Barefoot, Sex, Sleaze and Life’s 4 Living

There is no connection between the Barefoot Doctor Stephen Russell and Patrick Holford unless you are playing a New Age version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.[1]

However, looking into the Barefoot Doctor, who would have been well-advised to stick to games of footsie or standing on one leg while looking tranquil, Holfordwatch came across a series of associations that suggest the need for a version that should be entitled Six Degrees of Sleaze.

The Barefoot Doctor had never registered on the Holfordwatch radar of interest except for learning that (unlike Gillian McKeith) he is allowed to call himself a doctor in the barefoot tradition rather than the boring, labour-intensive Western Medicine tradition (if only McKeith hadn’t bothered with the PhD-lite and just gone for the claim that she, too, was in the chinese tradition of barefoot healers). Jeremy Carrette and Richard King offer a rare critical voice, protesting that Barefoot Russell commodifies other people’s culture, repackaging and selling it as “quick ‘holistic’ fixes”, bastardising the spiritual wisdom of classic texts to “a philosophy of worldly accommodationism”.[2]

Still, there was nothing more than the passing thought that one should nominate him as the Phone-A-Celebrity in a nightmare edition of WWTBAM in which the final question hinges on knowing your chi from your chakra. There was a natural repugnance when we learned of the revelations that the Barefoot Doctor admits to sexual relationships with women who are somewhere on the time continuum of being his clients. Witness alleged that some women clients complained that he is a sexual predator. Barefoot Russell made some colourful confessions and attempted to draw distinctions between active and former clients which do not seem to have been adjudicated upon as yet and are less than exculpatory.

The ‘Barefoot Doctor’…has been forced to issue an extraordinary statement admitting to having sex with ex-patients in the past.He also confessed to an encounter with a woman on Hampstead Heath during which he remarked on ‘sexual tensions’ between them. She had initially approached him for a private healing session. He admitted exchanging what he calls ‘salacious’ emails with women who approached him because they admired his work.

However, Barefoot, real name Stephen Russell, denies allegations made to the patient group Witness that he made sexual overtures to patients in treatment.

Russell was previously an Observer columnist, although the complaints came to light after he left the paper, and now says he no longer practises…

His statement was posted on a private section of his website after a number of women accusing him of sexually predatory behaviour posted on the site…

Jonathan Coe of Witness said his organisation had received five complaints about Russell relating to patients in treatment at the time of the alleged incident and ex-patients and warned such allegations could become more commonplace under the government’s planned expansion of so-called ‘talking therapies’ to replace anti-depressants for mental-health patients.

Barefoot Russell’s defence seems to be that sex with groupies or celebufreaks[3] is not unknown. This goes beyond the usual tiresome shenanigans of gurus who are carried away with their own publicity and believe themselves to be dispensers of priapic energy, humming, as it were with sexual healing (Marvin Gaye will forgive us).

All of these clients mentioned above were adult women but that does not abrogate the fact that most people would consider that Barefoot Russell had a duty of care which he violated. Egregiously. It is more than possible that a disproportionate number of his clients were vulnerable women with conditions such as depression or anxiety that might increase their vulnerability to a sympathetic listener or sexual manipulator. More so when that listener, teacher, therapist has some form of general approbation as a Celebrity Healer and is mentioned approvingly in lifestyle magazines. Some psychologists would probably argue that the therapeutic relationship in such cases involves a considerably skewed balance of power that would continue even after the ‘healing’ sessions stopped. If so, this potentises the miasma of sleaze that accompanies the admission of sex with former clients.

A sad and sleazy story. Distressingly, the lack of regulation means that Barefoot Russell’s behaviour can not fall under the heading of professional misconduct because he had no regulations to breach. It highlighted the concern by Witness and similar organisations that there is an urgent need for a stricter code of conduct for healthcare practitioners and workers, including those in the unregulated part of the healthcare industry.[4] Witness has particular concerns about the unlicensed Talk Therapists and the relationships that they might form with clients.

The Barefoot Russell declared that he is no longer practising albeit he is still getting a surprising amount of positive publicity.[5]. So, we were a little surprised and wary when we learned that Barefoot Russell is fronting for the Life’s 4 Living Trust. The Trust is dedicated to improving the lives of vulnerable children and their families. Noble aims but there was a feeling that perhaps the charity was not aware of Barefoot Russell’s recent unsavoury history with vulnerable women. After all, it is not unknown for there to be poverty and family tensions in families of terminally-ill children or those with disabilities. Such stressors can lead to spells of vulnerability even for the strongest personalities.

