A Woman Psychologist Demands I Pay Her For an Interview and Calls Me A Racist When I Decline

Photo by Nsey Benajah on Unsplash

I’ve been trying to find women who are affiliated with psychedelic medicine — not wannabe practioners, but those who have done real work. I came across a not-exactly-scientifically-sound paper written by a psychologist associated with the University of Ottowa titled: ‘Diversity, equity, and access in psychedelic medicine.’ Her prior written work was singularly focused on “microaggressions” dozens of articles, and even a textbook devoted to them: fighting microaggressions, locating and identifying people who might have committed them; the ways in which microaggressions could cause harm.

Despite her questionable scientific credibility, I contacted her anyway. Including women’s voices in the psychedelic medicine story hasn’t been easy. I’ve been trying to find them.

The psychologist’s assistant surprised me by responding to my interview request with a demand for $250 per hour. The assistant’s email came from what emerged to be the psychologist’s Connecticut-based for-profit ketamine* clinic. I was floored. No one makes demands like this in journalism. I hadn’t seen anything like it in 35 career years and counting. A journalist asking to speak with a scientist about her research is a gift. Journalistic curiousity benefits your work. If your work is important, you want people to know about it.

Unfortunately, that’s not how this went down.

I’m including part of the exchange I had with her.

From me:

Dear Dr xxx

I am a science journalist and writer. I’m working on a book about
psychedelic drugs replacing psychotherapy. The working title is: Brave
New World: the case for psychedelic therapy. I’ve written extensively
about this topic in the past. I was a subject in a clinical trial at
Johns Hopkins using psilocybin to treat cancer related depression. My
book-in-progress is memoir braided with science.

I’m including links to some articles, as well as my 2013 Scientific
American Mind article “Calming a Turbulent Mind,” about my experience
as a subject in the clinical trial at Johns Hopkins, as well as the
scientific basis for psychedelics as medicine. As a matter of
professional record, it was this article Michael Pollan plagiarized to
sell his 2018 book.

I am very concerned about the way the field is headed, and the lack of
planning to include under-represented people: uninsured women, people
of colour, migrant or transient populations.

I myself am the only *woman* whose experience I’ve been able to
represent in my book, among all researchers and subjects; and I am
very concerned about this field turning into the mental health
equivalent of botox treatment: rich white men, and women who can
afford to pay 350 per session for 30 years of psychonalysis. That
isn’t public health.

PTSD, reactive depression, demoralization syndrome must be addressed,
OCD, must be addressed by psychedelics. Gender and sexual mental
health issues are very important to me; and I don’t see any evidence
that any of these clinical trials and plans for commercialization are
addressing those issues — especially in light of the Covid-19
pandemic, when more people will need access to mental health treatment
than ever before.

I would love to talk with you and find out what your ideas are, and
how to address some of this in my book. I live in France, so a 6 hour
time difference between the eastern US/Canada and here. Zoom works
well for me.

I look forward to speaking with you.

Kind regards,

Erica Rex

From her ketamine clinic office manager:

Dear Erica,

My name is xxs and I am Dr xxx’s office manager. Thank you for reaching out to her! Dr. xxx’s schedule is very busy at the moment. At this time she would only be available to consult per her hourly fee which is $250 USD. Let me know if this is something you are interested in, and if so, how long were you looking at?

Thank you and take care,

xxx Office Manager

My outraged response:

Dear xxx, and Dr xxx,

This is the most offensive communication I have yet received in my
very long career when I’ve asked to speak with the corresponding
author of a scientific paper — whether a scientist or a doctor or
other professional — about his or her scientific paper, which, in your
case is: “Diversity, equity, and access in psychedelic medicine.” I
can only assume your assistant’s avaricious response on your behalf is
reflective of your general attitude about your topic. Your ketamine
therapy as the drug on offer maybe indicative of where your interests
actually lie.

Best wishes,

Erica Rex

Dr xxx’s response:

Hello Erica,

I did receive your phone message, and I am now seeing your email below. I am sorry that my consulting fee is offensive to you. As a Black woman and diversity educator, I find there is an expectation that I will do work for free — whether that be educating, consulting, assisting, etc. And when I am compensated, I am routinely offered much less than equally accomplished White male peers.

