Sexual abuse during psychedelic treatments continues to be a major issue within the industry.
Sexual misconduct does happen during psychedelic treatments, but it doesn’t often stay a secret for long. Though growing quickly, the industry is still small and exists in a bubble, so news of unethical behavior travels fast. Sexual misconduct in psychedelic treatment is an ongoing issue, and while it is difficult to weed out all the bad apples, it is crucial that the industry scrutinizes those who mistreat their clients.
There are a multitude of cases of sexual abuse in the psychedelic industry. Most recently, accusations against Jeffrey Glattstein of The East Institute have surfaced.
Allegations against Jeffrey Glattstein
Founders of The East Institute Jeffrey Glattstein and his wife, Lena Franklin, incorporated their psychedelic and energy healing company in 2021. This was around the time that recent allegations claimed Glattstein was sexually abusing women during their sessions with him.
Three women— one former student and two ex-employees— have filed lawsuits against Glattstein for sexual assault. He allegedly touched their breasts and genitals during ‘energy healing sessions’ between 2021 and 2023. The women also claim that The East Institute was aware of the issue, and failed to address it.
Glattstein denys all allegations. Furthermore, The East Institute has filed a countersuit against one of the women, claiming that the accusations were part of a ‘smear campaign’ to hurt the competition of their own wellness company.
Both sides deny the allegations against them. These lawsuits have all been filed within the past four months, so the outcome is not available yet. It is impossible to say with certainty which claims are factual since evidence would not be made public while the case is underway. However, this does bring to attention a greater issue within the psychedelic and neo-spiritual wellness space.
Sexual Abuse in the Psychedelic Industry
Sexual misconduct is nothing new in the psychedelic industry or therapy in general. That is why certified mental health professionals are guided by strict rules of conduct that prevent patients from being taken advantage of. In the professional landscape, there are structures put in place to do this, and therapists can lose their license for violating these standards. However, there are no such structures put in place for psychedelic treatment.
Since psychedelics remain almost entirely illegal in the US and Canada, with the exception of Ketamine, there are no widely implemented rules of conduct for psychedelics. These parameters are left up to the individuals and companies providing psychedelic treatment.
Though some companies do have a Code of Ethics and Practice in place, it is up to the discretion of the company to enforce these rules. And, the individual therapists do not always comply. Most famously, a MAPS facilitator was accused of sexual misconduct during the clinical trials of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD.
A therapist acting as a facilitator in the trial, Donna Dryer, and her husband, Richard Yensen, were accused of sexually abusing a patient during MAPS’s clinical trials. Videos show the couple cuddling, spooning, and pinning down the patient who was seeking PTSD treatment for her trauma from previous sexual abuse. Yensen reportedly carried out a sexual relationship with the patient after the session, while the abused patient was still enrolled in the trial.
Since this incident took place during a clinical trial overseen by the FDA, there were procedures in place that led to a proper investigation and discipline of the abusers. However, this is not always available to patients who are abused during psychedelic experiences outside of a legal framework.
If sexual misconduct happens in the underground marketplace, but within the US or Canada, victims are able to bring charges against their abuser— as seen in the case of Jeffrey Glattstein. However, some may be nervous to step forward, considering that they themselves were involved in illegal activity when it occurred. Nonetheless, victims should always report abuse to law enforcement, despite its circumstances.
When sexual misconduct related to psychedelic experiences takes place in other countries, however, it is more difficult to hold those involved accountable. Since ‘psychedelic practitioners’ don’t always have professional accreditation, that route cannot be used to reprimand misconduct. And, law enforcement in the countries where psychedelic ceremonies and retreats often take place are unlikely to interfere on behalf of the abused.
In these situations, it is left up to the community to ensure that misconduct does not continue when reported. Some communities use the power of the people to drive out practitioners who act in bad faith. For example, in towns such as Nauta and Pisac, Peru, once there are reports of sexual misconduct in psychedelic ceremonies, those involved have their reputation ruined and are shunned to the point that they are not able to do business in that area. But, there is nothing stopping that person from moving and setting up their practice somewhere else.
This creates a challenge in holding practitioners accountable for their actions. Especially since people who seek out psychedelic treatment are particularly susceptible to being taken advantage of— often desperate for help with serious mental health conditions.
Some retreat centers, such as Beckley Retreats, have a high reputation for quality and safety. However, this is not the case with all psychedelic treatment centers, and it can be difficult to vet these programs. This remains an ongoing issue that the industry must address.
One side of the psychedelic space is doing this by bringing treatment into the regulated, West medical framework. This is primarily happening because people want access to psychedelic treatment for issues like addiction, PTSD, and depression, but do not trust unregulated services. However, these legal services are still limited, so people are seeking out treatment elsewhere. And, that means a higher risk of sexual abuse and professional misconduct going unchecked.
Services offering psychedelic, energy, or other novel methods for healing are becoming increasingly popular. But, many of the people running these programs are not qualified to be working with people suffering from the aftereffects of trauma. Others do have qualifications, but overstep important boundaries because they believe they are entitled to.
With few checks and balances in this space, it is important for the psychedelic industry, and especially media outlets, to hold companies and practitioners accountable for their actions. Of course, those seeking treatment are responsible for vetting their sources. However, these people are often in a desperate search for help and can be blinded by hope. The industry can help prevent this by continuing to develop resources that help people stay safe in psychedelic experiences through education on safety and consent.