Andrew Feldmar"Nobody suffers, nobody is crazy, if they weren't hurt."
What can one learn from taking LSD multiple times?
LSD is one of those drugs where, depending on the dose, when you come back to an ordinary state of consciousness you may not remember much that happened. You may have a vague memory that fantastic things happened, but it's hard to bring back those discoveries into an ordinary state. In literature it's referred to as state specific memory. Sometimes with alcohol it happens—you get so drunk that the next day you don't know what you did until you get drunk again.
Or even just the feeling that occupied you.
Right. The drug I'm working with now, MDMA, is not like that. With MDMA, whatever you discover while it's lasting stays with you. You don't forget it, it's not state specific. The information transfers to your normal state of consciousness.
So MDMA is a lot more effective than LSD?
For therapeutic purposes, absolutely. There are more and more instances in the established medical community where it is discovered that the use of psychedelics speeds up therapy.
How does it make therapy shorter?
The essence of therapy is really that everybody's PTSD: all the varieties of diagnosis and labels are essentially varieties of post-traumatic stress disorder. Nobody suffers, nobody is crazy if they weren't hurt. So if you have been hurt, sooner or later you have to mourn and grieve of how you have been hurt. But in order to get there, you have to be out of survival mode. The way that happens is with your therapist: you establish some measure of safety, security, and trust. For some people that can take years. Because if you were ripped off, if you were hurt, if you were raped, if you were abused, if you don't trust people, why would you trust your therapist, behind whose face there is your abuser?
And psychedelics speed up this process of creating trust?
What I found with LSD is that suddenly all defensive habits would disappear. I could trust somebody who is trustworthy. I didn't have to be paranoid anymore, my heart opened up, I could suddenly feel safe enough to mourn and grieve what happened to me.
What about bad trips?
If you look at any of the literature that's worth reading, there's three elements to a trip: the drug, the mindset, and the setting itself. Bad trips happen because of the setting or the mindset—it's never the drug. Bad trips are interactions between the person who's tripping and an unprepared, insufficient setting that can't support the person.
What happened after you got your Masters?
I got a two-month fellowship at UBC in psycholinguistics. When I came out I fell in love with Vancouver. I heard on the radio that they were looking for volunteers at the brand new crisis center. I was one of the first ones to be trained to be on the phones with people who were suicidal and wanted to talk to somebody.
Did you enjoy that work?
I really enjoyed talking to people. The only frustrating thing was we weren't supposed to meet them face-to-face. I always wanted to meet them. That opened my mind up to the possibility that maybe I could be a therapist.
How did you pursue that?
I ended up getting a job as a Clinical Psychologist at the Health Center without any training in clinical psychology. You couldn't do that now. The head of the team said he was actually glad I had no training, because he didn’t have retrain me—I could just learn from experience.
What kind of work were you doing?
Working with children. My supervisor believed that starting with children would teach you everything because they were guileless. So the father would see the psychiatrist, the mother would see the social worker, the children would see me. Then we would have case conferences.
What was it like working with kids?
Fantastic. They were so honest. If you give them a sand tray with lot of little toys they'll play out the family dynamics. They basically tell you everything without even being aware that they are telling you their world. They play out their anxieties, fears, difficult situations. Taking them seriously and listening to them was very instructive.
Were there ever instances where you were concerned?
There was a kid who was labeled autistic. When I made a home visit, I found that the parents were crazy, not the kid. The father put the bed up near the attic, and at night he nailed a wooden plank on the crib so the kid couldn't crawl out while they slept in the basement. And the kid was labeled sick.
Did you eventually begin working with adults?
Once I began working with couples and families I realized that I was projecting my own family onto them. I always made an alliance with the mother and fought with the father, which was my background. Despite my best intentions I got sucked in. I needed more training so I quit.
Is that how you ended up apprenticing with R.D. Laing?
Yes. There were two people who I thought I wanted to apprentice with—one was Erich From, a Marxist psychologist, and the other was R.D. Laing. Both of them appealed to me because neither made the mistake of saying your suffering is something wrong within you. Both of them said if you're suffering it's because somebody's treating you badly.
