Episode 41: Jon Hopkins on Music for Psychedelic Therapy

 

“As if in each of us There once was a fire

And for some of us

There seem as if there are only ashes now

But when we dig in the ashes

We find one ember

And very gently we fan that ember

Blow on it

It gets brighter

And from that ember we rebuild the fire

Only thing that’s important is that ember

That’s what you and I are here to celebrate”

– Ram Dass quote, lyrics from “Sit Around the Fire”

Some big news before we get to the episode with Jon Hopkins: This episode of the Numinus podcast will be its last. Joe will be joining the team at the Psychedelic Therapy Frontiers podcast as a co-host. The Psychedelic Therapy Frontiers podcast is hosted by Dr. Steve Thayer and Dr. Reid Robison. It is a “weekly conversation about psychedelics, research and the therapy that makes them so powerful as agents for lasting change in mental health.”

This last episode of the podcast will also be hosted on any of the Psychedelic Therapy Frontiers platforms. You can more information about that here. Joe was also recently interviewed on the Psychedelic Therapy Frontiers podcast. You can find that episode on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Google Podcasts.

 

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Jon Hopkins, musician and producer. Jon is a prolific musician who specializes in electronic music. He has been playing music for over 20 years. He has written six studio albums and has collaborated and produced albums for Coldplay and Brian Eno. His album, Singularity, received a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album in December 2018.

He also collaborated with Brian Eno to create music for Wavepaths. Wavepaths was founded by Mendel Kaelen and Anna Wakefield. The purpose of Wavepaths is to create therapeutic tools that integrate “psychedelic science, machine learning, music theory, psychotherapies and experience design, in collaboration with artists, therapists and researchers.”

His newest album, Music for Psychedelic Therapy, was specifically written to be used in psychedelic therapy sessions.

In this interview Dr. Joe and Jon explored:

 

Here is more information on subjects mentioned in this episode:

 

More quotes from Jon from the interview:

 

“That core wound, whatever that may be, we all have one, I think, of some kind. And we’re eternally trying to heal. As I got older and more in touch with that, I’m more and more clear that all the music-making is a direct response to that.”

 

“We all share great pain just through the nature of existence, and through the nature of what we witness and experience. We’re also able to share the healing of that and the joy that being alive can also bring. This album, whether consciously or not, has an expression of all those things in it.”

 

“When I hear [Music for Psychedelic Therapy] under the influence, I’m like, ‘Wow, where did that come from? Because it’s not me. It’s everywhere. It’s from everything.”

 

“All I know is that beauty is not an isolated feeling or concept. For me, the most beautiful things have a tinge of sadness or melancholy. Maybe beauty without sadness is meaningless.”

 

“What that ember is–to me–is the divine spark. When you connect to it, whether it’s through meditation or psychedelics, you sink into that place of total oneness or unity. It’s the inherent knowledge that there is a part deep inside of you that is shared by everyone. That is the divine spark.”

 

“The most important thing is daily practice because psychedelics open a door and occasionally you need a reminder that will get you there. It’s what you do everyday that has the biggest chance of fanning that ember.”

 

Here are some highlights from their conversation:

 

I want to actually ask you about the lyrics [of “Sit Around the Fire”]. I was really, really touched again listening to them recently. And if you’ll humor me for a second, I’m just going to read the last section so that the listeners know what we’re talking about.

 

“As if in each of usThere once was a fire

And for some of us

There seem as if there are only ashes now

But when we dig in the ashes

We find one ember

And very gently we fan that ember

Blow on it

It gets brighter

And from that ember we rebuild the fire

Only thing that’s important is that ember

That’s what you and I are here to celebrate”

I’m a little embarrassed hearing my own voice do that because on the track it’s just so beautifully performed by Ram Dass. But I wanted to ask you, from your really, really intimate relationship with those words in the music, what is the fire? What is the ember? What are we celebrating?

Let’s start with the ashes. You know, we often feel isolated, alone. We’ve kind of somehow been persuaded that all of this is meaningless to some degree. Some of us have–

I’m definitely familiar with the ashes, Jon [laughs].

Yes, we know what the ashes are.

Didn’t ask you about those [laughs].

Well, in order to think about the ember, it’s nice to think about the ashes, because I feel like as you said you’re familiar with the ember as well. I would say the stage I’m at is that I found that ember and I’m desperately blowing on it and trying to rebuild the fire. But really what the ember is to me is the divine spark.

When you connect to it, whether it’s through meditation, psychedelics or for me, it’s always the way the two inform each other, you sink into that place of total oneness and unity. And that’s  your inherent knowledge that there is a part deep inside of you that is shared by everyone that is the divine spark. I mean, the words for it don’t really cover it, but that’s there. And I think you touch on that sometimes. People with atheistic views will also touch on that, perhaps just not use the same words.

But, you know, you can feel that infinite oneness through looking at a landscape or gazing at a loved one or being in love or, you know, staring at your newborn child. That magic, that kind of ineffable wonder.

And in psychedelics, you get to spend some time there. You get to spend sometimes a few hours in that state. And when you’re in there, you’re like, ‘how will I ever not be like this again?’  Of course you come out and everything comes back. But in that time, you’re fanning the ember. You’re not forgetting everything. You come out–Okay, you go back to normal, but not quite back to normal. And each time you find it.

For me, the most important thing is daily practice for sure because psychedelics open a door, and on occasion, you need a reminder that they will get you there. But it’s what you do everyday that has the biggest chance of finding that end.

And then as to what the fire is, I like to think of it as the collective, all finding their own embers, and collectively, rebuilding the knowledge of our own innate divinity, that we need in order to make sense of this and also to survive.

And he’s also talking about infinities, talking about the fact that, after all, this is a belief system. It is really after your physical body is no longer with you. Consciousness is just, you know–your spark of consciousness just goes back to join the rest and you’re all one again. That’s what’ll happen in the end anyway. So maybe that’s what the fire is.

