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Archive for the 'Psychology' Category

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

What the Election of President Trump May Mean for Mental Health Policy

Losing Tim

This is part of an ongoing series of posts in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Paul Gionfriddo, author of Losing Tim: How Our Health and Education Systems Failed My Son with Schizophrenia, discusses how mental health policy will be affected by a Trump presidency:

What the Election of President Trump May Mean for Mental Health Policy
By Paul Gionfriddo

The election of Donald Trump as President will influence mental health services in America. We just don’t know how.

We have generated significant positive momentum for mental health system reform during the past two years. The federal government has begun to lay a new foundation for a modern, community-based system of mental health services.

This has been no small feat. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, federal policymakers initially could come to no consensus about how they should respond. Some argued for more deep-end services for individuals who were a danger to themselves or others. Others wanted stricter gun control laws to keep weapons out of the hands of most people with serious mental health conditions.

The earliest ideas did not consider the bigger picture – that mental illnesses are most frequently diseases of childhood, and seldom manifest in violent or dangerous acts.

Losing Tim helped change those perceptions. Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA), the leading House proponent of mental health reform legislation, cited the narrative as one of the reasons he changed his approach in the legislation he authored. And Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted that his companion Senate proposal was “for the countless people like Tim” who, he argued, deserve a mental health system that works.

My own organization, Mental Health America, made prevention, early intervention, integrated services, and recovery the pillars of our work. We argued that by applying a “danger to self or others” standard as a trigger to treatment for mental illnesses, we made them the only chronic diseases that we wait until Stage 4 to treat – and then often inappropriately through incarceration.

We argued that we needed to act sooner to help children and young adults, and developed a multi-faceted educational campaign promoting early identification and intervention built around the hashtag “B4Stage4.”

The established mental health advocacy community organized itself around a common set of the principles we shared and around the more comprehensive legislative proposals that evolved. The House and Senate bills gained bipartisan traction and momentum. As election day came, we were poised to celebrate the Lame Duck session passage of the most significant federal mental health legislation since President Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Centers Act back in 1963, and to build on this in 2017.

Now there is a sense of uncertainty about what will come next.

I do not believe that there will be a seismic shift in the mental health policy landscape in the coming years that will undermine the progress we have made.

For one thing, the President-elect experienced the death of his older brother Freddy at the age of 43 from a substance use disorder, and knows first-hand the toll behavioral illnesses take on families. For another, Vice President-elect Mike Pence worked to improve mental health services in his state during his time as Governor of Indiana.

Also, the newly elected Congress looks very much like the Congress that came before it, with many strong proponents of mental health reform remaining in positions of leadership and influence. Finally, the advocacy community was prepared to continue to work together no matter what the election outcome.

Still, there are many issues that surfaced during the campaign that may have a profound effect on people with mental illnesses.

One is the move to amend the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

ACA made mental health benefits “essential health benefits” that had to be covered by all insurers. It also enabled the expansion of Medicaid to support single adults with chronic diseases, including mental illnesses. In requiring insurers to offer coverage despite pre-existing conditions, it also made sure that when children with serious mental illnesses became adults, they did not become uninsured.

President-elect Trump has said that he favors retention of the pre-existing condition provision. But if the essential health benefits are changed or insurers can pay out less for those with pre-existing conditions, it could take the teeth out of that commitment.

President-elect Trump also proposed block-granting Medicaid. This would not be hard, because the federal Medicaid program is already fifty different state Medicaid programs operated under a common set of federal rules. If the payments were bundled and some of those rules were left in place, that could be a good thing.

States might use the flexibility they are granted to innovate to cover housing, employment supports, and peer support services that people with mental illnesses need.

However, if dollars are reduced when they are blocked together – as happened in the 1980s and led in part to the inadequate state systems of care that persist today – then people will get less access to services and supports, not more.

President-elect Trump has also said that he will be “tough on crime.” People in jail and prison are significantly more likely to have mental health and substance use disorders than people who are not incarcerated. If being tough on crime means putting more people with mental illnesses into the criminal justice system, then that would just accelerate the revolving door of hospitalization, frequent incarceration, and chronic homelessness that characterizes our system today.

Meanwhile, several more states also legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use. Marijuana has often been called a gateway drug. For many people with serious mental illnesses, it is a gateway to jail.

As state policies become friendlier to people who self-medicate, they could mitigate tougher federal sanctions.

This is why we must be vigilant. It will take some time for everything to sort itself out.

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Why Do We Overeat at Thanksgiving?

Neurogastronomy

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, we are examining one of the darker traditions of the holiday: overeating. Sure, the food is delicious and plentiful, but we should know better. Are there scientific factors that can explain why we stuff ourselves every Thanksgiving?

The following is an excerpt from Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters, by Gordon Shepherd. In this excerpt, Shepherd begins by taking a close look at fast food and then moves on to some of the neurological reasons for why we overeat at Thanksgiving and other times of the year.

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

Is Not Ours The Most Exhausted Age in History?

Exhaustion: A History, Anna Katharina Schaffner

We continue our week-long feature on Exhaustion: A History, by Anna Katharina Schaffner, at the beginning with the introduction to the book (see below).

