Psilocybin-Assisted Group Therapy and Attachment: Observed Reduction in Attachment Anxiety and Influences of Attachment Insecurity on the Psilocybin Experience

This follow-up study (n=18) to Anderson and colleagues (2020) finds that attachment anxiety, but not attachment avoidance, decreased significantly 3 months after psilocybin-assisted group therapy.

Abstract

“Attachment insecurity is determined early in life, is a risk factor for psychopathology, and can be measured on two separate continuous dimensions: attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance. Therapeutic changes toward more secure attachment correlate with reduction in psychiatric symptoms. Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy has demonstrated promise in the treatment of psychopathology, such as treatment-resistant depression and substance use disorders. We hypothesized that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy would reduce attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance, thus increasing attachment security. We also hypothesized that baseline measures of attachment insecurity, which can reflect a diminished capacity for trust and exploration, would inform the quality of the psilocybin session. Participants were male long-term AIDS survivors with moderate-severe demoralization (n = 18). Using the Experiences in Close Relationships scale, we measured attachment insecurity at baseline as well as immediately, and 3 months, after completion of a brief group therapy course, which included a single midtreatment open-label psilocybin session conducted individually. Clinically important aspects of the psilocybin session were assessed using the revised Mystical Experience Questionnaire and the Challenging Experience Questionnaire the day following psilocybin administration. Self-reported ratings of attachment anxiety decreased significantly from baseline to 3-months post-intervention, t(16) = −2.2; p = 0.045; drm = 0.45; 95% CI 0.01, 0.87. Attachment avoidance did not change significantly. Baseline attachment anxiety was strongly correlated with psilocybin-occasioned mystical-type experiences, r(15) = 0.53, p = 0.029, and baseline attachment avoidance was strongly correlated with psilocybin-related challenging experiences, r(16) = 0.62, p = 0.006. These findings have important implications for the general treatment of psychopathology as well as optimizing psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy as a broadly applicable treatment modality.”

Authors: Christopher S. Stauffer, Brian T. Anderson, Kile M. Ortigo & Joshua D. Woolley

Notes

This is a three-month follow-up to an earlier study by Anderson and colleagues (2020) that studied demoralization in long-term AIDS patients in an open-label, group-therapy study.

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