 

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Episode 39: Trauma-Informed Therapy with Atira Tan

 

“In human beings, there is a will and desire to heal. Part of that process is finding and holding onto what is wanting to emerge on that journey. It takes perseverance. It takes courage. It takes time.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Atira Tan. Atira is a somatic trauma specialist in sexual abuse recovery, educator, and activist. She has worked with survivors of child sex slavery, natural disaster survivors, victims of domestic violence, etc. And she has a very compelling TED Talk about these experiences. She is also an Expressive Art Therapist (MA), a senior yoga and meditation teacher, feminine leadership coach, and public speaker.

Atira teaches practitioners in trauma-informed plant medicine facilitation. She also works as a psychedelics facilitator at Aya Healing Retreats.

She is the Founder and Director of The Art2Healing Project, a non-profit that provides therapeutic support to women and children impacted by child sex slavery. She also provides trauma and psychological support to international NGOs for sex trafficking, abuse, and exploitation.

 

In this interview Dr. Joe and Atira explored:

  • Her professional history working with trauma survivors
  • The definition of trauma
  • What is trauma-sensitive therapy
  • The different between the responses to trauma for collectivist cultures compared to individualist cultures
  • What is involved in teaching trauma-informed plant medicine facilitation
  • What is involved in the preparation, duration, and integration of a trauma-informed psychedelic session
  • How to create a safe container to hold a psychedelic experience for a participant
  • What is missing from the modern day psychedelic field
  • The importance of practitioners and their own personal healing
  • How to build resilience

 

Here is more information on subjects mentioned in this episode:

 

More quotes from Atira from the interview:

“Trauma healed can be a beautiful gift. It can help people tap back into what I call the essential blueprint that we’re born with.”

 

“With trauma comes the innate capacity of cultivating many different qualities that make us human such as courage, empathy, compassion, and aliveness.”

 

“Essentially trauma disrupts our ability to be in here and now.”

 

“Trauma recovery doesn’t happen alone.”

 

“The goal of a trauma-informed plant medicine facilitator is to support participants to build their own resiliency, establish a greater sense of self-regulation, and to support the trauma resolution which is unfolding in the session.”

 

“​​We’re really creating that container to prevent re-traumatization from happening. It’s really more about what we can do as facilitators to create that container for the person to feel really met.”

 

“When that relationship has been made, as practitioners, we can understand their needs. If the trauma imprints did arise, we are more equipped to provide the antidote, rather than to amplify the rupture.”

 

“We can’t really understand what it means to find and hold a safe space for other people, if we haven’t felt that felt sense of safety in ourselves as therapists.”

 

Here are some highlights from their conversation:

 

I wonder if you could give just some highlights or kind of reflections on how the trauma informed approach or this trauma sensitivity might show up in the different phases of the psychedelic healing. As I think you said that the trainings you’re doing are sort of structured around that. How might we think about trauma sensitivity in like prep, during the actual medicine sessions, and then in integration? 

How I kind of understand working in the psychedelic and plant medicine space is that the medicine actually starts to kind of work with us when we kind of said yes. So it doesn’t just start when we enter a session, it actually starts way before with the intention, when an individual says, ‘Yes, I’m going in for this experience.’ I believe that there is a kind of portal or connection with the medicine or with the intention of the participant.

And what I kind of understand is that people come into the space of plant medicines and psychedelics for many different reasons. But for me as a somatic trauma specialist, I work specifically with people that come in who are wanting to heal trauma imprints. Something is not happening in their lives. They feel disconnected. They feel stuck. They have been suffering from mental health issues for a while and they want to be free from some of these imprints.

So from the get go, my sense is that in order to create that safer space for people, there needs to be a dialog around the intention of people wanting to come in, what the categories of trauma are, what the symptoms they are experiencing in their lives, and also the intention for having the session. And if that can kind of be met with the same kind of attunement and care and empathy, which is kind of needed for this work, then as a result, a person will probably feel more regulated, more safe as they enter the session, and also kind of more prepared.

As you know, this field of plant medicine and psychedelics as we entered is an altered state of consciousness space. It is a mystery. And this can create high arousal and high activation in the nervous system. So as we create the container of safety and prepare–help to regulate and discuss resources, but also understand the individuals entering the session with us as practitioners, we can really understand their needs in this session in a bigger way. And when that relationship has been made, people can feel more comfortable with us as practitioners in order to, number one, have choice and agency around the session. As a practitioner, we can also understand their needs if the trauma imprints did arise and we are more equipped to, as I mentioned, provide an antidote and to repair rather than to amplify the rupture, so to speak. So I hope that I’ve answered your question.

 

So in talking about trauma, I also want to make sure that we talk a little bit about resilience because prevention is often the best medicine. And so I’m curious how you think about cultivating resilience, especially in the context of how ‘life is suffering.’ We’re always just one step away from being confronted with some really challenging experience. 

If I think about how I’ve been thinking about resilience over the years before really appreciating the trauma informed lens, I would think, for example, of this very classic Viktor Frankl quote that circulates a lot in the mindfulness world, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom to choose.”

I think the core message there is that there’s always choice. And it’s how we choose to respond to things. And that’s been a powerful principle for me personally and in working with my clients to help people develop a sense of self-efficacy and a sense of resilience against stress. And again, there may be this piece where it’s not trauma informed as a way of approaching it. I’m just curious how you think about resilience in this context. 

I think it’s very interesting what you’ve kind of brought up around the subject of choice and agency and trauma. So as I’ve kind of mentioned in the definition of trauma, there are certain times that happen in our lives where we didn’t have choice. Whether we were children or if something happened way too fast. For example, if we were perhaps in a high velocity motorcycle accident and we were unable to protect ourselves.

And I think that it’s important to acknowledge that for people that have felt that in certain circumstances in their lives, where they have felt that there has been a lack of agency. And I think that for these people, from a trauma perspective, part of the antidote is to renegotiate the trauma so that the body can experience what it’s like to have choice again. And what it’s like to have agency. And perhaps what it was like if we could replay or renegotiate that certain event, what it was like to have choice and the body to experience that.

So part of this work in trauma resolution and healing is around cultivating resilience. And we can cultivate resilience in many, many ways. And I agree with you that exploring choice and perhaps giving people who haven’t had choice in past experiences the chance and opportunity to renegotiate that can be something that can be very, very empowering for a person.

But there are also other things, other elements that can add to our cultivation of resilience. And two things that I will name, which I find very important. Number one is to understand and to track what’s happening in our inner worlds, in our nervous system all the time, and to understand how we can settle and self-regulate ourselves. Especially when we’re feeling perhaps more activated in the sympathetic nervous system, for instance.

And part of that is being able to self-regulate or co-regulate is really a conversation around our resources and how we use our resources. Because all of us have inner resources and outer resources, too. For most people, we are unaware of our resources and how to tap into that resource vortex in a way, a healing vortex in a way.

And part of this work around trauma is not all about focusing on the trauma and focusing on the suffering. More often than not with clients it is really about amplifying what is resourceful for them or what is life affirming or what’s life giving. And because they are living in such a place of neuroception where they feel danger constantly, they are unable to even drink in or receive the resources, the inner and outer resources which are available in the here and now at all times. So those are certain things that I think could be helpful for folks out there to cultivate resilience.

 

Connect with Atira on her websiteFacebook and Instagram.

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Episode 38: David Treleaven on COVID Trauma

 

"To move through trauma often means going back to what was too much. Often we need to be with someone who is with us saying ‘I’m here. You’re safe. It’s okay to feel it now.’”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with David Treleaven. David is a trauma professional, mindfulness teacher, and educator. He is also the author of Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe Healing. After struggling through symptoms of secondary trauma on a meditation retreat, he developed the Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness (TSM) approach.TSM helps trauma survivors avoid the risks they face when practicing meditation. TSM has been taught to veterans, prisoners, healthcare professionals, first responders, and many others.

Through workshops and online courses, David teaches mindfulness providers the tools of TSM, so that they can meet the needs of people struggling with trauma. More information on his online training can be found here.

David has worked with organizations like Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (developed by Google) and the University of Massachusetts Medical School by bringing them the tools and techniques of TSM to their staff and programs. He is also a visiting scholar at Brown University.

He is the host of The Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness Podcast. He has had guests on like Sharon SalzbergRick Hanson, and recently Dr. Joe Flanders!

 

In this interview Joe and David explore:

  • Challenges with the definition of the word trauma
  • Is there such a thing as COVID trauma?
  • Why some people are more resilient in the face of difficult experiences
  • Neurobiological models of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS)
  • Diagnosing PTS
  • Approaches to treating PTS
  • The implications of collective trauma from COVID-19

 

Here is more information on subjects mentioned in this episode:

 

More quotes from David from the interview:

“Post-traumatic stress can be the impact of two different impulses acting at the same time.”

 

“Sometimes I think of trauma as us living through impossibility, and then the costs of that.”

 

“The further away I get from academia, I find myself less interested if we count a hundred people and we talk about all of their stories, whether or not we’re going to qualify their experience for being traumatic or not. What I’m most interested in is what, in a very practical way, are going to be the interventions that are going to support this person to have less pain and suffering in their life.”

 

“To move through trauma often means going back to what was too much. Often we need to be with someone who is with us saying ‘I’m here. You’re safe. It’s okay to feel it now.’”

 

“In my experience with people when they’ve really moved through or integrated that trauma is that they’re on the other side of a pretty big emotion or discharge through the body, they say, ‘Oh, it’s finally over. It’s been trapped inside of me for a long time. And now I’m integrating it in a different way.'”

 

Here are some highlights from their conversation:

 

COVID might refer to a specific viral entity, but it means so many other things. And I guess there’s a diversity of experiences that people have had. And I don’t know, you tell me, do we want to talk about–what was your distinction there, like traumatic experiences people have had in the pandemic era or or just like some kind of collective trauma that we’ve all experienced living through this? 

Well, there’s so much to say here. I’ll talk about how I’ll define trauma here which would be a response to actual or threatened death, serious injury or threat to physical integrity. And I think it’s important to at least start here and see if we’re on the same page because trauma as it’s become more of a popular mainstream term has become slightly diffuse.

And I’d say the definition has been watered down and there’s been some concept creep in the humanities more generally around trauma, which yes, again, there’s a double edged sword here. Where it’s great that people are talking about trauma and unhelpful in some ways to just generalize.

So I’d like to talk about trauma as an input or a situation that is a threat to life and limb where our survival and our fundamental safety is on the line. And COVID cuts both ways here, where definitely it has been a significant threat and it has been an actual material threat to family. I mean, people, families, communities or people are literally dying or their well-being has been threatened. And then there’s been a whole range of more generalized threat that people could say has been traumatic.

But I’d actually challenge that where I think it’s actually just been more a challenge in adversity and where it got murky and it was confusing about, ‘Is my life in danger here, even though I’ve been triple vaxxed,’ for example. So there’s a whole other place where trauma has happened. And then I think there’s been a massive period of adversity collectively that we’re trying to sort out and maybe we’ll be talking about it here in the conversation.

 

Let’s come back to that very evocative story about the child that gets pulled out of the way of an oncoming car. That seems like a pretty good example of a threat to the child’s life, their safety and that child’s nervous system probably goes into some kind of fight or flight reactivity. And then if I’m extrapolating a little bit, the mother is basically communicating through her reaction, ‘shut that emotion down.’ And the child is basically saying to themselves, if I want to stay connected to mom here, which feels really important right now because I’m kind of freaked out, I have to put that emotion away, inhibit it in some way.’ That sounds to me like an example or a mechanism around how things get stuck. 