Schaffner argues that while today’s world might seem particularly stressful or pressured, we have felt exhausted throughout history. The introduction lays out some of the key questions she considers in the book:

There is no doubt that the specter of exhaustion shapes both public debates and lived experience in the early twenty-first century, chiming eerily with our weary zeitgeist. Is not ours the most exhausted age in history? And does the current epidemic of exhaustion not threaten the very future of the human animal? There are many who believe this to be the case.9 Yet before simply assenting to this assessment of our times, there is another question that needs to be asked: What do we really mean when we speak of exhaustion? In spite of the ubiquity and the metaphorical potency of the term, and its many applications in medical, psychological, economic, and political debates, exhaustion is a slippery concept, one that borders on, and often overlaps with, various others. How can we define exhaustion, and how can we demarcate it from related ideas and diagnoses? Is exhaustion a state that we can quantify scientifically, or is it a wholly subjective experience? Is it primarily a physical or a mental condition? Is it predominantly an individual or a wider sociocultural experience? Is it really the bane of our age, something that is intimately bound up with modernity and its discontents, or have other historical periods also seen themselves as the most exhausted?

Schaffner also examines the central contradiction that makes exhaustion so central and difficult to avoid both as a state and a concept, particularly in today’s world:

Finally, exhaustion is bound up with two contradictory desires: the concept chimes with us because, on the one hand, we all long for rest and the permanent cessation of exertion and struggle. A part of us wishes to return to an earthly paradise, from which work is banished—a state that resembles childhood, in which we are relieved of all responsibilities, and where everything revolves around pleasure. Yet, on the other hand, work is crucial not only for our survival but also for the shaping of our identity. It is bound up with self-realization and autonomy. In our age, moreover, work is particularly overdetermined: boundaries between public and private selves, between work and leisure, and profession and calling, are becoming ever more blurred.

Monday, July 11th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of “Exhaustion: A History”

This week we are featuring Exhuastion: A History, by Anna Katharina Schaffner.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Exhuastion: A History to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, July 15th at 1:00 pm.

Edward Shorter, author of How Everyone Became Depressed: The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdown, writes, “Exhaustion is fluently written and brilliantly argued, and it will provoke thoughtful minds with the suggestion that exhaustion has a history.”

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

Debunking the Myth That Lincoln Was Gay

Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

“I’d been working on Lincoln since 1973. But he’s such a profound man with such a wonderful sense of humor, so appealing, so he draws you in. He’s such a brilliant writer. Every story about Lincoln, whether it’s in the oral history, whether it’s something he wrote, it’s always interesting. He’s just an appealing human being. I don’t think he was so modest. On the other hand, he wasn’t wildly grandiose. There’s a difference. He was aware of his own greatness.” — Charles Strozier

This week, our featured book is Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, by Charles B. Strozier. Today, for the final day of the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt of Strozier’s interview with Ronald K. Fried at The Daily Beast. Read the interview and accompanying article in full on The Daily Beast‘s website.

[Ronald K. Fried] spoke with Strozier at his Greenwich Village psychoanalytical office. The following is an edited version of [their] conversation.

RKF: How common was it for men to share the same bed during Lincoln’s time?

Charles Strozier: Very common. One guy has counted 14 people—men— Lincoln slept with before he slept with Speed. Inns at the time were really just homes where they finished the loft. They weren’t hotels like we have now. They were just hostels, where you have the men over here and the women over there. But individual biography is not always congruent with social custom. The fact that it was common for men to sleep together doesn’t mean that it was of no significance that Lincoln at this crucial moment in his life slept for nearly four years with his absolute best friend. The question is, what does it mean?

Friendship between men in Lincoln’s time was very different, right?

I think the historical context is really important to understand. Now where homosexuality is so much more accepted, legitimated, and even affirmed as it should be in gay marriage, we accept males loving one another and being sexual with one another. But in the 19th century, the taboo of homosexuality is absolutely rigid. Whitman was gay. He had to stay in the closet. Sodomy, buggery, was illegal and severely prescribed. But friendship, intimate, loving friendship like that between Lincoln and Speed, was not only accepted but encouraged as the long as the boundary against sexualization was rigidly and absolutely maintained.

But couldn’t you say that homosexuality was so severely punished that Lincoln—if he were gay—would have had to hide it?

Of course. It’s a perfect reasonable question, and that’s why I had to look at the evidence for whether or not it was legitimate. And, of course, it’s hard to answer a negative. First of all, Herndon [Lincoln’s eventual biographer], who lived in the same room for two years [with Lincoln and Speed], not only never mentioned it, he never had a clue. And no one would have been more interested in anything homosexual about Lincoln. Not a single person Herndon talked to mentioned it. (more…)

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Introducing “Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln”

Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

“Nearly every detail of the narrative arc in Lincoln’s life between 1837 and 1842 has been hotly debated; in fact, it is fair to say that, while books will undoubtedly continue to be written about all facets of Abraham Lincoln’s life, the meaning of these years represents the last area of real disagreement about Lincoln’s identity and character.” — Charles Strozier

This week, our featured book is Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, by Charles B. Strozier. Today, we have excerpted Strozier’s Preface to Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln:

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

The New World of Male Friendship

Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

“All kinds of theories have been offered to explain Lincoln’s action, most mutually exclusive, from his supposed sexual love for Speed; to his infatuation with the beautiful Matilda Edwards who arrived in Springfield in November; to his sense of inadequacy with the lordly Todds; to Mary actually taking the decisive action. The evidence, most of it contradictory, supports none of these theories altogether, and the reason for the broken engagement has remained an enigma for most of the last century and a half.” — Charles Strozier

This week, our featured book is Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, by Charles B. Strozier. Today, we are happy to present a guest post from Strozier, in which he gives an overview of the close male friendship between Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, and explains why that friendship has become such a touchstone for controversy.