We don’t know. We have no idea whether there are further investigations in progress in relation to Witness‘ allegations. We just thought that the revelations of Barefoot Russell’s sexual misalliances were rather too recent for a charity to be content in placing a celebufreak-enabler (at best) or a ‘healer’ with the taint of exploiting the vulnerable in close juxtaposition with vulnerable young people and women.

Claire Sutton is a director of the Trust. Sutton has outlined plans for a 3-part documentary:

Creation Film & TV will create a powerful 3 part documentary called Life’s 4 Living. Accompanied by our Patron – Barefoot Doctor (AKA Stephen Russell) the film follows a group of five children (ages 5 – 12 years old) and five young adults (ages 16 – 24 years old) on a journey of healing and discovery – which will take them all the way to China where they will experience the ancient healing arts of World-Leading Masters.

We expect to see nothing short of ‘phenomenal results’ for all participants.

Reading that Barefoot Russell is going to be in such close and pressure-cooker proximity to vulnerable young people and possibly family members is a little uncomfortable but one has to draw solace from the fact that there will be other adults on the trip in whom one might repose one’s full confidence. They must be able to look after the welfare of young people and recognise a duty of care when they see one.

So, this is usually where the story would stop. The more salaciously-minded might advise the Trust to stick a broomstick through Barefoot Russell’s sleeves to prevent him from getting too close to anyone. The even more salacious might snicker that that wouldn’t work because it would necessitate him being able to ask for help when dressing or exercising bodily functions. We would decorously refrain from such observations but meekly suggest that the accompanying adults should look into the feasibility of bringing electric cattle-prods with them on the trip because China is one of the few countries where the liberal therapeutic application of electricity is not frowned upon as much as it might be elsewhere.

However, reading through Claire Sutton’s profile and consulting the Charity Commission’s entry for Life’s 4 Living triggered a memory. What with the Barefoot Russell connection, Holfordwatch had been reading the material as if the Trust was being rather naive and were themselves just another example of a hippy-dippy energy therapy that even if it didn’t help, where’s the harm?[6] But, it looks like some of the team behind Life’s 4 Living can cure cancer and Aids and attain even more remarkable goals like training initiates in the power of unassisted flight…

In Part 2 of this series, we shall discuss some of the seamier antecedents of Life’s 4 Living. The training school in New Zealand where people went to learn to be healthy but died of cancer. The Grand Master who claimed to be able to teach people to fly, the Master who can both diagnose and cure cancer, unembarrassed by modern diagnostic or curative techniques. You may also be surprised to learn just who some of the corporate clients are for the business wing of these people. Hint: when you are a large investment bank, entrusted with people’s pensions, or a large media company with a fine investigative tradition, you might want to learn to use Google.


[1] For those of you who really want to know, the web of connections is very short. Professors Patrick Holford and David Smith share common interests, they work together and are both associated with Food for the Brain and others. At one point, David Smith and Professor Kim Jobst worked on the same project, OPTIMA. Jobst is one of the Life’s 4 Living Angels as is the Barefoot Doctor Stephen Russell. Barefoot Russell > Jobst > Smith > Holford.
[2] Quotations are taken from pp. 89-90. JR Carrette, R King; 2004. Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion. Routledge, London.
[3] Celebufreak: a useful word for which Wordlustitude’s citation is:

“Dude, you’re a rancid freak. That’s just who you are. But with the right work ethic, a little sexual barter, and some surgical intervention, you could grow up to be the nastiest celebufreak of them all–if you believe in yourself like I believe in you. Now make your gran-gran proud.”

[4] Witness links to Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence. They offer a document to download on sexual boundaries between healthcare professionals and patients (Word document).

Healthcare professionals should take care not to stray into unacceptable sexual behaviour with patients and professional regulators should offer clear guidance and support, the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence said today.

CHRE, the health professions’ watchdog, has published a set of three documents on clear sexual boundaries between healthcare professionals and patients. The work was commissioned by the Department of Health in response to a series of inquiries into serious breaches of sexual boundaries by healthcare professionals.

They only cover the nine regulators of healthcare professionals in the UK are: the General Chiropractic Council; the General Dental Council; the General Medical Council; the General Optical Council; the General Osteopathic Council; the Health Professions Council; the Nursing and Midwifery Council; the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland; and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.

