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Psychedelic Healing

Research on the use of psychedelics for mental health issues has
been publicized quite a bit recently. Experiments in the use of psychedelics
are demonstrating benefits in healing for chronic conditions such as
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), addictions, end of life processes,
depression, anxiety (Miller, 2017; Pollan, 2018). The use of these medicines
has recently received research breakthrough status (MAPS Press Release, 2018). From
a therapeutic standpoint, a lot of questions have been raised as to its
veracity because people have been using these substances recreationally for centuries.
Shouldn’t we have a lot of “healed” people running around the world? Well, like
most things, the answer is yes and no.

The fact is that most people do not know how to use these
powerful medicines, when to use them, and for what purpose when they start
taking them recreationally. This then is what causes unhealthy relationships to
form. Historically, these drugs have provided more healing/inspiration then
negative outcomes and rarely have they directly killed people. What has killed
people is the societal suppression of these medicines due to perceived fear and
ignorance. This fear and ignorance, societally produced, prevent proper education
on the use of psychedelics. This has helped create the toxic relationship to
these substances. Also, our culture has failed to manage or provide proper
assessment and guidance for people seeking what these medicines intrinsically
offer due to these suppression tactics. This is a failure of society and
culture, not individuals.

When people ask me about how taking these medicines to heal addiction
can be true, I say, we weren’t only doing them because they were “fun.” The topic
on the use of psychedelics in therapy offers me the opportunity to reflect on
the underlying psychological process being accessed. As people understand the
psychological process of healing that is at work in all therapies, they find
that it is not much different than a deep conversation with a friend or loved
one, fasting, floating, yoga, or dancing. The therapies of Eye Movement
Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Brainspotting are the ones that I
use because they were effective for my own substance use disorder on stabilized
in recovery. To me, the application of psychedelic medicines can address an
underlying process of healing that happens in all trauma resolution therapies
(and all therapies in general when done properly) once the therapeutic
relationship has created the safe space to open up.  So, I would like to explore the use of psychedelics
as a trauma resolution method.

As a person in recovery from abusing substances, I have taken
more than my fair share of psychedelics. As a trauma and addiction clinician
who utilizes the trauma resolution methods of EMDR, Progressive Counting,
Mindfulness, somatic therapies, Expressive Arts, and Brainspotting to help
people heal from their traumas and addictions, I can say without a doubt that
the underlying process of memory reconsolidation (which is what produces trauma
resolution) is being activated when psychedelic medicines are being used.

Memory consolidation is how we naturally store our memories for
the day and memory reconsolidation is when we revisit or reactivate memories in
order to resolve and stored them accordingly (Ecker, Ticic, & Hulley,
2012). Both memory consolidation and memory reconsolidation are processes that
we do naturally. Every night in our REM sleep we do bilateral stimulation (left
to right movements) which is believed to be storing our memories for the day
(Shapiro, 2001). Bilateral movements also happen when we walk, run, write, read,
cook, play music, and when we are making art. This is why exercise, hobbies,
creative arts, and expressive arts are effective ways to help people with
trauma healing. Similarly, effective talk-therapy will reduce symptoms of
anxiety, depression, panic, and anything else because memories are continually
being retriggered to reconsolidate when the client talk about what is going on
for them. If you have ever had difficult experience which you replay over and
over again, you have engaged in the basic premise for Progressive Counting
(Greenwald, 2013). If you have ever stared or gazed off into space in a focused
and intentional way like in Brainspotting (Grand, 2012) then you have done
memory reconsolidation. If you find yourself doodling and not consciously knowing
why you are expressing your self creatively.

Since these processes are happening naturally and in some instances,
automatically, they can also be replicated in therapy. While there is a lot
more to them that this rather simple explanation, the fact that we do these
naturally means they happen more regularly than not. So, it can also be
inferred that they are naturally happening when one takes a psychedelic but psychedelics
offer more of an opportunity for memory reconsolidation because they provide
access through the removal of our psychological defenses.

It has long been understood that recreational drugs lower
inhibitions, social correctness, or ego defenses. The mechanisms in the brain
that are either turned on or off during these processes vary depending on the
drug but for the most part, a person is more open to experiences or ideas when
on a psychedelic substance, for better or worse. This is where the psychedelic
drug turns into medicine. We can use psychedelic states to help open people to
their emotions or confront the psyches manifestations. Without going into the
brain mechanisms that may or not be activated when someone is under the
influence of a psychedelic, one thing is for sure: what needs to be addressed
is going to come up. So, the skillful means of planning, preparation, and
guidance is necessary.

What is so often reported after a psychedelic use is that people
gained insights into themselves, their past, or the nature of being or
existence because their psychological material comes up and got worked through.
It is often reported during or after taking a psychedelic that visual
representation of the past present, sense of time is altered, feelings of
floating, and videotapes of old memories are played out to a point of
resolution. My clinical experience, particularly with EMDR and Brainspotting, collects
similar reports from clients doing these therapies. So, it is not surprising
that MDMA trials for PTSD are showing positive outcomes.

My question is this: if a memory created in a dissociative
state, does one need to be in a dissociative state to resolve it? An
interesting aspect of the trauma resolution therapies of EMDR and Brainspotting
is that they are really predicated on the act of dissociating into memory but
with dual attention (Shapiro, 2001) and dual attunement (Grant, 2012). Because
of this, my answer to my question is yes. The vehicle of how one gets there is
players choice. However, skill and the art of therapeutic means are inevitably
needed for successful outcomes because the relationship provides the
opportunity for dual attention and dual attunement in the form of having a witness.

