This is the sixth post telling of the misunderstandings and coincidences at the end of which I ended up living in Hawaii with a group of folks involved in LSD-assisted psychotherapy.
So … what did Dr. Charles Hawkins, PhD., and folks in the psychotherapy house get right, and what did they get wrong?
The type of therapy we did in the house was one of a number of therapies collectively known as “abreactive therapies”. The common thread uniting abreactive therapies is the idea that our memories contain energy bound up in them in the form of emotions. These unexpressed emotions can be released by re-living the incident in question.
This is particularly true for childhood incidents which evoke hugely conflicting emotions (e.g. being hurt by someone you love). Children often can’t deal with both emotions at once, and so one emotion or the other is pushed aside and ignored. It gets buried. And because it was and is unexpressed and unacknowledged, it festers there like a foxtail in your sock.
In dealing with this, the way out is the way in. That is to say, the way out is to go back in your mind and re-experience the experience as fully as you can, so that by reliving it you can actually experience and release yourself from the thrall of the buried emotions.
This method has been used by a very wide variety of disciplines, including psychotherapy. And of course, this is where the value of the LSD becomes apparent.
Interesting article on the history of LSD and its use in therapy
One thing that LSD can do is to bring up memories in full living color and surround-sound. And in therapy, this is exactly what you want to happen. You want the person to be as fully swept into that past scene as they can possibly be. That way, they can see and feel everything that went on, including the many parts that they may have hidden from themselves. This can be very, very liberating.
So that was the good news.
Between the good news and the upcoming bad news, my life was still most curious and interesting. For example.
Dr. Hawkins and his good lady partner had a little boy who was about three at the time. He was a lovely kid, he could talk a little bit, full of joy. But one day she had left him alone. He was an active and inquisitive kid. She came back into the room just after he had eaten a tablet of LSD that she had left out on a table she thought he couldn’t reach … hey, don’t look at me, I didn’t leave it around. And besides, it happens every day in homes across America, kids accidentally taking pills meant for others. Just this time …
I got along real well with the boy, he and I were good friends, he trusted me. So she and I helped him and stayed with him throughout the trip. There were a couple of surprises in the experience for me.
One was how little it seemed to affect him. All the way through, he didn’t act a whole lot different than he did on any other day. He didn’t seem different, nor did he seem particularly fascinated or distracted by almost anything that was going on.
The other surprise simply reinforced the need for a competent guide when dealing with LSD. At one point, I noticed that he was staring fixedly at the floor. “What’s going on, little buddy?” I asked.
“Ooooooh,” he said softly but very emphatically, “ooooh, don’t want to see that!”, and pointed emphatically at the empty floor down by his feet.
“Well,” I replied, “I don’t want to see whatever that is either, my short friend, so let’s go outside and look at something else,”, and I took his tiny hand, and we walked together out into the warm tropical sunlight.
As a result of such gentle direction, he had a great time, played hard all day, and fell into a deep sleep. The next day he was the same as he had been any other day.
And to return from the interregnum to the question at hand, the bad news was, they thought that other people were responsible for the problems we all have in our lives. Starting with the usual suspects, of course, our parents. They thought the proper response was to express the unexpressed anger at our parents. They thought that our parents were the cause of much of the grief and pain in our lives. If only they’d raised us right, their story went, we wouldn’t have all these problems today.
Not true in the slightest, of course. Our lives are our own, and how we react and respond to this crazy universe is our own choice.
But they believed that others, particularly our parents, were the cause of our pain. It’s a victim mentality that has no relation to the real world.
There is an important and unfortunate corollary of their point of view. This is that in any group of people, if the group is not working well for some reason, it is always someone’s fault.
Because when you believe you are not responsible for the pain you are feeling, well, then someone else must be causing your pain. Who is it this week?
As a result, the original group of eight trainee therapists including myself slowly shrank in number as one after another became the bad man or bad woman in the group. Finally, there were only three of us left, two women and myself. All the rest had left, one by one, after being told that they were the reason things weren’t working out.
And at the end of the day, the decision was made that I was now the one who was unfit for human consumption.
That’s the problem when your philosophy admits of the idea that someone other than yourself is to blame. When a group does that, they end up having to blame someone within the group. And now, having dodged the bullet more than once, I was that someone.
So I was told to confine myself to one of the three rooms that the (now remaining) three of us trainee psychotherapists, M. and E. and I, were still sharing. I stayed in that room alone, for a week. They brought me my meals without saying a single word. Solitary confinement. Not sure what they were expecting would happen, but I guess whatever they were hoping for didn’t come to pass. I still didn’t measure up to something or other.
