Imaginaries of Liberation: Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Societal Alienation


Questions are currently being posed concerning the implications of the clinical uptake of psychedelics. While enthusiasm surrounds the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics and critiques surrounds their appropriation to commercial ends, limited attention has been given to the role of psychedelics in generating social transformation. Herbert Marcuse contended radical change requires ‘new imaginaries of liberation’. We consider whether clinical uptake of psychedelics may produce perceptual shifts necessary to generate social transformation surrounding contemporary alienating conditions. Economic structures contributing to these alienating conditions are highly resistant to change and may neuter psychedelics revolutionary potential. We illustrate how, psychedelics may be instrumentalised: regulating individuals into unjust systems; redirecting psychedelic usage, away from therapeutic ends, towards productivity; distracting or diverting attention from systemic forms of control; usurping non-ordinary states into the domain of self-care; and fetishistically commodifying psychedelic experience as a consumable. There are, however, reasons to believe psychedelics, in raising consciousnesses, may prove resistant to co-option, by inducing perceptual experiences that: challenge the paradigmatic assumptions of industrial society by provoking alternate epistemologies and metaphysics; generate expanded or ecological constructions of selfhood, thereby offering resignifications of meanings, desires, and life potentials; and offer the enriched phenomenological insight into self, other, and world, called for in combating ubiquitous social alienation. In this way psychedelics may induce the revolution in perception necessary to imagine liberatory potentials and spark the desire for collective emancipation.

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