“The term placebo effect is generally used to include a variety of things, including expectation effects, and usually it also helps control for things like regression to the mean which, obviously, is not an “effect” of the placebo. In its strictest sense there is no such thing as a placebo “effect” because by definition, placebos are substances without an effect. But that usage strikes me as pedantic. The term placebo effect, when used to encompass all of the aspects of the difference between a drug group and a control group, is helpful and, I think, operationalized well enough to be clear.” Obviously not. If ‘placebo effect’ exclusively meant “the aspects of the difference between a drug group and a control group” it would be impossible to do placebo controlled trials of non-drug therapies. That clearly isn’t the case. The trial you are reviewing was not of the traditional ayahuasca healing ceremonies of the people of the Amazon. To introduce them by claiming they rely on the placebo effect is just as gratuitous as if a pill doctor reviewing a placebo controlled neuroleptic trial claimed that therapeutic communities such as Soteria rely on the placebo effect because the patients (by and large) don’t take neuroleptics. To know whether the ceremonies you mentioned rely on the placebo effect you’d have to run a trial in which one arm used the actual ceremony and another arm used a sham ceremony which resembled it but lacked the aspects practitioners claimed were what brought about healing (e.g. by having the shaman take a sugar pill). The trial you review does no such thing, so to suggest it says anything about whether traditional ceremonies rely on the placebo effect is false. To suggest you know anything about whether such ceremonies rely on the placebo effect is also false because no such trials have been done (at least to my knowledge – please correct me if I’m wrong). “Yes, the researchers in this paper CALLED it a limitation. However, while the researchers called this a lower dose, there’s really nothing to compare it to. It’s not as if there is an established dose of ayahuasca for clinical work. So, the researchers note that their dose was just somewhat lower than in two other studies.” So if they gave a microdose – or even a zero dose – it wouldn’t have been a limitation because there’s no established benchmark to compare it to? Perhaps. If so it’s equally true to say there’s no dosage that would be relevant to the study because we don’t know which ones might be therapeutic. So it’s a non-study that shows nothing. But there is something to compare it to. The placebo controlled trials which had neither the limitation of subjects with no clinical symptoms to alleviate nor a lower dose than has been found to have therapeutic effects. And they found “significant antidepressant effects of ayahuasca when compared with placebo at all-time points”. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29903051/ Obviously if you lower the dose sufficiently from there you will eventually reach a point at which it doesn’t have significant effects, so if this trial hadn’t had the additional limitation of lacking depression symptoms to treat it would be reasonable to say it shows a sub-clinical dose of ayahuasca, not that it shows the placebo effect in action (or at least not any more than any placebo controlled trial of anything does).
“The term placebo effect is generally used to include a variety of things, including expectation effects, and usually it also helps control for things like regression to the mean which, obviously, is not an “effect” of the placebo. In its strictest sense there is no such thing as a placebo “effect” because by definition, placebos are substances without an effect. But that usage strikes me as pedantic. The term placebo effect, when used to encompass all of the aspects of the difference between a drug group and a control group, is helpful and, I think, operationalized well enough to be clear.”
If ‘placebo effect’ exclusively meant “the aspects of the difference between a drug group and a control group” it would be impossible to do placebo controlled trials of non-drug therapies. That clearly isn’t the case.
The trial you are reviewing was not of the traditional ayahuasca healing ceremonies of the people of the Amazon. To introduce them by claiming they rely on the placebo effect is just as gratuitous as if a pill doctor reviewing a placebo controlled neuroleptic trial claimed that therapeutic communities such as Soteria rely on the placebo effect because the patients (by and large) don’t take neuroleptics.
To know whether the ceremonies you mentioned rely on the placebo effect you’d have to run a trial in which one arm used the actual ceremony and another arm used a sham ceremony which resembled it but lacked the aspects practitioners claimed were what brought about healing (e.g. by having the shaman take a sugar pill). The trial you review does no such thing, so to suggest it says anything about whether traditional ceremonies rely on the placebo effect is false. To suggest you know anything about whether such ceremonies rely on the placebo effect is also false because no such trials have been done (at least to my knowledge – please correct me if I’m wrong).
“Yes, the researchers in this paper CALLED it a limitation. However, while the researchers called this a lower dose, there’s really nothing to compare it to. It’s not as if there is an established dose of ayahuasca for clinical work. So, the researchers note that their dose was just somewhat lower than in two other studies.”
So if they gave a microdose – or even a zero dose – it wouldn’t have been a limitation because there’s no established benchmark to compare it to? Perhaps. If so it’s equally true to say there’s no dosage that would be relevant to the study because we don’t know which ones might be therapeutic. So it’s a non-study that shows nothing.
But there is something to compare it to. The placebo controlled trials which had neither the limitation of subjects with no clinical symptoms to alleviate nor a lower dose than has been found to have therapeutic effects. And they found “significant antidepressant effects of ayahuasca when compared with placebo at all-time points”.
Obviously if you lower the dose sufficiently from there you will eventually reach a point at which it doesn’t have significant effects, so if this trial hadn’t had the additional limitation of lacking depression symptoms to treat it would be reasonable to say it shows a sub-clinical dose of ayahuasca, not that it shows the placebo effect in action (or at least not any more than any placebo controlled trial of anything does).
“The study had one massive limitation: the participants did not meet the criteria for psychiatric disorders. But this is also true of other naturalistic studies on the drug, which appeared more promising because they did not control for the placebo effect.”
The study had another massive limitation – which it explicitly acknowledges in the discussion section.
“In previous placebo-controlled studies, oral doses containing 0.36mg/kg DMT were administered to depressed patients (Palhano-Fontes et al. 2019) and freeze-dried oral doses containing 0.75mg/kg DMT (Dos Santos et al. 2012; Valle et al. 2016) and 1 mg/kg DMT (Dos Santos et al. 2011) to experienced users of ayahuasca. In the present study, doses were not adjusted for body weight. However, for an average individual of 70 kg, the equivalent dose would be between 0.20 (7 capsules) and 0.29 mg/kg (10 capsules). Therefore DMT doses in the present study were lower than a therapeutic dose of DMT as administered in a clinical setting. “
In other words they were using sub-therapeutic doses, so it would have been quite surprising to see a strong drug-mediated response, especially as the subjects weren’t even suffering from the disorders used as response measures.
So I guess the title of this article ‘New Study of Ayahuasca Users Shows Placebo Effect in Action‘ is less misleading than the text. But a similar study using sugar pills instead of sub-clinical doses of ayahuasca could have been expected to show the same thing and resulted in an even less misleading title and article.
That said, it’s important to remember that it’s not the drug that effects healing in psychedelic therapy. The drug (in sufficiently high doses) merely temporarily knocks down the ego so the sufferer can gain insights into her condition that were obscured by her own self-image and notions of how she relates to her suffering and the aspects of her self/experience/environment that give rise to it. It’s up to the sufferer herself to decide what to do with those insights.
“In fact, both groups experienced about the same level of psychedelic effects, too. The researchers write that “participants in both groups experienced altered states of consciousness during the ceremony.”
That’s not at all what it says either. ‘Contact highs’ are a thing, so you’d expect both groups to experience altered states. But unless the dose is quite small they would definitely not experience the same level of psychedelic effects. And sure enough, according to Fig 2 the ayahuasca group experienced significantly greater psychedelic effects than the placebo group in all categories except ‘Ego Dissolution Inventory’ and ‘reduction of vigilance’.
“This study also demonstrates how indigenous ritual beliefs are co-opted and misunderstood by the medical model of psychiatry. In psychiatry, it is assumed that the drug’s biological aspect causes the improvement; however, in indigenous cultures, the ritual itself is entirely or primarily responsible for the improvement.”
That’s only partially true too.
It’s true that only the shaman takes ayahuasca in traditional healing ceremonies and true that Western ayahuasca ceremonies co-opt and misrepresent indigenous ones. But it’s completely false to claim the ritual itself is primarily responsible for the improvement.
In fact the shaman uses the ayahuasca to ‘get behind’ the objective physiological symptoms of the problem so she can address the entire disorder – which has physiological, emotional, social and spiritual components (not that non-Enlightenment cultures would make such distinctions). Without the drug the shaman would be unable to fully grasp the disorder and exercise her healing art upon it.
It’s also misleading to imply ‘ritual effect’=’placebo effect’. In fact the ritual has important socio-spiritual components that serve to reintegrate the sufferer with his community and environment, thereby addressing aspects of disorders typically neglected by Western medicine.
I really think Peter should consider rewriting or withdrawing this article. Some of his errors are attributable to misunderstanding but others are harder to find innocent explanations for. At the very least it seems he didn’t closely read the research he’s reviewing.
“A study on the mental health effects of the psychedelic drug ayahuasca found that the drug was no better than a placebo”
Err, no it didn’t.
What it actually found was …
“There was a main treatment × time interaction on implicit emotional empathy, indicating that ayahuasca increased emotional empathy to negative stimuli. The current findings suggest that improvements in mental health of participants of ayahuasca ceremonies can be driven by non-pharmacological factors that constitute a placebo response but also by pharmacological factors that are related to the use of ayahuasca. ”
And the moral of the story is; when reading analyses by commentators with an agenda always check primary sources.
But you’re probably right about ketamine/esketamine.
I also think this article starts from universalist assumptions about individualism that would have been quite alien to many cultures prior to European contact.
If you don’t start from a position of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ in relation to possessions, power and status then it’s not really egalitarian to fail to competitively seek to enhance those aspects of your social identity rather than trying to live in accordance with tried and true social relationships that have been handed down in tradition, myth and lore for centuries or millennia.
Probably few could even have imagined more individualist ways of life, much less felt the need to ‘maintain their egalitarian ways’. Propagating Abrahamic notions of a personal relationship with a judgemental creator God, rather than a more holistic view of People, Land and Divinity as inextricably interwoven, sure seems an effective way of undermining such societies.
I think there’s a lot of Rosseauism in this article.
My Aboriginal ancestors were perhaps the nearest thing to ‘pure’ nomadic hunter-gatherers on the planet when first encountered by Europeans. But reports of their pacifism are seriously exaggerated, not least by those who think their subsequent dispossession, oppression and slaughter were the regrettable but inevitable consequences of social Darwinism. “If we didn’t do it, someone even nastier would have”.
My forbears didn’t make lil-lils, shields and war boomerangs for decoration you know. And unlike New Agers and corporate motivators their warrior culture wasn’t an affectation.
“let us hope he is writing a horror sci fi book.”
It’d be a bit of a Huxley rip-off.
“Even more scary is the whole vision contemplates therapy without the human touch, without caring, compassion, and empathy.”
How’s that different to the psychiatry we already have?
We just feed the DSM punch cards into the psyche-bot and it spits out a diagnosis and prescription.
“sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) are hoped to somehow eliminate clinical bias in the assessment of mental illness, but how this is achieved remains unexamined”
Isn’t it obvious?
Clinical bias will be replaced with algorithmic bias. Not Facebook, but Mindbook. And naturally all these new technologies will be controlled and directed by the corporations that develop them. So ‘normal’ will be the ideal of passive worker-consumers regimented to think and behave in exactly the way corporations want them to.
I’m sure it will be necessary to adopt this system well before 2500 so that corporate capitalist states in the West can continue to compete with the emerging corporate socialist powers of the East. Democracy can only survive if we all agree about everything all the time and the pathology of dissent is therapeutically regulated out of existence.
There is no alternative!
It’s even more Kafkaesque than that.
