Psychedelic Healing by Neal M. Goldsmith
Originally published in 2011 ‘Psychedelic Healing – The Promise of Entheogens for Psychotherapy and Spiritual Development’ comes at an important time in the reinvigorated psychedelic research field. Written by Dr. Neal M. Goldsmith, the book explores some of psychedelic therapy’s history, while at the same time introducing and outlining the fundamentals of Goldsmith’s own approach.
In many respects John Halpern wraps up what feels like the central theme of the book when he wrote in his foreword that it is a “consultation from a specialist.” The specialist, Dr. Neal Goldsmith, goes to great lengths to underline his credentials and his gentle guidance through the mechanics of his psychotherapeutic method can, in one’s active reflection of the text, feel like a consultation. Autobiographical detail is, as always, an essential component in works on psychedelics; it has seemingly become the benchmark for the acceptance of writers on the topic, even in the scientifically-minded works. Goldsmith’s experience as a tripper, psychotherapist and policy researcher underlines his credentials.
Goldsmith names his method ‘psycheology’ – the study of the soul. The focus of this method is on ‘development’ rather than ‘pathology’. In order to outline it Goldsmith explores certain fundamental terms like ‘personality’, ‘change’ and ‘development’. Still reliant on the Freudian identification of a dynamic unconscious (thus placing psycheology in the realm of psychodynamics,) Goldsmith develops his own thesis on the development and maturation of the individual. Briefly surmised, the psychical being of a new born baby is the “true self”. Through the influence of one’s parents and society, the child develops neurosis, but “neurosis is the natural, stepwise unfolding of human maturation. It’s not about pathology, but spiritual immaturity” (Goldsmith 81). The development of neurosis is simultaneously the development of a personality, which is “acquired, secondary, external”.
“Our original core characteristics that were not acceptable in childhood aren’t eliminated but repressed, and the acceptable traits, both natural and adopted, become the shell with which we interact with the world. That shell is the ego” (Goldsmith 67). The ego is a “tool” of the “true self”, “our true identity”. However, a spiritual immaturity develops when the “true self” over-identifies with the ego. Overcoming spiritual immaturity, or rather, the need to assimilate spiritual experiences for a more spiritual life, is the basic aim of Goldsmith’s psycheology. Essentially then, the therapeutic aspect aims at reducing the individual’s misplaced identification with their ego, and facilitating their reidentification with their “true self”. The true self is a spiritual element, defined variously through terms like love and soul. In many respects, as part of a history of ideas, this books marks the complete spiritual reidentification of the ‘self’ that began with the LSD psychotherapy movement in the 1950s and 1960s: The soul, according to Goldsmith, is “the part of us that we see illuminated during the psychedelic experience” (Goldsmith 79).
Goldsmith poses a number of questions throughout the text but to kick-off with he asks if psychedelic therapy can “repair malfunctions in natural development?”; “speed up the natural developmental process?”; and can it “trigger immediate transformative change in novel areas?”. As well as exploring some of this terminology, there are a number of other implications concerning the need for a ‘care of self’ and the inescapable neurosis of Freudian civilisation is the reflexive cartography that one navigates. He develops several other areas in the text that donate the practical elements of psycheology. These include psychosynthesis, which integrates Freudian psychoanalysis and Eastern philosophy and the concept of “will” as the deepest intention of our true self. Also, Goldsmith utilises Imago Relationship Therapy, which aims at recognising and overcoming the personality compensation in partners that we purportedly use in choosing them. The method aims at bringing about “peace of mind” through both transcendent and cathartic practice.
Elsewhere in the text, there is a recapitulation of his earlier work, published as a chapter in Psychedelic Medicine – New Evidence for Hallucinogenic Substances as Treatments, called ‘The Ten Lessons of Psychedelic Therapy, Rediscovered’. And there is also a chapter on “thorny” theoretical and methodological questions. For example: Why use self-experimentation? Who is training future researchers? Why redo old research? And, can this approach provide lasting change? By enlarging the scope of the text, the “consultation” we discussed at the start appears to function on two levels; firstly, on our own purportedly inherent neurosis and, secondly, from the perspective of the therapist. The result of this is that Psychedelic Healing is useful in both the scholarly and practical research of the field. The importance of which comes to fruition in the wonderful passages about Burning Man festival, wherein Goldsmith has his own extraordinary experience and the tone of which drifts out from 1960s LSD casestudy literature.
The tone of the text is very level throughout, though occasionally one finds a voice bubbling up and out of it, one that seemingly cuts politically through the objectivity: “We are trying to accommodate a neotribal perspective that shatters modernity’s self-satisfied Cartesian rationale for our planetary split-personality disorder and, in the process, reintegrate and resacrilize our lives” (Goldsmith 171). Regardless of the misuse of poor René Descartes, who is repeatedly employed as a negative, representational symbol of all that is perceived as wrong in the modern world, it is a joy to know that there exists a radical perspective alongside the stratification of entheogenic and psychodynamic ideas. For the majority of the text it is the individual as a unit of development against the static repression of state and civilisation and I was left wondering if psycheology was politically vacuous; it seems, however, that it is not. Rather the message appears to be that through the healing of Self, society can also be transformed. It remains to be seen whether Goldsmith’s approach has this capacity but Psychedelic Healing posits itself as a theory of action and its value lay in the lucidity of its explanation; always the important first step.