The New World of Male Friendship
Charles B. Strozier

Men talk of bromance and a new kind of buddy system, of searching for soul mates, even love, but not in the context of sex. That is the point in this new world of male friendship. It is relatively new, and very old, at the same time. In fact, the most interesting example of close male friendship in American history may be Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed.

Lincoln struggled as a young man with issues of intimacy and depression. He was always moody, but in his late 20s and early 30s, and only then, he was twice suicidal: first after the death of his betrothed, Ann Rutledge, in 1835 in New Salem, and then six years later after he broke off his engagement with Mary Todd.

He was saved, in a very real sense, through his friendship with Joshua Speed. That friendship unfolded in its most important phase between 1837, when Lincoln arrived in Springfield, Illinois, at 28 years of age, and ended up living with Speed, then 22 years of age, above Speed’s dry goods store on the west side of the square and sleeping with him in the same large, double bed for nearly the next four years. All the (good) historical evidence suggests the relationship was loving but not sexualized. (more…)

Monday, May 30th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed

Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

“Lincoln was the hub of an important wheel of political and social life, and Strozier has repaired the missing spoke that is Joshua Speed. He has done so in part by re-connecting Speed to Lincoln’s other friends and acquaintances, to provide as full a picture of these young American men’s interior lives as we are likely to get. His use of often-ignored archival sources is brilliant.” — James M. Cornelius, Lincoln curator, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

This week, our featured book is Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, by Charles B. Strozier. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, June 3rd at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Dharma and Drugs

Altered States

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In the final post of the week’s feature, we are happy to share Douglas Osto’s conversation with Erik Davis on the Expanding Mind podcast as they talk perennialism, experiential narratives, the limits of reason, and Altered States.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

A Neuropsychological Model of Altered States of Consciousness

Altered States

“Since the feeling of being transported to “somewhere else” in an altered state appears to be a cross-cultural, psychological universal, possibly related to the physiological hardwiring of the human brain, one could hypothesize the existence of certain naturally occurring chemicals in the brain, like DMT, that can act in similar ways as LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline.” — Douglas Osto

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In today’s post,

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

Douglas Osto on the relationship between Buddhism and psychedelics in America

Altered States

“I wrote this book because I was interested in a question, and the question was, ‘what’s happened in the relationship between Buddhism and psychedelics since the 60s?’” — Douglas Osto

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In today’s video, Osto details some of the questions that led him to write, the methods he used in his research, and the structure of the book itself.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Buddhism, Psychedelic Spirituality, and the Religious Landscape of America

Altered States

“These altered states by their very nature exceed the bounds of reason and challenge existing paradigms. We as human beings tend to fear the novel, strange, weird, and extraordinary. Thus it is not surprising that the status quo often is highly suspect of new religious movements, or “cults,” and generally attempts to suppress them, often with extreme prejudice. However, fear is not our only instinct, and hopefully not our strongest.” — Douglas Osto

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. In today’s post, excerpted from the book’s preface, Osto explains that he hopes to tell “the story of how Buddhism and psychedelic spirituality coemerged, mutually influenced each other, and forever changed the religious landscape of America.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Altered States!

“Man’s greatest dread is the expansion of consciousness.”
—Henry Miller, Time of the Assassins: A Study of Rimbaud

This book does not promote breaking the law of any land; nor does it demonize, denigrate, or dismiss anyone’s religious/spiritual beliefs or practices. As an American born and bred, I have a strong conviction in the individual’s right to freedom of religion. As far as my political views concerning the use of psychoactive substances, I describe myself as libertarian. I believe every adult individual’s body is her own sovereign domain; thus every rational person has a right to do whatever she wants to her body without the interference of a paternalistic government legislating what is in her best interests. Also, in regard to morality, my Catholic upbringing has convinced me of the supremacy of one’s individual conscience. And legality and morality are clearly different things. For example, many today (myself included) would regard the persecution of someone for his sexual orientation or possession of another human being as someone’s property to be immoral acts. However, in the United Kingdom, for example, homosexuality was punishable as a crime until 1967, and slavery was legal in parts of the Empire until 1843.

