LSD Psychotherapy - Preface
Stanislav Grof, M.D.
LSD Psychotherapy was originally published in 1980.
A new 1994 edition has now been made available by
Hunter House Publishers of Alameda California, ISBN 0-89793-158-0
In 1980 when this book first appeared, the timing of its publication could not have been worse. By that time, psychedelic therapy had been practically discontinued in all the countries of the world as a result of extremely stringent legislation. It made scientific research difficult, if not impossible. The image of LSD was not shaped by already existing extensive professional literature; it was dictated by mass media sensationalizing the accidents of unsupervised self-experimentation and spreading scientifically unsubstantiated rumors about chromosome damage and genetic dangers associated with this substance. Under these circumstances, it seemed that LSD Psychotherapy was destined to become an esoteric historical document of an exciting, but relatively brief and transient era of psychiatric history.
Considering the situation described above, it seems appropriate to look at some of the recent developments that justify a new edition of this work. The most important reason for making the observations from psychedelic research available to professionals, as well as the general public, is the revolutionary nature of the observations associated with it. I seriously believe that unbiased systematic study of this material would lead to changes in our understanding of the human psyche and of the nature of reality that would be as far-reaching and radical as those that were introduced into physics by the theories of relativity and the quantum theory.
The critical element here is the recognition that LSD and other psychedelics function more or less as nonspecific catalysts and amplifiers of the psyche. This is reflected in the name given by Humphrey Osmond to this group of substances; the Greek word "psychedelic" translates literally as mind-manifesting." In the dosages used in human experimentation, the classical psychedelics, such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline, do not have any specific pharmacological effects. They increase the energetic niveau in the psyche and the body which leads to manifestation of otherwise latent psychological processes.
The content and nature of the experiences that these substances induce are thus not artificial products of their pharmacological interaction with the brain ("toxic psychoses ), but authentic expressions of the psyche revealing its functioning on levels ordinarily not available for observation and study. A person who has taken LSD does not have an "LSD experience," but takes a journey into deep recesses of his or her own psyche. When this substance is given in the same dosage and under comparable circumstances to a large number of individuals, each of them will have a different experience reflecting the specificities of his or her psyche. In addition, serial sessions of the same person will vary in their content and show a characteristic progression.
For this reason, it does not seem to be an exaggeration to say that psychedelics, used responsibly and with proper caution, would be for psychiatry what the microscope is for biology and medicine or the telescope is for astronomy. These tools make it possible to study important processes that under normal circumstances are not available for direct observation. In the first edition if this book, I wrote that the best way of understanding LSD is to see it as an unspecific amplifier of psychological processes. If I had any remaining doubts about this point of view, they have been all but dispelled by our observations from Holotropic Breathwork. This approach is a powerful method of therapy and self-exploration that my wife Christina and I have developed over the last eighteen years and have used in workshops and seminars all over the world. It combines extremely simple nonpharmacological means, such as accelerated breathing, evocative music, and a system of body interventions aimed at release of pent-up emotions and blocked physical energies. As I have described in The Adventure of Self-Discovery, a book specifically discussing the theory and practice of Holotropic Breathwork, the spectrum of the experiences evoked by this procedure is practically identical with that of psychedelic sessions.
Experiences occurring in psychedelic and holotropic sessions cannot be described in terms of the narrow and superficial conceptual model used in academic psychiatry and psychology, which is limited to biology, postnatal biography, and the Freudian individual unconscious. Deep experiential work requires a vastly extended cartography of the psyche that includes important domains uncharted by traditional science. My own version of such a model described in the present volume includes two additional levels of the psyche, for which I use the terms perinatal and transpersonal.
The phenomena originating on the perinatal and transpersonal levels of the psyche include sequences of psychological death and rebirth, encounters with archetypal beings, visits to mythological realms of various cultures, past incarnation memories, extrasensory perception, episodes of out-of-body states, experiences of cosmic consciousness research. These have to be considered to be natural and normal manifestations of the deeper dynamics of the human psyche.
