While Sigmund Freud – the father of psychoanalysis – rests his case having mutilated the notion of “drive” by forever surrendering it to instinctual sexual impulses and the unconscious, modern psychotherapy offers a different perspective on the human mind. Joining forces with neuroscience, semiotics, biology, anthropology, philosophy and the social sciences, psychotherapy is a prolific field of knowledge in a perpetual search for the “why” and “how” of the human condition. Let’s have look at the most intriguing practices used to treat our minds and body, either conventional and accredited or obscure and as old as human kind itself.
1. Ayahuasca – the Great Amazonian Spirit Vine Therapy
Ayahuasca is a herbal concoction with hallucinogenic properties used by the Indian and Métis shamans in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador, as a religious sacrament and for its medicinal properties. The amazing therapeutic effects of Ayahuasca sessions have been used by the Amazonian people for thousands of years, if not millions of years,and have first been described by ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes.The psychoactive ingredient in this ancient drink is DMT – without it there would be no visionary or healing experience. Usually associated with intense vomiting and the expulsion of other bodily fluids, Ayahuasca is known for its purging effect both on a psychological level and a biological level. Some people describe their psychedelic encounters with the land of the dead or the Gods, with their embodied fears and/or the spirits of the rainforest, as either intensely horrifying or as pure bliss. In each case, the experience itself is carefully and meticulously planned, oriented and accompanied by ritualistic singing and the spiritual aid of the chief shaman. Many people have turned to this alternative, non-conventional therapy after apainful trauma or a dramatic loss occurred in their lives. Some have even given up the modern life altogether, decided to learn how to prepare Ayahuasca and become a part of the Amazonian community.
2. The Holotropic BreathingTechnique and the Holotropic Mind
Stanislav Grof has undoubtedly revolutionised psychotherapy and the concept of healing. His curiosity towards LSD and the potential beneficial effects that this psychedelic drug could offer mankind has been the fundamental hypothesis for his transpersonal theory. Delving into modern consciousness research, anthropology and Eastern spiritual practices, S. Grof devised the so-called “Holotropic Breathwork” that allows people to access non-ordinary states of consciousness for the purpose of self-exploration and healing. Today a widespread therapeutic group practice, the Holotropic Breathing Technique is neither taboo nor mystical, and many people claim that their lives have been completely changed after just one session. They describe the experience as an eye-opener. Stanislav Grof, however, turns to well-known psychological or spiritual concepts in order to explain what actually happens in the patients’ mind: out-of-body experiences, archetypes, the collective unconscious, the spiritual body and universal energy.
3. The Reiki Technique or the “Palm Healing”
Although there has been effort put into validating this traditionally Japanese healing method, due to inconclusive scientific results, Reiki has been deemed as ineffective by modern medicine. Today, the Reiki teachings have spread all over the world taking on different forms and practices, but essentially they stem out of the belief that the universal energy – which can be accessed through intense training, meditation, chanting and prayer – can be channeled in order to treat all sorts of ailments, even cancer.The central idea is that our physical body is the reflection of the spiritual or energetic body, so that when our natural energy flow is disturbed, disease and pain will be the result. At this point Reiki intervenes with a fresh flow of energy coming from the purest kind there is – the universal energy – and it retunes our chakras until it finds the right equilibrium. During a normal Reiki session the teacher’s hands are placed over the painful region of the body, without touching it,either in a systematic order or intuitively, and are held like this until the patient feels any kind of relief.
4. The Psychodrama Method or the “Theatre of Spontaneity”
When Freud psychoanalyzed his patients in the intimacy of his cabinet, Jacob L. Moreno had the audacity to question his method and claim that it lacks fluidity and creativity. Moreno experimented with spontaneity, with recreating life-like scenarios and role-playing. His psychodrama theory rested on the idea that people can access their emotional zone and express it truthfully while playing as children, uncensored and not judged by others. Only then they are able to find the right path to their problem and also the solution. By making use of theatre elements like lights and props, psychodrama is built on acting and re-acting ordinary scenes from life or dream-like circumstances, while exploring inner conflicts through mirroring, doubling, role reversal and soliloquy. People have the chance of seeing their relationships and their attachment to others from a reversed position or a fresh therapeutic perspective.
5. Existential Psychotherapy or the “Philosophical Method”
While especially effective in treating people diagnosed with incurable diseases or the terminally ill, Existential Therapy is commonly recommended for more specific psychological dysfunctions, such as depression and chronic anxiety, panic attacks and phobias. Its origins can be traced back to the existential philosophical movement, which as a whole brought about a revolution in the way we perceive the world and ourselves. On this occasion God was found dead (Nietzsche) and all societal standards fake, while the discovering of personal free will and individual responsibility were encouraged. Today, this psycho-therapeutic method focuses on four dimensions of the human existence (each the source of our anxieties): the physical, the social, the personal and the spiritual. Essentially, Existential Therapy helps us come to terms with subjects that we usually avoid talking about: the inevitability of death, of isolation, the presence of meaninglessness in our lives and spiritual transcendence. Therefore, this therapy reduces existential anxiety by tearing down the shackles of reality as we know it or as we deny it,and by replacing them with a healthier attitude of acceptance and responsibility.
Given that we have gone over some of the most intriguing therapeutic practices known to the world right now, would you be inclined to try any of them out, even just out of curiosity?