It should be clear from the above comments that I am not against the use of psychoactive substances for religious/spiritual purposes, regardless of whether such use is deemed “illegal” by some governments. Since I believe an individual’s freedom to religion, absolute sovereignty of her own body, and individual conscience each trump any current laws of the land, I find arguments against the religious use of psychoactives based on the legal status of these substances unconvincing. Moreover, claims that someone should not practice his religion because it could be “dangerous” to his health are equally unconvincing. First, the real health risks of the classic psychedelics appear minimal when compared to the risks of using legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco. Second, legislating against a person’s or group’s religion out of concern for their health is paternalistic in the extreme. Early Christianity was both illegal and hazardous to your health if you lived in the Roman Empire. And yet, as Tertullian wrote, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” In other words, without the outlawed and dangerous activities of the early Christians, Christianity would not be a world religion today. (more…)

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America

Altered States

Altered States genuinely moves forward in laying a path for new, insightful, and valuable information on the American Buddhism that is developing in our global society. Osto’s groundbreaking research will be appreciated by scholars, and his accessible style will be enjoyed by non-academic readers.” — Charles Prebish, Utah State University

This week, our featured book is Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, by Douglas Osto. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Altered States. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, May 13th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

It’s OK to be Ambivalent about Your Siblings During the Holidays

Adult Sibling Relationships

“It is during the holidays … that the specter of disharmony looms.”—Geoffrey L. Greif and Michael E. Woolley

For many of us, the holidays inevitably bring us together with family. This, of course, has its upsides and its downsides. This is particularly true for adults when they get together with their siblings. Affection and warmth are part of the equation but so can ambivalence and lingering difficulties from childhood.

In a recent op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, Geoffrey L. Greif and Michael E. Woolley, authors of Adult Sibling Relationships describe the two-sided nature of this dynamic:

Siblings are with us throughout life, longer than our parents, our partners or most friends. They can be our best friends, people with whom we share our greatest joys and our deepest sorrows. In adulthood, siblings can hold an extended family together after the incapacity or death of parents and help pass down a heritage of Hallmark closeness to future generations.

However, siblings can also cause hurt feelings and emotional estrangement, leaving us wondering how we could have possibly grown up in the same home. Why struggle to stay close with someone who may have hurt us when we were young and may continue to cause us pain by having few boundaries, acting unkindly, or being too withholding or too dependent?

(more…)

Friday, December 18th, 2015

Sacred Knowledge: Hopkins Playlist for Psilocybin Studies

Sacred Knowledge

“As consciousness is returning to ordinary awareness after intense experiences of a mystical, visionary, or psychodynamic nature, most any style of music can be explored with delight.”

Psychedelics and music have long been linked, but at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where William A. Richards conducts research, music plays an important part in ensuring the stability off entheogen study participants. In this excerpt from Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, Richards explains the role of music in his work. The excerpt is followed by the playlist Richards compiled.

Part of a new guide’s orientation at Johns Hopkins entails becoming familiar with the supportive music used in a particular research study and the rationale for its selection. We have learned that in high-dose sessions, especially during the onset and intense period of entheogen effects, the supportive structure of the music is more important than either the guide’s or the volunteer’s personal musical preferences. In states of ego transcendence, the everyday self as the perceiver of music may no longer exist, having entered into a unitive awareness that is claimed to be quite independent of whatever sonic frequencies are coming into the ears through the headphones or loudspeakers. As the ego approaches its dissolution and when it begins to be reconstituted, however, the nonverbal structure of the music may provide significant support. Thus, sensitivity to the therapeutic potential of carefully selected music may be an important factor in enhancing psychological safety.

One playlist that has been carefully developed through trial and error and has been found to work well with many different people over time is included at the end of this book. It includes a significant amount of classical music, symphonic and choral, as well as some Hindu chant, in the intense portions of the session and lighter selections near the return to everyday reality at the end of the day. We discovered in early research in the 1960s, notably with some alcoholics who had never appreciated classical music, that Brahms symphonies and similar works resonated deeply within them and proved highly effective in providing nonverbal structure and support. Many of those people not only discovered an appreciation of classical music within themselves, but went out and purchased records, tapes, or compact disks to facilitate the continuing integration of their experiences and for future enjoyment. It may be noted that, as consciousness is returning to ordinary awareness after intense experiences of a mystical, visionary, or psychodynamic nature, most any style of music can be explored with delight. At this time, one’s personal favorite selections may be enjoyed with fresh appreciation.

A HOPKINS PLAYLIST FOR PSILOCYBIN STUDIES (2008 VERSION)

States of Consciousness Research

Antonio Vivaldi. Guitar Concerti. Los Romeros, Iona Brown, Academy of St. Mar­tin in the Fields. Philips 412–624–2
Andante, Concerto RV532 in G Major for 2 guitars, strings, and continuo, 3:30
Largo, Concerto RV93 in D Major for guitar, strings, and continuo, 3:53
Largo, Concerto RV356 in A Minor, 2:20

Paul Horn. Inside the Taj Mahal. Kuckuck 11062–2
“Mumtaz Mahal,” 3:21

“Shah Jahan,” 5:36

Ron Korb. Flute Traveller: A Musical Journey Across Five Continents. Oasis Produc­tions, SOCAN NHCD 205
“Alto Flute,” 2:16

Russill Paul. PM Yoga Chants Gaiam. Relaxation 3142. CD included with the book The Yoga of Sound. Novato, Calif.: New World Library, 2004
“By the Stream,” 10:54
“Om Namah Shivaya,” 2:27

