STUDY DIARIES: Drug Abuse Treatment

These are some old, yet still relevant, notes taken during a lecture given at Rudolf Steiner House on 31st May 1994 by Ron Dunselman from the then ARTA Clinic in Holland. At the time the clinic was working with new forms of drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation based upon an anthroposophical approach.

(I have dug up these notes because they give an introduction to the four-fold nature of the human being as seen from an anthroposophical perspective. Something I will want to return to in later posts.)

Ron Dunselman was a psychologist and art therapist responsible for treating drug addicts at the ARTA Clinic in Holland. At the time of the lecture there were 38 residents at ARTA with 50 in aftercare. Ron started off by giving a background sketch of the initiation rituals from the ancient Asian and Egyptian cultures and how they relate to us today. He then went on to describe in detail the effects of drugs on the four-fold human constitution:

  • Physical body
  • Life body
  • Feeling body
  • The I or Ego

Ron then went on to describe the treatment regime that ARTA had developed and the implications for society as a a whole. There was then a ’round table’ discussion in which of particular note, Ron gave some recommendations for dealing with drugs issues in school.

Within the ancient Asian and Egyptian Mystery Schools, initiation rituals involved two major elements: a drink called soma, and fear. Soma was a drug that separated the soul and spirit from the physical body thus allowing the initiate to perceive themselves from the outside. These two elements both exist today when people take drugs, the drug itself and the fear brought on by taking a poisonous substance. Ron mentioned that as the threshold between the physical and the spiritual world has become less substantial in recent times, there has been a greater desire to explore the realm of spiritual experience. Today there are no initiation rituals that parallel those of bygone times. Paraphrasing Keith Moon of the Who, Ron said that one of the few ways to be a hero today is to recover from being a drug addict. This romantic view does not of course take into account those that don’t make it. Drugs are therefore seen as a method of obtaining initiatory and spiritual experiences, except that they do not require any preparatory work by the drug user and the experiences provide severely distorted spiritual perceptions.

Effects of Drugs
In presenting the effects on the body Ron drew up a four-level diagram showing the four elements of the human body with the effects due to drugs described in terms of their effect on the boundaries (A, B, C) between these four elements:

  • I (higher Self or Ego)
    • boundary A
  • Feeling Body (old name: Astral)
    • boundary B
  • Life Body (growth, metabolism, form, old name: Etheric)
    • boundary C
  • Physical Body

I shall not go into protracted explanations of these elements here since they are amply described in Steiner’s book ‘Theosophy’. Suffice it to say that the physical body is the material part we all know, that takes up space. The life body, is the part that keeps the physical body together, even though the physical cells are replaced. It differentiates us from a corpse and deals with the metabolic control and particularly the rhythmical or cyclical aspects of our body. The feeling body is the seat of our feelings, our emotions or our ‘soul’. The I is the part of us that is our fundamental individuality.

Under normal conditions these bodies, or sheaths as Ron prefers to call them, separate in the following ways. A separation between the physical and life bodies occurs when we die – boundary C. Separation between the life and feeling bodies happens when we sleep – boundary B. The feeling body and the Ego separate when we are inattentive, or running on automatic pilot – boundary A. This can occur sometimes when we have driven a car yet cannot remember the details of the journey.

Drugs can also force separations to occur between these bodies and different drugs work at the different boundaries: A, B or C, pushing the sheaths apart. Certain drugs also have the effect of forcing the sheaths together, usually at the same time as separating them, thus making the whole view rather complex.

For instance, LSD forces a separation between the physical and life sheaths at boundary C, affecting mainly the liver and the kidneys. The life body looks after all processes of growth, reproduction, formation, regeneration etc. These are all life processes which are a function of time and our life body is our time organism. A healthy sense of space (physical body) and time (life body) requires that these two sheaths interpenetrate. LSD will therefore affect this matching and produce distortions of space and time. A small garden can look like a football pitch, or ten minutes can seem like a whole day.

Hashish (marijuana) and opium affect the link between the life and feeling bodies at boundary B. They induce a dream consciousness as when asleep, though the drug user is awake. Hash is metabolised very slowly with traces still present in the brain after some 30 days. Very frequent users experience loss of memory and become confused, producing the so called ‘hash-thought’.

Alcohol and heroin work on separating the I from the feeling and other bodies at boundary A. Heroin, for instance, produces a slowing down and lack of feeling or morality, with the person acting like a zombie. Withdrawal then produces the opposite effect and the person goes into a highly active state, being distressed at any amoral actions they took while under the influence of the drug. Alcohol also dispels one’s cares, separating the Ego and making it harder to live in the other bodies. At this point, Ron described how alcohol aided the development of the I in earlier times, where it was drunk at specific times for specific purposes. The word ‘symposia’ comes from the Greek for ‘to drink together’. The miracle of Christ turning water into wine is another indication of this connection between alcohol and Ego growth in ancient times, particularly with the relationship of the Christian impulse to the development of the I. However, our physical constitution is now different and alcohol will adversely affect our Ego forces making it more difficult to bring our higher selves into our daily life. If we look at the development of the child through the stages of firstly standing upright, followed by speech, and then by thinking, we can see how all of these are affected by alcohol but usually in reverse order as our thinking deteriorates followed by our speech, and finally by us falling over if continue to imbibe!