So, it was decided that I would no longer be a trainee psychotherapist at all. I could remain in the house, but I’d have to get a job like everyone else.
Ah, well, the joys of retiring early and often. I resigned as the office manager, and as the cook, and as the yoga instructor, and as a trainee psychotherapist. In a way, it was a huge relief. I looked around and found a job that seemed interesting. The Waikiki office of H.E.L.P., the Honolulu Emergency Labor Pool, needed an office manager. I’d been business manager for the group and kept all their books, so I knew I could keep the H.E.L.P. books and run their office.
The H.E.L.P. boss asked me if I could use a ten-key adding machine. I loved adding machines, I said sure. He asked if I could touch-type. I said sure. All of the way through grade school and high school, my handwriting had been terrible. It’s bad when the teacher can’t read your handwriting, and calls you up in front of the other kids to explain your chicken scratches. But it was much worse for me when, after the teacher couldn’t read what I’d written, on arriving in front of the class … I also couldn’t read my chicken scratches.
So I’d taken typing in high school, the only boy in a class of thirty girls preparing to become secretaries, and I had been the second fastest typist in the class. Galled me immensely, I wasn’t used to being beaten. I could touch type like a demon. But I digress …
Then the boss of H.E.L.P. Incorporated asked if I could touch type, not on the typewriter, but on the ten key. Yikes!
I said “Sure”, figuring it wasn’t a lie since I could learn that in not too many hours and by the time I went to work it would be true …
Yes, I admit it’s kind of a “time travel” view of truth, in that it’s not true now, but it will be true when it matters.
And the time-travel truth of it was verified when I went to work on Monday morning and I was able to touch-type wicked-fast on the ten-key so my boss could see that I hadn’t lied to him. I didn’t mention that I’d gone straight out and bought a ten-key and spent the whole weekend learning and practicing how to do it.
I loved that job, not because of the job, but because it was close to the ocean. It was two blocks off the beach in Waikiki. While living in the psychotherapy house I had taken up surfing, and I absolutely loved it. With my job at H.E.L.P. Incorporated, I finally had the chance to surf every day. I’d get up way before dawn. I’d put on my clothes in the warm tropical pre-dawn. I’d ride my bike down to the office holding my board under one arm. There I’d change into my boardies, grab my board, and go surf the dawn break. Moonlit dawns were the best, with the ocean by moonlight slowly giving way to the ocean by sunlight. Shower up at the Hilton beach showers, and go back to the office. Have a cup of coffee, and go to work.
The boss’s name was Mike. He’d been a Marine, and he’d been bothered by his weight for his whole life. On the inside face of his desk, where you could only see it when you sat in his chair, was a plaque that said: “For a fat boy, you sure don’t sweat much.” It was something the drill instructors would have said to him. He had taken it and built a very successful life, his own business and all the rest, by pushing himself. I understood that saying in a larger sense, that all of us are “fat” in some aspects of our life, and we don’t work on it enough.
I worked for H.E.L.P. and lived in the psychotherapy house for another four months or so … and then I left.
Remember that this was a group that thought someone was to blame. And of course, there’s no one easier to blame than someone who wants to leave the group. A number of people had left during the time I was there. None of them had been able to leave gracefully. They were all excoriated and abused for their decision to go.
So it was not easy to leave on good terms with the people. But I just stuck with my guns. I knew that I had to leave, and I had to do it right. I knew I could not just walk out. And at the end of the day, I was able to leave without being either excoriated, excommunicated, or abused. I packed up my things and got on a plane and went back to California.
Not much else to tell. A few years later, I decided I wanted to become a Ph.D. psychotherapist. So I went back to college. I’d quit college after my first year, and now, after eight years of traveling the world, I was back in school. But it was easy this time …
While in school, I got together with one of my professors and put together a free clinic for any students or other people who wanted someone to talk to. At that point, I’d spent about 700 hours listening to people talk about their problems. And there I was again, listening to people talk about their problems, four hours of half-hour sessions on each Thursday and Saturday … my final conclusion was that no, I didn’t want to be a psychotherapist. I finished out my BA in psychology, graduated, and never worked in the field again.
And Dr. Charles Hawkins, Ph.D., and the people in the group? I didn’t see them again until a few years after I’d graduated, when I stopped in Hawaii on my way from the US to join up with a sailboat in Hong Kong Harbour … and found that things in the psychotherapy house had gone darkly and badly off the rails. So I guess all that’s left to say is …
… to be continued …
Best of the spring days to us all,