Edward Elgar. Enigma Variations. Leonard Bernstein. BBC Symphony. The Artist’s Album. DGG 457 691–2
No. 9, “Nimrod,” 6:08

Morten Lauridsen. A Robert Shaw Christmas: Angels On High. Robert Shaw. Shaw Chamber Singers. Telarc20 CD-80461
“O Magnum Mysterium,” 6:13

Russian Orthodox Chant. Sacred Treasures III, Hearts of Space. St. Petersburg Cham­ber Choir, 025041111423
“Alleluia, Behold the Bridegroom,” 5:29

Henryk Górecki. Symphony 3, Op. 36. Dawn Upshaw. David Zinman. London Sin­fonietta. Elektra Nonesuch 9 79282–2
Lento—Sostenuto Tranquillo ma Cantabile, 26:25

Johannes Brahms. Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45. Herbert Blomstedt, San Francisco Symphony and Chorus. London 443 771–2
“Selig sind die, da Leid tragen,” 10:36
“Denn alles Fleish, es ist wie Gras,” 14:33

Johannes Brahms. Symphony 2 in D Major, Op. 73. Leonard Bernstein. New York Philharmonic. Sony. SMK 61829
Adagio non Troppo, 10:08

Johannes Brahms. Ein Deutches Requiem, Op. 45. Herbert Blomstedt. San Francisco Symphony and Chorus. London 443 771–2
“Wie lieblich sind Deine Wohnungen,” 5:34

J. S. Bach. Mass in B Minor. Robert Shaw. Atlanta Symphony and Chamber Chorus. Telarc CD-80233
Kyrie I, 10:21
Kyrie II, 4:24

Samuel Barber. String Quartet, Op. 11. Leonard Bernstein. New York Philharmonic. Sony SMK 63088
Adagio for Strings, 9:54

Antonio Vivaldi. Gloria in D Major, R589. Robert Shaw. Atlanta Symphony and Chamber Chorus. Telarc CD-80194
“Gloria in Excelsis,” 2:22

“Et in terra pax,” 5:58

J. S. Bach. Bach Stokowski. Leopold Stokowski. EMI CDM 7243 5 66385 2 5
“Komm süsser Tod,” BMV 478, 5:51

W. A. Mozart. Vesperae solennes de confessore, K/KV339. Kiri Te Kanawa. Sir Colin Davis. London Symphony and Chorus. Philips 412 873–2
“Laudate Dominum,” 5:11

Johannes Brahms. Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 77. Jascha Heifetz. Fritz Reiner. Chicago Symphony. HMG 09026-61742–2
Adagio, 8:12

Henryk Górecki. Symphony 3, Op. 36. Dawn Upshaw. David Zinman. London Sinfonietta. Elektra Nonesuch 9 79282–2
Lento e Largo—Tranquillissimo, 9:22

Edward Elgar. Serenade for String Orchestra, Op. 20. Mark Elder. Hallé Symphony. CDHLL 7501
Larghetto, 6:29

Gabriel Fauré. Requiem, Op. 48. Choir of St. John’s College. Cambridge. George Guest. London 436 486–2
“In Paradisum,” 3:41

W. A. Mozart, Clarinet Concerto in A Major, KV 622. Jacques Lancelot. Jean-François Paillard. Orchestra de Chambre Jean-François Paillard. Erato 2292–45978–2
Adagio, 7:04

Arvo Pärt. Sanctuary. Richard Studt. Bournemouth Sinfonietta. Virgin Classics. CSC 7243 5 45314 2 2
“Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten,” 6:10

Bohuslav Matéj Cernohorsky. Cernohorsky Religious Works. Czech Madrigal Singers. Frantisek Xaver Thuri. Gioia Della Musica. Supraphon 11 1598–2 931
“Quare Domine, iraceris—Memento Abraham,” 8:58

Ludwig van Beethoven. Piano Concerto 5 (Emperor), Op. 73. Leon Fleisher. George Szell. Cleveland Orchestra. Sony SBK 46549
Adagio un Poco Moto, 8:25

Charles Gounod. St. Cecelia Mass. Barbara Hendricks. Georges Prêtre. French Radio New Philharmonic. EMI, CDC 7 47094 2
Sanctus, 5:18
Benedictus, 3:16

Russill Paul. The Yoga of Sound, Shakti Yoga. Relaxation, CD 3133
“Om Namah Shivaya,” 17:35

Richard Wagner. Tristan and Isolde. Jesús López-Cobos. Cincinnati Symphony. Telarc CD-80379
Prelude and Liebestod, 17:24

W. A. Mozart. Grosse Messe C-Moll. Leonard Bernstein. Chor und Symphonie­-orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Deutsche Grammaphon 431 791–2
“Ave Verum Corpus,” KV618 3:56

Gustav Mahler. Symphony 5. Lorin Maazel. Vienna Philharmonic. Sony SBK 89850
Adagietto, Sehr Langsam, 10:33

Alan Hovhaness. Symphony 2, Op. 132: Mysterious Mountain. Gerard Schwarz. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Telarc 80604
Andante con Moto, 7:42

