred from working with other people as a spiritual counselor, or even sent to jail, but we’re talking about the world of psycho-spiritualism, trance mediums, messages from dead relatives about their confused and deluded rearing so we’ve already abandoned reality and the normal consequences for criminal behavior.


I have earned the right to say something. Telling the truth will be my starting point.




Here’s how Hoffman begins his story. In the dead of night, sometime in1968, the spirit of the late distinguished German psychotherapist, Siegfried Fisher stood at the foot of his bed, and woke him up with an urgent message: the key to psychological well being was contained in a concept called Negative Love–we are blindly tied to repeating the mistakes and negative behaviors of our parents because we are starved for authentic love. It’s just a game of giving to get. Then Dr. Fisher cured Hoffman by taking through psychic therapy, and charged him to spread the word. He said, “Doors would open.” 


For anyone with a taste for otherworldly drama, this has everything that Hollywood, or Mme Blavatsky could provide including a simple, down-to-earth maxim any idiot can understand. And it also comes with the validation of a highly qualified psychiatrist, bona fides all the way from Vienna, at least in his lineage.


But on closer examination, even for a person who believes in messages from the other side, the lies start right here. Hoffman claimed that Fisher was an old family friend, that he somehow knew his wife’s family. The truth is that Hoffman had been Fisher’s patient for years at Langley Porter. And Fisher’s specialty was severe psychosis. Hoffman claimed that he and Fisher had convivial dinner table conversations about the unseen world and what are generally called psychic phenomena. The dinners were perhaps the only truth in the story. Fisher, according to his son, David, did not follow the modern professional guidelines about social contact with patients. He remembers Hoffman coming to his house for dinner as well as visiting Hoffman and his family. 


But Hoffman needed a cover story. He was not in any way qualified to receive an insight that had evaded generations of highly trained psychotherapists. He was a tailor with a rudimentary education. His main interest, when not measuring the inseam of custom suits for the Oakland Raiders, was immersing himself in the Spiritualist teachings of a psychic named Rev. Rose Strongin. 


Hoffman was also a man of limited intelligence with a heavy dose of strong opinions and fixed beliefs. His reliance on spirit guides would have been difficult terrain for Fisher to negotiate as a therapist–they provided a ready defense for Hoffman to deflect any meaningful attempts to deal with his psychosis. And, Fisher’s son told me that his father thought that homosexuality was “cureable,” which, if my own experience is any measure, became a long and costly war with a very closeted, homophobic gay man.


The stage was set for an epic battle, and what better way to resolve all the conflict inherent in a deep self hatred of being gay plus transference, than your therapist’s death coupled with the omniscience of seeing life “from the other side?” A dead therapist cannot defend himself. Questions are answered by the only voice we can hear. An unequal battle is won when one party quits, or dies. 


I also had real experience of unresolved transference, but it was not settled with Hoffman’s death.




Why do Intelligent people believe nonsense?


I cannot really answer this question other than to say it’s true. I know that in my own case it was unresolved transference as well as not cleanly dealing with my own homosexuality. But in the case of Claudio Naranjo, the answer is less clear. Claudio was a psychotherapist of extraordinary abilities and insight. He is best known as the person most responsible for the dissemination of the Enneagram teaching in the West. It was in his SAT Group in Berkeley that he introduced Hoffman and, it was on his recommendation that I undertook Fisher-Hoffman Psychic Therapy.


Both Hoffman and Naranjo are dead. Neither has woken me in the dead of night, and I do not claim to have any secret knowledge about their codependent relationship. But I was a participant in their early collaboration, and will be as honest as I can about what I observed and what is substantiated by the record. 


Naranjo met Hoffman and did his rudimentary analysis, the Process of Psychic Therapy, in the basement of Hoffman’s tailor shop on 15th Street in Oakland. It was emotional and exotic enough to capture Claudio’s interest. He says that afterwards he felt he could help Hoffman shape a group process, and become his John the Baptist. Yes, Claudio really used this messianic analogy. I was a guinea pig in that initial group experiment, and this is what I saw–both painted their collaboration as destined by heaven. It was not. It was a very rocky road. Hoffman ended it before it was complete. Although both men tried to paint their rupture in the best possible light, as with an accurate reading of the Baptist’s story, it did not end well.


