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The Promise of Entheogens for Psychotherapy and Spiritual Development
Table of Contents
About The Book
• Explores the latest medical research on the healing powers of entheogens
• Reveals the crucial role of tribal and shamanic wisdom in psychedelic medicine
• Provides guidelines for working with psychedelics, including the author’s personal healing and recommendations for creating change on the spiritual and societal levels
Banned after promising research in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, the use of psychedelics as therapeutic catalysts is now being rediscovered at prestigious medical schools, such as Harvard, Johns Hopkins, NYU, and UCLA. Through clinical trials to assess their use, entheogens have been found to ease anxiety in the dying, interrupt the hold of addictive drugs, cure post-traumatic stress disorder, and treat other deep-seated emotional disturbances. To date, results have been positive, and the idea of psychedelics as powerful psychiatric--and spiritual--medicines is now beginning to be accepted by the medical community.
Exploring the latest cutting-edge research on psychedelics, along with their use in indigenous cultures throughout history for rites of passage and shamanic rituals, Neal Goldsmith reveals that the curative effect of entheogens comes not from a chemical effect on the body but rather by triggering a peak or spiritual experience. He provides guidelines for working with entheogens, groundbreaking analyses of the concept--and the process--of change in psychotherapy, and, ultimately, his own story of psychedelic healing. Examining the tribal roots of this knowledge, Goldsmith shows that by combining ancient wisdom and modern research, we can unlock the emotional, mental, and spiritual healing powers of these unique and powerful tools, providing an integral medicine for postmodern society.
The Ten Lessons of Psychedelic Therapy, Rediscovered
Psychedelic plants and derivative compounds and admixtures have been used safely for millennia by indigenous peoples. This tradition of shamanic practices provides the context for the use of psychedelics in psychotherapy and the foundation for our discussion of the methods of psychedelic psychotherapy.
As tribal societies evolved over thousands of years, a set of ritual and community support structures--guidelines of procedure and context--grew up around the use of psychoactive plants, resulting in the first “safety and efficacy” standards. The driving considerations were and are now: 1) how to take these substances in such a way that people have the experience they are looking for and 2) how to do so with the least deleterious effect on the body, mind, and society. The regulatory and policy debates we’re having as a society today may be seen, in part, as an attempt to re-create the controls, guidance, and support that evolved naturally in prehistory.
Over the past fifty-plus years, Western researchers have systematically reinvented the wheel of ancient practice in roughing out the contours of safe and effective psychedelic psychotherapy. The primary clinical “innovations” discovered in the West for the use of psychedelics, such as “set and setting,” turn out to be rediscoveries of methodologies honed through centuries of hard-won tribal trial-and-error experimentation. As such, we must now rethink, embrace, and expand upon the true foundations, not just of Western practice, but of Western research as well.
What follow then, are ten “lessons learned” for psychedelic psychotherapy, along with--in italics--the tribal foundation for each.
1. Setting Can Strongly Influence State of Mind and Thus Outcome
Early researchers sometimes strapped subjects to beds in hospital rooms, under the mistaken view that psychedelics mimic psychosis. Most subjects under these conditions had hellish experiences, thus seeming to confirm the “psychotomimetic” hypothesis. Another, similar term used at that time was “hallucinogen,” which is still used in medical and some scholarly contexts. However, drugs such as LSD rarely produce true hallucinations (e.g., seeing and conversing with a person who is not actually present). Even in institutional settings, enough subjects had beatific experiences that another explanatory term emerged: “psychedelic” or mind manifesting. Over the years, researchers and clinicians have generally come to provide a nonthreatening, physically comfortable, pleasing to the senses, safe, and secure environment, often with specific familial items (such as pictures, dolls, and so forth) or religious content. (The setting must be “safe and secure” not just so there are no outside interruptions but also to assure that a frightened or confused subject or patient cannot bolt the session room.)
Psychedelic subjects can be highly suggestible. Although beatific psychedelic experiences were possible in mental hospitals during the psychotomimetic period, therapeutic peak experiences are more readily attained amid a setting with personally meaningful spiritual music and iconography. Far from problematic, this suggestibility is one of the foundations upon which successful psychedelic psychotherapy must be built.
At the opposite extreme, some healing and psychotherapeutic use of psychedelics has employed carefully designed and controlled intensity as a lever to help patients experience, confront, and resolve their deepest fears and pains.
The tribal context for psychedelic use is inherently safe. Unlike in industrial society, tribal use of psychedelics takes place in a natural context, both environmentally and culturally. When a young person takes a psychedelic in a tribal setting, it is generally in the context of ritual, frequently a rite of passage from one stage of life into the next, and support by family members and other authority figures is the norm. Later, the entire tribal milieu naturally assists in integrating the experience. No sneaking behind the barn to hide drug use here; rather, this is publicly supported use of a sacrament, in a positive and relaxed environment.
