Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash
I embarked on this project to explore the role of bodywork as a potential adjunct to existing methods used to integrate psychedelic experiences. The project involved working with volunteers who are using psychedelics for therapeutic reasons, to see how bodywork - and in my case I use a bodywork modality called Zero Balancing - could help them integrate their experiences. The three volunteers that came forward each wrote about their experiences and these can be read here (one, two and three).
I've been reflecting on this topic over the past few months, in part because I knew I wanted to continue it, or at the very least wrap it up with a summary. Quite where this blog post will sit in the scheme of this project remains to be seen. Regardless, it's a good opportunity to take stock.
Psychedelics (and I include MDMA in this category for the sake of ease due to its strong therapeutic potential) are becoming increasingly more widespread in therapeutic applications, which more and more research being funded to explore its uses in different areas of need. That's changed even in the 6 months since I embarked upon this project. And this is all due to the incredible potential they have, some of which I touched upon in the project's opening blog post. The results of these studies and the supporting data signal a seismic shift in the treatment of mental health disorders. This is nothing but good news, because the current pharmacological model for the treatment of mental health problems is inadequate.
Psychedelics enable an individual to step back from their every day perception of themselves and introduce a degree of neuroplasticity, freeing the individual up to the potential to change. To change their view or interpretation of events in their lives, and themselves. And notably for the better. Researchers suggest that the body's innate drive for homeostasis - its natural healing ability - is somehow able to come to the fore after the ingestion of these substances. So it's not only the promising results of the research that signals we may be in for a significant step forward in the treatment of mental health care, but there's a paradigm shift in what is viewed as the causative factor of healing. It's not the psychedelics themselves. It's the body's innate healing ability.
Take a moment to drink that in.
In a society where the blame is often put on some chemical imbalance or the genes you inherited or an allergen, we often seek to alter the chemical balance, combat the protein expression of the genes, or suppress the immune system. And that of course requires pharmaceuticals. Which are patented and sold for profit.
And along come psychedelics, which are often naturally occurring, unpatentable and sold with small profit margins. They've a long history of use for insight, creativity and healing. And it's as if modern society is just catching up and says, "Hey, these help the body to heal itself." And they are now rapidly close to becoming legally available for therapeutic purposes.
This, to me, is hugely exciting. Whether people are consciously aware of this or not, we are validating that our ancestors knew of this healing potential, that this healing potential was to be valued and, indeed, protected. We are validating that the body is capable of healing itself - by no means a new concept, but one that the profit driven industry has tried to obscure.
Alongside other shifts in perspective also increasingly supported by research - particularly trauma being stored in the body, and how one's social and life circumstances play a huge role in one's state of health - a more holistic view of wellbeing is once again coming to the fore. And potentially for the first time in modern or Western society. Socially and environmentally oriented policies therefore are not just a matter for socialists and environmentalists, but science backed and a matter of public health. And indeed global health.
If you can't tell already, I think that the imminent emergence of psychedelic assisted psychotherapy gives me hope. Not just for the future of mental health treatment, but for the future of humanity and the planet.
But it's not the only thing that gives me hope. Bodywork and other somatic approaches for the treatment of trauma and mental health problems is another below-the-radar operation that is yet to have its heyday.
My personal experience of the therapeutic benefit of bodywork is what continues to drive my passion for this work. It has enabled me to come to terms with so many difficult parts of my past and continues to help me to embody and get in touch with my true self. And I think it's time in the limelight is due.
Yes, this is a personal crusade of sorts. To experience that someone's touch can alter your state of consciousness so you can access deep and forgotten memories is mind blowing. And that those memories can then be brought to awareness for processing, which in turn results in insights and physical healing is nothing short of profound. Healing the past to heal your body and mind is not something only bodywork can do. But *it can do it*.
