Show Notes:

Til Luchau talks about trauma, psychedelic psychotherapy, and the body, with Marcela Ot'alora G., the principal investigator in a very promising FDA-approved study into MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD.

Episode topics include:

  • How does trauma relate to bodywork, and how does MDMA therapy help with trauma?
  • How is psychedelic therapy different from just taking psychedelics?
  • What can we learn from your MDMA/PTSD study that can help us be more effectiveness as massage and manual therapy practitioners? 

Get the full transcript below!

Resources and references discussed in this episode:

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Your Hosts:

Til Luchau Advanced-Trainings        whitney lowe
Til Luchau                          Whitney Lowe

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Your Hosts:

Til Luchau Advanced-Trainings
Til Luchau

whitney lowe
Whitney Lowe

Thanks for listening and subscribing to the podcast! Make sure to connect with us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to stay updated on all of the latest! Show your support for the show by leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts!

(The Thinking Practitioner Podcast is intended for professional practitioners of manual and movement therapies: bodywork, massage therapy, structural integration, chiropractic, myofascial and myotherapy, orthopedic, sports massage, physical therapy, osteopathy, yoga, strength and conditioning, and similar professions. It is not medical or treatment advice.)

Full Transcript:

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The Thinking Practitioner Podcast:
Episode 43: Trauma, MDMA Psychotherapy, and the Body (with Marcela Ot'alora G.)

Broadcast date: 07/14/2021
©Copyright The Thinking Practitioner Podcast, Til Luchau & Whitney Lowe

 

Til Luchau:

ABMP is proud to sponsor the Thinking Practitioner Podcast. ABMP membership gives massage therapists and bodyworkers exceptional liability insurance, numerous discounts, and great resources to help you thrive, like their ABMP podcast available at AMBP.com/podcasts or wherever you listen. And even if you're not a member, you can get free access to Massage and Bodywork Magazine, where Whitney and I, Til Luchau, are frequent contributors and special offers for Thinking Practitioner Listeners. You can get all that at ABMP.com/thinking. Whitney, by the way, is not with us this episode, but he'll be back next episode. 

I have a special guest today, Marcela Ot'alora. Please correct me if I didn't say your name right, but Marcela, you are a principal investigator in a very promising FDA approved study into MDMA assisted therapy for PTSD. You gave a recent TEDxCornell talk and have been interviewed on Tim Ferriss' podcast about the study and about yourself. And since I know you personally, I want to talk to you some about trauma, about this interesting study that you're a principal investigator on, and about what you're learning and all that might have some implications to the body and what we do as bodyworkers. So welcome, Marcela.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Thank you. Nice to be here.

Til Luchau:

Nice to be here with you. Is there anything else you want listeners to know about you before we get into the conversation?

Marcela Ot'alora:

Hmm, let's see. I'm also a trainer for therapists and other practitioners who want to do this work and a supervisor for the sites in the US and also in Europe now. We have a few sites, phase two sites, in Europe, which is really, really exciting.

Til Luchau:

Yeah.

Marcela Ot'alora:

And yeah.

Til Luchau:

Great. I mentioned to a friend that I was going to be talking to someone about trauma and the body, and he said, "Okay, so you're a bodyworker. How often do you see trauma in your practice?" 

Marcela Ot'alora:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Til Luchau:

Yeah. I had to stop, I almost said, "Every session." At least the effects of trauma are clear in every session. There's so many ways that we're learning that trauma effects so many things, including body symptoms but also the way we are in the world, the way we are with ourselves. But I'm curious, you're a psychotherapist versus a bodyworker, but what is trauma in your view? Define trauma.

Marcela Ot'alora:

That's an interesting question that people asked you because if you look at, so many of the books that are about trauma have the word body in them, so it's the body keeps the score, the body remembers.

Til Luchau:

That's the van der Kolk, etc. Yes.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yeah, so its how to really understand that we cannot separate them, that the reason why you see it in every session that you do is because that is where it's stored, and we all have trauma in different degrees and it is stored in the body and then can be activated through the body. But the body is the one that actually does remember it, and sometimes the mind can really use a whole bunch of tricks and coping strategies to be able to live and to be able to function in life, but it is always there stored in the body.

Til Luchau:

Yeah.