In the chapter of Naranjo’s book, End of Patriarchy: And the Dawning of a Tri-Une Society, about Hoffman, Claudio says that he directed the first group process, that his indications were delivered by Rosalyn Schaffer with Hoffman a silent witness. To my recollection, after one rather awkward introduction, Claudio never stayed for an entire group meeting. The mild mannered and soft-spoken Rosalyn delivered her instructions, and then yielded the floor to Hoffman who was hardly silent. His rhetorical presentation was gruff and angry. He cajoled, demeaned, and baited, picking out a participant’s single trait, the way he or she dressed, combed their hair, the tone of voice. Then he used it to humiliate them, shouting that we couldn’t love ourselves, that we were unwitting victims of negative love. 


This unprofessional behavior went unchallenged, and Hoffman continued to be a bully throughout his teaching career. He justified it as “breaking down to build up.” Fisher apparently did not cure Hoffman of a chronic sense of inferiority coupled with arrogant entitlement. Any therapist in the group was singled out for particularly harsh attention. Hoffman was afterall a psychic tailor playing in a world of highly trained mental health professionals. It’s also worth mentioning that Hoffman loved having the endorsement of a man of Naranjo’s stature.


As a participant it was clear to me after about a month that Naranjo lost control of the group process, and Hoffman was increasingly unhappy when Claudio tried to regain control, particularly in insisting on the pace of the work. Their much heralded collaboration lasted 9 weeks on the outside. After weeks working on “Mother Bitch session” (now called “bashing” in Quadrinity parlance), Hoffman had enough of the careful exploration of repressed anger, and suddenly announced that he and Claudio had reached a friendly agreement to end their experiment, and Claudio’s participation, after the “Defense of Mother.” And, with appropriate fanfare, he announced that he would be leading his own 13 week Process beginning that January. With Hoffman it was always a loving divorce, a friendly disagreement, or his righteous indignation, jejune double-speak that only highlighted that he was a very angry man.


But Hoffman did get something from the SAT Group that has become a hallmark of the Process. The Wiffle bat and overstuffed pillow have become synonymous with releasing repressed anger, something that he had tried unsuccessfully in his psychic readings by having his patients write “an anger letter” to his or her parents after they’d written an emotional autobiography. He had little use for Claudio’s therapeutic exploration, and certainly not the methodology of Fritz Perls, or the Enneagram for that matter. It took too long, and actually went to the root of anger. Hoffman only cared about tapping the deep repressed emotional reservoir. The process of expressing anger, followed by the fabricated understanding that came from his psychic readings, would reappear again and again in the development of the current Process. Hoffman loved an emotional jolt. He was a junky and a one trick pony.


I wrote extensively about the development of the 13 week Process when the first rewrite of its history was undertaken by the current owners of Hoffman’s intellectual property, The Ontological Odd Couple—The Origins of the Hoffman Process, Fisher-Hoffman Psychic Therapy, The Quadrinity Process, and The Hoffman Process, Originally posted July 31, 2004, 1st revision 9/16,/2006, 2nd revision 6/6/2011, © Kenneth Ireland, 2004, 2006, 2011. I’m not going to repeat any of it here. Needless to say, Hoffman in his self-inflated posture appropriated the work of many professionals and claimed it as his own, or the direction of Dr. Fisher, his spirit guide while the current promoters altered and streamlined the narrative for marketing purposes.


If this Process were an important breakthrough in the development of psychological treatment, such an investigation might be interesting. It is not. However, working with Naranjo and Gestalt therapy, I had a major personal breakthrough. It began an unravelling that changed the trajectory of my life. I recognized on a very deep level that I harbored a well of repressed anger towards my parents, my rearing, and the Jesuits. I began a long and difficult journey. I turned my back on 10 years of rigorous religious training and started afresh. Over the course of trying to locate Hoffman’s contribution in this equation, I can only say that he was the loudest voice in the room when my emotional defenses began to crumble. But given the vagaries of the process, I went into massive transference. 


Hoffman was not at all equipped to manage his own countertransference, much less mine. In fact he used mine to manipulate and sexually abuse me. When he announced that he would be starting his own group process, he made a point of taking me aside and strongly encouraging me to join. I was one of only a handful of SAT members who did. In retrospect, Hoffman was just following the predator’s script, grooming me for sexual conquest. His unethical and criminal behavior would play out over the next 9 months.


