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The Guru of Toluca Lake: Acolytes Allege a Hollywood Acting Coach Became a False Prophet

To her devotees, Candace Silvers — daughter of comedian Phil Silvers — is a brash mentor leading a breakthrough self-improvement movement. But for dozens of former followers, she’s something far more troubling: "People are being poisoned emotionally."

Actress Lindsey McKeon had long sensed that something was wrong. That she’d lost herself, been led astray. Like others before her, and many after her, it’s why she ultimately left Candace Silvers, the hypnotic L.A. acting teacher turned life coach who didn’t just instruct in technique but in the deepest mysteries of personal fulfillment. McKeon left even though her departure meant disconnection from a tight-knit group with whom she’d grown uniquely close, sharing not just pivotal experiences but intimate secrets.

Yet McKeon — who’d played Katie Peterson on Saved by the Bell: The New Class and Taylor James on One Tree Hill — says it took a visit to a cult debriefer to understand the true scope of what had become of her. How the main role she’d played in the preceding seven years had been as a key lieutenant to her guru, building her business and bringing in clientele. McKeon says she had even taken on the ” ‘creepy stare’ people get while under the spell” of charismatic leaders. The visit to the debriefer was, she says, “confirmation: ‘I’m not crazy, this happened, what we all went through was what we were thinking it was.’ ”

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McKeon, who is married to Silvers’ husband’s son — they met when she was still a committed acolyte — is not alone in cutting ties with her teacher. More than three dozen former students and staffers claim that Silvers, who in recent years has also expanded into energy healing, is a toxic guru who exploits Eastern culture for profit and leverages clients’ painful personal information as a means of subjugation. They claim Silvers, 59, a native of Beverly Hills and daughter of Hollywood — her father, Phil, who died in 1985, played Sgt. Bilko on TV and was the star of the films It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum — found a prime demographic among entertainment industry hopefuls.

“She brainwashed us,” says Jessica Sutta, who met Silvers in 2006, as her pop group, The Pussycat Dolls, crested its fame. “In it, you’re drunk in love. Out of it, you’re just like, ‘Holy shit, how did I fall for that?’ ” Sutta, who remained with Silvers for five years, says that “she manipulated you, fed on your insecurities, knew how to control you. She makes it feel like you can’t live without her.”

Silvers declined to be interviewed for this story, but her representative provided a statement in which she rejects many of the claims against her. “[The allegations] have been concocted by a small, disgruntled group of former clients, many of whom have started copy-cat businesses using my syllabus and other proprietary teaching methods to compete against me,” she wrote. “These adversaries represent less than 1 percent of the more than 5,000 clients I have worked with during the past 30 years.”

Silvers also put forward dozens of clients to testify on her behalf. These ardent partisans speak of their teacher in near-superhuman terms, crediting her work with everything from helping them romantically to saving them from addiction, allowing them to succeed in business and to become more emotionally available. “She sells walking off the cliff, walking through your fears,” says supporter Brian Goodman, who spent a decade under her guidance. “Then you realize: There is no cliff. It’s all in a positive sense. Most people who are drawn to that are people who are stuck in fear, including myself.”

Her advocates acknowledge that she can be polarizing and the process at times difficult. But they contend that she’s pure of heart and believe any failures are ultimately the clients’ own. “Not everyone is willing to take full responsibility for their circumstances, and it may be easier to place blame than work through the hard parts of life,” says Tim Risley. “The results can be amazing. Life-changing. But it also leads to new levels and new devils. Such is growth.” Lanee Lee Roth call Silvers “a true channel. She has access to this encyclopedia in the sky. She says a lot of things that people don’t like. But then you step back and you think, ‘She’s right.’ “

But Rebecca Phillips Epstein, a script coordinator on Emily in Paris who initially took part in a women’s group offered by Silvers in 2018, says she is adept at preying on insecurities. “Self-discovery is just a thing that creative community people do,” she says. “They crave validation, they’re never satisfied, and they’re open to things they haven’t seen before. In fact, they’re actively seeking them out.”

Candace Silvers


From Stanislavski to Meisner to Strasberg, acting teachers are often force-of-nature personalities, strong-willed and confrontational. Silvers trained for a decade under the prominent 1980s L.A. instructor Roy London, whose most famous students — among them Garry Shandling, Sharon Stone, Brad Pitt and Michelle Pfeiffer — would occasionally thank him from awards show podiums.

