Ayahuasca is a “non-specific adaptogenic tool”, so its forms of action are versatile and virtually infinite. One of them has to do with its ability to “resolve unfinished business”, for example, when a sudden death occurs and many things remain unsaid between the deceased and his or her relatives.
This is the case of a 29-year-old woman suffering from complicated grief who managed to reduce her grief symptoms thanks to ayahuasca and the integration of the experience with the ‘restorative retelling’ technique, developed by the psychologist Robert A. Neimeyer and especially indicated for the treatment of grief. The patient’s reconciliation with her past and her family has been the subject of a clinical study signed by Débora González, Marc Aixalà and Neimeyer himself, and published openly in ‘Frontiers in Psychology’.
The 29-year-old patient (A.O.) lost her mother at the age of four, when she was with her two-year-old brother, and her mother jumped out of the window. Although the child did not witness the suicide and has a very vague memory of her mother, she lived in the belief that her mother died in an accident, the white lie told to her by her family. Shortly before joining the ongoing study, A.O.’s aunt confessed to her the truth about her mother’s suicide, which plunged the woman into “overwhelming feelings of grief and rejection of her family for having lied to them all her life”, especially towards her father, according to the recently published paper. Therefore, the woman was not suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to her mother’s suicide, but from a complicated grief over the loss of her mother.
During the ayahuasca ceremony, the woman had an ‘encounter’ with her mother’s presence in which her mother apologised to her “for things having been this way” [ending her life]. She also made her realise that she had to understand her family. In her own words, “she had left a very difficult situation…and that they had their own journeys as well, their own healings and healings that didn’t allow them to do things differently, just as I hadn’t been able to…not to stay on the surface…. “Asked by the therapist about the feelings that this information aroused in her, the patient replies that “I felt unconditional love. And at the same time I felt very sorry… because they had also lost a sister in the conditions in which they had lost her… my father was her partner. Maybe in earthly life, my father is incompetent, maybe he hasn’t done anything right and doesn’t help me to be better off, but that’s not the absolute reality”.
After the therapist’s enquiry about the purpose of this conversation, the patient explains “I have always needed to have conversations with my mother that could never happen and no one could give me on her behalf”. This fragment shows the resolution of a pending issue.
The integration of the experience was carried out using the technique called ‘restorative retelling’, developed by Robert A. Neimeyer. This is a clinical procedure in which a mental health professional supports the patient to review and closely retell the story of a traumatic event, or in this case a psychedelic experience, under conditions of high safety and low avoidance. Sometimes, the patient is encouraged to draw in order to externalise and illustrate the most difficult parts of the process and facilitate its integration.
We decided to publish a case study to describe in depth the phenomenology of an ayahuasca-evoked experience in a prolonged mourning process,” says Dr. Débora González of BMed, the initiator of the study. In this case, multiple processes of therapeutic change emerge in just a few hours during the effects of the plant, some of which are not even described in the scientific literature, such as the transformation of the internal representation of the deceased and its implication on the type of bond that continues to be maintained after death. These processes are hardly achievable with standard psychotherapy techniques”.
The clinical case described in the paper was part of a pilot study to design a psychotherapeutic intervention to prevent complicated bereavement. The experience of this and other cases served as a basis for the design of the study ‘Ayahuasca assisted psychotherapy for the prevention of prolonged grief’, in which 200 people will participate and which is currently being carried out by the Beckley Med Foundation.
Here you can download and read ‘Restorative Retelling for Processing Psychedelic Experiences: Rationale and Case Study of Complicated Grief’ and the rest of the articles of ‘The Psychotherapeutic Framing of Psychedelic Drug Administration’ in ‘Frontiers of Psychology’.
More information about the study ‘Ayahuasca assisted psychotherapy for the prevention of prolonged grief’.
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