Hoffman’s first 13 week group Process of Psychic therapy began sometime towards the end of January of 1973 in a nondescript rented classroom in UC Berkeley’s Tolman Hall, the home of its psychological department. We met every Monday night, and an assignment was due by Wednesday. It was more of a forced march than a psychological inquiry. The main elements of the current Process were there, a rigid set of exercises, the requirement to complete the assignments with as much emotional expression as possible, and to be on time. Keeping up meant in Hoffman’s estimation that you were willing to break down your defenses and see yourself clearly.


Hoffman claimed that we would discover that “everyone was guilty and no one to blame.” After experiencing how our parents had ruined our lives by passing on their negative behaviors and admonitions through the mechanism of Negative Love, we allowed them to defend themselves. We were instructed to imagine a conversation with their prepubescent emotional self recounting a story of how they inherited negative traits from their own parents. 


We were told that these imaginary conversations had the same function as Hoffman using his psychic power to look into our parents' history and discover actual events and circumstances of their programming. Hoffman claimed that after he had opened us psychically, we could tap into the same deep unconscious emotional knowledge which contained the truth about our parents’ rearing. There's a proper term to describe this well established psychological principle--Bull pucky.




Shortly after 5 on a hot Wednesday afternoon, I hand delivered my “Emotional Autobiography with Father'' to Hoffman’s office on the second floor of a building in downtown Oakland. His secretary had already left for the afternoon. Hoffman was recording his feedback for another patient on a cheap cassette player. He’d thrown his feet up onto the desk. I stood awkwardly in the half open doorway. There was no chair and no invitation to engage in a conversation.


He told me to hand him my work. Right on the spot he’d read a paragraph, comment on the emotional tone, and then make a simplistic, predictable connection between the specific circumstances I’d described and a negative pattern or character trait that he asserted I’d adopted from my father in an attempt to bargain for love.

 

Hoffman read through to an incident about my father resetting the stone wall at the back of our lot. As Dad was lifting stones into a wheelbarrow, he uncovered the nest of a woodchuck who’d built her nest in a cranny between the rocks. As she ferociously defended her cubs, my father killed her and her cubs with his shovel. As I remembered it, he began to beat her viciously. Her screams were chilling. 

 

Hoffman complimented the emotional tone of my writing, but then he began to raise his voice. Obviously my Dad was a homosexual he said, and then, “You’re also gay, aren’t you?” I countered how he could deduce that my dad was gay based on bludgeoning a woodchuck? His voice became louder and louder. He just repeated “You’re gay.” Now he was almost screaming—obviously my father was a sadist. What? Then he yelled, “You’re gay? Don’t play games with me. I know these things.” I said, of course I had gay feelings, but I was unsure if I was gay. “Don’t play games with me,” his voice was angry; his face was red. I had watched Hoffman attack clients, but I could barely believe that I was now his victim. 

 

My Dad was not gay. The idea of having a same sex relationship never crossed his mind in his entire life. Hoffman’s readings were projections and his own pathology. What he asserted was so off base that it isn’t worthy of even the weirdest pop psychology. But because there was one note of truth in analysis–that I was in denial about my own homosexuality–the whole thing became plausible, and I destroyed any possibility of a real relationship with my father for the next 30 years. In exchange I got the debilitating transference to Hoffman. 


I remember that the price of that first group Process was no more than $300. The real cost was devastating. Instead of dealing with coming out in care of a professional, compassionate therapist, I had the bad luck to land a closeted gay predator as my guide. When I described this incident to my therapist, his immediate response was: when you stayed, he knew he had you. And he did.




When I returned to the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley that fall, I told my superiors honestly what I had experienced, and they supported my decision to reconsider ordination. I took a leave of absence from my religious order, and began an extremely difficult period of my life. I loved being a Jesuit, and if it weren’t for the obligation of celibacy, perhaps I might have been able to carve out a very happy and successful life as a priest. 


Another man in Naranjo’s SAT, Hal Slate, and I rented a small apartment on the Berkeley/Oakland border. It was just a short walk from the White Horse, a college-town gay bar.


Towards the end of September, Hoffman started to show up at the bar every night around 9 o’clock, leaning awkwardly against the elbow bar, pretending to look off into some distant corner of the universe. He claimed that he normally stopped by on his way home. Another lie! He later admitted that he never went to gay bars because being recognized might negatively affect his important work. In reality he was tracking my movements, and making himself known. This was exactly stalking–out of the predator’s playbook.


