Alyssa Gursky on Finding Healing From Trauma Through Psychedelic-Assisted Art Therapy
There is more to healing than meets the eye. Here to talk about non-ordinary states of consciousness is Alyssa Gursky, a night attendant at MAPS — one of the organizations that are conducting clinical trials for the MDMA studies to treat treatment-resistant PTSD. Designing programming for psychedelic integration, Alyssa highlights in this episode psychedelic-assisted art therapy. She shares why art therapy is important along with having creativity in our lives, and how the average person accesses non-ordinary states every single day. Alyssa also talks about shadow work, body awareness, and emotional intelligence. Trained in healing people, she lets us in on trauma work and how she hopes for everyone to grow up in a healthier and safer place.
Watch the episode here:
Listen to the podcast here:
Alyssa Gursky on Finding Healing From Trauma Through Psychedelic-Assisted Art Therapy
Our guest on this episode is Alyssa Gursky. Alyssa is a night attendant at MAPS. MAPS is one of the organizations that is conducting clinical trials for the MDMA studies to treat treatment-resistant PTSD. She is also finishing her Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a concentration in Transpersonal Art Therapy at Naropa University in Colorado. She lives in Denver where she is designing programming for psychedelic integration and psychedelic-assisted art therapy. Alyssa, welcome to the show. It’s an honor to have you here.
Thank you so much for having me.
Most of my readers know from past episodes that I’ve been through some of my own psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy treatments. I’m excited to have you on here to talk about non-ordinary states of consciousness.
It’s definitely my most favorite topic. I’m happy to chat about it as well.
Tell us a little bit about why it’s so exciting for you.
I feel like I remember being a small child and accessing non-ordinary states through hanging upside down on monkey bars and holding my breath. I’ve always been interested in practices that shift my consciousness. I got especially interested in psychedelic medicines when I was a teenager. I’m about sixteen and I had symptoms of depression at that age. Someone had said like, “You’d be interested in mushrooms. You should look into those.” I had a powerful experience with them. I published a story about it with Psymposia. They’re a psychedelic news organization online. They published my first psychedelic experience with them. After that I remember looking up like, “Do people use this in therapy? This was so therapeutic.” I must have been seventeen when I did that.
It became a straight arrow of, I picked up my life. At the month of November, I decided that in January, I was going to move out to Colorado because I knew that in Boulder there was Naropa University, which offers degrees in Transpersonal Psychology at the undergraduate and graduate level. I knew that MAPS had sites in Colorado. I said, “I’m going to pick up my life, move and hope for the best. About half a decade later, I’ve been pretty involved in psychedelic research since then. I’ve attended a job as you shared. I’ve been building community out here, helping others get a leg up into this world and finding my mentors. It’s been a straight shot since my first psychedelic experience. As an art therapist, I’ve always had a passion for expressive arts. As an art therapist, art induces in an ordinary state of consciousness because your spiritual mind goes offline because the unconscious gets to speak. I’m happy to say more about that.
I love when you talk about non-ordinary states of consciousness. You’re talking about even remembering when you were a little kid and you would hold your breath. Holding your breath and bracing the bond is something that happens in Kundalini Yoga to create one ordinary state. I’ve not studied specifically holotropic breathwork. At the same time, there are some similarities there in the breathwork getting into non-ordinary states. Hanging upside down with the blood flow to the head can create a non-ordinary state. Our audience and the average person is way more familiar with non-ordinary states of consciousness than they realize.
Dreaming is such a strong example of non-ordinary states. I have a dear friend who uses hold exposure for accessing non-ordinary states as well.
That goes in alignment with Wim Hof.
He’s trained by Wim, works with Wim. It’s very much lineage. I find it so fascinating that we could change the rhythm of our breath, change our temperature and access non-ordinary states. That’s how much human beings are wired.
There are non-ordinary states the average person accesses every single day. How many of our readers drink caffeine? It changes how you perceive the world or they go home and they have a glass of wine or a craft beer. There are all ways to alter our perception of the world around us.
