Archive for the ‘psychotherapy’ Category

Deep in the Amazon rainforest, a group of veterans chokes down a gritty, gut-wrenching shot of liquid absolution. They try to drink away their severe mental disturbances, but not the way you drink away your ex-girlfriend with a bottle of whiskey. They’re looking for a cure. Their leader: 27-year-old retired infantryman Ryan LeCompte. Their goal: to hallucinate away their terrible memories.

From a few fringe psychiatrists to veterans like LeCompte, there is a budding belief that extreme hallucination can save our brains from themselves. Several organizations, including the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), and adventurous doctors around the world test out psychedelics such as MDMA, psilocybin and ayahuasca for possible medical uses.

Ayahuasca is a devilish brew. It’s made of vines and roots found in the Amazon; drinking it equals a heavy psychedelic experience and profuse vomiting. “As the shapes and colors continued to move about, they sometimes converged to create the face of a woman, who of course I immediately labeled as Aya,” says an ayahuasca user on the underground drug website Erowid. Aya is known as the spirit or soul of the ayahuasca world. LeCompte described having kaleidoscope vision during his ayahuasca trip, and he even began to dance and went to look at leaves and other pieces of the nature around him at points.

Ryan LeCompte is a scruffy former Marine who, today, is studying at the eccentric Naropa University in Boulder. The school was founded by Tibetan Buddhist teacher and Oxford University scholar Chögyam Trungpa and includes schools such as the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. The beat poets used to flock to there. It’s a Buddhist-inspired school infamous for attracting people who are looking for an alternative education in an attractive location.

For his part, LeCompte didn’t ever face a PTSD diagnosis during his time in service. But he’s lucky, because many of his peers did. What he did experience still shook him. In 2008, while stationed in 8th and I Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., LeCompte walked into the room of a good friend in his barracks one morning to find Sgt. Jorge Leon-Alcivar dead—a suicide. He was not the only Marine LeCompte encountered who would take his own life. At least 22 veterans kill themselves every day. Leon-Alcivar’s death was the final straw, and three years later LeCompte retired from the Marines to start fighting PTSD. He received his End of Active Service honorable discharge after four years in the Marines and didn’t look back.

LeCompte began traveling to the VA hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was living, to learn what was ailing disturbed veterans and soldiers. He hung around in waiting rooms, cautiously approaching the soldiers, wheedling their stories out. But it didn’t take much persuasion; the men were “so beat,” he recalls, that they opened up to him instantly. This took course over several years, during his free time, while he did contract work building helicopters.

Soon, LeCompte had amassed the information from about 100 cases in Birmingham; Veterans spilled almost everything to him: their meds, their dosages, their choice of therapy. It all added up. Over and over again, he discovered his peers were taking the same types of medicines such Zoloft and Paxil, in the same dosages, 50 to 200mg of Zoloft a day or 20 to 60mg of Paxil a day were common, and with the same form of EMDR therapy. EMDR is a somatic therapy that follows eye movements and dream states.

LeCompte didn’t see anything wrong with the therapy. How about the drugs? Yeah, it’s probably the drugs. LeCompte’s complaints ring of an old story these days in American psychiatry: we’re too drugged up, we’re overdosed and overdiagnosed. It’s a complaint plenty of professionals agree with, but only a handful of psychiatrists are taking alternate routes. “There are some veterans who actually do respond to those meds, but it’s rare,” Dr. Sue Sisley, an expert on PTSD in veterans who has studied treating the illness with marijuana, told ATTN:. “The vets who respond to the standard FDA approved meds like Zoloft or Paxil is probably less than 10 percent. The rest come in looking like zombies.”

LeCompte had tried almost all the drugs they were offering, from “highly addictive anxiolytics like Klonopin, and … Prozac as an anti-depressant and Ambien for a sleep aid,” he said. “These different drugs sort of mixed together in a cocktail just as a recipe for disaster,” he said. He never tried to contact U.S. Veteran’s Affairs to inform them of these problems, because he didn’t think they would do anything about it. VA psychiatrists like Dr. Basimah Khulusi of Missouri have been fired for simply refusing to increase medication dosages that they didn’t think their patients needed shows the kind of system LeCompte was dealing with.

LeCompte looked into how these drugs work and found they’re just mind blockers, they’re not helping you deal with your problems. “Medications do not entirely eliminate symptoms but provide a symptom reduction and are sometimes more effective when used in conjunction with an ongoing program of trauma specific psychotherapy,” according to the VA website.