So when I learnt that psychedelic integration was the challenging part for many who had therapeutic psychedelic experiences, I knew bodywork could help. For starters, we already help people to process all sorts of life experiences - grief, relationship problems, divorce, abuse, PTSD... you name it - so I did not doubt it was possible. Secondly, much of the difficulty with integration I heard or read about was to do with difficulty in grounding the insights and learnings from the psychedelic experience into their daily lives. What better way to ground experience than to work with the ground of our being, our physical body? You cannot manifest change in the world without enacting and expressing it into the world. And that can't be done without the use of your body.
Was there any success with those three volunteers?
Yes, absolutely. But not in the way that I, and perhaps they, had expected. Rather than simply grounding the psychedelic experience in their bodies, my perception was that the bodywork continued where the psychedelics left off.
Blockages highlighted by the psychedelics were removed. Good feelings of love and universality were amplified and allowed to move through. Stuck emotions hinted at during the psychedelic experience were released.
Looking purely at the initial outcomes and the catharsis experienced by the volunteers, these sessions were not different to sessions with clients who don't use psychedelics for therapeutic purposes. Just like the psychedelic compound itself is a facilitator of the body's own healing processes, so is therapeutic touch. The healing is always very unique to the individual, just as I imagine every psychedelic experience to be. But underneath all that we are all human. We all have grief, pain, joys, loves. And in that sense healing is also universal.
Whilst I had the idea that I, as a therapist, could connect in with the psychedelic experience and bring it into sync with the physical body, I was instead humbled - as working in this line of work often has the tendency to do - by the clients and what actually happened. This was a useful reminder that the therapist never dictates the healing. That is always for the client to do. And just like with psychedelics, the client don't always get what they want, but what they need.
It's clear from reading the accounts that all three volunteers received benefit from Zero Balancing. It helped them to deepen their understanding of their experiences - whether psychedelic or not - and enabled them to continue their personal development without the need for taking many hours out of their days to have a therapeutic psychedelic experience.
I have also learnt that having 3 sessions in relatively quick succession (a week apart for the first two volunteers, and 10 days apart for the third) provided a powerful therapeutic container for a deeper relationship to build between therapist and client, and this subsequently produced more profound and lasting effects. At least, that is my interpretation and experience. I have since utilised the 3 session model on other clients and that reinforced this understanding.
Volunteer #2's statement also really struck me: "I believe that Zero Balancing has helped me to rapidly integrate insights from Psychedelic therapy and provided me a way forward that otherwise may have taken months or years." Whilst this is what I aspired to when I started the project, I never thought I would read those words. And the impact of them is still sinking in.
Will I carry on with my personal crusade to place bodywork more into the spotlight?
Honestly, I do not know if that is my battle. I'd rather follow my passions and see what happens. Should that involve promoting this beautiful therapeutic art into the mainstream, only time will tell.
What I do know is that I am convinced that any psychedelic integration without a touch-based somatic approach is missing a powerful therapeutic ally. And that, I guess, is how I frame this. Bodywork is a powerful therapeutic modality in its own right, and an ally to all other therapeutic modalities. No one modality will heal the world of all its ills. Stronger together, stronger in collaboration. I therefore extend an open invitation to work with those in the psychedelic integration realm to explore this further. There is untouched (pun intended!) potential here.
This is the last in a series of guest blog posts about psychedelic integration. See here for an introduction to this project, here for the first case study and here for the second case study.
It's hard to know where to start in summarising my experience of psychedelic-assisted therapy and Zero Balancing as, in James' words, 'the healing potential of psychedelics is so incredibly broad'. The reality of the healing experience, for me, was also incredibly broad. So much to consider!
I was both honoured and excited to have James invite me as a volunteer to help him with his exploration into how Zero Balancing might benefit the integration of psychedelic, or any plant, entheogenic or psychotropic healing experience. It felt, to me, like together we were doing something for the greater good.
I had two entheogenic healing experiences last year, the first MDMA, and the second ayahuasca. Both were held in a therapeutic and safe ceremonial space with either a psychotherapist or a shamanic practitioner guiding.
I'd been on an energy healing journey for about a year when it was suggested to me that I might be interested in trying MDMA. MDMA isn't a psychedelic, nor is it a plant, but due to its make up, and when used with care, respect and consideration, it has considerable healing potential. In research studies it has been achieving significant and long-term healing results for war veterans, freeing them from PTSD in one, two or a maximum of three treatments.
