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Using MDMA to Treat Trauma

We’re at an interesting time in the treatment of mental health and substance abuse. We’re trying things that many haven’t even considered in the past–and they’re showing promising results. 

 

Specifically, I’m talking about the use of plant medicine psychedelics–what used to be illicit drugs–in the treatment of mental health and substance abuse conditions. 

Can Ecstasy Help with Mental Health?

I find it so ironic, MDMA, which is commonly known as ecstasy or molly, is being recognized as therapy. 

 

Kids, including me, prior to getting sober, are running around and dancing on this stuff. Man, I felt bad about it, like I shouldn’t be taking this stuff, it’s bad for me. But, man, it just felt so good because when you take ecstasy or molly or whatever it would feel like love. It’s just you feel loved.  

 

On one end it’s a drug. But on the other hand, it feels like love. 

 

So it’s an interesting time now, they’re bringing what used to be a street drug to give people the experience of feeling loved as a way to heal…and that’s all MDMA does.

MDMA and PTSD 

MAPS right now, I think they’re in their third clinical trial. Currently, you can legally use MDMA in the United States for the treatment of trauma. The study they did was on veterans with PTSD. MDMA was by far the most powerful treatment that they found for treating complex PTSD for veterans. 

 

I don’t recall the exact statistics, you can look them up, but it was something like 70% of people that did the pre-therapy sessions, MDMA sessions, and the follow-up sessions no longer met the criteria for PTSD. 

 

I think it’s a total of five sessions totaling 10 hours. The MDMA sessions, I think, are four to six hours. 

 

Ten hours. Do you know how hard it is to treat PTSD with other methods? 

 

I’ve tried to help people, I have a treatment program for PTSD. It’s incredibly difficult. It takes years. But MDMA could, within a couple of weeks or so, be effective enough where you don’t meet the criteria for PTSD anymore. 

 

What’s happening in that experience? There’s some technical interesting stuff happening with the brain and the amygdala so you don’t feel so defensive and you’re able to be in your body and feel comfortable and safe…so that’s interesting. 

 

I was a kid and I took ecstasy when I was 15 years old. I remember the feeling. It was love. I could produce a feeling of love that heals my PTSD with another person that’s there holding the container for me in a therapeutic way. So I find that very exciting. 

Drawbacks of MDMA as Therapy?

I’m conservative about all of this stuff because I know human beings find great ways to fuck things up. We can take a good thing and fuck it up. 

 

So, on the one hand, I’m involved in the discourse and the conversation about these medicines coming into recovery, which is tricky. What does it mean to be in recovery by possibly using MDMA for trauma treatment? I don’t think it’ll be as complicated as it sounds, but it will be a little bit complicated. 

 

MDMA can be addictive, although it’s not many people’s drug of choice. You can definitely overdo it and there are risk factors to doing too much MDMA. It’s largely around serotonin or serotonin syndrome and probably other issues that we’re not even aware of. 

 

I’m excited about combining a drug like MDMA with therapy. Because recently–I’d say in the last 60 years–those two fields have been kind of split. 

Integrating Medications and Therapy

You go to see a psychiatrist and ask for medication. They give you a prescription, and, hopefully, you’re on your way. 

 

You go to a therapist and they’re doing therapy with you. They don’t prescribe medications, just more therapy.

 

So something people are talking about with this plant medicine MDMA stuff is bringing medications and therapy together. You do the medication. You do the therapy on the medication. That’s kind of cool. It’s a new way of integrating medications and therapy.

 

It’s bringing two somewhat distinct fields together in a particular act, for the sake of healing, which I think is worth investigating. 

 

I’m excited about it. I’m always conservative. I’m always like, “Hey, slow down, let’s be careful. Who can this work for? Who can’t this work for?” There’s a lot to talk about with MDMA. 

 

But, in general, I think it’s worth people knowing because these are experiences that can help people heal and transform.

 

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Why “God” Is Such an Important Word

Probably the simplest, most difficult, complicated, controversial, and important concept in spirituality–and I’d probably say reality–is God. 

 

Sometimes it doesn’t feel right to even talk about God. Who are we to talk about God? Who am I to talk about God? 

 

If I’m being more honest and vulnerable–I guess in a moment like you ask God to talk through you–we could see that the reality of God is the most important phenomenon, the most important expression for humanity and for our survival.

