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Sexual misconduct by leaders

I notice more and more that many celebrities, (sports) coaches, leaders, (yoga) gurus, and teachers are accused of sexual misconduct happening in their past or present. Big names, including Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacy, Bikram Choudhury, Genpo Roshi, and, very recently, the Spanish football coach Luis Rubiales, are all accused of sexual misconduct. Why is this happening?

Is no place safe anymore?

I want to ask her for a drink...

Years ago, I assisted in a weekend workshop and discussed with the senior leader of that workshop, who expressed his attraction toward a participating woman. He told me he wanted to ask her for a drink after that day's session. I was genuinely surprised that this senior leader even considered asking her out.

First, I felt judgment. Then, I regained my curiosity and asked him why he wanted to ask her out.

It turned out that this senior leader generally had difficulty connecting to people, especially women. However, when he stepped into the senior leader role and facilitated the weekend workshop, not only did he feel more confident, but women connected to him, showed interest in him, flirted with him, and even expressed their attraction toward him. He found it hard not to act on that, carrying the longing for an intimate relationship.

The above describes precisely my deep concern about this whole issue.

Many years ago, I also made a mistake when assisting in a retreat for the first time. Back then, I was single, a rookie in the world of personal development, quite unaware of boundaries and exploring intimacy and relationships.

Someone I had met several times before joined the retreat just before it commenced. The institute where this retreat took place was very open to the exploration of intimacy but very rigid with the specific rule of: "No intimate interactions between facilitators and participants". It was complicated, mainly because she and I already liked each other and had already expressed the longing for a date before this training started.

However, the rule was respected throughout the retreat, and nothing happened between her and me. But after three weeks, just before the group reunited for the last time, I had an intimate evening with this woman. The next day, I decided to share what had happened with the trainer of the retreat. This was not accepted, and the following intense process made the importance of that ground rule so clear that I would never work, facilitate, or co-facilitate without that boundary in place. It made me fully aware of the responsibility of taking on the role of a facilitator, a coach, and, later, a therapist.

I often think about this situation and feel my contraction, but I am grateful for the outcome. It made me aware of the importance of creating a safe environment for my clients, participants, and everyone I am relating or connecting with.

Misuse of a position of trust and power

As the issue with the senior leader indicates. Something changes when we take on the role of therapist, facilitator, teacher, or guru (but also manager, team leader, or actor). Energetically, we might change our behavior, we are more confident, and we radiate this confidence through what we bring, especially if we bring the stuff we love and master. We get the charisma we do not always have in daily life.

Participants, pupils, and team members notice this charisma and their admiration can be seen as a genuine attraction. If the leader is unaware of the power dynamic, they can go with this and act on the attraction. This can happen consciously or unconsciously, but the risk of damaging and traumatizing the participant is significant. The leader must be aware of the effect and responsibility that comes with the position of power and trust they are taking on.

On the other hand, participants who join workshops or retreats and, depending on the content of the training, partially or fully open up their hearts to take on the contents of what is taught. They can admire the leader based on the assumption that the leader walks their talk and lives what they teach. Participants can fall in love with the (often perfect) image of that person, and that love might feel genuine.

So, being in a workshop, retreat, or therapy session can make the participant vulnerable, open, authentic, and thus attractive to the leader(s). If the leader is unaware of the effect of their work and their position of trust and power, this becomes a fertile ground for trauma and emotional and sexual abuse.

Here lays the work of the leader!

No sexual intimacy!

For me, there is only one correct and safe way to act.

There should not be sexual intimacy between therapist and client, guru and disciple, trainer and pupil, facilitator and participant. Not even with consent on both sides. As we can read above, this is independent of training content, mutual consent, or mutual desire.

It can be acknowledged if an attraction is felt one way or mutual, but it should never be followed up in a retreat, workshop, or therapeutic relationship.

In a therapeutic setting, the attraction toward the therapist is called transference, and the attraction toward the client is called countertransference. Transferrence can be worked with in a session if the therapist recognizes this and does not have (subjective) countertransference. If the therapist has countertransference, they must bring this to supervision and process this with a supervisor. The therapy must be stopped if the countertransference prevents the therapist from creating a healthy and safe environment.

Is a (romantic) relationship still possible?

Is it possible for someone in a position with power to pursue a romantic relationship (or a friendship) with a client or participant? I believe so, but this demands a lot of awareness, patience, and caution.

One can stop the current relationship if an attraction feels real and genuine. One can step out of the power dynamic and take the time for this power dynamic to fade, depending strongly on the current relationship. The length of this period will differ from a 1-evening communication workshop to a 3-year therapeutic relationship. Making the right decisions takes a lot of common sense, responsibility, and discipline. Depending on the situation or work relationship, it needs its time for the power dynamic to equalize.

I have been taught that a therapist cannot go into a romantic relationship with their client for two years after breaking the therapeutic relationship. If two years is sufficient or a relationship is even possible, it depends on the client's trauma.


We see a significant and scary increase in the number of accusations of sexual misconduct in the field of therapy and personal development. I want to significantly emphasize the conscious and unconscious abuse of the power dynamic of people in a position of power and trust.

I am not advocating excluding sexual or romantic relationships of any kind. I want to emphasize the crucial significance of care and awareness when this happens in connection with a difference of power and the vital importance of full awareness of the power dynamic and the impact of boundary-breaking behavior.

It is a vast subject, and I just scratched the surface with what I wrote here. But this subject needs attention, especially with the growth of upcoming sorts of help where these boundaries are crucial: tantra communities, medicine work, intimacy coaching, psychedelic-assisted therapy, etc.

The role of therapist, coach, teacher, or any other position of trust and power comes with responsibilities. If you are taking this role, you must be aware of all that comes with that!

Please share your opinion or experience below. I value all perspectives on this.

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