My own experience with MDMA was profound. So deeply profound, so devoid of ego and judgement, so beautiful and accepting of everybody and everything, that I didn't want to return 'here', to this every day state of consciousness. I saw (sensed) so much of my life, like a story, and gained a deep inner knowing, a true understanding, about why some things had happened the way they did and the reason for some pretty negative life-long belief systems and thought patterns.
My first session with James was a few weeks after that ceremony. I was aware that James spent quite a lot of time asking me just a few questions, but really listening to my answers, and letting me relive what I needed to relive of the experience. He then does a really wonderful job of summarising your story, which is a true skill, particularly when your story comes out as a kind of mish-mash, and reflecting it back to you, allowing you to see it more clearly and any links or relevant connections you might have missed. He then asks you what your intent is for this particular healing session.
The treatment is very soothing, very relaxing, very calming, with maybe an occasional subtle feeling somewhere that James might just have hit on something, but no pain, no discomfort, just ease and surrender. As he goes about his work, I found I gradually felt very settled, my breathing slowed down significantly, and as is usual for me, I released and shifted energy blocks through very deep breaths and yawns. After my first session, I felt very light in weight, very slow, a bit low on energy, a bit spacey, but like a beacon of bright light walking through Edinburgh, and although I don't like cities, I was calm and unflappable, even in the chaos around the town. An important thing James had said at the end of the session was that 'it starts here'. I wasn't to make any preconceived notions or judgements about what I felt or didn't feel. I was just to allow and observe.
Between my first and second Zero Balancing session, I participated in an ayahuasca healing ceremony. It was a bit like the spirit of that ceremony, the 'mother', knew what had happened at my first ceremony and gave me 'part 2', or the next stage, of my healing journey. Everything was consistent and related to the experience I'd had with MDMA. James wasn't surprised there was consistency, he said that once you've opened up your energy to the extent that I had, the connections in spirit, in plants and across everything are finally able to properly reconnect and that's when you really start to reach the truth.
The session was the same structure, with a very fulfilling chat first. I noticed one of the other volunteers described James as a calm still pond, that he had no ripples converging with her ripples, there was no muddy pond of information or emotion, she knew everything was hers. And that's exactly what it's like with James. The benefit of that initial chat is absolutely significant. He creates true, personal, loving space, holding you in such a revered place of dignity and respect that that alone, I found to be incredibly healing. It's a rare and beautifully nurturing quality.
I felt more energised after the second session than I had after the first. When James finished the treatment, I was lying on the bed feeling like a vibration. Like I was just energy - which I am - but I had no feeling of a body mass or density, it felt like I was just aura, fractal patterns and frequency.
James offered that he felt I was much more present and grounded during this session than I had been at my first. At my first he'd felt I was a bit up in the clouds (these might be my words), and totally not grounded. This actually made sense to me, having really felt the integration experience subtly taking place in my life (with and without my assistance) and me stepping up and out into things I never would have before.
Again, James had asked me what my intention was for the session, and this time I surmised that it was to help me naturally adapt to the complete change of direction my life seemed to be taking as a result of my introduction to psychedelic therapy and Zero Balancing.
The day of my third and final session sadly arrived (each of my three sessions were ten days apart), and I described to James a seething anger I had experienced, and heavy flatness for a couple of days preceding the final session. We talked through that. My anger wasn't a rage and throw-things-around anger, it was a deep, emotional, raw pain that produced hard tears which, on hindsight, I think were a lot related to both clarity and confusion.