 

Revelations about God

In Judaism, there’s a story about a man named Abraham who had a revelation that there was a Creator of the Universe. This Creator cared about the universe and particularly cared about every individual human. 

 

Imagine being Abraham, having that Revelation and that Truth. Imagine having the experience of God at a time where people didn’t think about God in that way. 

 

People thought about local gods; the god of the wind, the god of this, and the god of that…not about the Creator of the Universe–one that cared about people. 

 

Imagine you had kids, brothers, sisters, friends, and you knew this was truer than anything you ever knew. Imagine how important it would be for you to want to transmit that to your kids, family, and community–you just got to share there’s a God. 

 

Origins of Religion

When we think about it that way, to me, it becomes very obvious how religion started. 

 

How do I encode this and make sure my kids know and their kids know? 

 

I’m gonna write a song or story about it. Let me write a prayer or make sure I write it down. I’ll create a dance. I got to make sure that we all know that we’re here for a reason and that we’re scared about. It’s also our job to care about each other.

 

Martin Buber is a famous philosopher and Jewish thinker who passed away a long time ago. In his book, Eclipse of God, he talks about the importance of not abandoning the word “God”. 

 

He didn’t talk about whether God exists or not because he’s probably too smart to talk about whether God exists–unlike me. 

 

But he says, we must not abandon the word because you can’t find a word like it. He says, in the inner treasure chamber of the smartest philosophers with the most crystalline, pure, pristine, diamond, shining ideas, you will never find a word like God. 

 

It’s a word that’s been consecrated on many tongues for all time. A word that represents people dying and people living and people’s worst moments and people’s best moments that’s been in the mouths of men since the beginning of the beginning. 

 

He said, “Where can you find a word like that?” I think he’s smart, he doesn’t talk about God, he talks about the word because the word points at reality.

 

The Shared Soul We Call “God”

It’s like a soul. Some people don’t think they have a soul. That’s weird to me. Really, you don’t think you have a soul? 

 

Because I can feel your soul…because it’s you. You don’t think the world has a soul? What about the cosmos? What about the universe? Just us that has a soul? 

 

You can’t see the soul in your pet dog? The pet dog has a soul and you have a soul, but the world doesn’t have a soul

 

We all don’t have a shared soul that we call God? A source that cares, that’s deep, that’s transformative, loves, knows that order will conquer chaos, love will conquer evil, and that this whole drama that we all live in is actually about something? 

 

You don’t think so? 

 

That’s HaShem which in Hebrew translates, Ha just means The, and Shem means Name. There is no name, it’s just The Name.

 

 

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Are‌ ‌We‌ ‌Dreaming‌ ‌Reality?‌

There are two more ideas in the domain of spirituality that I think are helpful. And maybe I’ll paint the picture this way: There is a group of new-age thinkers–and I think I fall along these lines–I don’t know if it’s true or not, but just as a different way of understanding reality. 

 

This theory states that the brain is not an organ that produces consciousness. But in fact, consciousness is the fundamental nature of reality

 

Our Brains: A Fabrication?

So let’s further do it. Reality is a dream. The brain is an organ that’s being dreamt of by the “Great Dreamer in the Sky”. That creates the dream of the universe. That dream… It dreams of a thing called the brain which we have in our heads.

 

The function of that “dream brain thing” is to filter out the vast majority of reality. But also to tune in so that we can function. 

 

And so they talk about the brain as like a radio receiver — not an organ that filters and receives; not something that produces. 

 

And so if you think about that model, which I like, I think it accounts actually for more of what I’ve experienced than more of a materialistic model where we build the brain up and out. I think we build in.

 

All Part of One

If we think about reality in that way, then what we understand is that we’re all part of one whole, completely connected organism. And that the experience that we’re having as an individual is just an experience we get to have for a period of time–before we are brought back into some different form of being connected to this organism or somewhere else. 

 

So when you think about spirituality from that perspective, it’s just changed the sort of fundamental orientation of how I think about reality altogether. Then a term like the Collective Unconscious or Cosmic Consciousness makes a lot of sense. 

 

It means that at certain moments, the filter might come down a little more. And you get a glimpse–in a dream of revelation or a moment of clarity–about the larger conscious field that you are always a part of but usually not aware of. 

 

And Cosmic Consciousness has to do with consciousness beyond the human species. And, in fact, beyond all species. It’s like more than a glimpse. It’s a mystical experience of the point, reason, and being of the Cosmos. 

