Unconventional medicine, spirituality… Since Covid

After two years of health crisis, Scientologists and Jehovah’s Witnesses are now in competition with the new health and well-being gurus in the sights of Miviludes. The interministerial mission responsible for combating sectarian aberrations reported on Thursday a record increase in referrals and pointed in particular to the surge in reports concerning “therapeutic aberrations and unconventional care practices”.

Reports had already increased at the start of the health crisis. Two years later, they literally exploded. Sectarian aberrations are the subject of a “significant increase” in referrals, revealed Thursday, November 3 the Interministerial Mission for vigilance and the fight against sectarian aberrations (Miviludes) in his latest report.

The organization, attached to the Ministry of the Interior, reports a 33.6% increase – a record level – in referrals in 2021 compared to 2020. And the Covid-19 pandemic has a lot to do with it. According to Miviludes, the context of the health crisis has led to a “renewed activity” of its health center (744 referrals) with a large number of reports concerning “therapeutic excesses and unconventional care practices” (544), but also a intensification of religious or spiritual proselytism and the advent of new gurus, in particular thanks to social networks.

Sectarian drift is “a deviation from the freedom of thought, opinion or religion which undermines public order, laws or regulations, fundamental rights, the security or integrity of persons. It is characterized by the implementation, by an organized group or by an isolated individual, whatever its nature or activity, of pressures or techniques aimed at creating, maintaining or exploiting in a person a state of psychological or physical subjection, depriving him of part of his free will, with harmful consequences for this person, his entourage or for society. – Miviludes website.

>> To read – The Covid-19 pandemic, “a boon” for sects in France

“Doctors are in science, charlatans in patmedicine”

“The excesses related to health are among the most worrying”, comments to AFP the Secretary of State for Citizenship, Sonia Backès, in charge of these subjects. “When you ask someone not to follow their treatment by selling them an alternative treatment instead, you can put that person’s life in danger”.

The Miviludes activity report points in particular to naturopathy, reiki, new Germanic medicine, and even fasting. Practices that have continued to develop during the health crisis, which has resulted in a growing rejection of conventional medicine.

Already in the sights of Miviludes in 2020, “gurus 2.0” are again the subject of special attention. Thanks to social networks, “isolated and perfectly autonomous manipulators were able to easily exploit this context to spread their doctrine”, explains the organization. By doing so, they “have been able to afford not only a veritable advertising showcase for their activity, but also a space to bring together and control a virtual community whose suffering is – for its part – very real”.

“The Covid-19 played a big role in the increase in these sectarian excesses because the population was very afraid”, explains Charline Delporte, president of the National Center for Family Support in the Face of Sectarian Influence (Caffes). “People who are more vulnerable to fear have been seduced by antivax and alternative medicine practitioners, have been financially tricked and have fallen into thrall.”

A “mental grip” which, according to the Caffes, follows the following mechanism: “seduction, conditioning, family breakdown, contractualization, addiction (implying the impossibility of doing without one’s mentor), then the click allowing the victim to leave of the right-of-way”, explains Charline Delporte.

In the Miviludes report, figures such as Thierry Casasnovas, self-proclaimed naturopath and youtuber, pope of raw food – a diet that consists of eating exclusively raw foods – are again singled out, notably offering vitalism courses ( philosophy that conceives vital energy as an immaterial factor essential to health and healing), but also Jean-Jacques Crèvecœur, personal development trainer and Belgian polemicist, known for his conspiracy and anti-vaccine activism.

On social networks, under the articles denouncing his practices, many Internet users, committed to his cause or simple sympathizers, find to defend Thierry Casasnovas, or more broadly unconventional medicines such as naturopathy.

“That man [Thierry Casasnovas] is not a guru, he is simply against the current doctrine”, defends a Twitter user.

While the Miviludes report has just been published, another Internet user, presenting himself as a midwife, wonders: “Are you mixing naturopaths with gurus and spiritual guides? That is really ignoring their training and skills specific by throwing everyone in the same basket, even if vigilance is of course required in the face of charlatanism”.

To this, Charline Delporte responds using the example of homeopathy. “A homeopathic doctor will treat you because he has had a diploma after ten years of study, but can then choose to treat with gentler methods. The doctor is in science, while the charlatans are in patamedicine (term used by Professor Marcel-Francis Kahn, a great figure in French rheumatology, to designate non-rational medicines, based on beliefs and not on scientific demonstrations, Ed)”.

At the end of October, the online appointment booking platform, Doctolib, made a decision to put the church back in the middle of the village. Nearly 6,000 alternative medicine practitioners will be deleted from its databases in the next six months. After receiving several reports and criticisms from the College of Physicians, the platform has chosen to list only professionals referenced by health authorities and to remove unregulated professions such as naturopaths, sophrologists, magnetizers or even the mediums.

>> To read – Doctolib, a French success story revealing serious flaws

Miviludes, which is concerned about the mental influence exerted by certain “dérapeuthes” (a portmanteau word that it forms from the words “dérapage” and “therapist”) nevertheless recalls that “any therapeutic drift or any unconventional practice is not [nécessairement] sectarian”.

Young people, prime targets

Apart from health, abuses in the personal development sector are also monitored by the interministerial mission. With 173 referrals in 2021, including 54% on coaching specifically, this subject mainly affects young people aged 16 to 25.

“Young people are prime targets,” explains Charline Delporte. They have expectations, needs, and want to give meaning to their lives”, she continues, referring to their strong desire for spirituality and their need to form groups of “friends”. eco-villages, and anthroposophy (movement of thought wanting to be close to nature and seeing the world as animated by spiritual forces, Editor’s note) which presents a risk of sectarian drift”.

>> To listen on RFI – “Sectarian aberrations concern all age groups and social categories”

In its report, Miviludes largely discusses the issue of eco-villages, which it describes as “community and autarkic places of life where the inhabitants maintain a strong relationship with nature, agriculture and self-sufficiency”. Choosing such a way of life is not reprehensible in itself, but the interministerial mission is concerned about “situations of children dropping out of school, exhaustion, malnutrition, abuse of weakness, fraud, breach of trust, psychological or even physical or sexual violence”.

A link is established between the success of these eco-villages and the Covid-19 pandemic. Also recruiting widely on social networks, these structures “rely on a difficult health and economic context to offer a new way of life allegedly detached from the difficulties of the outside world”, specifies the Miviludes report, which evokes “a manifestation of separatism mixed with a background of conspiracy”.

Alongside “spirituality multinationals”, such as the Church of Scientology (33 referrals), or the Jehovah’s Witnesses (99 referrals), the security unit of Miviludes had to deal with reports concerning neo-shamanism, sacred feminine and masculinism. The French branch of the international association Mankind Project is notably monitored for “radical changes in behavior” observed following “initiation courses in masculinity”.

In this context, Sonia Backès announced the organization of “Assizes of sectarian aberrations and conspiracy in early 2023” to bring together the actors in the fight against these phenomena and come up with a roadmap for the years to come.

A very important event, enthuses Charline Delporte. “With the associations, we will finally be able to draw up an inventory of the rights of way and the leaders who have been raging for years and make their victims faithful and wise slaves.”

Unconventional medicine, spirituality… Since Covid-19, sectarian aberrations have exploded