Therapeutic Mechanisms On The Transpersonal Level

Observations from LSD psychotherapy provide ample evidence that transpersonal experiences are more than just curious phenomena of theoretical interest. In many instances, specific clinical symptoms arc authored in dynamic structures of a transpersonal nature and cannot be resolved on the level of psvchodvnainic or even perinatal experiences. In order to eliminate a specific emotional, psycho-' somatic, or interpersonal problem, the patient sometimes has to experience dramatic sequences of a clearly transpersonal nature. Many unusual and interesting observations clearly indicate the need to incorporate transpersonal aspects and approaches into everyday psychotherapeutic practice.

To the surprise of both patient and therapist, seemingly bizarre and unexplainable experiences sometimes have a dramatic impact on ccrtain clinical symptoms and problems. Sincc the therapeutic process frequently leads into unexplored and uncharted territories, it requires considerable open-mindedness and an adventurous spirit in both the client and the therapist. A therapist who adheres rigidly to conventional paradigms and is unaware of and closed to unfamiliar levels of consciousness will generally be less effective with patients whose problems have a strong transpersonal emphasis. He or she will not encouragc them to have experiences that would resolve their symptoms, or might even implicitly and explicitly discourage them from entering transpersonal realms. Such an approach, in addition to being therapeutically less effective, also fails to meet the intense spiritual needs of these patients and give them sensitive guidance.

In some LSD patients difficult emotional symptoms that had not been resolved on the psychodynamic or perinatal level disappeared or were mitigated in connection with various embryonal experiences. Reliving attempted abortions, maternal diseases or emotional crises during pregnancy, and fetal experiences of being unwanted ("rejecting womb") can be of great therapeutic value. Particularly dramatic instances of therapeutic change have been observed in connection with past-incarnation experiences. Sometimes these occur simultaneously with perinatal phenomena, at other times they are independent thematic gestalts. The subject experiences a sequence set in another country and/or a different historical period, usually with deep emotional involvement and dramatic abreaction. This is associated with a strong sense of reliving an episode from a previous incarnation. A particular emotional, interpersonal or psychosomatic problem is felt to be a meaningful part of a karmic pattern, and disappears when this gestalt is completed. In some instances this may be accompanied by independent synchronistic changes in the lives and specific attitudes of people whom the subject denoted as protagonists in the karmic scene. The following episode is a good illustration of this unusual phenomenon:

Tanya, a 34-year-old teacher and divorced mother of two children, was undergoing LSD psychotherapy for depressions, anxiety states, and a prone-ness to fatigue. One of her LSD sessions brought an unexpected solution to a severe physical problem which had been considered purely organic in nature. For the previous twelve years she had been suffering from chronic sinusitis with occasional acute flare-ups because of colds or allergies. The sinus troubles had started shortly after her wedding and represented a severe inconvenience in her life. The major manifestations were headaches and strong pains in the cheeks and teeth, low-grade fevers, heavy nasal discharge, and bouts of sneezing and wheezing. On many occasions she was awakened by a coughing attack; some mornings these symptoms lasted three to four hours. Tanya had numerous tests for allergies and was treated by many specialists with antihistamines, antibiotics, and flushing of the sinuses with disinfectant solutions. When all this failed to bring any therapeutic results, the doctors suggested an operation of the sinuses, which Tanya declined.

In one of her LSD sessions, Tanya was experiencing suffocation, congestion and pressure on her head in the context of the birth experience. She recognized that some of these sensations bore a close resemblance to the symptoms associated with her sinus problems; however, they were greatly amplified. After many sequences that were clearly of a perinatal nature, the experience opened fully into a reliving of what appeared to be a past-incarnation memory. In this context, the experiences of oppression, choking and congestion that had earlier been part of the birth trauma became symptoms of drowning. Tanya felt that she was tied to a slanted board and was slowly being pushed under water by a group of villagers. After dramatic emotional abreaction associated with screaming, violent choking, coughing, and profuse secretion of enormous amounts of thick, greenish nasal discharge, she was able to recognize the place, circumstances and protagonists.

