Ayahuasca Is My Therapist (Or Is It?)

Ayahuasca Is My Therapist (Or Is It?)

by Sean O'Carroll

Can Ayahuasca or other psychedelic medications aid or replace traditional psychotherapy, or is there a danger of "spiritual bypass"?
It was about 4am, and the ceremony had concluded. People were making their way from the jungle marquee towards the “temple” and kitchen where hot soup was waiting. Some walked in silence, while others began to talk of their experience. I sat in the circle longer than most, taking in the scene. I had drunk 4 times in total. Each drink taken in an effort to catalyze some sort of non-ordinary experience. The Peruvian curandero chuckling mischievously each time I returned, tapping his head and saying “stubborn, like a donkey,” before offering me another cup of the sacred brew. Despite my four cups, I had sat through the night fairly uneventfully, watching as people sat in silence, moaned, sang, cried, and laughed their way though 6 hours of “medicine” journey.
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© 2015 Sean O'Carroll
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Sean  O'CarrollSean O'Carroll  is a therapist in private practice in Melbourne, Australia. He is also the director of Wild Mind, and lectures in transpersonal psychology.
Great article. I totally agree with the fact that working with ayahuasca needs t be put in a broader therapy context
Veronique
Thank you Sean....I found reading your article very useful, helping me to reflect on what my experiences with Aya over 5 yrs ago were....the partner I was with not being open to using energy to release and express emotions and using Aya, Mushrooms and Cannabis to 'Spiritual Bypass!!" which I got caught up in, seeing him as the experienced one and found myself a year later alone again when the relationship ended, and struggling with a flood of emotions, wondering who I could talk to about everything that happened, knowing that a certain secrecy had been agreed upon in sitting in the ceremonies!! I approached several of the members of the groups who had been facilitating the medicine circles and attempted to find professional help which did not cost a fortune, as I am a sole parent of three. I was very grateful for the experiences and lessons learnt during and around the time of the six journeys I had in a year....but no integration happened for me until after, which was intense and at times very alone.....what unfolded for me was resurfacing of a past traumatic experience, Domestic Violence in that relationship triggering previous DV and then flash backs occurring, and a sense of struggle and lack of support in integrating!! All in all a very deeply clearing and yet scary feeling, and finally finding a voice and the right people appearing to listen and hold space for everything that had unfolded.....so I do strongly agree that there needs to be a series of supportive follow ups in the circles!! So thanks again for your article, great to hear and good luck with everything!! <3
Susan
Thank you for this very interesting article. I wonder what your take would be on modern, western places that offer ayahuasca. I know of about ten such places in the Netherlands, where ayahuasca is -for the moment- decriminalized. For a local, such places offer the possibility to integrate an ayahuasca experience with everyday life, (and everyday therapy) if only for the practical reason that trips don't require a weeks long flight to the jungles of South America.
Carlijn ( Netherlands)
Beautifully written, and incredibly well-balanced. Its rare to find someone who can take such a nuanced approach to both psychotherapy and ayahuasca.
nandro
I appreciate this article for asking informed questions. I work as a therapist and supervise interns. Many interns and people I know are speaking in a Utopian way about medicinal plants in general and I try to ask informed questions because I see there are so many ways in which we can help and receive it. Overall, I too think that this plant can be helpful to many people in a variety of contexts. I also appreciate looking all sides of the story. Thank you so much for doing just that.
Melissa Granchi
I'm a practicing psychologist and a university professor. I've been on 2 Ayahuasca retreats, the last to Peru. I found my journeys to be challenging and rigorous, yet always worthwhile. I greatly appreciate the "nuanced" perspective of Sean's, as it is consistent with my own perspective and experience. As the saying goes: "Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water." Ayahuasca can certainly help us to be more loving and authentic in how we relate to others and ourselves, however it is a tool and not a panacea.
Joe Springer
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