On studying the psychological mechanisms of the (therapeutic) effects of psychedelics
This post provides extended discussion of and references for my poster-based talk given at the INSIGHT 2021 conference on September 10, 2021. My commentary published in Psychopharmacology also discusses some of these same issues and provides concrete suggestions for future research. This is a work in progress and may evolve over time.
2021-09-10 Samuli Kangaslampi, email@example.com
Increasing evidence suggests that consuming psychedelic substances in some contexts may have therapeutic effects for some people. Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for depression has entered Phase 2 clinical trials (Carhart-Harris et al., 2021). Meanwhile, experimental, survey-based, and register-based studies suggest links between psychedelic consumption and some areas of well-being (e.g., Agin-Liebes et al., 2021; Jiménez-Garrido et al., 2020; Hendricks et al., 2015; Simonsson et al., 2021; Uthaug et al., 2019). In order to better understand and maximize possible therapeutic effects, it would be very useful to know how, through which psychological mechanisms, psychedelics or psychedelic-assisted therapy may have beneficial outcomes.
Indeed, research on the psychological mechanisms of the effects of psychedelics is increasing. A number of recent publications have suggested various mechanisms and pathways for beneficial effects (e.g., Davis et al., 2020, 2021; Forstmann et al., 2020; Kettner et al., 2021; van Mulukom et al., 2020, Roseman et al., 2018; Thiessen et al., 2018; Zeifman et al., 2020). However, there are some problems and pitfalls in approaches several recent studies have taken to analyzing such mechanisms. Many of these problems and unstated assumptions in mechanism research have previously been pointed out and discussed in other areas of research, especially psychotherapy and social psychological research. Here, I discuss the value, challenges, and best practices of providing convincing evidence for the psychological mechanisms of the possible therapeutic effects of psychedelics.Continue Reading…
Clinical psychological research on treating children and adolescents exposed to violent trauma
Lectio Praecursoria delivered on the occasion of the public examination of my Doctoral dissertation, “Mechanisms of change in psychological treatment of posttraumatic stress symptoms among children and adolescents“, on September 6, 2019, at Tampere University.
According to estimates based on surveys from around 100 countries, a minimum of one billion children and adolescents under the age of 18 are exposed to some form of violence during each year (Hillis et al., 2018). Here they are. Except every one of these symbols represents one million children and adolescents, not one.
Psykedeelinen renessanssi orastaa tieteessä – miksi?
Tämä yleisluontoinen katsaus on kirjoitettu pyynnöstä Cortext-lehteen ja julkaistu sen numerossa 2/2017
Psykedeelinen renessanssi orastaa tieteessä
”Taikasienistä ihmelääke masennuksen hoitoon?”1, ”LSD palauttaa aivot samanlaiseen tilaan kuin vauvana”2, ”Hannu söi huumesieniä parantumattoman syövän aiheuttamaan shokkiin”3 – Psykedeelit ovat viime aikoina näkyneet suomalaisessakin mediassa. Aiheeseen liittyvän asenne- ja mediailmapiirin muutoksen ohella taustalla vaikuttaa myös psykedeelien nouseminen uudelleen vakavasti otettavan tieteellisen tutkimuksen kohteiksi, sekä perustutkimuksessa että mahdollisten kliinisten sovellusten osalta. Miten tiede näkee psykedeelit, ja mistä syistä niitä tutkitaan?
Exporting data from SPSS to Mplus – a simple step-by-step guide
Exporting data from SPSS (23) to Mplus (7.3) – a simple step-by-step guide
Exporting data from SPSS to Mplus is theoretically a simple process, but can still be a little more complicated than it should be. Various instructions exist all over the Web, but many of them forgo a couple of details that may not be obvious to novices. Here’s my reasonably fool-proof step-by-step guide.
“Dear Dr. S …” – Invitations from predatory publishers
An interesting side effect of having published an article in a widely indexed open access journal has been the influx of invitations to publish articles/reviews/comments/anything at all or to review research articles in a variety of journals with names ranging from Medical Sciences to the Austin Journal of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences. In a similar vein, I have been invited to appear as a distinguised speaker at, e.g., the annual 4th International Conference and Exhibition on Immunology and the International Conference on Brain Disorders and Therapeutics.
Publishing a single study protocol has clearly made me a veritable superstar of science, as my contribution is urgently needed at all sorts of events and publications barely even related to my field of study. How flattering! What’s more, these invitations have addressed me variously as “Doctor Kangaslampi”, “Dr. Samuli Kangaslampi” and even “Dr S.”, though my PhD is still a few years off. An understandable confusion looking at my long list of publications and academic work over many years!
These invitations are, of course, part of an unfortunate trend of elaborate scams circulating in the academia.
Worksheet for examining mediator effects
Mediating/intervening variable effects can be examined and demonstrated in a variety of ways in psychological research. One approach is the so-called difference in coefficients method, where the significance of the difference between the direct path from X to Y with no mediated path via M and the direct path from X to Y when a mediated path (X->M->Y) exists is tested. The attached simple Excel worksheet provides an easy way to do this using the Freedman-Schatzkin approach to estimating the standard error of the difference. The sources used are detailed in the worksheet.
As mentioned, there are many other ways to examine mediator effects, so only use this if you know what you’re doing. This method appears to be superior to, e.g., the old Baron & Kenny steps approach, but personally, I’d recommend boostrapping for most uses.
Summary and Comments – A Dose of Ruthlessness: Interpersonal Moral Judgment Is Hardened by the Anti-Anxiety Drug Lorazepam
A Dose of Ruthlessness: Interpersonal Moral Judgment Is Hardened by the Anti-Anxiety Drug Lorazepam
by Perkins, A., Leonard, A., Weaver, K., Dalton, J., Mehta, M., Kumari, V., Williams, S. & Ettinger, U. (2013).
(Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 142(3), 612-620. DOI: 10.1037/a0030256)
As unfashionable as it may be in many circles, I am a believer in free will. I have to be, for working as a psychologist or conducting psychological research to make any sense to me, personally. At the same time, I am keenly aware of how great an impact internal and external circumstances have on our decision-making capabilities and choices. As such, the effects of emotional states and responses on moral decisions are a fascinating topic, and that’s why I chose to present this article on a rather simple study on the effects of the anxiolytic drug lorazepam on ruthlessness in moral decisions. Continue Reading…
Summary and Comments – Does Narrative Exposure Therapy Reduce PTSD in Survivors of Mass Violence?
Does Narrative Exposure Therapy Reduce PTSD in Survivors of Mass Violence?
by McPherson, J. (2012).
(Research on Social Work Practice, 22(1), 29-42. DOI: 10.1177/1049731511414147)
As a comeback to my series of summaries of interesting scientific research articles in psychology, I’ll start with something directly relevant to my current work as a PhD Candidate researcher.
After a particularly frightening, dangerous or otherwise intensely stressful experience, stress reactions can be considered normal. However, if such symptoms persist for several months, we may speak of persistent posttraumatic stress symptoms and, in cases where they reach a certain clinically significant level, of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Typically, PTSD symptoms consist of involuntarily re-experiencing the traumatic event in some way (flashback phenomena, intrusive thoughts and memories), avoiding places, people and things that are reminders of the trauma or act as triggers for re-experiencing, and hyper-arousal (problems concentrating, sleeping, over-vigilance, feelings of danger).
The standard treatments for PTSD and related symptoms include trauma-focused and other forms of cognitive behavioral therapy. However, clinicians and researchers have found that these standard treatments often do not work so well with individuals who have repeatedly experienced many traumatic incidents, especially in contexts such as war and armed conflict. With this in mind, new forms of therapy appropriate for such sequentially traumatized individuals are needed.
One such relatively new form of therapy is Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET), developed by M. Schauer, F. Neuner and T. Elbert, drawing on emotional processing theory, trauma-focused CBT and testimonial therapy. It is a program of on average eight sessions, where emotional processing and thus healing is thought to occur through detailed narration of the traumatic events leading to habituation to their distressing effects, as well as through the reconstruction of a coherent narrative of the events and their place in the individual’s autobiographical memories. The entire life story of the patient, including her/his most negative and traumatic as well as positive experiences, is narrated and written down in detail during the therapy.
The article summarized here is a review by J. McPherson of the evidence “so far” (until 2011 or so, that is) on the effectiveness of Narrative Exposure Therapy to reduce PTSD symptoms, mainly in survivors of different forms of mass violence.
Summary and Comments – Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Population Study
Psychedelics and Mental Health: A Population Study
by Krebs, T. S., & Johansen, P-Ø. (2013)
(PLoS ONE, 8(8), e63972. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0063972)
Psychedelic substances, such as psilocybin-containing mushrooms, DMT-containing brews (ayahuasca), mescaline-containing cacti, ibogaine-containing roots and seeds with LSA, have been used for religious, shamanistic, divination and healing purposes by various cultures for thousands of years. Since the 1960s especially, the use of psychedelics, most commonly lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25), psilocybin and mescaline, has also been relatively widespread in the “Western” world for various purposes, including recreational, spiritual and religious uses.
Much research into the potential therapeutic uses of (some) psychedelics was carried out in the 1950s and 1960s, but due to political, legislative and other reasons, a long hiatus followed. In recent years, starting with DMT studies in the 1990s, and over the last 5-10 years in particular, there has been increasing renewed interest in such uses. In light of this renewed interest, research over the safety of these substances appears of great importance.
It is known that the “classic” serotonergic psychedelics, that is, LSD, psilocybin and mescaline, are physically very safe substances, non-addictive, and do not lead to violence or other major social problems in the way some psychoactive substances do. When considering the possible risks of these substances, the main concern has focused on potential mental health effects, in particular on possible links to long-term psychotic, phobic or PTSD-like symptoms. Psychedelics can indeed elicit very intense experiences in their users, often positive and even ecstatic or rapturous but sometimes negative and terrifying. In light of these extreme effects, and some (though limited) similarities in states produced by psychedelic use and those experienced during mental illness, it is not surprising that many have wondered about the connections between psychedelic use and mental health, and some case reports of long-term mental problems following psychedelic use exist.
Summary and Comments – Optimism Is Universal
Optimism Is Universal: Exploring the Presence and Benefits of Optimism in a Representative Sample of the World
by Gallagher, M. W., Lopez, S. J., & Pressman, S. D. (2013)
(Journal of Personality, 81(5). 429-440. DOI: 10.1111/jopy.12026)
Background & Research
Recent theories of and studies on optimism tend to agree that optimism is an adaptive psychological resource and provides overall benefits for individuals, rather than being a damaging delusion as was earlier thought by some philosophers and psychologists. While there are some indications that defensive pessimism may be adaptive and optimism maladaptive in some very specific circumstances, overall, numerous studies and meta-analyses have shown higher levels of optimism to be linked to improved psychological health, in particular subjective well-being, as well as subjective, and to a lesser extent objective, physical health.
However, as with so much psychological research, optimism and its effects have mainly been studied in industrialized, relatively wealthy nations. Are the results obtained in such studies then generalizable to the entire world? Is optimism a) widely present and b) adaptive in other parts of the world, where, e.g., economic outlooks may be more dire and life expectancy and other Quality of Life indicators are lower? Continue Reading…