LSD and the New Beginning
DONALD D. JACKSON, M.D.
from: LSD, The
Consciousness-Expanding Drug, ©1964 David Solomon
The experience of LSD and the new beginning is
similar to what the existentialist Ellenberger (10) has called
the Encounter: "Encounter is, in general, not so much the
fortuitous meeting and first acquaintance of two individuals, but
rather the decisive inner experience resulting from it for one
(sometimes for both) of the two individuals. Something totally
new is revealed, new horizons open, one's Weltanschauung is
revised and sometimes the whole personality is restructured. Such
encounters are manifold, perhaps with a philosopher who reveals a
new way of thinking, or with a man of great life experience, of
practical understanding of human nature, of heroic achievements
or independent personality. An encounter can bring a sudden
liberation from ignorance or illusion, enlarge the spiritual
horizon and give new meaning to life."
To the writer nothing better exemplifies how LSD
can be useful to us. It can provide us with an encounter, a new
experience which will enlarge our horizon and give new meaning to
life. These experiences are a part not just of therapy, but of
While in analytic training, I took a three-day
vacation during which I tried a new rolethat of a salesman.
I happened to meet another salesman and played the role quite
enjoyably for the whole weekend. For my analyst this was an
acting out of the transference, but I think this view expresses
only one side of the coin. Not being a doctor, not being a
psychiatrist even for a few days forced me to develop different
sets of behavioral tactics and with them a different aspect of me
that was enriching. Chancing to meet another person with whom I
was compatible reinforced the behavioral change. I feel that
there is an analogy in this experience to what can happen
with LSD. The new experience under LSD can be reinforced by
social experiences and further experience with the therapist.
Without this reinforcement the LSD experience gradually pales and
dies away; it becomes a memory, not a personality change.
Not everyone is grateful for a new experience.
Galileo's contemporaries refused to look at the moons of Jupiter
through his new telescope. And some of our contemporaries refuse
to contemplate the intricacies of the LSD experience, or having
contemplated them are unable to process the new data. For them
the experience is unpleasant as is the inability to handle new
data. For many this experience cannot be handled, and leads to
grandiosity and rationalizations.
Some of our professional subjects and patients,
learned philosophers, psychologists and psychiatrists, are unable
to relax and enjoy the revelations of LSD. Instead of marveling:
"My God, I've never been in this land before," they
explain, interpret and deny all in terms of their conventional
framework. Instead of enjoying the beautiful simplicity of
planetary motion, they pile epicycle on epicycle. They cling
desperately to the old familiar terminology; they maintain a
death grip on their "cathexes" and
"repressions"; and clinging to the old, they cannot let
go and be intrigued with the new. Acute discomfort is their lot,
if they cannot hammer their data onto the cross (chi-square) of
their old methodology.16
The early references to the LSD experience as a
schizophrenic-like psychosis were, in my opinion, the natural
outgrowth of casting the new in the old mold. If the therapist
views the experience as a psychosis he unwittingly helps the
patient develop a psychosis not through suggestion alone but also
because he cannot offer the patient a framework to handle the new
experience. The therapist must furnish adequate help in
processing the new data, or a paranoid reaction, ranging from
transitory suspicion or accusation to paranoia of several months,
may set in.
In early work with LSD, when the therapist failed
to provide the Encounter, psychotic reactions were inevitable.
This led to overgeneralization of the effects of psychotomimetic
drugs. (More accurately, perhaps, we should speak of psycholytic
drugs given by psychosogenic therapists.) The therapist provided
the paranoid reaction by withholding vital information; just as
with mental illness sui genesis, society and the therapist
foster the paranoid reaction by withholding vital data. And often
the patient fosters this by refusing to extract the data or,
having extracted them, refusing to look at them.
