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Registered: 07/25/04
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Group-based psilocybin therapy shows promise in enhancing psychological flexibility * 1
    #28770440 - 05/11/24 09:26 AM (8 days, 21 hours ago)

Group-based psilocybin therapy shows promise in enhancing psychological flexibility
May 11, 2024 - PsyPost

A recent pilot study published in the Journal of Psychedelic Studies has found preliminary evidence that psilocybin, when administered in a group retreat setting, can enhance psychological flexibility. The findings suggest that changes in psychological flexibility may play a crucial role in the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin experiences.

Psilocybin is a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in over 200 species of mushrooms, known colloquially as “magic mushrooms.” When ingested, psilocybin is converted into psilocin in the body, which then influences serotonin receptors in the brain. This interaction results in altered perceptions, emotions, and thoughts, often leading to profound experiences that users describe as mystical or spiritual.

Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy integrates the use of psilocybin with psychological support and is being studied as a treatment for various mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. This form of therapy typically involves a few dosing sessions of psilocybin, administered in a controlled, therapeutic environment, accompanied by non-drug preparatory and integration sessions. These sessions are designed to help individuals process their experiences during and after the effects of psilocybin, enabling them to derive therapeutic benefits from insights gained during these altered states of consciousness.

The motivation behind the recent study emerged from a growing interest in the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, driven by promising results in clinical trials. Despite numerous studies highlighting the efficacy of psilocybin in symptom reduction for various psychological conditions, there is a significant gap in understanding the underlying psychological mechanisms that facilitate these benefits.

Most prior research has focused on broad outcomes such as symptom relief, without dissecting the specific psychological changes that contribute to these improvements. This study specifically aimed to explore how psilocybin affects aspects of psychological flexibility during group-based therapy.

“I think group-based psilocybin administration is under-studied and has significant value in producing therapeutic change. I also am interested in using psychological flexibility as way to understand how psychedelics exert their effects and lead to improvements in health and well-being,” explained study author Brian Pilecki of Portland Psychotherapy.

For their study, the researchers collected data from a week-long retreat where participants underwent three sessions of psilocybin administration, with dosages chosen individually. It was conducted at a private retreat center in Jamaica, where the legal status of psilocybin allows for such research.

Participants included nine adults, ranging in age from 41 to 68, who shared living quarters and meals, fostering a communal environment. Before and after each psilocybin session, group-based preparation and integration sessions were conducted to facilitate psychological support and sharing of experiences.

The researchers collected data using a series of assessments at three time points: one week before the retreat, two weeks after, and six months later. These assessments included standardized questionnaires to measure psychological flexibility, cognitive fusion, values-driven behavior, self-compassion, emotional expressivity, and general well-being.

The data indicated a substantial decrease in cognitive fusion, which refers to the influence of rigid thoughts on behavior. This reduction was significant at the two-week follow-up and persisted through the six-month evaluation. This change suggests that participants were able to detach from their thoughts more effectively, allowing them to act more in accordance with their values rather than being driven by habitual thought patterns.

In terms of values alignment, the participants reported significant enhancements in how freely they were able to live according to their values. This was evident from reductions in what the study termed “values obstruction” at both the two-week and six-month follow-ups. Additionally, there was a notable increase in values progression by the six-month mark, indicating sustained improvements in participants’ ability to engage in behaviors that align with their personal values over time.

The researchers also observed increases in self-compassion at both follow-up points. Emotional expressivity also changed, with participants reporting decreased negative emotional expression and an increase in positive emotional expression by the six-month follow-up. These changes in emotional expressivity could contribute to better social interactions and personal well-being.

“Our study supported that psilocybin taken in a retreat context can be helpful in enhancing key aspects of psychological flexibility including cognitive defusion, valued living, and self-compassion,” Pilecki told PsyPost. “These improvements suggest that client’s were able to take greater perspective on their thoughts and align their behaviors more closely with their values.”

Beyond the psychological flexibility metrics, participants experienced an increase in social safeness and a sense of oneness shortly after the retreat, although these effects did not persist as strongly over time. This suggests that while some of the social and existential impacts of psilocybin may be profound shortly after the experience, they may diminish without ongoing supportive practices or further psychedelic sessions.

“Some of the differences between short- and long-term outcomes were surprising, though it is hard to infer much due to the small sample size,” Pilecki said. “For example, of all the processes that were measured, we found increases in self-compassion at the six-month follow-up suggesting that psilocybin may lead to enduring changes in one’s relationship to themself.”

But the study, like all research, includes limitations. One of the primary limitations was the small sample size of only nine participants, which significantly restricts the statistical power of the findings. This small group makes it difficult to generalize the results to a broader population, as the variability within larger samples could lead to different outcomes.

Furthermore, the absence of a control group means that it’s challenging to determine whether the observed changes were due specifically to psilocybin, the retreat environment, the group dynamics, or other unmeasured factors.

“This was a small pilot study without a control group, so results must interpreted with caution,” Pilecki noted. “However, positive results suggest further research in this area is warranted.”

Looking ahead, future research should aim to address these limitations. Studies with larger and more diverse participant pools are needed to confirm the findings and enhance their generalizability. Randomized controlled trials, including placebo and active comparison groups, would help isolate the effects of psilocybin from other variables.

“We would like to better understand why psychedelics are therapeutic, and emerging evidence suggest that they work via a process of enhancing psychological flexibility,” Pilecki said. “We are interested in continuing to investigate how psychedelics may increase psychological flexibility, as well as group-based retreat settings.”

The study, “A pilot study of the effect of group-administered psilocybin on psychological flexibility and outcomes,” was authored by Brian Pilecki, Jason Luoma, and Kati M. Lear.

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