Art, the DSM, psychedelic assisted therapy, acting, psychodrama, and safety  

“Our sense of agency, how much we feel in control, is defined by our relationship with our bodies and its rhythms. In order to find our voice we have to be in our bodies – able to breathe fully and able to access our inner sensations. Acting is an experience of using your body to take your place in life.” Bessel van der Kolk

“The Buddha asks us to stop drifting thoughtlessly through our lives and instead to pay careful attention to simple truths that are everywhere available to us, clamoring for the sustained consideration they deserve.” Quote from the book  In the Buddha’s Words

“Accumulated knots in the fabric of our body, previously undetected, begin to reveal themselves as we open.”  Jack Kornfield

In today’s post I’m including some more drawings and some material and thoughts related to the therapy processes, mediation practices / exercises and two interesting articles.

1.In a recent BEING WELL podcast [] Forrest and Rick Hanson had a conversation with Bessel van der Kolk, professor of Psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine and president of the Trauma Research Foundation in Massachusetts and author of The Body Keeps the Score, an influential book in the field of trauma and therapy. They discuss a lot of topics like the role that imagination, creativity and cultural context play in healing trauma and in moving beyond it. They talk about the need to confront trauma in pro-social movements and about how trauma and adverse experiences thwart agency, where agency begins and ways to reclaim it. They explore the reason we internalize abuse and abusive others, which is a natural and inevitable process of soaking up what others say or do to us, especially during our formative years. These messages become internalized limiting beliefs, and when the messaging is associated with trauma and fear, it becomes even more entrenched. We also get stuck in our coping responses during or after traumatic events. These get locked in our bodies. Bessel van der Kolk’s book title captures this experience.

Two other topics discussed are the many problematic issues with the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the need to integrate interpersonal processes and find new approaches to diagnosis and treatment, as well as, the current state of psychedelic assisted therapy research, the promise of this area and the many potential safety risks.

It’s not the first time I refer to this politically loaded topic of the DSM and the heavy criticism it has received and is receiving for the fact that the clusters of symptoms labeled as disorders are not scientifically proven, the fact that the majority of the people who have defined these health conditions and treatments are connected to pharmaceutical companies, the fact that childhood adverse experiences and social circumstances are not included. The most recent edition of the DSM surprisingly does not include Complex PTSD or Developmental Trauma Disorder. As a result in practice children and adolescents are given many other labels like: ADHD, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety and eating disorders, adjustment disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and so on. The focus is on the behaviours, on control of these adaptive and maladaptive behavioural responses and on symptoms that are often alternating but not on the root causes or the environment.

However, it is the first time I’m writing anything about psychedelic assisted therapy.  I’ve recently been engaging with material related to this type of therapy and the research conducted currently, the potential of this field and the many pitfalls. As with all things that have the potential to do great good, they also have the potential to cause great harm. Psychedelics break down our ego boundaries, they deconstruct the completely separate from others, fixed and sometimes rigid sense of self that we have. It is suggested that this can help us get new insights about ourselves, our past and the world and it can help us embrace all aspects of ourself and our history, and also help us access our innate healing capacity if we are supported and assisted in integrating the experience and the information that arises. An all embracing love for everyone and everything may wash over us and a sense of deep interconnectedness. However, because we are in a state of such emotional openness and “boundarylessness” the therapist or guide has the power to break us down and violate our boundaries.  In this very open state agency is lost, and therefore, severe violations can occur. Also, some people may have “bad trips”, encounter overwhelming buried experiences and / or fear based conditioning and other kinds of deep trauma that may be perceived or interpreted as spiritual experiences.

Therefore, a safe holding container with people who have the know-how that can help people integrate and understand their experience without imposing their views and interpretations is important. There is a need for screening who would potentially benefit from this process, for preparation in advance, and also integration of the experience after the psychedelic session, which might be a lengthy process. Above all it should take place in safe contexts with educated and / or experienced practitioners or guides. Integrity and self awareness as well as transparency, experience and knowledge are essential. An overall trauma informed and respectful environment could safeguard everyone involved.  In the podcast notes Forrest mentions a prominent documented instance of shocking  misuse of power perpetrated by Meaghan Buisson’s (an athlete and international medalist) therapists during a research trial session.