The psychedelics took me to my expanded consciousness, they took me to a place of deep truth that was profoundly and authentically me. By the time my angry day came, I'd spent weeks consciously integrating this 'loving authentic me' and these knew 'knowings' about myself, as best as I could into my life and the reality of our world. I'd been being aware, becoming enlightened and realising a new perspective, realising that my now broader, more conscious awareness could see the world, the system that we live in, even better than I used to be able to see it - and oh my goodness, it was scarier than ever. I also got angry because I'd seen my life, felt my life, been guided in my life from a place of absolute and pure acceptance and unconditional love, and here I was, these few weeks on, feeling as much in my ego as I'd ever been. I felt that even having been prepared for it, known the significance of it, I'd been naive about how the integration of my two experiences into everyday life would work. At first it had been so easy. Then it got harder, I had to be more conscious, I could feel the spirit, the beauty, the ease leaving me, but as it left me it didn't take with it the memory or the feeling of being in that place, being that person, and I got angry at how hard it was to naturally create - or even unnaturally, with a lot of effort, create - that authentic person and that truth in our thick and heavy third-dimensional existence. I got angry because I could and can now see the extent of the hideousness in the world and I find the enormity of that hideousness scarier than I ever did. Before, I couldn't really see it or understand it properly. I still don't, but I do know not to trust it and that I have to rise far above it, shine that beacon of light I felt after session one, and help others to do the same. Yet having experienced the truth of love at the highest frequency, it pains me to be able to use that experience only as my learning ground.
Anyway, James helped me to validate and accept these feelings as a huge part of the integration process, also suggesting that they were showing me something about myself that I either no longer needed, or that was giving me a message in some way. This third session was, for me, the most significant. Perhaps by this time there was something soothing in the familiarity. In the third session, as James released some dense energy in my chest, my right hand felt like it went numb and I got the sense of a black splot of tar moving out of the front of my body. James then gave my right arm and hand some attention, the numbness changed to pins and needles and then as the session continued my hand was very cold. James told me after the session that he felt we'd reconnected my head and my heart, and he also gave me a message about my expectations of love which, later on when I had the chance to process the message, made so much sense and which I went on to discuss with my partner. This was a new understanding, something that hadn't come up anywhere in my life until now, and it explained to me a lot about how my emotions had been recently, and perhaps for quite some time. I felt very tired after this session, but so very grateful to have had the opportunity to meet James and become a little bit more whole from these sessions.
Yet where does integration end? Does it end? As I continue into a new year, the onslaught of new ideas, awareness, recognition of myself and wow moments continue as a conscious unfolding into the every day. My summary, I feel, would be portrayed well in a graph where we started on, say, 5, travelling along in life at 5. Then after psychedelic medicine we go up, wow, maybe to 8 or 9, yes, life is good, life is different, wow. Then take a nose-dive down to 2 or 3, where life's a bit hard again, harder than it was 'before', these were my angry, down days, and then eventually you settle into something that's around 6 or 7. I really do believe that if you focus on the integration, your level of consciousness is going to expand, and your energy 'constancy' is going to rise. Zero balancing doesn't do it for you, you must be the leader, but it most definitely helps in a number of ways.
Initially I expected that Zero Balancing was just a hands-on energy-healing treatment (maybe it is with other practitioners, I don't know) but with James it's so much more. It wasn't till after I'd finished the series of three sessions that I realised the significance of that initial focussed chat. It's like you get 2-for-1, a mentor as well as an energy healer. For me now, I see the session as being a conglomeration of two parts: part one the coaching, part two the treatment. First of all James listens, asks and validates, summarises and then doesn't so much link this information to the treatment but uses his absorption of this knowledge to allow a better 'whole', a 'wholer whole', as he invites back the flow of energy through the energies and joints.
I enjoyed the trio of sessions too. It was like you were involved in something, committed to something, like you had something to check back on and follow through on, to check progress on, at each session. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for the honour and opportunity to participate James. You've not seen the last of me!
PS: I mentioned above that I'd ventured into new and unknown territory as a result of taking psychedelics. This new and unknown is related to something that happened in both my MDMA and my ayahuasca ceremonies. It was the resounding call for me to get my mask off and share my truth. To cut a long story short, I was drawn by the spirit of consciousness to sign up with and volunteer with an exciting new global movement called #ThankYouPlantMedicine so that I can share truth to a world that is in badly need of the truth. ThankYouPlantMedicine is a gratitude campaign that's calling for 100,000+ people to tell their healing or transformation story on 20 February 2020, the intent being that the stigma and discrimination behind the use of these healing medicines can be dissolved. If you're interested in finding out more or joining in, there's more information here. Thank you James, for allowing me to share that here:
What follows is a guest blog post from psychedelic integration volunteer #2. See here for an introduction to this project, and here for the first case study. A third case study will be published in the coming week.