When the Hawaii Innocence Project first tried to clear Spriestersbach and get him released they applied to the state Attorney General’s office for documents pertinent to his case. They were refused.
According to AG officials he wasn’t entitled to them because Joshua Spriestersbach wasn’t the listed defendant. Thomas Castleberry was.
When I was lecturing in criminology about 20 years ago there was a huge debate among academics as to why the violent crime rate had risen remorselessly since the late 60s across most of the developed world, only to start dropping steeply from the mid-90s onward.
The arguments generally split across the usual left/right divide. One side saying the 60s rejection of authority and emphasis on individual rights had pushed crime up and increasing imprisonment and zero-tolerance policing was bringing it down. The other pointed to reduction in social safety nets and widening gaps between rich and poor as the cause and more data informed, evidence based criminal justice and rehabilitation programs as the cure. Both sides tried to fit patterns of illegal drug consumption (e.g. the ‘crack’ epidemic) and media portrayals of criminality into their arguments. There were also some outliers, like the authors of ‘Freakonomics’, who claimed changes in the availability of abortions among the impoverished (especially non-whites) explained it all.
Turns out they were all wrong.
It was only when people started comparing levels of environmental lead pollution to violent crime rates in the relevant regions about 15-20 years later that a clear pattern began to emerge. Turns out if you want to turn someone into a violent criminal the best way to do it is expose them to lead in their early childhood. The most effective crime reduction programs of the 20th century were the elimination of lead additives to petrol and paint.
Though there’s been a lot of follow-up studies all around the world replicating and confirming those findings, you pretty much never hear it mentioned in the mainstream media and even criminology textbooks barely touch on it.
I wonder why.
We’re expecting a parliamentary inquiry into the NSW mental health system to be announced in November and are hoping to get the sort of results we saw in the recent Victorian Royal Commission into the Mental Health System. If we do, that’s a good platform for root and branch reform of how the NSW system operates; starting with a human rights based rewrite of the Mental Health Act, continuing with a curtailing of the power of psychiatrists in the Health Department bureaucracy and hopefully going all the way to an effective, enforceable plan to eliminate seclusion, restraint and involuntary treatment within a decade or so.
Personal testimony from those who have been abused under the current system will be key to getting the results we need. There’s a few ways you can assist with that.
One would be to make a personal submission to the inquiry when it opens. If you do you might also be asked to give testimony before the committee of inquiry, but you won’t be pressured if you decline. The submission can be marked as not for publication if you like, but that will reduce its effectiveness.
If you want to be heard without giving identifying information to parliament the best way would be through a sympathetic third party. I’d suggest contacting either the NSW Greens spokesperson on mental health, Cate Faehrmann or the activist group Justice Action. In this way your testimony can be quoted in someone else’s submission without the need for you to self-identify to the committee.
I hope you’ll seriously consider contributing. It’s going to be years before we start seeing real results but the momentum from the Victorian Royal Commission, along with the strong human rights stances recently adopted by the UN and WHO, probably offer the best chance for lasting change we’re gonna get for a generation.
Australia is particularly poor at respecting the rights of those designated mentally ill and NSW is probably the worst jurisdiction in the country. There’s nowhere to go but up.
(P.S. I’m amazed you found a humane forensic psychiatrist in NSW. If you contact Justice Action I hope you can give them details. We’re always looking for sympathetic mental health professionals for our casework, both for personal support and for expert testimony to the MHRT and Supreme Court.)
Well, I don’t have a TV or radio. Not that it insulates me from the effects of the media. That permeates our whole society.
But somehow I think my opinion of law enforcement is informed more by life experience than what the journos try to tell me.
My earliest degree from the college of hard knocks came 40 years ago, when I was both a heroin addict and a dealer and the Australian media never questioned police narratives about anything.
Twice I was caught by police. Both times I was bashed and had my money and drugs stolen. But I was never charged. That’s because I was listed as a police informant by a senior detective I’d never met or spoken to. So why was I down as his informant? Because he was on the payroll of the drug importer I worked for.
I also attended numerous court cases involving my friends – including a murder trial. In every case the police gave false evidence and in every case the outcome was fixed. Usually, but not always, in favour of the defendant. Because the police and/or prosecutor and/or defence attorney and/or judge had been bribed. One time I accidentally fixed a case myself. Under cross examination I revealed the name of my employer in the IT industry (Not my other employer of course. I’m still alive.) The judge had attended the same exclusive school at the same time as my boss. You should have seen the prosecutor’s face when he realised his mistake.
I lived near the then ‘sex capital’ of Australia – Kings Cross – and many of my friends – including all my flatmates – worked in the sex industry, which was then illegal in NSW. So I got to see close up how the dynamics of police corruption and the sex industry played out. Sex work has since been decriminalised in NSW and the element of police corruption in it has been vastly reduced, but not eliminated.
Twenty years ago I was working for Justice Action and the Indigenous Social Justice Association on deaths in custody cases, wrongful convictions and sex offence resolution, restoration and rehabilitation. I often acted as a consultant on cases involving forensic DNA – which I lectured on and wrote cited papers and articles about. Though the NSW police had supposedly cleaned up their act following the Wood Royal Commission into police corruption concocting false evidence was (and remains) the rule rather than the exception. I was in close contact with several US Innocence Projects, so I know the US police follow similar ‘rules of evidence’ – including in capital cases.
The OJ Simpson murder case was one in point. He was almost certainly guilty but the police still planted DNA evidence and gave false testimony. They were caught and OJ was acquitted. The whole world was watching so the judiciary couldn’t just sweep the corruption under the carpet.
But the hardest lessons were the ones I learned supporting the families of those killed by police through the inquest and (occasionally) the trial.
Mostly they were conservative, church-going folk who had no previous reason to think the police, coroners and judiciary were thoroughly bent. They then had to face police media blitzes that dishonestly defamed their dead loved one in an attempt to justify his/her death. Often that included retrospectively having them diagnosed with a psychotic illness, so their lives were worth less and they were ‘a danger to others’. This isn’t a case of police working with corrupt psychiatrists. It’s psychiatrists working with corrupt police. They then saw the coroner bend over backwards to exclude evidence of the obvious – that their loved one had been murdered by police for no lawful reason. If that was impossible (usually because of witnesses and media coverage) it was passed to a prosecutor who no-billed the case or to a judge who instructed the jury to return an innocent verdict.
My job wasn’t to help families find justice. That’s impossible under the system we have. It was to plug them into what support services were available and try to manage their expectations so their irresolvable grief doesn’t tip over into the sort of hopeless despair that kills.
I can’t do that sort of work any more, rebel. I burned out. As I write this the tears are pouring down my face with the memories it brings. But plenty of other people do that work day-in, day-out for decades on end. Please don’t tell them their views on police corruption come from the media.
“If seems to me, that if the dosage is just a little off, it could put a person’s life in danger.”
Psychedelics can put people’s lives in danger, not least because of the response law enforcement often has towards those who take them. But the dosage has very little to do with it.
As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, the difference between an effective and a lethal dose of conventional psychedelics is huge. At least an order of magnitude more than the difference between slaking your thirst and dying of water toxicity.
And there’s never been any evidence found for what could reasonably be described as ‘brain damage’ attributable to them, despite a lot of government funded research attempting to prove exactly that.
If you have any references to the contrary I’d appreciate a link. I do advocate for legalisation and wider use of these drugs. I take my responsibility to inform myself of their potential dangers seriously.
“There is good evidence from reputable historians that the Prohibition at least contributed to the Depression and then the Depression contributed to WWII”
Well, I guess everything ultimately contributes to everything else. The butterfly wing-beat that contributes to a cyclone half the world away. Indra’s Net. That sort of thing.
But if you can give me a reference as to how the US experiment with alcohol prohibition was a proximate cause of the worldwide Great Depression I’ll certainly take a look. I’ve heard the Depression attributed to many factors, mostly economic though not exclusively, and that one’s new to me.
“I do not know if the Prohibition era led to corrupt law enforcement. Personally, I do not think law enforcement is corrupt”
Well we definitely disagree there. But I’m non-white. I’ve also been involved in many court cases including several deaths in custody. It gives you a different perspective. I’d have thought you’d at least see the collusion between law enforcement and forced psychiatry as corrupt.
I agree in principle with your critique of psychiatry from a spiritual perspective. As a pseudoscience psychiatry is very defensive of its bogus credentials and so will always seek to deny or explain away anything that can’t be objectified in accordance with its simplistic facsimile of the scientific method. And yes, there is much in Jungianism that’s guilty of that, though I’d argue less so than in most branches of psychiatry or in many non-psychiatric post-Enlightenment cults of objectivity. ‘Scientific’ parapsychology for example.
What I disagree with is that there could be some kind of objective, one-size-fits all spiritual path that would enable us to judge which ones are ‘deeper’ or ‘more advanced’. IMHO you have to find your path from where you are and imagining all start and end in the same place or pass the same milestones is hubristic at the very least. Often it’s using spiritual ‘authority’ as a tool of authoritarianism.
TBH, paranormal phenomena such as miracle healing, ESP, OOBEs, NDEs, witchcraft, meditative levitation, past life regression, etc, etc, are irrelevant to my own spiritual path. To me they’re just performative means people use to try to objectify their spirituality and give it social value, meaning and authority.
I have neither subjective nor objective measures of the worth of my spirituality. It’s completely contained in and of itself. It doesn’t promise me salvation, certainty, redemption, psychic powers, understanding, personal growth, wealth, health, happiness, arcane knowledge, a better rebirth, the end of suffering or eternal life. There’s no gauge or exchange rate I could use to weigh it against anything else. And it’s not a matter of preference or personal choice any more than the fact of my own existence is. It simply is. As am I. That’s good enough for me.
“In recent research with LSD, the maximum dose is generally 200 micrograms, given the high intensity of subjective effects at this dose range and an increased likelihood of adverse events if exceeded. Moreover, giving people high dose psychedelics on consecutive days could be mentally destabilizing, especially for patients with schizophrenia.”
Well, any form of abuse can be mentally destabilising, but there’s a few problems with this statement.
While it might be fair to say recent research is generally at less than 200mcg, the types of treatment currently being researched can be classified into three broad categories, “psycholytic therapy”, “psychedelic chemotherapy” and “psychedelic peak therapy”.
Psycholytic therapy is the most common. It includes micro-dosing at as low as 10mcg and rarely exceeds 200mcg per session. But the other two categories routinely dose at higher levels, up to and sometimes exceeding 500mcg.
In the 1970s a standard recreational street dose contained 100-150mcg of LSD. These days 40-80mcg is more common. Using 500mcg or more of LSD without a high pre-existing tolerance is described by the subculture as ‘heroic’, but I’d call using it on someone with no prior psychedelic experience ‘utterly irresponsible’.
But a bigger issue is that the statement doesn’t address the extraordinary tolerance curve of psychedelics.
If you take 100mcg on day one then you’ll need more than 200mcg 24 hours later to get a similar effect, then 400mcg the next day, 800mcg the day after that, etc. If you stop using it takes 6 to 8 weeks to return to naive tolerance levels.
So taking 100mcg daily for two weeks would have little detectable effect after the first few days. Suddenly increasing it to 500mcg would presumably have an effect, but it would still be unlikely to be as effective as a 200mcg dose to a psychedelic naive subject.
The abusive form the research described here took is of much greater concern. It’s hard to imagine anything more hellish than being physically and psychologically abused while under the influence of psychedelics.