They have been repeatedly described in the context of various shamanic procedures, rites of passage, aboriginal healing ceremonies, and mysteries of death and rebirth, as well as Eastern spiritual philosophies and mystical traditions of all ages. For this reason, any serious effort to understand spirituality and religion requires recognition of the perinatal and transpersonal dimensions of the psyche Attempts to interpret any of these phenomena in the context of the narrow and superficial model of the psyche currently used by Newtonian-Cartesian science necessarily leads to serious distortions and to pathologization of the entire spiritual history of humanity.
From this perspective, the founders of the great religions of the world, as well as their prophets, saints, and eminent teachers, all of whom had visionary experiences, are labeled as psychotics. Shamans are diagnosed as ambulant schizophrenics, hysterics, or epileptics. Religion and spirituality are interpreted as resulting from superstition, lack of education, infantile regression to primitive and material thinking, or mental disease. Similar pathological criteria are applied to the ritual and spiritual life of pre-industrial cultures that cannot be adequately understood and makes no sense to Western scientists with their limited model of the human psyche.
Among additional phenomena that elude the reductionist interpretations of Western materialistic science are the experiences in near-death situations, reports about UFO abductions, various parapsychological occurrences, as well as experiences and behaviors observed in certain forms of hypnosis and various powerful experiential psychotherapies other than Holotropic Breathwork_. Experiences induced by biofeedback training, sensory deprivation and overload, different electronic and kinesthetic devices, and lucid dreaming are additional important examples.
The same can be said about a large subgroup of states that contemporary psychiatry diagnoses and treats as functional psychoses, meaning mental diseases of unknown etiology. The understanding of the psyche that includes the perinatal and transpersonal levels shows these conditions in an entirely new light as psychospiritual crises or "spiritual emergencies." If they are properly understood and the individuals engaged in this process are encouraged to surrender to their experiences, these states can result in emotional and psychosomatic healing, deep personality transformation, and consciousness evolution.
The extended cartography of the psyche described in the present volume, although originally based on the research with LSD and other psychedelics, is equally applicable to all the above situations. It makes it possible to account for many phenomena that traditional psychiatry and psychology have to deny, pathologize, or explain in a superficial and inadequate way. However, the new findings offer much more than a revised and vastly expanded theoretical model of the psyche. Many of the new principles discovered during psychedelic research are of a highly practical nature and are directly applicable to therapeutic situations without the use of psychoactive substances. Here belongs a new and revolutionary understanding of the nature and architecture of emotional and psychosomatic disorders, including certain forms of psychoses, effective mechanisms of healing and transformation, therapeutic techniques, and strategies of self-exploration.
The future implications of psychedelic research thus fall into two different categories. The first of these involves the destiny of psychedelic therapy per se, the other the theoretical and practical importance of the new discoveries about the nature of the psyche and of consciousness. Whether or not psychedelics will return into psychiatry and will again become part of the therapeutic armamentarium is a complex question. Most likely what will have the decisive influence will not be the results of scientific research, but a variety of political, legal, economic, and mass-psychological factors.
After having personally conducted over the years more than four thousand psychedelic sessions, I have developed great awe and respect for these substances and their enormous positive, as well as negative potential. They are powerful tools and like any tool they can be used skillfully, ineptly, and destructively. The question whether LSD is a phenomenal medicine or a devils drug makes as little sense as a similar question asked about the positive or negative potential of a knife. Naturally, we will get a very different picture from a surgeon who bases his or her judgment on successful operations and from the police chief who investigates murders with knives. Similarly, the image of LSD will vary whether we focus on the results of responsible clinical or spiritual use, naive and careless mass self-experimentation of the young generation, or deliberately destructive experiments of the army or the CIA.