She was a young girl in a New England village who had been accused by her neighbors of witchcraft, because she was having unusual experiences of a spiritual nature. A group of villagers dragged her one night to a nearby birch-grove, fixed her to a board, and drowned her head-first in a cold pond. In the bright moonlight, she was able to recognize among her executioners the faces of her father and husband in her present lifetime. At this point, Tanya could see many elements of her current existence as approximate replicas of the original karmic scene. Certain aspects of her life, including specific patterns of interaction with her husband and her father, suddenly appeared to make sense, down to the most specific details.

This experience of the New England drama and all the intricate con-

Tanya's experience of a previous incarnation. Above her tlie (lark ligmcs ol tlie croud form a eirele against the night sky and the full moon.

nections Tanya made, convincing though they were on the subjective level, obviously did not constitute proof of the historical validity of the episode and of a causal link between the event and her sinus problems. Nor could her conviction that she was dealing with a karmic pattern be considered evidence for the existence of reincarnation. However, to the astonishment of everybody concerned, this experience cleared the chronic sinus condition that had plagued Tanya for a period of twelve years and had proved completely refractory to conventional medical treatment.

It is interesting to note that this mechanism is not limited to psychedelic states. Many similar observations have been reported by therapists who utilize non-drug techniques, such as hypnosis, gestalt practice or primal therapy. Dennys Kelsev and Joan Grant (45) induce a hypnotic trance in their subjects and suggest j> that they go back in time to find the source of their emotional or physical prob-j Jems. Without special programming, many of their subjects relive past-incarnation memories under these circumstances and resolve their symptoms in this context.

One of their clients should be mentioned here because the mechanism involved bears a close resemblance to what I have observed many times during LSD psychotherapy. She suffered from a severe phobia of bird wings and feathers that had resisted conventional psychological treatment for years. Iler difficult symptom was resolved after she relived with a dramatic abreaction a scene that had a past-incarnation experiential quality. She experienced herself in a male form, as a

Persian warrior who had been wounded by an arrow and was dying on the battlefield. As he lay there approaching his terminal agony, vultures were gathering around him, awaiting his death. They kept jumping toward him and pecking at him, while hitting his face with their wings. The patient found the roots of her phobia of bird feathers in this horrifying experience; discharge of the emotional energy together with the new insight freed her permanently from the tedious symptom.

Emmett Miller (70) has occasionally made similar observations using a hypnotic technique which he calls selective awareness. There are psychologists and psychiatrists in the United States who specialize in regressing their clients to the past-incarnation level to find the roots of individual and interpersonal problems. Many past-incarnation experiences have been described in the context of auditing in Scientology. The readings of Edgar Cayce also often contain references to karmic levels as the sources of his clients' problems. On occasion, past-incarnation memories emerge spontaneously in everyday life; they can have the same beneficial consequences if they are allowed to reach completion. This raises a question as to how many opportunities for effective therapeutic intervention have been missed by Cartesian-Newtonian psychiatrists whose patients reported access to karmic levels. The importance of transpersonal experiences for the therapeutic approach to schizophrenia was illustrated earlier in this book by the history of Milada. (see p. 245)

Ancestral experience£ can sometimes play a role similar to past-incarnation memories. In some instances symptoms disappear after patients relive what they feel are memories from the lives of their ancestors. I have also seen patients identify certain intrapsychic problems as internalized conflicts between the families of their ancestors and resolve them on this level. Some psychopathological and psychosomatic symptoms can occasionally be traced back to elements olj>lant_ or animal consciousness. Thus, the complex and seemingly bizarre sensations of a female patient were resolved when she recognized them as states of vegetable consciousness and allowed herself to identify with the experience of being a tree. In another patient, unusual physical feelings and symptoms of a severe hay fever were amplified by the effect of the drug and became authentic sensations of being an animal of another species. To illustrate the complexity and fascinating dimensions of the problems in question I would like to describe a case that does not involve a clear therapeutic outcome but provides most interesting insights.