I'd recently taken psychedelic drugs (psilocybin mushrooms) as a therapeutic aid and was looking for a way to integrate the experience into my everyday life. This opportunity to work with James was recommended by a friend.
Prior to this, for the last 20 years, I've been a very traditional businessman working in sectors where "feelings" are consciously suppressed. Much of the terminology of Zero Balancing was meaningless to me, for instance "bodywork" is the panelling on my car. So please forgive any naivety in the language of this report, I hope it's readable to all.
My interest in all of this is my need for self-development. I want to improve my life, change harmful behaviours and patterns that I see playing out repeatedly in my relationships, and ultimately to move towards self-realisation.
I spoke with James about my recent psychedelic experience, and also about my nicotine addiction (as I'd heard that psychedelic experiences could be useful in helping to quit). We noted other health issues that centred around my throat including thyroid issues. I hypothesised that I had been subconsciously blocking emotions, stopping them from arising in my awareness by "clamming -up" with physical tension in my throat and upper chest - possibly leading to illnesses centred there, and that this might explain my keenness to feel the nicotine "bite" at the back of my throat. (A little physical pain might stop me from feeling anything deeper.)
In this session James quickly gained my trust and I gained an introduction to Zero Balancing. James was incredibly calm, providing a space into which I could consider and speak about my own thoughts.
Immediately after the first Zero Balancing session I felt calm and focused. Within the following days I set myself a date to quit nicotine.
In the week between session 1 and 2, I took a second psychedelic dose where I had a vision of a sub-conscious block, heavy and multi-faceted that was hindering my self-development. I'm unable to explain this feeling further, but I can say that one of the facets of this block was my own nicotine addiction (which appeared to me as a sickening, writhing, dark mass), and that the block, as-a-whole, was centred on my throat and upper part of my chest.
We discussed the recent psychedelic experience and during the session James paid additional attention to my neck and upper chest. He located a painful area in my chest that I hadn't been aware of until his touch pointed it out. It felt a little like taking boots off that were too tight, I felt pain, but a pain that I now realised had been there all along. I felt great relief.
After the session I could only describe how I felt as "like a jar, who's lid has been loosened".
I didn't have an overflow of emotion, however in the following days, at odd moments, new memories (previously never remembered) came to me from my childhood - mostly happy ones.
Later in the week after session 2, I gave up nicotine.
In this session again I asked James to put additional focus on my upper chest area, I consciously tried to allow any emotion to surface, but little came. As soon as James shifted focus away (to my left leg) I felt clear and sudden emotion rising in me. I imagined the emotion itself as an object that could travel up through my now unblocked chest and throat (where previously it had been restricted) to my head, allowing me to 'feel' it with precision. My mind, now free to grapple with the new emotion then related it to thoughts and memories of my father (I felt angry with him for not being with me in my childhood, and sadness for my younger self). It was entirely new for me to experience feelings of anger towards my father, I'd previously held him in high regard. Even so, I was able to calmly inspect and feel the emotion without becoming overwhelmed.
Since the session, many new feelings have emerged, including new clarity on how I, as a father, relate emotionally to my own son. So, for the good of everyone, I'm once again moving strongly forward on my self-development path.
I feel that Zero Balancing, hand in hand with psychedelics has helped me to remove subconscious blockages, allowing me to feel long buried emotions. The result is more balanced emotional responses in my daily life. I was lucky in that my psychedelic experience had already identified a specific area of my body on which to focus treatment.
Zero Balancing may also have been instrumental in helping me find the courage to quit nicotine.
I believe that Zero Balancing has helped me to rapidly integrate insights from Psychedelic therapy and provided me a way forward that otherwise may have taken months or years.
