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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index


Behavior Change Following Psychedelic (LSD) Therapy.

Fadiman, James Racolin. (1965).
Stanford, CA: Stanford University.


ISBN: none

Description: Microfilm, vii + 218 pages.

Contents: Acknowledgments, list of tables, introduction, 7 chapters, references, Appendix 1: Variables in Psychedelic therapy, 2. Behavior change interview Form, 3. Carsons Outcome Rating Scale Form.

Note: Available from UMI, Ann Arbor, MI, in full page and half page size, paperback or hard cover for both sizes, also microfilm. This is the first dissertation to use the word "psychedelic".

Excerpt(s): This study is an exploration of reported changes in behavior following an experimental therapeutic intervention with an adult out-patient sample. The intervention was psychedelic therapy, a therapy utilizing a single ingestion of psychedelic material (usually LSD-25 and/or mescaline) imbedded in a program of preparation and follow-up. The study was undertaken to discover if the changes reported spontaneously throughout the literature on psychedelics were to be found in any significant amount within the experimental sample. This study hypothesized neither the termination of pervious behaviors nor the genesis of new behaviors; instead, it measures changes in on-going behavioral patterns. It is by observing where there are increases and decreases in specific activities that we will eventually be able to interpret the dynamics underlying behavioral shifts. (page 1)

An initial look at Table 7, religious activities, reveals an increase in spiritual subjects with no parallel shifts in behavior relating to church rites or regulations. Church attendance does not shift, although subjects sometimes reported subjective changes in their attendance. M-14: "Didn't want to go until I understood why I was going. Not just going to make me feel I'm a Christian."

If a person did attend, there was a tendency to be more interested (p< .01). F-22: "It is more real now. I'm less critical of people slamming their books before the last amen." F-8: "Went to church Easter. For first time felt offended that there was no kneeling during the service." (Presbyterian service) F-19: "Now I listen critically; I tear the sermon apart, never used to."

There was also an increased interest in religious books (p < .01) (Note: a check on the similar item under general reading: 55% report change there, 54% report change here) listening more to religious programs on the car radio (p < .01), talking more about religious subjects (p < .01), and a greater feeling for religious music (p < .01).

Items covering living within the church regulations or moral codes did not shift. However, prayer (p < .01), belief in a higher power (p < .01), and tolerance (p < .01) were higher as predicted. M-1 said, speaking of his praying, "Now it is with the satisfaction that it is getting through." M-10 says, "I have been brought closer to God and the concept of the supernatural. The teachings of Christ are very definite now. A greater understanding." Lest he be misinterpreted as holding to a fundamentalist position he adds, "Formal religion leaves me cold."

The greater belief in a higher power seems to be independent of church membership or attendance. The expressed religious feelings are not contained by the existing religious structures. M-28: "More belief now than ever but now I'm uncertain as well." M-14: "A radical change. Now I feel it; my idea of God is feeling of creator." F-24: "I believe in a Unitive Spirit. God is up there; God is down here. Before LSD I believed in an almighty who ruled over us. I don't believe this way anymore."

While psychedelic experiences may introduce a person to those areas of consciousness encompassed by the term "spiritual," this spiritual awareness does not lead the subject to the churches. Instead it seems reflected in a concern for understanding the link between the individual and God, what Martin Buber called the "I-thou" relationship. Whatever religious feelings these subjects have are reported to be expressed more in their daily lives than within the periods which are the special prerogatives of the churches (pages 78,79,81).

In reviewing the three areas grouped under the general rubric "cultural and creative activities" one sees a pronounced set of behavioral changes related to the irrational, the abstract (as in abstract art), the ineffable; in sum what Aldous Huxley called, "the nonverbal humanities."

