By Janine Rodiles
Almost sixty years ago, when the main concern of the psychoanalytical community worldwide was to reduce the time patients spent in psychotherapy, Dr. Salvador Roquet, then a trainee psychiatrist at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma, Mexico, had his first experience of psychodysleptics – on Maunday Thursday, l957.
One day in Lent he attended his appointment at the Hospital Santiago Ramírez Moreno (Director: Ramón de la Fuente) with Dr. José Rodríguez, his psychotherapist, who had suggested that he collaborate over a research project on the physical, mental and -more particularly – neurological effects of mescaline. Salvador Roquet was thirty-six at the time. He could draw on an enormous academic training, having become an expert in public health specializing in malaria after graduating in medicine, followed by specialist studies in respiratory medicine at the Hospital Gea González. He had held major public offices, becoming deputy director and managing director of the National Anti-malaria and Anti-Tuberculosis Campaigns (l95l-l955). In the course of this meteor-like career and wrapped up in his professional success, he sustained a harsh setback due to envy and political manoeuvering which tumbled him from on high. He had to begin his search anew and scale new mountains. Under these circumstances he experienced his first session with hallucinogens.
On that morning he found himself there, in a small room, with his entire past before him, his heart racing with fear. Unaware of the impact any drug may have on his body, this contact with intravenous synthetic mescaline had an immediate effect. For eight hours he saw the drama of his life laid out before him. During this inner journey, he discovered his numerous selfs and his whole being foundered between intellectual struggle and disassociation; he was at once victim and oppressor; a flood of feelings were unleashed before him, casting an ironic light on scenes from his life, successes and failures, times of pain and anguish, the question of existence, meaning of life, meaning of death, the meaning of man’s presence on earth. He sank below the level of consciousness and spoke as he emerged, telling things to his psychotherapist who, in the absence of precise knowledge or any pre-established methodological approach, just watched in surprise and did not know what to do.
During this struggle between reason and madness, with feelings brought to the surface, Salvador Roquet made some discoveries… At that point, he began to appreciate the importance of applying psychodysleptics in psychotherapy. If these substances made it possible to delve into the soul, bringing the most deep-rooted agonies to the surface, to draw back the obscure curtain of the unconscious mind, to see into oneself unmolested, without the usual social trappings and false values, this was surely a direct confrontation between the numerous facets and components of the personality.
This was how the idea came about; a long scientific research programme ensued, which was to generate a new initiative in psychotherapy now known as Roquet psychosynthesis.
Five years after his experience at the Hospital Ramírez Moreno, Roquet, by now a psychiatrist, received the second inner call in this search which was to lead to a new advance in the service of mankind, of mental health, and the course of scientific development.
Glancing at a small shop window on Boulevar San Michael in the neighbourhood of San German, he was mesmerized by a book entitled “Les Champignons Hallucinogènes du Mexique,” by Roger Heim, Robert S. Wasson, and a group of psychiatrists and psychotherapists. “It was like a shot in the arm, an awakening,” Roquet confessed, “it all seemed to fit in.”
On the basis of these two elements – his only practical session and the French text relating the age-old experience of indigenous Mexicans with hallucinogens – and after ten years of clinical experience of a new treatment which he was gradually perfecting and which, to his own surprise (this not being his primary aim) his mind was made up; he began to form a new theory on personality and a new psychotherapy technique, which takes man as a single bio-psycho-socio-environmental and spiritual entity.
For some reason – stemming, perhaps, from either nationalistic or intuitive feelings – he decided neither to read nor investigate any part of the literature on hallucinogenic substances as used for various purposes in the developed world during this laborious task. By contrast, he resolved to go back to the very source of this age-old experience in hallucinogenic usage – indigenous Mexicans, choosing to mistrust Western scientific tradition. By his attitude he recognized something which contempory science fails to appreciate: the fact that knowledge exists amongst the indigenous population which warrants inclusion in science today.
This is how the different threads of psychosynthesis came to merge; in l968 Roquet began psychodisleptic-based treatment, supported by individual and group therapy. After eight years of continuous work he succeeded in consolidating the experience gained from 764 sessions and a total patient sample of l,023.
Through this tireless labour he succeeded in obtaining large amounts of material from his patients’ unconscious minds, revealing fear and anguish, hope and clinging to life, man’s struggle in his ontological course. This is how he gradually came to find, study and design a new personality theory which adopts philosophical and theological as well as scientific approaches.
According to Roquet’s personality theory, fear of death is taken as the root of all human anguish, the source of all fear, as triggered by conflict with authority, rebellion and the resultant guilt. Should the idea of death – of the ending of life as part of life itself – not be accepted, man slips into disobedience, rebelliousness, becomes at odds with divine authority and hence with Universal Values.
A Pact is then set up either with the Mother (or the couple, with work, the mother, the children, material possessions and so on) as a basis for independence overall. This Pact takes the form of fear of life, hinders fulfilment and emanates from a feeling of insecurity.