Bavelas (3) has devised ingenious experiments to
demonstrate the effect of withholding data. He has given
insolvable problems to a highly motivated, highly intelligent
group of engineers; they were encouraged to solve the problem,
and inevitably came up with an erroneous answer. The
confrontation that they had the erroneous solution and that they
could not have solved the problem, far from providing
enlightenment, only led them to hold to their false solution with
delusional and dogmatic intensity, increasingly buttressed by
Having suffered once from the withholding of data,
they now refused to process the new data. Could they then have
been tested with LSD would they then have had sudden
enlightenment, or would they have developed fixed paranoic ideas
of being played with? Almost surely it would have depended on the
Encounter with the therapist.
We speak of a new experience with LSD. What does a
new experience mean and how can it be beneficial in specific
terms? Let me give an example of a patient, a professor, a man of
brilliant promise yet suffused with hopelessness because of an
abiding fear of insanity. He had once the misfortune to consult a
world-famous analyst about a marital problem, and had been told
that he was a pseudoneurotic schizophrenic and unanalyzable. This
had been a somewhat less than happy encounter. Given a hopeless
prognosis and refused treatment, he was left for years to
alternate between lethargy and desperation. In desperation he
consulted me and in desperation we tried LSD after a long period
of counseling and preparation. His first session (100 micrograms)
was uneventful, devoted mainly to a preliminary survey of the
unknown and the establishment of trust in the situation. In the
next session (150 micrograms) he plunged boldly into the
psychotic state, became wildly agitated and was forcibly
restrained. Together we came face to face with the insanity he
had feared and together we mastered it. He was able to take the
wraps off and let himself go because he knew that he and I could
see it through together. Instead of finding nothing but the
monster of pseudoneurotic schizophrenia thinly veiled in
professorial robes, he found a phantom which he could discard,
and he also found his real self, a living human being. A far more
fortunate encounter than his first.
Sometimes this may be followed by depression. It
has happened where families have not been able to support the new
experience and the new changes, where for them the new beginning
is fraught with danger.17
Now when we give LSD we insist that the marital partner be
involved in the situation lest divorce or depression supervene.
Another patient had a remarkable and
unfortunateexperience. He was verbally attacked so roundly
by his depressed wife that within a month's time she had brought
him lower than when he started. Two years of family therapy were
required to restore what had been lost in a single day.18
The Encounter may be illustrated by the following
brief case history.
The patient was a 35-year-old accountant who had
been in intensive psychotherapy for five years because of chronic
depression and crippling obsessive traits. He had had a brief
psychotic reaction and had made an abortive attempt at
self-castration. His oldest sister was a semi-invalid; he was
placed in a position of great responsibility for her; yet he had
always to be deferential and to accept continuous criticism. He
had no pleasant experiences of adolescence, and no dating. At the
beginning of therapy he complained of intense loneliness. Both
patient and therapist were frustrated by his meager progress. His
solid intellectual defenses were refractory to interpretation.
Occasionally he made efforts to improve his isolated social
position; each time he neatly sabotaged the effort. He improved
slightly, worked a little better, and became a little less
depressed; but if anything his isolation and loneliness were
Because of the complete affect block we decided
that he should have LSD (despite the history of a previous
psychotic break). He agreed and was given 100 micrograms of LSD.
He seemed more relaxed and a bit more happy. Yet, though we
focused on his relations to his father, there was little affect,
little recall and no fantasy.