[5] E.g., the Guardian offers The Barefoot Doctor on Richard Dawkins’ The Enemies of Reason and calls him “an expert on holistic medicine” (however, see some interesting comments on this story at Richard Dawkins. Margaret McCartney interviews The Barefoot Doctor for the FT:

Why did he stop seeing people? “It drained me, it was too much.” I manage to stop myself from asking him why he didn’t use some of that “limitless power” he mentioned earlier.

So, nothing to do with the inadvisability of continuing in practice after you have admitted inappropriate sexual relationships with your clients.
[6] Skepdic briskly rebuts Where’s the harm? and Skeptico examines the argument: What’s The Harm?



Filed under children, health, Life's 4 Living, Mental Health

25 responses to “Barefoot, Sex, Sleaze and Life’s 4 Living

  1. Claire

    On Claire Sutton’s ecademy profile, the Barefoot Doctor waxes lyrical about China, where holistic medicine has been developing uninterruptedly for 5000 years. Or something. The same China which, according to GINA’s 2004 statistics, tops the world table for fatalities per 100,000 asthma sufferers – here:

  2. This is why AltMed practitioners require effective, independent* regulation. All of them. From herbalists to crystal healers, reiki practitioners to nutritionists.
    *We already know that self-regulation doesn’t work – the Society of Homeopaths being probably the best example.

  3. Now, being quick to make clear that I am not implying anything about anyone, this story did remind me about this marvelously ambiguous web site:

  4. pv

    The lack of a legal framework within which quacks are obliged to operate is a situation much to the liking of anyone interested in manipulating or abusing the vulnerable. It’s a criminal omission in my view.
    In almost every other sphere where people can exert influence over a vulnerable public there are checks and balances to try and prevent abuse and to ensure legal sanctions if it does happen; teaching, medical profession, police…
    Without wishing to imply anything untoward with regard to the majority of quacks, one can legitimately question the motives of those drawn to unregulated practice. Power? Influence? Control…?

  5. LeeT

    I used to think regulation was needed, but recently I looked at some websites of some alternative therapists. It made me ask myself how you would actually supervise such people. Wouldn’t it just be regulation of nonsense?

    The current legal position with regard to the mentally ill and contracts is that they can avoid liability if it can be proved the other person was aware of the mental disability. What is to stop some one who has been abused – either financially or sexually – suing the abusor in a civil court for the recovery of the fees they paid out?

    With the exception of the rather bonkers fringe elements these people crave acceptance. Let’s not give it to them!

  6. draust

    The regulation can ONLY work if:

    (i) the regulatory process has teeth

    – it is quite clear the quacks can’t or won’t regulate themselves meaningfully – see the Quackometer’s head-to-head with the Society of Homeopaths

    (ii) non-licensed ones are NOT allowed to DO BUSINESS AT ALL

    – simply saying “they won’t be able to call themselves a “licensed homeopath” is bugger all use, as they will simply do business advertising themself as a “holistic health adviser” or whatever.

    If the regulatory system is not going to do both of the above, it is worthless.

    Anyway, as David Colquhoun has said, how can you “regulate” a homeopath, or a Reiki healer , who simply doesn’t believe in the scientific theory of disease causation?

    Meaningful regulation would perhaps be “only “treat” self-limiting minor conditions, send actually sick people to real doctors”. But there is zero realistic prospect of this happening. How will they know who is “sick” if they believe the person’s asthma is to do with “misaligned energy fields”, or with “suppressed childhood trauma”?

  7. @draust

    so then what? It sounds like you’re implying that we should ban the practice of alternative medicine outright.

  8. draust

    No, Robin. I not suggesting you should ban it all. What I think is that there are two options:

    1. No regulation whatsoever, as self-regulation is worthless (see my last comment) and it is very hard to have an effective oversight system at all;


    2. Compulsory regulation for ALL “Alt Health” practitioners, PLUS it to be clearly illegal to work IN ANY WAY outside of the regulatory framework. And the compulsory regulation would NOT be done by the Alt practitioners themselves, as hitherto they have shown quite clearly that they cannot be trusted to do it in any meaningful way.

    How would this work in practise?

    Well, let’s take a setting where someone approaches the Alt practitioner and says “I want homeopathic treatment for my bad back”. The Alt practitioner has to ask “have you been to talk to a conventional doctor about this”. If the patient says “No”, they have to say “well you really must do first before I can help you”. They have to NOT say “well of course homeopathy can CURE this…” Ever. They have to NOT say “conventional medicine doesn’t deal with this well as it fails to consider the whole patient”, or any of the other usual falsehoods they use to deceive people.

    … and if they break these rules they are barred from practising for “gross misconduct”. Similarly if they purport to treat cancer, if they claim to treat diabetes, if they give bogus prophylaxis against malaria, etc etc – struck off and lose their right to make a living.