I wonder if you can say more about why would that be in evolution that certain really intense experiences get trapped? And even what the hell does that mean for something to get trapped in our nervous system? Can I know exactly what that means experientially and sort of working with clients?

The metaphor that’s worked for me I learned from Babette Rothschild, who’s a trauma writer. She wrote a book called The Body Remembers. Yeah, all the best trauma books are like, ‘The Body Keeps Score of the Body.’ But she’s great. She’s awesome. When she’s training people around trauma and is trying to capture what you’re saying, what’s the essence of it? Why does that stuckness happen? Like, what’s the stuckness?

She’ll bring a bottle of soda up on stage and she’ll start shaking it up, and she’ll basically be talking about how the stuckness is the cap. And her metaphor is saying, ‘now what would happen if we just open this soda right now?’ And of course, it would fly. It’s too much for someone. So in Babette’s work, it’s been a lot about–and in a lot of trauma work, it’s about kind of cracking that soda top and allowing some of the pressurized gas.

But let’s back that up even further, because I think it answers your question. The reason I think that metaphor works is that when it comes to trauma, like with that child, there is some kind of activation. I said factory loaded some kind of deep survival response, often referred to as fight flight. So the sympathetic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system just hit the accelerator. We have the survival response. We don’t have to think about it. It just happens automatically. Flood of adrenaline pupils dilate to try to protect us. And then that’s the moment that I think you’re pointing to. That gets very interesting.

Why the cap? There’s lots of stories about different mammals who are able to shake and discharge that activation. You know, a classic example is the deer who shakes it off. It gets really frozen and then shakes it off, moves on like nothing happened. But what’s happening for humans?

You gave the example around attachment. I’d say, ‘yes, I’m faced with the choice of either being disconnected from my caregiver, which is fundamentally threatening. So let me basically cap that energy through locking my jaw so I can stay connected.; And then in other situations, there’s a legitimate freeze, the intense parasympathetic arousal sometimes known as tonic immobility. Which will come and cap or trap that activation of fight flight in the nervous system that can’t discharge over time.

So it has deep evolutionary roots about why we had that freeze, for example, playing dead like the possum. If you’re a gazelle, you’re dragged to a cave, you might freeze. The predator thinks that you’re dead and won’t actually attack you. There are many different inherited reasons that we have that–but it can create tremendous amounts of suffering in an ongoing way for people because we can’t uncap that freeze and it gets really frustrating.

PTSD or post-traumatic stress can be the impact of two different impulses happening at the same time. So for example, the impulse to run and the impulse to freeze, they’re both happening. They’re both legitimate survival strategies. And that combination of the two creates that charge. And you could say that stuckness.

And I wanted to link it here to what’s happened to a lot of health care workers or even family members. Where I heard stories of people saying I was on one impulse was to hold the line around safety in hospitals around who could come in and out of a ward, for example. And then there’s an equal impulse to, of course, let a family member come and be with someone, that loved one or a family member. And so it creates these impossible situations.

And so sometimes I think about trauma as us living through impossibility. And then the costs of that.

 

I think that I probably learned this vocabulary from you, but maybe I can just ask you, describe it, this notion of like pendulum motion. And there’s another term that I find really useful, like titration. 

Titration?

Exactly. I think these are great tools for people to know. Can you describe those? 

Yes, it doesn’t come from me, but Peter Levine. It comes from Somatic Experiencing, which is a really popular psychotherapeutic approach to trauma or healing. And I don’t receive any money for that. I just trained in it a long time ago and the core principle–this actually gets right back to the soda bottle or the pop bottle.

So imagine that bottle of carbonated water being shaken up, and you could think of that as a traumatized system that there’s a tremendous amount of sympathetic activation fight flight in the container. So the accelerator slammed the ground. But there’s also tonic immobility. So it’s capped and that if you imagine the feeling of the accelerator and the brakes slammed down, that’s often what trauma can feel like or post-traumatic stress. It’s really painful, uncomfortable, and dysregulating.

So the idea behind pendulation and titration in this work around trauma–the idea is you’re going to pendulate your attention, so basically go back and forth between areas of where you feel more trauma and areas where you feel more resourced. And in doing so, you’re doing what’s known as titrating. Which is actually an old concept in chemistry where you’re opening the soda bottle, but only to the degree that a little bit of the carbonation is released and then you’re turning it back.

If you opened it all at once, that’s not titration. It’ll cause an explosion. Someone gets flooded. It’s too much. And we all know this. I think intuitively that we can take only so much until we need to take a break because our systems can’t tolerate it all at once. So the essence of a lot of trauma work is to go back and forth in order to titrate and not have it over, not have trauma overwhelm.

 

I wonder if you’d agree with this statement that at least this might be just one among many qualities. But this is the quality or the expertise of a trauma therapist that might be sensitive to the pace and to not go at it full speed right away because one has to work very carefully with that limit. And if you went to a therapist that doesn’t have that training, they might not know how to work with that. Is that a fair statement? 

That is the essence to me of trauma training. That is why one would train to know how to work with a combustible process. It’s because more is not going to be better when it comes to working with trauma.

Let me give an example of that. So I was trained as a somatic therapist where the main question I had was, ‘Where do you feel that in your body? It’s all I had. I was like, ‘Well, where do you feel that?’ And if you just keep driving someone towards intensity to your point, that actually can be too much for them. Now that can be confusing because when you’re working in any kind of mental health work, I think when you see emotion, you think you’re doing a good job. Someone’s crying. I’m like, ‘I must be doing something right.’ And then I’m trying to amplify it because I think we’ll go deeper. ‘That’ll be great.’ And sometimes that’s true.

