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Andrew Phillips
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Edmonton, AB
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Kentucky Ayahuasca

Nothing skeeves me out worse than unqualified people doing serious counselling.

'Kentucky Ayahuasca' is a complete skeeve-fest because it features completely untrained 'facilitators' attempting to "heal" and "save" wounded and confused individuals via the effects of a powerful psychoactive drug. You can tell that they're untrained, because they gush faux-profound statements like, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life," and other Deepak Chopra nonsense.

As a reality-TV 'guilty pleasure', this show is 10/10 because I feel guilty just watching it.

To be clear, I have no problem with sincere people sincerely trying to help people, but untrained therapists digging into people's wounds and vulnerabilities are playing with a Pandora's Box of psychological issues they know absolutely nothing about. Adding ayahuasca to that mix isn't just unwise, it's reckless.

Steve Hupp (founder and chief shaman) was an alcoholic, a career criminal and a bank robber. Then he did ayahuasca. That's his credentials, right there. Steve holds no professional counselling degree, no certificate in family counseling, no degree in social work. No rehabilitation counselling license. Not even a bachelor's degree in psychology. There is absolutely nothing that qualifies Hupp (or his wife Teri) as mental health workers. And yet, here they are, under the auspices (some might say 'the convenient legal loophole') of religion, administering a powerful entheogenic brew to troubled individuals who visit their Campbellsville, Kentucky trailer park.

The sheer, incomprehensible hubris of having a life-changing experience through an amazonian vegetable drink, and then choosing to believe that this experience (with no supplemental psychological training at all) somehow makes you singularly qualified to administer and supervise intense, drug-fueled healing work with other individuals (let alone call yourself a 'chief shaman') is absolutely mind-boggling.

But the bigger concern might be, why would anyone put their trust in an individual who has elected to make zero investment in his own skill, competence or legitimacy? I mean, even if we agree in theory that an ayahuasca trip is a potentially useful therapeutic tool... why would someone so passionate about healing and saving people choose to limit themselves to one tool? If, for example, your psychologist stubbornly insisted on applying only Jungian Analysis to your problems, regardless of what those problems were, you might wonder what other therapeutic tools were available, or why he/she never bothered to learn them.

According to internationally respected Peruvian shaman Don José Campos¹, in certain areas of the Amazon, there are folks called brujos / brujas² (Spanish for 'sorcerer' / 'sorceress') who impersonate actual Amazonian shamans. They entice gullible tourists to consume ayahuasca in their presence because they believe it allows them to steal the tourists' energy. They have no respect for the sacred nature of the experience, or whatever medicinal effects it may have. They are only interested in using it to increase their own personal power.

I suspect that Steve Hupp is, in a way, a brujo. Except, instead of trying to steal energy or power, he's trying to appropriate acclaim and esteem and notoriety. Not only does this explain his seriously questionable and unqualified life-calling, but it also explains why he might sign up to allow Viceland to do a 6-episode documentary on his 'church' and, more importantly, it's 'chief shaman'.

From what I've seen of the very first episode of this series, I wouldn't even choose Steve and Teri as trip-sitters³, let alone allow them access to my psyche. And not just because they charge $1,990 USD for a private 'ceremony'.  No, I'd be in and out of their trailer-park 'church' before they even got the ayahuasca poured. Five minutes of admiring their tacky collection of skull-related artwork, plus listening to them talk about the benefits of being injected with amazonian frog venom, and listening to their mix-tape of Native American flute music would be enough for me. I frankly couldn't imagine a worse "set & setting"⁴ if I tried.


  1. Campos, D. J., & Overton-Wiese, G. (2011). The Shaman & Ayahuasca: Journeys to Sacred Realms. Studio City, CA: Divine Arts.
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brujer%C3%ADa
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trip_sitter
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Set_and_setting

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