My Self and I by Constance A. Newland
Originally published in 1962 ‘My Self and I’, by American Thelma Moss, was released pseudonymously under the name Constance A. Newland. One of a number of books that came out of the psychotherapeutic application of LSD in the 1950s and also, in part, as a reaction to Aldous Huxley’s ‘The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell’, the text reads like an idealised Freudian analysis. A case history that displays all the key signifiers of a Freudian model like the Oedipus complex, castration and penis envy, to name but a few but that recognises the value of LSD as reaching beyond the psychotherapeutic framework.
In his foreword Dr. Harold Greenwald casts the author (hereafter referred to as Newland) as being the stereotyped American woman as perpetuated by the media “misogynists” of the 1950s and early 60s. She is, in his terms and her own, “balanced” socially but she is also the “model of the frozen, ruthlessly efficient American career woman” (New 7). He see’s her as typical of the “baffling problem of frigidity in the liberally educated modern woman” (New 9). The problem of ‘frigidity’ is described as being a neurosis that, for a psychoanalyst, represents certain blocks in the Unconscious. Having undergone numerous years of unsuccessful psychoanalysis, this book chronicles her sessions of drug therapy, under which she receives successful analysis while under the influence of LSD-25.
My Self and I was published the same year that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put a stop to a swathe of LSD research across America. In one sense, the book reads as a defence of LSD research, in that it purports to demonstrate the clinical benefit of LSD in a psychotherapeutic context however, in another, the model also underlines ideas that the State could utilise in order to control LSD. For instance, while she readily admits that during her LSD therapy she is revealed to be a murderess, as having incestual neurosis and alike in her Unconscious (not meant to be complicate in actual behaviour,) she also writes about how these unconscious fantasies were revealed at times between LSD sessions as well. The prospect of millions of people, taking LSD in unsupervised environments, and having unconscious murderous temptations spilling out into ordinary, conscious life, might seem like a ready-made excuse to the establishment.
It must be remembered that we are still far from perfecting this treatment, and that if its many dangers are to be avoided it must be carried out in a hospital or clinic environment by a skilled therapist – Dr. Ronald Sandison (New 16)
The introduction was written by Dr. Ronald Sandison (1916-2010), a respected LSD researcher who first brought LSD into Britain and who helped pioneer the psychotherapeutic value of the drug. He states that this is the first complete case history, so although Richard Heron Ward had already published A Drug-Taker’s Notes (1957) his sessions had been cut short, while My Self and I represents a completed, non-control subject, course of analysis. There are two important points to note from Sandison’s introduction. Firstly, his reiteration of the ‘psychical reality’, a concept utilised by Sigmund Freud and that represents the subjectively described space of the LSD experience, and which is woven into ‘reality’ to form the literary space. Secondly, his comments on Carl Jung (1875-1961).
Sandison writes about Carl Jung’s speculation that humankind’s psychological development is, as yet, incomplete. This brings to mind a similar concept described in Jane Dunlap’s Exploring Inner Space (1961) wherein a scientific/religious tension is brought to a synthesis through an evolutionary eschatology i.e. the evolution of consciousness toward a predetermined end. Interestingly, Sandison seems to be justifying the final, Jungian tempered section of the text, after which the book takes its title. Whereas one might think there exists a tension between Freudian and Jungian models in My Self and I, this is neatly avoided by splitting the psychical reality, identified and validated through LSD therapy, into two sections: A Freudian personal Unconscious and a Jungian collective Unconscious, which are supposed by Newland in the text to exist alongside one another.
The first time Newland came across the words ‘lysergic acid’ was in Aldous Huxley’s essay Heaven and Hell, which she describes as “brilliant”. She even utilises a similar language in places, like her “new-found beatitude” (New 207). This reiterates the influence Huxley had on the emerging psychedelic culture in combination with the psychotherapeutic models that were utilising LSD in their research. Although Newland points out on several occasions that her experiences included many facets outside the scope of the psychotherapeutic model (at one point even utilising the term ‘transcendence’ without exploring it more fully,) the text is constructed almost entirely on the therapy aspects. In this sense, the text reveals itself to be an encoded ‘psychical space’, one that ascribes a psychotherapeutic value on LSD.