I love Dan Groff in particular because his discourse around the phrase non-ordinary states is specific. What is ordinary consciousness? Are we always in some fluctuation of embodiment and dissociation? I’m not familiar with what an ordinary state of consciousness is.
I’m not sure that I am either because I’m with you. I tend to focus on developmental and ancestral trauma in the work I do. With those issues, there is a lot of dissociation because so much happened in that pre-verbal state that it’s easy to get into the ADD phase and pop out and pop back in. ADD is related to early childhood trauma.
Working on Eight Path, the clinic in Denver that I work at, some of my coworkers have helped eliminate that for me.
Alyssa, tell me a little bit more about the art therapy that you’re learning about. Why is art therapy and having creativity in our lives so important?
There are so many avenues I can go with that. I will try to put myself on a narrow path. I had a mentor say to me that we are always using our creative energy. It’s if the shadow gets it or the light gets it. When we let our lightness, our consciousness, take our creative energy, that’s where we can create manifestation. We can create art speaking in a physical sense, we can create our community relationships. The act of creating and bringing new, whether it’s tangible, relational into the world is what that sacred chakra is about. If we’re not present with our creative energy, the shadow then gets it, which to me, how I’m understanding that is for me it looks like creating stories, creating false narratives.
If we’re not consciously creating, we’re unconsciously creating something else. The creative energy is still getting used in our system. It’s to our detriment. I don’t know how much audience are familiar with the concept of the shadow, but the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to relate to. Childhood patterns that are unresolved, that haven’t yet gotten a chance to learn that we’re adults and that we don’t need to be protected in terms of internal family, which is a modality that I resonate with or it’s that we have completely locked away. Our highest self isn’t taking our creativity and running with it. The shadow parts get it. Creativity creates mental sanity for so many reasons. Art therapy, in particular, is a young discipline. The American Art Therapy Association is now having its 50th conference. Less than 100 years, we’ve been a legitimate field to the best of my knowledge.
It’s a discipline. There are two main avenues of art therapy. There’s art psychotherapy, which art is used as a diagnostic tool. I work in Children’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado as a medical art therapist. I’m working with kiddos who are either in day treatment programs or in long-term care because they’re too medically unstable to be in their homes, medically unstable to be in schools. There it’s a lot of teaching regulation. A lot of helping diagnose if a child only has partial use of one side of their body, how can art assess more than verbally especially if they’re not verbal, how can art assess their ability. Using art materials to gauge either physical well-being or mental well-being. There’s the lineage that I resonate with on a soul level, which is art as therapy.
The art process is inherently therapeutic and our psyche is full of latent content, whether that be our symbols, certain art materials that we resonate with, everything has a metaphorical quality. Whatever is happening in our psyche will be drawn to that. For example, I’ve been very overwhelmed in my third year of graduate school. I’ve been instinctually drawn towards mediums that are rigid because that aligns with my need for containment and control. Working with ink, for example, is something that is neat. I’m finding myself doing this with my hands to contain it. I make a lot of gondolas so it’s pretty accurate for me. In the most fun part of my job, I get to honor people’s inner mythology and help them see it on paper.
My whole thought on the intersection of psychedelics in art therapy is psychedelics show us a different part of our internal landscape. Art therapy helps us create a map for our landscape. The combination of the two seems that one from a diagnostic lens, we can track our progress and our process with expressive therapies after a session. That’s a lot of what we’re working on in the Eight Path is how can art, number one, help people integrate? How can it help people ground after a session and bring home the lessons?
That is so important. What was lacking for a lot of years in traditional therapy was the lack of something to help me process and integrate what came up over the years. There are some ways that CBT made me worse because there wasn’t that support integration and processing.
On a similar note, I deeply respect my team because we practice a bottom-up approach. Top-down is what you named CBT. We’re going to take the psychological content and modify it with patterns enough to create a difference in state change. It’s not that CBT doesn’t help people because it’s beautiful and special modality, but it’s great for management. For trauma work, dealing with what is in the body, working bottom-up, working with the psyche, the nervous system and witnessing changes that happen. That is where I have seen in my own body deep transformation and that’s why I feel committed to offering bottom-up work as a therapist mostly.
