Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis

Study Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


School for Social Work


Existentialism, Existential psychotherapy, Neuroscience, Psychedelic, Psychedelic psychotherapy, Psilocybin, LSD, Hallucinagenic drugs-Therapeutic use, Psychotherapy-Methodology, LSD (Drug)


Psychotherapy with the use of high-dose psychedelic drugs shows immense promise in treating a myriad of debilitating psychiatric conditions. After a three-decade long suspension, regulators have allowed for new studies and re-awakened interest in the potential of psychedelics. However, while research on the topic has quickly progressed, little has been done to reinvigorate our clinical understanding of the psychedelic healing process. This thesis interprets the psychedelic state through the twin perspectives of existentialism and neuroscience with the goal of starting to develop a theoretical language.

The subjective experience of high-dose psychedelics under therapeutic conditions often results in a loss-of-self referred to as ‘ego-death’. Ego-death is sometimes accompanied by fearful experiences which people compare to mortal terror, and is a strong predictor of therapeutic success. Based on these observations, Irving Yalom’s existential theory provides a helpful framework from which to interpret these experiences and understand the powerful emotions that arise during the psychedelic state. Interestingly, the biologically-based neuroscience approach compliments the subjective language of existentialism by providing supporting observations about brain activity during ego-death. That these experiences are predictable and observable give credence to their importance.




iv, 53 pages : color illustrations. Includes bibliographical references (pages 49-53)