Clinical Benefits of Peak States Therapies
By Dr. Grant McFetridge of The Institute for the Study of Peak States
"This article was originally published in Positive Health (PH) magazine, Issue 139 September 2007 - www.positivehealth.com."
Over the past few decades, complementary and alternative therapies have become much more accepted by the public. These techniques have gained ground because they can sometimes treat problems that do not respond to conventional medical or psychological approaches. Despite such successes, however, alternative therapies face a major obstacle: aside from herbs and bodywork, these techniques simply don't fit into our current Western understanding of biology. We all know that the biological sciences are real—for proof, we need only peer through a microscope. But how can we, as a society, fully accept alternative therapies unless we can reconcile them with what we know to be true? Actually, this resolution is possible, and my colleagues and I stumbled upon it virtually by accident while we were trying to solve what we thought was an unrelated question. The consequences of this discovery are dramatic: it has enabled us to develop effective treatments for a range of formerly incurable diseases, and to develop techniques for radically improving people's quality of life.
A Personal Perspective
Let me introduce myself. My name is Dr. Grant McFetridge, and I'm the research director and founder of the Institute for the Study of Peak States in Canada. Over 20 years ago, I started searching for the answers to two questions: Why do some people clearly have exceptionally positive experiences of life, and how can other people acquire this type of state? I'm referring here to those otherwise ordinary people who are almost always happy, or are exceptionally calm, or have some other inner quality that makes their experience of life simply better than the norm. I was also curious to learn how the many spiritual states described in traditions from all over the world fit into this.
Obviously, I wasn't alone in this search; a great many people in the early ‘human potential’ movement and the humanistic psychology, transpersonal psychology, and the more recent ‘positive psychology’ movements were also trying to find answers to these questions. Unfortunately, in spite of the flood of observations, discoveries, and techniques that resulted from these pioneering efforts, no one succeeded in making a fundamental breakthrough. In fact, I think it safe to say that most of my generation who were involved in this effort simply decided that the entire problem must be intrinsically unsolvable.
Not Gained, But Regained
Fortunately, I had several unusual advantages. Most importantly, I was one of those lucky people who were born with an unusually positive state of consciousness. However, like a fish in water, I had not consciously recognized this, until I lost the state when I was 29 years old. The change was so abrupt and dramatic—it was very much like suddenly being dropped into Hell—that it forced me on a quest to understand what had happened, and how to regain what I'd lost. Thus, I started my work knowing from personal experience that an exceptional state of consciousness, which we now call a ‘peak’ state, could be experienced continuously, and that it is a birthright. This insight was contrary to the then-current model that people could only achieve unusual states temporarily, either by either luck or dedicated spiritual practice. The very term ‘spiritual practice’ implies long, hard work—as if acquiring peak states were equivalent to learning calculus. This is a fundamental error. Humanity’s situation is like that of a math genius who was hit on the head and has amnesia. Instead of trying to teach him basic mathematics again, the best strategy is to heal his brain trauma so he can recover his previous skill.
Not Better, Just Different
The second advantage I had was my background in hard science—specifically, research and development in engineering. I had learned to approach problems by understanding the underlying theory first. Over the next few years, I searched for such a theory, by studying major spiritual traditions, shamanic traditions, psychology, and a host of other approaches. To my naïve surprise, I found that the different traditions and approaches not only disagreed with each other, but almost all discounted my own experience of living in a peak state.
This apparent conflict was explained by the second fundamental conceptual breakthrough: there are many exceptional states of consciousness, and they are not hierarchical. Thus, each of the traditions was describing different and generally unrelated states of consciousness. For example, the Christian mystic, the Zen monk and the Native American were all describing states of being that are valid and important—but not related to one another. (Since then, my colleagues and I have identified over 40 unique and exceptional states of consciousness experienced in a variety of psychological, spiritual, and shamanic traditions.)
Healing the Present in the Past
The next major breakthrough came out of another personal crisis. In my thirties I became very ill. In spite of everything modern medicine and every alternative therapy that I knew of could do, I continued to worsen. Eventually, my physicians told me that I only had a few weeks left to live. Through a lucky accident, I ran into an old friend, Sheelo Bohm, who offered to help me. He had me use a form of hyperventilation that caused me to relive a totally unsuspected trauma from my divorce that had caused my immune system to shut down. After reliving this event, my illness vanished within just a few days, something that should have been impossible.
This experience, of healing an illness in the present by regressing to a traumatic incident in the past, motivated me to develop the Whole-Hearted Healing™ (WHH) technique. (If you are interested, you can download the technique for free from the Institute website, http://www.peakstates.com/WHH.html.)