Here’s an interesting article in which a Jungian therapist gives her interpretation of how psychedelics can benefit mental health and personal development.
Quote: “Research indicates that an essential healing mechanism of psychedelic use is the ‘mystical experience’: an encounter with the ineffable, with that-which-is-nothing-and-all, or that which you, as a discrete entity, are most certainly not. That is, psychedelics seem to heal by expanding people into something larger than they previously thought themselves to be.”
I disagree somewhat with her article. Firstly I don’t think recalled dreams are particularly useful means of self-analysis whether or not psychedelics are involved. I think only fragments of dreams are recalled after waking – even if you immediately copy all you can remember into a dream diary – and a lot of the narrative gaps are filled in post-facto in an attempt to make a linear story from them. That’s why I think we can so easily follow movies with cuts and gaps in the story – because we already do that all the time to make sense of our dreams and incomplete memories.
So basically, recalled dreams aren’t as ‘primal’ as the Jungians would have it. They’re already edited/processed/contaminated by our preconceptions, preferences and prejudices into something we can make sense of.
Secondly, she assumes that because the language of symbolic representation is ‘older’ than the spoken word it’s somehow more suitable for capturing the ineffable nature of mystical experiences. I disagree.
What makes transcendent, ego-dissolving mystical experiences unique, ineffable and impossible to imagine is their non-dual nature. All languages, including symbolic ones, communicate by dividing the universe into binaries.
So the word “cat” also implies all that is not a cat, in the same way left implies right, up implies down, light implies darkness and right implies wrong. All languages, including symbolic ones, work the same way. Mystical experiences don’t.
In a nondual state all such distinctions disappear. There is no separation between things, not even subject and object or self and other. So there is nothing separating you from anything in the universe, including God. It’s a sort of ephemeral return to a state before eating from the tree of knowledge brought about the Fall.
The problems arise when you try to hang onto your mystical experience by fitting it into your narrative memory with language. Throwing words or symbols at it contaminates it. On the one hand, this may allow certain insights it offers to be preserved within your conceptual frameworks – as when you ‘fit it’ into your religious belief system – but on the other, it allows charismatic or powerful people to superimpose their own symbols and beliefs over your experience, as did Charles Manson and other ‘gurus’.
If you already buy into Jungian symbology it’s probably not going to do any harm to use it to interpret your own mystical experiences. But if you’re allowing a Jungian to do that for you you’re running the risk of being brainwashed into their doctrine.
In my experience, the trickiest and most important thing about guiding someone through a powerful psychedelic experience is to avoid doing it at all unless it’s absolutely necessary to avoid harm and, if you do, to be very aware of the temptations and dangers of imposing your own world view on someone else when they’re trying to find a way to make sense of something completely out of the realms of their prior experiences.
But if we’re gonna turn this stuff over to shrinks I’d prefer it was the Jungians.
I respect most of your views and the main thrust of your points.
There is indeed a major problem with the way everyone thinks there is a technical solution (often drugs) for every problem facing individuals, society, mankind and the planet and the trick is to find the right expert and make sure they have the power and resources to fix everything.
Regarding Prohibition, I’d disagree it was a major factor in the Depression or WWII, but it certainly gave us the sort of organised crime and corrupt police forces we have today, which was perpetuated after alcohol prohibition was lifted and replaced with prohibition of other drugs. This was due largely to the efforts of law enforcement authorities (especially Harry Anslinger) to maintain the power and funding they gained from alcohol prohibition.
The Prohibition also led to an increase in alcohol related deaths in the US due to unsafe bootleg liquor (often laced with methanol) and the inability of people to seek medical help for alcohol overdose for fear of criminal penalties. We still see exactly the same problem with black-market drugs and that’s a big reason the opioid epidemic has killed so many Americans (nearly twice as many as Covid).
I am against current psychiatric drugs. Not because they’re drugs but because their risk:benefit ratio skews so heavily in the wrong direction. I would allow both that they can benefit some people if used in certain ways and that everyone should have the right to make an informed choice as to whether to use them. But I’d still like to see them banned from being prescribed as therapies because I think the business model of the pharmaceutical and psychiatric industries ensures most people will make a misinformed choice.
I’d also like to see free clinics authorised to dispense them while helping people to withdraw and allow that complete withdrawal may be impossible for some and they should be permitted to keep receiving them indefinitely (at the minimum feasible dose). This would be similar to a program in the UK which was originally set up to help morphine addicted ex-servicemen following WWII.
But I think that even though the benefits of most legal drugs are overestimated and the harms underestimated (with the reverse usually true for illegal drugs) there really are a lot of vital drugs out there that are needed. Antibiotics, vaccines, insulin, etc, etc. In fact if it wasn’t for antibiotics, antivirals, bronchodilators and anesthetics I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be alive now. If it wasn’t for cortico-steroids I’d be blind.
I also think – on the balance of probabilities – that my life would have been more spiritually impoverished and my mental health worse were it not for psychedelics.
I’ve been in and out of several addictions over my life – including heroin, though never nicotine or alcohol fortunately – but I think it would be very hard to get addicted to conventional psychedelics and the research backs me up on that.
Firstly you don’t get cravings. Psychedelics don’t start working until around 30 minutes after you take them and if they cause euphoria (which is context dependent) it’s generally not until they’ve peaked at least an hour after that. So you’re not getting the Pavlovian association between dose and pleasure that causes cravings in quicker acting drugs.
The tolerance curve for psychedelics is unique and amazing. After a trip it will be weeks until you can take another one and expect an effect. So you can’t use them frequently enough to develop habituation and you will always have completed physical withdrawal (which is mild and lasts only a day or so) by the time you use them again.
If you use them socially as a party drug (which I never have) there’s always the risk you’ll become socially addicted to them (i.e. you won’t know what to do with yourself at gatherings unless you’re tripping). I’ve run across a handful of people like that at tourist places with a rave scene (Goa in India and Koh Phangan in Thailand) but I’m told it’s fairly common with non-conventional psychedelics such as ketamine, GHB and MDMA on the club circuit (which I’ve never been involved with).
As I said, I’ve been using conventional psychedelics regularly for about 40 years now and in all that time I’ve never been tempted to use them more than 3-4 times a year, despite feeling more positively about them than I do any other mind altering substance or activity. I’ve sometimes gone for several years without them without feeling the need to seek them out. I figure when the time is right they’ll find me.
The other advantage psychedelics have over all other drugs is the huge difference between an effective dose and a toxic one. People have accidentally taken many hundreds of times the normal dose of LSD and once it wore off about 24 hours later suffered no ill effects. That means LSD is less toxic than water (which can cause permanent brain damage in overdose).
However I’d emphasise again that even normal doses of LSD can induce seizures in epileptics and increase blood pressure by up to 30 points (though about 10 is more usual) and these things are potentially fatal. But coffee, sex or vigorous exercise can do that too. It’s also been linked to sustained psychotic breaks in people with histories of psychosis – though the stories of people thinking they can fly and leaping from buildings seem to be apocryphal.
The biggest danger of taking psychedelics is that you’ll become so disoriented you’ll walk into traffic or behave so aberrantly that someone will call the cops and you’ll get shot (a particular danger if you’re young, male and non-white). That can be minimised with careful attention to set and setting.
There’s also a case in which an elephant was killed with a deliberate megadose of LSD. No prizes for guessing the profession of the people who did it.
Also in 1953 a bioweapons researcher named Frank Olsen fell from a hotel window and died nine days after being unknowingly given a huge LSD as part of MKULTRA research. But the LSD would have worn off long before then. Some people speculate he committed suicide because he didn’t know he’d been drugged and thought he was going mad. Others claim he was murdered by the CIA because he’d threatened to blow the whistle on MKULTRA and/or the illegal chemical warfare research he was involved in.
Yeah, I know many Christians think anything outside their own belief system is demonic, often even other Christians who don’t think, believe or worship the same way they do. A lot of Protestants think the Pope is the Antichrist and Catholics have a history of killing other Catholics over such arcane theological disputes as the ‘true’ nature of the Trinity.
That sort of thinking has led Christians to do a lot of demonic things over the centuries. What they did to Native Americans and my own Australian Aboriginal forbears in the name of ‘driving the devil out’ are just two cases in point. The ‘One True God’ has always been a bit like that. He’d no sooner told the Children of Israel ‘thou shalt not kill’ than He had them off slaughtering the Midianites, down to women, children and farm animals. All except for the young virgins, who were enslaved with God taking a share of that booty for Himself.
On the face of it, if there really is a Satan the Deceiver, maybe Christians should stop pointing their fingers at other people’s gods and start looking a lot closer to home.
It’s that sort of thing that ensured I’d never be a Christian. So if failing to toe the ‘damn the disbelievers’ line is a ticket to hell then my berth is already booked.
Of course it’s better if you can induce such experiences without drugs and some people do. My earliest experiences of that sort were spontaneous, years before I took any ‘recreational’ drugs (unless you count the passive nicotine intake from my early 60s parents) and I’ve since learned to (unreliably) induce them with various meditation techniques and breathwork, though it’s hard to sustain them that way.
But basically if you’re OK with religious mysticism – especially modern Catholic mystics like Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Merton – then chances are you’d be OK with psychedelic use in a religious context. If you’re more of a biblical literalist who rejects the mystical aspects of spirituality then you’d probably either hate it or have your religious perspective profoundly changed by it.
When used in a religious context psychedelics are called ‘entheogenic’, which means ‘to induce the divine’.
“From what I have gathered from online information and experiencers, psychedelics are particularly effective at promoting an “out of body experience””
Well, after about four decades of psychedelic use involving dozens of individual and group trips plus dozens more where I’ve acted as a non-using ‘sitter’ while others used them I can’t say I’ve ever experienced an out-of-body experience as a result or spoken to anyone who says they have.
There’s loads of effects of psychedelics and they’re highly dependent on what’s called ‘set and setting’ (expectations and environment) but the most profoundly spiritual ones closely resemble the mystical experiences that seem common to many different religions, including Christianity.
Religiously observant Christians who’ve tried them (including clerics) routinely describe it as the most profoundly spiritual experience of their lives and the deepest connection to God they’ve ever felt. People who start a trip as atheists often finish it believing in God and take up a spiritual practice – sometimes Christian, sometimes not.
So is caffeine neurotoxic because it affects your brain?
The good thing about the drug war is that it’s prompted loads of research into street drug toxicity to try to justify the hefty legal penalties against them. After decades of research there’s still no evidence LSD, mescaline or psilocybin (from magic mushrooms) kill brain cells and some (unverified) evidence they promote neuron growth.
However there are newer synthetic psychedelics (such as 25I-NBOMe) that are quite toxic and they’re sometimes sold as LSD. That’s another reason to legalise them so people can be reasonably sure they’re taking what the label on the pack says they’re taking.
There’s also certain magic mushrooms (such as fly agaric) that contain toxic chemicals as well as psilocybin. The traditional users have ways to neutralise them (the Sami people in Lapland feed fly agaric to their reindeers then drink the reindeer urine, which still contains lots of unmetabolised psilocybin) but a lot of people are pretty clueless when it comes to taking appropriate precautions when collecting and consuming mushrooms.
“which seems to be from a loving concern for your mother”
Actually my mother was never sucked in by A Course in Miracles, probably because by the time she saw it she’d been through several similar belief systems and could see how derivative it is.
Her brother, OTOH, was a lifelong atheist going through a major life crisis when his new partner introduced him to ACIM. He’d never seen anything like it before and thought it was revolutionary. He’s also a perfect fit for the educational, socioeconomic and personality profile ACIM is aimed at.
