ECSTASY IN YOUR MARRIAGE?
People are often willing to go to any length to save their partnership. But are they willing to take psychedelics to save their marriage?
Currently, psilocybin (found in truffles and mushrooms) and MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine), commonly known as Ecstasy or Molly, are being looked at closely, for their potential benefits in couples therapy. Current research for MDMA is mainly trauma oriented, and shows very promising results. Psilocybin's research is focussed on depression and shows that there is an increase in psychological flexibility.
Jeanine Souren, an experienced psychologist, marriage counselor and clinical sexologist, is a pioneering advocate of both of these therapies in the Netherlands and believes psychedelic assisted marriage counseling can definitely help increase a deeper connection.
“I am fascinated by the research into psychedelic assisted therapies,” says Souren. “It feels like walking onto a cruise ship which has just been built but hasn’t been approved for sailing yet.” Souren continues, “I would like to be one of the first professionals on board and voice my opinion about the effects on modern day relationships.”
Souren goes on to clarify why she has an interest in psychedelic therapies for individuals and couples. “In my private practice and while working at a private mental health clinic, I heard about therapy resistant trauma patients who were making incredible progress when using psychedelics combined with therapies in controlled research conditions. The walls just seem to literally come down. This permitted the client to move forward and break through their self-constructed barriers of resistance and fear.” Souren sees the potential healing power of this type of therapy.
For clarity, both psilocybin and MDMA are considered psychedelics but they have distinct differences. First of all, MDMA is a synthetic drug and psilocybin is natural. Secondly, MDMA is a drug that generally does not create hallucinations while psilocybin can. One of the main differences, however, is the way the two drugs affect people. When taking psilocybin, people tend ‘close their eyes’ and go on an ‘inner journey’. They are often able to identify attachment issues and define what is missing in their own experience in regard to what fulfills them or what they are missing. This can be useful for the individual to understand the current issues they are facing in their relationship.
When MDMA is ingested, when used together with one’s partner, the dialogue is focused on each other rather than on one’s self. MDMA allows the couple to speak without fear. As Souren points out, “We often live through fear and that fear steers us in the direction of safety which is a human need.” Souren continues, “MDMA takes away the fear factor and the communication becomes honest and authentic which helps the couple to open up to each other without being blocked by fear.”
Psilocybin is currently legal to purchase in the Netherlands (one can find this as the active ingredient in magic truffles). MDMA is neither legal for the public to purchase or to use in couples therapy in Holland. Despite this, clinical research continues, and approval is expected within the next 5 years. MDMA may qualify as an evidence based and accepted therapy shortly afterwards. Both have enormous potential and research into their clinical benefits is exploding worldwide.
In this article we will focus on the personal experience of Souren who chose to try out MDMA first, in her own relationship.
Souren is so convinced that MDMA is a ‘game changer’ in couples therapy, that she actually tested this cutting-edge therapy in her own partnership. Souren contacted MAPS to enquire about training to be licensed but was informed that the waiting list was very long. She then decided to personally ‘walk the walk’ so that she can ‘talk the talk’ .
Although Souren’s relationship with her long-term partner is solid, she recognizes that there are always points of discussion and issues which can be improved. “In my relationship, we have a situation where children from our previous marriages are involved,” says Jeanine. “This point of conversation is not easy to navigate and can illicit emotions which are not always healthy or easy to share.” Jeanine also cited time together (or lack thereof) as another point which she thought could be investigated during a self-administered session using MDMA.
“I would never recommend that a couple try this without supervision,” says Jeanine emphatically. “I spent many months researching and understanding this method before even considering to try it.” Jeanine has never taken ‘street’ drugs and doesn’t have any desire to use drugs recreationally. “I have heard so much about MDMA as a means to jumpstarting healing work with couples and getting a lot of work done in a very short amount of time,” says Souren. “If a daylong session can work through cognitive barriers what classic marriage counseling can do in much longer, then I think it is worth knowing about.”
It is well known that MDMA alters mood and perception by enhancing the secretion of hormones, namely serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. Furthermore, and critical for its use in couple’s therapy, is the fact that MDMA produces joyful and blissful feelings which can permit couples to examine areas of their lives with greater ease and empathy for one another. The theory is that this therapy can be extremely useful in quickly getting to the root of relationship problems when they are led through the process by a qualified therapist.
“After discussing this idea with my partner over a period of time, we decided it would be a good idea to try a MDMA self-administered session,” recalls Souren.
As a way of preparation, they came up with a list of questions about 5 subjects which they wanted to discuss and explore during their session. Jeanine knew exactly how much of the drug should be ingested and wanted to take only the amount necessary to put them into a slightly ‘altered’ state. The intention is not to get ‘high’ but rather to get to the place where the couple is fully connected, in tune with each other and experiencing the situation with a subtle sense of euphoria. It is here, in this state that, that the work is done.
“My partner and I were in a safe place when we started the session,” remembers Jeanine. “First I started to record the session as I consider this essential research and wanted to be able to look at the session afterwards. I then put on some music, which has been found to be beneficial to use during MDMA assisted therapy. We then took the dose of MDMA.” The drug takes about 30-45 minutes to really kick in, so they just relaxed with each other during this time. “When we started to feel the effects of the drug, I took out the questions which we would talk about.” Souren then goes on to describe that when the emotionally charged subjects were brought up it was stunning with how much empathy they were able to look at them. “We were able to talk about our fears and worries from a place of mutual vulnerability. The connection we had was truly authentic and we were able to say and feel things which are otherwise too painful.”
After the session was over Jeanine and her partner were amazed to look back at the experience and saw just how much insight it gave them into themselves but, more importantly, into their relationship. They feel a closer bond and are less afraid to bring up the more difficult questions now…without the help of MDMA.
Souren does make it quite clear, however, that this therapy is a tool and not a means to an end in itself. “Counseling is essential before as well as after the MDMA session, in order to interpret the experience and solidify the results.” Jeanine is adamant that a substance can never make a relationship ‘good’ but, if used responsibly, it can definitely lead a couple through difficult areas in their relationship and ultimately help redefine the way the couple communicates in the future.
After her own personal experience using MDMA in couple’s therapy Souren is sure that this ‘cruise ship’, when used with an experienced captain at the helm, will be able to take couples on a luxurious trip into a more connected, joyful and understanding relationship.