And finally, I thank James for his kindness and patience.
What follows is a guest blog post from the psychedelic integration volunteer mentioned in the previous blog post.
As James said in his post, ingestion of psychedelics under supervision in a safe setting greatly increases the likelihood that the psychedelic experience is one of therapeutic benefit.
I completely agree, however the safe setting that I chose could be regarded by many as highly unsafe. The middle of the Peruvian jungle, in an off grid camp, next to a tributary of the Amazon river, a day's canoe ride from any medical help. It's tough to find somewhere to do it in the UK. I'm an adventurer so it wasn't too much of an issue for me. I was highly motivated by the desire to rid myself of the heavy darkness I was carrying inside me, I didn't want it but I couldn't seem to free myself from it. I'd made progress through counseling, meditation, yoga, NVC (non violent communication), spiritual teachers on youtube and various other weird and wonderful retreats I'd attended. But something was still there and I couldn't get to it. They name this plant medicine "The Mother" in the Amazon, and they say it calls you. When I learned about Ayahuasca, it called me.
In the jungle I worked with Peruvian shamans. They hold the ceremonial space, look after the safety of the experience and facilitate healing in a very ancient, skillful and magical way. Well I found it magical, it's bread and butter sense to them, they've been doing it for generations. They drew the darkness out of me, it was a bit like having my hard drive wiped.
On return to Edinburgh, what had made perfect sense in the Peruvian jungle with shamans, was much trickier to handle in the day to day operations of living in the western world. I felt much better, but also a bit lost and alone. How was I going to integrate this into my life, load all the right stuff onto my shiny new hard drive and not go backwards in confusion? Who could I talk to? Er...not the NHS that's for sure, I was scared I might get sectioned or at least black marked. I've worked for the NHS in mental health, I know how things operate.
Fortunately for me, I found the Scottish community of psychonauts and what I needed to help me learn from, and integrate my experience. I understand now that we do have shamans in the UK, and it seems we had many more of them in the distant past. Maybe they are not always called "shamans" today, but I can spot them now, and it doesn't take long for us to recognise each other.
For me, psychedelics have been a wonderful tool for healing and I realised very quickly that the wisdom and insights gained under their influence need to be integrated. It is absolutely essential and I have put a lot of effort into this. My trip to the Amazon took me 18 months to integrate. Unfortunately I have also seen people who are lost, distressed in fact, as to how to integrate their experiences and are left floundering. Integration is 80% of the work. Psychedelics can crack the door open and let us peek inside. Then we have to push the door open ourselves and learn to live on the other side of it. When I saw James's post on the Psychedelic Society of Edinburgh I felt moved to volunteer. How wonderful someone is offering this work, how groundbreaking.
So what happened in my three sessions with James?
In my first session and my first experience of Zero Balancing, I experienced that James was purposefully calm, balanced and neutral. He was like a calm still pond - I could look into the water and see myself reflected back. I could see that he was being a mirror and holding it up for me to see myself and what was going on in me. That's a useful learning tool for integration; realising what's happening inside me, and that was one of the first things I got out of it. During the session if there were any ripples I was seeing and feeling, then I could be sure that they were my own, caused by me. He wasn't adding anything into the mix. It's not often that I am with another, or get the focus of another human being, without their ripples meeting my ripples and causing a whole lot of action in the water. This rippled water is then too unclear to see through well, and to know what is mine and what's theirs. Zero Balancing allowed me to see some of my ripples with support, and then calm them so that the water cleared.
I have recently become interested in Scotland's own teacher plant medicines. They grow wild right on our doorstep at this time of the year. I understand how to hold my own ceremonial space now and so I came to the second session with a recent new experience to integrate. I had experienced quite a profound connection with the native teacher plants a few days before the session and I'd had the somewhat baffling experience that my ancestors worked with them and they had knowledge to pass to me. Knowledge that had been lost when my ancestors and others like them were wiped out by persecution. Wow! This was a lot for me to take in, even by my standards it was weird and wonderful. The session with James helped me to take this experience a step further, firstly he was just a calm, non judgemental witness to the information, and secondly with bodywork. I had a little more understanding by now that Zero Balancing allows energy to flow more freely in a person's body so that they can come home to their true spark and essence. I left feeling lighter and more aligned in my body with less aches and stiffness.