I was recently contacted by Arthur, a 46-year-old mathematician who had had LSD experiences in the past for didactic purposes and as a means of finding the roots of his neurotic symptoms. Much of the work he had done in his sessions focused on problems of embryonal development and birth. He had to face special complications in these areas owing to the fact that he had a twin sister. In many of his LSD sessions he had visions and experiences of creatures with complex geometrical organization. He felt very emotionally involved in these experiences, although they were strange and did not make any sense. He could not understand why he spent so much time on these bizarre and incomprehensible forms.

Several years later, long after he had discontinued the LSD sessions, he overexerted himself while working on an involved project. For many months he had had little sleep, drank much coffee, and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. During the convalescence period following a heart attack, he acquired Ernst Haeckel's book Art Forms in Nature, (35) a collection of plates depicting various animal forms in the evolutionary pedigree. He was astounded when, looking through the book, he recognized many of the forms that had represented such an important part of his LSD sessions. In an instant he received insights into the nature of the process that he never completed. As a twin, he had to face special problems related to symmetry during his embryological development. His experiences of different stages of his embryological development were associated in the LSD sessions with corresponding animal forms in accordance with Haeckel's biogenetic law.2 In this context, he recognized that the heart as an asymmetrical organ presents special problems during embryogenesis. It was on this level, in the realm of the basic geometry of nature, that Arthur found the deepest roots of his life-long interest in mathematics, symmetry, and geometrical forms.

In some instances, LSD patients recognized that some of their symptoms, attitudes, and behavior were manifestations of an underlying archetypal structure. Full experiential identification with the various archetypal entities can lead to the resolution of such problems. Occasionally, the energy forms involved have such an alien quality that the behavior of the LSD subjects resembles what anthropologists have ascribed to spirit possession. In such cases the therapeutic procedure can have many of the characteristics of exorcism as it was practiced in the medieval church, or the expulsion of evil spirits in aboriginal cultures. Sucli situations can be very demanding for both patient and therapist. The following story is the most dramatic example of this phenomenon I have ever witnessed; the fact that the patient had amnesia during most of the process distinguishes it from other similar episodes.

While working at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, I was invited to a staff conference at the Spring Grove State Hospital. One of the psychiatrists was presenting the case of Flora, a 28-year-old single patient who had been hospitalized by then for more than eight months in a locked ward. All available therapy, including tranquillizers, antidepressants, psychotherapy, and occupational therapy, had been tried but failed, and she was facing transfer to the chronic ward. Flora had one of the most complicated combinations of symptoms and problems I have ever encountered in my psychiatric practice. When she was sixteen years old, she was a member of a gang that conducted an armed robbery and killed a night watchman. As driver of the get-away car, Flora spent four years in prison and was then placed on parole for the rest of her sentence. During the stormy years that followed, she became a multiple drug addict. She was an alcoholic and a heroin addict, and frequently used high doses of psychostimulants and barbiturates. Her severe depressions were associated with violent suicidal tendencies; she frequently had impulses to drive her car over a cliff or collide with another automobile. She suffered from hysterical vomiting which occurred easily in situations where she became emotionally excited. Probably the most agonizing of her complaints was a painful facial cramp, "tic doloreux," for which a Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon had suggested a brain operation consisting in severing the nerves involved. Flora was a lesbian and had severe conflicts and guilt about it; she had never had a heterosexual intercourse in her life. To further complicatc the situation, she was court-committed because she had severely wounded her girlfriend and room-mate while trying to clean a gun under the influence of heroin.

At the end of the Spring Grove case conference, the attending psychiatrist asked Dr. Charles Savage and me if we would consider LSD psychotherapy. We found this an extremely difficult decision, especially because this was at the time of the national hysteria concerning LSD. Flora had a criminal record already, she had access to weapons, and had severe suicidal tendencies. We were well aware that the atmosphere was such that if we gave her an LSD session, whatever happened after that point would automatically be blamed on the drug, without regard to her past history. On the other hand, everything else had been tried without success and she was facing a lifetime in a chronic ward. Finally, we decided to take the chance and accept her into the LSD program, feeling that her desperate situation justified the risk.

Flora's first two high-dose LSD sessions were not much different from many others I had run in the past. She faced a number of situations from her stormy childhood and repeatedly relived sequences of the struggle in the birth canal. She was able to connect her violent suicidal tendencies and painful facial cramps to certain aspects of the birth trauma, and to discharge large amounts of intense emotion and physical tension. Despite this, the therapeutic gains seemed to be minimal.

In her third LSD session, nothing extraordinary happened during the first two hours; her experiences were similar to those of the previous two sessions. Suddenly, she started complaining that the painful cramps in her face were becoming unbearable. Before our eyes, the facial spasms were grotesquely accentuated and her face froze into what can best be described as a mask of evil. She started talking in a deep, male voice and everything about her was so different that I could not see any connection between her present appearance and her former self. Her eyes had an expression of indescribable malice and her hands were spastic and looked like claws.

The alien energy that took control over her body and voice introduced itself as the devil. "He" turned directly to me, ordering me to stay away from Flora and give up any attempts to help her. She belonged to him and he would punish anybody who dared to invade his territory. What followed was explicit blackmail, a series of dismal descriptions of what would happen to me, my colleagues, and the program if I would not obey. It is difficult to describe the uncanny atmosphere which this scene evoked; ope could almost feel the intangible presence of something alien in the room. The power of the blackmail was further increased by the fact that it involved certain concrete information to which the patient in her everyday life could not have access.

I found myself under considerable emotional stress which had metaphysical dimensions. Although I had seen similar manifestations in some LSD sessions, they were never so realistic or convincing. It was dif ficult for me to control my fear and a tendency to enter into what I felt would be an active combat with the presence. I found myself thinking fast, trying to choose the best strategy for the situation. At one point, I caught myself thinking that we should have a crucifix in our therapeutic armamentarium. My rationalization for this idea was that this was obviously an archetype that was manifesting and the cross could, under these circumstances, be a specific archetypal remedy.

It soon became clear to me that my emotions, whether of fear or aggres-. sion, were making the entity more real, I could not help thinking of scenes 'from science fiction stories involving alien entities that fed on emotions. Finally, I realized that it was essential for me to remain calm and centered. I decided to put myself into a meditative mood, while I held Flora's cramped hand and tried to relate to her in the form in which I had known her before. At the same time, I tried to visualize a capsule of light enveloping us both, which intuitively seemed to be the best approach. The situation lasted over two hours of clock-time; in terms of the subjective time-sense these were the longest two hours I have ever experienced outside of my own psychedelic sessions.

After this time, Flora's hands relaxed and her face returned to its usual form; these changes were as abrupt as the onset of the peculiar condition. I soon discovered that she did not remember anything of the two hours preceding. Later, in her write-up, she described the first hours of the session and continued with the period following the "possession state." I seriously questioned if I should discuss the time covered by her amnesia with her and decided against it. There did not seem to be any reason to introduce such a macabre theme into her conscious mind.

To my great surprise, this session resulted in an astounding therapeutic breakthrough. Flora lost her suicidal tendencies and developed new appreciation for life. She gave up alcohol, heroin and barbiturates and started zealously attending the meetings of a small religious group in Catonsville. For most of the time she did not have any facial cramps; the energy underlying them seemed to have exhausted itself in the "mask of evil" that she maintained for two hours. The occasional recurrence of the pain was of negligible intensity and did not even require medication. She started experimenting with heterosexual relations and eventually married. Her sexual adjustment was not good, however; she was capable of intercourse, but found it painful and not very pleasant. The marriage ended three months later and Flora returned to lesbian relationships; this time, however, with much less guilt. Her condition was so improved that she was accepted as a taxi driver. Although the following years had their ups and downs, she did not have to return to the psychiatric hospital that could have become her permanent home.

The above discussion and the two examples given represent only a small sample of the observations I have made during twenty years of LSD research which suggest that transpersonal experiences can be of great therapeutic value. Whatever the therapist's professional and philosophical opinion of the nature of transpersonal experiences, he or she should be aware of their therapeutic potential and support clients if their self-exploration takes them into transpersonal realms.

