An underground MDMA therapist tells all

An underground MDMA therapist tells all

VicesOctober 13, 2016

MDMA — also called ‘molly’ and ‘ecstasy’ — is as illegal as heroin. The government claims the drug is addictive and that it kills people — which is why it’s scheduled as one of the most dangerous. Yet, a small but growing number of psychotherapists say it's the best way to heal suffering people. That it works.

Despite facing long prison sentences, they are doing MDMA-assisted therapy, albeit underground. “Selena,” a 28-year-old therapist, is a woman with natural brown hair and a warm smile. She does her sessions with clients in her small apartment, in a living room draped with prayer flags, plants, bells and a Bernie poster.

We spoke with her for hours about the venture. This is an edited transcript.

Do you worry about getting caught?

Yes. I'm not super open about it. I don't talk about it on the phone, I don't email about it.

Molly is a club drug, it's for partying, it's for fun. Why should anyone think it can actually help them with therapy?

Well, it's ecstasy. The chemical compound creates a feeling of ecstasy, which is a very natural experience. It's tremendously healing for the human psyche, because it's a totally natural and essential part of life.

So ecstasy is well named? It makes you feel ecstasy?

Yes — if it's pure molly. A lot of times it's cut with fillers, it's cut with meth, it's cut with heroin. But if it's pure molly, it's a fucking cure. It's psychiatry's antibiotic. It's the future. That's why I don't worry too much about getting caught. I feel like a pioneer.

What are your qualifications? You have a degree in something?

Masters in therapy. I do regular one-on-one counseling, too. I have one or two MDMA sessions a week. My first was last spring. I've had about twelve clients, for a total of around 30 sessions.

Tell me about the first time you conducted a session. Who was it with?

It was big. The guy, he has a lot of trauma from his childhood. His father is an alcoholic, and his mother is very weak and didn't protect him. He hadn't cried since he was probably 10 years old, which had been 20 years. He wanted to feel something. That was his whole goal: to feel something.

Describe the scene.

So he comes into my house and we sit on the couch and we check in, and he takes the medicine, and shortly after that he started talking. He starts telling his story. There's a rolled out latex bed, it's like a twin size foam bed, on the floor. And when I feel that he's complete with sharing, I invite him to lay down on the latex bed. There's an altar on the left, with crystals and deities and sage and Palo Santo candles. I burn incense. He brings his own incense from Nepal. It makes him feel at home. And then he lays down on the mat, and I turn on the music, and it's very evocative wordless music, it's journey music, and I invite him to put eye shades on, and go into a personal experience with himself. There's massage. I helped him regulate his heart rate with my heart rate. I helped him feel safe. He cried the first session — after 20 years of not crying.

So the therapy is not all talky talk?

I think talk therapy is important. And some clients need to talk. And they talk a lot. But for those of us who have gone to therapy for a while, the trauma feels stuck in the body, and talking doesn't release it from the body. For me, I had done the talky talk for years, and banged my head against the wall talking.

What types of people come to you?

Mostly people with PTSD from childhood trauma — sexual abuse, physical abuse, chronic, chronic abuse, the kind of abuse that re-patterns your DNA, the kind that releases so much cortisol into the brain that our brains don't fully develop. The kind that casts a grey film over their life. People who can't even go out in the world because they're so afraid.

The most intense session I ever had was with a young woman, with a horrible history of abuse, sexual, physical, emotional, and she requested to work with me because she felt like she was on the cusp of a breakthrough. And about 10 minutes after taking the medicine, she begins heaving and throwing up and gagging, choking. She regresses very quickly to a being a child, she's raging, she's screaming, she's on the floor pounding her fists on the ground and screaming bloody murder. She asks me to hold her like a baby. And then I gave her a little bit of massage, and it's too much for her to handle, and she's heaving and throwing up. She's releasing the trauma. If you've never seen a body release trauma, it's pretty intense. It shakes and convulses. And I just stay with her, make her feel safe, make her feel like — just let your body do it, allow it to happen. And I'm crying because it's so moving.

Did her life get better?

Better is a subjective thing. Right now she's purging her life from toxic relationships. That is a painful process. There's just as much pain as there is pleasure. But she says she found more freedom, and she's never felt more pleasure and presence in her life.

Have people found concrete improvements in their life?

