MDMA-assisted therapy

Why MDMA in therapy?

MDMA-assisted therapy allows for the re-experiencing of trauma, remembering and feeling within a uiniquely safe and ‘warm’ container. Events and feelings can be revisited without the intense level of shame, pain or terror associated with them. Difficult feelings can emerge, but MDMA allows one to move into the feeling, if chosen, without being overwhelmed. Facing these challenging feelings and allowing them to unfold can be the catalyst for great healing and change. MDMA also increases a sense of empathy, in this work often toward oneself, and a sense of self-acceptance. Things can be viewed from different perspectives without the same level of defense. MDMA is also a highly somatic substance, enhancing one’s sensations and the physical experience of emotional states.

MDMA-assisted therapy is used for various reasons including PTSD, couples therapy and cPTSD.

MDMA is a synthetically produced psychoactive substance. Often thought to be the same as Ecstacy, MDMA is a pure compoud, whereas Ecstacy may contain any number of other compouds, or sometimes no MDMA at all.

MDMA-assisted therapy is not yet legal in South Africa and the author, Melissa McWalter, does not endorse the recreational or illegal use of MDMA.

For more information, visit the contact page.

Memories and psychedelic experiences

Some of us have had memories emerge during a challenging psychedelic experience, memories that weren’t there before. Often these are traumatic memories. What happened? Has something been unlocked? Is it fabrication?

There is no one size fits all approach to this problem. One important part of my approach is to address all feeling states as real – because they are – and to allow the actual memory material to slowly unfold, if it needs to.

Trauma is a physiological experience. If there is a trauma response to a memory experience when using psychedelics, that is an indication that there is unprocessed trauma stored in our body. The content of the imagery or memory material is not essential for healing. It is actually not necessary to ascertain the veracity of a memory in order to recognise trauma and to heal.

Psychedelic integration therapy is one avenue to healing. In this process, I use verbal and non-verbal therapies, such as trauma-informed yoga, movement and creative processing, to process material and to work toward integration.

Contact Melissa to book a session by clicking here

Small trauma-informed yoga groups: spaces available

Hi everyone 🙂

Because there has been such a keen interest in my trauma-informed yoga (TIY) classes, both individual and group, I am opening another small TIY group. The group is almost full, if you would like to reserve a place, please contact me directly.

The group will only facilitate a maximum of four people. Location is 3 Belsay Road, Kenilworth.

If the group is full by the time you contact me, I will waitlist you for the next group which should be opening soon.

Please note that because of the sensitive nature of this work, anyone joining a TIY group must have 1-3 individual assessment sessions with me first. Individual sessions can continue until the person is ready to join the group.

There are no strength, flexibility or fitness requirements. The classes are at your own pace. The TIY groups can be seen as a body-based version of group talk therapy. While we do not spend much – or any – time talking, we are learning to be with one another, to synchronise with our own bodies and the bodies of others, and to eventually feel more supported and calm in the presence of others. All this while exploring important aspects of ourselves in and through our bodies.

Cost:

Individual session: R790, hour long.

Group session: R350, hour long. (Group sessions can be discounted if paid upfront for the month. The cost for a month is R1000, one class per week, if paid upfront. However, I encourage each person to try a few classes until they feel ready to commit to the monthly payment.)

Contact by clicking here or Whatsapp 0834129768

Making Meaning of a Bad Trip – a case for psychedelic-assisted therapy.

A bad trip can leave one extremely traumatised and/or re-open traumatic experiences from one’s past. It can appear as if no meaning whatsoever can be made from such a horrific and challenging experience, and after the fact one may want to push it as far way from consciousness as possible. In fact, the opposite is true.

The so-called ‘bad trip’ is a doorway to another experience of consciousness that may be extremely painful but offers just as much – if not more – raw and deep psychological and spiritual material to harness for personal growth and for awakening to a fuller consciousness.

Often individuals who have experienced a terror-trip are left feeling as if they have lost their minds. They may feel that the world is unsafe and innocuous things scare or re-traumatise them. They may have disturbing flashbacks or hallucinations. Speaking to an integrative therapist or a practitioner who is skilled in the nature of plant medicine and the human mind and soul can not only alleviate the difficulty, but bring light and meaning into what can be a very dark and lonely place.

Skilfully integrating the emotions, bodily sensations, memories and the imagery elicited during the trip is an effective way to work with trauma. A bad trip can allow direct and cathartic access to repressed traumas without necessarily needing to remember the content. Processing these emotions is essential for reparative work and healing, and it often allows access to previously inaccessible childhood traumas or losses. Further repression may only exacerbate the underlying pain and difficulties.

Integrative psychedelic therapy can also shed light on transgenerational patterns that are in play in the family system. The individual may gain a glimpse of just how much she or he is holding for the family, as well as the nature of this systemically repressed content.

As bad as your trip may be, there is always an opportunity for growth and new life in it. Imagery containing decay, evil and malevolent themes may bring one into a startled, stunted feeling of death-like consciousness. With this comes the call to awaken again, re-birth oneself and better understand your place and power in the world.