I didn’t plan on doing this, but this will be interesting to the conversation. I have started explaining all these different parts and pieces to my clients very differently. When it comes to the implicit mind, the body and the tissue memory. I call that our experience. When it comes to the subconscious mind, the dreams, the visions and the daydreams, I call that our visionary. When it comes to the cognitive mind, I call that our narrator. They make up the stories. We want our butt in the seat of the observer, which is like our higher self. Some people call that higher self-God or God’s voice or the higher power or Great Spirit. The observer that is inside the head, if it can keep the three kids in alignment, then we have balance and peace within ourselves.
The narrator cannot change with words the feelings of the experiencer or the visions of the subconscious or the visionary. It can’t change those images. We have to get all of them to work together. Art therapy, if you are feeling something as the art is coming out and if the narrator can integrate a story into what’s coming out, integrate the story into the art, you’ve got everything online and everything starts to come together and get integrated. This is a new way and I’m still flushing it out on if this is even a good way to explain it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I love that breaking down the mind in such a succinct way. It’s like a YES for me because it is important to make a distinguishing boundary between these parts of self. When do we realize the narrator has gotten the seat for so long, what about the body?
The subconscious mind I call the visionary because that’s where our dreams come from is from the subconscious. It’s the implicit mind that experiences the world. That’s our sensation and emotion, the tissue memory. That’s what gets imprinted in the nervous system. As a somatic experiencing therapist, that’s what I track when I’m watching these little gestures because that’s the implicit mind a lot of times that brings the gestures in.
That’s a lot of the work that we do at Eight Path. Peter Levine’s original dissertation was taken, ran with and modified and that’s how we got our modality. A lot of it does feel it’s in the same realm of I’m tracking the body and the nervous system holding and that is light and shadow.
I love that you keep talking about a shadow. I’ve said on the show in the past and I believe this, according to Carl Jung, the shadow is 90% golden. We are afraid of our shadow. Those are the places that we don’t want to go. It was Joseph Campbell that said that cave that you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek or that might be a misquote, but maybe not exact words, but that’s the gist of it. It’s so true. A lot of times we are afraid of our gifts. We’re afraid of our light. We’re afraid of our talents in sharing our creativity.
The more that I learned about trauma work especially having the juxtaposition at the Children’s Hospital working with traumatized children. At MAPS getting the experience of watching traumatized children who grew up now attempt to heal the traumatize[d part. It’s seeing a wounded child in their child form and a wounded child in adult form, it seems so clear that all of our shadows were protection, was trauma that developed at a young age. There’s much compassion the highest self can hold for those parts without doing shadow work. I have a dear friend who uses the expression soul calories.
I don’t know if you met Genevieve Wood. She’s somebody you should definitely have on as a guest. She is prolific. I cannot speak highly enough of that human. She has this expression of we only have a certain amount of soul calories, meaning that we can only manifest, create, exist and be in our power for so long. The more shadow work that we do, the more that we can befriend our young wounded parts, the more of those soul calories that we get back. It’s very an esoteric concept, it makes such grounded sense because I feel like as a professional, I sit between worlds of this medical art therapy. Even though I’m in a field like art therapy, I’m in a very clinical Westernized version of it.
The other side of me is deeply steeped in two degrees in transpersonal psychology, psychedelic work. I love theories and expressions that feel all-encompassing for people who are spiritually curious, on their own healing path that don’t exactly identify as spiritual. That’s a concept that for me teeters on both worlds of like, “If I eat more calories than my body needs, I’m going to be exhausted. If I try to do more than I physically can do, I’m going to be exhausted.” The same goes for the spiritual. If I am not pushing myself hard enough or I’m pushing myself too hard, I’m going to be spiritually fatigued. Shadow work expands our capacity for that so greatly. That must be up for me.
