Interview with Dr. Stanislav Grof: James Ray not certified

Once again we can thank Cassandra Yorgey for keeping us up to date with this story.  Here is her interview with Dr. Stanislav Grof author of The Holotropic Mind.  Dr. Stanislav Grof website

Today I spoke over the phone with Dr. Stanislav Grof, author of The Holotropic Mind. Yep, that’s right the same Dr. Stanislav Grof who’s book was required reading for the participants of the Angel Valley Spiritual Warrior retreat led by James Ray. This guy has been studying medicine and psychology since before James Ray was even born. His list of educational and professional achievements is long enough that you should just go look for yourself. I’m pretty impressed, but I’m not formally educated in that field so I could be wrong. Joseph Campbell is well respected in the science-fiction/fantasy genre for his work in mythology and psychology and he seemed pretty impressed with Dr. Groff, too, and is even quoted as saying “I know of no work that so well incorporates the findings of Freud, Jung and Rank, adding fresh insights, which the methods of those psychotherapists could never have achieved. I do not doubt that many others working in this field would find Dr. Grof´s discoveries a basis for a whole new strategy of research.” Right, so as far as I can tell, this guy is a pretty big deal in his field. I had a great time speaking with him and learned some really interesting things.

For instance, did you know that Dr. Grof started a certification program for Facilitators through Grof Transpersonal Training? The purpose of this is to promote professional and ethical practices governing Holotropic Breath work. When Dr. Groff and his wife retired, the management of the company was taken up by Cary Sparks and her husband Tav. Interestingly enough, I spoke with Cary and she says James Ray is absolutely not certified in use of their techniques. This again raises questions about his training, education, and legitimacy to be practicing and combining these techniques.
While some of Dr. Grof’s early work could be considered controversial due to the use of LSD, he has complied with legal guidelines and discontinued study when the substance was outlawed. I asked Dr. Grof if he had ever had any charges of unethical use brought against him and he stated he had not. In fact, he had never even heard of James Ray before this disastrous retreat. Its funny how many experts in the various fields that James Ray has bastardized have never even heard of him.
So, just to be clear, Dr. Stanislav Grof has no affiliation with James Ray and has never been employed by him to speak at an event or anything like that. One of the first things that Dr. Grof made clear to me was that he would never recommend using Holotropic breath work in combination with a sweat lodge. Dr. Grof shares with me that he has experienced a sweat lodge first hand because of his interest in non-ordinary states of consciousness, but that he has not used them in his work. Dr. Grof continued to explain that conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular issues, etc would be even more dangerous when combined with heat, but they should be monitored in relation to the breath work as well.
I asked Dr. Grof about the effects of mixing Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) with Holotropic breath work and he explained the two things are really quite different. Dr. Grof expressed concern over a concept in psychology known as transference, in which a person would develop an emotional dependence upon the facilitator. In standard, ethical use facilitators would deflect this inappropriate bond toward the source of the problems, but James Ray could have very easily abused and encouraged this horizontal projection. Combined with the use of highly coercive NLP, non-ordinary states of consciousness, and hypnotic language, this could leave participants in an extreme emotional dependence on James Ray. What did James Ray do with this emotional dependence? He played God, literally taking up the roll of God in the group games and “killing” participants. This seems to me like he was pretty clearly trying to set up acceptance among the group that he could cause death, making it even that much harder for them to stand up to him when he did start killing them.
Reading over some of the information that Dr. Grof sent me, I found this quote “Although the client’s cooperation is an essential part of the therapeutic process, it is the therapist who is seen as the active agent and the source of knowledge necessary for successful outcome.” Again, I am not an expert but to me this looks like maybe the facilitator should have some idea of what they are doing. The text also states, “The holotropic state of consciousness tends to function as a universal homeopathic remedy in that it activates any existing symptoms and exteriorizes the symptoms that are latent.” This would make it particularly easy, in my opinion, to encourage transference and emotional dependency, which is clearly not what is supposed to happen. “The task of the facilitator or therapist in holotropic therapy is to support the experiential process with full trust in its healing nature, without trying to direct it or change it in any way.” There is not a single thing at the retreat that James Ray did not try to control – food, water, bio breaks, life, death, I do not think a little subconscious twiddling is surprising here.
Another effect that Dr. Grof asserts is verifiable, “We have been able to confirm repeatedly Wilhelm Reich’s observation that psychological resistances and defenses are associated with restricted breathing (Reich 1961). Respiration is an autonomous function, but it can also be influenced by volition. Deliberate increase of the pace of breathing typically loosens psychological defenses and leads to a release and emergence of unconscious (and superconscious) material.” This adds support to my claim that James Ray executed a deliberate attack on the psychological, physical, and emotional well-being on every participant with increasing severity. These attacks are similar to Boiling Frog Syndrome, in that the gradual increase in severity can go unnoticed and by coupling that with a deliberate attack on the decision-making capabilities of the individuals (including such physical stresses such as sleep deprivation, starvation, etc) and emotional dependence, James Ray was able to rapidly increase the levels of danger without participants fully grasping what was going on. This is particularly impressive when looking at the intelligence and educational level of the participants, but completely understandable because the techniques James Ray twisted for inappropriate use are valid and legitimate techniques that can have great healing potential – if used in a proper medical and ethical manner.

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In case the FTC is wondering, I do not endorse James Ray and he has never compensated me in any way. Dr. Stanislav Grof, however, did send me some electronic bits of his work so I could better understand his field.

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