The fact that Silvers’ father was such a Hollywood success, and that her twin sister, Cathy, achieved a level of fame so early — she spent five seasons playing teenager Jenny Piccalo on Happy Days — shaped Silvers. According to those close to her, from a young age Silvers felt like an outcast in her family of five sisters. “From early on, it’s all been about an accumulation of adoration,” says someone who’s known her since childhood. “She wanted love.”

Silvers never found traction as a performer. Instead, after London’s death in 1993, she built her own following as an adept torchbearer of his techniques, holding classes in small theaters in West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley. “Barry reminded me of what she was doing,” says Marc Chaiet, a former student and stalwart ally, referring to the dark HBO show starring Henry Winkler as a Method acting coach. “There’s an intensity and a personal nakedness to her classes. You have to be willing to talk about things, to admit things to yourself. The sole purpose is to get to truth.”

Actor Colin McGurk says, “I’ve studied at The Actors Studio, and she does good script analysis — she knows what she’s doing.” Silvers eventually attracted students who would go on to be boldfaced names, including Mark Feuerstein before he starred on Royal Pains. Yet her habit of claiming total responsibility for the subsequent success of clients who found the biggest fame didn’t endear her to several top-tier alumni.

In 2018, after encountering How I Met Your Mother‘s Jason Segel at a restaurant, she told her class she was responsible for his success, not because he was a student but because she once taught his co-star Josh Radnor. “This kid wouldn’t have had a job if Josh wasn’t as good as he was,” she said. “If I hadn’t trained Josh, he wouldn’t have been [on the hit show]. … He was nobody, not going anywhere.” (Radnor says he went to only “a handful of her acting classes” and “they did not land on me,” adding that he “didn’t like that she used my name to recruit acting students.”)

Silvers also disenchanted multiple clients by asking them for 10 percent commissions on their earnings — traditionally the take of agents and managers, not teachers. When Torrey DeVitto, currently on Chicago Med, began working with Silvers, she’d already amassed a résumé that included a multiple-season arc on Pretty Little Liars. “Candace told me that everything I’d done in my career up to the point I met her was luck and that afterward my accomplishments would be on purpose,” DeVitto says. “She’d tell me, ‘I can guarantee you will win an Oscar one day, but you’re not going to do it without me,’ ” says DeVitto. “She told me, ‘One of these days I’m going to ask for 10 percent of your income.’ She expressed it as, basically, ‘You give your manager 10 percent, and I’m doing more than him.’ I left before this came to a head.”

Silvers claims she did indeed have such verbal agreements with DeVitto (the actress denies this), The Vampire Diaries actress Arielle Kebbel (who declined to comment) and Top Gun: Maverick actress Chelsea Harris, who helped Silvers run one of her classes until she grew too busy. “She did in fact bring up this request on several occasions, likely to see how I’d react, though when I’d respond by sitting in silence, she’d move the conversation along,” says Harris, who found aspects of Silvers’ coaching to be helpful but grew concerned about her aggressive business tactics as well as some clients’ “overreliance” on her. “I did not verbally agree nor ever intended to do so.”

Silvers’ interests had long ranged beyond the teaching of acting. A practitioner of meditation and Kundalini yoga since her adolescence, she accompanied Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, the celebrity yogini known for clientele like Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, on a journey to India in 2008. There, the then-47-year-old Silvers met and took up with Anand Mehrotra, a handsome, significantly younger guru, with whom for a time she co-led retreats that she pushed her acting students to attend.

Chris Evans was among the first of Silvers’ clients to visit her in India, and Silvers has frequently dropped his name — and once featured his image on her website — to promote their association. She claims the actor attended 20 private sessions with her over a three-year period, as well as her annual multiday “foundation intensive” workshop. A spokesperson for the star says that the promotional use of his name mischaracterizes his involvement. “Chris has never taken an acting class or private acting session from Candace nor engaged with her in any way connected to acting. His only interaction with her was roughly 15 years ago when he attended several philosophy classes she taught in Los Angeles. Around that same time he traveled to India through an invite from a friend for the sole purpose to meet Anand.”

Those who knew Silvers during her time with Mehrotra noticed a shift. “She’d always had an ‘I’m above you’ energy, but the spirituality aspect came out after she went to India,” says Ashley Phillips, a Silvers student who journeyed to the subcontinent. Jennifer Parkhill, another pupil of the period, observes: “She came back from that first trip to India and wanted to be a god. She really wanted to have people bow down and pray to her.”