I’d always been close to my uncle and feel I owe him a lot for help he’s given me at crucial points of my own life but I saw through ACIM right from the start. I researched it so thoroughly so I could discuss it with him at his own level of expertise. But I sure wasn’t expecting it to be an MKULTRA subproject.
As with most ACIM followers, my uncle knows one of its founders worked for the CIA, but ACIM has a well rehearsed apologia for both Thetford’s career in brainwashing and the criminal immorality of MKULTRA, so he’s not terribly disturbed by it. Thetford started his career in military intelligence psychology working for G2 screening Manhattan Project researchers and staff, BTW.
We’ll have to agree to disagree about psychedelics. Many religious and healing traditions the world over have incorporated them since prehistoric times and I think they’re onto something. I’ve never been a Christian so I don’t feel compelled to condemn non-Christian belief systems as Satanic. Nor do I buy into Nixon’s war on drugs propaganda that started all the nonsense about psychedelics being addictive and neurotoxic, though as I said, they do have the potential to be quite harmful if you don’t know what you’re doing or don’t care. As with most illegal drugs, a lot of the harm is caused or aggravated by their legal status.
“I was wondering, did any of this money find its way into “new thought churches” like unity or the new thought alliance?”
Not that I know of specifically.
I don’t think MKULTRA was about funding existing movements (it preferred to found its own) but a lot of knowing and unknowing MKULTRA researchers would have been linked to groups and belief systems rooted in New Thought; not because it’s particularly sinister but because it’s so ubiquitous in America, especially among psychologists. That’s probably because the famous US psychologist, philosopher and religious scholar, William James, gave New Thought such a good rap in his classic 1902 work The Varieties of Religious Experience.
New Thought is generally considered to have been founded by Phineas Quimby and Mary Baker Eddy, the latter being the founder of the first New Thought church, Christian Science.
The MKULTRA psychologist who co-founded A Course in Miracles, William Thetford, was a lapsed Christian Scientist.
The other co-founder. Helen Schucman, who probably didn’t know who funded her work, was a non-practicing Jew and child psychologist who had once worked in her father’s esoteric bookshop.
So as you can imagine ACIM shows strong New Thought influences. But so too do most US religions, cults and self-help movements developed since the late 19th century, so it’s hardly surprising MKULTRA was so tangled up in it.
Schucman had a life-long obsession with Catholicism and she returned to it after renouncing ACIM. She was buried by the celebrity Franciscan priest, Father Benedict Groeschel, who had promoted ACIM in its early days but later condemned it as ‘demonic’.
Helen thought the ACIM texts had been dictated to her by ‘Jesus’ – though ACIM is ambiguous about whether it’s the biblical Jesus, despite referring to him throughout as The Son.
I don’t know how a trained priest could ever have gone for a ‘Jesus’ who sounded like a mixture of Theosophy, New Thought and 60s pop psychology and spoke in iambic pentameter, but there you go. Groeschel had studied psychology under Thetford so perhaps he got sucked in by his sophisticated manipulation techniques.
I don’t think I have a religious agenda here.
My mother has always been one of those fad-driven New Age fans, uncritically adopting whatever’s trendy and dropping it when it goes out of fashion, but I’ve always had a skeptical bent and her ever-changing pseudo-scientific belief systems have never held much appeal for me. The crass commercialism of some of them also turned me off, but there’s plenty of that in mainstream religions too. I still can’t work out why God needs so much money.
When I started learning about other beliefs and cultures I got increasingly disenchanted with the way the New Age has appropriated and distorted them, especially the traditions of my own Australian Aboriginal forbears.
I’d long known of the claims made by some social justice activists that much of the New Age was contrived by authorities as a way to fragment and individualise the mass movements of the 60s and turn them away from political engagement and inwards towards pseudo-spiritual development, but I hadn’t given them much credence until I started researching A Course in Miracles.
But I do think psychedelic drugs have great potential, both as means of healing and as a way for some to gain true spiritual insights. I don’t subscribe to the Christian notion that any spirituality not spelled out in the Bible is the work of Satan. But like any other powerful tool psychedelics can be misused and abused, both through ignorance and ill-will, and I’m becoming increasingly worried that excessive enthusiasm for them is gonna produce a backlash that will spoil things for responsible users, just like it did in the 60s.
I definitely think psychedelics should be kept out of the hands of psychiatrists. Unless they want to use them on themselves of course. Perhaps for some they can even ‘cure’ psychiatry.
Well, the first thing to say is that the official records of MKULTRA were mostly destroyed by the CIA when the Church Committee investigation into it was announced. They missed the financial records, so we know who was paid, how much and the names and directors of the MKULTRA subprojects that received the money, but other than that, some supplementary documents FOIed by investigative journalists, the unreliable testimony MKULTRA operatives gave to the Church Committee and the claims of CIA whistleblowers there’s little in the way of direct evidence for anything.
If you’re not familiar with the details of MKULTRA your first stop should be The Search for the Manchurian Candidate by the former intelligence analyst and State Department employee John Marks.
What we do know is that MKULTRA ran from the early 50s to 1978 and researched interrogation, brainwashing and mind-control techniques – both individual and social – and was a direct successor to similar CIA programs dating back to the start of the Korean War. We know it had a huge budget which was used both directly by the CIA on often illegal projects using its own employees and other US citizens as guinea pigs and was also farmed out through various front organisations such as the Esalen Institute (where it often funded ‘New Age’ research) and the Center for Human Ecology at Cornell University (which focused on more mainstream psychological research),
We know Gregory Bateson at Esalen knew he was getting CIA funds but many of the researchers he paid probably didn’t know who they were working for. We also know the co-founder of A Course in Miracles, William Thetford at Cornell, had been doing such work for the CIA since 1954 but the other co-founder, Helen Schucman, was probably an unwitting dupe.
The MKULTRA funded groups and individuals who may or may not have known who their bosses were included the founders of NLP and the Findhorn Foundation, the Merry Pranksters (who followed The Grateful Dead around distributing LSD), Ken Kesey who wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and a very large proportion of 1960-70s ‘respectable’ psychologists in the US, UK and Canada (as well as less respectable ones like Harold Wolff and Ewen Cameron).
The encounter therapy sessions run by Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and William Coulson that led to the break between the nuns of LA’s Sacred Heart of Mary convent and the Catholic hierarchy was MKULTRA funded, but it’s far from clear that anyone involved knew that.
Most of my research has been into A Course in Miracles (ACIM) because I have relatives who have been sucked into it. I can provide references to the information I used and explain how I pulled it all together if you like, but there’s no single, simple summary. I’m quite satisfied that Thetford started ACIM as a ‘proof of concept’ that the Gittinger Personality Assessment System (PAS) could be ‘weaponised’ as a tool of mass ideological manipulation (Gittinger was the head psychologist for MKULTRA) but since the mid-80s when Thetford died ACIM has continued on with a life of its own without evidence of direct CIA involvement. Nonetheless its founding text and workbooks, which are still used by ACIM practitioners, were rooted firmly in the ideological manipulation methods pioneered by Thetford and his fellow MKULTRA subproject director David Saunders. Also the biographical details of Thetford and Schucman strongly suggest he manipulated her to the point of insanity using techniques developed by the CIA for breaking interrogation subjects and prompting enemy agents to defect (Thetford very likely worked on Projects Bluebird and/or Artichoke in the early-50s that pioneered what would eventually be the CIA’s KUBARK ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques and were later folded into MKULTRA).
If you want more references you should be a bit more specific about what you’re interested in and I’ll try to help. There’s a heck of a lot of material out there but other than Marks’ work it’s almost never collated into a coherent narrative. I spent years pulling together the ACIM stuff, some of which involved personal correspondence between myself and some of the earliest ACIM acolytes at the Foundation for Inner Peace.
Charlie Manson and the CIA’s MKULTRA researchers come to mind (some of whom were psychiatrists, but not many). The Esalen Institute under Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead was a major hub for MKULTRA’s psychedelic-assisted brainwashing research and several California-based New Age cults were MKULTRA spin-offs (e.g. NLP, A Course in Miracles).
Unfortunately there’s already some clueless opportunists in California (where else?) who are using the religious exemption loophole to offer psychedelic therapy without proper training, or medical support and with only the sham New Age ritualism you’d expect in the Eureka state in the place of centuries old shamanistic traditions.
They’ve already killed a couple of people with convulsion and blood pressure related side-effects. Participants are expected to sign a long, complex form saying they don’t have any of a list of pre-extant conditions and waiving their right to civil redress if things go wrong, but last I heard they were presenting it as a technical formality and encouraging people to sign without thinking about it. The on-site guides have no formal medical training that would qualify them to recognise a medical emergency and in at least one fatal case they delayed calling an ambulance for fear of ‘bumming out’ the other paying participants.
OTOH, the Synthesis Institute in the Netherlands, while a bit hippy-drippy, take the medical side of it very seriously, both in carefully screening participants and having properly trained emergency medics to hand.
I suspect groups like the one in California will be used to justify the sort of expensive and mostly ineffective regulatory hurdles that will ensure only large, greedy corporations will be offering legal psychedelic therapy to the worried well (and well-off) in the US while an illegal underground scene will meet the excess demand without having proper access to medically trained backup.
It’s not just shrinks who are the problem. It’s the entire top-down, profit-driven health system you have over there.
If you’re talking enthusiasm for killing rather than just drugging and imprisoning I’d say the Republicans have the edge when it comes to judicial executions and citizens shooting each other, it’s pretty much neck and neck with regard to police killings and the Dems pull ahead again in the bombing foreigners department.
But the distinction is pretty moot to us non-Americans. From here you all look like cold eyed killers, regardless of ethnicity, religion or political leanings.
Gotta agree with you there.
The Clinton administration oversaw the biggest increase in US imprisonment rates in my lifetime. As Californian AG Kamala Harris implemented ‘three strikes’ laws that sent the imprisonment rates there through the roof then blocked several Supreme Court initiatives that would have reduced it. And even if Joe Biden starts honouring his election promise to reduce US imprisonment he’s unlikely to fully reverse the damage his own mass incarceration initiatives of the 80s and 90s caused.
Locking people up for a long time for minor offences has a long history of bipartisan support in the US. Especially if they’re not white.
“where else are things much better?”
Everywhere. Including Russia, China and North Korea.
Not only that, if you diagnose someone before locking them away you can restrain them chemically as well as physically and suspend more of their legal & civil rights. You don’t even have to give them a release date to look forward to.
Why just imprison someone’s body when you can also imprison their spirit and mind?
I’m sure glad I don’t live in the Land of the Free (and they say you Yanks don’t do irony).
“To see this done on a client provoked empathy in me, since the client seemed a bit tortured by the therapist’s insistence that they needed to get to zero.”
I think you’ll find making things difficult for the client has been key to EMDR’s “success”.
As proponents of weight loss, D&A rehab and criminal anti-recidivism programs discovered long ago, by making the treatment particularly onerous you filter out those with less resilience and determination (i.e. the ones most likely to fail). Then you eliminate the drop-outs from your final results and, viola, a high success rate.
That’s the main thing that distinguishes studies showing high efficacy for EMDR from the ones that show about the same success rates as with regular exposure and desensitisation therapies. The latter include the drop-outs in the reported figures. The former don’t.
Clinical anecdotes presented as evidence employ a similar filter. You’re seeing ‘profound healing’ from trauma because they’re the clients that come back. The ones who see little benefit or find it too difficult to continue simply stop showing up with their money.
