Therapy for Psychosis: Daniel Mackler

First Aired: 12-15-2010 -- 19 comments | Add comment
Daniel Mackler

Can therapy reach people in extreme states of “psychosis” — without using medications? Do we need to give a diagnosis to help someone? Why are counselors afraid to listen to their “mad” clients?

New York psychotherapist and filmmaker Daniel Mackler discusses how be defied social work training in his work with people labeled with schizophrenia and bipolar, and what he learned from recent visits to successful treatment alternatives in Northern Europe. Daniel is the filmmaker of Take These Broken Wings and co-author with Matthew Morrissey of A Way Out of Madness.

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19 comments on “Therapy for Psychosis: Daniel Mackler

  1. Thank you for your interest, Will! I have reorganized the information I sent you, which seems most relevant here as an alternative way to heal “mental” illness that I hope will become a primary means of healing. While my published work is fully footnoted, people need to refer to my publications to confirm my resources and references.
    People with damaged ears and fragile left-brain dominance are unable to escape through normal rational means or the means of a belief system from the memories in the right brain. They tend to blame their uncontrolled behaviour on others. Increasing left-brain dominance with music confers the ability to learn self-control and to dominate memories rationally. I sketch the neurology below. The following is not to be construed as medical advice!!!
    My Discovery
    So-called “mental” illness originates in the ear.
    According to my observations and research, a person’s behaviour patterns and ways of thinking are a direct result of two things:
    (1) the condition or fitness of the muscle attached to the third bone of hearing in the right ear, the stapedius muscle, which affects the amount of energy from sound that reaches the temporal lobe of the left brain; if insufficient energy reaches the left brain it loses dominance over the right brain, either intermittently or continuously, creating the behaviours called “mental” illness. That condition of dominance makes the two brains distinctive in their forms of awareness.
    (2) the specific content of language that influences thought, that reaches the left brain via that route.
    In these ways, both nature (the physical condition of the ears) and nurture (socialization, especially through language) affect how and what the brain thinks, feels, and produces in behaviour, from the range of normal to acute schizophrenia and everything in between.
    Schizophrenia, bipolarity, depression, and other conditions called “mental” are not usually conditions chosen by people unless they use alcohol or illicit drugs. Those states of consciousness happen to them and they (and everyone else) have not known why. Furthermore, those states of consciousness remove the person from being able to make certain choices and from being able to learn to make certain choices. Often, their only “choice” is to adapt to their condition.
    My Research
    You asked about “peer review.” I suppose I could say I have no peers because mine is ground-breaking research! Just as Robert Whitaker writes about pharmaceuticals without advanced degrees in organic chemistry or vetting by university professors, my research is the kind that anyone able to read it can judge on its merits.
    People have known for thousands of years that music affects behaviour; take the Biblical story of King Saul and David’s harp-playing, for example. Until recent times, King Saul’s behaviour was not labelled “bipolar” but explained in terms of good and evil. The mythic power of the Greek god Pan to alter people’s behaviour through his pipe-playing was believable because people know they respond to music with different behaviour. My book is an honest account of several different kinds of assaults on the ears of family members that affected their health and behaviour and of how music healed those ears, changing behaviour and other symptoms. So, the first part of my work is simple observation—(a) these are the conditions; (b) these are the interventions with high-frequency music that altered those conditions.
    I knew that some of those conditions—Daniel’s dyslexia, the chronic fatigue syndrome that affected three of us, and depression—were in the range of behaviour that had been successfully treated with music by the Tomatis Method in at least ten thousand people (actually, a great many more). I was vaguely aware of the use of music in mental institutions. I knew more about the effect of music on people generally from my singing, piano-playing, dancing, listening to music of all kinds, and my education. What seemed very unusual—so unusual that for a long time I did not notice that it was happening—was that music was healing Daniel’s schizophrenia, over and over again.
