9 Reasons Why People Seek Out Alternative Therapies

“I have been to so many different therapists, psychologists and helpers but I have not found what I need.”

“I haven’t found anyone that I can really connect with.”

“I need to connect with a real person, not a blank face.”

“I don’t feel like I can relate to my therapist.”

“I don’t want to blindly follow a conventional medicine model, but I also don’t want to ignore important medical advice.”

“Traditional therapy is just not working for me.”

“I am desperate for my mental health or my child’s mental health to improve, and nothing seems to be working.”

“I’ve tried everything.”

“Just simply talking isn’t helping me.”

These are some of the most common reasons my clients look for alternative therapies, and often why they come to me. I highly value the fields of psychology and psychiatry, which is why I work collaboratively with other professionals. However, traditional therapy approaches are not for everyone.

Sometimes, people need a different approach in order to feel seen and heard. The traditional therapy models tend to allow less transparency, real-ness and openness from the therapist, with the focus remaining exclusively on the client. This works really well for many people.

For others, the core element of safety in therapy can only be found in an imperfect, somewhat irreverent approach that allows relationship and connection to unfold between two real human beings. I bring a valuable expertise to the relationship pertaining to the areas of therapy and skills I offer; however, I am not an expert on life. This is a journey we undertake together. The relationship we form is the vehicle for growth and healing.

The integrative nature of this approach means that we may use talking, music, art, movement, trauma-informed yoga, breathwork, lifestyle modification, creative process, symbol work, nature, writing and/or mindfulness in a way that feels safe and appropriate for you.

I like to take 1 – 3 sessions to get to know you and to allow you to get to know me. From there, we can decide whether we would like to work together and if I could be helpful.

If you are interested in integrative therapy, an alternative approach, please contact Melissa by clicking here

16 week psychedelic assisted therapy program

This program is informed by the John’s Hopkins psychedelic research protocol. It also draws on tools from MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) and the Center for Psychedelic Research at the Imperial College London.

Week 1-8: weekly preparation sessions including assessment, verbal and non-verbal therapies, intention setting, examining our narrative, trauma-informed yoga therapy and implementation of tools and strategies for the process. Importantly, this preparatory period helps establish a trusting relationship, consistency and a safe space.

Week 9: day-long psychedelic experience including preparatory yoga, nature immersion, creative arts therapies, Hero’s Journey walkabout and individually curated music playlists. The journey is facilitated indoors with eyeshades.

Week 9-16: weekly integration sessions in order to extract the most meaning and insight from the process and connect it to daily life. Verbal and non-verbal, creative processing and re-storying.

Cost: R20 600 total

Preparation sessions: R850 (60-90 minutes)

Day long experiential session: R7000 (6-8 hours)

Integration sessions: R850 (60-90 minutes)

Payable weekly. Upfront payment discount offered.

Transformational journey and psychedelic integration: a beautiful testimonial

“In a time of my life where I had no idea how to start dealing with my trauma, Melissa offered me a safe haven by teaching me about myself and showing me where my power lies. We worked very closely together in thorough preparation for my psychedelic journey as well as the integration of the impact it had on me afterwards. Years later Melissa is still the person I call on for guidance on how to manage the inner storms that arise, and her hunger for knowledge ensures that the most suitable methods are used for my ptsd.”

Sarah worked in therapy with me with her difficult relationships, cPTSD, depressions and anxiety. She went on a psilocybin journey to help catalyze her process. This was well planned, prepared for and integrated. She is an incredibly brave and bold soul who has shifted so much generational trauma as well as personal blocks. I am grateful to work with such special humans on a daily basis. (Name changed for confidentiality purposes).

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

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.

Are substance-free psychedelic experiences possible?

psychedelic experience guidance cape town south africa spiritual awakening music therapy

Short answer: yes.

Longer answer: I have encountered surprisingly many people (older, younger and from all walks of life) who want to experience something of the the mind-manifesting nature of psychedelics without taking a substance. Some people are averse to the idea of substance-induced altered states of consciousness from pre-conceived ideas about “drugs”, some cannot explore any mind altering substances because of medications or psychological predispositions. Some don’t want to get entangled in something that is not legal. Some simply don’t like the idea of ingesting anything that affects their consciousness so profoundly. Some prefer to be in control. Some are fearful. These are all valid concerns.

Yet still, such individuals seek a transcendent (possibly spiritual) encounter that is different to everyday, waking life and that offers up something deeper, possibly holding more meaning, truth and authenticity than their ‘ordinary’ reality. In my experience, these individuals are usually on a voyage of self-exploration, igniting creativity, navigating a life transition and/or discovering meaning in life. My hope-filled and honest response is always yes, there certainly are ways to enter altered states of consciousness without any substances or plant medicines.

Psychedelic literally means ‘mind-manifesting’ or ‘mind-expanding’, the Greek root is psyche (mind, soul) dêlos (manifest, visible). Meditation is one avenue to such experiences, yet this usually takes a great deal of practice before potentially experiencing anything of a psychedelic nature. Still, I highly recommend a steady meditation practice for many, many reasons which I won’t address here. To get started with a meditation practice, the following apps are very useful: https://wakingup.com/ or https://www.headspace.com/.

