I'm a psychotherapist who believes in the healing potential of MDMA. Here's why.

·3 min read
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  • Veterans Affairs said 18 veterans die by suicide each day, with many suffering from PTSD.

  • The FDA could have MDMA approved to treat post-traumatic stress disorder as early as 2023.

  • MDMA paired with therapy has shown great improvement in those suffering from PTSD.

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Perhaps you, or someone you know, have suffered from PTSD and haven't benefited enough from what traditional psychiatry has to offer: medication and psychotherapy. It's heartbreaking to watch someone you love struggle, especially when attempts to get relief only bring frustration and hopelessness. People with PTSD can find it difficult to trust, and they often experience a lack of safety. This can make treatment especially challenging.

As a psychotherapist, I've had many patients with post-traumatic stress disorder who have been helped by antidepressants or anxiety medication, but also many who haven't. Some find them less effective over time. Many can't afford long-term treatment or cope with the trial and error it can take to find a medication combination that works.

Since the pandemic, I've seen an increase in those with PTSD symptoms. Being a frontline worker, having a loved one pass away, or having COVID-19 are all traumatic experiences that could lead to PTSD.

The therapeutic use of psychedelics such as MDMA is providing hope to many

There have been no new treatments for PTSD in over 20 years. The existing treatments don't work for everyone and often have side effects. The Department of Veterans Affairs reported that 18 veterans die by suicide every day. And many veterans suffer from PTSD.

In 1990, a new team at the Food and Drug Administration was created to speed up drug approval for those with PTSD.

This May, results from a phase 3 clinical trial appeared in the journal Nature Medicine and showed that 67% of those with PTSD who were treated with a combination of MDMA and psychotherapy no longer met the criteria for PTSD.

In fact, the FDA was so impressed by MDMA's ability to treat PTSD, it put the drug on a fast track to be approved in the next two years. As early as 2023, someone with PTSD may be able to go to a specially trained doctor and therapist team to receive MDMA-assisted therapy.

This is how MDMA therapy works in trials

During the clinical trials, patients sit with a team of two therapists in three separate sessions that last six to eight hours, with additional pre- and post-therapy time to prepare for and process the experience. During the "trip," they listen to specially designed music and wear an eye mask to help maintain their inward focus.

Those with PTSD often find it hard to talk about their trauma. Patients in the clinical trials were able to revisit their trauma without the terror and panic usually present, and often with the addition of feeling more empathy.

After three of the eight-hour MDMA-assisted therapy sessions offered, most reported thinking differently about what happened and said their relationship to it had changed, as did their ability to experience many emotions (grief, rage, fear, joy, happiness) without feeling overwhelmed.

These medicines are not for everyone and can be contraindicated in those with a family history of psychosis. Having a psychedelic experience can result in insights and vivid memories that not everyone is prepared to process without the guidance of a trained professional. They could be dangerous if combined with certain medications and antidepressants. Research showed that the medicines worked best when combined with psychotherapy.

MDMA therapy, if legalized by the FDA, would be a breakthrough treatment that could revolutionize our mental-health system and help patients with PTSD with only a few treatments that have lasting effects.

Rebecca Hendrix is an integrative holistic psychotherapist and writer in New York City. Follow her on Instagram @rebeccahendrixlmft.

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