Pushing the Envelope, Shifting the Paradigms

Pushing the Envelope, Shifting the Paradigms

This post is pushing the envelope at bit on how I teach Resources for Recovering Resilience. I never would have predicted any of this, especially in these times when the world is still reeling from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (deaths in the United States passed the 500,000 mark last week) and so many of the larger unresolved issues are still back-burnering: millions of citizens without jobs, without health care, with a prayer for fair treatment if pulled over by the police being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

A psychotherapy client of mine took a brief break awhile back after several good years of work on healing childhood sexual abuse.  When she returned after a few months, it was like another two good years of trauma work had happened in the meantime.  The secret sauce? Microdosing with psilocybin through a different practitioner.  We picked up our work, and I had a new respect and curiosity for the possibilities of psychedelic assisted psychotherapy that I could not have foreseen.  

I began to read about the research being done in tightly controlled clinical trials at highly respectable research institutions:  the use of psylocibin at Johns Hopkins University to help terminally ill cancer patients reduce their existential anxiety about dying.  Veterans at University of South Carolina Medical School using MDMA to address intractable PTSD.  [See Therapy’s Psychedelic Renaissance: A Different Kind of healing Journey from Sept-Oct 2018 Psychotherapy Networker.]

I might never have pursued this topic further, except for the webinar series “Informing Clinical Practice Today: Core Insights from Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy” sponsored February 18, February 25, and March 4, 2021 by Leading Edge Seminars. Ron Siegel, PsyD, psychotherapist and mindfulness meditation teacher par excellence for 35 years, organized the series. Joined in the first webinar by Christopher Germer, PhD, co-developer of the Mindful Self-Compassion protocol; I had become friends with Ron and Chris over the years, teaching in similar national/international venues; I had become a mindful self-compassion teacher myself through training with Chris and Kristin Neff.  The founder/director of Leading Edge Seminars, Michael Kerman, had also become a friend over the years.  Perhaps because I know so well the intelligence and integrity of these three people, I signed up.

And opened up.

The convergence of psychotherapy, and mindful self-compassion, and psychedelics is what blew my mind.  All three fields are paradigms of practice that guide people toward experiencing the inter-connectedness of self with all other human beings and that lift the “repression barrier” so that unconscious material can come to conscious awareness and, with guidance, be worked through.

“Set and setting” is what is being emphasized in the used of psychedelics in psychotherapy.  “Set” is the mindset the patient brings to the experience – expectations, intentions, beliefs, etc. “Setting” is the physical and social environment that the “dosing” takes place in.  In a psychotherapeutic setting, this would include conducting the session in a quiet, safe, pleasant room, accompanied by one or two therapists who help the patient prepare for the experience, stay present with the patient who is having the experience, and then hours/days of guiding the patient in integrating the insights and shifts from the experience. 

The successful integration of The Three – transcendent psychedelic experiences with the awareness/acceptance of those experiences supported by mindful self-compassion and skillful therapeutic presence – is what pushed the envelope and began shifting paradigms for me.  How The Three paradigms could syngergistically address what Ron spontaneously called the Five Plagues of human experience:

1. Over-identification with personal stories, lack of an overview perspective.

All Three open awareness to consciousness of the vastness of existence

2. “Normal” narcissism and pre-occupation with the separate self that leads to anxiety

All Three provide awareness of inter-connectedness with common humanity, a trustworthy belonging that antidotes the endless rumination of self as not good enough

3. Desire to acquire – seeking pleasure rather than meaning

All Three provide experiences of gratitude and enoughness that steer people away from endless craving and addiction

4. Non-acceptance – rejection of one’s self, one’s experience

All Three foster profound experiences of acceptance – of reality, of self, of others

5. Emotional dysregulation

All Three undo the conditioning of insecure attachment that makes people vulnerable to fears of abandonment or engulfment.

Even thinking about the possibilities for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy means a radical re-thinking of what healing and personal transformation can mean.  [Like Unlearning and Rethinking – The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know] 

Many of us read Michael Pollan’s book How To Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence when it first came out two years ago. The three psychedelic medicines researched most thoroughly to date have been ketamine (an anesthesia at higher doses) for depression, psylocibin (magic mushrooms) for anxiety, and MDMA (pure Ecstasy) for PTSD. Researchers have come many leagues further down the road since Pollan’s book was published in May 2019; FDA approval for clinical and tightly regulated use in psychotherapeutic settings is expected in the next two years.

I’m not recommending All Three for your own personal journeying and recovering resilience. I am suggesting curiosity and openness to learning about practices that may prove quite effective for many in that journey.

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