“When I experienced altered states of consciousness, my whole philosophical structure crumbled, and that terrified me.”
— Susan Schneider, philosopher
Psychotherapy is a mishmash of means, goals, and understandings… and often misunderstandings. Many people relate therapy with illness and associate it with medicine. It would be more accurate to see psychotherapy as a source of information, learning, and advice.
Going to school is a psychotherapy, as is getting a job, having a family, and getting married. You may not see these things as aimed toward mind expansion, but they either expand your mind or force you to do it yourself.
An illness is something you have, a mental illness is a way you behave, and a problem is something you work on. There is no mechanical definition or organic origin of mental illness, emotional dysregulation, or cognitive confusion. There is rarely any correlated physical condition at all.
It is an unfortunate result of the success of antibiotics and pharmacology that mental struggles are called illnesses, and that those who know the least about normal mental struggles, psychiatrists, are given the greatest authority. Psychotherapy has nothing to do with illness or psychiatrists. Anyone who tells you otherwise is delusional, physically ill, or they’re a psychiatrist.
Psychological Difficulty Is Not Mental Illness
There are no definitive boundaries between therapy, counseling, and consulting, but practitioners and clients are taught that there are. This enforces the fantasy that separate kinds of thinking are required for healing, learning, and leading. Each supports its own mythology, training, certification, authorities, practitioners, industries, and clientele. This enables us to excuse those who are controlling as teachers, defer to those who are psychotic as politicians, and identify those who disagree as ill.
Psychotherapy is an industry created to satisfy consumer demand. Illness is addressed in other cultures with other versions of doctors, and while other cultures have their emotional problems, they didn’t create psychotherapists. That doesn’t mean that psychotherapy is false, it means than it’s not based in physical reality.
There is something specific to our culture that supports psychotherapy. It exists in our culture because customers buy it. Likewise, it exists as a science because we’ve created institutions that maintain it is one. Psychotherapeutic illness, which is not the same as mental illness, is another thing entirely. It is a creation of modern culture.
Psychotherapy is a great invention. It enables us to better understand other cultures and other ways of thinking. Mass hysteria and collective insanity are more likely to be recognized by a psychotherapist than by anyone else.
Psychotherapists are not the same as psychologists. The first group deals with individuals, while the second group deals with politics and social behavior. On the other hand, psychiatrists are mercenaries who work for the pharmaceutical industry. Each group disdains the other.
Psychotherapists are most likely to recognize psychotic tendencies and antisocial behaviors of individuals. Psychologists, who are largely academics, write research papers but don’t say much. Psychiatrists don’t even care. In our increasingly diverse and chaotic modern world, we need watchdogs. And even though practitioners in each of these fields feel superior, all of their droppings fertilize the soil we grow in.
We don’t recognize psychotherapy as a force for collective sanity, but it is. It creates a kind of mucus that coats social behavior. If science is like a religion, psychology is its dogma, and psychotherapy are the rules of behavior. If psychotherapy was given more authority, and was more widely understood, we might suffer fewer sociopaths.
The Conscious and the Unconscious
Psychotherapy is an evolving field. It was born partly from psychoanalysis, which was an offshoot of rational science. Psychoanalysis is a demented misapplication of reason that only emerged through a misunderstanding of consciousness.
Just as a forest begins with the fastest growing trees and thorny underbrush, psychotherapy began with the poorly developed but utilitarian ideas of propaganda, behaviorism, and uniform thinking.
Where indigenous cultures begrudgingly accepted their differences and drew their separate territories, the modern cultures of facism, capitalism, and communism cannot live together. If the Russian invasion of the Ukraine has taught us anything, it’s that the only thing between us and World War III is money.
Had people gotten smarter faster, we might have avoided the first two world wars, but everything happened so quickly. Like the evolutionary explosion of species during the Cretaceous period, the chaos quickly burned itself out and we settled into a golden age of industrial production.
We must excuse psychoanalysis its flaws because it was the first formal attempt at understanding consciousness. It is not a coincidence that psychoanalysis emerged at the same time as fascism, or that most of Freud’s research was not scientific (Placket, 2022; Pomeroy, 2015), as much of today’s psychological research is also not scientific. Most of psychology does not pass the tests of scientific method; psychotherapy certainly does not.
“In 1991, historian of science Dr. Frank Sulloway reviewed six of Freud’s principal case studies on psychoanalysis and found them to be ‘rampant with censorship, distortions, highly dubious “reconstructions,” and exaggerated claims.’”
— Ross Pomeroy (2015)
The Conscious and the Unconscious
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The role of altered states in culture is ancient, and in ancient times altered states had their place. Modern culture has been a straight jacket on social thought. Our antagonistic political structures are rooted in our cultures. Cultures that cannot support diverse thought.