Marcela Ot'alora:

So when I think about trauma, I think about, if you look at it in the spectrum of the work that we do is with PTSD and not all trauma turns into PTSD, but that's-

Til Luchau:

Part of the spectrum, yeah.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yeah, so that's sort of the spectrum of how trauma can really affect you in a way that you don't live your life the way you want to live your life. And if I'm thinking about that trauma with a capital T is about losing, I think one of the biggest effects of it is, or I would say influences, is that you lose the present moment.

If you think about people's perspective, we have a perspective. We always talk about, "Oh, I have this perspective and I have that perspective," but perspective is a function of experience, and if you don't have experience that is current, you don't have perspective. So I think of trauma as losing a sense of perspective, which has the implications of not really understanding what's going on in the present moment. We only understand things from the perspective of the trauma.

Til Luchau:

Not understanding and perhaps not even being able to sense or, like you said, be in touch with the present moment.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yeah. So I think that's the biggest implication of trauma, is that we're not in the present moment, which means we're not living currently.

Til Luchau:

Yeah. Okay. So one of the effects of trauma is it may make it harder for us to be living, to be in the present moment, or to have a sense of perspective. So just connecting the dots back to bodywork for a second for myself, so much of what we're learning about people's recovery, say, from an injury or chronic symptom has to do with their perspective on it, you could say. As so much of the mechanisms that we're understanding about how bodywork does the good it does are through leveraging present experience, actually the power of sensation and being able to open to one's bodily experience and to have some perspective on that is one of the fundamental mechanisms we're learning about in terms of the way this work does its good.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yeah.

Til Luchau:

Yeah. So then you're involved in MDMA therapy or MDMA study. What's special about MDMA or how does MDMA help with trauma?

Marcela Ot'alora:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I mean, part of it is that with psychedelics in therapy, if we have a combination between psychedelics and psychotherapy, which is what we do, MDMA assisted therapy, it gives you then added information so that...We normally say, "Okay, this is where I get my information from," from the ways we live, the ways our environment affects us, all these different ways that we get information about who we are and how we want to be in life and our behavior. 

So I think psychedelics provides another layer, which is getting information from a non-ordinary state, that if we think about... I study transpersonal psychology, and if I think about transpersonal psychology, one of the key points that I got from that was that we usually have an experience of life as being that our states are waking, sleeping, dreaming, intoxication. That's it. Those are our states.

Til Luchau:

And getting body work.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Right. And then, if you go, "Okay, there are so many more, so much information that we can get." We can get information from getting bodywork, which is really a non-ordinary state. It really takes a person into a non-ordinary state, because then you're getting information from a part of yourself that you didn't have access to before.

Til Luchau:

Ah. All right, so MDMA helps people who take it in your study access a non-ordinary state. I realized we should back up a little bit and say what MDMA is. You mean to tell me it's a psychedelic?

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yes. MDMA is a psychedelic. It's considered a psychedelic. It's not a hallucinogen, so it doesn't, I mean, even though people can have some images and hallucinations with it, it generally is not. And the part that MDMA does to the brain, what the neuroscientists have discovered of why it helps, is that it reduces the activation in the amygdala, specifically in the left amygdala. We have two, one on either side. 

And what that means is that, that is how we process fear, so if you have a reduction of fear and you actually have activation in your prefrontal cortex, it means that you're able to make connections and insights and that is very heightened and aware, but your fear response is reduced, which is really the opposite of what happens when you have a traumatic event. Your amygdala is activated and your prefrontal cortex is deactivated. 

So MDMA kind of does the reverse. It allows you to then see the same information, the same traumatic information, from that different point of view, from the reverse. And what that does is that somebody, usually PTSD, people with PTSD often can only get to a certain point because of fear. So fear takes over and I can no longer go past this point.

Til Luchau:

And it shuts down your prefrontal cortex, that prefrontal cortex being the place where you maybe get a big part of your perspective. It's executive functioning. A lot of cognition comes from that place. You're saying that in trauma it seems like your amygdala takes over and doesn't let you access that.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Right. And so then if you have access to that and your fear is not stopping you, then you have much more, there's much more capacity to be able to explore and to be able to understand your trauma from a different perspective. So it's the same trauma, the same event, but now I'm fully aware of what is happening. And if you think about also conditioning, all of our conditioning narrows awareness and especially conditioning because of trauma can really narrow our awareness, so if MDMA opens that door, then there's an expansion of awareness as opposed to a narrowing of awareness. And that is mostly how MDMA works. I mean, it's sort very simplified, but...