With regard to drugs that force the sheaths together, Ron mentioned cocaine and ecstasy. Cocaine and amphetamines force the feeling body into the life and physical bodies, but the I is not included. The lungs and heart are over-stimulated and an excessive dose can cause respiratory or cardiac arrest, both being severe disturbances of the life body, not to mention the physical body. Ecstasy is also like cocaine providing the ability to dance all night, but also has another effect like hashish. The feeling body expands and mixes with that of others, thus providing the feelings of ‘togetherness’. The sense perceptions of the lights and music from the parties can persist for many months afterwards and Ron described how one of the residents would frequently need to stay in a darkened room to calm the sensory overload effects received due to ecstasy addiction.

Since drug abuse involves a disruption of the Ego activity, Ron indicated that the Ego actually takes a ‘holiday’ when drug use occurs. Growth of the Ego halts during this time and Ron was of the opinion that drug abuse occurs when a person’s development has been difficult for them, either due to being the victim of overtly abusive actions, or due to particular sensitivities to seemingly innocuous experiences. Treatment at ARTA therefore works on recapitulating the development of the person from birth onwards, albeit in a much shorter time.

Seven weeks are spent in an environment similar to that of the first 7 years of childhood. Help is given for the development of the physical and life bodies with a supporting external rhythm or routine provided. The endeavour is also to make life easy with a very caring, loving, warm and supportive environment during this difficult period of detoxification.

During the next 3-4 months time is spent on biographical therapy and other therapies that will help the development of the soul life, i.e. the feeling body. During this period the question “Do I want to change myself?” surfaces.

Ten months are then spent in the ‘adolescent’ phase, where there is more freedom, and residents may start outside work, ‘experimenting’ with life like an adolescent. Residents are then able to stay up to 2 years in the houses that are owned by a foundation set up by ARTA for after-care.

In conclusion, Ron mentioned the next element of the human being described by Rudolf Steiner above the I or Ego. This he called the ‘Spirit Self’. Ron brought our attention to a pedagogical law that says that the teacher must always be one developmental step ahead of the taught. Thus when the child is developing physically (i.e. in Kindergarten), the life body of the parent or teacher must be developing. Therefore form, organisation and rhythm, for example, are important. For the Lower School, the teacher needs to be working on their feeling body or soul life. For the Upper School, the pupils are interested in who the teacher or parent is, what they stand for, namely their Ego or I . Finally when dealing with addicts it is the Spirit Self that is important, what is basically true in a person, what relation do they have to freedom, integrity, honesty, morality, trust and love. These represent truths that need to be individualised, they need to become living in someone such that the addict can truly respect another person.

To deal with the drug problem adequately, society will need to develop, through individual freedom, these qualities of integrity, honesty, morality, trust and love. I would like to add that during the whole evening, I was impressed by the sincerity, care and love with which Ron spoke.

Two points from the discussion that ensued I shall mention here.

The first is some recommendations that Ron gave for dealing with drug addiction in schools:

  • Teach children about the plants from which drugs are produced. Children need to know where drugs come from.
  • Take ex-addicts to the school to give talks, possibly confidentially to the children. This will provide an honest description of the effect of drugs, showing how they can stop development etc.
  • Provide opportunities to talk and express feelings in an understanding environment.

Secondly, Ron described more about the importance of the Spirit-Self culture of ARTA. He particularly highlighted that residents will leave if there is any deception present between the members of the centre, whether they be co-workers or residents. He mentioned that the group work needed to develop from the foundation of the freedom of the individual. The person is free to leave, but if they stay, there are certain rules that must be obeyed. He highlighted a particular instance where although they had a successful year, residents suddenly started to leave. After some months it was discovered a co-worker had not been totally honest, having broken a clinic rule. Co-workers need to be as true as possible since it is important that the culture of integrity, trust, etc is developed and maintained.

Ron has authored a recent book:
In Place of The Self: How Drugs Work
Hawthorn Press
ISBN-10: 1903458269
ISBN-13: 978-1903458266

The original book by members of ARTA available at the time of the talk:
Rock Bottom, Beyond Drug Addiction
by Alta van den Berg et al.
Hawthorn Press
ISBN-10: 1869890116
ISBN-13: 978-1869890117



4 thoughts on “STUDY DIARIES: Drug Abuse Treatment

    • Thanks for the comment Sarah, Just reading his book now. Fascinating. He talks about how drugs are used to try and get spiritual experiences (which they do, though distorted) without having to develop the Self which reminds me of the fanciful ideas about tech implants and wanting instant wikipedia type links to the brain, i.e. information but not wisdom. Never thought of drugs as a technology!

  1. What if the addict is 60 and has been an addict since he was 15 years old. Will he need to go through the same plan or are there other plans for a person of that age.

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