[The following post is an interview with Isaac Slone (phish.net user @isaacslone) about his article, “How is Phish Therapeutic?.” The interview is part of an AMA series celebrating the publication of the “Phish and Philosophy” special issue of the Public Philosophy Journal, edited by Stephanie Jenkins and Charlie Dirksen. Isaac will also be answering your questions in the comments throughout the week. The next post will feature Jason Del Gandio, so please submit your questions now. -Stephanie]
Tell us about yourself. Who are you? When was your first show? Why do you come back?
Thanks for asking! I am a practicing psychotherapist in New York City - working on my license to practice psychoanalysis. My life intertwines with Phish in so many ways, it’s somewhat unbelievable. My first show was 6/2/09 - the summer before I started high school. It was so exciting that the band was reuniting - I remember it felt like something to live for. I come back because of the music. I think the band is phenomenal, and their live show is unparalleled.
Why did you decide to write this essay? What do you want your readers to take away from it?
I decided to write this essay because of how often I hear Phish fans talk about the joy they experience at shows. People within the Phish community commonly accepted the notion that Phish has a therapeutic value, but there was more for me to articulate about how exactly that works. There is a long tradition of psychology/psychotherapy extending out in conversation with other disciplines, and I wanted to begin building that bridge with Phish. I hope that it opens a deeper discussion or reflection for the reader because my experience is only one of many, and there’s only so much I can say about it in the short space of the essay. There are numerous ways to describe how what Phish does is therapeutic - I hope my piece sheds light on that and pushes the conversation further.
What other therapeutic moments like the Mexico 2016 experience can you share with us?
My gosh - so many! I have another essay in a forthcoming book on Phish and Judaism in which I talk about watching Jon Fishman sing Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” at SPAC in 2009. It was an embrace of silliness, and as I write about in that other essay, a kind of queer failure - succeeding by not succeeding in ways predicated by the mainstream. That moment meant a lot to me. I also found the Baker’s Dozen residency to be utterly transformative. The magnitude and bravery of playing those thirteen shows and the journey we went through together felt at once like a nostalgic reflection on the band’s career and on my time seeing them, but also at the same time, it was a move forward in so many ways into doing something completely different and new. Watching them work something out on stage or try new things always feels life-affirming.
Do you go back and listen to them or the Mexico show opener in times of difficulty or crisis? Does it help?
This question is so interesting! I wouldn’t say I go back to that moment specifically. I am not sure the experience I had was captured on the recording. That said, I do find that turning Phish on and really tuning my attention to the music allows me access to an important dimension of myself that can feel clouded or lost in times of difficulty. To be able to turn to Phish as a place of inquiry, pleasure, and memory is incredibly cathartic and often grounding.
Does the improvisational, unexpected element of a Phish show help with healing? Is Phish more therapeutic than a band that plays the same setlist every night?
Phish’s improvisational and unexpected approach certainly plays a significant role here. Leaving a script behind and meeting each moment as it unfolds spontaneously has tremendous therapeutic resonance. It’s how I practice as a psychotherapist and how Phish operates as a band. It allows the band to listen to each other and their audience. It’s an embrace of the unknown and a willingness to find out. That kind of mindset, when it can be cultivated, can be very liberating. There’s a lot more to be said here - perhaps the topic of a whole other paper.
If we are our “true selves” at shows, how can we be authentic in our everyday lives?
I was once in Central Park with a friend, and we happened upon a group involved in some group-olympic activities with relay races, etc. My friend pointed them out and said, “Look! That’s their Phish show!” He was implying that the spirit we bring to Phish exists in so many other places. This was an eye-opening moment for me. While I was fully immersed in my Phish community, I was also separating myself from a lot by elevating the version of myself I felt I could be at Phish. From that moment on, I found myself asking, “what if I treat this experience as if it were a Phish show? How can I bring my truest self to this and share in the groove of this moment?” It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but it’s an important practice.
What role do drugs play in the role of therapy? Can over consumption be an obstacle?
In the clinical realm, there’s been so much consideration of the use of specifically psychedelics in assisting therapeutic treatments. Assisting being the operative word. Psychedelics can play a role in changing one’s perspective on many things - including but not limited to parts of life that weren’t seemingly in need of reconsideration! How these experiences are integrated determines how valuable they are to one’s life.
When psychedelics are used intentionally, with regard for one’s mindset and physical and social setting (thanks to Al Hubbard for this important discovery!), and with the opportunity for the experience to be processed (particularly with someone trained in integrating psychedelic experiences), they have a potential for being therapeutic. Even talking with a close friend or therapist about the potential for taking psychedelics, interesting conversations tend to emerge. What’s the intention here? When will you do this? With whom and where? Bringing intentionality, thoughtfulness, and honesty to a psychedelic experience is essential. It may be the whole point.
If psychedelics are over-consumed or taken recklessly, their therapeutic potential is lost. One must consider one’s history with mental health and substance use before taking psychedelics. It’s also important to distinguish psychedelics from opiates and other hard drugs that can be lethal, addictive, and destructive in different ways. I do not think these drugs have therapeutic value.
I feel Phish can be enough of a psychedelic environment without ingesting substances!
At what point does the experience turn from therapeutic to an addiction? Are there ways Phish can be bad for one’s mental health?
Dosage is important. It’s possible to lose the thread and continue coming back for the wrong reasons. This question fits nicely with the previous one, in that bringing intentionality, thoughtfulness, and honesty into one’s conversations and considerations allows for more meaningful encounters with experiences.
I think it’s important to reiterate here that Phish certainly isn’t a substitute for therapy, treatment, or rehabilitation. Just because there are qualities about what Phish does that people like myself find therapeutic value in doesn’t mean attending their concerts or listening to their music is a simple salve.
Thank you for reading. Please post your questions and comments below to continue the discussion.
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