Week three was unexpectedly emotional. I arrived feeling like a lot of what I had experienced during my psychedelic experience the previous week was just crazy talk and impossible to integrate into my life in Edinburgh. The persecution of psychedelic knowledge continues to this day and how could I get involved in working with what is (unbelievably to me) a class A drug. James was skilled in helping me to identify what I DO want in more general terms, thereby giving us a focus for the session. During the body work he hit a few points in my right shoulder that were tender and sore, but the kind of pain that feels sooooo good. When he explained to me what they represented, a lot of emotion welled up in me and I could see the root of some self limiting beliefs that are blocking me. It was a powerful experience and I spent the rest of that day and evening contemplating and integrating this new insight. It involved a lot of sobbing. I'm good with that though, it's life flowing through me, it's me evolving. I've never had good experiences in intimate relationships before, but now (I think, as a result of all the healing I've done) I have a wonderful boyfriend and he made me a nest on his sofa and looked after me while I sobbed. I'm a work in progress, all of us are and always will be. Modern day shamans can help us evolve, it's what we are here for, and to my mind they are essential members of our community.
There is an emerging paradigm shift taking hold in the treatment of mental illness. It goes by the name of Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy, and essentially involves the ingestion of psychedelics under supervision in a safe setting. Doing so greatly increases the likelihood that the psychedelic experience is one of therapeutic benefit.
Such benefits include the treatment of treatment-resistant depression, fear of death in terminal cancer patients and nicotine addiction. The results from research done so far is very compelling - some cases of which show that three doses can have lasting and sustained positive outcomes, such as an 80% success rate in the case of treating nicotine addiction. And, indeed, that one dose can make a beneficial and lasting impact on those suffering from depression. Such success rates are totally unheard of in the existing paradigm. Similarly impressive results are seen in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With two new research centres now established - one in Imperial College London and the other at John Hopkins University - many more studies are planned.
A quick search on Google or YouTube will reveal hundreds, if not thousands, of personal accounts of the benefits individuals have received from using substances such as ayahuasca (DMT), magic mushrooms (psilocybin) and LSD. These are either microdosed (a small amount - too small to induce any change in lucidity or ability to interact with one's daily life - for enhanced mood, creativity and productivity) or in 'ego dissolution' quantities (a large amount, in a safe setting, with the aim of exploring one's inner landscape and come to terms with difficult areas in one's life, be it a relationship, past traumas, a lack of purpose and meaning, etc.).
Having had personal experience and lasting benefit from the ingestion of psilocybin when I was in my late teens, I have been following this shift in attitudes with great interest. I have enjoyed reading and watching many interviews and personal accounts of these intrepid explorers of consciousness and the nature of their own minds, lovingly referred to 'psychonauts'.
These are not the footloose and fancy-free, and at times irresponsible users of psychedelics that one may assume. These are business executives, parents with busy lives and those suffering with illnesses of all sorts. These are people who realise that there is something missing in their lives, or they simply have not been able to find relief or the cause of their turmoil and pain. These are people who realise that the modern lifestyle is, for many, void of meaning and purpose.
Done responsibly and with an appropriate therapeutic container (such as in the shamanistic rituals of the Andes, Africa and Asia or in the calm setting of any other purposely designed space), these substances can be a catalyst of personal meaning, insight and, above all, healing.
So why am I, a bodyworker, so interested in psychedelic therapy?
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is that the healing potential of psychedelics is so incredibly broad. This ties in strongly with my experience of bodywork, where not only physical, but emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing is amplified and past traumas shed. A state in which insights and learning can occur easily. Although the methods and approaches are different - touch vs ingestion - I believe that there is an underlying mechanism by which healing occurs which both approaches share. Intriguingly, both are also used not just for addressing diseases within the body-mind, but also for the betterment of well people - helping people to tap into the limitless potential that boosts wellbeing, creativity and delivers personal insight.
