The Phenomenology and Sequelae of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy: A Pilot Study

Genesee Herzberg, PsyD

Abstract: MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) has been used as an adjunct to psychotherapy since the 1970s. Psychotherapists and researchers involved in this work claim that the drug is uniquely suited to facilitate the therapeutic process. The current study contributes to the existing research through an exploration of the subjective experience of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy and its impact on participants. Using a qualitative, quasi-phenomenological theoretical framework and a thematic analysis approach to analyzing the data, this study examines the reports of five individuals who underwent MDMA-assisted psychotherapy an average of five years before being interviewed. Many of the properties of the MDMA experience commonly described in the literature also emerged in this study’s results, including empathy, insight, acceptance, and openness. These findings, though tentative due to the small sample size of the study, point to the importance of attending carefully to issues around the “set and setting” or “frame” of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.

Genesee Herzberg received her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies in 2012. She has a longtime interest in the healing potential of psychedelics, leading to her dissertation research on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. She is currently a psychotherapist specializing in trauma, existential crisis, and spiritual emergence with a practice in Berkeley, CA. She is also a Buddhist practitioner, and enjoys activities that bring one closer to one's true nature and to the earth.

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