Potential processes of change in MDMA-Assisted therapy for social anxiety disorder: Enhanced memory reconsolidation, self-transcendence, and therapeutic relationships

Jason B. Luoma*, Ben Shahar, M. Kati Lear, Brian Pilecki, Anne Wagner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objective: Researchers have suggested that psychotherapy may be enhanced by the addition of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), particularly in the treatment of disorders wherein interpersonal dysfunction is central, such as social anxiety disorder. We review literature pertaining to three potential processes of change that may be instigated during sessions involving MDMA administration in the treatment of social anxiety disorder. Design: This is a narrative review that integrates research on the etiology and maintenance of social anxiety disorder and mechanisms of action of MDMA to examine how MDMA may enhance psychotherapy outcomes. Results: We first outline how MDMA may enhance memory reconsolidation in social anxiety disorder. We then discuss how MDMA may induce experiences of self-transcendence and self-transcendent emotions such as compassion, love, and awe; and how these experiences may be therapeutic in the context of social anxiety disorder. We subsequently discuss the possibility that MDMA may enhance the strength and effectiveness of the therapeutic relationship which is a robust predictor of outcomes across many disorders as well as a potential key ingredient in treating disorders where shame and social disconnection are central factors. Conclusion: We discuss how processes of change may extend beyond the MDMA dosing sessions themselves.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere2824
Pages (from-to)e2824
JournalHuman Psychopharmacology
Volume37
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Keywords

  • MDMA
  • memory reconsolidation
  • processes of change
  • self-transcendence
  • social anxiety disorder
  • therapeutic relationship

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