Furthermore, if we take a neutral point of view, the
question of whether memory is either traumatic or a peak experience is
debatable because it is subjective to the observer. I argue that the survival brain
retains memories or experience of value in addiction vs. a memory that gets stuck
in the memory system as in PTSD. Either way, memory is held until reprocessed
because of its value.

Here is how I know addiction is held as a “traumatic”
memory. I have targeted my own drug use as well as that of hundreds of clients
with EMDR and Brainspotting and have resolved them. This is not to say that I am
(or they are) “cured” but I can say the recovery created on resolving
addiction/traumatic memory is firmly situated on principles of healing. For
this reason, I am open to utilizing whatever means necessary for clients to
gain access to healing.

Another reason why I know that psychedelics activate memory
reconsolidation and the Adaptive Information Process (AIP) with specific drugs
like LSD is due to my training as an EMDR therapist. We had to test-drive the
techniques on each other, meaning that we also got to experience them. When I
first did EMDR, I had a similar experience to the first time that I did with
LSD and felt the awe-inspired relief, as if I understood the meaning of life or
at least my role in it. I felt connected and insightfully present as is often
reported by people who have done LSD. In EMDR terms, this is the accessing of
the AIP in the brain and is the foundational theory of EMDR (Shapiro, 2001).
AIP is activated when new information is introduced by revisiting the memory
which allows us to make a connection that was not available before and allows
for a paradigm shift happen in cognitions, beliefs, somatic memory, and
personality structures. This, in turn, allows us to become more adaptive in our
thinking, hence in your lives and actions. However, one of the more difficult
parts to therapy is when we are not open to the new information or the process
they are engaging in.

My personal experiences with taking
psychedelics speak to the same mechanism being activated like when I
am watching clients do their trauma healing and when I do mine because of the fact that the
feedback is the same. All trauma resolution therapies activate memory
reconsolidation when done properly but what they all have in common is that
they are experiential (this is why Mindfulness, Yoga, and somatic therapies/breathwork
are effective too) and ultimately psychedelics are experiential too. Any
experience that lowers our defense mechanisms and allows us to find out more
about ourselves, our true nature, or allows us to be open to new information is
going to allow our natural healing energies to be activated can be turned into
therapy. Psychedelics open up our psychological processes, which are based on
the experiences that we have had i.e., memories and since the brain works
through associations a lot of the symbolism, representations, and
manifestations that a psychedelic trip can take one on are grounded in one's
psychological makeup and past experiences. If our psychological makeups have
unresolved attachment issues, traumas, or addictions they are going to come up
because the ego defenses are down, due to the opening of psychological
processes. This is why set and setting are critical to a smooth trip but also
why a mental health screening is worth doing before taking these substances
freely. I personally believe that people should not do drugs before the age of
25 because the brain has not had the chance to fully develop and the effects on
the emotional maturation process typically becomes delayed.

When it comes down to it, healing happens when you engage in
solutions. Yet, with addiction, we are often over-healing to the point of
hurting ourselves. I will address my concerns for addiction/recovery and the
use of psychedelics in another post, but at the end of the day, psychedelic
healing can offer another avenue for people to utilize under the guidance of a
skilled practitioner. I believe that psychedelics, when used properly and under
the proper guidance, can provide the healing needed to resolve traumas and our
addictions because they lower ego defenses, AIP, and activate the memory
reconsolidation process.

What is different from recreational psychedelic use is the
intention setting pre-session, therapeutic structure, and guide during the
session, and post-session follow-ups to help apply the insights. Also, the dosage
and purity of these substances is maintained to maximum healing effect. If we do not
set our intentions, have an experienced guide who knows the lay of the
land, or apply what we learn, then we remain in our own ignorance (this also
applies culturally as well). This is why I am in support of having psychedelic
medicines available to professionals and why I started incorporating psychedelic
integration (a harm reduction approach) into my therapeutic and recovery services
(which does NOT offer any substances, does NOT offer any referrals, and/or does
NOT include any psychedelic guiding.) What psychedelic integration services
offers are psychedelic assessment and evaluation, pre/post integration, and
crisis services. In the future, these services may include psychedelic sessions
but for now, I utilize EMDR, Progressive Counting, Mindfulness/Yoga, Somatic
Therapies, Expressive Arts, Somatic Breathwork (with Victor Anderson), and
Brainspotting to best prepare people for their journeying, increase the chances of performance enhancement, and that clients gain maximum effect from their experiences in
order to heal from addiction and/or trauma.

In summary, the use of psychedelics offers willing participants
access to the state of mind needed to heal because they create a state of
defenseless ego that allows trauma resolution. Once the person is open to the
therapeutic process, memory reconsolidation is more available; and when that
happens people are able to get relief from their suffering.

Resources

Ecker, B., Ticic, R., &
Hulley, L. (2012). Unlocking the
emotional brain: Eliminating symptoms at their roots using memory
reconsolidation.
New York, NY: Routledge.

Greenwald, R. (2013). Progressive Counting: Within a phase model
of trauma-informed treatment.
New York, NY: Routledge.

MAPS Press Release, (2018). https://maps.org/news/media/6786-press-release-fda-grants-breakthrough-therapy-designation-for-mdma-assisted-psychotherapy-for-ptsd,-agrees-on-special-protocol-assessment-for-phase-3-trials
Retrieved on 12/28/18.

Miller, R. (2017). Psychedelic Medicine: The healing powers of
LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin, and Ayahuasca.
Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

Shapiro, F. (2001). Eye Movement Desensitization and
Reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols, and procedures
. New York, NY:
Guilford Press.

Pollan, M. (2018). How to Change Your Mind: What the new
science of psychedelics teaches us about consciousness, dying, addiction,
depression, and transcendence.
New York, NY: Penguin Press.

Other Psychedelic Research can
be found at https://maps.org/research

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