In the capitalist world of the 20th century, communism was demonized, and vice versa. When that hysteria ended, at least superficially, the authorities faced other emerging deviant thoughts: free love and racial equality. To suppress those, the drug war was declared. This succeeded by putting Black men in prison—effectively undermining Black culture–and making illegal any form of recreation other than material consumption. Except if you were rich; then you might get away with it.
The idea that emotional regulation and mental health might benefit from other forms of learning and experience, other than compulsory education and the annual vacation, was not on anyone’s radar. The only altered states that were allowed were those that disempowered us or made us dysfunctional, namely alcohol and barbiturates: mother’s little helper. Social policy is largely a story of one authoritarian conspiracy or another.
There were always alternative thinkers circulating at the boundaries of culture. Drug using writers, painters, and other artists are tolerated but disparaged. Creativity always makes the established order nervous. With few exceptions, the creative artists we love the most lived lives that ended badly. The lesson seems to be, “Love their work, but don’t try this at home.”
The history of explorers and inventors is mythologized and embellished. The US population was told their efforts had liberated Europe, the atom bomb subdued the Japanese, public education fostered social equality, Jesus was white, and the theory of evolution demonstrates science prevails. These are all exaggerations. NASA is our Vatican.
If today’s emergence of psychedelics actually establishes itself, it won’t be because psychedelics are helpful for individual mental health. It will because the current zeitgeist is more accepting of novelty, and our political subconscious is aware that new ideas are needed.
Psychedelics aren’t medicines, they aren’t sacraments, poisons, inebriants, entheogens, or party drugs. They are mind-altering substances whose effects depend on you and your purpose. They can bring out emotions, take you into your subconscious, or entirely replace your awareness. As Aldous Huxley noted, they open the doors of perception.
For any new insight to have an enduring effect, your participation is required. How you participate depends on your needs and intentions. When embraced to positive effect, new insights can enhance a broad range of abilities. It is not automatic. Developing new abilities takes work.
Psychotherapists are currently using psychedelics in small-minded and narrow ways. They are presenting them as pharmaceuticals that will alter specific behaviors. They are doing this because they only see the effect psychedelics have on their dysfunctional clients; they have no personal experience with mind expansion. Indeed, mind expansion is outside psychotherapists’ scope of practice.
Shamans traditionally used psychedelics to connect with higher beings, alternative planes of awareness, and magical realms. The way the shamans of foreign cultures facilitate psychedelic experiences does not make sense to Western-minded people. Even so, experiencing the higher spiritual realms that they claim exist will enhance your awareness, can provide intellectual value, and may result in physical healing.
Using psychedelics purely for recreation can be helpful. If done carefully, recreational use offers a way to take control of the experience. But without focus, recreational use rarely has a lasting effect.
How Psychedelics Might Affect Culture
If psychedelics are used recreationally, more people will start to question the reality of the waking world. The absolute domination of social behavior, political alternatives, medical doctrine, and legal precedent over personal and spiritual values might be questioned.
Psychedelics stretch your perceptions, but if you can’t understand what you see, then what you see will have limited meaning. How you expand your mind depends on what you know, and how adept you are at navigating what’s unfamiliar. Psychedelics provide the opportunity to expand your consciousness, but they don’t do it for you.
The Romans could not allow Christianity until they reframed it in service to the state. Christianity, in turn, served the state by exterminating the pagans in both the old and new worlds. I’d like to think that the time of mind-expanding psychedelics has arrived, but I see no evidence to believe it.
The current psychedelic renaissance is being heralded by psychotherapists as an opportunity to offer society a better foundation for mental health. The focus is on mental illnesses, and psychedelics as drugs that will cure them. That’s why psychiatrists, the people least able to appreciate spiritual growth and who specialize in the pharmaceutical approach, are being given the authority to dispense and control psychedelics.
Psychedelics are carefully advertised as drugs to normalize your work habits, not to make you more creative or a better artist. We are still discouraging, disparaging, and disallowing the recreational use of psychedelics. After all, since when did recreation make anyone money, or further either of the great capitalist, socialist, or fascist enterprises?
What I think is bound to happen is that the psychedelics will wake people up to the exploitations inherent in these political structures. This, of course, is exactly what we need. But when that happens, there will be another great reckoning. At that point, psychedelics will be further medicalized and restricted, if not again banned outright.
In the mean time, we all should take advantage of the moral thaw to explore altered states of consciousness. We should all be creative in our thinking beyond what psychedelics enable and regardless of what psychotherapists offer. There are other ways of entering altered states—there always have been—and we should take this opportunity to integrate altered-state awareness into our awareness and into our cultures’ awareness.
Plackett, B. (2022 Feb 9). Was Freud right about anything?, LiveScience, Retrieved from: https://www.livescience.com/why-freud-was-wrong.html
Pomeroy, R. (2015 Apr 22). Why Freud Was Not a Scientist, RealClear Science. Retrieved from: https://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2015/04/freud_was_mostly_a_fraud.html
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