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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021


Parallel Papers Session 1
Friday 5 July 1.45pm-3.00 pm, EEST
Paper Code: PP19
CE Credits Available
Presented online

The Psychedelic Balcony: Phantastic Object or Simply Fantastic?

Presenter: Courtney Rennicke
Moderator: Elisabet Engellau

How do we understand the resurgence of interest in psychedelics in a world confronting existential threats due to climate change, artificial intelligence (A.I.), intractable armed conflicts, and mental health crises, among many other challenges? Given psychedelics varied history as the gateway to consciousness expansion, tool for covert government intelligence operations, illegal drug, mascot for creatives, as well as emergent cornerstone of wellness culture, this paper aims to look at and then beyond the plethora of articles, podcasts, and videos touting the use of psychedelics in leadership and organizational transformation. It will explore the unconscious societal undercurrents that may have catalyzed psychedelics' reentry into our current zeitgeist and their potential to contribute to our understanding of consciousness and the boundaries of our self-as-instrument in systems psychodynamic work. This inquiry will be rooted in interpretive phenomenological analyses of ethnographic field notes, listening posts, and interviews with people who are considering or who have completed guided psychedelic experiences.

This investigation into psychedelics place in the systems psychodynamics of our civilization’s discontents will be held in a dialectic between what is currently known about their “fantastic” properties from neuropsychological and psychiatric perspectives and the ways in which they may have become a receptacle for societal projections as phantastic objects. The accumulating data from randomized controlled studies that psychedelics can provide amelioration from conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder, addiction, anxiety associated with cancer and terminal illness, and major depressive disorder will be reviewed with reflections about the cultural meaning of who sanctions or approves psychedelics use. Through a neurological lens, this paper will inquire if psychedelics have something to offer us in their purported capacity to move us past perceptual ruts, access intense emotional experiences, and thus expand the view from our psychic “balcony” or “night vision” goggles. Further, psychedelic processes that temporarily create more neurological chaos, sensory interconnectivity, and increased capacity for novel associations, collectively referred to as the entropic brain, will be considered through the lens of complexity theory.

Thematic analysis of narratives from interview subjects who are considering or have experienced guided psychedelic journeys will explore the ways we psychically map and relate to our consciousness, as well as alter or reify our boundaries intra- and interpersonally. This nascent dialog between systems psychodynamics and psychedelic science will be explored through Turquet’s phenomenology of identity in groups and by comparing Bion’s concept of containment to psychedelic notions of set and setting. This paper will consider if psychedelics meet the criteria of a phantastic object and if so, what collective energies and emotions might they be binding for us and protecting us from? We will consider if psychedelics are nudging us towards a greater capacity for non-relational caring, increased negative capacity or just patching us up to be more productive workers, leaders and innovators.

If psychedelics are also understood as a “super-placebo” or non-specific amplifiers of experience, how do our collective beliefs about them shape the experience of an individual's psychedelic journey? Does their potentially “phantastic” status offer something generative even for those who have no direct experience with them? Lastly, if there is a critical period of neuroplasticity following a psychedelic experience, this paper will speculate about how consultants, coaches, analysts and therapists might understand and support individual’s integration of these experiences.

Biographical Summary

Courtney Rennicke, Ph.D. is currently completing a degree in systems psychodynamics at INSEAD and is a Columbia University trained clinical psychologist, who founded a group practice, Rennicke & Associates, specializing in attachment-focused family psychotherapy for adopted children in New York City. Dr. Rennicke is a Certified Trainer in Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy © (DDP) and teaches mental health professionals working in child welfare around the world about how to support children’s healing from developmental trauma, including in Australia, Czech Republic, Greece, Kenya, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
In addition to certification in DDP, Dr. Rennicke has received advanced training in Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) for relational work with adults. Dr. Rennicke has also supervised and taught psychology externs, social workers, post-doctoral fellows and psychiatry residents in a range of treatment modalities at New York University/Bellevue Hospital, Columbia University, and Yeshiva University.


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