 

Which is something you could never put into language, but you might be able to experience it. 

 

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What’s Sacred? How Does It Become Sacred?

I went to school to study to be a Rabbi–which was a trippy experience. I kind of recommend it for some people, if you’re interested. 

 

I had a professor who asked an interesting question about the Old Testament, which we call the Torah. Namely, the five books of Moses–or a piece of the Old Testament. And he said, “Is this book sacred?” 

 

I’m not Orthodox, you know? So I’m not an incredibly traditional Jew. As you can see, I’m not wearing the kippah or stuff like that. It was an interesting question for a non-fundamentalist, non-traditionalist Jew to say, “Is this book sacred?”

 

Very tough question to answer. 

What Makes Something Sacred?

And if it’s sacred, why? I could ask a different question: What is sacred in your life? Here we go…A family. 

 

And anything else that’s sacred in your life? And what makes it sacred? What gives something the kind of authority that it transcends what we would call the ordinary to the level of sacred?

 

Wow. And I would say there is a lot that’s sacred. 

 

The place that I start with people who have a hard time with that notion–like the metaphysical notion of the sacred, is ancestors. 

 

If we study anthropology and go back historically to look at tribal peoples long before organized religion–before Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism. I think about most of those older shamanic tribal traditions or ancestor traditions. Even in Judaism when we pray, we pray to our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, etc. Those are our ancestors. 

 

There’s something about our ancestors–those who have passed–that’s sacred. It’s just somebody who’s an atheist and is wrestling with entering into spiritual domains…that’s an interesting conversation.

Atheism, Sacred Meaning, and Cemeteries

How would you feel about pissing on a grave? 

 

Are you desecrating something? What if nobody ever knew about it? Like nobody saw you do it. You peed on a grave. Well, if there’s no metaphysical reality, nothing sacred, who cares? The person’s dead. Why wouldn’t you pee on the grave? 

 

If there was some good incentive on the other side, if I’m peeing on the grave, I would want to pee on the grave. Because we have a sense that it’s a taboo or something about desecrating the dead. 

 

Well, why is that? They’re dead, who cares? You know you’re an atheist. They’re fucking worms and fertilizer. Who gives a shit?

 

But for most people still, there’s something there. It’s a boundary they don’t want to cross. They say, “Well, there’s actually something about that, that’s wrong.” 

 

I’m like, in a relative way? Just like wrong for some people, or is it wrong for everybody? And you know people…push them hard enough and they are thinking and honest enough, there is something there that feels like it should not be violated. 

Identifying the Sacred During Modern Times

And for me, that is so important, especially in these times. We live in this hypermodernity with hyper-information and hyper-reality. You know, these slogan-y terms. 

 

But if my kids aren’t in touch with the fact that there are elements of life that are sacred and in fact, if my kids aren’t in touch with the fact that they are sacred–their being and their soul is sacred–I have a big problem with that.

 

The recognition of the sacred as part and parcel of the spiritual tradition that’s been handed down to us as a fundamental creates the kind of boundaries that allow a society to not only thrive, but probably just exist at all, is crucial.

 

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The Soul, Higher Self, and Ego-Self: Understanding the Differences

We’re trying to map out spirituality. I like to kind of place it within the realm of a person. 

 

How do I interface with spirit? Where’s my spirit? What was going on with me? 

 

There are a few terms that are helpful. Some I talked about in previous videos. 

The Higher Self and Ego Self: Part of the Psyche

There’s a higher self that’s more of a rational observer mind. The part that knows and seeks the good. 

 

And there is the ego-self which is kind of my everyday operation. The ego-self is very helpful, it protects me. When I get in a car and drive, I’m operating from the sort of habitual nature of the ego-self. A lot of my daily, more utilitarian interactions, are operated by the ego-self. 

 

But it’s only when I’m trying to figure out how to be a better husband, father, friend, human, soul, I’m thinking…

 

Okay, I got to find that higher self and work through this. 

 

So you have a higher self, you have the ego-self, I think that’s in the place of the psyche. 

What is the Soul?

Then there is an interesting term called, the soul. And you might think about the soul as also having many dimensions. And the soul is a little bit different than the higher self.  

 

The higher self is rational and logical, in some sense. The soul, to me, is the realm of poetry. It’s the realm of art. It involves the archetypes that I spoke about in a recent video. 