Absolutely. My first client, after the first session, he quit his corporate job —  he decided feeling good today was more important to him than money. My other client feels better in her body than she ever has. My other client reports feeling more connection with her co-workers — and this is a person who has never had friends. Another client says that, when difficulties come now, she feels like, ‘I can handle this now, whatever happens, I'm big enough, I got this. I got this.’

That's amazing.

Yeah. The biggest thing that people get is they are able to see their challenges — what they used to think of as misfortune — those are actually the greatest gifts of their life, because they're able to grow from it. People who used to have a victim perspective, now they feel this empowerment, that they actually can conquer. MDMA gives them a taste of victory, and all people need to feel better is just a taste of victory

Still, how do you know that you're not damaging people? To give medicines, doctors and psychiatrists go to school for 12 years or whatever. What makes you think you're qualified to give these powerful drugs?

The medicine I get is completely pure. And taking a regular dose, which is about 130 milligrams, is safe. And I always make sure people don't have any heart conditions, that they've had a physical in the past six months, that they're not predisposed to psychosis or schizophrenia. I ask about their family histories of mental disorders and medical disorders. But, yeah, it's a fucking drug. There are risks. But people know what they're getting into. 

What's your source?

I'd rather not have that in there.

Do you feel like people just come to you to get drugs? How do we know people won't have that feeling of ecstasy in your therapy and then chase that feeling by just doing ecstasy all the time?

No. Because I do a rigorous pre-screening interview, and make sure the people who come to me are genuinely seeking healing. This is their last resort. I'm getting a lot of older women who are stuck in their patterns for 50 years, and they're tired of it. I'm not giving it to people who just want to party. I have a good intuition. I trust it.

Has anyone started taking it with you and ended up having a problem?

No.

What do you charge?

Two hundred dollars. That's for five hours, six hours of intense work. And that includes the medicine.

You did MDMA therapy yourself first. 

I had childhood trauma. My dad was an alcoholic — is an alcoholic. Whenever he would get drunk and blacked out, he'd be throwing up, and slamming us against the walls, telling me I'm a piece of shit, that I'm not worth anything. So this created this pattern in me that I believe that I'm unlovable. My depression started at 12. I started getting suicidal. For the longest time that feeling — that I'm unlovable — started manifesting in my own life through abusive relationships with men.

A few years ago, through my regular therapist, I found an MDMA therapist. A guy who's been doing this for 30 years.

How many times did you see this man?

Four with MDMA. Twice with psilocybin. After the first session I stopped waking up depressed. I have good days and bad days, for sure, but I don't wake up everyday depressed.

You're tearing up now.

Yeah. It's a fucking miracle.

Did you expect this kind of thing from this?

Not at all. I had no idea what it was going to be.

You're describing something that just sounds too good, or too easy to have lasting benefits. Isn't good therapy hard work?

Definitely. And the MDMA therapy is hard work. Our baseline functioning is fear-based in this culture. Ecstasy shows you that feeling good is actually possible, and you can cultivate it into your day-to-day living. Every moment, stopping yourself from moving into the cycle of judgment and fear and back into the present. And that's the hard work.

If ecstasy is such miracle drug, why not just give it out on the street? Why does therapy have to be attached?

If people are taking it in a place where they don't feel comfortable, or if the people they're around make them feel unsafe, they might start going into a fear response, and not be able to experience what potentially good could happen. It can be really scary and isolating doing it alone. Also, it can be great at a show and connecting, but it's very overstimulating, and you're not focusing on yourself.

How many other therapists do you know who are doing MDMA therapy?

One.

One?

My mentor.

I thought there would be like an underground network.

No. It's pretty small. We're risking our lives. It's not for everyone.

Do you think there's a lot of MDMA therapists out there you don't know about?

Definitely. But it's just very quiet.

If a reader is interested and wants to find an MDMA therapist, how can they do that?

I don't know. I wish I could publish my name, I wish I could offer my services on my website, I wish I could be honest about what I do, and not be afraid of going to jail, but I have to protect myself, because I'm risking my life. At this point, where we're at in our society, offering people cures is not yet the priority. We'd rather keep people hooked on pharmaceuticals.

Overall, would you encourage people to explore this?

As a client, definitely. If you have PTSD, this is a cure. It allows your body to process the trauma in a way that you can release it. You can discharge it from your system. It doesn't help everybody. But the people it does help, it's profound.

Do you think you'll do this for the rest of your life?

Definitely. I plan to sit with psilocybin, with DMT. I did an LSD session. That lasted 10 hours.

Was it good?

It was amazing.

Will you tell us about that sometime?

For sure.