Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Agony, the Ecstasy, and Therapy

A husband and wife team of psychiatrists, Michael and Annie Mithoefer, have published a study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology showing that psychotherapy done with patients while they were high on Ecstasy, the drug MDMA, was quite effective in treating difficult cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Mithoefer proposes that Ecstasy increases the clients' abililty to handle the difficult and traumatic material that must be processed to successfully work through and resolve the issues associated with PTSD.

One of the most successful therapeutic approaches for working with PTSD, and a number of other trauma-related conditions, is known as somatic experiencing (SE). SE is part of the burgeoning field of somatic, or body-focused, psychology, that looks at how difficult psychological material is experienced in the body, and  then uses the body's resources to restore the client to better physical and emotional health.

A key practice of SE is to 'resource' the client, to give them a felt sense of integrity, possibility, groundedness, and a sense of their  own power and ability to heal and flourish. This is done before ever approaching difficult material. In a sense, you work to make sure the client is high enough before you take them low--if you get my meaning. Then you work slowly, so the client can process the challenging material without feeling overwhelmed.

You have a good bit of ecstatic circuitry built into your nervous system. If you didn't, Ecstasy wouldn't work. So, you don't need to be high on Ecstasy to process difficult and even traumatic material. You just need to be high enough, and you've been blessed with a nervous system that can do just that, though sometimes it may need a little help from a good friend, or a coach, or in very extreme situations, a white pill.

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