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Grof on LSD Therapy 1

From “History of LSD Therapy” in LSD Psychotherapy (1980):

Shortly after the discovery of LSD-25 by Albert Hofmann in 1938, Hofmann accidentally exposed himself to the chemical, revealing the chemical’s psychoactive properties. The first popular theory was that an LSD experience was a model of psychosis, “the ‘model psychosis’ hypothesis” (21). This led to LSD research as a subset of research on psychosis. “This reductionistic and oversimplified approach to schizophrenia was repeatedly criticized by psychoanalytically and phenomenologically oriented clinicians and biochemical investigators, and finally abandoned by most researchers” (21). About ten years after the discovery of LSD, the therapeutic potential of LSD was proposed.


LSD is not helpful for group therapy that is not ritualistic, but LSD administration can shed light on transference problems in individual’s insight therapy. LSD therapy techniques have traditionally been psycholytic (psychoanalysis plus LSD), psychedelic (psycholytic therapy minus the psychodynamic insights, plus transcendent “ego death” as a path to “self-realization”; 35), anaclitic therapy (psychoanalytic rebirth therapy plus LSD and a hands-on analyst), hypnodelic therapy (hypnosis plus LSD), and aggregate therapy (group therapy with LSD and spontaneous group coordinations).

The effects of LSD on therapy are extensive, including “chemically induced breakdown of resistances and defense mechanisms, increased suggestibility and sensitivity to terroristic approaches, and intensification of the transference process” (22). LSD could even make therapy possible for some people, since studies indicated that “LSD-assisted psychotherapy could reach certain categories of psychiatric patients usually considered poor candidates for psychoanalysis or any other type of psychotherapy” (23).

LSD can “facilitate intensive emotional abreactions” (24). This approach stems from the “abreactive therapy” developed by “Freud and Breuer” to liberate “abgeklemmter Affekt” or “strangulated emotions” (26). For Freud and Breuer “reliving the traumatizing memory under circumstances that make possible a belated redirection of this emotional energy to the periphery and its discharge through perceptual, emotional, and motor channels” (26). We know of the “therapeutic success of abreactive techniques such as hypnoanalysis and narcoanalysis in the treatment of war neuroses and traumatic emotional neuroses” (24). LSD can be therapeutic here in the sense that it “can facilitate reliving of various emotionally relevant episodes from infancy, childhood, or later life. In the case of traumatic memories, this process was preceded and accompanied by powerful emotional abreaction and catharsis” (26). Grof notes, “the abreactive method was found especially valuable in the treatment of traumatic emotional neuroses and became popular during the Second World War as a quick and effective remedy for hysterical conversions occurring in various battle situations” (26).

Grof strongly associates LSD with shock therapy because “profound and often shattering effect of LSD on psychological as well as physiological functions, amounting to an emotional or vegetative shock, seemed to indicate that it could have a therapeutic potential similar to electroshocks, insulin treatment, or other forms of convulsive therapy” (24). Again, “the profound and shattering experience induced by LSD could have a positive effect on some patients comparable to the effect of various methods of convulsive treatment such as electroshocks, insulin coma therapy, or cardiazole and acetylcholine shocks” (25). “LSD can undoubtedly produce a profound emotional and vegetative shock in a patient or an experimental subject. The shock-effect tends, however, to be more disorganizing and disruptive than therapeutic, unless it occurs within a special framework, in a situation of complex psychological support, and after careful preparation” (25). So, “The shock-effect of LSD cannot in itself be considered therapeutic; unless it occurs in a specifically structured situation, it can have detrimental rather than beneficial consequences” (28)

LSD therapy shows a lot of promise for successful subject re-calibration, since “sometimes a single administration of LSD could have a deep influence on the personality structure of the subject, his or her hierarchy of values, basic attitudes, and entire life style” (25). And “influence of LSD on the personality structure in the sense of a conversion is a well-established clinical fact,” though “Special preparation, a trusting therapeutic relationship, psychological support, and a specifically structured set and setting are necessary to make therapeutic use of this aspect of the LSD effect” (28). Unfortunately we cannot yet precisely predict what the conditions are for making possible a stabilizing reaction to LSD intoxication, “a catalyst that activates the unconscious processes in a rather unspecific way” (28).
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