This episode of the Psychedelic Medicine Podcast features clinical psychologist and researcher Aaron Cherniak, who discusses the intersection between attachment styles and psychedelic experiences. He discusses how attachment style can influence how someone experiences a transcendent psychedelic experience, and how this could have significant implications for psychedelic therapy.
“In this episode of the Psychedelic Medicine Podcast, Aaron Cherniak joins to discuss the intersection between psychedelic experiences and psychological attachment styles. Aaron is a clinical psychologist and researcher who examines a variety of topics in psychedelic science, including subjective experiences, outcomes, and mechanisms. He is also a Rabbi and the director of the JPSYCH lab of Jewish spirituality and mental health. His recent research looks at how psychedelic experiences are integrated into peoples’ narratives of life-long religious and spiritual development and contribute to culturally competent therapeutic models. In this conversation, Aaron shares the science of attachment styles and explores its implications in psychedelic therapeutic contexts. He frames attachment theory as a form of personality psychology, mentioning that someone’s attachment style is typically something that stays consistent for long periods of time, though certain traumatic events such as abusive relationships can influence one to develop insecure attachment. The two forms of insecure attachment are avoidant attachment and anxious attachment, which are two different behavioral expressions resulting from an underlying sense of insecurity or lack of safety within a relationship. This is contrasted with a secure attachment style in which a person feels safe in a relationship and does not feel a compulsion to engage in either avoidant or anxious behaviors out of a sense of self-preservation. Aaron explains that there are many potential points of relevance for exploring psychedelic experiences and attachment styles together. For example, it may be the case that therapeutic psychedelic experiences could actually shift a person away from insecure attachment—a finding which would be very significant considering how stable attachment styles typically are. Another idea would be to consider the existing attachment style of a patient entering into psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, and explore how this could affect the patient-therapist relationship and the efficacy of the therapy. In the context of spirituality and religiosity, Aaron explains that a person’s attachment style often influences how they hold spiritual beliefs. In an Abrahamic religious context, a person with a secure attachment style stemming from a healthy home life is more likely to interpret God through lenses that emphasize divine love and God’s all-embracing concern, whereas someone with an insecure attachment that developed out of an early childhood experience that was colored by neglect or even abuse is more likely to see God primarily as responsible for bad experiences and potentially even capricious. In the context of spirituality outside of traditional religion, this could be the difference between a person viewing the universe as having a purpose and meaning within it, or seeing the cosmos as only cold and uncaring towards the wellbeing of the creatures within it. Aaron suggests this is relevant for psychedelic research as patients often report transcendent experiences of divine realities during psychedelic experiences, but how such experiences can be integrated may vary significantly based on a person’s interpretation of religion and spirituality stemming from their attachment style. Though this work is still in the theoretical stage, Aaron is excited about the potential findings from research into psychedelic experiences and attachment styles. In this episode: What are the different attachment styles? Could attachment style influence the connection between a patient and a psychedelic therapist? How attachment styles impact peoples’ interpretations of mystical experiences Psychedelic research as an opportunity to study the psychology of spiritual experiences Quotes: “Attachment theory has provided a very fruitful model of life-long personality development generally, and specifically religion and spirituality.” [5:41] “If a psychedelic session can change something that is normally stable over 35 years, that would be a very impressive finding.” [14:12] “People talk about the psychedelic substance in attachment terms—people talk about the grandmother or the plant healer… An attachment figure is a stronger, wiser other to whom we seek proximity for closeness, to help us overcome challenges.” [19:47] “I think we have a responsibility to develop therapeutic frameworks to help people translate those experiences of safety, of love and all those things into long lasting therapeutic change.” [34:55] Links: Aaron’s article: Psychedelic Science of Spirituality and Religion: An Attachment-Informed Agenda Proposal Aaron on Twitter JPSYCH Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love Psychedelic Medicine Association Porangui”