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Stephen Snelders – Psychotherapy with Hallucinogens in a Medical Setting: The Shadow of History

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In the year 2010 hopeful prospects are attached to psychotherapy with hallucinogens. Attempts are made to bring this kind of therapy out of the confines of illegal subcultures and into legalized medical settings. Discussions and arguments center around medical benefits and are wrapped in the vocabulary of present-day medical and biological sciences. However, medical settings are not ‘neutral’ structures, but are determined by the social and cultural development of medicine and health care and by the load of the past. Advocates and opponents of hallucinogenic therapy alike should be aware of these determinations and take them into account.

Hallucinogenic therapy has been practised by doctors from the very first beginning of psychiatry itself, in the early 19th century. It was central to a now controversial tradition of psycho-pharmacological research and therapy that was qualitative in nature and accorded an important place to self-experiences of medical practitioner and patient alike. The problems that face acceptance of hallucinogenic therapy today are both social and political in a wider sense (the load of the revolt of the sixties), as related to the politics of medicine and health care.

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