Do you mind talking about what does shadow work look like to you? It sounds scary.
I’ve been through a lot of pretty big transitions. I’ve lost a lot of core friends. I’ve gone through a pretty serious relationship transition. I moved to a new city. In conflict is where I find my shadow work best emerges. Shadow work emerges when I receive feedback. It’s maybe feedback about ways that I was a little careless or not kind or anything less than my best self or sometimes with close trusted friends processing these big situations, conflicts that are happening and asking for the feedback of, “Do you see my blind spots?”
When I get that feedback if I can express gratitude that somebody wants to see my growth and transformation. Stopping the activation process of, “I am under attack and my community doesn’t love me because I’m bad.” Pausing and expressing gratitude for their care, even if it’s coming from anger fueled or an upset place but taking it to the art. Sematic awareness and art are big for me. Exploring what happens in my body when somebody gives me the feedback that I was perceived as being selfish. I have time to explore what does being selfish mean. If I was to make art about that, what colors would I use? What material would I use? I basically let myself be my own art therapist, accessible to all people because art materials have inherent metaphor.
My degree is trained in helping people heal. That doesn’t mean that I’m the only one who gets access to understanding the metaphor. I want to let your audience know that building a metaphoric relationship with art materials is accessible. It’s medicine for all people. For me, it could look like letting myself unconsciously choose a modality in that deep vulnerability, making art and reflecting on it afterwards. During that time, I did a lot of water color pieces, which you can think about watercolor being hard to control. There is a fluidity. There’s an ambiguity. There’s wetness which is pretty emotionally based.
Water is representative of emotion too. The element is.
Art materials follow such an archetypal. Shadow work looks like giving myself time to sit with feedback and say, “What if this is a reality?” The reality is that there’s a part of me that is a jerk. What is it like to accept that reality and give that piece form? Once it has physical form, I can dialogue with it. I think Joseph Campbell’s student was James Hillman. I’m pretty sure James Hillman or Joseph Campbell were Carl Jung’s students. He is dense but so adept in metaphor and working with symbols. He has this idea of something called gadgets, which are ways that a person can interact with image. In my training, we believe that image has its own autonomy.
If I make a drawing, it came from me, but its own being. I can look at it and be like, “This is a representation of my shadow.” I am engaging with a piece of it. I like a practice called imaginal dialogue, which is me having a conversation with it and seeing what gifts my psyche can give me because I’ve learned I’m the third of two pretty big personalities, my siblings. They’re wonderful, beautiful people but I was definitely a quieter to myself child. I learned in making art and engaging with this identity of selfishness that was a protection mechanism. When I could see it and realize how developmentally young the art looked, I wish I had it accessible to share. Once I could see an artistic representation of how my body felt taking this feedback, it was like, “This is like an eight-year-old kid.”
I was flooded with compassion, realizing that, “I was acting selfishly.” There was a selfish motivation, but it was from protection because then I can see shadow work. You can see where the part is coming from. In terms of IFS, the part doesn’t realize that a 23-year-old woman, who is independent and has a career, it thinks we’re eight years old and we still live with our family. Shadow work is very heavily about building relationship with wounded parts and giving them space. For people, journaling and image are powerful ways of shadow work because you get to interface with them. Either the image that you’re creating in word, the narrative that you are creating or the physical image itself. It has its own autonomy and can be witnessed because it’s in the light.
It such a beautiful explanation. I’ve been doing some of my own shadow work as well. I sometimes have to pause and remind myself that when I’m doing shadow work, it’s not about necessarily what I do every day in my life. It’s taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture and looking at myself and my life from a soul perspective, not from this physical body perspective because there’s so much more to who we are than these physical bodies. It’s important to take a step back. I have a quick story. I had an experience where I was practicing with a small group of people in a class that I was taking. Every time I would practice with one particular person, I would hear the word gaslighting repeated in my head.