Josh Beren, who served as Silvers’ substitute acting teacher, recalls that “it was a stark transition. Before, she wore designer clothing, high heels. After Anand, it was open-toed sandals, scarves, beads. You’d think she’d been a spiritual icon for 30 years.”

Her acting students were soon told it was necessary that they also attend her newly formed “life class,” which she later rebranded as a human behavior course. (Silvers herself had once studied under Breck Costin, a noted personal-growth coach to industry figures like Bryan Cranston and Bethenny Frankel.) The human behavior course is a blend of doctrines resembling other self-actualization philosophies, including those of Marianne Williamson, EST and Alcoholics Anonymous — Silvers has spoken during classes of her sobriety. Today, she markets herself on her website as, among other callings, a business consultant who guides clients “to find where unconscious behavioral patterns are holding back growth, and alters them to create unprecedented success.”

The core of each session revolves around Silvers asking about participants’ respective troubles, then turning her guidance into teachable moments for all assembled. Iterations of the life class were initially held at the modest Van Nuys home where she long resided as a divorced mother of four, before her 2015 move, after her marriage to a corporate sales executive, to a multimillion-dollar home on a quiet, tree-lined street in Toluca Lake, a few blocks from the Warner Bros. lot. Acolytes would gather on the floor of her living room in groups of one to two dozen (some sessions were coed, others single-sex) as she held court above them in a chair, a lambskin at her feet, incense burning and one of her father’s Emmys on a nearby shelf. “She was very particular about the setup, down to the two stevias for her tea,” says Neil Aaron, who trained to work on staff as a “monitor,” or class assistant.

Silvers would call attention to the easy caricature to combat doubt. “She said, multiple times, ‘If I were an Indian man with long flowing hair and a beard, I’d have this room full of hundreds of people, but because I’m a white woman in Toluca Lake people think it’s bullshit,’ ” says another former pupil, Cori McGinn. “And you think, ‘Yeah, right, that’s not fair!’ “

Illustration By EIRIAN CHAPMAN


Silvers employs a blunt manner and ample profanity — rare in the touchy-feely realm of seekers — which many students found exhilarating. “She was cutting through the frivolous bullshit and speaking my language,” says Jackie Jones, a comedic performer who began as a client and became a staffer. “There was this kind of shock value to it, especially because she’s older and married and gorgeous.” Over the years the audience for her life classes has shifted to one that’s less purely Hollywood, although many share a profile: scarred by their histories or at tough personal or professional crossroads.

Maria Hernandez, who studied under Silvers for two years until last summer, says the “takeaway could be on a pillow — ‘You can’t change the people around you, you can only change yourself’ — but the way she says it, or screams it while calling you an idiot, makes you hear it in a way you wouldn’t otherwise.” Nila Frederiksen, whose tenure overlapped with Hernandez’s, recalls Silvers saying: ” ‘You’ve never had anyone who’s done work like this besides me.’ But I had teachers like her at Esalen [the long-standing self-improvement center in Big Sur]. They just said ‘fuck’ a lot less.”

Silvers’ propensity to curse is just one aspect of her distinct verbal style, often rapid-fire, which alternates between New Age rhetoric (“If you try to stay within the wave you think you’re in, you’re always trying to stay within the wave”) and language redefinitions (“Once we expect we deserve, we de-serve”).

Silvers, who has told her followers that she failed high school English and was diagnosed with dyslexia and auditory processing disorder, compares her lingual mode to Sanskrit. Her rationale is that her words are meant not to merely describe but to invoke. “When you first come to me, it can be a little discombobulating or frustrating because I don’t talk about things, I cause them, and after five or 10 weeks of practicing, so can you,” she explained in a recent press interview.

“My perspective on it was that this was her defense mechanism,” reasons student Debbie Kirchen, “the way she adapted to navigating the world.” Others are less empathetic. “I think she speaks in riddles because nobody knows how to respond to her and it gives her the upper edge,” says Lorraine Gachelin, a sound therapist. “When somebody asks her a valid question and she doesn’t know how to address it, she would have another riddle and move on.”

According to students, Silvers has provoked her left-leaning L.A. crowd by defending Donald Trump and directing racist and homophobic slurs at clients. “Everything I can do to piss you people off,” she said during a July 2018 retreat in Ojai, explaining why her actions might, as she put it, “trigger” her followers. “Just so we can see how silly our minds are.”