Case Study—Using Whole-Hearted Healing™
The client had recently recognized that she had a repeating pattern of unconsciously punishing herself by deliberately getting into emotionally painful situations. Using this feeling with the phrase, “I need to punish myself,” as a guide, she used WHH and regressed back to a moment where she was just a floating ball of cells, just before implantation. She saw that a part of the ball was damaged. Once she had healed this event, her sense of needing to punish herself vanished.
Blocks to Peak States
By this time, it was clear to me that peak states were humanity’s ‘normal’ state, and that something at or before birth must block these states in most people. The most likely suspect was prenatal trauma, and with WHH, I could now investigate this. Although it is not commonly known outside of the field of prenatal psychology, the fetus, zygote, sperm and egg have self-awareness and can experience trauma. Eventually I realized that peak states were blocked by trauma that occurred at key developmental events—that in fact, peak states were the outcome of optimal development, and that different peak states arose from different key developmental events. My colleague Wes Gietz and I first verified this hypothesis in 1996. (We still use this approach for acquiring targeted peak states in our professional training classes.)
One, Two, Many Brains
Once I could easily access prenatal events, I found that prenatal consciousness was nothing like post-birth consciousness. Mind, heart, and body all had separate awarenesses. This ‘triune’ nature of the brain was discovered by biologist Dr. Paul MacLean in the 1960s, but had been overlooked by psychology until relatively recently. Instead, the three awarenesses were lumped together into the concept of the ‘subconscious.’
An even more surprising discovery was that the awarenesses of the individual triune brains can be followed back into subcellular organelles in the sperm and egg, and even further back into ‘precellular’ structures that are combined to form the primordial germ cells (which eventually become the sperm and egg). In fact, in our earliest developmental stages we recapitulate the evolutionary path of all eukaryotic cells (the type of cells found in all multicellular organisms).
Around 2003, my colleagues and I made another major breakthrough. We had assumed that during development, consciousness shifted smoothly from the early organelle structures in the sperm and egg into the multicelled triune brains. We were wrong. Instead, we discovered that consciousness remains inside the subcellular organelle structures and extends itself outward, to the multicelled brain structures. Even more surprisingly, consciousness resides in just one cell, which we have termed the ‘primary cell.’ All the other cells in the body are extensions of this single primary cell. Our observation is consistent with the biologist Bruce Lipton's conclusion that cells in the body derive their instructions from outside of themselves; he just hadn't made the conceptual leap to realizing that there was a cell from which all instructions originated. From an evolutionary viewpoint, this all makes sense; single-cell organisms formed multicelled bodies to fit into an ecological niche. The other cells became a sort of garment or prosthesis of the original cell.
Consciousness in the primary cell observes its internal environment while simultaneously observing the external world. Western culture directs our focus exclusively to the outside world. However, it turns out that most (indeed, probably all) ‘invisible’ spiritual and psychological experiences are due to our awareness of biological elements inside or around our primary cell. For example, chakras, meridians and even traumas correspond to specific physical structures inside the primary cell. The discovery of the primary cell and the origin of consciousness inside it is a kind of Rosetta stone that permits us to translate back and forth between modern models of biology and ancient models of healing and consciousness.
Application—Peak States of Consciousness
Even people who have had unusual peak experiences typically assume that these experiences can only be temporary deviations from ‘average’ consciousness. In fact, one of our researchers, Tal Laks, has developed a technique that permits people with a previous peak experience to stabilize that level of consciousness, turning it into a continuous peak state.
Case Study—The Laks Peak Experience to State Technique™
The client was a middle-aged, well-functioning woman who wanted to have a past peak experience turned into a full-time peak state. Together, we identified that her life was focused around one trauma-related problem (the feeling that she lacked something inside herself), and two peak experiences that she continually sought out in her work and personal life (a feeling of newness, and a feeling of inner perfection). We identified that her sense of lack was caused by several trauma-related events, and healed them. After verifying that she was now unable to evoke the sense of lack, we moved to the Laks technique (which is based on healing particular traumas) to turn her peak experiences into states. The client did the process by herself with our coaching. At the end of this session, she was at a 9 (with 10 being a maximum state). We reminded her that it was usual to lose the new states after the first session because new traumas can surface; it typically takes three sessions to stabilize a state.
At the next scheduled session, she reported that her sense of lack was still gone, but her peak states had faded by the next morning. Rerunning the Laks technique eliminated more trauma and restored the full states.
In the third session, the client noted that her peak states had remained but had decreased in intensity. Checking, we found that her two states had been at a 10 for the full week, but that she had yet a third peak experience—a sense of being fully present—that she had confused with the other two. Running the Laks technique brought this third state up to full strength.
