Tuesday August 19 2008
Andrew Feldmár has been practising psychotherapy in Vancouver, Canada for 38 years. He writes:
There is a horrible sense of meaninglessness and chaos that comes from the extreme loneliness of being cut off. Trauma, whether sustained in the family, or in the military during combat, renders millions feeling unsafe, insecure, mistrustful, and in the end isolated, lonely and desperate. Judith Lewis Herman, who wrote the definitive book on trauma and recovery, stated that all so-called mental illness and suffering could be seen as a person's misguided attempt to survive trauma. Fear separates, love unites. We all wish to grow to freedom, to belong, to participate. Hatred is like gangrene, shame is deadly. Forgiveness is but a faint hope.
Sandoz began to market LSD in 1947 as a psychiatric panacea, the cure for everything from schizophrenia to criminal behaviour, sexual perversions, alcoholism, and other addictions. During a 15-year period beginning in 1950, research on LSD and other hallucinogens generated over 1,000 scientific papers, several dozen books and six international conferences, and LSD was prescribed as an adjunct of psychotherapy to over 40,000 patients. The current research using psychedelics heralds a reawakening to the magnificent healing possibilities of these now prohibited substances. After over 40 years of repression or oppression, Rick Doblin of Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (Maps), and others are spearheading a more enlightened, less hysterical and terrified approach to the use of these substances. I am participating in what hopefully will be Canada's first government approved clinical trials in 40 years, sponsored and organised by Maps, evaluating MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for subjects with treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder.
There are many other applications of psychedelic psychotherapy, such as ibogaine, or ayahuasca for the treatment of substance abuse. Large numbers of people could benefit from the use of psychedelics as entheogens, introducing people to spiritual experiences, reducing pain and suffering due to isolation, by the irresistible realisation that each of us is a small part of something much greater than any of us, that separateness is an illusion, there is nothing to fear, and love is accessible, shame can be left permanently behind. Rites of passage, responsibly organised, could benefit everyone.
Despite prohibition, people have often asked me to attend their own psychedelic experiments, to keep them safe, to guide them towards liberation, the end of automatic habit patterns, kneejerk reactions, towards heartfelt responses, love, acceptance and forgiveness. After one session with MDMA, people were able to sustain insights gained, without further assistance from the drug. Psychotherapy proceeded faster and deeper than before: the debilitating effects of shame have been annulled, heavily defended hearts opened, and stayed open, and people acquired the ability to enjoy the sacrament of every living moment without distraction by past regrets or future worries. No small gains!
After three LSD sessions, a patient emerged from what was labelled chronic psychotic depression (she had attempted suicide three times, had been hospitalised, and given several courses of ECT, major antipsychotics and antidepressants), and was able to hold a job, derive pleasure from her days, and look forward to cultivating a varied garden of delights. She moved from cursing me for not letting her die to blessing me for the surprising freedom that opened up for her as a result of her LSD experiences. Psychotherapy, without LSD, would not have been enough, I'm afraid.
I can only hope that if new research with psychedelics proceeds in a responsible, careful and creative manner, the powers that be can begin to support and foster further research into this fascinating realm. I was 27 when I first tasted this incredible substance called LSD. Now I am 68 and for the last two years have been persona non grata in the US, because a border guard Googled my name, and found an article I wrote many years ago on entheogen-assisted psychotherapy. I hope I will be invited into the US before I die to teach professionals how to use psychedelics for the benefit of all.