Andrew Feldmar

"Nobody suffers, nobody is crazy, if they weren't hurt."
Interview by Asher Penn 
Portrait + Paintings by Meredith Feldmar

Portrait of Andrew Feldmar in Wine Hemp Shirt, 2007

Full Disclosure: Andrew Feldmar is my therapist. I began seeing him in 2006 and have continued to sporadically seek his advice at the most challenging moments. While I've always wanted to interview him, some very late googling yielded surprising results: Feldmar was one of the first to research the use of psychedelics for therapeutic use in the 60's, apprenticed and worked with celebrated psychiatrist RD Laing, and is currently an outspoken advocate for the use of MDMA for PTSD. Continuing Laing's "do no harm" dogma Feldmar's wholly unique approach takes therapy out of Freudian analysis's past towards coming to terms with the present moment.

Where were you born?
I was born in Budapest Hungary, 1940.
Not a good time or place for a Jew.
No. Family members had already emigrated, feeling that things were not going to be good. In 1943 Jews were rounded up in Budapest. My mother was taken to Auschwitz, my father to a forced-labor camp, my grandmother to the ghetto.
How did you survive?
Somehow my father arranged for a young Catholic woman to take me. For a year and a half I was living with this woman and her kids. I had to lie about my name.
How come?
Anybody who was hiding a Jewish kid would be killed. I remember the father of that household hitting my hand because I was using a fork and knife differently than how his children were using it. I had to pretend I was just like the other kids.
How much of that period do you remember?
Very little. I try to remember that part of my life but only fragments come back—sitting on the arm of a strange man, making the rounds. I would look at the guy’s face—if there was no fear on his face I was happy, but if I saw fear on his face I got very frightened.
But you didn’t really understand what was going on?
It was all just sound and fury and color, but I was tuning into the excitement, fear, emotions of the adults around me.

Excesses, 1986

What happened when the war ended?
In 1945 around my fifth birthday my mother, father and grandmother all came back.
You don’t hear about that happening often. What was Budapest like after the war?
Between 1945 and 1956, there was the Russian Oppression with troops all over Hungary. That's where I first figured out what depression was about. Depression is not a medical condition—it’s a political side effect of oppression. Anybody who is oppressed, whose expression is inhibited, will end up depressed. So the whole country was depressed. If anybody heard you speak critically of the regime, the secret police would knock on your door at 3 AM and you'd end up in Siberia. People were terrified.
How did you end up in Toronto?
When I was 16 my Father arranged for a guy to sneak me through the border to Austria. The Iron Curtain was still down, the revolution was defeated so the borders weren't open anymore. I escaped between Christmas and New Years. I had to have a white sheet around me so I wouldn't be seen from the watch towers, there were dogs barking... It wasall veryexciting and dangerous.
What happened once you got to Vienna?
Vienna was so over run by Hungarian refugees I couldn't even find a place to sleep. After three sleepless nights I negotiated with the policeman to take me to jail so I could have a good night's sleep. Then I found the British were recruiting for coal miners so I went England where they started to teach us English. Before I could get down to the mines, International Red Cross took me to Toronto where I had family.

Life Run (Fleeting), 1983

What was it like being in Toronto after Budapest?
It was good. I always felt like an alien in Budapest. I didn't feel I belonged, felt like out of place- a strange feeling to have in the same apartment you’ve lived all your life. When I arrived in Toronto I was out of place, and so I felt much saner.
How did you learn to speak English?
In order to learn English I started to read all sorts of things. I read everything by DH Lawrence,Lawrence Durrell, Henry Miller... I learned a lot from literature. I used to walk around with a dictionary. English grammar is fairly simple, but there is an enormous vocabulary. I had to learn about ten words a day, otherwise people thought I was stupid. If you don't speak the language people think you're dumb or deaf. People would talk slow and loud to me when that wasn't the problem.
How did you do at school?
The education system in Hungary was a lot better than in Toronto. I couldn’t speak English but I got perfect marks in math, algebra, geometry and trigonometry. I was also pretty good in physics and chemistry. They started to think I was some kind of mathematical genius. After completing grade ten I told them I wanted to skip grade eleven and twelve and go straight to grade thirteen. I told them I’d learn English over the summer and that I'd rather fail grade thirteen several times than go through the other grades. And to the credit of the principal he let me try it and I passed.