 

And it’s also sort of the seat of meaning. Meaning is not a rational concept. Meaning is the faculty. When something is meaningful, it has nothing to do with whether it’s irrational or not. Meaning is happening somewhere else. 

 

When I’m cognizing or thinking about something important or good? For me, that’s the higher self in action. 

 

But when I see something, have a great moment of watching my children and tears come to my eyes…It’s a meaningful moment. To me, that’s happening in the soul. 

 

So the soul is separate from that higher self. And the soul is sensitive. The soul is subtle. 

 

I have certain colors and textures I associate with the realm of the soul. The realm of the soul is universal. It’s not personal, it’s not particularly individualized. It would make a lot of sense to me if we all shared a species soul. If we all shared in a world soul, and I just experienced my bit of that in this incarnation of my existence. 

 

I think that’s what happens when you know somebody.

The Soul During Times of Trouble

I can use an example of somebody in addiction, but it could be anybody when they hit a bottom in their life. It’s like something in their soul can’t take it anymore. Something in that realm of meaning, in that more transcendent, deep space. 

 

But we don’t think about the soul as happening in the head. We think about it like somewhere between the heart and the gut–not because the soul has a physical place–but we feel it at the core. 

 

And that’s where that feeling of demoralization can happen. And that’s where you go, “Man, I need to change something.” 

 

So you have that experience–sometimes it’s very dark. But the meaningful experience of the soul that generates it motivates this different kind of experience. That turns into actionable choices and then starts operating from the higher self. 

 

And the soul is beyond our control, the soul is happening. I can bullshit my head all day long, but it is very difficult to bullshit my soul.

 

I think what we’re talking about spirituality–at its core–is the realm of the soul.

 

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Understanding the Higher Self

Whenever I talk about spirituality, it’s important not to confuse the map with the territory. 

 

So when we’re using language to talk about spirituality–spirituality is not going to be captured by the language. The language is a map that allows one to begin to sort of navigate or get a foothold in the reality of spirit. 

What is the Higher Self?

One term that’s used by my mentor, Rabbi Mordecai Finley, is he talks about the Higher Self. There are actually different levels to the Higher Self in his map–the schema he created. But, put simply, the Higher Self is the observer mind at one level. Observer mind is the rational part of the self that knows and seeks the Good. The Good is a philosophical term, it simply means that which is good.

 

There’s a part of me that knows and seeks the Good. I don’t always know exactly how to produce or behave well to get to the Good, but I know of the Good and I’m seeking it. We call that the Higher Self. 

 

If there wasn’t a Higher Self, nobody would ever transform for the better. The act of transforming for the better is the act of tuning into the Higher Self and all the work that it takes to do that. So that you can begin to have clarity, think, feel, and behave in a way that’s aligned with your Higher Self. 

 

Other religions and spiritual practices use a different nomenclature and language. They’ll talk about the part of you that’s living within God’s will, which to me, just talk about the Higher Self. 

 

They’re saying, “Live in God’s will.” The part of you that knows what God’s will is, in that moment, that’s the Higher Self, right? 

And Then…The Ego-Self

Then they’ll talk about your disease. 

 

Your disease is kind of your lower self or what Rabbi Finley calls it–and what I call it–the ego-self. The part of you that is living for short-term gratification. The part of you that has a difficult time navigating complex relationships. The part of you that is skeptical and doubts the Good. The part of you that rationalizes in the negative sense. The part of you that’s more narcissistic, selfish, etc.

 

To put it simply, behaviors that don’t help you grow, learn, and change. 

 

So in most traditions there is some schema that lays out something like the ego-self–the necessary part of the self for survival and to navigate every day–but is not good for the really important parts of life.

Coming to Terms with the Higher Self and Ego-Self

And when I’m calling the Higher Self, which is rational or at least meta-rational, more than rational and is connected to the good spirit, God, etc. That’s an important kind of schema. 

 

For Christianity, it’s just the devil and the angel. I think it’s a bit more complex than that. And so understanding that Higher Self, one that you are/have a Higher Self that you can attune to. And also, you have an ego-self. It can be pretty destructive–in your life and the lives of others. 

 

There are both darker and higher things in the schema that I think about when it comes to spirituality. But a good starting place is Higher Self and ego-self.

 

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What are Archetypes? How Do They Relate to Addiction?

As a spiritual counselor, I’m left with the difficult task of trying to put words to communicate the ineffable. Because, at its base, spirituality is not something that can be prescribed or something that can be contained by definitions. 