There’s the added effect that the more someone can be persuaded to invest into a product – personally or financially – the more likely they are to be enthusiastic about it. Most people don’t like to admit to themselves or others that they’ve wasted time, money or effort on something important to them.
We just need to have some people watch it in a scanning machine, and we can start selling it as “therapy!”
We don’t even need that. It’s already being sold as therapy at a web site near you.
“Not sure what you’re saying here. What is there “more” than the fact that the therapist is listening non-judgmentally and interestedly?”
The fact that it has about the same reported efficacy with or without a therapist.
I think you’ve missed the distinction I’m making between exposure and desensitisation therapies – which have been around since before Freud was in short pants – and EMDR, which Francine Shapiro patented in the 1980s. EMDR incorporates the former and properly designed and reported studies into it suggest it has about the same success rate (i.e. 50-60%. Nothing like the better than 90% rates claimed by EMDR proponents.) So the ‘EM’ and ‘BLS’ aspects of EMDR seem to be pure window dressing without even an enhanced placebo effect to recommend them.
If you’re scared of spiders and you try to deal with it by starting off in the same room with a small spider and progressively exposing yourself to closer contact with bigger and hairier arachnids you’re practicing exposure and desensistisation therapy, with no therapist and no BLS. If you pay for sessions with a therapist to do the same thing you can have a similar expectation of success – even if they add an attentive, sympathetic ear to the mix.
So whatever makes exposure and desensitisation therapy work for some people doesn’t seem to be dependent on having someone listening to them.
And yeah, I’ve had personal experience of success with exposure and desensitisation following traumatising events in a car wreck (paralysing flashbacks when I smelled petrol) and with a pack of sharks (fear of entering deep water), all without the assistance of a therapist. But hey, that’s just anecdote. It’s no more evidence than is David Busch’s experiences of EMDR with his clients.
I think there’s probably more to trauma exposure and desensitisation than telling your story to someone you have rapport with Steve. It seems to work at least as well when self-administered as it does with a therapist. It was also a staple of folk-wisdom for getting over trauma and phobia long before professionals started jargonising it with words like ‘trauma’ and ‘phobia’.
“A lot of folks really twist themselves into pretzels trying to come up with a “biological” explanation.”
e.g. “Sleep’s primary evolutionary function is to clean out the brain quite literally of accumulating debris. It is like a dishwasher that keeps flushing through to wash the dirt away. Without that nightly wash cycle, dangerous toxins can damage healthy cells and interfere with their ability to coherently compose our thoughts and regulate our emotions.”
Might be worth noting that not all sleep is dream-state, not all dream-state is REM and not all REM is bilateral.
And to indulge in a little neurobabble of my own, the visual cortex is in the occipital lobe, almost the opposite end of the brain to the auditory cortex which is in the superior temporal gyrus. So to theorise that BLSsing either will have similar effects on the connections between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex is a pretty big stretch. But hey, it also offers bio-materialist evidence as to why listening to early Pink Floyd through headphones makes me feel good. I knew I wasn’t just imagining it.
As the author points out, “[EMDR] has developed into a multi-million-dollar enterprise, and there are many thousands of EMDR therapists worldwide. So, what’s to be unhappy about?”. Especially if you’re getting a slice of the cake.
I just don’t understand why we’re not hearing neurological explanations as to how reality TV like Queer Eye improves mental health. After all, it generates millions of dollars as well. Surely they can afford a shiny biopsychiatric paint-job too.
I can see you’ve been thinking a lot about the practical and moral dilemmas that come with offering therapy, not just those posed by EMDR. I think some of the ones you raise are best addressed by approaches that connect the person seeking help to the support offered by their own community and loved ones, rather than ones that seeks to make the problem a technical, neurobabbled one for trained professionals. Whether they’re always applicable and appropriate or get the best results is another big set of questions though.
Yeah, I’ve gotta admit I’m not really too concerned about whether EMDR’s any better than regular exposure and desensitisation therapy. And if the mumbo-jumbo enhances rapport or the placebo effect then it’s probably gonna help people. It was the dodgy study design & reporting and cultish enthusiasm of some of its proponents 20 years ago that put me off.
If you think there’s important differences between EMDR without BLS and regular E&D therapies – other than marketing – I’d appreciate anything you’d care to offer.
I’m with you and your wife on this Sam.
My earliest experiences of dissociation were interesting in the short term but became increasingly intolerable as they dragged on, often to the point where I’d self-harm to try to break out of them. But a couple of decades down the track I’d learned to accept them and even see them as a kind of refuge from more difficult mental states. In the lowest period of my life from 2003 to 2012 they acted as a kind of circuit-breaker that offered me the only waking relief I had from suicidality.
I had a big turnaround in 2012 and have learned to accept all my mental states – though unlike you I don’t owe it to hard work. It was more like an unearned epiphany. If I was Christian I’d probably call it grace. Since then I’ve had no suicidality and no dissociation. I think coming to accept dissociation was a key part of the learning experience that led to that.
My knowledge of EMDR is a couple of decades out of date now. It stems from the research I did during an unethical and abusive trial of EMDR upon inmates of Sydney’s Mulawa Women’s Prison (scroll down about a dozen paras to see the EMDR bit).
What I found from the literature available at the time was that PTSD trials carried out by Shapiro and her colleagues consistently made hyperbolic claims of success rates in excess of 90% while those carried out by independent researchers found no significant difference between EMDR and regular trauma exposure and desensitisation therapies (i.e. the BLS is BS). Sure enough, when the head of the Mulawa trial (one of Shapiro’s acolytes) reported his results a year or so later he too made claims that over 90% of those treated showed reductions in trauma symptoms and made no mention of the numerous adverse responses that had alerted the NGO I work with to the trial in the first place (via complaints by the trial subjects and their families).
My conclusion at the time was that EMDR was mostly a mumbo-jumbo driven cult. It’s my understanding that its popularity among therapists has grown in leaps and bounds since then and it’s now being used in a wide range of non-trauma related applications (e.g. relationship counseling).
Although there’s nothing in the article above that would cause me to revisit my opinion I’m always willing to adopt new conclusions in response to new data. So if any of the EMDR proponents posting here can point me to, say, some independent randomised studies carried out by researchers without skin in the game (i.e. who don’t make a living from EMDR) that have more than a dozen or so subjects and either have low dropout rates or incorporate the dropouts into their statistical analysis that demonstrate EMDR is any more effective than other exposure and desensitisation therapies for trauma or that it’s effective at all for non-trauma based treatments I’d be much obliged. Surely after more than three decades there would have to be some good quality evidence for it. If it works.
(BTW, as is the case with a lot of D&A treatments I found the EMDR trials carried out by proponents routinely ignored the relatively large number of dropouts rather than classifying them as failures. I never got access to the raw data from the Mulawa trial, but given the number of inmates who refused to continue in the face of distressing flashbacks I can’t see how they could have reported such a high ‘success’ rate without discarding the failures.)
I agree with all the points l_e_cox makes.
I’d add that the most meaningful, fulfilling and useful work done to support those facing emotional, behavioural and psychological difficulties is very rarely well paid. You’re probably going to have to find a balance between monetary and less tangible rewards and think hard about how much you’re prepared to compromise one for the other.
If you’re doing this right – with empathy, compassion and rapport with those you’re trying to help – it’s likely to result in considerable acute and chronic stress upon you. This field has the tendency to either burn-out or dehumanise those working in it. When committing to a career – or just short term voluntary work – be sure to check out what support is offered to workers, especially in terms of time off, relief and transfer of casework, leave entitlements and peer counseling. Also look into how much overtime and on-call work is expected – both official and unpaid. Martyrdom can have romantic appeal but it rarely helps anyone.
I’ve had many friends, colleagues and relatives who’ve gone into the system to reform it from within. The ‘system’ has variously been politics, academia, journalism, the police, the military, school teaching, various medical fields including psychology and prison health, among others.
Those like yourself who were abused and bullied by the system were the lucky ones. Mostly they were driven out, scarred and traumatised but capable of carrying on in other fields, sometimes criticising the system from the outside. A very few butted their heads against the wall over careers spanning decades, eventually retiring with the conviction their professional lives were largely wasted. Far more were worn down by the system sooner or later, becoming well fitted cogs in its smoothly whirring machinery of abuse.
The system is the people trying to reform it from within. Even E Fuller Torrey was a dissident once.
‘Sluggish schizophrenia’ for failing to conform with the demands of the Soviet state. ‘Sluggish thought disorder’ for failing to conform with the demands of state school systems. It’s nice to know mental health professionals practice diagnostic recycling.
“Psychiatry can sharpen this framework by defining and measuring the construct of despair, sorting out causal chains surrounding it, and infusing deaths of despair’s limited causal view with biological perspectives. In turn, psychiatry would benefit from increasing its focus on societal trends to identify risk groups and macro-level causes that could be targeted for intervention”
Ah yes, what we need to address despair is for psychiatry to ‘sharpen’ our understanding of its causes with biological perspectives that dispense with all those messy, blunt notions that it could be caused by factors other than defects in the sufferer. But we should still look at societal correlates of despair to better target people with non-societal interventions grounded in psychiatry’s biological perspectives (i.e. drug the despair out of them).
Nothing beats psychiatry when it comes to despair, eh?
“If … certain events or circumstances are fully repressed from the intellect because the will cannot bear the sight of them, and if the gap that then arises is patched up with some invention due to the need for coherence – then there is madness.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
Thanks for that. I thought I was well across the history of psychiatry’s role in the Holocaust, but it taught me a few things.
And yeah, oldhead was essentially right about the 1941 APA convention.
“and why trying to “reform” the profession is destined to complete and utter failure.”
Yeah. There are decent psychiatrists out there trying to put the profession onto a humane and scientific basis but there’s too much cultural baggage to overcome in my opinion. The guilds crucify criticalists and reformists and there’s too many external vested interests who like the illegitimate authority of psychiatry just the way it is (drug companies, courts, authoritarian governments, oppressive families, etc).
Reformers think that if psychiatry can legitimise its own authority with treatments and professional ethics that actually help people it won’t have to maintain symbiosis with external authorities who need a pliant pseudo-scientific priesthood to leverage their own power. But I can’t see how to overcome the inertia of all those dysfunctional interlocking institutions.
Better to start from scratch with a new caring profession that salvages what it can from benevolent psychiatric initiatives like Soteria and Open Dialogue without climbing into bed with those who prefer a white-coated political police force. Then, hopefully, psychiatry will lose its mystique to the real carers, become useless to its totalitarian sponsors and just wither on the vine.
Problem is it’s been tried before. We call it psychology. And the US version of that has a long and sordid history of torture and brainwashing for the military and CIA. Is it wishful thinking to believe we might learn from those mistakes and try again?
It was more a case of the Nazis being foursquare behind the psychiatrists.
When Dr Alfred Hoche laid down the utilitarian principles of ‘life unworthy of life’ in 1920 the newly named NDSAP (Nazi Party) had less than 200 members and was almost unknown outside Munich.
When Germany invaded Poland the shrinks took it upon themselves to start exterminating the institutionalised ‘mentally deficient’ to free up hospital space for wounded soldiers. Hitler only found out later and signed backdated orders authorising it.
When Hitler was forced to close down the official program exterminating the ‘mentally ill’, psychiatrists took it underground and increased the rate of killings.