Barren Tree with Spiral Rainbow, 1991-2008

And you decided to pursue mathematics in university?
Mathematics was good while I was afraid of everything and was confused. It’s so systematic, so clear. Whether you're right or wrong, there are no shady areas, it's all black and white. That was reassuring to me. Plus I didn't need any equipment or anything, all I needed was paper and pencil and I could amuse myself. It was as much an escape from interpersonal emotional reality as television could be. But by the time I felt a little more safe in the world and could speak better English, I wasn't interested in mathematics anymore, I was interested in what was going on with people, what was going on between us.
How exactly did you become introduced to psychology?
After my second marriage failed, I went into therapy for the first time.
You were married twice?
Yes. My first marriage broke apart after 3½ years, and my second marriage after 3½ years as well. I was totally oblivious as to why, and I thought it was the women who were impossible. I was also very upset so I went into therapy. Early on the psychoanalyst pointed out that the pattern was because at the age of 3½ all my connections were broken and the pain was such a surprise that I repeated it. He said I was somewhere proud of being able to make people leave… the drive for mastery and the compulsion to repeat. When I realized he was right, I dropped mathematics. I thought: this is much more interesting.
How did you end up pursuing it formally?
I saw an ad that the University of Western Ontario was seeking a computer programmer in the Psychology Department—a joint appointment to do programming for which they would help get your Masters in Psychology faster than anyone. I got my Masters in two years without ever taking any undergraduate courses.

Iris Prays, 1986

What was the program you had to write?
I had to write a program that would analyze the transcripts of initial psychiatric interviews and come up with a diagnosis that matched a psychiatrist’s diagnosis, just from what the patients said.
That sounds kinda ridiculous.
It turned out to be, yes, but with one exception: I could predict with 100 percent accuracy who would be diagnosed an alcoholic. The algorithm was very simple—I just counted up how many times alcohol was mentioned and if it was mentioned more than twice the guy was an alcoholic.
Not much science there.
Right.I came from hard sciences. Here was psychology pretending to be a science whose aim is to predict and control human behavior. I thought: good luck!
Because you knew what science actually was.
Yeah. Psychology in the universities is based very much on statistics. When I was writing my thesis, you couldn't write a thesis without the use of statistics. You had to show that some result was statistically significant. I almost got my PhD for Mathematics in statistics, so I knew that they were misapplying that information. You can't use statistics for human beings—human beings are unpredictable.
Did you start working with Psychedelics at the University of Western Ontario?
Well, my supervisor came from Regina, which in 1966 was the world center for psychedelic research. Duncan Blewett, the head of the Regina University Department of Psychology was a bright eyed, sparking acid-head. They wrote wonderful research, great literature, very inventive studies. They did group therapy where they would lock themselves in for 24 hours and everybody would take LSD. All the avant-garde experimentation in psychedelics started in Regina.

Red Threads (Wind Wrapped), 2011

Was it legal?
It was legal at that time, all perfectly legal. At a certain point my boss said “I'm not gonna do this stuff anymore, are you interested?” I didn't know what I was saying yes to but I definitely said yes. I usually say yes to things that I don't know anything about.
Had you tried any other drugs before at that point?
No, never. I had my first LSD session right there. There was no interaction. He was sitting there reading a newspaper and I was tripping.
How exactly does a psychedelic like LSD help psychology?
Duncan Blwett wrote a book called The Frontiers of Being where he says that “what the microscope is to biology, the telescope is to astronomy, LSD is to psychology.”
He was saying that LSD was a technology that allowed for the science to progress?
That's what was in the air. In Vancouver around that time there was a hospital called Hollywood Hospital that specialized in LSD therapy. It was probably one of the few hospitals in the world like that. You could fly in, they would give you a huge dose of LSD, 1,200 micrograms, and you would be cured you of your alcoholism.
Hollywood Hospital was for alcoholics?
It was used with other drug addictions, as well. Apparently the CIA and other organizations from the United States came there for creativity training.
It sounds like a very innocent period.
I was very lucky to have been there. Then because of the excesses of Timothy Leary, suddenly it was over and dangerous.

From Sex Magazine #7 Spring 2014
Labelled Psychology