 

However, if we want to try to talk about spirituality, we have to do our best to point people towards the ineffable…Towards that which can’t be said so that they can draw on their own experiences to touch it and have an understanding of what it means. 

Understanding Archetypes

One notion that for me was a very deep one–that is an entrance into the reality of spirituality–is the notion of an archetype. 

 

Carl Jung is credited with the notion of an archetype from a psychological point of view. If we’re just kind of sketching the edges–pun intended–an archetype is actually similar to something like a stereotype or typology of some kind. An archetype in the psychological sense is a deep psychological structure embedded in the unconscious of all human beings.

 

If you think about Plato, one of his ideas was the Realm of Ideal Forms, which was long before Carl Jung. The Realm of Ideal Forms said that for every phenomenon, everything that exists in the world, there is a perfect archetype or stereotype of it that exists in the realm of the imaginary or the Realm of the Idea. All things in this world are imperfect versions of that perfect archetypal ideal of that thing. 

 

Easy example, a lot of philosophy teachers use this. A chair in, let’s call it…heaven. You know, the realm of Ideal Imaginary Forms. There’s a perfect chair and every chair here is a reflection of that chair–of that ideal chair. 

 

An archetype could also be a force. The way that I like to think about archetypes, in a practical way, is like a personality inside of myself. 

 

When I’m doing my own transformational work or I’m working with someone else, what I’ll notice if I’m moving slow enough and really paying attention is that it’ll feel like there’s more than one person inside of a person. 

 

I call those sub-personalities. And if you really move deeply to sub-personalities, you’ll see there’s certain commonalities that different people’s sub-personalities have. 

The Archetype of an Addict

So here’s an easy example: What is the archetype of the addict? 

 

The addict is a phenomenon, I know one when I meet one.

 

But what is the ideal form that all humans are, you know, dancing around imperfect versions of that perfect addict.

 

I’m gonna give you an example. If you watch the movie Lord of the Rings, there’s a Golem character in there and he goes “precious”. He’s addicted to this ring. He’s this kind of skinny little, gray being. He’s kind of sweet, but not really trustworthy because he’s so infatuated with getting this ring. And to me, when you look at that guy, you go,that is the archetype of an addict.

 

If you’re an addict and you look inside yourself, you could go… I recognize that inner “precious” in me. 

 

You can think about archetypes as these kinds of Ideal Forms that we all somehow kind of relate to. As well as the archetype of the drunk, or the archetype of the addict. 

 

Or when I put this particular sweater on, a few people here said, “Okay, Professor”. It’s the archetype of a professor. 

 

They are these things that can’t be defined, but we recognize them when we see them. They’re sort of embedded in our consciousness. It’s not always people or sub-personalities and that kind of thing. 

 

A lot of the time, we talked about archetypal forces in the unconscious, which is the same kind of idea. But imagine that there are, in the structures of our mind, archetypes at different levels. Up here, we have things like personalities, but down here there are things like drives–these archetypal primitive drives that exist. 

Archetypes and Spirituality

What does that have to do with spirituality? 

 

Well, I think that what people don’t understand is that one level of spirituality is the level of the imaginary. 

 

If you close your eyes and kind of move into your inner world and landscape, there are words. Poetry, language, sensations, colors, images… beings even sometimes–at least in your dreams. 

 

There’s a whole world in the Realm of the Imaginary. That’s possibly, if we speculate, being produced by our mind, or maybe we’re tapping into something collective or the cosmos. But spirituality helps connect us to that place of the imaginary or in that place of the psyche. 

 

And so getting to know these different forces within me, these different archetypes within me, the different shapes and contours of my psyche is part of my spiritual work. 

 

Alan Watts says about Carl Jung, that one of the things that’s so impressive about him is how well he knew himself and particularly how well he knew his shadow. He’s one of those men who became very comfortable with all of his different parts. 

 

And one could say that the act of maturity–spiritual maturity–has to do with becoming more and more comfortable with all the parts of yourself, especially the parts of yourself that make you uncomfortable.

 

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Getting Sober During COVID-19

If I’m being honest and I’m looking at what it means to be getting sober or being in an early recovery in the middle of COVID, I have no idea. I know that there are a lot more challenges than there used to be. 

Isolation vs. Human Connection

There’s something about community and human connection that, in my mind, is fundamental and instrumental in the transformational process of going from somebody who’s in an addicted state to a person in a state of recovery. 