LeCompte looked at research from people like Julie D. Megler, watched videos of the academic conferences focusing on psychedelics called Psychedemia from Penn State and went on websites like Erowid to look at ayahuasca experiences people had posted to the site. What did he learn? “Something like ayahuasca or MDMA is used to bridge severed connections in the brain that trauma plays a big part in creating,” he said.

“Ayahuasca opens the limbic pathways of the brain to affect the emotional core of the trauma in a way similar to affective psychotherapy for trauma, and also impacts higher cortical areas … to allow the patient to assign a new context to their trauma,” wrote brain experts J. L. Nielson and J. D. Megler, in the book The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca.

Soon, LeCompte started having conversations with veterans and began informing people of the possible benefits of ayahuasca, wondering if anyone else was daring enough to start considering the idea of drinking a shot of psychedelics for their PTSD. LeCompte had never tried ayahuasca, but he was willing to try anything to help his comrades. Eventually he heard of an ayahuasca retreat, the Phoenix Ayahuasca retreat in Peru, where he could test out his medicine.

It took him six months to do what any sane person would do before planning a group outing to South America to hallucinate in a forest together… he started a nonprofit. Its name? The Veterans for Entheogenic Therapy. Other vets started to find him; some were suicidal, exhausted by the daily challenge of deciding whether or not they wanted to be alive. He didn’t know them, but he felt he intimately understood – or at least sympathized with – their minds. He rounded up a trip: five other vets, and him. MAPS helped pay for two of the trips for veterans who couldn’t afford it, and the rest paid for themselves.

The prep was strangely regimented: LeCompte had to ensure the veterans were off their medication for a month leading up to the trip; anti-depressants plus ayahuasca equal a lethal mix. That task amounted to phone therapy and keeping a close eye on everyone: He called the guys every day, even their friends and family, to make sure the men had quit their pills, he said. But he made it work. The families may have thought the idea was strange, but LeCompte says none of them tried to stop their family members because of their knowledge that the drugs weren’t helping treat the PTSD symptoms, and they just wanted to help their family.

The veterans flew into Iquitos, Peru, from Lima – from Iquitos, they sat in a van all the way to the Amazon, winding past motorbikes and rickshaws “on back roads in the middle of bum fuck,” LeCompte says.

Then their lives collided and things got weird.

They were stationed for 10 days at Phoenix Ayahuasca. The camp was little more than a set of huts in the jungle, made from wood and leaves. They would drink the ayahuasca on ceremony nights and be led through their experience by the shaman, and they would stay in their personal huts on days off to reflect on their experiences alone.

LeCompte said the ayahuasca drink “tastes like shit.” The shaman leading the experience dressed in all white scrub-like clothes, like a nurse lost in the jungle. After you drink the brew, the shaman’s job is simply to observe. He diagnoses: Is anyone losing it? Some people have been known to begin convulsing. Is this the moment they need to hear a song that will send them burrowing into a different dimension? “I don’t know how he does it. It’s beyond my rational mind,” LeCompte said. “It” amounts to singing, blowing smoke on trippers’ faces and using instruments like a rattler to change their state of mind.

For his part, LeCompte only wanted two out of the four drink ceremonies, since they were so powerful. It certainly wasn’t about the PTSD for LeCompte; he was trying to get past his experiences of fallen friends and broken relationships. He says just returning home to family and friends from military service or an ayahuasca trip is a difficult experience of its own. “You’re a changed person and there’s no doubting or denying that.”

“Most people get a cut, and they put a bandaid on it,” he said. “These people have had these wounds for so long that they’ve become infected. The infection can’t be fought off with a bandaid.” LeCompte sees ayahuasca as an antibiotic, not a bandaid.

LeCompte is now planning to do an official study to look at how ayahuasca could treat PTSD, which will serve as his thesis for Naropa University. It is being sponsored by MAPS, and it will focus on 12 veterans with treatment resistant PTSD who will try using ayahuasca to treat it. The plan is to conduct the study over 10 days in early 2016. LeCompte is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to fund research and education around the medicinal use of ayahuasca.

http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/2KDuBh/:1EfXhqlsu:Y+0NYw4t/www.attn.com/stories/2301/semicolon-tattoo-mental-health

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Swiss scientists broke a four-decade-long informal ban on LSD research yesterday when they announced the results of a study in which cancer patients received the drug to curb their anxiety about death.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, looked at the safety and efficacy of LSD when used in combination with talk therapy. The researchers used the semisynthetic psychedelic drug to facilitate discussions about the cancer patients’ fears of dying. The patients who took LSD, most of whom were terminally ill, experienced 10-hour-long supervised “trips.” One patient described the trips to The New York Times as a “mystical experience,” where “the major part was pure distress at all the memories I had successfully forgotten for decades.”