Joseph Canteloube. Songs of the Auvergne. Dawn Upshaw. Kent Nagano. Orchestre de l’Opèra National de Lyon. Erato 0630–17577–2
“Bailèro,” 5:36 “Perl’èfon,” 3:09

Richard Strauss. Death and Transfiguration. André Previn. Vienna Philharmonic. Telarc CD-80167
Moderato, 2:20
Tranquillo, 6:03

Russill Paul. The Yoga of Sound, Nada Yoga. Relaxation CD 3133
“Evening Shadows Fall,” 23:29

J. S. Bach. Bach Stokowski. Leopold Stokowski. CDM 7243 5 66385 2 5
Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, BMV 582, 14:51

Enya. Watermark. Reprise 9 26774–2
“Storms in Africa II,” 2:59

Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Shaka Zulu. Warner Brothers Collection. Rhino/ WEA 081227998622
“King of Kings,” 4:07

Adiemus. Pure Moods. Virgin 724384218621
“Adiemus,” 3:59

John Lennon. The John Lennon Collection. Abbey Road Capitol 077774644624
“Here Comes the Sun,” 3:03

Gipsy Kings. Mosaique. Nonsuch 075596089227
“Caminando Por la Calle,” 4:22

Mercedes Sosa. Polygram International, Serie Millennium, 042283231429
“Gracias a La Vida,” 4:22

Leontyne Price. The Essential Leontyne Price: Spirituals, Hymns, and Sacred Songs. RCA 090266815722
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” 3:24

Louis Armstrong. What A Wonderful World. Intercontinental 600 607707405826
“What a Wonderful World,” 2:21

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Sacred Knowledge: The Mystical Experience Questionnaire

Sacred Knowledge

“You are convinced now, as you look back on your experience, that in it you encountered ultimate reality (i.e. that you “knew” and “saw” what was really real).”

This week, our featured book is Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, by William A. Richards.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Sacred Knowledge!

In Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, William A. Richards uses the potential of entheogens to occasion mystical experiences to call for their responsible medical use. In the New Yorker, Michael Pollan detailed the psychological evidence for this claim, based in part on a Mystical Experience Questionnaire co-developed by Richards, a 2006 version of which is reproduced below.

Thirty-six volunteers, none of whom had ever taken a hallucinogen, received a pill containing either psilocybin or an active placebo (methylphenidate, or Ritalin); in a subsequent session the pills were reversed. “When administered under supportive conditions,” the paper concluded, “psilocybin occasioned experiences similar to spontaneously occurring mystical experiences.” Participants ranked these experiences as among the most meaningful in their lives, comparable to the birth of a child or the death of a parent. Two-thirds of the participants rated the psilocybin session among the top five most spiritually significant experiences of their lives; a third ranked it at the top. Fourteen months later, these ratings had slipped only slightly.

Furthermore, the “completeness” of the mystical experience closely tracked the improvements reported in personal well-being, life satisfaction, and “positive behavior change” measured two months and then fourteen months after the session. (The researchers relied on both self-assessments and the assessments of co-workers, friends, and family.) The authors determined the completeness of a mystical experience using two questionnaires, including the Pahnke-Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire, which is based in part on William James’s writing in “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” The questionnaire measures feelings of unity, sacredness, ineffability, peace and joy, as well as the impression of having transcended space and time and the “noetic sense” that the experience has disclosed some objective truth about reality. A “complete” mystical experience is one that exhibits all six characteristics.

The questionnaire, a scientific research document, asks participants to reflect on their experience.

States of Consciousness Questionnaire and Pahnke-Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire

Instructions: Looking back on the extended session you have just experienced, please rate the degree to which at any time during that session, you experienced the following phenomena. In making each of your ratings, use the following scale:

0 – none; not at all. 1 – so slight cannot decide 2 – slight 3 – moderate 4 -strong (equivalent in degree to any previous strong experience or expectation of this description) 5 – extreme (more than ever before in my life and stronger than 4)

Items and Scoring: There are 100 items in the States of Consciousness Questionnaire. Forty-three items on this questionnaire comprise the Pahnke-Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire which provides scale scores for each of seven domains of mystical experiences: Internal Unity (6 items); External Unity (6 items); Transcendence of Time and Space (8 items); Ineffability and Paradoxicality (5 items); Sense of Sacredness (7 items); Noetic Quality (4 items); and Deeply-Felt Positive Mood (7 items). Data on each scale are expressed as a proportion of the maximum possible score. The remaining 57 items in the questionnaire served as distracter items and were not scored. Numerals associated with each item indicate the numerical sequence of the items.

I. Internal Unity
26. Loss of your usual identity.
35. Freedom from the limitations of your personal self and feeling a unity or bond with what was felt to be greater than your personal self.
41. Experience of pure Being and pure awareness (beyond the world of sense impressions).
54. Experience of oneness in relation to an “inner world” within.
77. Experience of the fusion of your personal self into a larger whole.
83. Experience of unity with ultimate reality.