Ideally, you would be fortunate enough to begin an integrative process before your journey. However, if not, working in integration as soon as possible afterward, i.e. the next day or two and consistently over a period of weeks (if not months) is extremely helpful. Complementary, somatic therapies such as yoga are highly recommended and assist in grounding and re-entering the new phase of life. Joining a retreat program in Cape Town for a few weeks is another excellent way to process and recover, heal and energise.

For post-trip integrative psychotherapy please click here.

Integrating Lessons from the Other Side

full moon psychedelic guidance

There is another ‘side’ to consciousness. In fact, there are limitless potentials for exploration. It doesn’t matter which way you look at it, many people are experimenting with psychedelics such as magic mushrooms, exploring the infinity that is consciousness.

There is a vast difference between a spontaneous psychedelic ‘trip’ at a party, versus an intentional, guided, properly facilitated experience. In both cases, the journey will be out of the ordinary and likely something you will always remember. However, when used in an intentional manner – often including ceremony, experienced and trusted guidance as well as important safety measures – profound insights about the Self and the world, even the universe, may emerge. In this setting, the meaning one can derive from the experience can be life-changing. Personal narratives can be quickly transformed. Significant life transitions may gain clarity. Lifestyles and behaviour may change. New ways of being in the world arise.

Integrating the lessons from journeys in altered states of consciousness is extremely helpful if one hopes for lasting and meaningful transformation. Integrative sessions allow you to weave these meanings into your life and your understanding of the world, impacting who you are, how you are and where you are going. Don’t let your journey into the unknown – your hero’s journey into the abyss and back again – become obsolete.

Read more about psychedelic guidance here.

For integrative psychedelic sessions, please click here. *Integrative sessions offered online or in person.

Tips for a Happy Holiday: Bipolar Christmas Planning

bipolar christmas coping strategies

Christmas is a difficult time for many people. There are financial obligations, family obligation and often many end-of year events that lead up toward Christmas, increasing the feeling of time-pressure and burnout that may already be present.

One of the reasons Christmas time is particularly difficult for individuals with bipolar disorder or depression is the lack of structure that permeates holidays. For those with bipolar disorder, having a predictable structure, a routine, and goal-oriented tasks are known to be extremely helpful for stabilising moods and preventing relapses or spiralling out of control. When the usual work/school structure falls away and no preparations have been made for the holidays and how one will cope, symptoms such as depression, mania, high levels of anxiety and even suicidality can crop up.

Because structure is important for your mental-wellbeing, it is a good idea to begin planning your routine for the holidays now, before the open, lazy days are upon you. I suggest you make a calendar (or update your calendar) based on the following suggestions and the coping strategies you already use. Here are some questions to get you thinking about possible ways forward:

  1. Is there a project you have been putting off that you can dedicate some time to each day? Schedule time to work on it into your calendar. This may be 2 hours daily, 30 minutes daily, or even 60 minutes every second or third day. Decide what you want to commit to and ensure that you have a regular entry for this activity in your calendar.
  2. Are there Christmas gifts or cards that you can make instead of buy – saving you money and providing you with a meaningful activity at the same time?
  3. Is there a friend or relative (or more than one) who you can meet with regularly, perhaps weekly for coffee or a walk, and schedule that meeting into your calendar? Alternatively, can you set up some meeting dates for during the holidays with various individuals?
  4. Can you ensure that your exercise routine remains relatively structured despite the ambiguity of holiday days? (If you don’t have an exercise routine, now would be a good time to put one into practice. Begin with a walk every day – or as often as possible – if you are starting from scratch.) We know exercise has strong mood benefits and it is obviously also great for keeping in shape and general physical health. If you are taking a break from exercise for a while in the holidays, I encourage you to continue with a light form of exercise like walking in order to still gain the mood benefits.
  5. Can you use social media and TV watching in an intentional manner: for example, as a reward for engaging in structured and meaningful activities, instead of opting for TV or Facebook in long, unregulated sessions? Too much social media is linked to depression and screen time easily sucks real time away. Because of this, one’s daily structure is disrupted and feelings associated with depression may emerge. This is true for most people, but those with bipolar disorder should be extra-aware of their screen time.
  6. Are there decisions you need to make about Christmas itself – which events you will go to, which you won’t, which you’ll host, which you won’t? If you feel you need to avoid certain shops/malls (or even people!) on certain days (such as busy Christmas Eve), make note of that now and schedule accordingly.
  7. Are you able to ensure that you have an exit strategy (such as taking your own car) for events that you are anxious about or hesitant to attend?
  8. Can you plan some ‘me-time’ activities, scheduling in a few things that you really enjoy and that feed your soul? Ensure it is scheduled in your calendar because these are easily the first things to fall away when demands compete; if you have kids, can you find someone to help you by looking after them during the scheduled ‘me-time’? Fit your activity to your pocket: a walk on the beach is free!
  9. Can you try keep to a regular sleep schedule, as much as is possible? This regularity is extremely helpful for maintaining a stable mood and sleep itself is revitalising and regenerating during times of wellness and ill health.
  10. Can you avoid over-indulging with alcohol? Too much alcohol consumption will certainly affect the mood negatively and if coupled with lack of sleep and lack of structure, the outcome may be damaging.
  11. Can you keep a journal, with as much or little detail as you like, in order to help track your thoughts, feelings, sleeping habits (monitoring that you are not losing sleep significantly) and general mood? This is also very helpful in the long-run, as you can reflect on your writings in the future and realise coping strategies, helpful activities or even triggers that you were not initially aware of.

