Psychedelic psychotherapy refers to psychotherapeutic practices involving the use of psychedelic drugs. As an alternative to synonyms such as "hallucinogen", "entheogen", "psychotomimetic" and other functionally constructed names, the use of the term psychedelic ("mind-manifesting") emphasizes the ability of psychedelic drugs to facilitate exploration of the psyche, which is fundamental to most methods of psychedelic psychotherapy.
Psychedelic psychotherapy in the broadest possible sense of the term is likely as old as humanity's ancient knowledge of hallucinogenic plants itself. Though usually viewed as predominantly spiritual in nature, elements of psychotherapeutic practice can be recognized in the entheogenic rituals of many cultures.
The use of psychedelic agents in Western psychotherapy began in the 1950s, after the widespread distribution of LSD to researchers by its manufacturer, Sandoz Laboratories. Extensive research into experimental, chemotherapeutic and psychotherapeutic uses of psychedelic drugs was conducted worldwide over the next 10-15 years. Many studies found that the use of psychedelic drugs greatly facilitated psychotherapeutic processes, and proved particularly useful for patients with problems that were otherwise difficult to treat, including alcoholics, drug addicts, sociopaths, and psychopaths.
In the mid-1960s, in response to concerns regarding the proliferation of the unauthorized use of psychedelic drugs by the general public (especially the counterculture), various steps were taken to curtail their use. Bowing to governmental pressure, Sandoz halted production of LSD in 1965, and in many countries LSD was banned, or made available on a very limited basis that made research difficult. By 1980 authorized research into psychotherapeutic applications of psychedelic drugs had essentially been discontinued worldwide.
Research and therapeutic sessions have nevertheless continued to be performed, in one way or another, to the present day. Some therapists have exploited windows of opportunity preceding scheduling of particular substances (e.g. MDMA, Salvia divinorum), or developed extensive non-drug techniques for achieving similar states of consciousness (e.g. Holotropic Breathwork). A handful of researchers, especially since the late 1990s, have succeeded in obtaining legal permission for research studies. For the most part, however, since the early 1970s psychedelic therapy has been conducted by an underground network of therapists who consider the potential benefits of psychedelic psychotherapy to be so great as to justify risking their careers and freedom by clandestinely conducting therapy sessions using illegal substances.
The effects of psychedelic drugs on the human mind are complex, varied and difficult to characterize, and as a result many different "flavors" of psychedelic psychotherapy have been developed by individual practitioners. Some aspects of published accounts of methodologies are discussed below.
Psycholytic therapy involves the use of low to medium doses of psychedelic drugs, repeatedly at intervals of 1-2 weeks. The therapist is present during the peak of the experience and at other times as required, to assist the patient in processing material that arises and to offer support when necessary. The name, coined by Ronald A. Sandison, literally meaning "mind-dissolving", refers to the process of dissolving conflicts in the mind. Psycholytic therapy is historically the predominant approach to psychedelic psychotherapy in Europe.
Psychedelic therapy involves the use of very high doses of psychedelic drugs, with the aim of promoting transcendental, ecstatic, religious or mystical peak experiences. This approach differs strongly from the dialog-based processing of psychodynamic material upon which many other methodologies are based. As such, it is more closely aligned to transpersonal psychology than to traditional psychoanalysis. Psychedelic therapy is primarily practiced in North America.
Developments from 1980 — present
Owing to the largely clandestine nature of psychedelic therapy in this period, little information is available concerning the methods that have been used. Individuals who have published information on psychedelic psychotherapy in this period include Stanislav Grof (LSD Psychotherapy), Ann Shulgin (TiHKAL, with Alexander Shulgin), Myron Stolaroff (The Secret Chief, about the underground therapy done by Leo Zeff) and Athanasios Kafkalides.
Current Research & Therapy
Current (legally sanctioned) research into possible therapeutic value of psychedelics includes using psilocybin with terminally ill patients, with the intention of helping them to accept their condition. The stress and anxiety experienced by many terminally ill patients causes them much suffering in the last months of their lives, and some patients claimed that the use of psilocybin helped them tremendously in terms of acceptance. Other experimental uses under investigation include the use of MDMA, more commonly known as Ecstasy, to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Distorder (PTSD). This study includes treating veterans of the 2003 Iraq War who have PTSD.
- Stanislav Grof, LSD Psychotherapy, 1980. (3rd edn. MAPS, ISBN 0-9660019-4-X )
- Myron Stolaroff, The Secret Chief: Conversations with a pioneer of the underground psychedelic therapy movement, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) 1997. ISBN 0-9660019-0-7 (hardcover) ISBN 0-9660019-1-5 (paperback)
- D.B. Blewett, Ph.D. and N. Chwelos, M.D., A Handbook for the Therapeutic use of LSD-25 . This is a rather early text, and partially outdated, but still quite interesting.
- Ann & Alexander Shulgin's PiHKAL and TiHKAL include chapters on psychedelic psychotherapy
- Myron Stolaroff, Thanatos to Eros . While not strictly about psychotherapy, this book discusses many therapeutic aspects of psychedelics.
- Stafford, Peter. (2003). Psychedlics. Ronin Publishing, Oakland, California. ISBN 0-914171-18-6.
- Psychedelics, dissociatives and deliriants
- Transpersonal psychology
- Stanislav Grof
- Peter Baumann (Psychiatrist) (Founder of the SÄPT, Swiss doctor's society for psychedelic therapy)
- Samuel Widmer
- Humphry Osmond
- Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)
- History of LSD Therapy (Ch. 1 of Grof's, LSD Psychotherapy)
- Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)
- Free online books about psychedelic psychotherapy at MAPS, including The Secret Chief
- Recent Psychedelic Research, summary at MAPS site
- Athanasios Kafkalides, psychedelic therapist and researcher : biography, information and writings
- Eleusis, Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Center: Featuring the pioneering technique of Ketamine psychedelic psychotherapy
- Iboga Therapy House, A non-profit organization dedicated to exploring and facilitating the therapeutic use of ibogaine
- Documents for serious Psychonauts, Research papers and articles on the role of psychoactive substances in psychological and shamanic healing practices
- Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out … Get Well? Article about psychedelic therapy research at LitmusZinede:Psycholytische Psychotherapie
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