Participant Reports of Mindfulness, Posttraumatic Growth, and Social Connectedness in Psilocybin-Assisted Group Therapy: An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis

This interview study (n=9) of gay men with AIDS, who participated in group therapy with psilocybin, found two major thematic change processes. The first was breaking free from ‘autopilot’ and becoming more mindful and thus allowing for better emotional processing. The second was meaning-making and posttraumatic growth.

Abstract

The primary objective of this qualitative study was to explore the therapeutic trajectories of individuals undergoing psilocybin-assisted group therapy. This interpretive phenomenological analysis focused on an enriched study sample of gay-identified cisgender men (n = 9) with human immunodeficiency virus diagnosed before 1996 and clinically significant trauma symptoms. Microphenomenological interviews were carried out 1 day after participants’ individual psilocybin sessions to elicit fine-grained descriptions of the psilocybin-assisted treatment. Two major thematic change processes were identified using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis. During their psilocybin sessions, participants reported transitioning out of habitual, evaluative modes of processing and into mindful, experiential modes of processing (from “autopilot” to “meta-aware”). Freed from their emotionally avoidant tendencies, participants were able to process and release previously disowned feelings (grief, shame) and access relational and self-transcendent feelings and prosocial attitudes (joy, gratitude, love, care, compassion). The treatment also supported processes of meaning-making and the realization of posttraumatic growth (in psychological, relational, spiritual dimensions) as participants integrated past traumas into their life narratives and identities (from “trauma-dominant” to “growth-dominant”). These findings suggest that administering adjunctive group therapy with psilocybin may enhance the effectiveness of trauma processing by reinforcing social cohesion, safety, trust, and belonging. These data provide the first empirical suggestion of psilocybin’s efficacy in alleviating trauma symptoms in a group-facilitated format and provide a deeper understanding of the potential psychological change processes involved in this novel treatment approach.

Authors: Gabrielle I. Agin-Liebes, Eve Ekman, Brian T. Anderson, Maxx Malloy, Alexandra Haas & Josh D. Woolley

Notes

This is a follow-up or further analysis of the study by Anderson and colleagues (2020).

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