At the opposite extreme, many tribal practices have a fearful and intense component to stimulate change during the rite of passage. Yet within the supportive tribal environment, these fearful or painful practices are accepted as healing.
2. Mind-set Can Scuttle a Beautiful Context or Transcend a Hellish One
Open-mindedness and willingness to surrender to the process, confidence in people and surroundings, and motivation to learn and heal rather than to escape or be entertained are all associated with successful outcome.
Mind-set is perhaps the single most important factor in determining the outcome of a psychedelic experience. More influential than setting or dose, “set” trumps all, because set determines the phenomenology or direct internal experience of those other factors.
Even so, it is difficult to discuss mind-set without simultaneously discussing setting. Setting strongly influences the mind-set of the suggestible psychedelic user, and yet mind-set can overcome the influence of even the most powerful religious or family triggers. Another term, used similarly to “set,” is intentionality.” If the deepest, truest intent with which one approaches the experience is sincere and open to whatever learning is encountered, then a positive experience is more likely. On the other hand, if one’s true intent is to avoid certain issues, the stress of that avoidance could cause emotional symptoms that influence the nature and outcome of the psychedelic experience. Of course, such a “negative” experience is also a developmental challenge, the addressing of which brings maturation and a more open intentionality.
The forces that explain the Universe in the animistic worldview are well known by all and driven by spirits that include the plant aides. The plants are seen as active, conscious agents--plant spirits--rather than as things, it is an engagement with the world and with experience that is explicitly reverential.
Tribal participants are completely “ bought into” the concept and practice of using plants for healing and divination and are positive about the benefits to be accrued. Tradition communicates the appropriateness and value of the experience. The tribal worldview fully accommodates the healing action of the ceremonial use of psychoactive plants. Psychedelics increase suggestibility and the sacramental, receptive tribal mind-set is ideal for the effective use of these plants to catalyze spiritual transformation.
- Publisher: Healing Arts Press (December 21, 2010)
- Length: 256 pages
- ISBN13: 9781594778551
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Raves and Reviews
"In terms of both academics and activism, it is the most comprehensive and readable book on this subject that I've come across."
– Anna Jedrziewski, New Age Retailer, October 2010
“Psychedelic Healing is full of knowledge and wisdom, psychologically sophisticated, and up-to-date. It contains important lessons for those wishing to work with psychedelic plants and substances, which are powerful and tricky tools for accessing the psyche. Neal Goldsmith makes a well-reasoned plea for society to use them once again because they are important tools for healing inside, healing relationships, and healing society. I enjoyed his speculation about the post-postmodern synthesis of tribal and modern. Written bravely and with open eyes, this is an important, mature book”
– Jeremy Narby, Ph.D., author of The Cosmic Serpent and co-editor of Shamans Through Time
“In synchronous timing with the publication of Jung’s precious personal vision, Neal Goldsmith presents his own Red Book of self-discovery and organizes it into a useful road map to the mystery within each of us--of who we are and why . . .”
– John H. Halpern, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
“Neal Goldsmith is one of the leading architects of the emerging paradigm of psychedelic therapy. In this book he shares the personal story of his own process of growth and transformation as both a drug policy analyst and a psychotherapist and boldly calls for the acceptance and integration of psychedelics into psychiatry and society as the powerful catalysts for self-exploration and healing that they are.”
– Dennis McKenna, Ph.D., assistant professor, Center for Spirituality and Healing, University of Minne
“Neal Goldsmith’s comprehensive, wise, and timely guide explores the impact of psychedelics throughout history and today at the level of the individual, the society, and the collective consciousness. Psychedelic Healing addresses salient theoretical questions pertinent to policy, therapy, spirituality, and philosophy and offers a bountiful harvest of hardearned insights to every reader interested in the transformative power of psychedelics. Neal has made a major contribution to ensuring the continued expansion of the psychedelic research renaissance. Psychedelic Healing will enable motivated readers to work more effectively to create a world where the mature use of psychedelics for spiritual, psychological, and medical purposes is both accepted and appreciated.”
– Rick Doblin, Ph.D., executive director, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies
“In this lively and provocative book, Neal M. Goldsmith, Ph.D., makes the case for a ‘Psychedelic Renaissance,’ one in which LSD-type substances would be rescheduled in the United States, permitting their applications in psychotherapy and medicine. Psychedelic Healing presents considerable evidence from the research and clinical literature, as well as from Goldsmith’s own experiences, that psychedelics can relieve pain, change personality, foster spiritual growth, and promote community harmony. After reading this book, many of his readers will be persuaded that this renaissance cannot come a day too soon!”
– Stanley Krippner, Ph.D., Alan Watts Professor of Psychology, Saybrook University, and coauthor of Pe
“Written with personal warmth and passionate engagement, Psychedelic Healing makes a compelling case for the medical and social benefits of a therapy practice that encompasses substance-induced experiences of transcendence. With scrupulous care, Neal Goldsmith explores the great promise of this reemerging field, while proposing a path forward that avoids the mistakes made a generation ago. This book is valuable reading for those who would like to see a crucial new chapter open in consciousness studies and the mental health field.”
– Daniel Pinchbeck, author of Breaking Open the Head
“What a brave and wonderful book! Neal Goldsmith beautifully integrates personal experience and reflections with thoughtful analysis of psychedelics: their history, prohibition and regulation, and potential for transforming our psyches, spirits, and lives.”
– Ethan A. Nadelmann, J.D., Ph.D., executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance
“A wonderful blend of psychedelic history. Goldsmith has written a radical, wise, and compassionate rethinking of the nature and purpose of psychotherapy. This is the direction psychology needs to go in order to stay relevant and valuable.”
– James Fadiman Ph.D., author of The Psychedelic Explorers Guide and Personality and Personal Growth
“A thoroughly researched and engaging discussion of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, profiling not just the drugs, but many luminaries in the psychedelic research field. Goldsmith emphasizes the importance of set, setting, and ritual on outcome. By chronicling his own growth and transformation he answers the question, ‘Is fundamental personality change possible?’ with an emphatic ‘Yes!’”
– Julie Holland, M.D., editor of Ecstasy: The Complete Guide and The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Can
“When we look back at the extraordinary cultural transformations of the past forty years, there is one ingredient in the recipe of social change that is consistently and inexplicably expunged from the record. And that is the fact that countless thousands, indeed millions, of young at some point in their lives lay prostrate before the gates of awe having taken a psychedelic. Neal Goldsmith’s insightful book suggests that perhaps we might do well by doing the same.”
– Wade Davis, award-winning anthropologist, ethnobotanist, filmmaker, author, and photographer
“Neal Goldsmith’s comprehensive analysis of the healing power of psychedelics puts the medical, spiritual, and legal status of these soul medicines in a passionate, well-informed voice.”
– Alex Grey, author of Sacred Mirrors and Transfigurations
“Psychedelic Healing is a comprehensive contextualized guide for harnessing psychedelics to assist in personal evolution. Neal Goldsmith introduces you to all the key players at this exciting moment in the long history of human interaction with psychedelic plants. Goldsmith’s clinical yet revealing and accessible narrative is as reassuring as it is instructional. Not since The Tibetan Book of the Dead has there been such a useful companion to the amazing array of spiritual medicines that are nature’s gift to humanity.”
– Allan Badiner, adjunct professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, contributing edito
“Written with authority and scholarship, this book is intended for the therapeutic mental health community and will find readers at any academic institution with a psychology department. However, the wider audience of seekers and free thinkers make this appropriate for most public library collections as well.”
– Janet Tapper, Univ. of Western States Lib., Library Journal, February 2011
“An analysis that looks deep into history as well as the true medical effects of the drug, Psychedelic Healing is a fascinating analysis into a taboo avenue of medicine.”
– The Midwest Book Review, February 2011
“Dr. Goldsmith proposes how psychedelic healing can be incorporated into a new, integrated psychotherapy that harnesses the emotional, mental and spiritual healing powers of these entheogenic gives guidance on safe “tripping” and on handling emergencies. . . This is a visionary approach towards a whole new reality.”
– Nexus Magazine, May 2011
“By calling on insights from personality development, Goldsmith enriches our understanding of how psychedelics can lead to a richer, more mature self and at the same time help people re-identify with the true, inner transcendent self: the path of personal, psychological growth persisted in long enough becomes a path of spiritual growth. Then, using this expertise in a large-scale institutional and social change, he proposes a number of careful steps to beneficially fit psychedelics into society. Thus Psychedelic Healing moves forward both personal maturity and institutional growth for their combined benefits”
– Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D., is co-editor of Psychedelic Medicine: New Evidence for Hallucinogenic Subs
“. . . ideal combination of facts, personal experiences and most importantly, hope for the future of psychedelics. Their time has come and Neal tells us why and how to make that happen.”
– Erowid, October 2011
“Psychedelic Healing offers the reader a wondrous journey, capturing within one volume a guide for the use of psychedelics by therapists and patients as well as a contemporary summation of relevant research and points of history. Goldsmith bravely goes where few dare to tread, especially in his autobiographical vignettes that make clear how what is learned through psychedelic-assisted therapy can usefully be applied and integrated into everyday life. This book is highly recommended to anyone interested in learning how psychedelics may contribute to a healthier, richer, and more rewarding life rather than just assuming that these substances must be categorized as drugs of abuse. There is more to these substances than their pejorative categorizations within a Drug War: Psychedelic Healing offers an easy-to-read path to these deeper waters.”
– John H. Halpern, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
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