Also, as discussed in the podcast psychedelics might not be for everyone, and when it comes to therapeutic interventions one size does not fit all. It has been suggested that “letting go” of our ego might be a privilege and might not be appropriate for everyone or in all situations and contexts. The prospect of “ego death” or ego dissolution might not be for those whose cultural identity is threatened, for instance. And of course safety in all its different forms is not relevant only to psychedelic assisted therapy, regular bad psychotherapy can be harmful, and different levels of harm can be inflicted in all kinds of health, educational and training contexts.

In addition, the discussion includes exploration of the various therapeutic modalities that are available now, and specifically, they describe how movement, art and theatre can assist us in recovery and in reclaiming agency and power. In his book Bessel van der Kolk describes the use of psychodrama and acting in helping people move beyond trauma and also reclaim confidence. He talks about how he initially encountered Bryan Doerries’ project “The Theater of War” and how he came to understand that psychodrama and acting could be beneficial in healing trauma and in boosting confidence and faith in oneself. He writes “Greek drama may have served as a ritual reintegration for combat veterans” and “Acting is an experience of using your body to take your place in life.” He writes that he also became convinced of the therapeutic possibilities of theatre by witnessing his young son’s recovery from what we may call “chronic fatigue syndrome.”

In his book he talks about his observation and study of three different programs for treating traumatized, angry, frightened, and obstreperous teenagers or withdrawn, alcoholic, burned-out veterans through theater, that all share the common foundation, the confrontation of the painful realities of life and symbolic transformation through communal action. B van der Kolk notes: “Traumatized people are terrified to feel deeply. They are afraid to experience their emotions, because emotions lead to loss of control. In contrast, theater is about embodying emotions, giving voice to them, becoming rhythmically engaged, taking on and embodying different roles….. Theater gives trauma survivors a chance to connect with one another by deeply experiencing their common humanity.” Referring to children and adolescents he writes: “These kids are facing their own period of transition; many are barely articulate, and some struggle to read at all…. At the beginning of the process, many of these kids can barely get a line out. Progress is slow, as each actor slowly internalizes the words…. The idea is to inspire the actors to sense their reactions to the words— and so to discover the character….. ….”.  The aim of theatre programs is group building through establishing basic agreements: responsibility, accountability, respect, expressions of affection, to teach cause and effect and to help kids and adults get in tune with one another and learn to trust again. He writes that for children becoming embodied and “en-languaged” can be a life-changing process.

Bessel van der Kolk also dedicates a chapter in his book to psychodrama, in which a person in some sense dramatizes a relationship perhaps with an early attachment figure or a difficulty in their life. He tells us about his training with Pesso and the use of tableaus or “structures” of the protagonists’ past.  The director/ therapist and other group members ideally provide protagonists with the support they need to delve into whatever hurts. Group participants are asked to play the roles of significant people in the protagonists’ lives, such as parents, other family members, and so on. In this way one’s inner world takes form in a three-dimensional space. Then group members get to play the ideal, wished-for parents or other authority figure providing the support and witnessing what had been lacking, creating other possibilities and healing. Van der Kolk explains that projecting our inner world into the three-dimensional space of a structure enables you to see what’s happening in the theater of our mind and gives us a clearer perspective on our reactions to people and events in the past. As we position placeholders (people or objects like furniture) for the important people in our life, we may encounter past memories, thoughts, and emotions that come up, and then by moving the pieces around on the external chessboard that we’ve created we gain insights and create different endings. He writes: “Structures do not erase bad memories, or even neutralize them the way EMDR does. Instead, a structure offers fresh options— an alternative memory in which your basic human needs are met and your longings for love and protection are fulfilled.”

2.Two meditation practices I return to:

A more lengthy gentle, compassionate and gratitude infused body scan exercise from Chris Germer, PhD, who is a clinical psychologist, teacher of mindfulness and compassion, author and developer, along with Kristin Neff, of the Mindful Self-Compassion training program:

The Wheel of Awareness meditation, which also includes a short body scan, from Dr Dan Siegel, One place you can listen to the guided practice is at his website at: There are longer and shorter versions at his website. I’ve written about this practice in the past posts if anyone wants to read about it. Dan Siegel writes that the wheel of awareness becomes a visual metaphor for the integration of consciousness as we differentiate rim-elements, which are the known, what we know and hub-awareness, which is our human capacity of knowing, from each other and link them with our focus of attention. Also, there is an interesting part (hub of awareness) in the longer practice during which we almost always experience a brief emotional opening, a sense of unconditional love, joy, freedom.