The results of the administration of psychedelics are critically influenced by the factors of set and setting. Until this is clearly understood, there is no hope for rational decisions in regard to psychedelic drug policies. I believe that psychedelics can be used in such a way that the benefits by far outweigh the possible risks. This has been amply proven by centuries of safe ritual and spiritual use of psychedelics by generations of shamans, individual healers, and entire aboriginal cultures. However, the Western industrial civilization has so far abused all its discoveries and there is not much hope that psychedelics will make an exception, unless we rise as a group to a higher level of consciousness and emotional maturity.
On the positive side, it can be said that Western society is at present much better equipped to assimilate psychedelics than it was in the 1960s. At the time when psychiatrists and psychologists started to experiment with LSD, the official image of psychotherapy was that of civilized face-to-face discussions or disciplined free-associating on the couch. Intense emotions and active behavior were referred to as "acting-out" and were seen as violations of basic therapeutic rules. In contrast, psychedelic sessions were associated with dramatic emotions, psychomotor excitement, and vivid perceptual changes.
They thus seemed to be closer to states that psychiatrists considered to be pathological and tried to suppress by all means than to conditions to which one would attribute therapeutic potential. This was reflected in the terms "hallucinogens" and experimental psychoses" used initially for psychedelics and the states induced by them. In any case, psychedelic sessions resembled more scenes from anthropological movies about shamanic rituals of "primitive" cultures and wild aboriginal ceremonies than those from a psychoanalyst's office.
In addition, many of the experiences and observations from psychedelic sessions seemed to seriously challenge the image of the human psyche and of the universe developed by Newtonian-Cartesian science and considered to be accurate and definitive descriptions of "objective reality." Psychedelic subjects reported experiential identification with other people, animals, and various aspects of nature during which they gained access to new information about areas about which they previously had no intellectual knowledge. The same was true about experiential excursions into the lives of their human and animal ancestors, as well as racial, collective, and karmic memories.
On occasion, this new information was drawn from experiences involving archetypal beings and mythological realms of different cultures in the world. In out-of-body experiences, experimental subjects often witnessed and accurately described remote events occurring in locations that were outside of the range of their senses. None of these happenings were considered possible in the context of traditional materialistic science and yet, in psychedelic sessions, they were observed on a daily basis. This naturally caused deep conceptual turmoil and confusion in the minds of conventionally trained experimenters. Under these circumstances, many professionals chose to stay away from this area to preserve their scientific world-view and to protect their common sense and sanity.
The last three decades brought many revolutionary changes that have profoundly influenced the climate in the world of psychotherapy. Humanistic and transpersonal psychologies have developed powerful experiential techniques that emphasize deep regression, direct expression of intense emotions, and bodywork leading to release of physical energies. The inner experiences and outer manifestations, as well as therapeutic strategies, in these therapies bear a great similarity to those observed in psychedelic sessions. As I mentioned earlier in relation to Holotropic Breathwork_, these nondrug approaches involve a similar spectrum of experiences, as well as comparable conceptual challenges. As a result of it, for therapists practicing along these lines, the introduction of psychedelics would represent the next logical step rather than dramatic change in their practice.
Moreover, the Newtonian-Cartesian thinking in science that in the 1960s enjoyed great authority and popularity has been progressively undermined by astonishing developments in a variety of disciplines. This has happened to such an extent that an increasing number of scientists feel an urgent need for an entirely different world-view, a new scientific paradigm. Philosophical implications of quantum-relativistic physics, David Bohm's theory of holomovement, Karl Pribram's holographic theory of the brain, Ilya Prigogine's theory of dissipative structures, Rupert Sheldrake's theory of morphogenetic fields, and Gregory Bateson's brilliant anthropology and psychology, are just a few eminent examples of this development. It is very encouraging that all these new developments that are in irreconcilable conflict with traditional science seem to be compatible with the findings of modern consciousness research and with transpersonal psychology.