I have purposely limited myself to the therapeutic aspects of the LSD experience, treating principally of the personal Unconscious mind. LSD offers far wider fields of exploration in that domain which has been variously called the “mystic,” the “integrative,” and the “transcendental.” But this is too amazing a province, too little comprehended as yet, to be included here, in what is essentially the examination and resolution of a neurotic problem (New 48)
Newland identified her neurotic symptoms as insomnia, depression and being sexually frigid. In order to uncover the roots of these neurosis she undergoes a Freudian analysis while under the influence of LSD. In combination, she also practices a Jungian method of ‘active imagination’ at the same time, as a method of manipulating the psychical realm. She spends a good proportion of the text being sceptical about both the Unconscious and the therapeutic model, a feeling she had harboured for a long time having already undergone several years of failed, non-drug analysis. LSD acts as a confirmation of the reality of the Unconscious; as the reality of her own neurosis. By the end of her course of treatment she agrees with Sandison that LSD reveals the Unconscious as a psychical reality, and extends its reach by ‘verifying’ the imaginal structure as contingent to the Freudian and Jungian models
Part II makes up the bulk of the text, it displays the usual motifs associated with LSD through the psychotherapeutic model, like age regression, transference and identification and they are all carefully read as Freudian symptoms: “What follows will seem like the wanderings of a lunatic in a labyrinth leading to nowhere. Time and space are all mixed up. Now I am a woman, now a baby. I plough through a desert and I am shaken into a ragdoll. Yesterday’s violent pain emerges as a nightmare out of early childhood. I became a murderess, a teardrop, a purplish foetus” (New 104). An example: Her first doctor, Dr. M, becomes an object of transference for Newland and she falls in love with him. He begins to become part of the make-up of her psychical reality as she uses him to act out fantasies. In fact, it becomes such a problem that she changes doctor, to Dr. E. This is revealed through analysis to be symptomatic of neurotic issues relating to her parents.
In terms of imagery, there seems to be, on the one hand, very Freudian-led motifs like her fantasising about being ejaculated out of her father’s penis, killing her parents, homosexual fantasy and alike. On the other hand, she uses a rich vein of references from ancient Greek and Latin mythology, like Prometheus, Venus, Mercury and the Gorgons, alongside naturalistic identifications like moths, eagles, vultures and also literary references to the likes of James Joyce. Although her use of language is far from original, like seeing the rosebud of her virginity, it does ground the text for a popular audience who will be familiar with the more well-established Western metaphors. Also, the construction of the text as a near perfect example of Freudian LSD therapy, can avoid establishment criticism by retreating to widely-accepted metaphors in describing the Unconscious.
By the end of section II Newland “remembers” (in reality or metaphorically, one is not always sure) certain key moments from her childhood that were the cause of her neurosis. Then, in the third section she moves “beyond Freud’s personal unconscious into the collective unconscious of Jung” (208). The idea of unification, or integration, remains from the Freudian passages, instead of it being about the ‘ego’ or ‘split personality’ however, it is concerned with a far wider, and much harder to define experience; integrating the ego with the collective Unconscious. It is here, more than anywhere, that she edges into new territory and it is worth reiterating that this was the section from which the book took its title; My Self and I.
Constance A. Newland/Thelma Moss (1918-1997) was a writer and stage actress before undergoing the LSD treatment. Afterwards she retrained and became a psychologist and parapsychologist. The impact of the treatment she received under the influence of over a dozen LSD therapy sessions is undoubtedly remarkable. In many respects the text itself has become slightly archaic, especially in regard to ‘frigidity in woman’ which isn’t such a hot topic these days. It is however the most clearly written and well-tempered case study to come out of the 1950s LSD research in psychotherapy. It doesn’t resolve the question of LSD value, in fact it quietly asks many more questions besides because she is very clear in stating that she limited the scope of the content. In Appendix A, Newland writes about all the values that she had heard of LSD to date: healing, transportation, philosophical insight and gaining political power. To varying degrees all these values still proliferate today.
Newland, Constance A.. My Self and I. New York. Coward-McCann. 1962