When the ‘Final Solution’ was implemented the Nazis turned to psychiatrists to bring their expertise in mass extermination to the death camps, with Dr Irmfried Eberl designing Treblinka and becoming its first commandant. He was soon dismissed for the casual way he left piles of rotting corpses around the railway lines, making it impossible for ‘good Germans’ to pretend they didn’t know what was going on there.
And after the Germans surrendered and the camps were liberated psychiatrists continued to kill hospital and asylum inmates for weeks until occupying authorities found out what was going on and put a stop to it.
So when it came to genocide the shrinks were both ahead of the Nazis and still kept going after the Nazis had been stopped.
I think you’re talking about the pro-‘euthanasia’ editorial in the APA’s in house journal. Peter Breggin talks about it here. Hitler was an avowed fan of the eugenics policies of American psychiatry.
In fact shrinks were consistently ahead of the Nazis in advocating and implementing the Holocaust. I touch on the history of it here.
Don’t worry Fiachra, the shrinks are working on it. By the time they publish DSM-7 everyone will be mentally ill all the time.
We have flu shots to protect us against the underlying problem; influenza virus. Flu-like symptoms aren’t caused by the virus, they’re caused by the body’s response to it. And because those symptoms are triggered in response to lots of things – viruses, bacteria, some toxins – looking only at the symptoms and saying you’ve got ‘Flu like symptom syndrome’ then applying the same treatments to all the cases would be medically irresponsible. It would be like psychiatry.
That said, sometimes the symptoms themselves can be dangerous. Normally a fever would help fight off the pathogens but if it gets too high it can kill, so sometimes it is appropriate to treat the symptoms.
Given how well the symptom constellations psychiatry identifies as mental illness correlate with historic trauma I’ve long wondered if they’re sort of flu-like symptoms of the mind; i.e. not specific to any ‘disease’ but signs of the mind trying to protect and heal itself.
According to a 2015 study led by Andrew Holmes traumatic memories are reprocessed and integrated via the coordinated actions of the amygdala and prefrontal cortex; so a good connection between them is needed to enable the resolution of trauma. That connection is the dopamine D2 pathway through the ventral tegmental area. So if you have a lot of particularly traumatic memories to process you might expect that link to become quite active.
The neurobabble that justifies neuroleptics as treatment for psychotic illness would have it that psychosis is caused by over-activity in precisely that pathway, so the drugs try to block it.
Now, if rather than being an illness psychosis is a side effect of the mind’s attempts to self heal – in the same way flu like symptoms are signs of the body’s attempts to heal – then we’d expect blocking that response to prolong the ‘psychotic illness’ by preventing resolution of the underlying trauma. And whaddya know? Giving psychosis patients long term neuroleptic therapy increases the duration of the ‘disease’ the drugs purport to treat.
On the face of it, it’s hard to see how depression, schizophrenia, etc, would increase an individual’s evolutionary fitness. Yet the conditions remain common in the human race; they haven’t been eliminated by selection pressure. Likewise it’s hard to see how flu-like symptoms help anyone survive and produce offspring, but we know that by and large they’re signs of the immune system doing just that.
So if ‘mental illness’ symptom clusters are manifestations of the mind’s ‘immune’ responses and self-healing functions, suppressing them may entrench the underlying problems that give rise to them. Which is what we see when we look at long term psychiatric drug use.
I doubt it would carry much weight without either a stat dec or witness evidence from the therapist but neither, I hope, would claims of t-r memories from the alleged victim.
Let’s say we’re talking a historic sex offence (as ‘recovered memory’ cases generally are) in which the accused initially made a statement that he couldn’t remember where he was on the night or gave an alibi which failed to establish his innocence. He may very well want to present a different alibi defence that would strengthen his case, but simply coming up with a new alibi after the old one has fallen through would typically be frowned upon by a court. However if the prosecution is relying on therapy-recovered memories that have been accepted as probative he would be in a good position to argue that his own therapy-recovered memories should be given equal weight, no?
Would you give them weight equal to those of the alleged victim, or would you privilege a victim’s therapy-recovered memory evidence over that of the defendant?
Would you go so far as to say that the victim’s t-r memories should be allowed as evidence while the defendant’s should be rejected?
Whether you choose to believe anyone’s uncorroborated claims of what they remember, repressed or not, is up to you.
But I think going back to the days in which uncorroborated memories ‘recovered’ during a therapy session was accepted as probative in criminal trials would be a very bad idea.
Would you accept it as alibi evidence in defence of an accused sex offender? (“Thanks to my therapist I now recall I was in a different city that night.”)
Seems to me that in failing to cover his acts of torture with a therapeutic veil Leeks was guilty of committing honest psychiatry. That will not do.
Gotta agree with most of that KS.
The first sentence notes the well established correlation between parental support and a reduction in youth ‘delinquency’ and the final conclusion would seem to be that kid’s perception of parental support correlates with reduced delinquency. The only ‘new’ finding would seem to be that if you support your kids they’ll probably come to believe you support them.
Walters’ contribution is to insert his wonky definition of empathy into the equation as a mediating factor because he thinks it belongs there, then to conclude it might belong there. The notion that empathy is the capacity to experience the feelings of others rather than to emotionally respond to imagining them would imply some kind of PSI power. Does this guy believe in the New Age concept of ’empaths’ or something?
He admits his scope for measuring what he calls empathy is limited then, so far as I can tell, establishes correlation between those dubious measures, parental support and decreased delinquency. How he then concludes empathy is therefore the mediating factor between the other two variables escapes me. Chronological sequence?
Are you sure it’s in the court documents?
Without the need to use that sort of evidence I don’t see why it would have been introduced. It wouldn’t have aided the prosecution (due to the confession) and its controversial nature could have offered grounds for appeal against the sentence on the grounds of prejudicial untested evidence unless she was cross-examined about it. Dropping that aspect of the case seemed a wise tactic to me.
I assumed it was dropped after the early media reports in order to keep the focus away from her and on him.
It seems though our experiences in these matters are quite different our conclusions are remarkably similar Steve. I don’t know whether to be reassured or disturbed by that.
If you’ve worked with victims and perpetrators of trauma and seen how therapists deal with them this stuff seems like a no-brainer to me. Yet the huge amount of collective experience our societies have accumulated doesn’t seem to be doing much to change how we respond to the problems.
Part of it’s gotta be institutional. Our legal systems, media outlets, commercial entities and professional guilds may be made of human beings but they ain’t human and have very different survival imperatives. So to expect them to develop in a way that optimises their responses to human needs would be naive.
But can that really be the whole explanation?
Or is there something about the way we think that’s stopping us from using what we learn to change how we behave?
Or am I just too burned out to see positive developments even when they’re staring me in the face?
“1000 psychiatrists that want to shock “it” into becoming an actual repression and resulting disability that one then REALLY needs therapy for.”
I agree. There’s been strong evidence for about 30 years now that critical incident trauma debriefing increases the likelihood of the sort of long term harm that will get you a PTSD diagnosis. Yet the practice continues to grow in leaps and bounds. I can’t help thinking it might be to do with the fact that the same people who do the debriefing generally have a financial stake in treating the PTSD. That plus the sentiment “these people are suffering so we can’t stand by and do nothing”, so we’ll do something that doesn’t help and may make things worse.
“I think there are openings for post therapy therapists.”
Yeah, but I shudder to think what form that might take if such a thing became a professional discipline.
And while I’m on the topic of fads in psychology it might be worth recalling that not all the scandals of the childcare centre abuse moral panic arose from ‘recovered’ false memories.
In at least one instance the problem was a couple of therapists who were very enthusiastic about a method of diagnosing child sex abuse that involved rubbing or inserting something into the child’s anus and measuring its dilation. Not only did they get many positive responses to their tests, those children also showed other signs consistent with having been sexually abused. I can’t imagine why.
Therapist? The rapist? Hmm.
“The latter is NOT caused by the concept of repression, it is caused by unethical therapists who are either greedy or unable to deal with their own issues and act them out on their clients.”
I think that’s a little harsh Steve.
I’d definitely allow the possibility that many such therapists sincerely believe in the integrity of their methods and that they are helping their patients. Unfortunately psychiatric and psychological training doesn’t encourage critical thinking and groupthink is rife in the industry, especially during therapeutic fads.
I think not knowing how easily memories can be manipulated is likely a bigger problem among therapists than knowing about it. I also think the need of some patients to receive validation of identifiable, external reasons for their distress plays a part.
I’ve gotta say abuse memories recovered during EMDR therapy would raise a huge red flag to me.
I don’t pretend to be up to date on EMDR research these days, but when I was, about two decades ago, the only studies that found any superiority to standard desensitisation therapy were the ones carried out by Francine Shapiro and her colleagues. Independent researchers found about the same efficacy as systemic exposure and desensitisation therapy, which EMDR largely incorporates.
OTOH, the ‘EM’ of EMDR is remarkably similar to the techniques used by stage hypnotists, no? So even if the therapist is scrupulous about avoiding suggestion – no mean feat in the context of exposure – she may well be putting the patients into a hypersuggestive state in which even the most innocuous things could mess with their self-narrative.
Why was I studying EMDR 20 years ago?
Because the NGO I work with received a sudden stream of complaints from Mulawa women’s prison where an EMDR trial was underway (women prisoners are a captive population with very high levels of historic trauma and abuse). Consent for the trial was a long way short of informed and women were encouraged to dredge up memories of abuse during the day then locked back in their cells at night where they sometimes acted out their newly refreshed memories and received the usual prison system response to problematic behaviour. One woman complained she was encouraged to ‘recall’ abuse by her ex-partner she insisted had never happened and deny the abuse by police officers she insisted had happened (she’d presented at her committal hearing covered in bruises).
A year or so later I attended a conference at which the trial director presented his findings. No mention whatsoever was made of the adverse outcomes suffered by subjects nor of the dubious practices of those running the trial. It was known I was with the organisation that had lodged complaints on behalf of the trial subjects and I was studiously ignored during the Q&A that followed.
I’m not suggesting anyone posting here is as unethical as those who carried out that EMDR trial, but you’re gonna have a hard time convincing me EMDR is a reliable way of recovering repressed memories. And it’s not just because ‘reprogramming’ is such a sinister term to use in the context.
Again, I’m not up to date on how EMDR is currently promoted and practiced, but 20 years ago I saw something akin to a therapeutic fad in the process of becoming a cult.
Yeah, from what I’m reading the case is as close as you get to a ‘good news story’ about a sexual assault investigation and trial.
The young lady wasn’t disbelieved even before copies of the films were found. With the video evidence the investigators and prosecutors had plenty to run with without subjecting her to bruising interrogation and cross examination. The offender discovered that neither his status as a former cop nor seeking refuge in an overseas jurisdiction could protect him. Faced with the evidence he made a comprehensive confession that spared a jury from having to listen to disturbing details day after day. And he got a sentence only a torture or death penalty enthusiast could decry as inadequate. His daughter need never fear he will be released to seek reprisals nor that she’ll be expected to make submissions to a parole board while the case is dragged through the media spotlight again.
It’s not often I see a sex offence case that fails to revictimise the survivor.
“The big question is whether memories can exist of which a person is not consciously aware, but which can come to awareness at a later time. If you call this “spontaneous recollection,” that’s your right, I suppose, but I fail to see any distinction between a memory a person files away to the “unconscious” file that can later be retrieved and the basic assumptions behind “repression.””
Just last week I was sent a class photo taken when I was five years old and was very surprised at being able to remember the names of nearly all my 1A classmates from an image over half a century old. So I have no problems with spontaneous (or triggered) recollection of apparently lost memories.