From a practical point of view, it is important to mention that legal experimentation with psychedelics has been resumed in Switzerland and several new research projects have recently been approved in the United States. In spite of all these encouraging developments, the future of psychedelic therapy as such remains uncertain. However, the situation is very different in regard to its revolutionary findings concerning the nature of the psyche and human consciousness; their relevance for psychiatry and psychology is independent from the fate of this therapeutic modality. Since it has become clear that the phenomena involved represent genuine manifestations of the psyche that occur in many situations where no psychoactive substances are involved, they have to be taken into consideration in any serious attempt to understand the human psyche.
If the experiences observed in psychedelic sessions were toxic artifacts, professionals would have a reasonable excuse for their disinterest in this area. One could be an expert in the field without having knowledge about the pharmacological effects of an exotic group of psychoactive substances. However, ignoring or misinterpreting observations from a large category of situations, including ancient and Oriental spiritual practices, trance states in aboriginal rituals, near-death experiences, various forms of nonpharmacological experiential psychotherapies, and psychospiritual crises is a different matter. Such an approach reflects rigid adherence to a superficial and inadequate model of the psyche and resembles more religious fundamentalism than good science.
The critical issue here is the ontological status of non-ordinary states of consciousness—whether we see them as pathological conditions that should be indiscriminately suppressed or variable alternatives to our everyday states of consciousness that can contribute to our understanding of the psyche and have a great therapeutic potential. Of all the human groups, the Western industrial civilization is the only one that has taken the former position. All the ancient and pre-industrial societies have held non-ordinary states of consciousness in high esteem and used them for a variety of purposes—diagnosing and healing diseases, ritual, spiritual, and religious activity, cultivation of extrasensory perception, and artistic inspiration. These cultures have spent much time and energy developing various techniques of inducing these states, including a wide range of nonpharmacological approaches and psychedelic plants.
Michael Harner, a well-known anthropologist who has also undergone personal shamanic initiation during his field work in the Amazon, describes that from his dual perspective Western psychology and psychiatry are seriously biased in two important ways. They are ethnocentric, which means that they consider their own idiosyncratic point of view to be superior to that of any other cultural group and label as pathological any activities that they cannot understand in their own framework. Harner's name for the second serious conceptual distortion is cognicentric, although a better term for it might be pragmacentric. What he means by it is that theoretical speculations in Western academic psychology and psychiatry are based exclusively on experiences and observations made in the ordinary states of consciousness (with the possible exception of dreams). The evidence from the study of non-ordinary states of any kind are systematically ignored or pathologized.
Herein lies the importance of the material from psychedelic therapy. It is the most extreme and dramatic example of the challenge that the research of non-ordinary states of consciousness presents to traditional Newtonian-Cartesian science. Systematic and open-minded study of the evidence amassed by this work strongly suggests the need for a radical revision of our basic ideas about the human psyche and the nature of consciousness. It would lead to an entirely different understanding of emotional and psychosomatic disorders, as well as the therapeutic process and strategy of self-exploration. Some of the observations from non-ordinary states would require not only revision of our ideas about the human psyche, but of the traditional beliefs about the nature of reality. An extreme example of this kind is the ability of individuals in near-death situations to accurately perceive, without the use of their senses, not only the immediate environment, but also various remote locations. Observations of this kind seriously question the most fundamental metaphysical assumptions of Western philosophy of science.
In view of the above facts, LSD Psychotherapy represents much more than a source of information on psychedelics and their use. It certainly is a book that is of interest for therapists who treat casualties of unsupervised self-experimentation or for those who might conduct psychedelic therapy in the future. It can also be useful for those who have already experienced psychedelic states and need more understanding, as well as for lay audiences specifically interested in the subject. However, its significance goes beyond that; it is a book that describes the deepest dynamics and the outer reaches of the human psyche, as they manifest in non-ordinary states of consciousness of many different kinds. The experiences and observations that it describes have far-reaching implications for our understanding of consciousness, human nature, and the nature of reality. For this reason, the material in this book should be available to all those who are interested and open to it.