Post-Psychedelic Reductions in Experiential Avoidance Are Associated With Decreases in Depression Severity and Suicidal Ideation

A prospective survey study (n=358) found that psychedelics may lead to significant decreases in experiential avoidance, depression severity, and suicidal ideation.

Abstract

“Psychedelic therapy shows promise as a novel intervention for a wide range of mental health concerns but its therapeutic action is incompletely understood. In line with acceptance and commitment therapy’s (ACT’s) transdiagnostic model, qualitative research has suggested that reductions in experiential avoidance are an important component of therapeutic outcomes associated with psychedelics. However, limited research has quantitatively explored the association between decreases in experiential avoidance and therapeutic outcomes associated with psychedelics. Therefore, in two prospective studies, using convenience samples of individuals with plans to use a psychedelic, we explored the impact of psychedelic use on experiential avoidance, depression severity, and suicidal ideation, as well as relationships between changes in these outcomes. Participants (Study 1, N=104; Study 2, N=254) completed self-report questionnaires of depression severity, suicidal ideation, and experiential avoidance: 1) before using a psychedelic (in ceremonial and non-ceremonial contexts), as well as 2) 2-weeks and 3) 4-weeks after psychedelic use. Across both studies, repeated measures ANOVAs indicated significant decreases in experiential avoidance, depression severity, and suicidal ideation after psychedelic use. Furthermore, decreases in experiential avoidance were significantly associated with decreases in depression severity and suicidal ideation. These results suggest that psychedelics may lead to significant decreases in experiential avoidance, depression severity, and suicidal ideation. Additionally, these findings imply that reduced experiential avoidance may be a transdiagnostic mechanism mediating treatment success within psychedelic therapy. We conclude that integrating psychedelics with psychotherapeutic interventions that target experiential avoidance (e.g. ACT) may enhance therapeutic outcomes.”

Authors: Richard J. Zeifman, Anne C. Wagner, Rosalind Watts, Hannes Kettner, Lea J. Mertens & Robin L. Carhart-Harris

Notes

Also reported in Interesting Engineering and PsyPost.

A longer analysis can also be found on Psychedelic Science Review (October 2020).

We found that use of psychedelics was associated with decreases in experiential avoidance 2-weeks later and was sustained for at least 4-weeks. These results are in line with past research indicating that administration of ayahuasca leads to increases in experiential acceptance and that psychedelic use is associated with decreases in experiential avoidance. Our results add evidence to the view that psychedelics can target putative transdiagnostic mechanisms underlying psychopathology. Based on these results, we suggest that psychedelics may show promise for the treatment of mental health concerns characterized by experiential avoidance.”

This study provides evidence for one of the possible mechanisms through which psychedelics have a long-term (at least one month) effect, by decreasing experiential avoidance. This effect is also associated with the decrease depression and suicidal ideation.

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