Til Luchau:

No, that's great. It's very clear. But just to play devil's advocate for a second, if it helps me be more aware of my trauma, isn't that going to be upsetting? Isn't it better just to kind of leave those things aside?

Marcela Ot'alora:

Well, the way we started this is that you can leave them aside but they're in your body, and then they get activated by different triggers, by different things, some of which we are aware of. We can be aware of, I know that because this event happened at this particular place, when I go to that particular place I get triggered, so I'm aware of that. But other ones I'm not so aware of. And you can be in a party having a good time and all of a sudden something happens and you're triggered and your body responds.

So even if you put it in the back of your mind, even if you condition yourself to not go there, "It's too scary. I don't want to go there because of X, Y, and Z," your body's still remembering it, and your body's still going to get triggered by any kind of event that happens through your senses. So it could be a smell. It could be a sound. It could be the sound of somebody's voice. It can be what somebody said. It can be what you saw. So you can't get away from it, really.

Til Luchau:

And one of the important things you said was, if the amygdala then kicks in and, essentially being a threat detector, says that this situation is threatening, that is a very different experience than if the amygdala lets your prefrontal cortex have its perspective on the situation. 

Marcela Ot'alora:

Right, because it's still, I mean, you still feel the fear. You can still feel the fear, but if you have the awareness that it's actually not something that is happening now, that the threat is not happening now, then we can respond differently, because you also have the part of yourself that is a witness of the present moment experience. "Oh, this is actually not a threatening situation, but my body is remembering in that way."

Til Luchau:

Great. Okay, so another thing people say, a psychedelic experience can make connecting with other people, I guess as well as ourselves, but connecting with other people less threatening, that interestingly, and this is an aside, maybe in some of the same ways that touch does make connecting with other people less threatening. I was listening to Joe Rogan interviewing Rick Doblin, who is the... Does he have an official title in MAPS?

Marcela Ot'alora:

Well, he is the director.

Til Luchau:

He's the director, okay. So Joe Rogan, this kind of big, burly martial arts guy, is saying, "In that state, you can hold hands with someone and just tell them the truth, just talk to them." So it's like there's a sense of that state, of the MDMA experience apparently, making it easier to connect with other people and connect with ourselves. That got my interest, by the way, because of this possible connection to the way that bodywork induces an affiliation response or oxytocin changes, all those kind of things. How does that work with MDMA therapy? What happens in the brain, say, around affiliation, you think?

Marcela Ot'alora:

I think one of the things that is released in MDMA is oxytocin. And oxytocin is about bonding and about really connecting with somebody, so if you realize that what the oxytocin is allowing you to have is sort of getting rid of some of the filters that we have around sharing with another human being, all the filters that come in. And that includes, in a big sense, touch, and that we as human beings crave touch. And I think about one of my mentors, Bill Richards, who I always remember him saying, "Don't forget that there is such a thing as good touch." 

When people talk a lot about all the boundaries we need to have and how careful we need to be, which is absolutely true, and the ethical pieces around it, but don't forget that there is such a thing as good touch and that in touch, as clinicians, for instance, as an MDMA therapist for myself, is the responsibility that comes with that touch, that as I am really touching someone's hand, they are sensing me. And they are sensing the connection, so what it is that I want give in that energetic connection? What is it that I want to transmit that is about that moment and about that person?

Because then you don't have the filters that come in between when you're not touching. So touch is an important piece and it's also a huge responsibility for us doing the touching as a clinician. And I'm sure it's the same for you, right?

Til Luchau:

Oh yeah.

Marcela Ot'alora:

You're putting yourself in there. All of a sudden we are connected. And what is it that I am giving you through this touch?

Til Luchau:

Yeah, and what is it that I am just simply holding? There's definitely giving and receiving going on, but it's also how is my touch just a presence that lets my client feel themselves, never mind what I'm doing to them, but what about that state that happens when I touch someone and just pause or they open and relax and calm down enough to feel their own body? And does my touch actually play a part in that experience for them?

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yeah.

Til Luchau:

It's very interesting.

Marcela Ot'alora:

It's a beautiful experience when we feel somebody else give in to, the one that comes up the most is holding someone's hand and so many times they begin to... One of the things that we tell people when we train therapists, we say, "When you hold somebody's hand, hold it in a way that they can release whenever they want to," so that I'm not the one holding their hand so tightly or in such a way that they can't release it. So allowing them to have that choice of when they release, and how beautiful that experience is of when they really just fall into your hand and hold it there until they're ready to let go.