I work with music and deep relaxation into an altered state of consciousness, eliciting imagery in the mind’s eye that allows the ‘traveller’ transcendent, even psychedelic-type experiences. However, the ‘traveller’ also retains complete personal control and is able to effortlessly emerge from the experience at any point. No substances or plant medicines are used and they do not need to be in order for the process to be effective. Guided Imagery and Music is a technique developed by Helen Bonny after working alongside the renown psychedelic researcher Stanislov Grof in LSD trials of the sixties. Bonny developed a “non-drug, psychedelic technique of music-listening for psychotherapeutic ends.”

This music-listening technique takes place in a 1.5 hour session, the traveller comfortably lying on a couch in an undisturbed, safe and comfortable setting (such as a therapist’s room). During the session, the guide will talk with the client/traveller and work toward setting an intention for the journey. A specific music program that relates directly to the traveller’s mental set and intention – a music program designed to elicit imagery, emotions, memories and even sensations – is selected by the guide. The traveller is taken through a deepening relaxation induction and reminded of their intention. When the selected music plays, the traveller journeys with the music in this deepened, relaxed and in fact altered state of consciousness.

Imagery, storylines and emotions may appear, sometimes sensations and memories, all emerging from the unconscious mind and guided by the music. During this process, the traveller is always free to ‘come out’ of the experience, should they want to. This is unlike a substance-based psychedelic experience, such as a psilocybin journey, where one is locked into the journey until the substance/medicine wears off. The guide asks questions and helps to deepen and intensify the experience. Afterward, the traveller makes marks on paper (creates a mandala), which is a creative output that helps to solidify and integrate the journey and is used for verbally processing the experience.

Guided Imagery and Music sessions are usually conducted once a week over a period of time, as personal narratives, archetypal material and images from the unconscious are developed and worked with.

If you are interested in exploring your consciousness through an alternative, experiential and substance-free way, click here. Offered in Cape Town, South Africa.

Note: BMGIM guides require extensive and rigorous training. I am currently in advanced training in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music.

Hallmarks of a Mystical Experience

William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, delineated four major hallmarks of what might be described as a mystical experience.

  1. Ineffability: the individual just can’t put words to the experience, verbal description does not – cannot – do it justice or even begin to portray the authority, significance or nature of the event.
  2. Noetic Quality: the experience appears extremely significant and important for to the individual and it carries a kind of deep authority, inner knowing and personal truth.
  3. Transiency: the mystical state is not sustained as in it’s peak, but fragments, traces, parts, a felt sense and innate knowing – these do persist and are subject to ongoing development, meaning that the insights/wisdom/truths can deepen in richness and significance over time.
  4. Passivity: it is not by the individual’s active will or direction that the mystical experience occurs. Rather, the individual will is suspended for a time and it is as if the individual is ‘moved’ by something larger than him or herself (such as a higher power).

Clearly, this describes an experience that is quite enormous, powerful and outside of ordinary life experience. This is something that is remembered, owned, held tightly and nurtured. Something that becomes precious, guiding and indeed transformative in one’s life. A deep truth, knowing, reality or beauty may be revealed that is intrinsic to something ordinary, everyday and obvious. The experience of such states can be immensely powerful and transformative in one’s personal journey as well as for collective wellbeing. Does such a state have to have anything to do with religion?

It is possible but uncommon to enter such an altered state of consciousness without intention in everyday life, perhaps but not necessarily while listening to music or being in a sacred or natural space. However, there are various ways to prime for such an experience. For example, one way is through a meditation practice, another through Guided Imagery and Music, and another is through facilitated breathwork. Another increasingly acceptable and accessible way is through the use of sacred plant medicine, such as magic mushrooms (psilocybin) and ayahuasca which through their psychedelic (that is ‘mind-manifesting’) properties may occasion such mystical experiences. While mystical states and religion can seem confusingly intermingled, they are not the same thing. There are many religious people who have never had a mystical experience of this nature, while there are stalwart atheists who have. It is a human experience, not owned by any denomination, school of thought, medical practice or form of therapy. It is true that such experiences may absorb a kind of religious quality, depending on many factors such as the individual’s life experience, the place the experience occurs and even the music playing during the event.

Have you ever experienced an altered state, a mystical state or a spiritual state that relates to James’ conception?

For more information about altered states of consciousness, psychedelic integration, guided imagery and music, mind expansion, transformation and mystical states, please contact me to find out more.

References:

Griffiths, Roland & Richards, William & Mccann, Una & Jesse, Robert. (2006). Psilocybin Can Occasion Mystical-Type Experiences Having Substantial and Sustained Personal Meaning and Spiritual Significance. Psychopharmacology. 187. 268-283. 10.1007/s00213-006-0457-5.

James, W. (1902), The varieties of religious experience. New York: Longmans, Green & Co.

Pollan, M. (2018). How to change your mind: What the new science of psychedelics teaches us about consciousness, dying, addiction, depression, and transcendence. New York: Penguin Press.