One basic tenet of this theory, which we might call its nucleus or linchpin, is the feeling of Love – the life-giving force of man, produced by the marriage of feeling and reason; sole guarantee of mental well-being and the way which transcends the Being, which leads man to God, the primary energy source for the giving and ending of life.
Accordingly, Roquet’s theory of Psychosynthesis states that man’s spirit and mind is inhabited by the raw material of existence: God, Death and Love.
Inevitably, a move had to be made to seek this human core -entry into the stage of madness (the fourth stage of experience with hallucinogens, so feared by his predecessors; years later Dr. Fernández Cerdeño, having worked with psychodysleptics and Ramón de la Fuente, who had sponsored Roquet’s first session at the Hospital Santiago Ramírez Moreno, attacked his work, without devoting any professional scientific discussion to it; it was at that point that the hippie movement christened it “a bad trip”).
How did this come about ? Because Dr. Roquet, as a scientist, convinced that research designed to reduce the duration of psychoanalysis should be pursued till its conclusion, accidentally took, during the course of his work, a strain of Datura (a hallucinogenic plant, one of which is known by the Mexican folk name of Toloache) which brought him into this much-feared condition. During this experience he found that it was at this very stage of madness that man returned to his beginnings, to find what had been lost, in a rediscovery of feeling.
Man’s plumbing of these depths, in the darkness, must be followed by a return; he has been there and come back and in this fresh encounter the patient can integrate the basic foundations of his existence. The unconscious mind surfaces, to be confronted by the conscious; the individual succeeds in locating the conflict which overturned his personality, in combating it, settling scores with the past, solving the problem and going forth to encounter his inner self, his feelings expanded by the universal values of God and love.
This is how the theory and technique of psychosynthesis arose – the potential attainment of not just the stage of analysis but also that of synthesis through sessions involving hallucinogens. The stage of psychosynthesis was reached by the patient, following prior disassociation of the different constituents of his personality, whether acquired or innate. During this process, the elements added to the personality, considered false values (such as social prejudices, power, pride, selfishness, the status quo, for example), are cast aside, like scum which is undermining the life and personality of the individual, until only his essence, his raw material remains. With these original components, the patient sees his life – the past and present – anew; he finds reason and motivation, finds the self and rebuilds it, emerging from the session having seen the truth: his own truth, love and his purpose in life.
Although this treatment did prove effective in more than a thousand patients under Roquet (and none of them “stayed behind” during the “trip”), although he was in Mexico when this treatment was established and he perfected and initiated a new theory of personality (one of the most promising of the second half of this century), although his work had been acknowledged worldwide and certain psychiatrists such as Dr. Walter Houston Clark have compared Roquet’s scientific endeavours with the work of Freud in Vienna, nonetheless, psychotherapy based on hallucinogens was rudely broken off on 21st November l974.
Rudely, because this resulted in the unjust imprisonment of Dr. Roquet, as well as other psychiatrists of his persuasions, such as Pierre Fravreau, a French doctor; also, because no reasons were ever given and the anonymity of those instigating this underhand blow was preserved; because all professional, scientific debate capable of determining the usefulness of hallucinogens as a means of treatment was avoided; because no research had been done on Roquet’s work and it was a mere request from someone posing as a patient and in fact representing political interests determined to stop Roquet’s work and growing reputation in Mexico and abroad which had been heeded; because it indirectly brought about the closure of the Robert S. Hartman Institute, where many patients received successful treatment based on group and individual psychotherapy and sessions involving use of hallucinogens, as well as the socioeconomic and public health care programme in the Mixe region of Oaxaca and the closure of the Albert Schweitzer Escuela Integral; this included a training facility for parents of families with special emphasis on protection of mental health from birth onwards.
But just as Luis Buñuel, the famous film maker used to describe how censorship had helped him to invent new metaphors in his film work, Roquet took up a new, alternative psychotherapy which was to maintain the principle of psychosynthesis.
And so it was that Convivencias Psicoterapeuticas arose – an intense and profound course of treatment which, after three days of working exhaustively, enables the patient to reach a level of catharsis, feeling and even semi-psychosis and to achieve reassociation of the personality, based on the striving for love in life which promotes mental health, with amazing recuperative effects.
Dr. Salvador Roquet spent thirty-six years as psychiatrist, persistent research worker and tireless campaigner; for experts devoted to research into the mind, for scientists, for psychotherapists primarily concerned with mental health of the individual and for any reader desiring a better understanding of that being known as man and of his inner self, this book offers a valuable contribution to the jewel of human knowledge and an impetus towards the attainment of self-fulfilment and transcendency.
In welcoming this coming publication we trust that it may mark the resumption of a broad and prolific future of literary and scientific writing on the Prohibited Therapy of Dr. Salvador Roquet Pérez.