I was looking for evidence that this person was gaslighting me. I wasn’t finding it. My narrator convinced myself ignoring that sick feeling that I was getting in my gut every time I worked with this person. It was completely ignoring that every time I worked with this person, I was feeling sick to my stomach and my narrator said, “This is your past trauma. You need to heal this. You need to force through this. You need to get through this, heal this aspect and realize that not everybody is doing this to you.” What it came down to was when I took a step back and picked it apart, I was ignoring an important gut feeling that was telling me, “You need to speak up and resolve something because you don’t feel safe with this particular person. There’s something a little bit off.”
I was gaslighting myself by convincing myself that I had to force through it. I was causing myself to question my own reality. That was me telling myself. I was projecting it at this other person for a period of time until I figured it out. If I hadn’t gone deeper into that experience, I would still be projecting and saying, “That person gaslights, stay away.” It wasn’t that person at all. It was me ignoring my body signal and not paying attention to what was happening at the moment. When I started that, things got better. I was able to address the issue with everybody. I was able to apologize and say, “I didn’t realize I was doing this.” I was very out in the open about it once I figured it out.
The world congratulates us and gifts us when we agree to be a conscious player. We agree to be present with the game. We are rewarded so deeply when we can listen to the body. That is the biggest thing I’m learning as a therapist is body awareness.
I talk about our emotions with my clients in such a way as, if you think about what our emotions are trying to do when we have what people label as “negative emotions” and I use air quotes because I hate the label of negative, but you hear it all the time. Anger, fear, sadness, grief and those things, what are they trying to do? They’re trying to send us a message that something in the environment is giving us feedback. Springing up these emotions, maybe you need to slow down and process this. If it’s sadness or grief or if it’s anger, maybe that’s a call to action or if it’s fear. Maybe we need to do some orienting and figure out, “Do I need to protect myself? What do I need to do here?”
When we ignore those, we could be letting things that could be harmful to us into our sphere. The positive emotions are things that we want more of. Does that sound like any system in your body that tries to keep the bad things out and let the good things? It sounds a little bit like the immune system. It’s our immune system for our psyche. When we are not paying attention to our emotions, we’re letting all kinds of crap hit us that’s not ours. Over time, that will absolutely manifest and affect the physical body.
Emotional intelligence is important. I’m lucky to be in conversation with people who value it as much as I do. Body awareness and emotional intelligence because it’s not an elitist thing that you need a Master’s degree or all of these trainings to do. It is so accessible like slowing down and listening to your body. That’s another reason why I deeply am an advocate and almost a missionary for creativity. Practices like mindfulness, taking time out of your day to listen in silence is overwhelming for people because let’s face it, our society is so overstimulating. Go from the internet, TV, even podcasts, books and all of these things that we’re taking in and to not take in stimuli can be overwhelming for people. That’s why I treasure art because you’re doing the same thing. You are giving your psyche space to be heard and witness, but it’s instead slow and it is in action. You’re still creating.
There’s still a movement, but the tangibility makes it a little easier to hear what’s going on inside, to hear with your eyes and to hear with your heart. Something I hear a lot in my work and with clients and with people that I meet is I can only draw stick figures. I’m not an artist. I’m like, “Take a seat. We’re going to pitch this to you quickly.” Art is not about aesthetic. It is such a capitalist idea that art has to be sold, to be shared. I have a couple hundred pieces of art that no other eyes have ever seen, probably never will because I make them know myself and I keep them to track my process long-term.
I love that you make art to know yourself.
It is totally normal in this society to have that blockade of, “There’s no time to make art. Making art is for kids. I can only draw stick figures,” when it could be as simple as focusing on your breath, putting on a good playlist, putting on a good song, even three minutes and making the boundary of a circle because it’s contained. Obviously, there’s a lot of historical archetypal relationship with Mondelez. I learned that if you start inward and work out, you’re like working out or you can work in. That’s an amazing prompt for somebody who feels uncomfortable making art. Take a plate, flip it over and make a circle on a piece of paper and let yourself feel that boundary.
