Love and Transcendence: Transformative Themes From Patients' Experiences in the NYU Psilocybin Cancer Anxiety Study

Anthony Bossis, PhD



Abstract: Psycho-spiritual and existential distress is an integral component of the suffering of cancer patients. Clinical research has demonstrated that patients diagnosed with cancer or advanced-stage cancer often experience hopelessness, loss of meaning, and existential distress. Lower levels of spiritual or existential wellbeing have been associated with depression and a desire for a hastened death. The disciplines of palliative care and psycho-oncology therefore regard the alleviation of spiritual and existential anxiety as a primary treatment objective. In recent years, expanded clinical and research efforts have resulted in a better understanding of existential distress in cancer and end-of-life patients. Clinical research has demonstrated that enhanced spiritual-well being and personal meaning may act as a buffer against hopelessness and depression and is associated with a decrease in psychological distress. This presentation will focus on existential distress in cancer patients and on the transformative themes of love and transcendence from two case studies from the NYU Psilocybin Cancer Anxiety Research Project.

Anthony P. Bossis, Ph.D. is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine and a clinical researcher at the NYU Bluestone Center For Clinical Research. He is co-principal investigator, director of Palliative Care Research, and session guide for the New York University Psilocybin Cancer Anxiety Research Project. This research is investigating the impact of a psilocybin-facilitated mystical experience upon existential and psycho-spiritual distress in persons with cancer. He is a supervisor of psychotherapy at Bellevue Hospital - NYU Medical Center and the co-founder and former co-director of the Bellevue Hospital Palliative Care Service. He is a Diplomate of the American Academy of Pain Management and a member of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care. Dr. Bossis is the co-author (with Drs. C. Grob and R. Griffiths) of the chapter, “Use of the Classic Hallucinogen Psilocybin for Treatment of Existential Distress Associated with Cancer” in Psychological Aspects of Cancer (Springer, 2013). Dr. Bossis maintains a private psychotherapy practice in New York City.


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