Book Review - LSD Psychotherapy by Stanislav Grof M.D.

LSD Psychotherapy: Exploring the Frontiers of the Hidden Mind, by Stanislav Grof, M.D., 1980, Hunter House, Alameda, California

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

"A person who has taken LSD does not have an 'LSD experience,'
but takes a journey into deep recesses of his or her own psyche.
When this substance is given in the same dosage and under comparable
circumstances to a large number of individuals,
each of them will have a different experience reflecting
the specificities of his or her psyche."

-- Stanislav Grof, M.D.

Of the author's nine books, this one is my favorite. While pertaining to LSD therapy, much of the material is relevant to other deep regressive psychotherapies. The author emphasizes that there is nothing innate in LSD which changes brain function. He writes that the only effect of its ingestion is the lowering of one's defenses. (However, all of the repressed material 'loosened' by LSD must be integrated. Otherwise, one's defenses can be permanently lowered.) And lowering of defenses is what makes possible the access of birth, early infantile and childhood memories in primal therapy, holotropic breathwork, hypnotism, and other regressive deep feeling therapies.

Dr. Grof breaks down unconscious areas which are reached by work with LSD into three areas:

  • As defenses dissolve, material from early childhood memories are first accessed,

  • then birth traumas resulting in the death/rebirth stage are felt.

  • Finally transpersonal experiences are accessed.

The author writes that as sessions are continued, eventually every LSD subject goes from the biographical area to the peri-natal area. All begin eventually to experience "agonies and ecstasies of cosmic proportions." "Normals" follow the same course as neurotics except that they go to perinatal experiences more rapidly. Schizophrenics, before entering the perinatal area are greatly improved but after experiencing the death/rebirth matrix, however, temporarily return to their psychotic symptoms with much transference characteristics.

Prognosis in LSD psychotherapy is best for neurotics with complaints of anxiety and/or depression, even though long-term psychedelic therapy might be required. Obsessive-compulsives have the worse prognosis and hysterics the best. More recent, single-event traumatic neuroses work especially well because of LSD's characteristics as an abreactive agent. Another use of LSD has been with seriously ill people who are facing death.

Dr. Grof feels that experiences under LSD in the peri-natal area have the greatest potential for therapeutic improvement, both psychologically and psychosomatically. However, he feels that it is only in the transpersonal level that certain problems may be resolved. These experiences involve embryonal, fetal, past-incarnation, ancestral and archetypal material. (Editor's Note: I attended one of Dr. Grof's drug-free holotropic breathwork workshops in 1994. For an article about my experiences see From Primal To Holotropics and Back.).

Two appendixes discuss the problems of using LSD for purely recreational activities and how crisis intervention should be covered in such cases. According to Dr. Grof, "bad trips" in LSD merely mean that material has been accessed which has never been worked through. The remedy is to have the subject feel the material which LSD has elicited.

The second appendix covers the effects of LSD on genetic mutation, fetal development and malignancy. Chromosonal breakage was observed in cases which involved the use of extremely high concentration of LSD. In the other cases, Dr. Grof feels that research data does not indicate that "responsible experimental and therapeutic use of LSD by experienced professions should" have been discontinued. In the nine years since LSD Psychotherapy was published renewed study and experimentation with LSD and other psychedelics have begun by a number of educational institutions and governmental agencies.

The Preface, Epilogue and an Appendix from Dr Grof's LSD Psychotherapy are available for reading or downloading from The Psychedelic Library:

  • LSD Psychotherapy - Preface to the 1994 Edition
  • Crisis Intervention in Situations Related to Unsupervised Use of Psychedelics - Appendix 1
  • The Future of LSD Psychotherapy - Epilogue