Updated: Jun 8
By Angela E. Morris
A ten-day silent meditation retreat? I did it. Mediums instead of therapy? I believed it was a better fit. Wellness food-focused retreats then binging on alcohol and pizza days later because it was too restrictive, yeah, I did that too. I also ran and assisted at tropical wellness retreats, and that was an eye-opening experience, an inner circle vantage point if you know, you know.
My first and only career thus far has been in the holistic health and wellness field. I had a keen interest in wellness, and personal development from a young age which meant cult dynamics were unavoidable. I didn't know that initially, but now I can easily name the behaviours and tactics. We are surrounded by it and it is still hard to look back on the days of naivety and all the money I wasted. It is also difficult to watch others go down that same path.
I was never part of a cult, but you know how it goes, six degrees of separation, a pitiful multiple-level marketing boss babe attempt and a few close calls. Part of me still loves aspects of wellness, travel, and holding space for humans to gather, heal and adventure. I love a good smoothie, green juice, chlorophyll mint water, a hot sauna, and a dimly lit yoga class. I also love that it does not consume me like it once did. I got out of the cringe.
Recently, the barrage of budding online and in-person cult-ish and full-on cult healers sprouting ten ego heads can leave your head spinning. I know I am not the only one feeling this. So, where am I going with this? I watched the first three episodes of the docuseries "Deep End" on Teal Swan's intimate life and work.
If you are in Canada, you can buy the series on YouTube, as we cannot stream from Hulu and Freeform. I have heard from some cult survivors that it deserves a trigger warning especially if you are in cult recovery.
I preferred the six-episode podcast by Gizmodo reporter Jennings Brown,
Some people set out to help others heal, while others see it as an avenue to exploit vulnerable people, make copious amounts of money and call it trauma healing. It is hard to tell who is in integrity or wants power and what spins out of control because it becomes too big for one person to contain and maintain all the moving parts. I also see it as a tremendous responsibility if you claim to be a healer of this magnitude and, in that capacity, deal with people's trauma with no training whatsoever.
Having a desire to help people heal is a beautiful thing. I am a Massage Therapist, but I am not illusioned to think that I am healing my patients. I am setting up the right environment, alongside my skills that I trained for 3000 hours and in practice for 13 years with mandatory practical therapeutic upgrading and ongoing ethics education, which constantly reminds me that other people's healing is theirs, not mine. I am just a witness that provides a healing modality, bad jokes and a comforting presence. I am not a healer. I am not healing anyone, simply offering connection, care, and safety in the form of touch. They are doing the rest.
Watching this doc reminds me of how some self-proclaimed healers make their work their everything while operating under the guise of a mystical healer who is the only person that really understands you and can use their magical powers to take your pain away—healing anyone, no matter what condition, mental illness and ailment you have. It also may be the only way some of these healers bring in money, so they need to be extraordinary, something bigger than themselves, better than the rest. For humanity to shift consciousness, "they are the only ones that can lead us there," and the minions helping the healer need to fall in line. Cue culty red flags, cognitive dissonance mixed with haters and detractors feeling duped and cheated, and you get the dirtiest double down you have ever seen. Testimonials can only take you so far. And even those can be coercive at best. High-demand groups get people high on love bombing, then ask you for feedback. Do the math there.
It's natural to be defensive as one of these healers because some of these healers can be helpful to a point. Yet these people leave no room for self-reflection, which becomes a self-sealing system, and it will never become healthy precisely for this reason. All the eggs in one basket pigeonhole them out of growth and anchored into relentless posturing and retraumatization. If you challenge or ask questions these healers, you are broken and beyond fixing. It is a destructive power dynamic that discourages autonomy. Mystical manipulation.
There are ways to provide trauma therapy and remain aware of the power imbalances—this is why I like to talk about ethics in this realm so often. A therapist, skilled trauma practitioner, or somatic experiencing teacher is usually not trying to be the next Deepak Chopra, a famous healer. They can also look to their professional ethics when a complex dilemma comes their way ( not all, but I hope most). If you listen to the language used by Swan and her team as they speak about how to make her more famous and who they compare her to, those are some major red flags in my world.
Speaking generally, a person that claims they have magical skills can easily manipulate vulnerable people, sometimes without knowing they are. Especially if they claim they can cure people of cancer or the like. It's no wonder these healers fall hard. Pedestaling yourself sets you up for that kind of backlash, and it sucks to witness. I do not watch this stuff for entertainment but to understand the human condition.
It's a given that people need connection, community, and belonging, which is easily exploited when people are in a vulnerable state, desperate to feel better or even altruistic in search of ways to serve the greater good. Some people need professional help but had bad experiences seeking help or don't have access to it. We become seekers for something beyond the mainstream because the mainstream options can be alienating and dehumanizing. Our systems and family dynamics set up this potential cult storm for certain people.
Creating space for people to heal is one thing. Not recognizing when things are out of your scope of expertise is another beast and burden, and this docuseries makes that obvious point.
To hear Teal's reaction and thought's on giving three years of access to her work and life.
***I am not for shaming, blaming and alienating people, period, but especially people who need help, including the healer in this doc. I am not for her cancellation or berating this person online or in person. My hope is that examining these behaviours becomes more mainstream and that it will prevent or give pause to people before signing up or joining high-demand groups. Through this doc and writing my thoughts on this, I hope people know there are other ways to receive the help they need and finding the community they deserve.***