The writer thought that surely there must be some
fantasy available in this constricted personality. What kind of a
fantasy might such a boy, with such a father, have had? Surely he
would have been pleased to have buried his father in a shallow
grave, supine; and if Father died like Balzac's M. Beaucoq with
his lance erect (because he was hanged) so much the better; and
if he reverentially mowed the grass over his father's grave, and
if each passage of the blades over his father's grave cut a
little deeper, there might be a gradual diminution, or shearing
off of the parental authority, a trimming of the father imago. I
shared this fantasy with the patient and suggested that he might
well have had such a one. The effect was electric. He exploded
with laughter. The feelings and fantasies about father came
pouring out, as though Moses had smote the rock. For the balance
of the afternoon we reveled in an exchange of fantasies about his
From that day he was a changed man. Previously he
had been a Milquetoast at work, whom everyone pushed around. Now
he became self-assertive and positive. He no longer let advantage
be taken of him. He was poised and comfortable. It occurred to
him he might do better working by himself. During the next LSD
session (150 micrograms) he was able to continue the work of the
preceding session. With the dread father laid to rest, he could
relive his adolescent days with the therapist, not as they had
been, but as they might have been. He expressed for the first
time the desire for a girl. In the month following, astounding
changes developed. He developed a sense of humor; he became
efficient; he began to date; he made plans to leave his job and
set up his own business, and this he actually accomplished. He
enjoyed dating and experienced intense sexual feelings. In
therapy he expressed the desire for marriage and children. He
struck up a friendship with another man, with whom he discussed
topics formerly tabu: sex and women.
Following LSD he began to have intense dreams,
sometimes pleasurable, often in color, which he had not had
In seventeen (now nineteen) years of practicing
psychotherapy I have never seen as much change in an individual
with a rigid obsessional character. The change has been
permanent. While it has leveled off, there has been no
backsliding since our first Encounter using LSD.19
The LSD experience is considered a complex
transaction of the amount of material given, the psychological
and physical environment, the set or expectancy and the
personality of both the patient and therapist. According to the
structuring of the situation, a psychotic-like (psychotomimetic),
a psychotherapeutic (in the sense of facilitating psychotherapy),
or a transcendental reaction may evolve. The psychotic-like
reaction may emerge where the intent is to produce and study
psychoses, where excess stress and insufficient security is
provided, and where the therapist fails to help the patient
process new and unfamiliar data. The psychotherapeutic reaction
is an intensification of the conventional therapeutic process and
leads to an intensification of the traditional psychotherapeutic
values of recall, reliving, insight and emotional release. These
may be experienced where they had not been before the
administration of LSD. The transcendental reaction is a temporary
loss of differentiation of the self and the outer world. It may
lead to a lessening of alienation, to a rediscovery of the self,
to a new set of values, to the finding of new potential for
growth and development and to a new beginning. This may be
followed by a change in behavioral patterns, as in the cessation
of drinking. If the environment (including therapist) supports
these changes, they may become a part of the patient's habitual
reaction patterns. Otherwise, the social matrix will remold the
patient and the LSD experience will become a memory rather than
an integral part of the personality.
An historical paradigm of the therapeutic use of
LSD-25 is found in the use of peyote by the Plains Indians, in
the treatment of alcoholism.
16. The logical conclusion
of Jackson's remarks would be to jettison all previous models.
However, in the discussion he implied that a model borrowed from
psychoanalysis and existentialism might be constructed. Vikter
Tausk (25), in his essay on the origin of the influencing
machine, describes the human need for causal explanations and the
fantastic distortions of familiar explanations to process
unfamiliar data. (back)
17. This is a danger common to
many therapies, including psychoanalysis (13). (back)
18. See footnote 7 (first
patient) and Savage's illustrative case history, above. (back)
19 Dr. Jackson's fantasy may
have been suggested by one of our patients who had the
hallucinatory experience of roasting his father over a slow fire
in Hell, experiencing the most intense glee as he basted him.
Despite its effectiveness one is hard put to explain its success.
But it seems to have combined an accurate representation of the
patient's feelings with complete nonsense. Thus it derives much
of its force from its absurdity, much as the Zen masters drive a
point home by a seeming absurdity. The combination of the LSD and
the complete nonsense allowed the patient to see the complete
absurdity of his continued subservience to his father, to get
beyond it and to achieve the new beginning. A sensible
interpretation would probably have remobilized intellectual
defenses and demolished the whole LSD experience. (We have
learned  that this former patient is now president of his
men's service club.) (back)
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