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 (link) 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.