‘Inner Healing Intelligence’; an embodied therapeutic process

Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy is already an accepted approach in some parts of the world, and several influential treatment protocols suggest that its healing power is rooted in an ‘Inner Healing Intelligence’ (IHI). The idea of an Inner Healing Intelligence is fundamental to the MAPS protocol for MDMA-Assisted psychotherapy, and the principle is echoed in the draft rules on how to prepare clients for a facilitated psilocybin experience issued by the Colorado Office of Natural Medicine. The rules state that preparation should include a discussion of “the concept of trusting inner guidance”, which may include references to Inner Healing Intelligence, Wise Mind, Soul, etc.

Although the idea of some kind of inner healer is widespread in psychedelic circles – and quite common in psychotherapy – there’s no agreement on what it actually means. Nese Devenot frequently rails against the whole concept of an ‘Inner Healer’, and in a recent article, Jules Evans and Sam Woolfe identify numerous problems with the notion.

Many perceived problems with the idea of an ‘Inner Healing Intelligence’ emerge from the name, as describing something as ‘intelligence’ sets the stage for confusion. It would be far better to talk about a therapeutic process. My PhD thesis identified several processes that helped environmental activists deepen their connection with the more-than-human world and supported their wellbeing (2008). I subsequently realised that the same processes are used in therapy. These processes, which I now call the Embodied Pathways of Connection, are therapeutic because they all enable greater access to our embodied knowing.

Eugene Gendlin was a philosopher and psychotherapist who researched Rogers’s non-directive approach extensively. Gendlin has much to offer to the conversation about IHI, and his somatic experiential model points to that process. Gendlin writes that “your body knows much that you don’t know” (Gendlin, 1981). Those embedded in the Western cultural tradition often baulk at the idea that the body might ‘know’ something. The absurd Cartesian split of mind and body is surprisingly resilient, and Western philosophy is grounded in what Grosz describes as a ‘profound somatophobia’ (Grosz, 1994). However, evidence of the importance of embodied ways of knowing can be found in a diverse range of disciplines, including anthropology, business studies, cognitive neuroscience and religious studies (Harris, 2024).

Psychedelics can facilitate the kind of embodied experiential knowing that I’m talking about. Mat, one of the participants in the first Imperial psilocybin trial, explains:

“Talking therapy helps you believe something to be true. Psilocybin helps you know it to be true. And I think that’s why I felt, in my case, psilocybin worked well for me, because it showed me so much that I now know to be true.”

(Eastall, 2021).

Recent discussions support the idea of IHI as a process that facilitates embodied knowing. In their recent paper on IHI, Peill J, Marguilho M, Erritzoe D, et al. conclude that it can be partly understood as a process “where ordinarily occluded, suppressed or compressed information arises into conscious awareness” (2024).

Jules Evans and Sam Woolfe (2004) invited several therapists to comment on IHI. Dr Inna Zelikman echoes Mat’s experience, stating that psychedelics give “people access to their unconscious material”. Dr Ingmar Gorman, commented that IHI is sometimes called “intuition” or “inner wisdom”. He concluded that we should understand it as “a psychotherapeutic process”. Dr Max Wolff believes we can make sense of IHI within “a coherent scientific model of psychological change” and relates it to the actualising tendency which underpins the Rogerian approach noted above.

I propose that ‘Inner’ more accurately means ’embodied’, ‘healing’ is more precisely rendered as ‘therapeutic’, and the word ‘intelligence’ actually refers to a process. While referring to ‘Inner Healing Intelligence’ may prove to be useful in our conversations with those being treated using Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy, calling it an ’embodied therapeutic process’ is more accurate and facilitates scientific validation.

The moment of now

Many years ago I saw a talk by the American photographer Duane Michals. Michals rarely works with a single image, preferring to create short sequences of pictures that question our conventional understanding of reality. Michals created a characteristically intense moment in his presentation when he repeated one word about seven times in a way that emphasized its essence: Now! Now! Now! Now! Now! Now! Now!

For those few seconds I was entirely in the moment. It was an unforgettable experience. All this was long before Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, but they highlight the same mode of consciousness.

The Illuminated Man, Duane Michals

I work with that moment of now every morning during my meditation practice. Some days I can truly be in the now for a while – really being with my breath – and it’s an extraordinary experience. There is a timeless calm. But the ‘monkey mind’ doesn’t sit still for long and in the next moment there’s some commentary running again.

I’ve found it very helpful to approach watching my breath with the same attitude of attention as I adopt with a psychotherapy client. When I’m with a client I work to be completely present. What is happening right here right now? If I can be with my breath that way, then I become present to myself, to this moment, to now.

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

But sometimes I get caught up in the striving. After my meditation I’ll judge my practice: How much of the time was I present? How persistent was my monkey mind? I might conclude that ‘Today was better/worse than yesterday.’

John Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness meditation as “the intentional cultivation of nonjudgemental moment-to-moment awareness” (1996). Just such a moment came today, in the midst of an otherwise quite ordinary Wednesday, and it made me realize that meditation isn’t about achieving something – less monkey mind or more ‘timeless calm’. It’s the practice that matters, not the result. Moment-to-moment awareness – being in the now – emerges slowly from practice. The realization that now is all there is comes like a strangers smile, unbidden and unexpected.