As of a month after her last session, all her states were still stable and at full strength. She wrote after her last session: “I am very happy with the results of the work we have done. Throughout the day I find myself checking in....‘Yes, it is still thrilling to be here. Life is good!’”
Applications—Conventional Medicine and Complementary Healthcare
The Institute’s discoveries have allowed our research staff to do things that were never before possible. We can examine therapies (alternative or conventional) to see how, and how well, they work. Even better, we have found that many disease conditions which have stubbornly resisted conventional therapy in fact result from dysfunction of the primary cell, and can be healed with simple and fast psychological techniques. The range of potential applications is simply enormous. Added benefits are that these techniques require little or no equipment, and they avoid the risks involved with drugs and surgery.
Matt Fox, an addiction counselor colleague in the USA, has applied our discoveries to eliminate or greatly reduce addictive cravings. This approach is completely successful in roughly 80% of the clients, on addictions ranging from alcohol and opiates to crack cocaine. This success rate continues to climb as we continue to improve our techniques. Matt now teaches this material as part of our Institute's training program.
Case Study—Using the Fox Addiction Methods™
Janice is a 45-year-old woman who began drinking at the age of 14. Her substance abuse escalated to cocaine and other drugs. When she first entered treatment, her dependency issues had resulted in multiple arrests and relationship problems. She often complained of daily cravings that drove her addiction and resulted in frequent relapses.
In a single session, we addressed the cravings using an Institute technique. The cravings, which she had rated at a Subjective Units of Distress (SUD) level of 10 (the highest possible score), immediately subsided.
Currently, Janice attends a weekly relapse prevention program and has been alcohol and drug free for over one year. She has successfully weathered life stressors that would have made her return to substance abuse in the past. Today she credits her successful recovery to the use of the Institute technique.
The delusional voices that schizophrenics hear can be eliminated using a simple, non-invasive psychological technique (the Silent Mind Technique™) based on applications of the models described in this article. For more in-depth information, look at the July issue of this magazine for a case study of the procedure. We're currently training therapists in Canada and in Scotland in our process. We recently demonstrated our technique to the Hearing Voices Network in Dundee, Scotland, and are hoping to work with them and others interested in healing this problem.
Applications—Multiple Sclerosis and Autism
Presently, we're testing techniques to eliminate the cause and symptoms of multiple sclerosis and of autism. Preliminary tests on the two techniques are very encouraging, and we hope to conduct large-scale tests before the end of the year at our new clinic in Scotland.
To the Future
This is an entirely new field, and our own processes are constantly improving. We are working to identify key developmental events for many peak states. In addition, our model strongly suggests that there is a simple way to deal with cancer using psychological techniques, and a way to initiate fast regenerative healing of any physical injury. Unfortunately, these important projects are on hold due to lack of staff and funding; currently, our staff members are all volunteers, and we pay for this work out of our own pockets. Hopefully, this will change as we start to pass clients through our clinics.
I like to compare our work to the personal computer revolution of the 1980s. The amazing implications of those early computers were obvious, but it took years to develop the technology to the point that computers became part of everyday life for the general public.
About the Institute and our Therapist Training
The Institute for the Study of Peak States is a worldwide research, teaching, and clinical treatment organization. If you want more in-depth material than could be covered in this article, please refer to our textbooks Peak States of Consciousness, Volumes 1 and 2, and our Basic Whole-Hearted Healing Manual.
We currently train therapists in the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Poland, Canada, and the USA. We are also pioneering a new approach to billing clients: our certified graduates agree to charge only if they get results.
If you wish to learn more about our clinical projects, to sign up for our very infrequent newsletter, or to review our current training schedule, please visit to our website at www.PeakStates.com.
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• Janov A. The New Primal Scream: Primal Therapy 20 Years On. Trafalgar Square. 2000.
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• McFetridge G, et al. Peak States of Consciousness, Volume 1: Breakthrough Techniques for Exceptional Quality of Life. ISPS Press. 2004.
• McFetridge G with Gietz W. Peak States of Consciousness, Volume 2: Acquiring Extraordinary Spiritual and Shamanic States. ISPS Press. 2007.
• McFetridge G and Pellicer M. The Basic Whole-Hearted Healing™ Manual. ISPS Press. 2004.
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• The Institute for the Study of Peak States at www.PeakStates.com
• The Exceptional Human Experience Network (Dr. Rhea White) at www.ehe.org.
• The Archives of Scientists' Transcendent Experiences (Dr.. Charles Tart) at www.iscc-taste.org.
• The Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology at www.BirthPsychology.com.
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1.0 Sept 29, 2009: First draft.