Til Luchau:

That's great. Tell me some more about MDMA therapy. What's it like? So I'm getting the picture, you're there with someone who's taken MDMA and you're holding their hand. That's what I got so far.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Well...

Til Luchau:

Let me put it this way. Let me back it up a little bit. How is what you do in your study different than just taking MDMA?

Marcela Ot'alora:

Okay. So what we do is, having two therapists that are with the participant so you have two people there that are dedicated to them for eight hours and saying, "I am here for you for this eight hours" and being able to hold that container. You were talking about holding. What is it that I'm holding? I'm holding everything that is happening in this moment and that is coming up and trusting our modality. And there are different people that have different modalities about how to do this work, but for us it is of fully having a trust in the inner healing intelligence of the participant in front of us. And that really means that we need to believe that they have the capacity to heal whatever comes up for them and that we're there then to support, to support that process.

We're not there as the expert of what needs to happen. We're there as the person holding that container, providing feedback, making connections. You said you then are wondering how does that fit into this new thing that you're saying. So we don't bring up issues, they bring it up and then we take those and sort through them. I was kind of telling the other day to somebody about how it feels a little bit like I'm following my participant and I'm picking up all the pieces that they're dropping on the way, gathering all the pieces in my container so that I can then present it to them as, "This is a bowl full of all of the things that you brought up, and let's sort through them and let's see how it's fitting in your body and how you're thinking about them."

So there is a reciprocal piece happening, and there is a give and take and a relationship that is developed between the therapist and the participant and something that's happening in between the three. If you think about a triangle, what is happening in the middle of that triangle? What is really coming into play from this experience of somebody being in a non-ordinary state.

Til Luchau:

Yeah, I'm getting the picture of how intensive it is. You say eight hours, two therapists, and it goes on over time, doesn't it? It's not just once and you're done?

Marcela Ot'alora:

No, we do two preparatory sessions and then an eight hour session, MDMA session, and then we do three integrative sessions and we repeat that three times. So our protocol is they get medicine three times and they get about 42 hours of therapy. And it is about what happened in that session. How does it begin to fit into 1, your identity and how you think about yourself and I think part of it is connecting to a more authentic self, more essence before conditioning. Who am I maybe before the trauma took place? Who was I then? How did I come into the world? With what did I come into the world? And beginning to connect to those pieces is about then how does that fit with the identity that I had of myself and who I thought I needed to be in the world, oftentimes to protect myself and protect others from my trauma?

Til Luchau:

So you're describing something really different than just a PTSD pill where I take a drug and it has an effect on my PTSD, maybe it does something in my brain and that's it. You're describing a process where people really get perspective on themselves and their history and their reactions.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yes. And that you can really relate it to begin to sort, "Oh, I had this identity that I thought was me and now I'm realizing that maybe that's not completely true. Maybe there's some truth to that, but it's not completely true, because I was affected by all these different traumas, basically." I mean, a common one is, people with PTSD tend to make their world very small to protect and to be able to cope, and for some people, they think, "Wow, I always thought I was an introvert but maybe I'm not such an introvert. Maybe this happened because of the trauma, but maybe I need more connection than what I was getting." 

And so then how do they begin to move into the world through that connection, and I think integration is such a huge piece of, it's just as important as the medicine sets in, because I think in a way it's about being responsible for our experience of what's going to happen.

Til Luchau:

Yeah. This is big. I'm going to take out my mental highlighter here. You said integration is really important, because it's about being with our experience and living it perhaps. What do you mean when you say integration? What shape does that take, say, in your study?

Marcela Ot'alora:

Our first integration session happens the day after the eight hour session, the eight hour medicine session. And for anybody who has done psychedelics, and I think for almost anybody who has done psychedelics, they do feel like there's a change that happens in that non-ordinary state, coming back from that non-ordinary state, it's a process. We come down from the medicine. We say, "Oh, we're back." We're not feeling the effects of the medicine anymore. But it takes another while for that to close up, that non-ordinary state to close up.

Til Luchau:

Sorry, I just got to say right now, it makes me think about getting up off the table after an amazing bodywork session, by the way.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yes.