These periods of distress are regarded as therapeutically valuable because they allow patients to address their memories and the emotions they evoke. The patients underwent 30 such trips over the course of two months.

A year after the sessions ceased, the patients who had received a full dose of LSD — 200 micrograms — experienced a 20 percent improvement in their anxiety levels. That was not the case for the group who received a lower dose, however, as their anxiety symptoms actually increased. They were later allowed to try the full dose after the trial had ended.

Because of the small number of study participants, the researchers are reluctant to make any conclusive statements about the LSD treatment’s effectiveness. Indeed, the results were not statistically significant. But the fact that the study took place at all bodes well for psychedelic drug research, as the drug caused no serious side effects. Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a foundation that has funded many of these studies, thinks that revisiting LSD-based treatments is worthwhile. “We want to break these substances out of the mold of the counterculture,” Doblin told The New York Times, “and bring them back to the lab as part of a psychedelic renaissance.”

http://www.theverge.com/2014/3/5/5473828/lsd-drug-therapy-first-time-in-40-years

Thanks to Jody Troupe for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

pot

by Jon Hamilton

Veterans who smoke marijuana to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder may be onto something. There’s growing evidence that pot can affect brain circuits involved in PTSD.

Experiments in animals show that tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that gives marijuana its feel-good qualities, acts on a system in the brain that is “critical for fear and anxiety modulation,” says Andrew Holmes, a researcher at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. But he and other brain scientists caution that marijuana has serious drawbacks as a potential treatment for PTSD.

The use of marijuana for PTSD has gained national attention in the past few years as thousands of traumatized veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have asked the federal government to give them access to the drug. Also, Maine and a handful of other states have passed laws giving people with PTSD access to medical marijuana.

But there’s never been a rigorous scientific study to find out whether marijuana actually helps people with PTSD. So lawmakers and veterans groups have relied on anecdotes from people with the disorder and new research on how both pot and PTSD works in the brain.

An Overactive Fear System

When a typical person encounters something scary, the brain’s fear system goes into overdrive, says Dr. Kerry Ressler of Emory University. The heart pounds, muscles tighten. Then, once the danger is past, everything goes back to normal, he says.

But Ressler says that’s not what happens in the brain of someone with PTSD. “One way of thinking about PTSD is an overactivation of the fear system that can’t be inhibited, can’t be normally modulated,” he says.

For decades, researchers have suspected that marijuana might help people with PTSD by quieting an overactive fear system. But they didn’t understand how this might work until 2002, when scientists in Germany published a mouse study showing that the brain uses chemicals called cannabinoids to modulate the fear system, Ressler says.

There are two common sources of cannabinoids. One is the brain itself, which uses the chemicals to regulate a variety of brain cells. The other common source is Cannabis sativa, the marijuana plant.

So in recent years, researchers have done lots of experiments that involved treating traumatized mice with the active ingredient in pot, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), Ressler says. And in general, he says, the mice who get THC look “less anxious, more calm, you know, many of the things that you might imagine.”

Problems with Pot

Unfortunately, THC’s effect on fear doesn’t seem to last, Ressler says, because prolonged exposure seems to make brain cells less sensitive to the chemical.

Another downside to using marijuana for PTSD is side effects, says Andrew Holmes at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “You may indeed get a reduction in anxiety,” Holmes says. “But you’re also going to get all of these unwanted effects,” including short-term memory loss, increased appetite and impaired motor skills.

So for several years now, Holmes and other scientists have been testing drugs that appear to work like marijuana, but with fewer drawbacks. Some of the most promising drugs amplify the effect of the brain’s own cannabinoids, which are called endocannabinoids, he says. “What’s encouraging about the effects of these endocannabinoid-acting drugs is that they may allow for long-term reductions in anxiety, in other words weeks if not months.”

The drugs work well in mice, Holmes says. But tests in people are just beginning and will take years to complete. In the meantime, researchers are learning more about how marijuana and THC affect the fear system in people.

At least one team has had success giving a single dose of THC to people during something called extinction therapy. The therapy is designed to teach the brain to stop reacting to something that previously triggered a fearful response.

The team’s study found that people who got THC during the therapy had “long-lasting reductions in anxiety, very similar to what we were seeing in our animal models,” Holmes says. So THC may be most useful when used for a short time in combination with other therapy, he says.