I encourage you to begin working on a schedule that takes these questions into consideration. The holidays can be a happy, relaxing time but may need some extra thought and planning for those with bipolar disorder.

For more bipolar support, book a session by clicking here.

Let Creativity Work For You – Building teams and gaining perspective with art and music

I have facilitated creative processes drawing on music therapy, arts-based learning and experiential learning at corporates, schools, universities and NGO’s in Cape Town. While these workshops/sessions fulfil different purposes depending on the client, they are playful, creative, non-invasive and ultimately offer new or different perspectives and insights.

The workshops are most often used for team-building, personal development and conflict management. However, more bespoke or tailored options are available too, such as a workshop for women in leadership or self-care workshops for employees.

The sessions are unique, drawing from my own interest and expertise in a variety of therapeutic, creative and healing modalities, including music therapy, as listed on the home page. Sessions will usually include a number of elements, including (for example) sensitively facilitated active music making, such as djembe drumming, as well as music listening and relaxation and also art-based processes that may include pastel, paint or collage work. These creative modalities offer employees, executives or students different ways of relating to one another and different ways of thinking about problems. The Full Circle is a creative space, offering enjoyment, insight and relationship.

To enquire about a group workshop at a company, NGO, school or university, click here.

What is Music Therapy?

Music is a profoundly powerful tool for connecting us to one another, to our emotions and to a sense of meaning. Qualified music therapists operate across the globe, including the tip of Africa, Cape Town.

Music therapy is the clinical use of music interventions and music experiences to achieve therapeutic goals, promote health and realise potentials. Music therapy is focused on the process of music experiences and the relationships developed through them.  Despite the name, musical training is not required; this is because all human beings respond to basic elements of music. Music therapy can provide opportunities for communication when words are insufficient and it can assist in releasing and exploring emotions. Like other therapists, music therapists encourage, provide support for and offer guidance to their clients.

Music therapists are allied health care professionals registered with the HPCSA. Music therapists in South Africa hold a Masters degree in Music Therapy and have completed at minimum 1000 hours of supervised clinical internships at various placement sites. Music therapy techniques are highly adaptable and are suitable for use with a wide variety of clients including adults, teenagers, the elderly, children and even antenatal or end-of-life care.

What can a client expect to do in music therapy?

  • Music improvisation, using instruments and/or voice
  • Drumming
  • Music listening
  • Therapeutic singing
  • Songwriting
  • Verbal processing and reflection
  • Movement to music
  • Reminiscence-based music experiences
  • Guided Imagery and Music/music visualisation experiences
  • Creative Processes involving music (including drawing, clay and painting)

Book an appointment with Melissa Ellse (MMus, Music Therapy) by clicking here.

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What I Love About Music Therapy

Music Therapy Boy and Guitar

One of the great things about music therapy is that everyone, absolutely everyone, can respond to music. What I love about using music as a therapeutic tool is that it allows people to connect, communicate and discover meaning outside of the framework of words. I strongly believe that music can be a powerful tool for healing and self-discovery. I have been witness to this in my own life and the lives of many others and I am excited to see how the research is demonstrating the effectiveness of the clinical use of music within the healing professions.

While I enjoy working with clients from a variety of backgrounds and age groups, I feel particularly strongly about advocating for those who are marginalised by the mental health care system and/or the experience of stigma as well as providing opportunities for personal growth for individuals who may respond better to non-verbal or creative therapies, such as music therapy.

Music therapy naturally has a profound advantage in providing connection to clients with mild and severe disabilities as well as to clients all along the autism spectrum. Such individuals are often overlooked for traditional talk therapies and the opportunities for personal growth that come with them. Music therapy offers alternative and accessible experiences that promote reciprocal communication, development of communication skills, expanding range of expression and even expanding range of movement while nurturing the individual’s potential and musicality.

Music therapy is a burgeoning profession that is internationally recognised. In South Africa we abide by the highest ethical and professional standards of our professional association (SAMTA – South African Music Therapists’ Association) as well as the HPCSA (Health Professions Council of South Africa). While many people in Cape Town or Johannesburg may not have heard of music therapy, or met a music therapist, we are a small (yet growing) group of clinicians who are working in your schools, your hospitals and your clinics with children, teens, adults, the elderly and even new-borns.

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Melissa Ellse, registered music therapist, completed a Bachelor of Music (University of Cape Town) followed by a Masters in Music Therapy (cum laude, University of Pretoria). She is registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA reg no AT 0001350) as well as the South African Music Therapists Association (SAMTA) and the South African National Association for Arts Therapists (SANATA).