MDMA Can Improve Couples Therapy

Did you know that in the late 70’s and early 80’s, clinics gave MDMA to patients in couples counselling? That is, of course, until the US government shut them down in 1985. Despite its groundbreaking therapeutic potential, MDMA quickly became a Schedule 1 controlled substance (or banned for not having medical value).

Today, a new study published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology has shown promising results in MDMA therapy. In this proof-of-concept trial, one partner suffers from PTSD; the other does not. But the trauma of PTSD isn’t always isolated. 

As Candice Monson, one of the study’s authors, said:

“PTSD in one partner can cause distress in the relationship and barriers to understanding each other. It seems that MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can engender empathy and connection… remembering why they came together in the first place.”

Couples therapy is a gesture of love, fuelled by a desire to understand your partner. But there are times when plain conversation (even with the best facilitator) just goes nowhere for a couple. 

So why not use MDMA to break the ice?

A Way to Talk About Painful Experiences

Six couples entered the trial, all of which had one partner who had a pre-existing diagnosis for PTSD, and the other did not. Their sessions were modeled after CBCT (or cognitive-behavioral conjoint therapy), intended for couples with military backgrounds. This time, 2 MDMA sessions joined 15 regular sessions over several months. 

How did it go? Pretty darn well, it turns out!

“MDMA may allow people to talk about painful experiences without experiencing the pain again… with a greater sense of understanding, openness, connection, and empathy.”

The researchers found out that adding MDMA to couples therapy had results that were equal to or even better than sessions with CBCT alone. 

After just 6 months, both the couples’ relationship and individual PTSD symptoms improved by a lot.

Richard Ingrasci, a psychiatrist and marriage counselor who opposed the 1985 Schedule 1 hearings, said it best:

“I have seen MDMA help many couples break through… because of the safety that emerges in the session as a result of the drug. It is difficult to convey in words how deeply moving it is to watch couples heal in this way with the help of MDMA.”

“No Longer Feel Like You’re Walking on Eggshells”

We have to note that the study had no control setup, so they can’t compare it to CBCT sessions that do not use MDMA. 

But what they did confirm is that it’s perfectly safe to include MDMA in therapy for couples dealing with PTSD. The drug also did not screw up any other PTSD treatments also taken at the time. Finally — some good news!

One couple, Stuart and Josie, had some relationship trouble after Stuart’s symptoms of PTSD returned, just as he was beginning to turn a corner. The couple decided to try CBCT plus MDMA… with terrific results. Eventually, their experiences were published as a small pilot case study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs:

“For Josie, the CBCT + MDMA experience allowed her the opportunity to no longer feel she had to ‘walk on eggshells’, and to experience relief from anxiety and tension. Together, Stuart and Josie were able to share the experience of Stuart’s traumatic memories, and face them in a united and accepting manner.”

What’s Next for PTSD Treatment?

Stuart and Jose’s pilot study shows how PTSD effects not just one person, but also their relationships with loved ones. So it makes sense to be open to once “shocking” new treatment options, such as MDMA — especially as the findings are so positive.

Here’s the kicker. Though both options had MDMA, patient recovery from PTSD was found to be greater in couples therapy than in individual psychotherapy. Maybe two is better than one, after all? As Monson puts it:

“The therapist can guide couples to talk about very difficult things that they’ve either experienced themselves or experienced together—against the other or with the other.”

The researchers now plan to conduct a larger Phase 2 trial of MDMA-based PTSD therapy. Let’s hope for a more diverse set of couples by then, if only to see how MDMA soothes all kinds of relationships!

The idea of psychedelics for treating PTSD is also becoming popular among scientists. Progress is largely due to Rick Doblin’s nonprofit MAPS (or the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). He has been spreading the word, that shroom-heads have long known — that not only do magic mushrooms open your mind, but they can open your heart for healing. As for legal approval, it’s slow going but we’re definitely getting there.

What do you think? Would you be open to psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy with your partner? Share your thoughts down below!

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