Even if you do it once a week, ideally once a day, either in the morning or in the night, sitting down and letting either the day begin to see where you’re at or ending and closing it with. It is such a powerful way to know yourself, to see what symbols are big for you. I go on tirades of I’ll be drawing birds for weeks. I’ll be looking through all of these different books to figure out what bird is it. What is coming up for me around the symbolism and how can I integrate that into my daily life. I started to drawing birds and then I found wild turkey feathers and the universe was gifting me with this abundance for listening and it was so much about trusting the elements and believing that I’m freer than I let myself think. These powerful metaphors come through when I sit down for ten minutes a day and doodle.
I love that you talk about how these powerful metaphors come through. Do those relate to a-ha moments for you?
I talk about a-ha moments and a-ha moments are not just thoughts. They’re the thought combined with a sensation. There is a felt sense to an a-ha moment. Whenever somebody has one of those when you like see the light bulb go on for their head, it’s like there truly is a felt sense to that and things do shift and change whenever. You get the experiencer, the narrator, the visionary, all on the same page. I love the idea of drawing in your journals. Journals don’t have to be just writing.
I have three journals right now, but I have two within close proximity to me. They all have different purposes. Some I track my meditation and the synchronicities that I experienced. That’s a magic practice that I abide by strictly. One is for image. I have a therapy sketchbook. I have a school sketchbook. I have my magical documentation sketchbooks. If I’m seen in public, odds are in my bag I have a sketchbook, two books that I’m reading and some art material. I’m always prepared for anything.
What art material do you carry in your purse?
It’s been colored pencils. I’ve been wanting to provide myself with green trees. I’ve been painting before about earth, grounding and colored pencils are great for that for me. I also got myself a metallic watercolor set for my inner child. She wanted it very badly. I used that a lot for her because she likes sparkles. It’s funny. I present as feminine, but I definitely can be a little more on the masculine side in my presentation. My inner child loves pink and loves sparkles. Sometimes I dip into that territory.
Can you give a little definition of what you mean by the inner child?
It is the golden light that is unbroken and un-traumatized within every human. The inner child for me is my innate curiosity and my playfulness. It’s laughing with my friends and losing track of time. It’s playing. It is letting myself feel safe. Inner children deeply access through safety. For me, it took a lot of shadow work. It took a lot of being present with my wounded child to get to know my inner child. I was lucky enough in my academic career to take a child and adolescent art therapy class where we got to make a gift for our inner child. We got to spend fifteen weeks making a physical, “What is your inner child means?”
I made her a weighted blanket to help her be in her body and it’s gorgeous. I would get it, but it weighs twenty pounds. It looks like a tree. The fabric of it is bark and the back of it is like a green fleece, flannel-type material. In discovering and laying down and being put in my body through this weighted blanket, my inner child began to feel safe in my body again. As I named before, I do imaginal dialogue practices with her. It may look like writing a question in one color pen, asking what she needs and letting her write. I also heard about practices in the field of art therapy where you use your non-dominant hand.
I do that sometimes.
Do you work with your inner child?
You work with that small art.
We all have that aspect to us. That’s one thing I’ve learned in all of the trauma classes and trauma trainings I’ve taken over the years is that there is this pristine innocent aspect to each and every one of us that lives within. That’s our authenticity. That’s our true authentic self. It’s the truest expression of who we truly are as a being. It saddens me when I see people who have lost their ability to play and maybe because that was me for several years. I didn’t have any play in my life. To me, that speaks to how wounded somebody is because the less play in your life or wounded that person is because that wounding creates those layers of protection. Those compensations and defensive behaviors and the need to not the enjoyment of having a glass of wine over after work, but the need to have a glass of wine after work. There is a difference. If you have that need, what are you protecting versus what are you expressing?
That’s what Van Der Kolk in Body Keeps The Score talks about some correlation between imagination and trauma. With deep, extensive trauma, we cannot even access imagination.
Our imagination goes to the story we tell ourselves and it gets projected out at other people, which is telling about how traumatized America is.