But when it comes to trauma, right to your point, it’s not. It’s that you need to have a more nuanced approach and you’re learning to track someone’s mind and body in a really nuanced moment to moment way.

 

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Episode 30: Emotion and Transformation with Dr. Les Greenberg

 

“The best way to change an emotion is with another emotion.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Dr. Les Greenberg, a world renowned psychotherapist and researcher. He is one of the creators of Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT) and professor at York University in Toronto. EFT centres around utilizing emotion to transform emotion. It is a different approach from the current major schools of psychotherapy like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. He is also the founder and director of the Emotion-Focused Therapy clinic where he provides therapy for individuals and couples and trains therapists in EFT.

Dr. Greenberg is the author of 17 books like Changing Emotion With Emotion and Emotion-Focused Counselling in Action. And he has published over 100 scientific papers and has written over 80 book chapters.

Dr. Les Greenberg and Dr. Joe spoke about:

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Here are some highlights from their conversation:

You’ve spoken about the idea of the importance of using emotion to transform another emotion. Can you speak to why that is important and how that works?

My contention is that amygdala-based painful emotions like core fear and core shame are impenetrable to reason. You can’t reason somebody out of these core painful feelings because emotion is a whole embodied experience. And you’re organized to run away. You have a sinking feeling in the stomach. It’s not produced by cognition. It’s produced automatically by the activation of emotion schemes.

We have to find a way to work with these painful emotions and the best way to change an emotion is with another emotion. Spinoza was the first person to state a principle like this. He said, ‘the only way to change an emotion is with an opposing and stronger emotion.’

I think this can be thought of in primitive behavioural terms that some of the emotions are organized as withdrawal emotions. With fear, you run away. And shame, you shrink into the ground. Approach emotions like assertive anger or the sadness of grief, you really are moving forward and towards.

So if I have a client and I can take them to their core feeling of fear or shame and they’re organized to run away, then I can help activate assertive anger or the sadness in which you cry out for comfort or reach out for the lost object.

You can’t run away and thrust forward at the same time. So we’ve now got two opposing action tendencies. The new action tendency is going to transform the old one.

Hebb stated the first law of neuropsychology as “neurons that fire together, wire together.” So if you think of emotion as an emotion scheme, a network that fires. So when you fire shame and at the same time, simultaneously, you fire off anger.

Let’s say you have a drunken, physically abusive father. When you first imagine him in front of you in an empty chair, it fires off these feelings of fear and shame and you shrink and you want to run away. But then if I can help you to feel assertively angry–’I should have had a father who treated me right. I deserved to not be abused’–it generates assertive anger. ‘I’m angry at you for having treated me so unfairly.’

Now this new emotion undoes the old emotion. It doesn’t replace it. It actually transforms it and synthesizes with it to develop a truly novel experience. So your self-organizing system is re-organizing. And maybe the shame, the anger synthesizes with the shame to produce confidence or security or calm or something new. And this is a developmental process.

And rather than thinking about it in learning theory terms like exposure leads to reduction. This actually comes from a Piagetian notion that the development occurs by the synthesis of co-activating schemes.

At a more practical level, the best way to change an emotion is with another emotion.

Episode 28: Creating a Mindful Culture at Work with Michael Bunting

 

“Mindfulness is both gift and challenge at the same time.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Michael Bunting. Michael is a business leadership consultant with a focus on mindfulness in the workplace. He is the founder of The Mindful Leader, an online resource for developing mindful leadership skills and WorkSmart Australia, a leadership consultancy.

His consulting work focuses on cultural transformation in organizations with mindfulness training at the core of his services. He has worked with companies like Novartis Pharma, Qantas, Hilton Hotels, and Rio Tinto. He is also the author of The Mindful Leader, A Practical Guide to Mindfulness Meditation, and a contributor to Extraordinary Leadership.

Michael and Dr. Joe spoke about:

Connect with Michael on LinkedIn

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Episode 27: The Chemistry of Connection with Dr. Julie Holland

 

“When a couple takes MDMA, they throw the ledger out the window, and they dig down to the core issues.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Dr. Julie Holland. Dr. Holland is a psychiatrist specializing in psychopharmacology. She is the author of five books including Good ChemistryMoody Bitches, and Weekends at Belleview, and she is the editor of Ecstasy: The Complete Guide. She has been featured on CNN, Fox, Good Morning America, and the Today Show as a mental health expert and has a private practice in New York.

She has a long history as an advocate for the safe and therapeutic use of psychedelics and cannabis and is a medical monitor of two studies organized by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

Dr. Holland and Dr. Joe spoke about:

Connect with Dr. Julie Holland on TwitterFacebook, and her website.

Connect with Dr. Joe on FacebookTwitter,LinkedIn and Instagram

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Here are some highlights from their conversation:

Could you tell us about that study? I just think it’s a beautiful illustration of the power of co-regulation. If I understand correctly, one of the members of the couple has PTSD. Do they both take MDMA?

Yes, they both take it. And that’s what really makes it a completely different study. We have been doing–like right now MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD is in the phase 3 of the trials, so that they can be FDA approved.

And right now, the phase 3 trial is a multi-centre trial. There are multiple places doing MDMA-assisted psychotherapy with a single person. But this is the only study where both members of the dyad are taking MDMA during therapy.

Ann Shulgin had a great explanation for MDMA couples therapy because she was somebody who did underground work with couples quite a bit. I wrote about this in my first book actually, which is a book that I edited because it had multiple authors. It was called Ecstasy: The Complete Guide. And there’s an interview in there with Sasha and Ann Shulgin. The people who were too busy to write chapters, I just did interviews with them and got it typed up.

Ann talks about how there’s a certain sort of tit-for-tat that happens a lot with couples where it’s like, ‘Well, I just did this because you did that.’ And, ‘You did that, so then I did this.’ She calls it emotional ledgering, meaning that everything goes on a ledger. And everything is superficial and transactional and retributional.

