Anecdotal Account of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy
A psychedelic treatment renaissance is underway, driven by a proliferating body of empirical support. The schedule I status of psychedelic compounds all but suffocated scientific research for decades and continues to stifle the pace of progress. While the weight of excessive bureaucracy continues be a drag on scientific investigation of psychedelics and their implementation in various treatments, those who may benefit significantly from such treatments are forced to either go without or get creative. What follows is an account (lightly edited and reprinted here with permission) from someone who chose to get creative. The stirring account illustrates the intensity, power, and healing that can occur in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. The psychotherapist referred to is not affiliated with Practical Recovery.
WARNING: This account contains graphic material including detailed descriptions of violence towards children that may be difficult for some people to read
So my psychotherapist friend and I did our own improvised, renegade version of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD (I attempted but not did get into the official phase 3 clinical trial at UCSF). During my treatment I had a stunning breakthrough that was completely unexpected and out of this world.
First, a little context is necessary. In a nutshell, I’ve spent the last 33 years haunted by a memory of my dad punching me in the face when I was seven and knocking out a tooth, then fleeing the room in horror at what he’d done while my mother screamed at me, “look what you made him do!” before running after him and leaving me alone in a crumpled heap on the carpet with blood gushing though my fingers from my mouth. Since I was 19 years old, I’ve written and rewritten the scene a thousand times, over and over and over, because for me, writing is a way to try to assert mastery over the enigmatic.
A key moment in my MDMA-assisted psychotherapy experience came when my friend led me through some guided meditation exercises that helped me focus inward and follow my mind. Eventually, I went into the memory but in a completely new and quite shocking, seemingly impossible way. Since the event happened, if it comes up in a flashback or I revisit it to write about it, it’s always something that happens to me in the third person. I see everything but it’s like I’m watching a movie in the present and I remain outside of myself, so even though it’s painful and devastating, I’m always a step removed from fully inhabiting the event. I’m witnessing it, I know it’s happening to me, but I’m also outside of it.
MDMA-assisted psychotherapy put me INSIDE the event. Inside that bawling, terrified kid, frozen in place, and it was profound and incredibly intense. I can’t describe to you the agony and anguish of being there again, crumpled on the floor, blood pouring down my arms onto the carpet. I could FEEL the blood in my hands, and this horrible weight in the backs of my arms like they were made of stone, so heavy. It was unreal. I raised my arms up over my head the way I must have done all those years ago to ward off blows that in the present moment of course never came. The grief was absolute agony. It was a live broadcast of my childhood experience of soul murder, and I wanted so badly to die.
I never felt so acutely the desire to at that moment have somebody just end my life. I felt it in my body, in my chest and hunched shoulders, but mostly in my blood covered hands and arms. I rubbed my palms over the backs of my arms to dissipate the sense of energy and intense charge while my friend reminded me that there was nothing I could have done and that it wasn’t my fault. Slowly the scene of wreckage passed, the weight seeped away like my arms were draining of that liquid concrete. I felt better and more whole, like a burden I’d been carrying with me all my life had been lightened somewhat. It’s not gone exactly, and I’m sure I’ll need to revisit that moment again, incrementally, and maybe for longer “while under” but something definitely shifted. I was able to let some forgiveness in through the cracks that the MDMA-assisted psychotherapy was able to pry open. I looked at my arms and all the scarred veins and abscesses from shooting speed and cried and cried and cried while saying I’m sorry.
Recreational MDMA use and I go back to when I was 18. There’s something much different for me in the aftermath of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy compared to recreational use. I feel amazing, a little tired, but terrific. I think part of it is that I focused more on my health. Part of it I think is because a friend was there for me and bore witness and helped me through a moment of unprecedented access to something that has been locked behind a pane of unbreakable glass for 33 years where a kid-me felt alone and was bleeding and dying on the floor and I couldn’t reach him to pick him up and tell him it would be ok. My experience in the therapy allowed for an amazingly detailed reconstruction of a horrific trauma in my past, right down to wiping the blood off the backs of my own arms and hands so it wouldn’t be there every day for the rest of my life.