Retreat Guru, the Canadian company that took over an Oregon psychedelics training program from Synthesis Institute, gave students two options to continue the program, one with a delay and another without.
The company made no mention of refunds, which several students have named as their preference in complaints to the Oregon Department of Justice.
“Though most have indicated intentions to complete their program, we are aware that individual students and pod groups have varying levels of willingness and eagerness to return to the content,” Retreat Guru said in the email to students. “It is clear that there is no single way forward that will work for every student and every pod, so we are offering flexibility and a spirit of accommodation.”
Retreat Guru called the two options “Track A” and “Track B.” They differ very little, except that “Track A will take a measured, slow paced approach to resuming content, creating space for additional integration and processing together,” Retreat Guru said in the email. Track A students would finish the 13-month program a month late in December, while Track B students would complete it on time in November.
In his complaint to the Oregon DOJ, Benjamin Estes of Chamberlain, S.D., said he wanted his money back. “It would be appropriate to receive my full tuition amount as Synthesis has breached their end of the contract by not providing learning services,” Estes wrote.
Retreat Guru didn’t return an email seeking comment on the two plans.
Along with the message to students, Retreat Guru sent a video from program director Frederica Helmiere, who said she had been rehired by Retreat Guru after being fired by Synthesis on March 2.
“It’s very hard to find words for what we have collectively experienced,” Helmiere says in the video. “I think trauma is an appropriate word to use for what we’ve gone through. I’ve been reminded often of a very brutal ayahuasca journey that I experienced back in December. It’s crossed my mind often that this has been the professional equivalent of a pretty brutal psychedelic trip.”
Helmiere is a graduate of Dartmouth College, according to her LinkedIn profile. She holds two master’s degrees from Yale University, one from the Divinity School and another from the Environment School. She has a certificate in “alchemical leadership” from Wayfinding Inc.
Helmiere says she was just as surprised as her students by Synthesis’ sudden collapse.
“I did not see this coming,” Helmiere says in the video. “There were some hints and clues along the way, but I did not have access to what was happening in senior leadership team meetings. And there was a lot that was just kept silent and secret. We were just receiving these very unsatisfying kind of half answers. I just want to acknowledge how incredibly frustrating that was for you and for us as well.”
Helmiere says she decided to join Retreat Guru because the founders there seem sincere about maintaining the high standards in Synthesis Institute’s curriculum, which is still intact, online.
“I’ve decided to stay on because I think that something meaningful can emerge from this wreckage,” Helmiere says. “I’ve been thinking lately about this quote from the Sikh activist and filmmaker Valarie Kaur, who talks about the darkness of the tomb and the darkness of the womb and what might be—in this very challenging time—being birthed.”