The goal, say attendees, is to train people not to fall prey to strong feelings such as anger, or rather to move beyond their “programs,” Silvers’ term for the subconscious habits of belief that limit them. “The key is that it doesn’t matter if you’re mad or sad or whatever,” says Boyan Deam, who started with Silvers as an actor. “As long as you have an emotional reaction, you’re exposed. It’s all done in the name of getting you to get over it.” A Silvers representative says she’s surfacing clients’ emotional blocks so they “can move through them with awareness into a more successful life.”

Attendees say Silvers often shares her own story of molestation, while questioning or expressing skepticism about the past traumas of others. In a June 2019 women’s group meeting, actress Sierra Santana shared her experience of rape by a co-worker after a night out drinking together. Silvers acknowledged the violation, but, as heard on audio reviewed by THR, quickly pivoted to the perpetrator’s perspective, remarking that men may find it difficult to adapt to the collapse of patriarchal society. She says Silvers told her that since “he doesn’t think he raped you,” the best course of action is to “become aware of where he’s coming from” so as to “take ownership and power.”

Santana found the input troubling. “She [presents] an ideology that there’s ‘no sides,’ ” she says. “But men aren’t animals. They are people with a prefrontal cortex.” Silvers’ representative says the assertion is unfair: “Candace encourages students to become more aware (more like their adult self) who can look back at the smallness of their minds.”

Her critics also claim that Silvers has turned private information divulged to her in one-on-one sessions, often about painful personal experiences, into surprise fodder for class discussions, either with coerced permission or none at all. “Confidentiality is not a thing,” says costume designer Melissa Trn, a former Silvers student and staffer. “She took information I shared with her about myself and my husband [she’s separating from Agents of SHIELD‘s Brett Dalton], changed it, and shared it with the women’s group without my consent.” In her provided statement, Silvers denies sharing any confidential information.

Perhaps the most acute concern, Trn and others say, is that Silvers repeatedly suggested that her clients adjust their psychotropic medications, despite her lack of medical training. “I had several friends [Silvers] was ‘helping’ to get off antidepressants,” says Trn. “Then they’d come in and say, ‘I’m feeling suicidal.’ She’d go, ‘Oh, then we need to slow down.’ It’s a miracle none of these people have had a serious situation.”

Silvers’ representative counters, “As she will be the first to tell you, Candace is not a licensed physician, nor does she attempt to practice medicine. If Candace speaks about medications, she is very clear that each client must consult with their doctor. Any other characterization of this matter is false.”

Trn adds: “There’s just a lot of people who are there in precarious mental-health states. People who have had real trauma and are there to get back on their feet. She’s retraumatizing them in her own ways, with no regard to their past trauma.”

Illustration By EIRIAN CHAPMAN


Since her sojourn to India, Silvers had been on the lookout for a next-level mind-body technique. She felt she found it several years ago in Siwa Murti, a Balinese healing modality that has drawn comparisons to reiki.

Silvers learned the practice (which can be performed in person or remotely) from its foremost practitioner, a priest who goes by the honorific Ratu Nabe and oversees a temple-clinic on the outskirts of the capital, Densapar. Soon, she reoriented her business around it, imploring her adherents to come on $7,000-per-person, 11-day Bali retreats to study with the holy man.

“I’d never been in debt before,” says Kimberly Arevalo, a structural engineer who ended up $30,000 underwater on a credit card because of Silvers-related obligations before leaving in July 2020. Actress Lennia Gaston explains the situation: “If [Silvers] wanted you to go on a retreat, she said you should go to the edge of your mind and jump off, and that’s how you’ll ‘get your life.’ She told me to sell my car to go. She told me to take out a credit card.” Silvers’ spokesperson says that “Candace does not pressure any of her students into doing something that they may not be able to afford. One of the hallmarks of Candace’s 30-year practice is that she does not deny services to people who seek them, even if they can’t afford to pay her. Instead, Candace allows students to take her classes in return for work.”

Silvers established a Ratu Nabe-authorized healing academy of her own based out of her Toluca Lake home. She claims the approach, which she redubbed Shiva Murti, has been successful in alleviating the symptoms of maladies including neuropathy, anxiety, cancer and heart conditions. Her promotional literature contends that “many doctors” have begun to integrate it into their medical practices, and that Cedars-Sinai Medical Center created a pilot program to study its effects. A Cedars spokesperson notes that “there is not a formal study, trial or pilot program about Shiva Murti,” although a staff oncologist who directs a supportive care program referred “a couple of patients to Ms. Silvers because those patients expressed interest in learning about various meditation practices to help them throughout their cancer treatments.”