She says that when a couple takes MDMA, they throw the ledger out the window. It doesn’t matter anymore. That’s like superficial shit that doesn’t matter. And they dig down to core issues and the core things that keep coming up.

Because anybody who has been in a dyad long enough, you have the same argument eight different ways. It’s the same stuff that keeps coming up that you can’t let go.

And it really comes down to, ‘Why aren’t you more like me?’ ‘Why do you have to be like you and do it your way?’ ‘Why aren’t you more like me and do it my way?’ That’s end up being a good chunk of what happens.

One of the things that happens with MDMA–and there’s a lot that happens pharmacologically–but one of the things is that MDMA increases oxytocin. The brain is really flooded with oxytocin. And so there is this impulse to trust and bond and connect and form a dyad. Having all that oxytocin makes you feel safe and it quiets down the amygdala. One of the things oxytocin does is that it quiets down the amygdala. The amygdala, you can think of it like the fear centre. When you’re going to react and retaliate, it’s going to come from the amygdala. When oxytocin quells down the amygdala, the fear goes way down.

You give the other person the benefit of the doubt more. This is really important. We’ve seen that MDMA has an impact on how you interpret social cues. You’re more likely to interpret social cues positively. And you’re more likely to ignore negative social cues. Mona Lisa–if you were taking MDMA–you would think that she’s totally smiling. That’s not a grimace. That’s not a smirk. That’s not a sneer. That is just a smile. There’s sort of an alteration of how we interpret social cues.

Because there is so much oxytocin, you are more trusting and more bonded and more committed to the team and the process.

Episode 25: Mindfulness to Meaning with Professor Norman Farb

 

 

“Choosing the meanings that are consistent with the life that we would ideally like to live is the heart of the Mindfulness-to-Meaning Theory”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Professor Norman Farb. He is a professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. He’s best known for his research on the neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. He studies the mental habits that determine our sense of well-being. He is also a co-creator of the Mindfulness-to-Meaning Theory (MMT). MMT hypothesizes that the reason why mindfulness is effective is because over the long term it can change the foundational interpretations or meanings that we have about ourselves, the world, and the future.

Dr. Farb and Dr. Joe spoke about:

If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness and psychedelics, please visit numinus.com.

Connect with Dr. Joe on FacebookTwitter,LinkedIn and Instagram

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Episode 22: Eco-Anxiety with Professor Susan Clayton

 

 “While optimism is certainly associated with individual well-being, it’s what allows us

to take action. If you’re a pessimist, then why bother?”

In this episode, Dr. Joe speaks with Susan Clayton, Professor of Psychology at the College of Wooster. Susan is a globally-recognized authority on the mental health impacts of climate change. She is the lead author of the American Psychological Association (APA) report on Mental Health and Our Changing Climate and a contributor to the upcoming report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. She is also the author and editor of the Oxford Handbook of Environmental and Conservation Psychology and Identity and the Natural Environment. Her work focuses on the intersection of mental health, environmentalism, and social psychology.

In this episode, Dr. Joe and Professor Clayton explore:

If you’d like some support in coping with your concerns about climate change, Numinus can help. We are launching an eco-anxiety support group in January and we have a few psychologists who specialize in this area. Please visit numinus.com/eco-anxiety for more information.

For more information on eco-anxiety check out Dr. Joe’s article on the Numinus blog and his interview on Radio-Canada.

Connect with Dr. Joe on Facebook, Twitter,LinkedIn, Instagram.

Follow Numinus on Facebook, Twitter,LinkedIn, Instagram.

 

Here are some highlights from their conversation:

Building Resilience, Taking Action, and Social Connections

One of the things that I recommend to people is that they take action to cope with their eco-anxiety. What kind of action do you recommend people take if they’re experiencing eco-anxiety?

I definitely encourage people to take action. But I leave it to them to decide what they’re comfortable with. I could certainly offer people my opinion about what would be the most effective thing to do. But some people might want to focus on changing their own lifestyle. Some people might want to get politically involved. I think getting actively engaged in some way is more important in terms of personal resilience than–

So why is taking action helping build resilience?

Two reasons.

One of the things that I think underlies a lot of this anxiety is helplessness. So if you do something, you don’t feel as helpless. You feel like you have been able to make a difference at some level. And that’s really important.

I think another fringe benefit is–particularly, I encourage people not just to get engaged, but to find ways to engage with other people. So they’re strengthening their social connections.

There are all kinds of positive social experiences that can be involved. I think anyone who has participated in a rally or some sort of group organized event knows that fellow feeling, that self-congratulation in a good way when you actually succeed in getting something done or just that you’ve all experienced this together.

So those positive emotions and social connections also contribute to resilience.

Just for the record, the third recommendation that I do give people is to stay connected to friends, family, and colleagues around these issues because it’s important to not suffer alone. 

 

A Possibility for Transformation

Is there anything else you wanted to add?

Just an emphasis on the possibility for transformation.

It’s always hard to believe that change is going to happen. But actually social change has happened enormously in my lifetime, just in terms of the internet and smartphones, which are relatively new. I mean my students got them when they were in middle school or high school, but they didn’t grow up with them. And yet, I think we would all agree that smartphones have completely changed the way we live our lives. And inventions are happening faster and faster. So I think more and more things are on the way.

I think it’s helpful to think not just ‘Oh my God. This terrible climate change stuff is happening. And we’re going to have to change our lives, and it’s all going to be bad.’ But to recognize that this is kind of an opportunity to change society in hopefully some ways that will be good because I think most people would say there are ways society can be improved right now. And maybe the kinds of changes that climate change will force us to make will be changes that actually have other benefits.

