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Observations placeholder

The importance of set and setting in LSD therapy



Type of Spiritual Experience


I have grouped a number of observations together related to this aspect.

There is almost universal agreement that someone needs to be in constant attendance during an LSD session, someone who has not taken LSD.

Medical profession

The medical profession tend to recommend that at least one person is a therapist or doctor capable of giving an antidote in case it is needed and also capable of handling any extreme reactions. Of course there is much debate then on who your other helpers should be.  In the psychiatric community, there is still a great deal of belief in the enormous value of LSD as a psychiatric tool, but many ignore the possibility that the person themselves may be far better at unravelling the often hugely convoluted symbolism that comes with LSD.

As the set and setting are so very very important in guaranteeing a positive helpful and rewarding experience, a therapist or psychiatrist with even the slightest hint of arrogance or skepticism, seeing the person in a less than friendly location [clinical, cold or unwelcoming]  could completely tip the balance and produce a mind numbingly awful effect and more trauma.

There is also another problem that occurs as a consequence of the increased suggestibility of the person.  A poor doctor or psychiatrist could unwittingly [or worse deliberately] create extra trauma by suggestion.

If you have a psychiatrist trying to ‘help’ you, who puts things in your mind during the session, he could cause a psychosis.  You could be led to believe you strangled your mother at birth, you were abused by every neighbour, were starved or beaten by teachers.  This is actually sinister stuff – the ramblings of a psychiatrist with a pet theory on your apparent problems could cause untold harm.  You imagine Freud at an LSD session.

I actually think that using LSD for any form of psychiatric purpose has real real dangers of a form of brainwashing of which the psychiatrist himself may not be aware. 

Trusted friends

The contrasting view is that the helper you need is a non judgemental deeply trusted friend who will say very little, but help where need be.

All you really need is a friendly caring and gentle person able to reassure you if your ego causes you problems, who is able to get you a warm drink or a blanket, and who has perhaps taken LSD themselves before your session, so who is well aware of the effects and able to reassure and explain where need be.  They should take notes but not comment - the notes are simply there to help in recall after the vent and in analysis.

This person needs to be aware that they might have to really physically help in calming someone who has really 'lost it'.

The setting

The setting is absolutely key.  Quiet, warm [but not too warm] dimly lit, comfortable, non threatening and if you intend to keep your eyes open filled with pleasant stimulating art and pictures, nothing scary, nothing threatening.  LSD can turn the dinosaur you have in a picture on the wall into the 'real thing'. Remember that the pupil dilates, so bright light is going to really hurt and may cause permanent damage to the eye.  Remember also that the effects can vary from feelings of intense cold to profuse sweating, so you need to be prepared both ways with cool water or warm blankets.

A description of the experience

LSD The consciousness expanding drug – edited by David Soloman

Quoting Savage
This meeting is most valuable because it allows us to see all at once, results ranging from the nihilistic conclusions of some [psychiatrists]  to the evangelical ones of others.  Because the results are so much influenced by the personality, aims and expectations of the therapist and by the setting, only such a meeting as this could provide us with such a variety of personalities and settings.  It seems clear, first of all, that where there is no therapeutic intent, there is no therapeutic result.........  I think we can also say that where the atmosphere is fear ridden and skeptical, the results are generally not good.. this is all of tremendous significance, for few drugs are so dependent on the milieu and require such careful attention to it as LSD does.

Quoting Hyde
impersonal hostile and investigative attitudes arouse hostile and paranoid responses

...in content as in affect, subjects apparently respond to the implicit or explicit suggestion of expectation of the therapist or experimenter.  The Harvard subjects were prepared for their metaphysical binges, it may be noted, with such assignment readings as the cave parable in Plato's Republic and passages from the Tibetan Book of the Dead!

The Beyond within, the LSD story – Dr Sidney Cohen

The LSD state is, in essence, one of greatly heightened suggestibility, with environmental cues sensed most exquisitely.  This sensitivity can assume extraordinary proportions, to the point where the observer’s mind ‘can be read’ from the minutest changes in tone, facial expression or posture.  The loss of his customary defensiveness makes the subject much more responsive to these sensings.  He responds, or over responds to the explicit or implicit signals of his associates…

The source of the experience

Healer other

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Psychological trauma