Til Luchau:

I just had this incredible experience on the table, and now I got to get up and go back to my life. How do I stay connected to this?

Marcela Ot'alora:

How do I stay connected to this? And I mean, I had one time a bodywork experience where... It was actually rolfing, and I left feeling like, "Okay, I'm done and it feels good. I don't have the pain that I was having before." And then I got to the corner of the street and I had no idea where I was.

Til Luchau:

Wow.

Marcela Ot'alora:

I felt like, "What am I doing here? Where do I go?" And there was a bench there and I sat down and I went, "Oh." There is a reverence. We need to take this... This is not just, "Okay. Now it's done. I run. I go to work. When is my next client? What do I do now?", which I think it's really important in bodywork and it's really important with MDMA assisted therapy that we tell people, "The next day after your session is also a day where you take off, where you don't have somewhere to go, where you don't have some big experience that is taking place," because people say, "Oh, I can come to the integrative session and then go back to work."

It's like, "How about if you take that day off?" And I've heard people say that.

Til Luchau:

"Can I do it while I'm driving? Can I just phone in and just get that done while I'm driving?" Yeah.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Exactly. And I think that happens a lot. I've had so many clients tell me, "I went and got a massage and it was great, but then I had to go back to work and my boss was yelling at me, and there goes the massage."

Til Luchau:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep. So you're saying there's a reverence there, because almost that kind of disorientation that you described, that can be an amazing moment of disrupting the old and lots new is made possible or it could be really disorienting and freaky.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yes. And it was more like, "Okay, sit here. Really take in what just happened to your body."

Til Luchau:

Yeah.

Marcela Ot'alora:

And how do I connect to that? How do I connect to that? And I think that's part of integration, what I mean by we're responsible for our experience. We become responsible.

Til Luchau:

This is really a key thing, so I'm wondering what else are you learning about that? Because you've building it into your protocol, you're doing integration sessions where people actively reflect and you help them connect the dots around their experience with the drug and after the drug. But what are some principles or ideas there or thoughts that we might be able to apply universally? Any ideas?

Marcela Ot'alora:

In terms of integration?

Til Luchau:

Yeah. How does integration happen? What do we need to keep in mind? That kind of stuff.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yeah. Well, one of it is that integration needs its space, that if you don't give it space, it becomes what I call an experience that is sort of like a trophy on the wall. "I had the experience. It was beautiful. I look at it sometimes on the wall. It was so sweet." Whatever, "It was challenging." It was this, it was that. And it's very disconnected from your life. And so I think integration is about, whether it's bodywork, whether its a psychedelic experience, a therapeutic experience, it's about giving it what it deserves, giving it the space that it deserves, being able to be mindful, present. "What just happened? What is different in the way that I'm seeing something?

I think it's sort of, I've said this experience before, but we had a participant who always felt like he wasn't seen. Part of his trauma was that he wasn't seen by others, and he felt that that happened to him as a child and that continued to happen to him as an adult and people just didn't see him and he was always kind of ignored and people didn't even say hello. And what happened to him a few days after his treatments with MDMA was that he was at the grocery store and he had this interaction with the checkout person. And she said, "How are you?" And she looked into his eyes. And he just said, "I'm okay." And she smiled and said, "Oh, have a beautiful day." And he said, "What happened? Why did she see me? Why did she see me?"

And he realized it was because he had never looked up. When he went through the checkout lane he was looking down. He never looked up to see how somebody was reflecting back to him. Something as simple as that, that's integration.

Til Luchau:

Yeah, articulating that to himself, naming that for himself helped him connect with that and understand it.

Marcela Ot'alora:

And what an integration piece, right?

Til Luchau:

Yeah.

Marcela Ot'alora:

It's about, "I just need to look up and begin to see how people reflect and mirror what I'm looking at," that he was just looking down at his feet. So that's, I think, it's a good example of integration that if we give it the space that it deserves we begin to see the changes that we ourselves are making.