Episode 21: The Psychedelic Renaissance with Dr. Ingmar Gorman and Dr. Elizabeth Nielson

 

“The word psychedelic was coined by Humphry Osmond. Psyche comes from the Greek word for spirit or soul, and delic means manifesting. So psychedelic means manifesting the mind.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Dr. Elizabeth Nielson and Dr. Ingmar Gorman on the renaissance of psychedelics in western medicine and culture. Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy has the potential to transform how a wide range of mental health problems are treated. Elizabeth and Ingmar are both at the forefront of this renaissance.

Elizabeth is a clinical psychologist specializing in addictive and mood disorders. She is the Director of Education and Training for the Psychedelic Education and Continuing Care Program at the Center for Optimal Living. She is also involved as a researcher and therapist on studies of psilocybin and MDMA, most notably with Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) the Experimental Therapeutics Research Laboratory at NYU Langone School of Medicine.

Ingmar is also a clinical psychologist. He works with populations who have had experiences with psychedelics and other psychoactive compounds. He is the Director of the Psychedelic Education and Continuing Care Program at the Centre for Optimal Living. He is the site co-principal Investigator and therapist on a MAPS Phase 3 clinical trial MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder. And he is an NIH-funded fellow at NYU and a board member of Horizons Media.

In this episode Joe, Elizabeth, and Ingmar discussed:

  • The history of psychedelics and how we arrived at the psychedelic renaissance
  • Current science and applications of psychedelics
  • The subjective experience of these compounds and their clinical action
  • The role of mindfulness in psychedelic-assisted therapy
  • Future directions in this field

Numinus will be hosting Ingmar and Elizabeth in Montreal on Friday, November 1st. They will be offering a brief presentation and Q&A for the public. And on Saturday and Sunday, they will be leading an introductory workshop on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy for healthcare professionals. You can register and find more information here.

More information can be found on Dr. Ingmar Gorman on his site and Dr. Elizabeth Neilson here.

Stay up to date with the Numinus Podcast by joining the newsletter.

Leave us a review on iTunes if you enjoyed the podcast.

Connect with Dr. Joe on Facebook, Twitter,LinkedIn, Instagram.

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Here are some highlights from the interview:

It really strikes me that probably the most important factor for why we’re here talking about this is that the science has really started to get traction on this issue. 

So I wonder if one of you could just give a high level summary of the most developed scientific literature.  

Ingmar: Generally the studies that have been completed or are ongoing are in what’s called Phase 2 research. These are studies with relatively small sample sizes of about 20 participants. And this is where new indications are explored. Indication meaning ailment.

So this is where an organization will say, ‘Well, let’s look at the potential of psilocybin to treat smoking cessation.’ And a small study will be conducted. And so there are quite a few, maybe a dozen, maybe half a dozen different indications that have been looked at in these trials. And there are more and more of these Phase 2 trials that are beginning.

Phase 3 trials are ones where which would permit a substance like MDMA or psilocybin to become a prescribable medicine. And this is where you’re looking at sample sizes of about 200 to 300 participants.

Right now you see Phase 3 trials with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD, and what is very likely to be initiating soon is psilocybin for treatment resistant depression and psilocybin for alcohol use disorder.

There are also new requests for funding to look at new indications like eating disorders or opioid use disorder. And there are many, many more.

The vast majority of these studies are funded by donors. So the amount of money that’s been raised through donors has been substantial enough to get us to this point of being able to do Phase 3 research. But it’s still a drop in the bucket when compared to any kind of pharmaceutical study.

I’ve also heard about the work around end of life anxiety. Is that research fairly well developed? 

Elizabeth: So I think what you’re referring to there would be what’s commonly known as the cancer trial. Which was a study conducted at both Johns Hopkins and NYU, published in 2016.

It wasn’t for end of life specifically. It was for people who were experiencing continued distress after cancer diagnosis. So some people were in remission, but were continuing to experience severe anxiety around the return of cancer. While others were closer to the end of life. It actually built on substantial literature about the use of psilocybin and LSD in the treatment of end of life anxiety that had been developed in the 1950s and 60s.

But that particular study wasn’t restricted to people that had any kind of terminal diagnosis. It did show a really great sustained reduction in anxiety and emotional distress for the participants.

Are there any other conditions that you want to mention on this list?

Elizabeth: Well, in addition to research on the use of psilocybin in the treatment of alcohol use disorder that’s currently ongoing, there are also studies on the psilocybin assisted treatment for psychostimulant cocaine use disorder.

There was also a study of psilocybin-assisted treatment for smoking cessation that was conducted at Johns Hopkins. Smoking is a notoriously difficult habit to break. And this study again showed some really substantial gains, much much clearer positive results than some of the approved treatments that we have.

So I believe that not just for alcohol use, we’re going to see psilocybin become, hopefully, a front line treatment, if it’s fully approved and fully studied and documented, for the treatment of addictions in the near future.

Episode 20: Overcoming Anxiety with Dr. Judson Brewer

 

“How do we resist anxiety? We can hold it with kindness.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Dr. Judson Brewer. Jud is a psychiatrist, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine at Brown University and the Director of Research and Innovation at Brown’s Mindfulness Center. He has become an authority on the application of mindfulness in the treatment of anxiety, addictions, and eating disorders and his work has been featured in some of the top medical and neuroscience journals as well as in the popular media. His 2019 TED talk is ranked the 4th most popular of the year.

Jud’s research and clinical work are highly innovative, partly because of his integration of traditional Buddhist psychology with modern neuroscience and psychology. In recent years he has focused on making his work accessible to the general public and has produced online programs for helping people reduce anxiety (Unwinding Anxiety), overeating (Eat Right Now), and smoking (Craving to Quit). He is also the author of The Craving Mind: from Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love – Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits.

Joe and Jud discussed:

If you’d like to learn how to practice mindfulness to help with your anxiety or any other unhelpful habits, please reach out to Numinus: numinus.com

Connect with Dr. Jud Brewer on his websiteFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Connect with Dr. Joe on Facebook, Twitter,LinkedIn, Instagram.

