Dissertation Title:

Finding peace in the face of death: A depth-psychological inquiry into MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with life-threatening illness


Bernard Becker

Date, Time & Place:

March 7, 2022 at 9:00 am


In the face of the rekindling of scientific research on the use of psychedelics as adjuncts to psychotherapy, questions arise on the risks and benefits of this novel hybrid form of therapy.  In particular, psychedelics are known for their capacity to elicit non-ordinary states of consciousness and allow access to unconscious, archetypal or numinous psychological material.  Although the field of depth psychology has extensively studied these kinds of psychological phenomena as occurring during dreams or active imagination, little has been written from depth psychological and alchemical perspectives about the use of psychedelics in the treatment of psychological disorders and on the consequences of their use on psychological development.  It is on these premises that this study aims at increasing our understanding of the psychological processes of transformation elicited by the combination of MDMA with psychotherapy.  The goals are to implement an additional and depth-oriented coding scheme to the existing Qualitative Follow-Up Study dataset associated with MAPS-sponsored clinical trial using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for anxiety associated with life-threatening illness (MDA1).  In order to balance phenomenological descriptions and hermeneutic interpretative analysis, this study is designed with Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as a primary qualitative methodology.  Finally, the goal of the research is to describe and analyze the influence of MDMA on the unfolding of participants’ individuation process, as manifested through their capacity to integrate and benefit from the encounter with unconscious psychic material, such as insights and visions, as well as somatic, numinous, religious, and spiritual experiences.




  • Program/Track/Year: Depth Psychology emphasis in Somatic Studies, S, 2014
  • Chair: Dr. Lionel Corbett
  • Reader: Dr. Alan Kilpatrick
  • External Reader: Dr. C. Michael Smith
  • Keywords: MDMA, Psychedelic-assisted Therapy, Terminal Illness, Anxiety, PTSD, Alchemy, Hero’s Journey, Spirituality, Individuation, Jungian Psychology