How were you able to meet them?
It happened that in 1974 early in the year both of them appeared on a circuit here in Vancouver. I got to hear and be with both of them. In fifteen minutes I knew I couldn't work with Erich Fromm. Even today I really appreciate his writings, but as to personal interaction, I couldn't handle it. On the other hand I hit it off with Laing. By September my family was in London so I could start working with him.
Can you speak a little more about how Laing differentiated himself from the general psychology community?
Some people mistakenly call him an anti-psychiatrist. Whenever he was confronted with it he said he was a true psychiatrist and the others he fought against were anti-psychiatrists. He took his hippocratic oath as a doctor very seriously, the essence of which was to do no harm. His major accusation towards the rest of psychiatry was that his colleagues were doing harm and didn't want to hear about it.
He seemed like a pretty reckless personality though.
When he was a therapist he was very careful about not doing harm. When he wasn't a therapist he wasn't so careful. The patient pays the therapist to be mindful. It's work to make sure that I'm not going to unleash on you the worst in me. If you don't pay me then you're taking your chances. Having a meeting with Laing outside of the therapy room was a totally different experience than inside.
How much time did you guys spend together?
It was basically a year of intense togetherness—eight hours a week in various forms. Part of my training was that he would just call me up at any time day or night, saying here's a crisis, go out and deal with it.
How would he find these for you?
He was well known, so he would get crisis calls, and would just farm them out to me. I would just take a taxi to a given address and be precipitated into a situation.
What did you come out with from the year you spent with Laing?
Mainly self-confidence. I wouldn't have been able to say it at the time but in hindsight I realized that you can't have self-confidence without somebody who you respect having confidence in you. It just so happened that Laing invested in me absolute confidence. At first I felt that he was mistaking me for someone else. It's almost like he was focusing as if I were 6'2" while I was 4'2". By the end of the year I grew to where he was looking. He treated me as if I would find my way and I did.
What happened when you came back to Vancouver?
I started from scratch. I didn’t want to work for anyone else. No nonprofit organizations or anything, just a private practice. I decided if in six months I could make as much money as we needed as a family, then it would be clear that the community needed me. If not I would go to New York, London, bigger cities that would maybe sustain me. If that didn’t work I would just drive a taxi, because that's next best thing. You get paid for sure, the meter is running and there's opportunity for conversation. I didn't know whether I could make it or not but I was willing to risk the worst.
And you didn’t have to leave Vancouver. What is your practice like today?
I just reduced the number of days I worked with patients to two. On Friday's I make house calls, family therapy, couples therapy. Mondays and Tuesdays are dedicated to MAPS: Multidisciplinary Associations for Psychedelic Studies. Then at least two times for a couple weeks a year I go to Hungary where I'm running The Soteria Asylum—a safe place, especially for young people, to be rescued from being labeled and degraded and taking up being a mental patient as a career. We try to have five or six people living together who otherwise would be hospitalized. We wait out and support them until they move out of their crisis. None of us freak out, they can take psychiatric medications, or not, as they want to.
You also do a lot of public speaking when you’re in Hungary.
I give talks, lectures to infect people with this way of thinking—that there is no mental illness. I speak about how to raise children without shaming and humiliating them, trying to introduce a different way of educating.
My last question: Your wife is a painter. What’s your attitude towards art?
Well, if you look at it from an outsider perspective: my first wife was a cellist and a pianist. My second wife was a painter and a graphic artist. My third wife is a painter. So, obviously, throughout my life I have been moved to support and be around art. Where I live is filled with my wife's paintings—I feel like I'm living in the midst of luxury and visual stimulation.
Does it go beyond that?
There's really no explanation—I don't have any utilitarian attitude to it. It's just a form of expression. All art, from poetry to painting, points to that which is beyond language. I appreciate all forms of expression and I'm absolutely fascinated by the constant surprises revealed by creative people who are candid and spontaneous.