Some students whom Silvers has chaperoned to Bali and trained herself say the practice has beneficial value, but they’re concerned that her ambassadorship undermines the prospect for it to be recognized as legitimate in America. “It’s beautiful, it’s powerful, it works — but it’s easy to dismiss,” says Aaron, who was asked by Silvers to sign a contract that included a promise not to teach the modality. Though he agreed, Aaron now believes the contract violates California labor law and says he was subsequently given direct permission to teach by Ratu Nabe. (Aaron, Trn, Gachelin and other former students now have their own independent practices.)

After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Silvers pivoted her business to Zoom. An hourlong interview in April with Regina Meredith on the program Open Minds on Gaia, a video-on-demand service specializing in alternative medicine and spirituality, drove new clientele. Whereas Silvers’ audience had mostly been L.A.-based, inquiries now arrived from across the world.

Yet just as Silvers reached a new level of renown, a student named Constance Parng raised her concerns to Ratu Nabe and his daughter, who handles his business affairs. Parng, a voice performer (The Lego Ninjago Movie), had attended a Silvers retreat to Bali in 2019 and, later, acting classes in Toluca Lake. She’d grown increasingly concerned by what she felt was Silvers’ pattern of psychological and financial predation toward her students, as well as disrespect shown to Ratu Nabe, who Parng believed was being underpaid and undervalued for his proprietary work. “It’s paradoxical and unfortunate for people to be hurt in the name of a healing modality, and one in particular that reflects an Asian and Indigenous culture,” says Parng.

Parng, who’s since been designated by the priest to oversee a new organization to advance Siwa Murti in the U.S., says, “Ratu Nabe relayed to me that what Silvers was charging [for the Bali trips] was not appropriate.” Ratu Nabe himself wouldn’t discuss the matter. “I do not want to say much about this,” he messaged via WhatsApp. “It will consume a lot of energy, very in vain,” he wrote, adding that he’d rather “focus on educating people who want to learn and be faithful to their teachers.”

On July 23, Silvers’ deputy Jacob Mondry, a singer-songwriter signed to Warner Chappell Music, issued a communique on her behalf announcing a parting with Ratu Nabe. He noted that the healing chant they used had been updated to include an invocation of Silvers’ name.

Silvers had already provided devotional images of herself, in which she appears Zenned-out, with her eyes closed, to be displayed at her followers’ home altars. Now Mondry sent out an updated picture that covered the image of the Balinese priest with a block of text. “It is part of the spiritual practice of chanting to place pictures of the people who taught you how to chant around you,” Mondry explains, adding that after Silvers’ conflict with Ratu Nabe came to a head, he asked her to refrain from using his picture. “Candace honored his request and updated the pictures that she and her students could use, if they would like to (it’s not required).”

Silvers was now the guiding light of her own movement. “The final straw was when she put her own name in that chant,” says a healing academy student, Meg Worthy, who also worked for Silvers and is now a Shiva Murti healer. “I was gone.”

Silvers’ current students say there’s little mention of Ratu Nabe at present and that she talks about learning the modality from another Balinese healer. “She describes it as an ancient Balinese method of healing,” says student Ann Nicolaysen. To her current classes, Silvers frames her parting with Ratu Nabe as a matter of the priest’s own greed — that he demanded a larger cut for his services — and her desire to keep her clients’ costs in check.


“You know how you can boil a frog by turning up the heat?” says Ashley Phillips, who began as one of Silvers’ acting students before taking her other courses. “That’s what happened to me and a lot of others. The heat kept being turned up and up and up.” Explains alum Megan Baily: “There’s a lot of co-dependency. She helps people out just enough that they feel that they’re getting something, but not enough that they can stand on their own two feet: that they can get better, that they can see what she’s doing.”

Some say it was only when they left that they came to understand the extent of their capitulation. They tell, one after the other, similar stories: how her toxic advice isolated them from loved ones. How, at first, she’d love-bomb, then undermine. How she’d relentlessly needle her students to enroll fresh recruits among their peers, including during events at SAG-AFTRA and Soho House. How she’d promise that their financial dreams would come true as she emptied their wallets. (Silvers’ representative says, “Candace does not promise or guarantee that her students will achieve their financial goals simply by attending her classes.”)

When their dreams didn’t come true, students say, she’d offer class attendance in exchange for significant labor, which entailed everything from home renovation to personal training and massage work.

