Healing Journeys: The Golden Shadow

— Rev. Molly Baskette

I spent six days this past week in the sub-basement ballroom of the Grand Hyatt in SF, learning about MDMA-assisted therapy to heal people with PTSD as part of my graduate program. The research data is remarkable—so remarkable that bipartisan legislation in Congress (which can’t agree on anything!) will likely make MDMA (aka Ecstasy or Molly, no relation) legal for therapeutic purposes in 2024.

MDMA is an “empathogen,” a molecule that increases oxytocin levels and decreases amygdala reactivity—in other words, it’s both a heart-opener and fear-squasher. Back in the 70s and 80s before it became a victim of the War on Drugs, therapists used it during couples counseling to help partners open up to each other and have difficult conversations about things that mattered while staying warmly connected.

It turns out the ways that MDMA works on the brain (and heart!) is very effective in helping people with trauma—think veterans of war or child abuse/sexual abuse survivors. The medicine opens a “window of tolerance” that allows them to move through the worst thing ever to happen to them and feel it fully with less fear and dissociation. They can eventually come into empowered resolution and new insight about the event/s. In research studies, 67% of participants lose their PTSD diagnosis entirely, and even more than that experience some relief from symptoms.

The four practitioners for the week taught me so much about being a good counselor and guide. One concept that I found particularly moving was The Golden Shadow. Jung identified and named this phenomenon of a patient (or parishioner!) experiencing intense admiration for their therapist (or pastor!). In reality, that admiration is a projection of the person’s own “submerged creative potential.” In other words: when we’re working through hard stuff and find a good teacher, we may think they’re the bomb-diggity. What we don’t yet realize is that what we admire in them has its origin within ourselves: the best part of us projected onto a leader, teacher, or therapist.

Harvey, one of my teachers, surprised me when he said that therapists (or pastors) shouldn’t reject this admiration. We should hold on to it without believing in it too much (ego!) so we can give it back when the time is ripe, when the person is ready to own their own strength, wisdom, beauty, belovedness. But in the meantime, Harvey said, receiving that love or adulation graciously and with humility will greatly help the healing process.

I hope that little nugget gives you some insight and succor today!