What happened when I spent more than £20,000 on ‘woo-woo’ therapies

·6 min read
Kate Ruby crime novelist - Clara Molden
Kate Ruby crime novelist - Clara Molden

There isn’t a 12-step programme for therapy addiction, but if there was, I am sure I would be first in line. After all, there is no group I won’t join or a healing technique I won’t try. Much as I love sitting on a couch and talking to a traditional mental health professional (lying on a couch is only for the hardcore Freudians) I have a craving to go deeper, by any means necessary.

Past-life regression, hypnosis, psychics and psychedelics – these are just a few of the unusual, and sometimes downright crazy, approaches I have tried in the past 20 years. Some have been wonderful, some not so much (I still shudder at the memory of the Hollywood tarot reader who bundled me out of her gypsy caravan onto a busy road while I was still crying about getting the Tower in the “love” section of my spread). But overall, I would rather have the insights they have given me than the fancy holidays or new-season bling I’ve sacrificed for them. And the sacrifice is real: I reckon I have spent more than £20,000 on the wild therapeutic ride I’ve taken.

My journey down the rabbit hole began with the loss of my father in my mid-20s. He was only 48 when he died, after a short battle with cancer that left me with precious little time to mend a relationship that had been broken for many years. He had left my mother when I was tiny and I craved his love and attention with a feverish need, but it was always in short supply. When he passed, I had already had some traditional talking therapy, but I was grieving and desperate to find solace, however outlandish it was.

I began to dabble in the more woo-woo realms in the last weeks of my father’s life. In New York on a work trip, I impulsively visited a sidewalk psychic with a distinct resemblance to Morticia Addams, who beckoned me into a dark little room, leaving her tween son still touting for business on the street. Here she held my hand, stared deep into my eyes and told me gravely in her thick Queens accent that she saw “hospitalisation but not death”. Blatantly untrue, as it turned out; but her intensity was both chilling and somehow hypnotic.

I knew, of course, that she was a charlatan, but I was left with an intense desire to reach beyond the material reality of the tragedy and gain some understanding of the bigger “why”. It led me to a process that some swear by: family constellations. It recognises that trauma can be passed down through generations – undeniably true – and suggests that by acting the trauma out with other members of the group, you can move the stuck energy from your lineage and heal.

Kate Ruby therapy - Clara Molden
Kate Ruby therapy - Clara Molden

Soon I was in a large room with a group of traumatised strangers, waiting for my turn. It wasn’t in fact my father who came up, it was my grandmother. I then watched as a woman I had never met before fell to her knees, convinced she was re-experiencing a tragic loss that had happened to her back in the 1950s.

Some people experience great benefits from this process, but it was too weird, even for me: the potential for fantasy felt too high; the atmosphere charged and febrile. It didn’t cure me of my habit, however. I still wanted to reach back into the past and somehow move the tectonic plates, as if I was in a particularly emotionally charged episode of Doctor Who. So I decided to try past-life regression.

The process posits that often those people we have had a painful relationship with in this lifetime held a different role in one of our previous incarnations that is still being played out. Cut to me being led into a trance-like state by a handsome, brisk German therapist who swore by the practice. It was intense: tears streamed down my face as I saw myself in an earlier time, the therapist convinced that the man I loved and lost in this strange vision represented an earlier version of my troubled paternal relationship.

Again, a little too out there, but there were plenty of other things I tried that were worth every penny. There was the Hoffman Process: a week-long therapy boot camp that focuses on how damaged attachment patterns that get set up in childhood will continue to plague us in adult life. Its celebrity fanbase includes singer Justin Bieber and actress Sienna Miller, but it is more than a faddish psychological sticking plaster. The work I did there was profound and helped to tame the raging anxiety that has always plagued me.

I have also found physical therapies incredibly helpful for dealing with that same problem. I have been visiting acupuncturist Ross Barr for years now – although his waiting list is bursting since it was revealed he is also in Meghan Markle’s little black book. His well-placed needles make me feel like a human pin cushion, but the calm and inner peace I feel when I float out of his treatment room is always worth it.

Justin Bieber is reportedly a fan of the Hoffman Process: a week-long therapy boot camp that focuses on damaged attachment - WireImage
Justin Bieber is reportedly a fan of the Hoffman Process: a week-long therapy boot camp that focuses on damaged attachment - WireImage

My last foray into the more far-out realms of healing was a guided magic mushroom trip, facilitated by an incredible therapist called Sarah Tilley. The burgeoning field of psychedelic therapy has shown impressive results: a 2021 study by Imperial College London showed psilocybin, the active compound in the mushrooms, to be at least as effective as a leading antidepressant when used in a clinical setting. So I took a nervous flight to the Netherlands (magic mushrooms remain illegal in the UK) and was soon in a retreat setting, swallowing down the foul, brackish medicine.

We had done a number of talking sessions beforehand, so Sarah knew the issues I wanted to heal and she encouraged me to let the mushrooms deliver on their magic. I donned headphones and an eye mask, letting the curated playlist she had provided wash over me as the intense visions and images began.

The idea is that in your altered state you get the chance to see beyond the habitual negative thinking patterns that cause depression and anxiety, and I certainly felt I got a new perspective as my brain danced through different realms, the music pulsating through my body. It wasn’t a magic bullet, but I felt both lighter and more emotionally open afterwards. Mushrooms can supposedly rewire the neural pathways in the brain, and there was no doubt I felt a profound effect.

It was a trip, in every sense: I suddenly knew that it was time to step off the therapeutic merry-go-round and pause my search for the next fix.

There is always a danger that self healing can tip into a lack of self acceptance, so the cure almost becomes the poison. It is a theme I explore in my new book, Tell Me Your Lies, in which a dysfunctional family fall under the spell of a charismatic healer, losing all sight of the truth.

For now, my own therapy addiction is under control, but I’m sure with one glance at Goop’s latest recommendation I will be unable to resist.

Kate Ruby’s psychological thriller Tell Me Your Lies (Simon & Schuster, £8.99), is out now. Order your copy from the Telegraph Bookshop

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