This movement was anticipated but it is an advantage of this study to be able to view the related behaviors from different spheres focusing toward a common underlying dynamic; the human attempt to explain and interpret, focus and systematize that which is most difficult to translate, most difficult to clarify within verbal confines. This area has been called the "seeming universality of the psychedelic experience" (Sherwood)

It is possible to interpret this questing behavior as an attempt to allay anxieties generated by the profound emotional situations encountered in psychedelic therapy. Other studies on similar samples indicate that the opposite is true, that general anxiety decreases. A study by Savage et al. reports, "generally decreased anxiety" for 68% of a sample (n=49) whose psychedelic therapy has terminated 6 to 12 months before testing. In a study by Downing and Wygant using the Blum sample they report, "Eighty per cent reported at least one change greater personal security."

It is more reasonable to conclude that this reported increase in attention to "spiritual" topics is not symptomatic of anxiety and a drive to tension reduction but may be likened to what Maslow terms "growth -motivated behaviors." (pages 84-85)

Changes, such as those reported here, reflect increased self-worth, an increased ability to see problems resulting from internal as well as external factors, and decreased dependency upon outside supports. Modifications in personality dynamics appear to include a reduction in the general level of anxiety, reduced guilt, and reduced feelings of inadequacy leading toward greater freedom to utilize potential abilities. In addition there is an increased desire and concomitant ability to form deeper and more meaningful relationships with other people.

There is evidence of a continued desire to incorporate the experience into a structured framework. This drive was still evident at the time of the interview as can be seen from the increased reading in selected areas, the increased memberships in religious and therapeutic groups, and the increased interest in introspective activities. The process of assimilation is drawn out beyond the period of actual therapy. It is unclear whether the changes reported at the six month interval represent final changes and a new stability, or if they will be replaced by new or additional changes in the future. The quest for knowledge neither implies desperation nor a recovery from psychic shock; rather, it appears to indicate a healthy attempt to utilize more fully the information encountered directly during the psychedelic experience.

The majority of the subjects report the psychedelic therapy program to be among the most intense and meaningful experiences of their lives (some say the most difficult as well). Their feelings, coupled with the reported data, are strongly suggestive that just as a single traumatic incident can have lasting crippling effects, so can a single propitious experience have lasting therapeutic effects (pages 148-149).

It is here where the effects of the therapist's value system are illuminated and the excitement generated by LSD research is most violent. Consider one of the problems unique to LSD, the "mystical" or transcendental experience. Cohen calls it "something unique, in so far as psychopharmacology is concerned." The fact is that such experiences are not uncommon in LSD sessions; what these experiences are is unclear.

What does a therapist do when a patient reports that he is seeing himself as part of God and is at peace within himself as a direct function of that vision? Eisner and Cohen wisely content themselves with describing it. "There is usually a perceptual component which consists of looking at beauty and light. Affectually there is a familiar feeling of great relaxation and hyperphoria." They call this an integrative experience. Abramson doesn't have the problem for if we listen to Cohen, "Dr. Abramson told us he has never seen it in his hundreds of patients and this is true in other series. It apparently depends upon the set of the therapist, the environment, the presuggestion if you will."

If Cohen has stated all the necessary variables, then it would preclude these experiences occurring in situations in which the therapists do not view such visionary experiences as religious; they prefer to interpret them in frameworks more familiar to analysts than theologians. Chandler and Hartman state "Our experience indicates that these usually represent a premature effort to handle the overwhelming hostility which arises from the subconscious." A perplexing conceptualization for one familiar with James's Varieties of Religious Experience.

It is not altogether implausible to argue that the inability of the therapist to handle religious material within his patient's experience tends to channel his interpretations of these experiences into systems in which the therapist feels more secure. Note, in the following example, the sentiments as stated by the patient and the interpretation stressed by the therapist.

"The patient reported that he was in communication with Jesus Christ and as he states, 'I felt like I was walking in the shadow of the valley of death and like Him, was being born all over again.' At this point he was given the interpretation that he had repressed considerable feelings of hostility toward his father and basically had always felt the absence of a healthy identification with him or other substitute figures." They quote other cases in which religious feeling or visions were reported. These were interpreted back to the patient as guilt or identification with other figures.

Such case material has encouraged the growth of therapy groups who do not intrude into the experience with their attitudes and beliefs. (pages 186-188)



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