“If I am the father of LSD, Stan is the Godfather. Nobody has contributed as much as Stan for the development of my problem child” Dr. Albet Hofman
To better understand one of the great pioneers of psychedelics and psychology, Stan Grof, we spoke with Javier Charme (first interview here) a clinical psychologist, CIIS graduate, and co-director for Grof Transpersonal Training in Transpersonal Psychology and Holotropic Breathwork and teacher of the first Transpersonal Psychology course in South America.
Thank you again for speaking with us Javier. There’s a lot of new and exciting research with psychedelics in recent years, but not many people realize just how advanced Stan Grof’s early psychedelic research was, and how vast his contributions are to both psychedelics and psychology in general. Can you shed some light on Stan Grof´s work and his pioneering psychedelic research?
After its discovery, LSD was sent by Sandoz pharmaceutical to several research centers around the world to be studied. The young psychoanalyst and almost Psychiatrist then, Stan Grof in 1954 started accompanying psychiatric patients in psychedelic-assisted psychoanalysis, in the Psychiatric Research Center in Prague, beginning what would be about 20 years of legal and rigorous scientific research about the use of different psychedelic medicines in psychiatry. This occurred within a communist regime, with its characteristic materialistic, scientific and pragmatic approach, in Europe after 2 world wars. He directed teams of psychiatric research in Prague and later lead the last clinical LSD psychotherapy research teams in Maryland. He accompanied close to 4000 individual psychedelic sessions of patients suffering from most psychiatric and emotional problems, patients with terminal cancer and many “healthy” volunteers from different professions and walks of life.
Grof´s modern consciousness research lays the foundations for the psychotherapeutic use of LSD and several other psychedelics. He explored different formats and possibilities for its application both individually and in groups, with psychoanalysis (psycholytic doses) up to 20 sessions per person, leading up to higher-dose (psychedelic) sessions similar to a powerful shamanic journey. This culminated in a powerful psychedelic therapy experience on 350 to 500 mics in which the patient, within a larger therapeutic process and after the necessary screening and a good preparation, goes deeply inward with close eyes, listening to music, in a very protected, supporting and mostly non-interventive context for the whole length of the session, usually around 10 hours. This method launches you in an inner journey and sequential processes of psychospiritual death and rebirth, guided by the extraordinary self-healing intelligence and capacity of the psyche.
Later the person was supported with expressive art and posterior sessions to facilitate the integration of the experience, before the next psychedelic session was scheduled. In this way this medicine became what it ought to be, a powerful instrument in versed hands in the service of mental health and society. The remarkable therapeutic results of this process over a wide range of emotional and psychosomatic problems were discovered and clearly explained with minute details. The extraordinary therapeutic results achieved are still unmatched in psychology and psychiatry. Regardless of this, macrodosing is still ignored, misunderstood and not applied, however, this format guided what is being done today in MDMA assisted psychotherapy.
The years of research and repeated observations from thousands of high-dose therapeutic sessions helped Grof develop an expanded and precise map of the unconscious mind that deeply revolutionized previous psychoanalytic understandings. LSD allows for quick and direct access to the depths of our unconscious, functioning for the understanding of psychology as the telescope does for astronomy or the microscope for biology.
When I think of Grof’s contributions, things like holotropic states, birth trauma processing, and transpersonal psychology come to mind. For those like me with just a rudimentary grasp of these things, can you explain them in more detail?
Grof coined the term Holotropic (Holos: totality; Trepein: moving towards) to refer to these exquisite states, that when applied in the right context (set and setting) have a huge healing, integrative, transformative and even evolutionary potential. These states are at the very heart of shamanism, of many rites of passages and spiritual traditions. They have been induced through a wide range of “technologies of the sacred” for millennia. What´s new, thrilling and extraordinary is their arrival to psychology and psychiatry. This hopefully signs now the beginning of what will be the second golden era of psychiatry, led by new psychedelic research after the long prohibition of entheogens.
In Holotropic states, the psyche scans itself finding what´s most relevant and charged for conscious processing. The experiences of patients repeatedly show that besides the biographical unconscious described by Freud, there also exists a very powerful, clear and relevant memory of our gestation and birth, the perinatal level of the unconscious. It´s closely associated with the early and complex traumatic experience of biological birth and the deep unresolved emotional and physical repositories that leave powerful imprints in the psyche (similar but more detailed and complex than O. Rank´s ideas).
