The History and Future of Psychedelic Psychotherapy

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September 22, 2016 | Posted in anxiety, psychedelic psychotherapy, psychotherapy, Uncategorized | By

With the resurgence of interest in the use of psychedelics for therapeutic purposes including many clinical studies at NYU, Johns Hopkins, UBC, and many other research centres I have been digging into some of the literature. I came across two pieces that make for an interesting contrast: Remembrances of LSD Therapy Past by Betty Grover Eisner Ph.D., and The Ten Lessons in Psychedelic Psychotherapy, Rediscovered, by Neal M Goldsmith, which is a chapter in a book called Psychedelic Medicine: New Evidence for Hallucinogens as Treatments.


Betty Eisner

Betty Eisner

Psychedelics such as LSD, Psilocybin, MDMA, and Mescaline has been shown to be very powerful psychoactive tools that reach places psychotherapy and current pharmaceuticals don’t touch. Psychedelics are highly effective in reducing anxiety in terminal cancer patients, those with highly resistant PTSD, alcoholics, and new clinical research is exploring ways that psychedelics can have a positive impact on people with eating disorders, and there are many other studies researching how psychedelics work. Hope among researchers is that they will encourage governments to loosen control of these highly restricted drugs.


Betty Eisner was a psychoanalyst and psychedelic researcher in the 1950s and 1960s in LA.Her unpublished manuscript was written two years before her death in 2004. Even though there were some controls on LSD in the US before it became illegal in 1966, Betty’s book documents how freewheeling the researchers were back in the day. It is mainly a collection of letters to other researchers such as Humphry Osmond, Tom Leary, Adolous Huxley, Bill Wilson the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous who fervently believed in using LSD to treat alcoholics, and many other larger-than-life characters like the LSD evangelist Al Hubbard with his private plane.

She is a terrific writer and documents her experiences of the first age of the LSD beautifully. It was expected that researchers regularly partake in psychedelic experiences and Betty documents these with great clarity. She noted that an eight hour trip was like four years of therapy.

Have a look at this short 1956 film of Dr. Sidney Cohen (Betty’s boss) chatting with people on LSD.

Neal Goldsmith’s Ten Lessons of Psychedelic Psychotherapy, Rediscovered is a much more nuanced and balanced account of the important lessons learned by Betty and her peers before LSD was banned in the US in 1966 up until research resumed in the 1990’s. Even though the first generation’s research was a bit loosy goosey and improvised, they discovered many very important techniques Neal documents.

The importance of set and setting was recognized early on. They recognized that one had a better trip if one is prepared and in a comfortable location. This might seem obvious to us now, but keep in mind that early researchers had people strapped to gurneys in hospital rooms and left alone for the duration of their trip. Probably because researchers consumed LSD themselves that they were able to understand the importance of things like set and setting.


In this second age of psychedelic research, clinicians are hoping to document and validate the beneficial effects these drugs in the hope that medical authorities will relax the controls that currently exist on psychedelics. If successful, psychedelic psychotherapy will become much more common in the future and I think it will inevitably lead to a radical re-examination our current understanding of psychiatry as it has been practiced for the past hundred years. After all, psychiatrists wrote off psychedelics and mimicking psychosis and schizophrenia, but now most understand that it is the gateway to understanding altered states of consciousness which include spiritual and religious experiences.


These books are available for a free download with the links posted below.


Betty Grover Eisner, Ph.D. Remembrances of LSD Therapy Past, 2002, unpublished

 NEAL M. GOLDSMITH “The Ten Lessons of Psychedelic Psychotherapy, Rediscovered.” In Winkelman, M. and Roberts, T. (Eds.), Psychedelic Medicine: New Evidence for Hallucinogens as Treatments.  New York: Praeger, 2007.