    That would be the only effective sanctioning system. Nothing less is worth a damn. Nothing

    I have no problem with CAM if the practitioners:

    1. Stick to dealing with a limited repertoire of self-limiting complaints where their nostrum do not have the potential to cause harm, whether directly or by omission (avoiding real treatments).

    2. Send people with complaints outwith this to real doctors.

    3. Have enough “general health skills” to tell the difference between 1. and 2. in most cases.


    4. Are legally prevented from doing business (and subject to prosecution if they do) if they are deficient in any of 1., 2. or 3.

    Of course, it is not easy to run a system like this, as it would require a significant regulatory bureaucracy, plus major changes to the way Alt practitioners are trained. But it is not impossible This is basically the system they have in Germany, so it can be done, though it is hardly perfect in practise.

  9. Pingback: Life’s 4 Living, The Energy Clinic, Claire Sutton and Sarah McCrum « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

  10. Pingback: Life’s 4 Living: bizarre energy-medicine ‘cure’ for MS « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

  11. This has been a vicious, sustained and unprovoked attack on this charity, Life’s 4 Living. Over the next days, Life’s 4 Living will refute each and every allegation contained in this spurious document. Please keep watching the Life’s 4 Living website ( ) for developments. If anything needs further investigation it is the cowardly and anonymous author(s) of this wholly untrue piece of shoddy, so-called investigative journalism.

  12. Essy

    Well done for highlighting the unscrupulous Barefoot Doctor’s practices. I know nothing about Life’s4living, but do know one of the women who went to Barefoot Doctor for help. Where this man says they were ex-patients, I have it on very good authority that ex meant about 20 minutes after a treatment had finished. He is by all accounts, a skilled manipulator and because he claims to no longer practice, he gets away with it. However, when the accusations that came to light through the Observer article above, he was still not practicing, but the women who spoke out publicly were women he roped in through his website. I think he confessed to having about ten salacious email correspondents going on at the time to one of the women. I doubt very much whether he has changes his habits, but he is probably just a bit more discreet. I also doubt whether any woman -the ‘ex-patients’ he mentions would ever speak out publicly though, as it would be very hard to prove, and the publicity would be very hard to take. So he gets away with it. Keep up the good work.

  13. Essy, that is horribly sad and we can only hope that anybody who has had such experiences is recovering from them with the help of friends, family and appropriate other support. Even if the strict ethical code regarding the timeline was not breached it does not look good to some people.

    Thanks for your words of support.

  14. [MODERATOR EDIT: Life’s 4 Living posted an identical (long) comment on three of our blog posts. To keep things tidy, I have deleted duplicates – you can see their comment here.]

  15. Essy

    It’s interesting to see Mr Barefoot has taken down the Life4Living logo, which appeared in a prominent position, shortly after his exploitative behaviour of women became publicised. I believe there were a few raised eyebrows about it’s appearance in the first place, what with the timing and all.

    Thanks dvnutrix for your kind words. I believe the original problem that she went to see him for, was strongly compounded by his sexual assault on her person. So, yes, it was very sad indeed.

  16. Pingback: Questions for Life’s 4 Living « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

  17. Pingback: Life’s 4 Living and Barefoot Doctor: inconsistencies in their account of events « Holford Watch: Patrick Holford, nutritionism and bad science

  18. Michael

    This is so interesting. There are other claims about such kinds of going on on,25113,page=12

  19. gabby

    Charities are allowed to hold ONE street collection a year. Life’s4Living are at it all the time. The Met. Police have admonished them about this but they still hassle people in Islington. And what charity promises to pay its street collectors ‘£30 – £80 a day? See–immediate-start/5595268

  20. L Konig

    This is a rather sleazy item accusing Stephen Russell of potential paedophilia and/or his potential desire to seduce the mothers of “vunerable” children. It also suggests that families that suffer from poverty have some kind of broken moral compass that will render them to desperate or stupid to look after themselves. You at Holfordwatch should be ashamed of yourselves, but this site seems shameless altogether. Let us remember: Russell seduced grown middle-class women who should know — and probably DID know — better. To use this fact as an excuse for spreading slime is unforgivable and doesn’t say much for your supposed integrity.

    • olderwiser

      it’s not spreading slime, and no doubt you are one of the many blinded groupies/ hangers on. if u are a woman, i’d advise you to stay well out of his way. it’s touching that you are so loyal, and that is exactly what makes you so vulnerable.

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