3. Finally, for those interested and in the mood of reading I’m sharing links to two articles about psychedelics, the socialization of hallucinations, Northern Renaissance painting, St Anthony’s fire or ergotism, a disease that resembles the bubonic plague, produced by eating food affected by ergot, a toxic fungus that infects rye, often with detrimental effects.

a) A research article: The socialization of hallucinations: Cultural priors, social interactions, and contextual factors in the use of psychedelics by David Dupuis by at:

Dupuis distinguishes two levels of socialization of hallucinations. He argues that cultural background and social interactions organize the relationship both to the hallucinogenic experience and its content. He accounts for the underpinnings of the socialization of hallucinations proposing such factors as the education of attention, the categorization of perceptions, and the shaping of emotions and expectations. Dupuis cites Claude Lévi-Strauss (1970, p. 13), who has proposed to consider hallucinogens as “triggers and amplifiers of a latent discourse that each culture holds in reserve and for which drugs can allow or facilitate the elaboration.”

b) For those interested in art an article on Northern Renaissance painting, St Anthony’s fire or ergotism and more at:

Extracts from the article:

“A fungal infection known as ergotism influenced Northern Renaissance painting to an extent that a majority of art institutions have yet to grapple with. During the Renaissance ergotism was colloquially known as St. Anthony’s Fire, named for the third-century desert Father who had hallucinatory bouts…..  During the time of the Renaissance, ergotism was a phantasmagoric event with an onset that was difficult to distinguish from the bubonic plague: it came on first as nausea and insomnia, then developed into sensations of being engulfed in flames while hallucinating over several days, and often ended with the amputation of one or more limbs due to gangrene, or ended in death. The illness is contracted by ingesting ergot fungus, which appears on cereal grains when the growing conditions are right ….. The last known severe outbreak occurred in the French village of Pont-Saint-Espirit in 1951….

Some art historians, such as Bosch scholar Laurinda S. Dixon, have proffered for decades that the symptoms of ergotism influenced painters like Jheronimus (aka Hieronymus) Bosch and Matthias Grünewald. In looking further at depictions of Saint Anthony — from medieval folk art, a plethora of Renaissance work, to a series of paintings by surrealist artists, such as Max Ernst’s 1945, “The Temptation of Saint Anthony”a pattern begins to develop in which a mimesis of visual hallucinations associated with ergotism is clearly present. For instance, Gustave Flaubert’s novel The Temptation of Saint Anthony, contains not only hallucinatory imagery congruent with the effects of ergot alkaloids, but also contains in the opening passage of the novel a clear symbol of a known cause of ergot poisoning: a description of a loaf of black bread inside the hermit saint’s cabin….  Laurinda S. Dixon presents some of the most convincing evidence to date that Bosch’s imagery was directly influenced by Saint Anthony’s Fire. In a (1984) essay titled “Bosch’s St. Anthony Triptych — An Apothecary’s Apotheosis,” the author finds a common ingredient in medieval medicine used to treat ergot — mandrake root — and the distillation furnaces used to make that medicine. Examining the Bosch painting with the use of high resolution photos …. Dixon argues that the bulbous buildings, often depicted with a stream of smoke coming out of the top, are nearly identical to the shapes found in contemporaneous schematics of apothecary furnaces……”

Drawings, the art process, women and freedom, social media, the importance of curiosity and wonder, and sometimes not knowing….

“The power to question is the basis of all human progress” Indira Gandhi

“I don’t know. Nobody knows for sure. And when no one really knows the answer to something, it’s called a mystery. A mystery is something for everyone to wonder about together.” Annaka Harris

‘Edith Kramer believed that ultimately “art tells the truth” and it is a truth worth exploring in every waking moment of one’s life’  Cathy Malchiodi



1.I’ve been drawing a lot recently as one can see from the drawings I’ve been including in posts. While thinking about writing something about the art making process to accompany these drawings I read some of my older posts on art and decided to post a few extracts below:

a) The art process, the products and stories / 2013

Art-making is a psychomotor experience, involving vision, touch and movement. It is a hands-on-activity, which may include activities like drawing, painting, touching, arranging or sticking material and images, sculpting, building and mounting, and it generates tangible products. These products can be reflected upon, stored as a document, admired or discarded and apart from the therapeutic potential of the process of making art, in and of itself, the products themselves become containers of memories / experience and play a significant role in helping one achieve deeper understanding, discern recurring themes and patterns, and connect events, and ultimately, transform the experience and create new meaning. Art can additionally be used to share experience or communicate information to others….