I get daily requests to do talks, interviews, workshops, trainings, and to provide advice on diversity issues. I do this at no charge for students and those of low-income. I do wish I could do all my work for free, but unfortunately there are too many demands on my time for this to be practical. This is all on top of my full-time university job.

I am wondering if you are doing your job, as a science journalist and writer, for free. If you don’t, then I am not sure I should work for free either. But I am open to your suggestions on this matter. How does one navigate all of this?

Best regards,

I wrote back that I did not need to speak to her; and that she probably couldn’t contribute to the topic I wanted to address after all. Her proprietorship of a lucrative ketamine clinic made the point moot.

Her response:

Hi Erica,

I find your approach unnecessarily aggressive. We may have a difference of opinion or understanding here — BUT, telling an intelligent Black woman she does not understand something in such a patronizing tone is a microaggression at best and frank racism at worst. I have experienced you as demanding and entitled since I got your phone message. I owe you nothing. I am not your slave. Don’t ever come at me again with your racism.

I probably should have seen this coming. Someone who leads with the chip on her shoulder will find a way to accuse anyone of victimizing her. The most disturbing part of the experience was not how unprofessional she was, but how she employed the same rage techniques used by powerful white males to twist the discourse, giving herself permission to grind me under her heel with a derisive label. She’d demanded payment for an interview. I was outraged. This isn’t done in my field, not ever. Her utter absence of knowledge pointed to her lack of scientific legitimacy. A request like this would not have entered the head of a real researcher. I objected; so I was declared a racist. Victimhood, distorted and distilled, to a really unfortunate end, and used as a weapon.

Where have I seen this kind of manipulation before? Psychiatry, of course, and behavioral psychology: the professional grants herself the moral authority to vitiate someone by diagnosing her, or by labelling her with slur. The person who has protested a wrongdoing is not permitted to have feelings. No way. The realm of feeling — of anger, rage, victimhood — is reserved for the perpetrator. Did she address my original concern? Of course not. Indignation over a demand for money turns into an act of racism. A trick used by psychologists — and adapted to great effect by entitled white men. It’s not a good look for the men; and it’s not a good look for a modern academic psychologist.

After some consideration, I sent her another note. I doubt she’ll read it, but I sent it anyway. Here’s part of it:

My note was not a micro-aggression. It was a *macro expression* of
disbelief and alarm at the lack of professionalism and lack of
knowledge on your part, the likes of which I have never encountered
before in someone who is associated with an institution of higher
learning, purporting to be doing serious research. The only reason I’m
taking time to reply is because *I feel badly for you.*

Nothing about your research, your presentation of yourself, or your
approach — accusation of racism? — makes you credible — except insofar
as how seriously you’ve undercut your own message. If you’re bent on
finding ‘micro-aggressions’ in every communication with anyone who
objects to your demand for money after they’ve expressed interest in
your research believe me, you will find them, you surely will, whether
they exist or not.

If you want to be taken seriously as a researcher, educate yourself.
Your chip on your shoulder will stand in your way, though, regardless.
Your vehement display of it will defeat you.

Get some help. Talk to someone. You may benefit by getting feedback
and advice from your superiors and your peers.

*Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic drug which is legal for use in emergency rooms. It became a street drug “special K” some years ago. Ketamine is not a psychedelic drug. Unlike other classes of anesthetic or dissociative drugs — like heroin — it was never outlawed, despite its addictiveness and some serious toxic effects which include chronic cystitis. It’s become a lucrative, dangerous, unregulated stand-in treatment for depression, and is being used a kind of clinical place-holder for the as-yet-to happen psychedelic medical clinic of the future. It’s a cheap drug, and doctors — and I gather now, psychologists — are making a mint from using it off-label, opening ‘psychedelic clinics’ and serving up ketamine. It’s the only legal dissociative on offer. This practice has the potential to undermine the credibility of psychedelic medicine altogether.

Writer for NYT, Sci Am Nat‘l Mag Award. Climate, mental health, wild things. erica.rex@gmail.com. Newsletter https://psychedelicrenaissance.substack.com/

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