II. External Unity

14. Experience of oneness or unity with objects and/or persons perceived in your surroundings
27. With eyes open, seeing something in your surroundings more and more intensely and then feeling as though you and it become one.
47. Experience of the insight that “all is One”.
51. Loss of feelings of difference between yourself and objects or persons in your surroundings.
62. Intuitive insight into the inner nature of objects and/or persons in your surroundings.
74. Awareness of the life or living presence in all things.

III. Transcendence of Time and Space

2. Loss of your usual sense of time.
12. Feeling that you experienced eternity or infinity.
15. Loss of your usual sense of space.
29. Loss of usual awareness of where you were.
34. Sense of being “outside of” time, beyond past and future.
42. Feeling that you have been “outside of” history in a realm where time does not exist.
48. Being in a realm with no space boundaries.
65. Experience of timelessness.

IV. Ineffability and Paradoxicality
6. Sense that the experience cannot be described adequately in words.
19. Experience of a paradoxical awareness that two apparently opposite principles or situations are both true.
23. Feeling that you could not do justice to your experience by describing it in words.
59. Sense that in order to describe parts of your experience you would have to use statements that appear to be illogical, involving contradictions and paradoxes.
86. Feeling that it would be difficult to communicate your own experience to others who have not had similar experiences.

V. Sense of Sacredness
5. Experience of amazement.
8. Sense of the limitations and smallness of your everyday personality in contrast to the Infinite.
31. Sense of profound humility before the majesty of what was felt to be sacred or holy.
36. Sense of being at a spiritual height.
55. Sense of reverence.
73. Feeling that you experienced something profoundly sacred and holy.
80. Sense of awe or awesomeness.

VI. Noetic Quality
3. Feeling that the consciousness experienced during part of the session was more real than your normal awareness of everyday reality.
9. Gain of insightful knowledge experienced at an intuitive level.
22. Certainty of encounter with ultimate reality (in the sense of being able to “know” and “see” what is really real ) at some time during your session.
69. You are convinced now, as you look back on your experience, that in it you encountered ultimate reality (i.e. that you “knew” and “saw” what was really real).

VII. Deeply-Felt Positive Mood
10. Experience of overflowing energy.
18. Feelings of tenderness and gentleness.
30. Feelings of peace and tranquility.
43. Experience of ecstasy.
50. Feelings of exaltation.
60. Feelings of universal or infinite love.
87. Feelings of joy.

Source: RR Griffiths, WA Richards, U McCann, R Jesse. 2006. “Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance.” Psychopharmacology (Berl). 187(3), 268-83, commentaries 284-292. Available on the Council of Spiritual Practices’ Psilocybin Research page (pdf).

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Mysterious Molecules: The Sacred Knowledge of Entheogens

Sacred Knowledge

“How can we not explore this, if it can recalibrate how we die?”

This week, our featured book is Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, by William A. Richards. Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Sacred Knowledge!

In Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, William A. Richards argues that, if used responsibly and legally, psychedelics have incredible potential to assuage human suffering and constructively contribute to the quality of life on our planet. Richards’ book comes at a time when many are questioning the blanket prohibition on and demonization of such substances. In the New Yorker this February, Michael Pollan’s article “The Trip Treatment” delved into the ongoing second wave of psychedelics research, with an assist from Richards. And in an interview with Noah Berlatsky in The Guardian, Richards explains the promise of his research.

As the drug war subsides, scientists are eager to reconsider the therapeutic potential of these drugs, beginning with psilocybin… The effects of psilocybin resemble those of LSD, but, as one researcher explained, “it carries none of the political and cultural baggage of those three letters.” LSD is also stronger and longer-lasting in its effects, and is considered more likely to produce adverse reactions. Researchers are using or planning to use psilocybin not only to treat anxiety, addiction (to smoking and alcohol), and depression but also to study the neurobiology of mystical experience, which the drug, at high doses, can reliably occasion. Forty years after the Nixon Administration effectively shut down most psychedelic research, the government is gingerly allowing a small number of scientists to resume working with these powerful and still somewhat mysterious molecules.

As I chatted with Tony Bossis and Stephen Ross in the treatment room at N.Y.U., their excitement about the results was evident. According to Ross, cancer patients receiving just a single dose of psilocybin experienced immediate and dramatic reductions in anxiety and depression, improvements that were sustained for at least six months. The data are still being analyzed and have not yet been submitted to a journal for peer review, but the researchers expect to publish later this year.

“I thought the first ten or twenty people were plants—that they must be faking it,” Ross told me. “They were saying things like ‘I understand love is the most powerful force on the planet,’ or ‘I had an encounter with my cancer, this black cloud of smoke.’ People who had been palpably scared of death—they lost their fear. The fact that a drug given once can have such an effect for so long is an unprecedented finding. We have never had anything like it in the psychiatric field.” (more…)

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

One Discovery of Transcendence – William Richards, “Sacred Knowledge”

Sacred Knowledge

“For the first time, I had encountered the limitations of language in trying to express mystical forms of consciousness.” — William A. Richards

This week, our featured book is Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, by William A. Richards.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Sacred Knowledge!

In Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, William A. Richards argues that, if used responsibly and legally, psychedelics have incredible potential to assuage human suffering and constructively contribute to the quality of life on our planet. In the preface, he recounts what transpired during his “first deep foray into transcendental forms of awareness.”