Til Luchau:

Give it the space it deserves, that's a lesson we can really apply to our work as practitioners, helping people articulate what's different. Sometimes it's just a word or a phrase or a metaphor. An image sometimes can be really useful. And then probably, I'm just thinking about how both those processes go on for some time too. It's not just right there when someone stands up from the table and walks out the room, but an invitation, I think about this a lot, an invitation to note to oneself what is different and, again, to anchor it with a word or a thought or an image can be really useful.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yeah. I mean, I think one of the most useful pieces that I've seen in a session is when somebody's having an experience that is very unique and beautiful, maybe a relaxation that they have never experienced in their life before, and sometimes it is about a touch. How do you connect to this experience? How will you remember this experience? And sometimes people will say, "Oh, like if I put my hand on my shoulder. When I put my hand on my shoulder, I'm going to remember this relaxation." And it's amazing how that does connect you back. It connects you back to the experience of that moment. If you practice it in that moment and say, "This is the way I'm going to remember it," that's really the beauty of your body.

Til Luchau:

Yep, and it can be simple. I mean, I'm just thinking, you're a obviously very skilled therapist and you're working in tandem in a formal study, but I'm just thinking for back in our context in the practice through the bodywork realm, it can be really simple. It can just be a moment. It can be inviting someone to slow down or feel or bring in some awareness.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yes. Yes. What is the space that I'm feeling here where I didn't feel it before, for instance. There's a little space in here that is precious. How do I hold on to that? How do I remember that?

Til Luchau:

Yeah. Okay, so just a couple more wonderings about the study. What's the question that you think this study is trying to investigate or find answers to?

Marcela Ot'alora:

That's a good question. Can we gather our fragmented parts? Can we become whole where there's fragmentation that has taken place? I think about, a lot of indigenous cultures have a belief that when a trauma happens, it's like a big crash that fragments the soul and fragments the person into these pieces and that our job is to then gather those pieces back and find them and bring them back to its original soul. I don't think it's very different than that, what we're doing, which is, there are so many parts that got fragmented so that we could function in the world in whichever way, function or not function. 

Regardless, with trauma, it's about definitely not functioning the way we want to and we think we could be. And what happens when we gather those and treat them with compassion and respect for all that they've done for us and then understand also the gifts that they have underneath that wounding? What are the gifts that are there that we also pushed away because when we push away one part we push away all parts of that experience? So it's about wholeness I think.

Til Luchau:

Okay, so the study's investigating that through the tool of MDMA assisted therapy. What are you finding out? Is that possible?

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yeah. That's kind of my personal [inaudible 00:37:40]

Til Luchau:

All right.

Marcela Ot'alora:

If you think about the study, it's what's safety and efficacy. That's what we are investigating, safety and efficacy. And we continue to investigate safety, of course. We're always doing that. We're always finding out what is safe and how do we keep people safe. And fortunately in all our studies, there's always been safety. We have never had to take anybody to the hospital or anything like that. So there's a lot of safety measures in place.

Til Luchau:

I mean, since you're talking about that, I should also mention, is this legal, by the way?

Marcela Ot'alora:

It's legal in a study setting.

Til Luchau:

MDMA is illegal in the US.

Marcela Ot'alora:

It is illegal everywhere.

Til Luchau:

Everywhere, okay. So we should be sure we mention that. I'm not saying, "Go try MDMA. Go try this at home and defragment yourself."

Marcela Ot'alora:

Right. And people have done a lot of work on their own, and there's a lot of very good underground work that happens and that we have definitely been informed and have a lot to thank underground therapists. But no, MDMA is not legal except in a study setting, and hopefully, we're in the last phase. We're in phase three. And after this last study is completed, which we're doing right now, then we will apply to the FDA for MDMA to become a prescription medication in combination with therapy for the treatment of PTSD and probably other conditions.

Til Luchau:

And this is a double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, randomized. It's the whole deal. And you are getting results, from what I hear, that are good enough that you keep going.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Very good results. If you think about people who, a number like 67 percent of people in the study in the last phase three study no longer meet criteria for PTSD after the study, so this is incredible.

Til Luchau:

And something like 80 percent show some improvement. Yeah.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Actually, a lot of improvement that people feel, "I still meet criteria for PTSD," but they have a very high reduction no their symptoms even though they still feel it. It's not for everyone, and for some people it's not going to feel that way and it's not going to work. If you think about, even if you say 80 percent, well, there's still 20 percent that are not feeling that and are not getting that. So it's really not for everybody, but it at least when we get approval then it will be for the people that it can be another tool, another modality for people who want to access in that way. And if you think about the existing modalities that are used to treat PTSD, it's the reverse, that they have 30 percent that can get some improvement.

Til Luchau:

Have improvement, yeah.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yeah.