Follow Numinus on Facebook, Twitter,LinkedIn, Instagram.

 

Stay up to date with the Numinus Podcast by joining the newsletter.

 

Here are some highlights from the interview:

How Does Mindfulness Help with Anxiety?

“The Buddha said that ‘it wasn’t until I explored gratification to its end, that knowledge and vision arose.’”

So you’ve got this model for understanding anxiety as it is driven by reward based learning. And you bring mindfulness into the mix to help people, as you say unwind. So how does that work exactly?

So it goes back to these elements that we’ve been talking about. The first piece is really helping people understand how their mind works because if they can understand that, then they can work with their minds. And in that sense they can start by really just understanding how the process gets perpetuated. So if they have a feeling of anxiety, they can start to map out how it triggers a worry response and how they get caught up in worry thinking. And then what the result of that is–which tends to not be like, ‘Oh. This is great. I want to do it more.’ [Laughs]

So they can just start to see how the elements that they’re actually adding to it are leading to negative outcomes. And what that does is help their brain kind of recalibrate how rewarding the worry behaviour is itself.

Because that’s what drives future behaviour. Reward based learning is based on reward not on the behaviour itself. So if it were just based on behaviour we’d say, ‘Oh. Stop worrying.’ Which I’m sure many of our parents or spouses or whatever have told us to do. ‘Hey. You worry too much. Stop worrying.’ ‘Oh. Thank you!’ [Laughs] It doesn’t work that way because we end up worrying that we’re worrying, and it spirals out of control. [Laughs]

But if we focus on the results or the reward and say, ‘That’s not very rewarding,’ and see that very clearly. That’s mindfulness can then help us do. Once we’ve mapped this out, we can see, ‘Oh. This is not very rewarding.’ Which then drives disenchantment with the process itself.

And this is actually super clear in the early Buddhist teachings, where the Buddha said, ‘It wasn’t until I explored gratification to its end, that knowledge and vision arose.’ And the way I interpret that is he was really exploring reward based learning. How rewarding is this behaviour? And it’s only when we see that there is no juice left in this fruit that we become disenchanted with the behaviour. And that then starts to have us look for other things. I think of this is looking for the BBO: the bigger, better offer.

So we first have to see how this isn’t serving us. And we’ve learned that by seeing how our minds work. Then our brain starts looking for something better and this is where we can bring in mindfulness practices themselves. And I love that if you think of the second factor of awakening as interest or curiosity. What feels better: Fear, anxiety, panic or curiosity? It’s a no brainer to our brains.

And I see this in my patients with addictions as well. You know curiosity feels much better than craving. So when we can then train them to just be curious about what the feelings of anxiety feel like in their direct experience. They can start to realize a number of things:

1) These are just feelings. These are just thoughts as compared to being identified with these things.

2) They can see that these don’t last forever.

And this is challenging because a lot of folks with anxiety really feel it all throughout the day. And they say, ‘Well, my anxiety does last forever.’ And I say, ‘Well let’s explore that. Does it get stronger? Does it get weaker? Is there worry that feeds it?’ There are lots of ways to explore the impermanent nature of the feelings.

And also ways to explore how we resist the feelings of anxiety itself. How we can change our relationship to it and just hold the feelings, this physical feeling, these emotions in our awareness. We can hold them with kindness and curiosity. And that holding where we’re providing that holding environment rather than pushing away or trying to do something helps us move into a completely different relationship.

And I’ve had a number of folks report back–I remember one person who said that she was really blown away by the curiosity because when she really trained herself to bring curiosity to the fore. When she was having panic, curiosity just felt better and she could notice that these were just feelings, rather than something that she was so identified with. And it really helped her just be with panic attacks and really unwind from that. Which helped that whole process itself unwind.

 

The Default Mode Network

If I’m understanding correctly, self reflection is sort of mediated by or driven by the default mode network. We sort of construct the sense of self by this ongoing story about who we see ourselves as each moment. 

So I’d love to hear you talk about how mindfulness helps decommission the default mode network, at least temporarily and maybe makes us a little less dependent on it on a day to day basis. 

So let’s just start with a clarification to make sure we’re on the same page with the default mode network. There are two main hubs. One is the medial prefrontal cortex and the other is the posterior cingulate cortex. They talk to each other all of the time.

The hypothesis is that the medial prefrontal cortex is more of a conceptual sense of self and a conceptual sense of self is not a problem. It’s taking that conceptual sense of self too personally.

So where mindfulness comes in is it helps with two things. So if we bring in the reinforcement learning process we can say, ‘Well, does it feel to take something personally?’ ‘I love fuming and plotting revenge.’ It’s a painful process. We can bring awareness in by asking ourselves, ‘how’s that going for you taking things personally?’ Not in a ‘I told you so’ way, but with curiosity. So we can start to see the lack of reward in taking things personally.

Which then helps us bring awareness to the next piece, which is that awareness itself can feel better than being identified with ourselves. That kind of curious awareness itself feels better. And so when we’re caught up in anxiety we just bring in that awareness and curiosity. ‘Oh, so that’s what anxiety feels like.’

For example, in our ‘Unwinding Anxiety’ program, on day one, we walk people through the idea that they have this inherent capability of being curious, by saying, “Okay. You’re anxious. Let’s go there. Check in your body to see where you feel anxiety most strongly. And now tell me is it stronger on the right side or the left side? And they have to explore, ‘Is it on the right side more than the left side?’ Now what does this do?

It opens us to curiosity. The answer is that it doesn’t matter what side it’s on. What matters is they just touched into their inherent capacity to be curious. This is on day one. And then they can just go from there.

We can bring this kind curious awareness even to the worst of things and start to crack that a little bit. With this inherent capacity that we have, it feels better. It’s not like anxiety vanishes, but it helps us see, ‘Oh. I can actually be with this.’ Which is better than running away from it.