These observations from LSD psychotherapy regarding effective mechanisms of therapeutic change clearly indicate that none of the existing psychological schools covers the entire spectrum of and provides an adequate explanatory framework for all the processes involved. Some of the major psychotherapeutic orientations offer useful formulas in the area of the unconscious on which they focus. Thus Freudian psychoanalysis is of great help while the LSD sessions concentrate 011 the biographical level. The Rankian framework, with some important modifications, is relevant for understanding the biological aspects of the death-rebirth process. The Reichian and neo-Reichian approaches give important theoretical and practical clues for dealing with the physical and energetic aspects of the biographical or perinatal levels. Jungian psychology has explored and mapped many important experiential realms of the transpersonal domain. Yet each of the above systems is only partially applicable to the psychedelic process, and a rigid adherence to any conceptual framework is ultimately antitherapeutic. In this matter, psychology and psychotherapy can learn an important lesson from modern physics. Recently, theoretical physicist Geoffrey Chew (20) has formulated a revolutionary approach which he calls the "bootstrap" philosophy of nature. In this view, the universe is seen not as a gigantic clockwork, an assembly of objects interacting with each other following the principles of Newtonian mechanics, but as an infinitely intricate web of interrelated events. None of the properties of any part of the web is fundamental; they all follow from the properties of the other parts, and the overall consistency of their interrelation determines the structure of the entire web. The way in which various disciplines divide reality is ultimately arbitrary, and all scientific theories are only more or less useful approximations.

In the field of consciousness research the closest parallel to Geoffrey Chew's philosophy is the co.ncept of spectrum psychology, formulated by Ken Wilber (103). It suggests that various existing schools accurately describe different levels or bands of consciousness but are not applicable to the psyche in its totality. It is essential for effective LSD psychotherapy to approach the process of self-exploration from the point of view of spectrum psychology and in the spirit of "bootstrap" philosophy. Theoretical models of any kind are only approximate and useful organizations of data about a certain realm available at a certain time. They should not be mistaken for accurate and exhaustive descriptions of the world. To function as a facilitator of scientific progress rather than a hindrance, a conceptual framework has to be tentative and flexible; it should respond or even yield to new observations. jReality is always larger and more complex than the most elaborate and encompassing theory. If the therapist confuses a theoretical system with the "truth" about reality, this will sooner or later interfere with the therapeutic process and create a serious impasse in the treatment of patients whose therapeutic need is for experiences that the system does not include or allow.

My present opinion is that emotional and psychosomatic symptoms indicate blockage of energy and ultimately represent potential experiences in a condensed form, trying to emerge. 1 believe the role of a therapist should be to help mobilize-the energy and facilitate free experiential flow. He or she should not have any conceptual or emotional investment in the nature of the resulting experience and should be willing to support and validate the process as long as it does not involve physical danger to the client or to others. Ultimately it does not seem to make.any difference which form the experience takes if the client is true to his or her process and surrenders to it fully. It can be a childhood memory, birth sequence, karmic constellation, phylogenetic episode, or demonic manifestation. The therapist should be sufficiently open-minded to encourage the client to follow the energy flpyv, regardless of the specific content of the process. Completion of the experiential gestalt brings therapeutic results, whether or not the process has been intellectually understood. After the process is completed, the therapist and the client can make attempts to put the events of the session into a theoretical framework. Depending on the nature and level of the experience, the system that offers the best maps might be Freudian psychoanalysis, Rank's psychology, the theoretical constructs of C. G. Jung, Tibetan Buddhism, alchemy, Kabbalah, or some other ancient cartography of consciousness, the mythology of a particular culture, or a particular spiritual system. However, the intellectual processing should be considered an interesting academic exercise that is not essential for therapeutic progress. Although on the surface this might be seen as intellectual anarchy breeding conceptual chaos, it has a deep logic of its own and can be meaningfully related to a new model of the universe and of human nature. Discussion of this issue has to be reserved for the next volume.

Continue reading here: Of Lsd Psychotherapy

Was this article helpful?

0 0