The Psychedelic Experience - A New Concept in Psychotherapy
J.N. Sherwood, M.D., M.J. Stolaroff, W.W. Harman, Ph.D.
J. Neuropsychiat. 4, 69-80 (1962)
Review by Oliver Mandrake
Abstract from the article:
"The authors, by simultaneous administration of massive doses of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and mescaline, tried to produce a unique experience for the patient which is to be so profound and impressive that it changes the patient's own evaluation of his past life and consequently may lead him to establish new values and a more realistic frame of reference than had been established before. The experience, in a broad sense, is not unlike a religious conversion. The preparation of the patients for his experience, the mode of administration and dosage, and finally the modalities of experience under the drug are described. A few short illustrative cases are presented."
This article is a great resource for anybody interested in the use of psychedelics (in this case LSD and Mescaline) in psychotherapy, even though it was written over 40 years ago. First the article stresses the by now well known importance of "Set" and "Setting." Aside from well guided preparation of the patient, the trusted therapist should be well familiar with the effects of psychoactive materials used, so as to function as an educated and experienced guide.
"The concept underlying this approach is that an individual can have a single experience which is so profound and impressive that his life experience in the months and years that follow becomes a continuing growth process." To support this statement, the article reaches back on 10 years of investigations with hundreds of patients and in particular on the case history of 25 individuals. For example a success rate of 50% with alcoholics, who completely stopped drinking over several years certainly shows how promising this special kind of therapy can be.
The article explains in great detail the dynamics of the psychedelic experience, dividing the experience into three distinct stages that we list with a very short description here:
1. The Evasive Stage, which incorporates coming to terms with new, unexpected
material, possibly uncomfortable and even frightening as the subject tries to
avoid the unknown inner experience which is feared.
2. The Symbolic Stage, where the subject becomes accustomed to the new, strange experiences and begins to accept what is happening. "The unconscious mind employs visual and other symbolic representations with seemingly endless variety to convey insights to the conscious mind."
3. The Stage of Immediate Perception, where psychosomatic symptoms and hallucinatory images disappear, and the client "comes to experience himself in a totally new way and finds that the age old question 'who am I?' does have a significant answer. He experiences himself as a far greater being than he had ever imagined, with his conscious self a far smaller fraction of the whole than he had realized."
The next chapters of the article deal with the importance of patient selection, preparation, and processing. Subjects are screened and undergo a preparation period of at least two to three weeks; sometimes two to three months are deemed appropriate. The different aspects of this preparation are explained - helping the patient to focus on expected outcome and define questions that need answers. The subject is encouraged to surrender and be open without limitations and honestly face new insights. Critical is the degree of trust that the patient has in the process and his supporters; trust of his body to function and that it is safe to relinquish conscious control. Trust in the yet unknown self seems to be a prime requisite. Often the inhalation of a mixture of 30% carbon-dioxide and 70% oxygen is used to familiarize the subject with altered states of consciousness.
The article next details how a typical therapy session would be conducted,
which we will only summarize here:
The session is set in a comfortable room, avoiding a sterile hospital setting. An individualized dose of LSD is administered around 9 a.m., followed by an individualized dose of mescaline about 30 minutes later. The session lasts all day; light food and beverages are supplied. By mid afternoon 10 mg of Methedrine is administered, which appears to intensify the LSD effect for the rest of the session. Around 5:30 p.m. the session is terminated and the subject is released in the custody of an experienced person who will spend the rest of the evening as well as the night with the patient. While sometimes violent or paranoid reactions might happen, it is strongly suggested to let the session run it's course and not terminate the LSD effect with counter agents such as Thorazine, unless the patient becomes a danger to self or others.
The next section details the therapeutic consequences of a study of 25 patients,
supported with tables and 4 case studies.
Generally it appears that the amount of improvement is correlated to the subject's willingness to face himself, accept the material encountered, and act upon it. A change from restrictiveness and defensiveness to openness and increased awareness is observed.
One interesting result of these therapy sessions is subjects often finding that changes come several months after the session, without any conscious effort. They experience a feeling of well-being, inner strength, confidence, energy and vitality. Even cases where the therapy session was deemed not fruitful report these 'after effects.'
In conclusion, the article finds that earlier positive reports from Canada definitely find confirmation and that the high dose psychedelic experience in a controlled and supportive environment can be a very effective psychotherapeutic method. The individual develops trust in the essential self, neurotic behavior fades, less anxiety is experienced and incapacitating feelings are relinquished in light of this new self-discovery.
An appendix offers a very interesting chapter about "The Seeming Universality of Perception in the Psychedelic Experience" which is a great addition to the material offered before. The often appearing universal central perception is touched upon, supporting the experience of the infinite eternal single reality and unity of all.
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