The experiences belonging to this category are associated with and derived from biographical material from the subject's life, particularly from emotionally highly-relevant events, situations, and circumstances. They are related to important memories, problems, and unresolved conflicts from various periods of the individual's life since early childhood. Psychodynamic experiences originate in areas of the human personality that are generally accessible in normal states of consciousness, or in the individual unconscious which contains repressed biographical material. The least complicated psychodynamic phenomena have the form of actually reliving events from the past and vivid reenactments of traumatic or unusually pleasant memories from infancy, childhood or later periods of life. More complicated experiences involve creative combinations of various memory elements, pictorial eoncretizations of fantasies, dramatizations of wishful daydreams, screen memories, and other complex mixtures of fantasy and reality. In addition, the psychodynamic level involves a variety of experiences that contain important unconscious material in the form of symbolic disguises, cryptic defensive distortions, and metaphorical allusions.
The experiences in psychodynamic LSD sessions can be understood to a great extent in terms of basic psychoanalytic concepts. If psychodynamic episodes were the only type of LSD experience, the observations from LSD psychotherapy could be considered laboratory proof of the Freudian theoretical framework. Psycho-sexual dynamics and the basic conflicts described by Freud arc manifested with unusual clarity and vividness even in the sessions of naive subjects. Under the influence of LSD, such persons experience regression to childhood and early infancy, relive various psychosexual traumas and confront conflicts related to activities in different libidinal zones. They have to face and work through some of the basic psychological problems described by psychoanalysis, such as the Oedipus and Electra complex, early cannibalistic feelings, conflicts about toilet training, castration anxiety, and penis envy.
However, for a more complete understanding of these sessions and of the consequences that they have for the clinical condition of psychiatric patients and their personality structure, a new principle has to be introduced into psychoanalytic thinking. Many LSD phenomena on this level can be comprehended and some of them even predicted if one thinks in terms of specific memory constellations, for which I use the name COEX systems (systems of condensed experience).3
This concept emerged from my analysis of the phenomenology of therapeutic LSD sessions conducted in the early phase of my psychedelic research in Prague. It has proved unusually helpful for understanding the dynamics of the initial stages of psycholytic therapy with psychiatric patients.
[\ A COEX system can be defined as a specific constellation of memories (and associated fantasies) from different life periods of the individual. The memories belonging to a particular COEX system have a similar basic theme or contain similar elements, and are accompanied by a strong emotional chargc of the same quality. The deepest layers of this system are represented by vivid and colorful memories of experiences from the period of infancy and early childhood. More superficial layers involve memories from a later time, leading up to the present life situation. The excessive emotional charge which is attached to COEX systems (as indicated by the powerful abreaction often accompanying the unfolding of these systems in LSD sessions) seems to represent a summation of the emotions belonging to all the constituent memories of a particular kind.
Individual COEX systems involve special defense mechanisms, and are connected with specific clinical symptoms. The detailed interrelations between constituted parts of the COEX systems are in most instances in basic agreement with Freudian thinking; the new element from the theoretical point of view is the concept of the organizing dynamic system. The personality structure of psychiatric patients' usually involves several major COEX systems. Their specific forms, total number, extensity and intensity vary considerably from one individual to another. The psychodynamic level of the unconscious, and thus the role of COEX systems, is much less significant in individuals whose childhood was not particularly traumatic.
According to the basic quality of the emotional charge we can differentiate negative COEX systems (condensing unpleasant emotional experiences) from positive COEX systems (condensing pleasant emotional experiences and positive aspects of the individual's past). Although there are certain interdependencies and overlaps, individual COEX systems function relatively autonomously. In a complicated interaction with the environment they can selectively influence the subject's perception of himself or herself and of the world, his or her feelings and thoughts, and even somatic processes.
The phenomena observed in LSD sessions that are predominantly psychodynamic in nature can be understood in terms of the successive exteriorization, abreaction, and integration of various levels of negative COEX systems in the subject, and an opening of pathways for the influence of positive ones. When a negative COEX system approaches the experiential field, a specific change takes place in the content and course of the LSD sessions. The system assumes a governing influence on all the aspects of the psychedelic experience. It determines the direction in which the physical and interpersonal environment is illusively transformed, dictates the way the subject sees and experiences himself or herself, and dominates the emotional reactions, thought-processes, and certain physical manifestations. In general, the COEX system plays this governing role until the oldest memory, or core experience, of the system is completely relived and integrated. After this happens, another system takes over and dominates the experiential field. Frequently, several COEX systems alternate in the leading role during a particular session or sequence of sessions, undergoing a parallel process of abreaction and integration.
A very interesting interdependence and interplay can be demonstrated between the dynamics of COEX systems and events in the external world. It has already been mentioned that an activated COEX system determines the subject's perception of the environment and his or her reaction to it. Conversely, certain elements of the setting or specific events during the session can activate a COEX system which has associated filatures; we will discuss this mechanism again in connection with the significance of the set and setting of LSD sessions. The governing function of an activated COJiX system may not be limited to the period of pharmacological action of LSD; it can continue for days, weeks, or months following the session. The principles of COEX dynamics described above are thus important for understanding the therapeutic effect of psychodynamic LSD sessions, as well as their complications. (See chapters 5 and 6 on Complications of LSD Psychotherapy and the Course of LSD Psychotherapy.)
Before concluding this discussion of the psychodynamic and biographical aspects of LSD sessions, it is important to mention a category of experiences that represent a transitional form between the psychodynamic area and the following perinatal level, which focuses on the phenomena of birth and death, or death and rebirth. This transitional group involves the reliving of traumatic memories from the life of an individual that are of a physical rather than a purely psychological nature. Such memories typically deal with situations from the past that represented a threat to survival or body integrity. They cover a wide range, from serious operations, painful and dangerous injuries, severe diseases and instances of near drowning to episodes of cruel psychological and physical abuse. Memories of incarceration in concentration camps, exposures to the brainwashing and interrogation techniques of Nazis or Communists, and maltreatment in childhood could be mentioned as special examples of the latter group.
These memories are clearly biographical in nature, yet thematically they are closely related to perinatal experiences. Not infrequently, the reliving of various physical traumas from one's life occurs simultaneously with the experience of the birth agony as a more superficial apposition. Memories of somatic traumatization are a frequent source of very painful and frightening experiences in LSD sessions. They also seem to play a significant role in the psychogenesis of various emotional disorders that is as yet unrecognized and unacknowledged by the schools of dynamic psychotherapy. This is particularly true in the case of depressions, suicidal behavior, sadomasochism, hypochondriasis, and psychosomatic disorders.
Continue reading here: Perinatal Experiences
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