In terms of what might happens in our brain Lane claims that the creative process causes specific areas of the brain to release endorphins and other neurotransmitters that affect brain cells and the cells of the immune system, relieving pain and triggering the immune system to function more effectively. This occurs because ‘endorphins are like opiates, creating an experience of expansion, connection and relaxation…., in conjunction with these physiological changes, art can regularly change people’s attitudes, emotional states and perception of pain’ (Lane, 2005, cited in Phelps, 2012)…

b) Art: its healing and transformative potential / January, 2014

The inside and the world outside

Through art making one can regress to earlier stages to access memories and buried material in a less threatening way, and also, link unconscious and conscious dimensions. Drawing and engaging in creative work proves an effective means in allowing unconscious and deeply buried elements to emerge because it helps access the well of the unconscious and brings repressed events and memories to the surface by removing strongly built barriers and walls of denial, fear and self-censorship. Practically, it means connecting with those parts of the self that hold traumatic incidents and / or repressed information that might not be salient in our conscious awareness. It is as if past experiences, internal conflicts, and feelings are allowed through art making to flow from the unconscious to the surface.

For instance, spontaneous, non-directive art making facilitates this process more and allows one to create links, both consciously and unconsciously, across experiences and time, and this in turn, can allow spontaneous grouping of experiences to be achieved, which can further increase insight.  Martin Fischer claimed that ‘we should listen to our conscious mind and we should listen to our unconscious mind. And it is only when we combine the two, simultaneously, that true learning and growth takes place’…… Hagood (2000) also writes that ‘the art process helps to uncover buried memories’ and Rubin notes that Freud recognized that peoples’ ‘most important communications were descriptions of visual images’ (1987, cited in Gil, 2006). Art expression assists us in understanding our inner world and further offers us the possibility of trying out solutions and changes. The artist and art therapist, Edith Kramer, who worked extensively with children, suggests that ‘art brings unconscious material closer to the surface’ and ‘provides an area of symbolic experience wherein changes may be tried out’ (Ulman et al., 1977, cited in Gil, 2006). ….

Betensky describes art as utilizing a ’hand-eye-thought-feeling’ energy, and as integrating one’s inner and outer world through mind and body (1973, cited in Smith, 2005) and Elinor Ulman claims that art is the meeting ground of the world inside and the world outside’ (cited in Malchiodi, 2007). Art making has the potential to allow one to learn more about the self and the world, and moreover, to integrate this knowledge. Ulman writes ‘in the complete creative process, inner and outer realities are fused into a new identity …..

2. Also, continuing the thread form the previous post about sexism, and the oppression of women’s freedoms I briefly looked at the lives of women of the past and the present that we may often not associate with disempowerment or oppression, like first ladies, and even more so, women who are themselves head of states. Many of these women were also not exempt from these forces and particular social constructs and expectations. There was pressure to conform and expectations of what to be and what to say. Often they were the victims of misogyny attacks and more recently of trolling through social media. One example being the case of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden and other female politicians who battle a rising tide in misogyny.

A few points made by some first ladies and women who were head of states in relation to human rights, gender equality and respect:

On March 27, 1958 Eleanor Roosevelt remarked at the United Nations: “Where after do human rights begin? In small places, close to home– so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: The neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”  Concerning freedom and gender equality Betty Ford claimed that “The search for human freedom can never be complete without freedom for women”, and Michelle Obama has claimed that “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.” Indira Gandhi had said: “To be liberated woman must be free to be herself, not in rivalry to man, but in the context of her own capacity and her personality”. On the same note the former head of state in Denmark, Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir, claimed that “it is absolutely imperative that every human being’s freedom and human rights are respected, all over the world.”