That’s why I’m becoming a trauma therapist because I want my nephews to grow up in a safer place. I want us to grow up. Whatever age we’re at, I want us to grow up in a healthier place. I’m so deeply devoted to trauma work. Bringing it back to psychedelic medicines, our innate healer when catalyzed by psychedelic medicines can produce transformation so quickly. I want to plug something that I find very important. It is the relationship between the psychedelic therapist and the client that creates the healing. It is the juxtaposition of their innate healer and them feeling safe and the medicines catalyzing process. In psychedelic therapy, the two most important parts are working with a therapist, that relational piece, somebody who understands the nervous system, the body, who understands modeling healthy relationship. Psychedelics can be inherently healing. I don’t want to send out the message that everybody should go out and do drugs. It is that specific relationship that I find integral.
I’m totally with you from my own experience with my own treatments. I am not a proponent of recreational use at all.
It’s tricky because I feel in full support of cognitive liberty, meaning that in a post prohibitionist world, people should be allowed to consume the substances that they want. I hold a radical standpoint that even demonized substances with a healthier context would have a place in culture. People are allowed to do whatever they want, but it’s the prohibition and the institutional systems that create the issue. Have you heard of The Unsafe?
No, I haven’t.
The Unsafe is a nonprofit. They’re excellent. They promote harm reduction in the nightlife scene. I’ve been learning a lot from her about drug prohibition. I hold the radical belief that drugs aren’t the problem, it’s the way that culture is treating them that is the problem. The medical model deserves a lot of attention in my life. I’m not for psychedelic elitism, which is an expression that I also heard from her. Meaning that psychedelics are good and things like methamphetamine, heroin and opiates are inherently bad. I’m neutral on a lot of substances, I’m personally partaking, but the medical model could produce a lot of healing quickly.
After doing some of my research into the history of opioids, the history of drugs and the history of the drug war. If anybody out there is interested in doing research, a fantastic place to start is with Johann Hari’s work. He wrote Chasing The Scream. He also has a TED Talk called Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong. Everything we think we know about addiction is wrong. He’s absolutely right on that. It was at MAPS, the Cultural Community Workshop in Louisville, Kentucky, Dr. Carl Hart spoke. The information that Dr. Hart presented was right in alignment with what Johann Hari reports in his book.
I was going to bring up Dr. Hart and Monnica Williams.
I heard her speak. I’m trying to connect with her. I’d love to have her on here too.
She is somebody that I have so much reverence for.
There’s so much misinformation, propaganda and myth about the drugs that they’re horribly misunderstood. They’re horribly misused. When people start to self-administer is when things tend to go off the rails. One of the reasons I personally am not in favor of recreational use is the people I know. Maybe in other parts of the country, this is different, but the people I know who use recreationally are not tending and setting in a way that I would feel safe participating.
That gets into some interesting territory of what defines recreational then. I live in a city where we’re supposed to have it decriminalized, which is wild. That’s very new to me. If I was to choose to consume in this city and the intention was set, I was safe in my home, I have a sitter. Could that still be considered recreational because I’m not working with a therapist? There are these edges of what if for somebody their church is going to a venue and dancing. Let’s say for somebody that is a church. That is where they can be with their own body and trust themselves. That’s for me where the recreation boundary gets a little tricky because people are still receiving healing.
It’s not that everybody needs a therapist to heal. In cultural contexts where Shamanism was more present, it does make sense that was the person that you went to receive healing. This person was appointed by their community to a place of healing. Our culture is so far from that. To put the power in a therapist to be somewhat of a Shaman, I think I don’t personally align with. If people do like all the respect for them, but as a white, European-Jewish woman, second-generation American, my boundaries around Shamanism are I don’t identify with that in my therapeutic practice. I don’t think you need to have a therapist to heal.
