The Therapeutic Application of MDMA: Knowledge and Attitudes of Psychologists in Aotearoa

Cullen, David Lloyd
Csako, Rita
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Bachelor of Health Science (Honours)
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Auckland University of Technology

This exploratory cross-sectional, survey-based pilot study investigated the knowledge and attitudes of psychologists in Aotearoa towards the therapeutic application of MDMA (‘3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine’, colloquially known as ‘Ecstasy’). MDMA-assisted psychotherapy (‘MDMA-PT’, which involves the adjunctive use of MDMA with psychotherapy) has been designated as a ‘breakthrough therapy’ by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (‘PTSD’), and is on track to become an approved prescription therapy in the U.S. by 2023. Psychologists play a pivotal role in MDMA-PT and PTSD treatment, and as a core pillar of the mental health workforce in Aotearoa, their knowledge and attitudes will significantly impact the support and potential implementation of this treatment locally. Sixty-five psychologists completed an anonymous, online survey which explored their self-reported knowledge and attitudes of MDMA-PT, as well as their personal attitudes towards recreational MDMA and substance use. The results demonstrated that participants had varying levels of knowledge about MDMA-PT research, but were unlikely to be well informed about the treatment. Psychologists had generally favourable attitudes towards MDMA-PT, which was underpinned by a sense of caution and an awareness of the limits of their knowledge of the treatment. The study provides additional evidence to suggest that personal attitudes and stigma are likely to play a role in shaping healthcare workers’ attitudes towards MDMA-PT and its acceptance as a legitimate treatment. Increased levels of psychoeducation are needed to ensure psychologists are properly informed of MDMA-PT’s evidence base and to reduce stigma. Future research is needed to better understand the attitudes and knowledge of other relevant healthcare professionals towards MDMA-PT, the phenomenon of self-medication, and the implications of these results specifically for psychological practice in Aotearoa.

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