As studies continue to suggest that marijuana can help people with PTSD, it may be unrealistic to expect people with the disorder to wait for something better than marijuana and THC, Ressler says. “I’m a pragmatist,” he says. “I think if there are medications including drugs like marijuana that can be used in the right way, there’s an opportunity there, potentially.”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/12/23/256610483/could-pot-help-veterans-with-ptsd-brain-scientists-say-maybe

Insomnia-Electronic-Cigarettes

An insomnia therapy that scientists just reported could double the effectiveness of depression treatment is not widely available nor particularly well understood by psychiatrists or the public. The American Board of Sleep Medicine has certified just 400 practitioners in the United States to administer it, and they are sparse, even in big cities.

That may change soon, however. Four rigorous studies of the treatment are nearing completion and due to be reported in coming months. In the past year, the American Psychological Association recognized sleep psychology as a specialty, and the Department of Veterans Affairs began a program to train about 600 sleep specialists. So-called insomnia disorder is defined as at least three months of poor sleep that causes problems at work, at home or in relationships.

The need is great: Depression is the most common mood disorder, affecting some 18 million Americans in any given year, and most have insomnia.

“I think it’s increasingly likely that this kind of sleep therapy will be used as a possible complement to standard care,” said Dr. John M. Oldham, chief of staff at the Menninger Clinic in Houston. “We are the court of last resort for the most difficult-to-treat patients, and I think sleep problems have been extremely underrecognized as a critical factor.”

The treatment, known as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I, is not widely available. Most insurers cover it, and the rates for private practitioners are roughly the same as for any psychotherapy, ranging from $100 to $250 an hour, depending on the therapist.

“There aren’t many of us doing this therapy,” said Shelby Harris, the director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, who also has a private practice in Tarrytown, N.Y. “I feel like we all know each other.”

According to preliminary results, one of the four studies has found that when CBT-I cures insomnia — it does so 40 percent to 50 percent of the time, previous work suggests — it powerfully complements the effect of antidepressant drugs.

“There’s been a huge recognition that insomnia cuts across a wide variety of medical disorders, and there’s a need to address it,” said Michael T. Smith, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and president of the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine.

The therapy is easy to teach, said Colleen Carney, director of the sleep and depression lab at Ryerson University in Toronto, whose presentation at a conference of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies in Nashville on Saturday raised hopes for depression treatment. “In the study we did, I trained students to administer the therapy,” she said in an interview, “and the patients in the study got just four sessions.”

CBT-I is not a single technique but a collection of complementary ideas. Some date to the 1970s, others are more recent. One is called stimulus control, which involves breaking the association between being in bed and activities like watching television or eating. Another is sleep restriction: setting a regular “sleep window” and working to stick to it. The therapist typically has patients track their efforts on a standardized form called a sleep diary. Patients record bedtimes and when they wake up each day, as well as their perceptions about quality of sleep and number of awakenings. To this the therapist might add common-sense advice like reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, and making sure the bedroom is dark and quiet.

Those three elements — stimulus control, restriction and common sense — can do the trick for many patients. For those who need more, the therapist applies cognitive therapy — a means of challenging self-defeating assumptions. Patients fill out a standard questionnaire that asks how strongly they agree with statements like: “Without an adequate night’s sleep, I can hardly function the next day”; “I believe insomnia is the result of a chemical imbalance”; and “Medication is probably the only solution to sleeplessness.” In sessions, people learn to challenge those beliefs, using evidence from their own experiences.

“If someone has the belief that if they don’t sleep, they’ll somehow fail the next day, I’ll ask, ‘What does failure mean? You’ll be slower at work, not get everything done, not make dinner?’ ” Dr. Harris said. “Then we’ll look at the 300 nights they didn’t sleep well over the past few years and find out they managed; it might not have been as pleasant as they liked, but they did not fail. That’s how we challenge those kinds of thoughts.”

Dr. Aaron T. Beck, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania who is recognized as the father of cognitive therapy for mental disorders, said the techniques were just as applicable to sleep problems. “In fact, I have used it myself when I occasionally have insomnia,” he said by email.

In short-term studies of a month or two, CBT-I has been about as effective as prescription sleeping pills. But it appears to have more staying power. “There’s no data to show that if you take a sleeping pill — and then stop taking it — that you’ll still be good six months later,” said Jack Edinger, a professor at National Jewish Health in Denver and an author, with Dr. Carney, of “Overcoming Insomnia: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Approach.”