 

That almost never happens in isolation. 

 

I can’t even imagine for myself, and I’m a person in recovery, what that would have been like to try to do that in quarantine. I’m sure it could happen…but I just couldn’t imagine it because my experience of recovery is that it’s something that we do with other people. 

 

This was so challenging, and the other piece that’s challenging is a lot of people have crashed and burned their lives. They’re trying to rebuild their lives and get sober at the same time. That process is one of the same.

Rebuilding During Uncertainty

But to rebuild your life in the midst of so much uncertainty and with very little opportunity– economically speaking–it’s a challenge. There are just less jobs that you can do. That’s terrifying. 

 

I feel like I’m trying to rebuild my life but where am I going to work? What am I going to do? And so I think there are just all these mounting challenges for people that are getting sober right now and the largest support system for people getting clean outside of treatment is Alcoholics Anonymous. 

 

The meetings, most of them aren’t in person anymore so they’re on Zoom. You got 30 people, like the Brady Bunch, on the screen. 

 

Sure there’s some benefits. And there’s problems. It’s easier to check out, disconnect from your program, and isolate. 

 

People have too much time. There’s just a lot going on. That makes recovery very challenging and it makes the treatment very challenging. 

 

I see it as part of my mission to try to take people from an addicted state to a sober state–to a sober state of integrity and productivity of working in the world. That last phase is very hard right now. 

 

I don’t know exactly what a lot of people are going to do. It’s hard for me to have a lot of confidence and faith that I can give to another person to figure it out because I’m still like, “What exactly are they going to do?” 

 

Like this person, a musician,…but he can’t do what he normally does. Or this person works in restaurants but there are no restaurants. Whatever it is. I find it incredibly difficult. I’ve been impressed with the people that are getting sober.

Distinguishing Personal Issues vs. COVID Challenges

One person I was working with relapsed. He went through our program, he actually worked. He works as a nurse. As he’s working on the front lines, he relapsed. So he came back to our program. 

 

I believe that he couldn’t get support from our program while he was being a nurse except via Telehealth because he was too exposed to COVID-19. We couldn’t have him in our treatment program. It was too high-risk because he was frontline–which was horrible but you have to make these tough decisions. 

 

When he came back in, I said, “Listen I feel so bad that you couldn’t be part of this community and get the support that you needed to stay clean when you transitioned. You worked really hard at getting clean while you were here.” 

 

And he said, “To be honest, it was that I really just fell off my program.” 

 

I thought, “Wow, really impressive for that person to be able to distinguish what was his, and what was COVID and the scenario.” 

 

It’s tough stuff. And honestly, people can help each other get through this.

 

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Remote Counseling in COVID Time And Beyond

I find it fascinating. We are living in COVID time. I wonder, if this ever ends, we will be looking back and be like, whoa, COVID time…That is when everything changed and this happened and that happened. 

 

One of the things that has happened in the therapeutic field–drug and alcohol treatment, mental health treatment–is a lot of people began to work from home. They began to offer what used to be an in-person experience–therapy, counseling, even spiritual work–via Zoom or FaceTime or other platforms.

 

Remote Therapy: A Counselor’s Thoughts

 

And so as I work in the field, like a lot of people, I am asking, “Okay, what is going on here? Is this working? Is this sustainable? Is this good? Should we keep this? What if it goes back to normal? Should we keep doing this Zoom session, this kind of thing?” 

 

And the first thing I noticed–because I always notice the bullshit first, that’s just my cynical part–is people started saying, “I see a lot of things better about Zoom.” A lot of therapists that I know seem to think that. 

 

And I was kind of like, well, that is convenient because you are at home.

 

So if you said, this really sucks, it is a bad incentive because you get paid to not leave your house now. Be on the computer and probably like to keep it that way if and when things go back to normal. 

 

But if I asked you right before COVID, what do you think is more effective, a Zoom session or an in-person session, I doubt you would say Zoom. But now, suddenly, I hear that a lot. That being said, I think there are a few benefits to Zoom.

 

Pros and Cons of Video Counseling

 

One of the benefits is, because you are communicating through a medium, there are some layers removed there. And so for a lot of people–because a lot of people suffer from anxiety–it is hard to have somebody look at you. Even if you do not have anxiety, just intimacy is difficult for people. It is a little less intimate. And because it is a little less intimate, it might mean you are a little more comfortable. And because you are a little more comfortable, it might make that process of being vulnerable easier.