I’m okay with the Shaman and I’m okay with having a sitter because you’re putting attention to set and setting. That is a huge boundary for me is set and setting. I am totally not okay with going to festivals and partaking of whatever, in whatever setting with whomever. I know people do that. Good on you. That’s not my thing. I’m not going to participate. I need a safer container and I need a little bit of trust with the person I’m with. I’ve had so much mistrust built up in my life that if I’m going to heal that, I can’t go in with mistrust.
For me as a therapist, I’ve chosen this stance of anybody could sit in front of me and tell me about their drug use and they are loved and accepted. I do not care if you’re recreationally using. If you are underlying wanting to heal whatever medicines are helping you cope with, there’s no judgment from me. If you respect the stance of holding firm for it sounds like you’re modeling for your community, for your audience that there is a lot of benefit in this strictness, the discipline of having these medicines ritualistically.
I believe that. I don’t expect everybody to believe what I believe, but I absolutely believe that the ceremony and the ritual of it can be powerful.
It’s integral. Ritual is making me invisible, visible, which is ritual. Psychedelic is a ritual.
Alyssa, I don’t want to put you on the spot, give our audience the best way to follow you or reach out to you online.
I love talking to people. I love building relationships. I love communicating. I’m an open book. My Instagram handle, if people use that platform, it is @AbundanceOfLyss. That is me. My website is PsychedelicArtTherapy.com. The email is [email protected] is a great way to reach me. I’m on Facebook. Instagram is a great way to follow me. I post a lot of my therapeutic art, which is a lot about ketamine. That’s mostly the medicines that I work with right now are ketamine and cannabis. I am open. I love supporting people and figuring out how to get involved in psychedelic spaces. If people have questions about creative practices, those are two avenues that are important to me. I’m in the process of figuring out how to market myself as integration support. I dream of supporting people and using art to support integration because that’s what I’m piloting at any path right now.
Any type of expressive therapy is important. Almost circling back right to where we started, movement is a great way to work some of those issues out of the implicit mind, that tissue memory and art, like whenever it’s coming through, whether it’s writing or pastels or paints or clay sculpture, whatever form that is, there’s subconscious combined in there too. It’s not implicit. These nonverbal parts of ourselves, the implicit mind and the subconscious mind can express themselves through the art. I love that so much. It’s so important for healing because the nonverbal parts of us will never heal with words alone. It’s not possible.
Working with that nonverbal piece is humongous.
I cannot stress enough that in difficult times, taking the time to make art is so valuable. It is a gift to your future self when you can track on paper, you process.
We’re witnessing symbols transform. Even if you think you’re making the same image every day, it is different. I’m looking for the ways that’s slightly different. Tracking your growth in such a way to say to your body like, “I’m here with you. I am not abandoning you.”
What happens when we don’t let the body know we’re here?
It runs rampant. The world becomes a more selfishly motivated place.
A lot of dysfunction comes when we don’t pay attention to the body. Alyssa, do you have any final tips or bits of wisdom to leave with our readers?
Laugh so much. Laughter is such a great way to move things. That has been my lesson of the week is any pocket that you can find laughter, appreciate and create. There is so much waiting for you underneath the surface and taking the time to listen. That is the message that I wish to share and that if anybody is reading, I love you.
Thank you so much, Alyssa. It’s been a pleasure to have you on.
This has been a lovely conversation. I’d love to do it again sometime.
If you are interested in finding out more information about me, you can look me up at JenniferWhitacre.com. I will see all of you next time.
- Alyssa Gursky
- Psymposia – Article written by Alyssa Gursky
- Body Keeps The Score
- Chasing The Scream
- Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong
- @AbundanceOfLyss – Instagram
- [email protected]
- Facebook – Alyssa Gursky
- [email protected]
About Alyssa Gursky
Alyssa Gursky is a master’s level candidate in Transpersonal Art Therapy. She currently is subcontracted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) on their study using MDMA for treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on their Boulder and Fort Collins sites.
She’s incredibly passionate about the healing potential of the creative process and the body’s innate wisdom. She loves science fiction, anything by Alejandro Jodorowsky, and petting all of the dogs.