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Therapy

What Psychedelics Teach Us About Love in Psychotherapy

And the importance of love in healing from trauma

Key points

  • Therapists can help patients by exemplifying unconditional love and acceptance during psychotherapy.
  • While effective, this can be challenging, especially for those with treatment-resistant PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder and eating disorders.
  • Psychedelics facilitate psychotherapy by enabling patients to spontaneously feel unconditional love and acceptance.
Gerd Altmann/ Pixabay
Source: Gerd Altmann/ Pixabay

'Feelings of love' are among the most common experiences people report after taking psychedelics- whether LSD, mushrooms, or MDMA. And now that such substances are gaining more and more attention within clinical psychology, a natural question arises; can psychedelics teach us anything about love in psychotherapy?

Love as a mode of healing was first popularized by prominent psychologist, Carl Rogers. In 1956, he theorized that children who do not receive sufficient love from their parents are more likely to have low self-worth and low self-esteem as adults. This, in turn, prevents them from reaching their full potential.

One of the key purposes of psychotherapy, according to Rogers, is thus for therapists to exemplify the unconditional, non-judgmental love and acceptance patients would have ideally received from adult caregivers when they were children. In doing so, he proposed that therapists enable patients to build the secure foundations from which they can develop healthy levels of self-worth and self-esteem and ultimately become who they could have always been.

While such therapeutic love is a key component of the patient-therapist relationship, demonstrating it properly without being misconstrued can be difficult. This is especially true when dealing with more complex mental health issues that involve high degrees of trauma and rigidity- such as treatment-resistant Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), treatment-resistant Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), and eating disorders.

How Psychedelics Help Us Experience Love

It is for these cases in particular that new treatment methods are needed. One such method is psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. Here, patients are aided through the psychotherapeutic process with psychedelics such as LSD, MDMA, or psilocybin.

"It sounds so cliche, but psychedelics evoke such beautiful embodied experiences that make it absolutely undeniable that love is real, powerful, and healing." explained Dr. Adele Lafrance, psychologist, and co-developer of Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) , in a recent discussion with Psychology Today.

"It's like psychedelics bring down the barriers- the fears- related to love. They tone down the shame related to expressions of love, so that we can reconnect to the parts of us that were born to love."

Under the right circumstances and via a series of chemical events, psychedelics can help patients connect with their therapist and remove barriers to being able to access, understand and process painful memories and emotions. It is this experience of being able to confront one's past and fears that users of psychedelics describe as 'love'.

How Love from Psychedelics Heals

And this experience of love is very similar to that described by Rogers. In a recent conversation with Psychology Today, Dr. Joe Tafur MD, an integrative family physician, curandero, and author of ' The Fellowship of the River ' said that through his work with ayahuasca, he has come to recognize love as "the acceptance of all things as they are without reservation".

He continued to say that experiencing love in this way is especially healing for those suffering from mental health conditions like PTSD. Such conditions, he said, are caused by traumatic experiences, whether heartbreak, abuse, or else, that block one's ability to love and care for themself or others for fear of being hurt once more. And this inability to love quickly becomes a vicious downward spiral; the less one loves, the harder it is to love.

It is thus easy to see how psychedelics, with their ability to unblock one's capacity to love, can be healing. It's in turn hardly surprising that recent clinical trials have shown them to outperform traditional therapies. Clinical trials for MDMA to treat PTSD, for example, found that while 23% of those who received traditional psychotherapy no longer met the criteria for PTSD, the same was true for just 67% of those who engaged in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.

While psychedelics are, of course, no silver bullet for treating mental health conditions, it is becoming clearer that under the right circumstances, they are a worthy aide in the pursuit of helping people overcome pain and trauma. And it seems that one of the main ways they do this is by providing patients with a glimpse- an undeniable glimpse- of who they are behind the barriers of love.

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