 

So I think that is a big deal and really helpful. Of course, there is the exact same downside…it is a little less intimate. And sometimes the most powerful moments that we experience in a therapeutic process, spiritual process, or counseling is a deep moment of intimacy with another human being in the room. 

 

That is when the healing generally happens, to be witnessed, seen and held by another human being in a deep and transformative way. It can happen by Zoom, but it is not nearly as intimate.

 

Zoom works a little differently for everybody. I have been diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, among other things. I have a difficult time staying focused on a screen for multiple hours during the day, whether I am on the receiving end or the counseling end. And that is just how I am built. 

 

And so I think that a huge piece is differentiating who benefits early on. In drug and alcohol treatment, I think absolutely no way. I think people need physical contact with other human beings early on. 

 

By early on, I just even mean the first couple of weeks. There is somebody else there that is real, that is grounding you and with you. Someone breathing with you as long as you can see, etc.

 

Just Another Way to Feel Disconnected?

 

So, in general, there are tradeoffs. I think remote counseling will stick around and will be somewhat beneficial. But, my concern about it, I would say in the long term, is about people being disconnected from themselves in general for reasons I have talked about in other videos. 

 

Our society seems to be more and more atomized and disconnected. And it is like, here is one more form of separation from each other. And so it is not my cup of tea in general, but we will do the best we can with it.

 

 

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Past Experiences Are More Than Just Memories

There is an idea just popularized–but has been around for thirty year–that congealed into a little phrase that I hear all the time. And it just sort of dawned on me–I did not use to hear that ten years ago when I was working in treatment and recovery. 

 

You will hear therapists, clinicians, and facilitators at treatment programs or in transformational programs talk about “being in your body”. 

 

Growing up, I do not remember hearing that phrase because I felt I was always in my body, you know–so nobody ever stopped me. 

 

Make sure you are “in your body”. That phrase sort of crept in on the scene and–at least in LA where I live–we accept it as like saying something real. But what exactly does that phrase mean? 

Trauma’s Effects on the Body

I related it to a very famous somatic psychologist therapist. His name is Peter Levine. He talks about trauma in the body.

 

The notion is we have realized that our brain or nervous system does not just consist of what is happening in our head. Our nervous system actually runs through our entire body. And then, actually, our whole body is one system.

 

So when we go through a trauma–whether it be emotional trauma or physical trauma–the imprint of that experience is not just like a little invisible memory that you hold in your mind. It is actually imprinted in the nervous system, which means it is imprinted in the body. 

 

Some of the ways that people adapt to traumatic experiences is to dissociate. Dissociate means to compartmentalize, to move away from, to separate from a particular experience one is having. 

Dissociation: A Common Example

So, for instance, every night my whole body shuts down and goes into just like a temporary hibernation. We call that sleeping. Now, if I was awake for that whole process, I think I would be terrified…

 

I cannot move, everything is happening automatically. Weird things are floating through my mind…but I actually dissociate and move away from that experience of sleep into the realm of dreams and deep sleep. 

 

So that is an adaptation towards an incredibly uncomfortable state–to dissociate. But what can happen in trauma is… 

 

I can dissociate, meaning step away from an experience in such a way that when I come back, there is an experience that I have not fully processed. That starts to symptomize. Then how I adapt is a little bit complex. 

 

But I adapted this experience without knowing that I adapted the memory of that experience. It is actually in my brain, nervous system, and entire body. 

 

And I can have so much trauma in my experience that I kind of dissociate from my body altogether, which means I do not have the head, heart, body connection that I want.

 

I am not fully conscious of what is happening in my system. I am sort of just checked out–maybe living in my thoughts and ideas–but I am not really here…fully present. 

The Importance of Being Fully Conscious

To be alive means to be fully in your body and fully present because we are embodied beings. 

 

So you do not feel fully alive unless you are fully in your body. That notion of “in the body” is a reminder for everybody that we have the capacity as human beings to flee to the thought that, “Hey, do I want to bring that back to what is really going on?”

 

Or to address a variety of “being in the body” questions like:

 

“Well, how do I know what is really going on?”

 

 “How fast is my heart beating right now?”

 

“How am I feeling throughout my body?” 

 

“Why am I breathing really shallow? What is going on with that?”. 

 

And so it is bringing consciousness back to the ground of our being…the body.

 

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