I recall one conversation in particular which helps me accurately date Hoffman’s obsessive pursuit; it also should have alerted me that he knew exactly what he was doing. Almost in passing, and perhaps as a way of excusing or justifying his behavior, he mentioned that although the usual period for a therapist seeing a patient was 6 months after the professional relationship had ended, he thought that I had so completely and lovingly divorced myself from my parents, perhaps the usual 6 months could be compressed. Misinformation,  or perhaps he considered himself above the law. In California, “Therapy Never Includes Sexual Behavior. . . . Sexual contact of any kind between a therapist and a client is unethical and illegal in the State of California. Additionally, with regard to former clients, sexual contact within two years after termination of therapy is also illegal and unethical.”*  Less than 4 months after working with him, he nervously gave me his “private” phone number, and asked if he could call me.


Finally, I agreed to go out to dinner with him. He imagined it was a date. I thought it was dinner with a friend. I can’t in any way recreate the events or the conversation that ended with him returning to my apartment, but as with many sexual predators, Hoffman’s ability to read his victim, what he would describe as his “psychic powers,” lent themselves to skillful manipulation. And of course after working with me on an intimate level for almost a year, he had a real window into my psychology that was far more accurate than his psychic reading. After an extremely awkward series of interactions included a lot of “why don’t we try this?” and “do you like that?” I found myself on the living room floor of my shared apartment with a man I found sexually repulsive, naked, on my stomach, being brutally raped. After Hoffman had his orgasm, my anus was bleeding. 


Then the situation became surreal—I listened to apologies which were actually blame shifting—Hoffman told me that pain was normal when a man first had anal sex and that in time I’d learn to enjoy it—that anal sex was an important part of spiritual development. It mirrored the mother-father god, both active and passive. I remember this statement after all these years because of the horror and lunacy of justifying rape in the name of some intrasex deity. 


I didn’t throw him out as I should have, had I been capable of it. Every time I think about this, I ask myself why didn’t I say, “This isn’t working. Why don’t you put on your clothes and leave?” But I just kept my mouth shut and endured him trying to apologize for physically hurting me. But when he asked if we could have another date, I did say no. However, in true co-dependent fashion, I left the door open to further contact as friends. I realize now that I had to—I was in transference with him. In fact we maintained a strained acquaintance until he died.


I had hoped to avoid a painful and lewd description of the sexual encounter, but I have decided to write about it openly, describing its repercussions. A thorough investigation, including my own missteps, is the only possible path I see to freeing myself. If my writing really leads to liberation, “the function of freedom," in the words of Toni Morrison, "is to free someone else.” 




Was Hoffman a Wounded Healer or a fraud?


A longtime friend who also had a very difficult relationship with Hoffman contacted me. 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 Stan 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.


Stan is very skilled in self-observation, and I believe him when he says that the experience was not an illusion or a panacea. His experience was life-changing and valuable in itself. He didn’t surrender to some weirdo messiah. He’s not blind to Hoffman’s flaws or inflated self-importance.


Stan 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.


I tried to see if trying to step inside my friend’s experience might help me understand why I was so taken in by Hoffman; to see if Jung’s term wounded healer connected Hoffman's own pain and abuse in his life with his path to become a healer. And at the same time, allow me to forgive Hoffman’s continuing psychotic behavior.


I’ve never had much taste for Jung’s archetypes. 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. 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, and Jung had to juggle the elements of a complex mythological narrative to make it fit his archetype. We all have to compromise and make adjustments.


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 her sad story. 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.


I harbor some resentment towards Claudio Naranjo for not doing due diligence before introducing Hoffman. I question Claudio's reliance on insight coming from a Spiritualist Church rather than rigorous psychotherapeutic practice. It was the 70’s. We can call it reckless experimentation.


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.


And, most importantly, tell the truth. Hoffman was a fraud, a liar, a conman, a psychopath, a narcissist, and a sexual predator.



Here is a link to all my writing about Hoffman.

https://jesuskoan.blogspot.com/2021/06/my-hoffman-process-writings.html

I know that my remarks and observations will piss off a lot of people. Apparently Hoffman is big business and a number of people depend on the Process for their livelihood. This was a consideration, but not strong enough for me to remain quiet. 



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