Her defenders don’t buy it. “It’s almost like a scholarship thing,” says Sean Conlin of what he and others consider an innocuous barter system. “I have not had a sense that she’s building a web of servants. She has a village mentality: Let’s take care of each other.” (Silvers often spoke of seva, the Sanskrit concept of selfless service, and, as such, even affluent students would volunteer for administrative tasks and other duties at her behest.)

Other veterans of Silvers’ circle take a darker view. “Once people were there, they were her disciples,” says Alex Helisek, who was in a toxic work relationship when he joined Silvers’ class in 2013. He adds: “She loves to say ‘surrender.’ ‘Surrender’ is major. It’s 1,000 percent a cult. Everything outside the Candace world became void to me while I was there. There was rent, there was food, and there was Candace. That was life.”

Many of the former students and staffers whom THR spoke with now consider Silvers tantamount to a cult leader. They point to her domineering personality, her manipulative language, her airing of private information as a means of dominance, and her tactic of humiliation in front of a group.

“The cult leader is benefiting so much more than the laypeople in the organization,” says Rory Pollinger, an event planner who studied with Silvers for two years. He points to what he considers a telling moment, in which Silvers made a ridiculing observation about his body in front of the class a week after praising him for a career-high accomplishment for helping to pull off a 2012 Twilight Saga premiere. Pollinger observes that many involved in Silvers’ work are processing sexual trauma and that her method of boundary-crossing damages the already vulnerable. “She does it to us without touching our private parts,” he reasons. “You know it’s draining your bank account and wasting your time and hurting you. It becomes a lifestyle. People are being poisoned emotionally.”

During her classes and at retreats, Silvers has long proactively raised such aspersions to deflect them. “I have people who are mean to me,” she said during one July 2018 meeting. “Does it stress me out? No, because I know they are just hurting. Because I know my integrity and my intention,” she said. “Tell me what about this looks like a cult?” she asked during a retreat to Ojai later that month. “I scream at you people, you thank me for it, and you go home. I’ve never heard of a cult like that.” Then she joked: “Usually they appease you, you all wear the same colors. Although we do smoke shit together.”

Likewise, her partisans reject the cult label. “This isn’t NXIVM,” insists Jennifer Friedman, who started with Silvers two decades ago while pursuing acting. “It’s not even Landmark [Forum],” referring to another controversial purveyor of personal-development. Susan Purkhiser, a stuntwoman, echoes others: “You’re free to walk away. You’re free to not spend the money.”

Many of Silvers’ devotees believe the accusations against her are simply overblown. Some acknowledge the validity of critics’ claims but argue that, on balance, what matters is that she means well, and she can be effective. Her allies are united in observing that a central pillar of Silvers’ teachings is that you must take responsibility for your life, not self-victimize, and say that those clients who’ve failed often find an easy and unfair target in Silvers.

“She has a dangerous job,” says Chad Carlberg, who works in choreography. “She’s dealing with people who have hit rock bottom, so when she pushes them, they can lash back. That’s an inherent risk.” Silvers’ supporters compare her to a mirror that reflects back their own traumas or problems. If you’re not ready to take a hard look, you’ll be resistant, combative and angered; if you are, you’ll experience a quantum leap.

“I think a lot of people weren’t prepared for the journey,” says Steven Zimpel, who spent a decade in her classes while pursuing acting, beginning in 2003. “All the people I saw who left bitter weren’t done with the work.”

The critics are unsurprised by such exculpations, saying they’ve heard it all before when they sat at Silvers’ feet. “This is how she abdicates responsibility for her work,” says Beren, the occasional substitute teacher of her classes. “It’s just gaslighting.”

McKeon, the actress who visited a deprogrammer, agrees that the experience changed her, just not in the healing way Silvers’ devotees describe. “After a while, you feel almost untouchable on the inside [of Silvers’ group]: that there’s this force field, and it’s created by her,” she says. “That if you go outside of this — this cult — it’ll be damaging for you. I thought that if I left, I might get cancer and die.”

She says she is still recovering. “It felt like there was a part of my brain that I never got back after I worked with her,” she explains. “It was terrifying. For me, in leaving, I had to fight to be myself again. I was this machine operated by Candace, and I had to claw my way back.”

UPDATE, Feb. 8: This story originally stated that Neil Aaron worked as a staff monitor, when in fact he trained to work as a staff monitor.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.