August 4, 2023
General Mental Health

Breaking Down Defense Mechanisms With Ketamine Therapy

Ketamine Therapy Can Help Break Down Defense Mechanisms

Medically speaking, a defense mechanism can be a very good thing. Biological defense mechanisms are the body’s automatic reaction to outside threats like disease. But there’s another kind of defense mechanism that can make treating mental health disorders more challenging. 

Defense mechanisms can also refer to mental processes that we do unconsciously in order to avoid facing a difficult reality, trauma or conflict. They are a response to psychological stress that many people use to deal with a hard situation and get relief from the anxiety. Essentially, defense mechanisms are the unconscious brain’s way of protecting the conscious brain from discomfort.

Defense mechanisms were first identified by Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna Freud. The famous researchers connected defense mechanisms to the ego, and found that the causes behind the defense mechanism should be addressed. The only way to break through for many people is to become consciously aware of the defense mechanisms and actively work to avoid using them. 

But doing that is much easier said than done. Researchers are hopeful that ketamine therapy is an effective treatment that can aid in the process of breaking down unproductive defense mechanisms. 

Common Defense Mechanisms

There are many defense mechanisms that we use to protect ourselves from thoughts we don’t want to address, for better or worse. Some can be beneficial, but many of the recognized defense mechanisms prevent you from processing thoughts, memories and feelings in a healthy way. This is almost always the case when defense mechanisms are used excessively or maladaptive defense mechanisms are formed. 

Freud categorized four levels of defense mechanisms:

Level 1 - Pathological

Level 2 - Immature

Level 3 - Neurotic

Level 4 - Mature

There is a progression through the levels, with mature defense mechanisms being more beneficial and productive in some instances. But even then, mature defense mechanisms can become negative if you don’t keep actions constructive. 

Some of the most common defense mechanisms include:


Denying the reality of the situation is possibly the most common defense mechanism. It’s categorized as a Level 1 pathological defense mechanism. 


Projection is a Level 2 defense mechanism. This is when someone projects their own negative behaviors or thoughts onto someone else. 


Attributing negative thoughts, emotions, actions or outcomes to an unrelated thing in order to avoid handling the actual problem or because it’s easier than addressing the real problem is called displacement. Displacement is a Level 3 defense mechanism.


Rather than denying reality, a person may experience repression and consciously not think about something traumatic or troubling. People suppress memories in this way when they are overwhelming and seemingly too hard to process. 


Compensation refers to when a person actively draws attention only to their achievements to distract from or avoid addressing areas of life where there may be inadequacies or problems. 

Why Defense Mechanisms Get in the Way of Therapy

Many times, defense mechanisms have a negative effect on mental health. Ironically, the things that the brain does to protect you from stress or conflict can cause even bigger problems. Instead of processing stressful events and memories so that you can address issues and heal, you’ll remain stuck and unable to move forward. 

Defense mechanisms are a common reason why progress stalls when mental health disorders are treated with psychotherapy. If you can’t break down the defense mechanism it’s like a wall blocking you from getting past what’s troubling you. 

How Ketamine Therapy Helps Break Down Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms may be a major contributing factor in treatment-resistant depression (TRD), PTSD and other mental health conditions. If your brain is actively trying to not process something it’s near impossible to move past it. 

The issue isn’t easy to overcome because defense mechanisms aren’t consciously used. It’s not as if the person is choosing to use them, and they are often completely unaware of it. It’s simply a natural response in most instances. 

Medical researchers are hopeful that ketamine therapy may prove to be a cutting edge solution for breaking down defense mechanisms that have hindered traditional talk therapy. There’s evidence that ketamine therapy inhibits our ability to use defense mechanisms to push away unpleasant thoughts. When defense mechanisms aren’t in the way, clinicians can accomplish a lot more during psychotherapy sessions, especially if they utilize the period shortly after ketamine therapy when neuroplasticity is enhanced

Ketamine therapy has also been found to be effective at helping people break negative thought patterns and evaluate issues in new ways. Using integration with ketamine therapy is highly beneficial in this regard. If defense mechanisms have been identified you can possibly use ketamine therapy with psychotherapy to specifically address them in hopes of breaking them down and rewiring the brain so that they aren’t a problem in the future. 

If defense mechanisms are making it difficult to improve your mental health, it may be time to consider an alternative therapy that’s helping thousands of people.

Click here to take our confidential online assessment to see if you are a candidate for ketamine therapy.