Til Luchau:

Now, as I understand it, your results have been really dramatic, really impressive. And you've been fast tracked in a number of ways, a number of times, to continue your work. And it's been applied to veterans and to wide-ranging populations across the spectrum and you're getting results that are getting a lot of interest and a lot of support from both with and outside of the mainstream. Like you said, you're building on the knowledge perhaps that was accumulated from underground work for decades, but you are bringing this into a pharmaceutical administration supported by therapy that's showing really promising results. What's next for the study?

Marcela Ot'alora:

There'll always be more studies, because then now it's more about other conditions. We've done one with anxiety due to life-threatening illness, anxiety and autism, and we're going to do one with eating disorders coming up. There's always an opportunity to do more studies for different conditions and seeing how the protocol needs to be modified, not only for different conditions but also in different populations so that if you live in a country that sees trauma differently, it doesn't mean that they shouldn't have MDMA therapy. It just means, how does it need to be modified so that it can actually fit their culture to be culturally responsive to how do we modify it for different populations? How do we modify it for different conditions? I think that will continue and then the hope is that after approval, which we're thinking 2023 is our date that we keep holding on to, that we'll see clinics, clinics around the world, around the US, where people can go and get this treatment from people who have been trained to do this work. That's the hope. At least, I'm waiting for my clinic.

Til Luchau:

That's fantastic. That's right. That's fantastic. And in the meantime, there's a lot of us watching with open eyes and listening with open ears because there's so much to learn, I think, about trauma, about experience, about presence and all these things that you've mentioned today.

Is there anything else you want to say or leave us with as we wrap up?

Marcela Ot'alora:

Let's see. I don't think it's a cure. I don't believe that it's about a cure, because of what we started talking about which is your body will always remember. Your body will always remember, and that's actually a gift to know that it's part of your makeup and your identity, and it's more about alleviating suffering and symptoms but really honoring your body, honoring your body for all it's done and hopefully be able to do both. Imagine having an MDMA session and then getting bodywork a few days later to continue that integration. 

So it's about really more like a holistic approach. That's the vision that I have.

Til Luchau:

That's fantastic. Well, and so many connections, you could say, to our practice as well, all these little ways we've mentioned and remembering that it's not necessarily a cure, that part of sometimes the healing is a different relationship to our history, to our traumas. And our last episode was on scars, and the same thing applied there too. It's not about erasing a scar like nothing ever happened, it's about having a different sense of adaptability and sensation around the scar.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yes, a different relationship to it. Yeah. Yeah.

Til Luchau:

Nice. Well, thank you, Marcela. How can people find out more? We'll put links, I think, if it's okay with you, to some of the different things we've mentioned, but what do you want to flag here at the end as how people could find out more if they want to?

Marcela Ot'alora:

MAPS.org, PTSDMDMA.org. Or is it MDMAPTSD? I have dyslexia, and I don't know which one-

Til Luchau:

We'll look it up and put it in the show notes for sure.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yes, but MAPS.org. Lots of information there about all our studies and also about applying if you want to apply to a study as a participant or if you want to apply as a clinician and want to be trained.

Til Luchau:

That's awesome.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Yeah.

Til Luchau:

Okay, well thanks again.

Marcela Ot'alora:

Thank you.

Til Luchau:

Our closing sponsor today is Handspring Publishing. And when I was looking for a publisher for the book that I wanted to write, I was lucky enough to end up with two offers, one from a large international media conglomerate, the other from Handspring, a small publisher in Scotland run by four great people who love great books and who love our field. To this day, I'm glad I chose to go with them, with Handspring, as not only did they help me write the books I wanted to share with you, but their catalog has emerged as one of the leading collections of professional-level books written especially for bodyworkers, movement teachers, and all professionals who use movement or touch to help patients achieve wellness.

Thanks to all of our sponsors. Stop by our site for show notes, transcripts, and extras. Whitney will be back next episode. You can find the transcript of this episode and others on his site, academyofclinicalmassage.com, or on my site, advanced-trainings.com. Email us if there are questions you have or things you want to hear us talk about. The email to reach both of us is info@thethinkingpractitioner.com. Or look for us on social media, just under our names, Til Luchau or Whitney Lowe. Follow us on Spotify. Rate us on Apple Podcasts and wherever else you listen. And please, tell a friend. Thanks everybody.

 

Huge thanks to our founding sponsors:

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