Sexual trauma poses unique challenges to clinical treatment. Psychedelic medicine can address healing from sexual trauma through a more holistic lens.
A sexual assault at fifteen changed the contours of Australia-based artist Lydia’s* life. She blamed herself in a haze of adolescent confusion and hid the assault from her loved ones, even when they suspected something was amiss. The next ten years became a barbed loop of trying to forget and then remembering so vividly that she couldn’t sleep. Lydia tight-roped between extremes:— long periods of abstinence splintered by sprints of hypersexuality. In her early 20’s, she pursued therapy but ultimately found the experience “painful with no payoff.” She recognized she needed a spiritually profound route to recast her sense of self and shift the narrative of her assault–that’s when mushrooms entered the picture.
On her podcast Inside Eyes–a series about using entheogens to ease the aberrations of sexual trauma–somatic psychotherapist Laura Mae Northrup describes sexual assault as a form of spiritual abuse. The impact of sexual violence on the survivor is subjective. However, many, like Northrup, would agree that experiencing sexual assault can change how we view humanity, making us question the morality of mankind and the meaning of our existence at large.
Objectively, sexual assault is unconscionable violence against humanity, resulting in feelings of dissociation and disembodiment that can last a lifetime (and even be passed down). As survivors grow up, they frequently learn to suppress the event and its aching emotions as a defense mechanism. But trauma can never truly be suppressed. Until trauma is addressed, one small trigger has the ability to open the gateway back to the grieving phase.
Given the prolonged spiritual distress sexual abuse spurs, western medicine and traditional therapy can often fall short. For some, exploring a more mystical method of healing provides better outcomes. After all, sexual assault is a complicating factor for mental wellness, with survivors displaying psychological responses such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—all of which psilocybin is proven to positively benefit.
As a seasoned psychedelic researcher and professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Roland Griffiths reports that over 70% of people who took magic mushrooms to treat depression, anxiety, or PTSD cited their psychedelic experience as being among the most impactful events in their lifetime. Additional research echoes these praises, suggesting that psilocybin often induces emotional breakthroughs and profound shifts in perspective for those who choose to use it–and for Lydia, that shift in perspective was life-saving.
“I felt stuck. All my relationships were failing, even the one with myself. I was ready to give up,” she tells us at Retreat. “It felt like one person had stolen my happiness, and I couldn’t get it back, even ten years later.”
Then, a psilocybin retreat changed everything.
Lydia, who lived in Berlin at the time, made a convenient pilgrimage to attend a magic mushroom ceremony in Amsterdam. “The trip cracked me wide open,” she shares, “I was outside my body looking at myself. Which was trippy, but more important is that the filter changed, and suddenly I saw myself with softness and empathy. I sobbed.”
Like Lydia’s anecdotal evidence suggests, psychedelics hold great promise and potential to help people reprocess their trauma in a meaningful manner. In the words of psychedelic integration therapist Dee Dee Goldpaugh, psilocybin allows us to experience a “compassionate recasting of ourselves in the story [of a traumatic event].” By introducing her mind to new ways to think, psilocybin helped Lydia unglue herself from the decade of anguish the assault catalyzed. With the muck cleared off her mind’s windshield, she began to see and accept the truth: it wasn’t her fault, and it doesn’t define her.
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The heroic dose helped Lydia forgive and reopen herself to pleasure, but microdosing helped her cement her newfound perspectives.
“I didn’t want the trip to be this epiphany that didn’t stick,” she shares. “I was so relieved but also a bit anxious that I was placing a flimsy bandaid over a bullet hole.” So, after research and casual coaching by a seasoned psychonaut friend, she started a new routine three times a week: spiking her morning matcha with psilocybin powder.
Lydia enhanced her microdosing journey with daily journaling, affirmations, and a focused effort to allow the soft voice that spoke to her during the trip to reshape her internal monologue. She insists that microdosing rewired her brain in a way SSRIs failed to achieve.
But does the science behind microdosing support her experience?
While the conclusion is clear on the therapeutic benefits of large doses of psychedelics, such as increased empathy, openness, mood, and life satisfaction—the developing research on microdosing doesn’t allow us to draw any one conclusion. Research suggests that microdosing may lead to a positive mood, increased presence, and enhanced well-being.
However, the findings do not come from controlled trials where one-half of the participants take a microdose, and the other half take a placebo. Current knowledge is mostly from vocal success stories like Lydia’s and surveys of people who have used microdosing as a tool for mental health and personal growth. (That said, that is changing, with a number of microdosing studies in the works across the industry.)
Though universally painful, healing from sexual trauma is personal. Whether you leverage traditional talk therapy, small amounts of psilocybin, or a guided heroic trip that sends you to an alternate reality for eternity and returns you a new person–one fact remains: addressing trauma is a meaningful step toward a happier future.
As for the potential of psychedelics to facilitate healing more holistically, the science is promising. Individuals that have suffered sexual trauma often close down as fear, anxiety, and anger shrink them. In one famously-cited psilocybin study, 61 percent of participants demonstrated a lasting and measurable change in openness after just one dose of mushrooms--a significant finding because lasting personality change is often out of reach with just talk therapy alone.
However you choose to heal, and whoever you choose to help you heal, Retreat wishes you the best and is here to offer a little psychedelic support and a lot of empathy.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.
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