3. As I end this post, I’ll make a final reference to one of the speakers in the Collective Trauma Summit on the role of social media, Tristan Harris, a technology ethicist who has studied the ethics of human persuasion. He talked about how social media is rooted in toxic business models and is set up to direct people’s attention to the fault lines of society and to inflame polarization, and steps that could be taken towards a technology that is in a healing relationship to humanity. Harris has appeared in the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, which features Harris and other former tech employees explaining how the design of social media platforms nurtures addiction to maximize profit and manipulates people’s views, emotions, and behavior. The film also examines social media’s effect on mental health, particularly of adolescents. He has also provided testimony on data privacy and how algorithms are able to influence people’s choices and effectively change their minds. Harris has said that “Technology is not neutral… it has become a race to the bottom of the brain stem, who can get lower…”

Tristan Harris’ TED talk at:

4, Finally, I read a new children’s book I liked by Annaka Harris and John Rowe with the title:  I WONDER. I found out about the book in Sam Harris’s website, who writes about the book: “The purpose of I Wonder is to teach very young children (and their parents) to cherish the feeling of “not knowing” as the basis of all discovery. In a world driven by false certainties, I can think of no more important lesson to impart to the next generation.”

In today’s post I’m including a painting I’ve been working on over the last two months, a few points from the material that resonated with me from the talks in the Collective Trauma Summit .There were many participants from different fields and traditions and so it is natural that some ideas resonated more with my worldview, interests and experience. I’m also including links to this week’s talk by Rick Hanson and Camille Seaman’s website where one can view her beautiful photographs.

a) A few insights from some of the talks that I found interesting and worth reflecting on [some are quotes slightly paraphrased and some are the gist of a longer discussion]:

We rarely see each others’ early wounds, we mostly see their ‘adaptive child’, which are the defenses and ways that were developed in our childhood environments. We need to confront the adaptations and then heal the wound…

The transmission of transgenerational traumas can be stopped only when we turn around and face the fire…. This applies at a personal, familial and collective level.

We could say that globally there is a war of sorts going on everywhere between the forces that support kindness, equity, freedom and human rights and those in favour of control, dominance, and toxic masculinity…..

We need to welcome each person’s uniqueness and we need inward informed humans….

The idea of creating ‘permission fields’ for people to be authentic and real and to be safe to speak their truth…

Contempt for entire groups of people allows us to experience others as expandable….

We need to re-conceptualize and expand the meaning of self [or the word self]….

In contexts of oppression wellness is a form of resistance…

In relation to the effects of trauma and oppression:

There’s a learning or wisdom, which is frozen, mute life in that frozen place…in the ice there are pearls that we or our ancestors have not been able to harvest…

Art allows us to speak the unspeakable…

We need to try to not see trauma as a dead end. When a system breaks down, it can re-order itself at a higher level.

Hopelessness is spread through social media; we need to build resilience through our imagination and creativity, our ability to reframe situations in a generative way, and to envision a better world…

Violence against women across time may be the deepest violence that no one wants to see…

There’s a collective fear in women of being outspoken, visible, expressive…

Trauma results in locked power and potential, which are ours to claim….What are the missing pages, the holes, the broken language….?

Our community extends beyond our own species…..  separation from nature is an early trauma most of us have suffered…

b) Something that became salient for me during the talks I engaged with was the need for us to think systemically, to acknowledge the contexts and discern the relationship between events and factors. Therefore, I will make a brief reference to the term “intersectionality”, first coined by legal scholar Kimberly Crenshaw over 20 years ago, to describe how different systems of oppression overlap to create distinct experiences for people depending on the combination of their identities. The concept of intersectionality basically describes the ways in which systems of inequality based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability, class and other forms of discrimination “intersect” to create unique dynamics and effects for people. This means that people have their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression and we need to consider all the possible factors that can lead to the marginalization of people. For instance, both white women and women of colour experience sexism, but for women of colour this experience is also impacted by racism. Then if we consider economic status and class we see that this adds another flavor to their experience, and so on. Audre Lorde has written that “Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You [white women] fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you, we [women of colour] fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs upon the reasons they’re dying.” And Kimberly Crenshaw has written that “Feminist efforts to politicize experiences of women and antiracist efforts to politicize experiences of people of color have frequently proceeded as though the issues and experiences they each detail occur on mutually exclusive terrains. Although racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and antiracist practices”.

c) Links:

This week’s talk by Rick Hanson about Living in Harmony While Also Taking Care of Yourself at:

The taik focuses on contention, ways to move out of that place and how being present and aware of our responses allows us to notice that we often take the bait that others cast at us and unintentionally follow other people’s scripts of being and relating.

Camille Seaman’s  beautiful photographs at: