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Notes on James S. Gordon, MD,
Chair of the White House Commission on
Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy

E. Patrick Curry

James S. Gordon, MD, Chairman of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy, is a clinical professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine. He is also associate clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. He is a Phi Beta Kappa Harvard graduate (1962) who also graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Medical School (1967) [1].

He is a fellow of the Fetzer Institute, the foundation that funded the 1991 study by David Eisenberg, MD, that exaggerated the usage of alternative medicine by Americans. The Fetzer Institute funds a large array of alternative medicine initiatives and has even sponsored forums for advocates of psychedelic experience and spirituality. Dr. Gordon is best known for running The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C., which sponsors conferences on aberrant and implausible cancer remedies [2].

Immediately upon his 1967 graduation from medical school, during the 1960s counterculture, Dr. Gordon volunteered for one year at the Haight-Asbury Free Clinic in San Francisco, helping to ease young "seekers" through their experimentation with drugs. He became enamored with the "Insanity is Sanity" philosophy of British psychiatrist R. D. Laing. He studied with Laing in London in the winter of 1969-70 [3] during the period when Laing was deteriorating under the effects of years of his own personal LSD experimentation [4].

Then, during his psychiatric residency at New York City's Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Dr. Gordon attempted to implement Laing's concept of a "therapeutic community". There, according to Dr. Gordon, psychotics could simply "come and go through their psychosis." He came to believe that serious psychological illnesses like schizophrenia "seemed instead like different ways of being." [5] Dr. Gordon then went on to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), having a number of research positions relating to adolescent and community psychiatry. During this time, he also became increasingly involved with aspects of "holistic medicine." By the late 1970s, Gordon was well placed in NIH and was appointed director of a study of alternative mental health services for The President's Commission on Mental Health under the Carter Administration.

"Alternative Services ­ A Special Study," [6] Dr. Gordon's short appendix in the 1978 commission report, included sections praising holistic medicine and the midwifery philosophy of a counterculture commune, "the Farm," which was founded by psychedelic advocate Stephen Gaskin. An entire section of Gordon's report concerns "Alternative Treatments for Psychotic Adults." It supports the "creative insanity" philosophy of Carl Jung and R. D. Laing as an "alternative treatment for psychotic adults." R. D. Laing is quoted as referring to schizophrenia as "a voyage into self of a potentially revolutionary nature."

While he was directing this presidentially commissioned study, Gordon was a supporter of the movement of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the authoritarian Indian guru who was deported from the United States in 1986 after being accused of poisoning local townspeople who opposed his commune in Antelope, Oregon [7]. Dr. Gordon was introduced to the ideas of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh by his acupuncture teacher. He became a practitioner of the Bhagwan's wild Sufi dancing technique called Dynamic Meditation, which he also offered as a therapy in his psychiatric practice. This consists of a "mind expanding" technique of whirling and spinning to dizziness and sometimes hallucination.

A recent interview with Gordon's acupuncture teacher, Shyam Singha D.O., D.Ac., who introduced him to the Bhagwan, is available online [8]. Singha claims the education of Gordon to be one of his two greatest successes: "His students have included Dr. J.R. Worsley, the renowned English acupuncturist and educator, and Dr. James Gordon, the holistic physician and author from Washington, D.C. who serves on the faculty of the Georgetown University School of Medicine."

By the mid-70s, while a follower/disciple, Dr. Gordon attempted to get an NIMH grant to "study" Rajneesh at his commune in Poona, India. The State Department intervened, quashing the NIMH grant because Rajneesh was considered a cult figure. Undeterred, Gordon traveled to India at his own expense to study with Rajneesh. He was impressed with how the commune combined Western human potential therapies (rebirthing, attack, primal, orgone therapy, etc) with Eastern mysticism in Rajneesh's attempt to construct a "New Man." He was also impressed with the wide variety of "alternative" medicine offered at the commune. His close involvement continued after the wealthy Rajneesh, under investigation from Indian tax authorities, moved his commune to the United States -- eventually taking over the town of Antelope, Oregon. A very sizable percentage of Rajneesh's followers were psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers. A number of the commune's therapeutic group leaders were associated with the San Francisco's Esalen Institute -- a northern California nursery of the New Age movement.

Gordon's 1988 book "The Golden Guru" purports to be a psychological study of Rajneesh's movement as it turned from a world transforming force to an authoritarian controlling group. However, the book is filled with elaborate apologies both for the Rajneesh and for Gordon's own involvement with the cult. In this book, he describes his own "rebirthing" experience at Rajneesh's Indian commune [10], defends the commune's use of violent psychotherapies [11], justifies Rajneesh's accumulation of 93 Rolls Royces as a spiritual lesson showing "contempt" for wealth [12], and partially blames the Oregon commune's deterioration on the intolerance of local Oregonians. Gordon appears to have been an enthusiastic supporter of the Rajneesh from the early 1970s through the time of Rajneesh's expulsion from the United States in 1985 under threat of prosecution for conspiring to poison Oregon townspeople and commune members. (In 1984, more than 700 people had salmonella poisoning after Rajneesh and his followers inoculated area restaurant foods with fecal bacteria in attempt to keep local residents away from the polls.)

Dr. Gordon to this date continues to sell Audio CDs of the Rajneesh's "Dynamic Meditation" and "Kundalini Meditation" at his own Center for Mind-Body Medicine's Online Bookstore. The tapes are sold under the deceased Rajneesh's pseudonym of "OSHO." [13]

During the 1980s Gordon continued to gain influence within alternative mental health and holistic medicine circles. When the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) was founded in 1992, he was one of three co-directors of the OAM's Mind-Body Panel, along with Dr. Larry Dossey and Jungian transpersonal psychologist Jeanne Achterberg. Their seminal Mind-Body Intervention report laid the basis for the mystical, parapsychologically-oriented direction of OAM's and NCCAM's Mind-Body research [14].

Dr. Gordon was appointed the very first chairman of the OAM's Program Advisory Council. Through his Center for Mind-Body Medicine, Gordon has also organized a series of Comprehensive Cancer Care Conferences that have gathered together practitioners of aberrant methods with officials of the NIH and the American Cancer Society. Both latter organizations appear to want to cooperate with advocates of the New Age medicine [15].

Gordon's book based on these conferences, "Comprehensive Cancer Care," is included on the Quackwatch web site's list of non-recommended cancer books [16]. Another of Gordon's books, "Manifesto for a New Medicine," supports almost all aberrant alternative practices..

Dr. Gordon continues to embrace many ideas outside of medicine, sitting on the Scientific Advisory Board of Harvard psychiatrist Dr..John Mack's Program for Extraordinary Experience Research (PEER). Dr. Mack believes that hundreds of thousands of Americans may have at one time been abducted by aliens and uses "alien-abduction therapy," which assumes the experiences are real [17].

Dr. Gordon was a speaker at a 1997 conference of followers of "orgone energy" theorist Wilhelm Reich [18]. Gordon challenged the participants to undertake clinical trials of Reich's "orgone accumulator." [19] Speakers at this conference also led discussions of UFOs. Dr. Gordon also has a special interest in UFOs, having written a 1991 article on "The UFO Experience' for the Atlantic Monthly.

Dr. Gordon apparently supports Jungian "transpersonal" mystics, as at the Life After Death conference in 1999 [20].

Dr. Gordon interjected himself into the Oklahoma Bombing case. He sent a statement to the court in the trial of Terry Nichols, claiming that based on his reading of Nichol's letters that Nichols was not violent and should not receive a long prison term [21].

Dr. Gordon's views of the importance of his activities with the White House commission can be gleaned from the following description and quotations from one of his talks. Though not explicit here, the changes he predicts would revolutionize medicine along the lines expressed in his Manifesto for a New Medicine, and also revolutionize all of biology. Dr. Gordon was quite enthusiastic when he discussed the importance of the commission; he believes that the commission will have nothing less than a revolutionary effect on the future of medicine:

I believe that the report we are going to provide the president in two years has the potential to be, for medicine in the 21st century, as important as the Flexner report was to medicine in the 20th century. The Flexner report was the result of a committee created at the beginning of the 20th century to develop policies and standards for medical education. The report of the Flexner commission had a profound effect in establishing standards for scientific medical education that helped bring American medicine into modern times. I believe our commission can have an equally significant effect in this century. I don't perceive our goal as limited to discussing research approaches to CAM practices; I see it far more expansive. I believe this commission has an opportunity to look at medicine and health care from a different perspective that can lead to a new model of medicine and even a new model of human biology [22].

WHCCAMP is expected to recommend to President Bush that nonsensical medicine be afforded equal status with standard scientific medicine. Its November 2001 draft report recommends across-the-board "integration" of CAM into government health agencies and the nation's medical, medical education, and insurance systems. This effort would be overseen by a coordinating office "at the highest possible level," which would coordinate with a national policy advisory board established by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. These recommendations are an affront to medical science and an assault on consumer protection.

For Additional Information

Footnotes

  1. James S. Gordon, M.D. Curriculum vitae on HealthWorld Online, 1999.
  2. The Mind Body Center
  3. Interview with Barry Chowka. Nutrition Science News, September. 1996 ; documentary copy November 19,2001.
  4. Burston, Daniel, The Wing of Madness: The Life and Work of R. D. Laing, Cambridge, Mass; Harvard University Press; 1996: 79-92, 51-61, 125-131.
  5. Interview with Barry Chowka, Nutrition Science News, September 1996.
  6. Alternative Services: A Special Study (Final Report to The President's Commission on Mental Health of the Special Study on Alternative Mental Health Services, James S. Gordon, Director)), in Task Panel Reports Submitted to the President's Commission on Mental Health, President's Commission on Mental Health, Volume II, Appendix. 1978.
  7. Gordon, James S., The Golden Guru, Lexington, Mass; The Stephen Greene Press; 1987.
  8. Shyam Singha Interview; documentary copy November 18, 2001.
  9. Gordon, The Golden Guru, pp. 17-18.
  10. Ibid., pp. 86-89.
  11. Ibid., pp. 84-86.
  12. Ibid., pp. 114.
  13. Online Bookstore of Center for Mind-Body Medicine; documentary copy November 18, 2001.
  14. Mind-Body Interventions, Report of Office of Alternative Medicine Mind-Body Panel, documentary copy October 4, 2001.
  15. Center for Mind-Body Medicine
  16. A special message to patients seeking alternative cancer treatments. Quackwatch Web site.
  17. PEER website; documentary copy November 19, 2001.
  18. Wilhelm Reich Centennial: An Energetic Celebration, Nov. 1997; documentary copy, September 9, 2000.
  19. Mannion, Michael. "The Orgone Energy Accumulator: It is Time for Clinical Trials"; documentary copy November 19, 2001. Note: Gordon collaborator, Wilhelm Reich Conference organizer, Neutraceutical Journalist and UFO reporter Michael Mannion reports in "Energy Medicine and Encounters with Non-Human Intelligences" that "energy medicine" may have been introduced to Earth by encounters of "subtle energy healers" with space aliens; documentary copy November 19, 2001.
  20. 1999 "LifeDeathAfterDeath" conference of parapsychologists and mystics; documentary copy November 19, 2001.
  21. Defense expert: Nichols had no outrage over Waco; Denver Post Online, June 3, 1998, Also, "Judge to Sentence Nichols for Oklahoma bombing," CNN June 4, 1998.
  22. Gonzalez, Nicholas, M.D. "Alternative Medicine Comes of Age" posted at Dr. Gonzalez' website; documentary copy November 19,2001. Note: Dr. Gonzalez is the recipient of a major NCCAM research grant to study enema and vitamin treatments for cancer. He is a strong supporter of Dr. Gordon. He has also been convicted in two civil suits of medical malfeasance in his treatments of cancer patients according to a 4/20/00 Associated Press article by Samuel Maul, "Coffee Enema Doctor Sentenced."

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This article is slightly modified from the Fall 2001 issue of The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. Mr. Curry is a consumer health activist who resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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This article was revised on February 28, 2002.