Repression is trickier, though I have no reason to doubt its existence.
On the one hand it seems likely to involve unconscious prevention of a partially recalled memory reaching conscious awareness as a protection against retraumatisation, so we might expect it to be preserved for long periods by frequent re-accessing. On the other that process might promote contamination of the memory itself.
So, for example, viewing pornography might cause incomplete, unconsious recall of memories of sexual abuse but also ‘contaminate’ those memories with elements from the pornography.
All of this is purely speculative and should in no way be used to try to invalidate the traumatic accounts of those seeking help, sympathy or understanding. But in a courtroom where serious legal penalties are at stake I think strict rules of evidence need to be applied to testimony based on such memories and without corroboration they should be viewed with caution.
Whatever we might think of repression and later retrieval of traumatic memories I think we should acknowledge there is little known about their mechanisms of action and little we can say about their reliability or otherwise. I wonder if examining the fidelity of post trauma ‘flashbacks’ would offer any insights.
I agree with Steve, especially if a copy of the porn film exists that confirms her memory.
Do you have a reference for this example or is it hypothetical?
Removed for moderation.
I’ve just noticed a stack of old comments ‘removed for moderation’ (none of mine as far as I can tell, though I reckon I’ve tacked close to the wind more than once).
Does this reflect a change in MIA comment policy?
(I’ve read the guidelines and haven’t seen a recent update.)
If so I’d appreciate a heads up on what those changes are. I tend to get moderated out of a lot of forums and I’d like to have a clear idea of the boundaries in this one, otherwise I’ll probably just follow the lead of other commenters.
Six years ago I was a beneficiary of an AbbVie ‘compassionate treatment program’ that got me access to the over A$100,000 worth of pills needed to cure my hep C. The drugs were yet to be listed on Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS) and there was no way I could afford them. My liver was in the process of turning to wood and it’s unlikely I would have survived until they were listed.
So do you think I’m grateful to AbbVie?
No fucking way!.
The so called ‘compassionate’ program was really a marketing exercise akin to a seeding trial, designed to turn doctors, nurses and patients into partisans for the drug. Several drug companies had hit the market with 2nd generation treatments for hep C at the same time and based on precedent it seemed unlikely more than one of them would receive PBS listing. The idea was that medicos who’d gained experience on the ‘compassionate’ programs would lobby the government to ensure AbbVie’s was the treatment that won. Their pills would then monopolise the Australian market with the taxpayer footing the ridiculous bill.
In the end the PBS listed all the new treatments, but with the proviso that after a certain number of full price prescriptions the Australian government would receive a substantial discount on subsequent ones (around an 80% reduction I’m told).
The lesson for US readers is that government funded health programs are in a much better position to negotiate deals with extortionate drug manufacturers than consumers or private health funds.
The lesson for everyone is that we should stop fining drug companies a fraction of the profits they make from illegal and unethical marketing practices and nationalise the lot of them. Or better yet, internationalise them.
Gotta agree with you there. I think most psychiatric ‘patients’ captured by psychiatry are trying to live according to standards set by others and think they can obliterate their ‘bad’ bits with the drugs.
But yeah, your main point is the only person we need to be is ourselves. Ain’t no-one else gonna do it.
Don’t take what I said to heart rebel. Mostly I was responding to KS’s admonition that anyone who is true to themselves – even to the point of being labeled ‘bad’ by those with different moral standards – should suffer penalties justified by the old ‘protecting others’ rubric used by all authoritarians.
I’ve never been a Christian but I have nothing but respect for those who want to live their lives in Christ, so long as that doesn’t mean punishing or persecuting others who don’t live the same kind of life. As a Christian you’d be familiar with those who are criminalised, persecuted, even executed for living according to their beliefs regardless of what society thinks about them.
“Those of you who say “This is just how I am because of my ‘madness’” show no ability or willingness to be accountable for the effects of your actions on others.”
I don’t say that at all. My madness is just as much a part of me as my gender, my bass playing skills or my love of surfing. It’s not an excuse or ‘contributing factor’ for what I do, it’s part of what I am.
I’m sorry if the nuance is lost on you.
I’m also bemused as to why acknowledging the roles an allegedly abusive partner or a loved one ‘making my life stressful’ play in your acting out would need to be offered to others as an explanation/excuse. My attitudes and responses to those things might make my life stressful, not their actions. I have no need to pass the buck to them. If they had drugged me or otherwise compromised my agency it might be a different matter.
BTW, if I do something I regret that harms or upsets others I might very well say “Sorry. I’ll try not to do anything like that again”. Being me doesn’t mean I can’t or don’t change.
What I won’t do is blame my brain chemicals, lack of sleep, my frequent bouts of inflammatory pain (HLA-B27), my intimate partner or other loved ones.
And if I don’t regret it I won’t apologise at all.
I’ve certainly encountered adults who’ve dismissed their own non-consensual sexual encounters as non-harmful, including women who’ve gone on to have a consensual sexual/romantic relationship with their rapist and others who’ve dismissed their unwanted childhood sexual contacts as harmless. I wouldn’t presume to disagree with them but I sure wouldn’t presume to dismiss such encounters in that way if the subject of them didn’t.
I’ve also worked with (adult) rape/sexual assault victims who’ve been deeply traumatised, even when no physical force or violence was involved, particularly in regards to trust and feelings of security. I find it hard to believe some children wouldn’t feel similar, even if they’re unable to articulate it.
I guess a lot of it depends on what you think of yourself and how you think you got there. If you’re proud of who you are and consider such an experience to be formative you probably won’t see it as harmful, even if others think you’ve been badly damaged by it. I suspect that’s a rationale some child sex offenders who were themselves victims of childhood sex abuse use to justify their own actions.
BTW, if your summaries are accurate I find a lot of those viewpoints pretty hard to credit, but I think Gold makes an important point. Gardner’s reminds me of Father Benedict Groeschel’s condemnation of all the predatory children who took advantage of vulnerable clerics.
“Campbell’s quote seems rather similar to me. ”
I don’t see it that way. IMHO the experience of madness is a boundary smasher, including the boundary between sacred and profane. It’s not inherently divine or not divine, but if you don’t fight it and let go of your fears it opens the potential of apprehension of the divine.
The qualities of the extreme states that happen when I’m in a safe place such as my own room and those that overcome me when I’m in public space some distance from home (thankfully rare) seem largely the same, but in the latter case the need to ‘pass’ (i.e. not prompt a police response) and find my way home means I have to fight it and that can result in a nightmarish experience with nothing divine about it.
“We should never generalize too easily from one person’s bliss or one person’s pit.”
Absolutely. I’ve been dealing with extreme states since childhood – often deliberately induced – and they’re pretty familiar turf to me. The voices I hear have never seemed malevolent to me either, though their comments can be cutting (I appreciate their honesty). My family culture prepared me somewhat for it (similar to Jung I have scientists and clerics on my English father’s side and mystics and artists on my Aboriginal mother’s, some of whom died in asylums). Almost five years in India probably helped too.
But I think my own approach to extreme states has helped others struggling with their own, both when I’ve tried to assist people suffering a ‘psychotic break’ and when I’ve acted as a psychedelic guide, so I do think it’s reasonable for me to generalise a bit from my own experiences.
“I’m sure you’ve noticed the Goddess Kali is mentioned once or twice (briefly) in The Red Book. Bloodthirsty. ”
I suspect Jung’s knowledge of Kali comes second-hand from the British colonisers and their mythologising of the Thuggee.
There’s folk stories of Kali that seem bloodthirsty and Her iconography certainly supports that view. Also there’s no denying She’s the Goddess of Creation, Destruction, Time, Death and Madness. But the violence and thirst for blood is symbolic (as are the folk stories and iconography). Kali worshippers such as Vivekananda and Ramakrishna (and myself?) tend to be gentle people, albeit prone to ungentle states of mind.
I consider myself agnostic (or rather, an epistemological and ontological anti-realist) but I can’t deny my direct experiences of Kali, in which She lacks form yet is infinitely beautiful and immanent in all things. Despite having spent years in India I didn’t initially identify Her as Kali, mostly because I’d never looked far beyond the iconography and folk stories. It was both Vivekananda’s poem, which I only read after encountering Her, and my reading of the Mahakali of Kashmir Shaivism that led me to recognise Her as Kali.
As you might imagine, KS, I’ve been running up against the sort of mindset that believes those who think and behave different to them need to be ‘fixed’ for my whole life.
Some wear white, use words like ‘schizoaffective disorder’ and ‘bipolar’ and think the answer is pills and locked wards. Some wear blue, use words like ‘offender’ and ‘criminal’ and think the solution is handcuffs and prisons. Some wear Doc Martens and crewcuts, use words like ‘c**t’ and ‘f***ing nutjob’ and think the answer is fists and boots. Some are faceless, use words like ‘jerk’ and ‘sociopath’ and think the answer is rights restrictions.
Same old crap. Different wrappers.
“As for me, I just want to be me and live my life as me.”
Careful rebel. An attitude like that can get you labeled ‘jerk’ or ‘sociopath’. I’m told we’ve gotta take measures to protect others from people like that.
“Keep in mind, Jung distinguished between ‘divine madness’ and ‘madness’ in his Red Book.”
Yes, but I don’t. I agree more with Joseph Campbell on that.
It’s not about individuation to me. It’s a matter of letting go of your self. It’s not the madness that hurts. That’s a storm of bliss. It’s trying to hold onto what you think you are in the midst of it that brings pain and terror. Differentiation might be necessary for a social animal to survive, but death comes, meaning evaporates, chaos reasserts, subject/object dissolves. Oneness abides. When you sacrifice yourself to the storm you are the storm.
It probably helps to have a Goddess who is Madness and Death ;).
So if you paid $120 you must have got the covered hardback with illustrations. I’m told it’s awesome. I’ve just got a text-only e-book.
From the article:
“I know it’s super controversial sometimes. But I’ve been medicated for a long time, and I can’t function without taking it,” McLaughlin said. “If I don’t take my medication, I see an immediate difference in my ability to manage complex tasks, clean the house, get up and cook dinner. So I’m hoping it will have the same effect on her.”
Yes, you can use amphetamines to help you get up, clean the house, maintain focus, study, do long-haul truck driving, etc. For a while. Then you become acclimatised/addicted and need it to do those tasks. If you stop taking it your capacities fall apart. That doesn’t mean you have ADHD though. It means you’re an addict. Please don’t send your daughter down the same road.
She’ll probably come good by herself when she and her remote learning program better adapt to each other or when face-to-face teaching recommences. In the meantime offer her compassion and support, not diagnoses and drugs.
I thank you too Sami. We hear a lot about the problems with psychiatry-as-she-is-spoke but rarely do we hear such incisive analysis of how those problems are rooted in our political and economic systems.
I think your portmanteau could be improved with an extra character though.
“Be silent and listen: have you recognized your madness and do you admit it? Have you noticed that all your foundations are completely mired in madness? Do you not want to recognize your madness and welcome it in a friendly manner? You wanted to accept everything. So accept madness too. Let the light of your madness shine, and it will suddenly dawn on you. Madness is not to be despised and not to be feared, but instead you should give it life.”
– Carl Jung, The Red Book
“An individual has the right to express himself or herself even if he or she behaves irrationally; to demonstrate his or her insanity.”
– Muammer Gaddafi, The Green Book
“ rarely (I won’t say never) does anyone consider themselves “mad” before a shrink has labeled them “mentally ill.””