Not only this, but perinatal experiences also come in 4 distinctive patterns related to different crucial moments of the process. The first perinatal matrix (MPB I) is related to gestation and reflects the sacredness and contention of a good womb. The second matrix (MPB II) relates to the onset of the birthing process, while the cervix is still closed, which creates a situation of no exit and victimization. MPB III is related to the big struggle to be born, once the cervix is open, while MPB IV is related to birthing itself, the crossing of the channel and cutting of the umbilical cord. These Perinatal levels or dimensions are crucial, because when they are integrated and worked through, it has a huge positive influence on many emotional problems. Most psychological problems and symptoms in fact draw their energy and experiential quality from this level.
Grof also adds a vast experiential dimension he calls Transpersonal, which includes a wide range of experiences that transcend our habitual egoic identification, connecting us with all of existence and to direct experiences of spiritual dimensions of consciousness (similar yet beyond Jung´s collective unconscious). There are very important and effective healing mechanisms which are exclusive to this level too, such as transpersonal and mystical experiences. At this point, inner exploration becomes more like the exploration of the cosmos from within. You may experience Karmic, collective, racial, archetypal, phylogenetic and many other fascinating experiences.
This empirical research reveals the vast dimensions of Human experience, showing that our individual consciousness is part of a much wider consciousness that abides in everything. This agrees with understandings of many spiritual traditions. These findings are so profound, that their full assimilation would require a revision not only of psychology, but also of some of the core, basic assumptions of materialistic science.
Later, Stan together with A Maslow and A. Sutich, who had previously founded humanistic psychology became the main founders of Transpersonal Psychology. Today it possesses a wide and solid theoretical body and has expanded throughout the world, maintaining an eclectic, inclusive, integrative and scientific attitude. It holds a vision that recognizes the spiritual and cosmic dimensions and context of human beings, and the potential for the evolution of consciousness. It studies all states and levels of consciousness. It tries to integrate the diverse Eastern and Western approaches, shortening the gap between the knowledge and wisdom of ancient spiritual traditions with the necessary pragmatism of modern science and psychology. It pursues an integral and practical comprehension of human beings, considering their biological, interpersonal, social, ecological, spiritual and cosmic context.
Grof, recognized as one of the most important psychologists of all times, later developed Holotropic breathwork, a powerful and effective psychotherapeutic methodology based on this research that works in Holotropic states, without the use of psychedelics. This modern consciousness research finally allows for a much wider, deeper and precise understanding of human consciousness, psychopathology, spirituality and our relation with totality.
Holotropic psychedelic therapy and holotropic breathwork can be applied with very positive results in many categories of patients that are way beyond the effective reach of talked psychotherapies. These patients are often referred to a psychiatrist that medicates them, controlling the symptoms in a palliative approach (symptomatic solution), but not addressing or solving the origin or cause of the problem (etiology). In this regard Grofian Psychology brings a unique possibility of working effectively with most symptoms and emotional and psychosomatic problems, getting to their very core and producing a change in their sources by processing them effectively, avoiding on most instances the need for medication and even hospitalization. This approach may resolve or alleviate the problem, transforming it into an important step in the process of self-transformation and inner growth.
Most therapeutic methods are mono-dimensional, trying to achieve results working exclusively with ideas, or images, or the body or energetically etc. Draining the huge amounts of energy behind symptoms like this, is like trying to empty a lake with a spoon. So, changing this for an extraordinary inner journey that awakens, catalyzes and mobilizes the tremendous intrinsic healing capacity of the psyche and the body is truly a remarkable achievement. Holotropic states often simultaneously involves and benefits from unconscious processing at all the experiential levels where you can reach transformation: somatic, energetic, emotional , symbolic, cognitive and spiritual, and therefore allows in brief time for a much wider capacity to communicate and balance the ego with the unconscious and supra-conscious, or even the Self in Junguian terms, or Hylotropic and Holotropic Modes of consciousness. When this center of sheer organismic intelligence becomes the active leading agent of transformation, the system spontaneously creates the very best possible movement of healing, safely and elegantly within its own parameters. This allows for an incremented speed and amount of processing of inner material, themes and traumas that maximizes the process and surpasses any therapeutic previous known method by far.
To honor the depth and precision of Stan´s work, explained in about 20 books and 160 scientific papers I would highly recommend interested people, therapists and psychonauts to begin by reading: “Beyond the Brain” , “Psychology of the Future” , “LSD Psychotherapy”, “The Stormy Search for the Self” and “The way of The Psychonaut”. You can also see trainings, interviews and new virtual courses at www.respiracionholotropica.com, and visit www.stangrof.com for scientific papers, interviews and information about training in transpersonal psychology and Holotropic breathwork.