Secondly, as I have had personal experience of magic mushrooms lifting me out of long-term depression in my teenage years - opening my eyes for the first time to the beauty of nature and art - I know some of their potential. In those years I remember reading an article in the New Scientist about the use of Iboga (a psychedelic used in Africa) in the treatment of heroin addiction. With one dose, heroin users came off heroin without the arduous, painful and sometimes fatal journey of withdrawal that the body goes through otherwise. This deepened my respect for both herbal medicine and what we term traditional or primitive cultures. These people weren't stupid or primitive at all - they just lived differently to us. Indeed, I am now of the understanding that they were far more advanced than us in other aspects. And most, if not all, of which have been documented to use psychedelic substances for healing purposes or initiation rites.
And, lastly, this paradigm shift in the treatment of mental illnesses isn't the only paradigm shift taking place in the field. As I have written about before, the works of Peter Levine, Stephen Borges and Bessel van der Kolk are also coming to the fore. They demonstrate how the body plays a pivotal role in both the establishing and treatment of trauma, and how traumas greatly increase the likelihood of physical illnesses, such as autoimmune diseases and cancer, and mental conditions such as addiction and ADHD. I have a strong belief that these two paradigm shifts are necessary to help address the catastrophic rise in mental and physical illness across the world.
In particular, one theme that keeps coming up from my research on therapeutic and healing psychedelic use is the need for integration.
During the psychedelic experience, one can receive insights about one's behaviour and how this adversely affects one's self and those in one's life. And, if you're willing to suspend your disbelief, these substances can teach us about the nature of what it means to be alive and our place in the world. Such insights are profound and often create a desire to change one's lifestyle and life direction. But I reportedly hear that grounding these insights isn't easy.
Changing one's behaviour, one's reactions, to establish a more compassionate and holistic way of operating in the world is where the rubber meets the road, so the speak. And this is where I believe bodywork can augment and amplify the healing potential of Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy.
Speaking from my perspective as a Zero Balancer, in bodywork we work with the physical body to affect positive change within the client. The changes that occur are not limited to the physical body - far from it. However, because we start with contacting the physical body, there's always a grounded connection in the physical and lived experience of being in the human body.
It doesn't matter where the client goes during the experience. They may go out of body, re-visit memories or places, see visions, dreams or colours, experience emotions, or enjoy a deeply relaxing bodily experience that provides them with much needed rest. It is all induced through conscious, sensitive touch. No matter the experience, each session ends with a clear grounding, so that the experience is integrated into their physical existence.
My theory is that whilst psychedelic sessions can and do elicit profound insights, how they affect one's life varies from person to person depending on how well they can ground their experience in their daily lives. Through bodywork, I believe that it's possible to connect with the person's psychedelic experience - it's qualities, to be more exact - and help ground it into their literal and metaphoric bones, so that it can integrate with their every day embodied experience.
To be clear, the psychedelic experience is internal and whilst the resulting insights can bring changes in perspective, the changes in perspective don't necessarily change one's external behaviours. The inside out approach of psychedelics is reliant on how well connected one's inner life is with one's outer life. Bodywork, on the other hand, works from the outside in. It calls forth that which is internal and can bring it into the external. This is why I think bodywork can be hugely beneficial for those who are struggling to integrate their psychedelic experiences.
As a result, I put out a call on the Facebook page of the Psychedelic Society of Edinburgh a few months ago asking for volunteers to write about their experience of integrating their psychedelic experiences through Zero Balancing. I offered three free Zero Balancing sessions to those willing to volunteer. And one person stepped forward and emailed me. At the time of writing, we have just finished our three sessions and I have no idea what she has written or will write. My hope, however, is that she will agree to my putting it up as a guest blog post on my website.
Even if my theory is not bolstered by the upcoming blog post, I remain hopeful that the emerging paradigms of Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy and bodywork can support each other and work together to assist in healing this fractured world, and the fractured people who inhabit it.