“It might happen, but those certainly aren’t the people who come through my door,” he said.

Dr. Edinger and others say that those who respond well to CBT-I usually do so quickly — in an average of four sessions, and rarely more than eight. “You’re not going to break the bank doing this stuff; it’s not a marriage,” he said. “You do it for a fixed amount of time, and then you’re done. Once you’ve got the skills, they don’t go away.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/24/health/sleep-therapy-is-expected-to-gain-a-wider-role-in-depression-treatment.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0

_67807883_face_research

_67807877_virtualshrink

Ellie is a creation of ICT, and could serve as an important diagnostic and therapeutic tool for veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Los Angeles

The University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies is leading the way in creating virtual humans. The result may produce real help for those in need.

The virtual therapist sits in a big armchair, shuffling slightly and blinking naturally, apparently waiting for me to get comfortable in front of the screen.

“Hi, I’m Ellie,” she says. “Thanks for coming in today.”

She laughs when I say I find her a little bit creepy, and then goes straight into questions about where I’m from and where I studied.

“I’m not a therapist, but I’m here to learn about people and would love to learn about you,” she asks. “Is that OK?”

Ellie’s voice is soft and calming, and as her questions grow more and more personal I quickly slip into answering as if there were a real person in the room rather than a computer-generated image.

“How are you at controlling your temper?” she probes. “When did you last get into an argument?”

With every answer I’m being watched and studied in minute detail by a simple gaming sensor and a webcam.

How I smile, which direction I look, the tone of my voice, and my body language are all being precisely recorded and analysed by the computer system, which then tells Ellie how best to interact with me.

“Wizard of Oz mode” is how researcher Louis-Philippe Morency describes this experiment at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT).

In the next room his team of two are controlling what Ellie says, changing her voice and body language to get the most out of me.

Real people come in to answer Ellie’s questions every day as part of the research, and the computer is gradually learning how to react in every situation.

It is being taught how to be human, and to respond as a doctor would to the patients’ cues.

Soon Ellie will be able to go it alone. That opens up a huge opportunity for remote therapy sessions online using the knowledge of some of the world’s top psychologists.

But Dr Morency doesn’t like the expression “virtual shrink”, and doesn’t think this method will replace flesh-and-blood practitioners.

“We see it more as being an assistant for the clinician in the same way you take a blood sample which is analysed in a lab and the results sent back to the doctor,” he said.

The system is designed to assess signs of depression or post-traumatic stress, particularly useful among soldiers and veterans.

“We’re looking for an emotional response, or perhaps even any lack of emotional response,” he says.

“Now we have an objective way to measure people’s behaviour, so hopefully this can be used for a more precise diagnosis.”

The software allows a doctor to follow a patient’s progress over time. It objectively and scientifically compares sessions.

“The problem we have, particularly with the current crisis in mental health in the military, is that we don’t have enough well trained providers to handle the problem,” says Skip Rizzo, the associate director for medical virtual reality at the ICT.

“This is not a replacement for a live provider, but it might be a stop-gap that helps to direct a person towards the kind of care they might need.”

The centre does a lot of work with the US military, which after long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has to deal with hundreds of thousands of troops and veterans suffering from various levels of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We have an issue in the military with stigma and a lot of times people feel hesitant talking about their problems,” he says. A virtual counselling tool can alleviate some of this reluctance.

“We see this as a way for service members or veterans to talk openly and explore their issues.”

The whole lab is running experiments with virtual humans. To do so, it blends a range of technologies and disciplines such as movement sensing and facial recognition.

Dr Morency has won awards for his work into the relationship between psychology and minute physical movements in the face.

“People who are anxious fidget with their hands more, and people who are distressed often have a shorter smile with less intensity. People who are depressed are looking away a lot more,” he says.

Making computer-generated images appear human isn’t easy, but if believable they can be powerful tools for teaching and learning. To that end, the lab is involved in several different projects to test the limits and potential of virtual interactions.

In the lab’s demonstration space a virtual soldier sits behind a desk and responds to a disciplinary scenario as part of officer training.

The team have even built a Wild West style saloon, complete with swinging doors and bar.

Full-size characters appear on three projection screens and interact with a real person walking in, automatically responding to questions and asking their own to play out a fictional scenario.

Downstairs, experiments are creating 3D holograms of a human face.

Throughout the building, the work done is starting to blur the lines between the real world and the virtual world.

And the result just may be real help for humans who need it.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22630812

Many thanks to Jody, for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.