Updated: Aug 30
As interest grows in psilocybin therapy as a potential mental health intervention, research aligned with psychotherapy has brought to light the significance of reduced experiential avoidance and heightened connectedness within this novel approach.
Experiential avoidance, in psychological terms, refers to the tendency of individuals to avoid or suppress unpleasant or distressing thoughts, feelings, sensations, or memories. It is a common coping mechanism that people employ to manage emotional pain, but it can also contribute to the maintenance and exacerbation of psychological difficulties. For example, avoiding confronting traumatic memories may prevent healing and resolution of trauma-related issues.
Psilocybin therapy involves the use of the psychedelic compound psilocybin, which is found in certain types of mushrooms, in a therapeutic setting to address various mental health conditions. Studies have shown promising results for conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and addiction when psilocybin is used in conjunction with psychotherapy.
Reduced experiential avoidance may be one of the key mechanisms underlying the positive therapeutic outcomes observed with psilocybin therapy.
One of the ways psilocybin therapy may work is by reducing experiential avoidance in individuals undergoing treatment. When a person takes psilocybin in a therapeutic context, the psychedelic experience can lead to a state of heightened introspection, emotional openness, and altered perception of thoughts and feelings. This altered state of consciousness can enable individuals to approach and explore emotions and memories that they might typically avoid or repress.
During a psilocybin therapy session, individuals may have a "psychedelic experience" characterized by intensified emotions, vivid imagery, and a sense of interconnectedness or unity with others and the environment. This state of mind may facilitate a willingness to confront and process difficult emotions, traumas, or past experiences that were previously avoided.
By reducing experiential avoidance, psilocybin therapy may allow individuals to gain new insights, process unresolved emotional issues, and develop more adaptive coping strategies. This can lead to positive therapeutic outcomes and long-lasting changes in psychological well-being.
It's important to note that the understanding of psilocybin therapy and its mechanisms of action is an active area of research, and the concept of reduced experiential avoidance is one proposed mechanism among several.
(Based on research from Imperial London College - Zeifman RJ, Wagner AC, Monson CM, Carhart-Harris RLet al., 2023, How does psilocybin therapy work? An exploration of experiential avoidance as a putative mechanism of change., J Affect Disord, Vol: 334)