When my own first intense encounter with mystical consciousness occurred, I was a twenty-three-year-old graduate student of theology and psychiatry. Studying at the University of Göttingen in Germany, formally known as the Georg-August Universität, I had volunteered to participate in a research project with a drug I had never heard about called psilocybin. Synthesized and distributed to psychiatric researchers and clinicians by the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company in Switzer­land, this new drug was the primary psychoactive substance in the psilocybe genus of mushrooms that indigenous peoples had called “magic” or “sacred” and appear to have used in their religious practices for at least three thousand years and perhaps since as long ago as 5000 BCE. On this date in the modern world, December 4, 1963, however, the dark ages of psychedelic research still prevailed and, in the context of Western psychopharmacological investigations, drugs like psilocy­bin usually were administered without preparation or guidance.

At the time, it was hoped that the radically different, sometimes disorganized or psychotic states of consciousness that often ensued, fortunately temporary in duration, would advance our understanding of schizophrenia and similar states of mind. Hanscarl Leuner, the professor of psychiatry conducting the investigations in the Nervenklinik in Göttingen, just had published a scientific monograph on his observations titled Die experimentelle Psychose (The Experimen­tal Psychoses). In those days psychedelic drugs were freely available to qualified researchers in Europe and in the United States, sent through the mail. Psilocybin was marketed as Indocybin. The distribution of LSD, known as Delysid, as stated in a 1964 Sandoz pamphlet, was simply “restricted to psychiatrists for use in mental hospitals and psychiatric clinics.”

Not only did I know nothing about psilocybin, LSD, or mescaline, I had not yet even heard the term “psychedelic,” though it had been coined seven years earlier by Humphrey Osmond, a British psychiatrist, in a letter to Aldous Huxley. However, two of my new friends reported to me that they had volunteered for an interesting research project in the nearby psychiatric clinic that entailed receiving an experimental drug. Its name was hard to remember, but it was reputed to provide some insights into early childhood. One friend had experienced himself sitting in his father’s lap and, since his father had been killed in World War II, this was profoundly comforting and meaningful to him. The other had seen visionary imagery of Nazi SS soldiers marching in the streets that he called “a hallucination.” I was intrigued and, being curious about the psychodynamic processes in my early childhood and having never seen a “real hallucination,” decided to walk over to the clinic and inquire whether I also could qualify as a participant in the research project. I viewed my own mind as a psychological laboratory in those days, took myself much too seriously, and sometimes went without breakfast to write down my dreams in the morning. Somewhat pompously, I called this discipline “collecting my phenomenological data.” (I was fond of big words then! In retrospect I realize that a healthy breakfast might have done me much more good.) (more…)

Monday, December 14th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences

Sacred Knowledge

Sacred Knowledge is not only timely and relevant to a whole host of current social/legal issues, but also addresses, with seemingly effortless ease, many of the deeper/subtler metaphysical implications of psychedelics—their therapeutic and spiritual potential. Richards’ clear prose makes articulating such difficult topics look easy.” — G. William Barnard, Southern Methodist University

This week, our featured book is Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, by William A. Richards. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Sacred Knowledge. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, December 18th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, July 24th, 2015

On Grief: Poems by Alexandra Butler, author of “Walking the Night Road”

Walking the Night Road

This week our featured book is Walking the Night Road: Coming of Age in Grief, by Alexandra Butler. While Butler has written a wonderful and moving memoir in Walking the Night Road, she is also a published poet, who has written many poems addressing the same stories and themes as Walking the Night Road. In today’s post, the final in our week’s feature of her book, we are happy to present a list of Butler’s poems curated by their author, with short introductions to each poem to help put them into the context of her memoir.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Walking the Night Road!

The author’s memories of her childhood become distorted by grief. Author expresses rage about the promises her beloved mother made to her as a child and could not keep. The promises of Mortals.

Fair Game
o happy childhood
for I did not know
that all my life approached
that old sit down that had been had
so many times
so many beasts in that same brine

how could she ever think
that this cup would not be mine

what we had
what did we have
as transparent now as air
as easy and as casual and as
natural as a yawn
as every day as anything
I found her there but gone
my hand felt for my heart
as if to turn the thing back on

that which she had wiped away
with a mother’s furtive hand
had written its name back
on every surface everywhere
leaning forward through the walls
its halos of fiery hair
its red breath melting the paint
that went rolling down like peels
royal purple at its heels

how easy it had been for it to hide
heartless so no worry
of a beating from inside
while I slept it had swept in
calmly to prepare its feast
sitting down at what had always been its place
at the head of our family table
in the centre of our safe and sacred house

I awoke to find my mother there
smoking at the window
a bright green apple
shoved deep inside her mouth

just like that
she’d been made gone

in what
as a child I had reduced
to a simple ray of light
did I not see the storm within
of countless particles in flight
ditto did I not see in her
the simple beast
she always was despite
elaborate fantasies

an animal—a jungle—and a reign
a wild one who had managed
to convince me she was tame
and that she and I were chosen
two of life’s beloved pets
instead of just two more
among the countless hunted game (more…)