Psychedelic Somatic Interactional Psychotherapy
Large scale research such as the ACE study suggest that most of the symptoms for which people seek treatment are not random bad wiring or biochemical imbalances. Anxiety, depression, addiction, and PTSD symptoms are frequently adaptive responses to childhood experiences. We are leaving the paradigm of symptom suppression and management and focusing on resolving root causes with psychedelic therapy. Your ability to feel and engage these symptoms is integral to healing them.
Your Brain on Psilocybin: Left, the stable brain activity in a normal brain. Right, under the influence of psilocybin, diverse brain regions not normally in communication become strongly linked.¹
Why is this a good thing?
When secondary consciousness relaxes its organizing and filtering of reality, you get in touch with the wonderful features of primary consciousness. You feel more deeply, you feel more part of the world rather than apart from it, you are more interested in and open to experiences. You gain access to what has been underneath your conscious personality and ego structure the entire time: namely, your implicit self and all the experiences that have gone into creating it. Psychedelics are a catalyst that evoke your own internal world and engage your own natural biological, psychological and spiritual processes.
¹Petri, G., Expert, P., Turkheimer, F., Carhart-Harris, R., Nutt, D., Hellyer, P. J., & Vaccarino, F. (2014). Homological scaffolds of brain functional networks. Journal of the Royal Society, Interface, 11(101), 20140873.https://doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2014.0873
Here are the basic elements of the PSIP model and the foundational elements it is based on:
Psychedelics are highly experience dependent medicines
Psychedelic substances change their expression and outcome depending on the context in which they are used. Unlike psychiatric medications like Prozac where it does not matter if you take it alone, or with friends, or in a therapy setting, psychedelics depend heavily on factors such as your internal psychological state, your assessment of whether your environment is able to support deep processing or not, and the person with whom you are working. For people wanting to engage with these substances recreationally, spiritually or simply out of curiosity, a ceremonial or group context will be fine and provide benefit. If you are looking to engage psychedelics as a medicine for working with mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, dissociation, addiction, PTSD, complex relational trauma or existential concerns, you’ll want an individual, one-on-one, psychotherapy setting with a trained clinician. We reliably see that the processing and individual focus required for deep personal healing is simply not available in a group setting. Your system will naturally limit the depth of your work if you know you are in a group of people all needing time and attention from a lay practitioner. This is an appropriate evaluation of your environment and what it can and cannot provide.
Modes of consciousness
Human consciousness is capable of operating in two modes. The first is what neuroscientist and psychedelic researcher, Robin Carhart-Harris, at Imperial College has called primary consciousness (or PC). This type of consciousness is primitive, shared with other animals, It does not conceive of time or think abstractly, it is based in body sensations, emotions, imagery, and non-verbal memory. This type of cognition is not conscious, or rational, or linear, and it is a less organized, less filtered way of perceiving reality. The more primitive parts of your brain (brain stem, emotional processing limbic system, motor control and nervous system) work together to create primary consciousness. The important thing to know is that even though your mind doesn’t consciously operate in this mode most of the time, it’s still very much there under the surface of your awareness. This system is foundationally important to making you who you are. A great deal of your psychological functioning, and core programming about yourself, your relationships, and the world are stored here.
The second type of cognition is secondary consciousness (or SC). This is when your brain is operating in an ordinary, everyday, adult manner. It is capable of self reflection, abstract meaning making, cognitive thought, and goal orientation. It is verbal, rational, linear, it perceives time and generates a conscious sense of self that you identify as being you. SC arises out of the most recently developed areas of the brain, that are organized by a key network known as the default mode network. The DMN is one of the most active parts of the brain, meaning it is constantly working to synchronize different areas to create secondary consciousness. Even when you are relaxed and not doing anything, this part of your brain is actively working to organize your sense of reality. The DMN is the conductor of an orchestra, and the music that orchestra makes is your ordinary, everyday way of perceiving yourself and the world. One of the ways the DMN achieves this organizing of experience is by suppressing primary consciousness, and the activity of the brain networks that produce primary consciousness.
The entire point of secondary consciousness is that it gives you a stable, predictable, and manipulatable sense of reality. For good or ill, modern civilization, medicine, literature, engineering, physics, landing on the moon are all thanks to the evolution of the DMN and secondary consciousness.
The down side of secondary consciousness
As we mentioned, the DMN creates secondary consciousness by shutting down primary consciousness. One big downside to this is that there are natural, biological mechanisms in primary consciousness networks that are designed to naturally and effectively process stress, anxiety, depression, dissociation, PTSD symptoms and traumatic relationships. These mechanisms mostly have to do with your autonomic nervous system which is part of primary consciousness and not your thoughts which are part of secondary consciousness.
The other big price we pay for an overactive DMN and secondary consciousness is that we lose intimacy with ourselves, with our emotions. The DMN is filtering reality so effectively that the sense of mystery, wonder, and awe are replaced by a rutted, predictable world. We develop a rigid ego structure that is correlated with depression. So, a suppressive DMN means we lose the ability to process life events that lead to many mental health symptoms, and we lose intimacy with ourselves and a larger sense of wonder.
Psychedelic substances temporarily disrupt the DMN and secondary consciousness
We know from brain scans that classic psychedelic substances like psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, and mescaline disrupt the smooth functioning of the default mode network and cause secondary consciousness to temporarily fall apart. These substances don’t affect the areas of the brain responsible for primary consciousness. What this is telling us is that the main way psychedelics create their reaction is not by creating something new but by disorganizing normal brain activity in order to reveal and allow the body to process what is underneath.