That’s only because the shrinks get in early these days.
I started school in the 60s and I sure considered myself mad decades before I saw my first shrink. And it was my permanent social identity from a young age. My teachers, classmates and family saw to that.
There’s a body of opinion on this site that the labels get you ‘othered’. That’s not my experience and I doubt it was the experience of my out-group school friends who were othered because of their weight or looks or speech impediment or learning difficulties.
You don’t get othered because you’ve been labeled. You get labeled because you’ve been othered.
Yeah, I guess that’s one thing psychiatry is doing for school kids with its ever increasing rate of pediatric diagnoses.
A decade or so ago you were ‘othered’ for having a DSM label. Soon you’ll be ‘othered’ for not having one.
““Mad Pride” sounds about as mature as saying “I can’t help it, I’m bipolar”.”
I think most people use it in the same way I do. “Mad Pride” means that you accept the aspects of yourself that society condemns as ‘madness’ and stand in solidarity with those who are marginalised for their ‘madness’. It’s certainly not another way to say “I can’t help it”.
The list of reasons you offer for acting out seems more like “I can’t help it” to me.
Speaking personally, my cyclic mood swings, extreme states, acting out, etc are no more ‘because’ of external social circumstances than they are ‘because’ of internal brain chemistry. Nor are my flashes of inspiration, sustained bursts of energy and capacity to stand up to illegitimate authority. They’re because I’m me.
I don’t have madness. I don’t suffer from madness. I am mad. And I’m not interested in curing myself of me.
“I use chemical in the broadest definition and not just pharmacology. Nutrient supplements, and especially food, are clear examples.”
That sounds a little like the apologia offered by supporters of the oil, pesticide, pharmaceutical, etc industries use when they say “Chemicals in your food and air? Everything you eat and breathe is chemicals! And so are you! Hah!”.
We know what ‘chemicals’ means in common parlance; as do corporations that call themselves ‘chemical companies’ and retailers who call themselves ‘chemists’.
Well, I can’t help thinking that if I was enslaved and was told that I’d be set free just as soon as alternate work and accommodation was arranged for me that I might say “Fuck that. Just let me go and I’ll try to find my own solutions as a free man.”
As far as energy sources go, we need energy of some kind so it wouldn’t make sense to just shut off the CO2 belchers and freeze while we wait for replacements. Do we need slavery? Do we need psychiatry?
As for things like prisons, it’s the current PIC – especially in its for-profit form – that’s holding back the alternatives that are already in place on a small scale, just as the fossil fuel companies try to hold back sustainable alternatives. Many alternatives to prison have already proved more effective at meeting the stated goals of prisons than prisons themselves.
There’s anarchists who’d agree with your last paragraph. A group of platformist internationalists once tried to recruit me. I’m not buying. I can’t see how you can call it anarchy if everyone has to think the same.
Anarchism has thrown up several ideas for keeping hierarchies flat to non-existent within a large scale industrial society. Probably the best known one is anarcho-syndicalism, which seemed to worked well in both agrarian and urban industrial settings during the Spanish revolution. However it didn’t work so well in alliance with the non-anarchist groups of the Spanish Republic so a more hierarchical system of appointing delegates to represent anarchists within the Republican government was tried, with unfortunate results.
A similar thing was tried by some Sydney anarchist groups in order to gain representation within the NSW Greens party. As in 1930s Spain the delegates were eventually captured by parliamentary party politics and ceased representing those who’d put them there.
A (formerly?) anarchist friend of mine who is now a Greens member of parliament even entered into a strategic alliance with what was then a particularly authoritarian pro-psychiatry group in the name of political pragmatism, though to be fair the group is now focused on maintaining the green space around a former asylum rather than reviving the asylum and flogging forced psychiatry, so perhaps the alliance had merit.
In 2001 I attended a conference at which a couple of research psychiatrists presented one of the early studies showing that antidepressants caused suicidality in children.
During the meal break that followed I spoke to several psychiatrists about it and eavesdropped on others. Though only a couple were at all skeptical of the study all the ones I heard insisted they would continue to prescribe to children as before, justifying it with the belief that though there were risks they believed themselves capable of judging whether a patient was at risk of suicidality despite the evidence they’d just heard that most prescribers were not. I guess it was the same sort of thing that makes around 90% of car drivers believe they’re better than average drivers.
One shrink I knew well from other conferences and who I respected for his intelligence and modesty told me he too would continue to prescribe as usual, despite not believing himself able to reliably judge whether the patient would become suicidal on the pills. His reason?
“These kids and their families are desperate for help. We can’t just stand by and do nothing.”
So doing something that makes the situation worse is better than doing nothing when your mystique as a ‘healer’ is at stake.
Since I quoted from the Guardian article above it’s been changed to “a young woman struggling with a personality disorder she didn’t yet understand” (my italics).
You can see the original version of the article here.
“I suppose being an anarchist group, though small like a bookstore, is as autonomous as you’d get still being a citizen of a country, paying taxes, using public services, using currency to buy groceries, and so on.”
The bookstores are small, the anarchist communities centred on them aren’t.
Obviously you can’t be fully autonomous within a self-declared sovereign nation. The rulers don’t like that. It’s also pretty hard to be autonomous outside of one as your neighbours see it as a threat to their own authority and act accordingly. We saw that with the anarchist parts of the Ukraine in the 1920s, Spain in the 1930s and the Rojava parts of Syria now. If there’s one thing governments of all stripes can agree on it’s that anything demonstrating that anarchism might be a viable option must be crushed.
“Those who are ‘tearing down dysfunctional and oppressive institutions’ need to do so in a way that remembers that the people composing them have to go somewhere and do something, and shouldn’t be told ‘too bad’, ‘get a life’, or ‘get used to it’. ”
That was pretty much the proto-liberal argument against practical action towards the abolition of slavery.
“The problem with the term “mental illness” at this point is that it is used intentionally as a means of denying that suffering has any kind of meaning beyond messed up brain chemicals. ”
And I think that comes from the incoherent way the mind sciences approach the mind-body problem(s).
On the one hand they insist the mind is the brain (or an entirely emergent property thereof), so it follows that any problems with the mind are manifestations of problems in the brain. OTOH, they see the individual as the locus of suffering caused by the mind-brain, as if the individual is something separate from her mind. It’s Abrahamic/Cartesian dualism glossed over with Enlightenment physiology. It don’t work.
That’s how you get counterfactual claims that locating a person’s suffering and aberrant behaviour in his brain defects rather than his character will somehow reduces stigma while at the same time insisting that mind, and therefore character, is simply a manifestation of the same defective brain. That don’t work neither.
So we see articles like this one in which a musician’s ‘intensity’ is pathologised as borderline personality disorder and her music is therefore a symptom of “a young woman struggling with a neurological condition she didn’t yet understand”.
Art too is now an illness. I’m sure there’s a pill for that; though it took ECT to cure Hemingway of his art.
“Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness.” – Alejandro Jodorowsky
“Statin therapy is the target of unusually strong skepticism that the study’s authors believe to be caused by baseless claims for the sake of market manipulation on behalf of drug companies.”
Drug companies manipulating the market by overstating side-effects?
Is there a newer, more expensive cholesterol lowering treatment they’re trying to push?
Or are you saying the skepticism is being dismissed as baseless by drug companies in an attempt to manipulate the market? If so, this study could be an example of that.
“Almost no one knows what terms like “communism” and “socialism” actually mean”
Make that “almost no one in the US”. Most of the world has a fair idea of what communism is, even if they can’t quote at length from Das Kapital.
I’d guess so. But don’t forget that sexual assault survivors of all ages often have responses that are a long way from the social stereotypes of how rape victims should behave. It would be easy to interpret acting out trauma as something else entirely, especially if you don’t want to think of yourself as an abuser who is doing lasting damage. Again it’s down to the limits of imagination upon empathy.
There’s loads of philosophies within anarchism about the best ways to promote change.
Some lean to building communities based on anarchist principles (usually communes) as examples for change, some prefer to start anarchist activist groups that attempt to address current social problems without necessarily overturning the existing order (e.g. Food not Bombs), others go for promoting anarchist principles and outlooks within existing groups and communities (I lean more to that). Some, like the IWW, promote workplace organisation along anarcho-syndicalist lines, and some are into tearing down dysfunctional and oppressive institutions, with or without proposing replacements. Bertrand Russell held that anarchism was a probably unachievable ideal which nonetheless should inform the goals of any revolutionary or reformist political ideology (Marxism was supposed to lead to anarchism, but as Bakunin pointed out from the start it’s centralisation of authority doomed it to failure).
I don’t know if your summary of oldhead’s position is correct (I suspect not) but I consider it entirely respectable. You don’t have to propose replacements when you advocate tearing down dysfunctional, oppressive institutions. Many don’t need replacing because they serve no worthwhile function. In other cases the object is to remove the institution so communities can find their own replacements free of control and coercion. Having a revolutionary vanguard trying to impose its own idea of the best replacement would likely lead to the same old oppression under a different flag.
If you want to know about the history and various philosophies informing anarchism I’d recommend Peter Marshall’s book Demanding the Impossible.
“If you have a link to examples of anarchic ‘politics’ or ‘society/groups’ (especially completely autonomous) that didn’t implode/explode or splinter into ever smaller pieces, then please link it here.”
There’s heaps of examples. Try googling it. I’m personally familiar with the two Sydney groups centred on bookshops, Black Rose and Jura, as well as anarchist activist groups like Squatspace and the now defunct Catalyst anarchist computer collective.
The longest standing anarchist group I know of are the IWW (the Wobblies), but I’ve never been a member.
Oh, and if you want the Sex Pistols’ take on anarchy, try here.
Words plus $$$.
They include vocational and life skills education as well as the far more dubious psychological programs, such as the sex offender rehab programs that are often compulsory or a prerequisite for parole in jurisdictions that offer it.
“What about a class action?”
It might be worth a try in the US if you could get enough people to sign on. Class actions are notoriously difficult in Australia and lawyers are reluctant to take them on. They’re usually only worth trying when a product has proved harmful to consumers, especially if it’s a financial product. (There’s currently a class action against Facebook underway. If Facebook keeps poking Australian elites like they’ve been doing it might succeed.)
The difficulty would be finding enough people who’d suffered similar harms because the courts had accepted psychiatric evidence as scientific. It would probably be easier to pull off if they were all harmed by the same shrink, but that would also make it harder to generalise the ruling to all psychiatric evidence.
In the cases I’ve dealt with the families generally respond with denial, even after convictions on strong evidence or a confession. There’s sometimes at least one member who turns viciously on the offender after the facts come out. They can find themselves disowned by the rest of the family.
I’d imagine they’d express their compassion by doing their best to support and help the victim. Of course that’s gonna be warped by the abuse but the abuse doesn’t necessarily stop them from caring about the child’s welfare.
Extrafamilial child abuse includes the phenomenon of older (usually single) men adopting an underage boy (usually past puberty) who they sexually abuse but also care for and seemingly love. There was a senior South Australian judge who adopted and abused an impoverished boy whom he also educated and connected with the upper strata of Adelaide society. That boy grew up to become a very prominent journalist. The judge was never charged with an offence (because he was influential, not because it was legal). If you ask me there’s a similar subtext in the Batman and Robin stories, especially as it was played in the 1960s TV series.
Don’t think I’m trying to offer apologia for any of this. I’m certainly not. Just answering your question as to how a child molester can express compassion for his victim.