    The second part of my work explains how music changes symptoms and behaviours. I taught myself the neurology related to the ear using standard texts and references such as Gray’s Anatomy and Michael Mann’s neurology text widely used in medical schools; I learned about drugs from the Physician’s Desk Reference in my dad’s library; I researched scholarly papers on the Internet, Wikipedia (where I found some errors), and in books anyone can buy on Amazon.
    Oddly enough, much of what needs to be said about the ears in regard to behaviour has been sitting in standard reference books on library shelves for decades. It does not require a Ph.D. in neuroscience to read the list of substances or other traumas that can harm the ears, which is in the Oxford Companion to the Mind and other places. Dr. Alfred Tomatis provided information about the neurology of the ear as it affects body systems in a book he published in 1987: The Ear and the Voice. It was intended for singers and music coaches, not brain surgeons!
    I had not read Tomatis’s books until my manuscript about our family had been written. But my prior knowledge of aspects of the French doctor’s work was foundational to the way I synthesized information as I looked for an explanation of the behavioural phenomena I had observed. I had noticed some things about Daniel’s behaviour, especially, that other people writing about schizophrenia appear not to have noticed, for example, his constantly alternating levels of cognizance every two minutes, which I had measured several times during different schizophrenic episodes over the years.
    The foundational neurology of the ear relevant to my findings is described by Dr. Tomatis and was accepted by his medical peers; in fact, he was decorated by the French government for his discovery of the neurological relationship between the ear and the voice (the Tomatis Effect, 1957). He came close to understanding what I discovered, but he was led astray by psychiatric theory while he was starting to heal autism. My paradigm builds on, corrects, and extends Tomatis’s findings.
    Healing Brings the Possibility of Choice
    Some of the family members who were healed welcomed the changes and maintained their healing; others did not but gradually came back to using music to heal physical illness and change behaviour.
    If your physiology forces you to switch cerebral hemispheres every two minutes, you are incapable of learning self-control; that is the condition of autism and of full-blown schizophrenia. In lesser degree, it is the condition of dyslexia and Asberger’s. That loss of dominance that defines schizophrenia is distinct from autism (infantile schizophrenia) only because it occurs in a person who has already been socialized with language to some greater or lesser extent.
    The onset of schizophrenia will begin to erode that person’s socialization and, of course, the language structures (which are structures of reason and self-control) in the left brain will try to rationalize whatever is the existing condition; that is how people adapt to a situation they do not know how to change.
    Because our son was on very, very low medication during his later schizophrenic episodes his symptoms were severe and that made it easier to notice some aspects of his behaviour, which in most schizophrenics these days usually are subdued with neuroleptic medications.
    It turns out that understanding the brain, at least as far as so-called “mental” illness is concerned, is not that complicated because the “main event” takes place in the middle ear. That is where behaviour within the range of normal originates, too. However, people accustomed to losing their self-control and expressing their emotions, even violently, may not want to learn self-control even when they gain that capacity. Socializing self-control and reason in the healed schizophrenic or bipolar individual leaves plenty of room for counsellors to exercise their skills following healing of the client with high-frequency sound.
    How the Ear Controls Behaviour
    The principles are few and simple:
    1/ Just as we have two arms and two legs and two eyes and two ears we have two brains, located inside our head: a left brain and a right brain. The nerves branching from them run between them and all over the body like the wiring in a house. Some of those nerves run in particular directions because of the way sound energy comes into the body, mostly through the ears. The sound coming through the right ear has an especially important effect on the left brain — it organizes all of the other sensory data coming into both sides of the brain. That makes the left brain dominant over the right brain and the “control panel” for the whole body.
    If sound energy is low in the left side of the brain, the energy shortage will show in the body; for example, a person may no longer be able to stand up straight or sit up straight or keep her balance or pay attention or he may be tired all the time or his eyes may go out of focus while his right brain is dominant or he sometimes hallucinates or his words are garbled and toneless. The brain is not able to make the person do these things NOT because something is wrong with the nerves in the brain but because something is wrong with a MUSCLE in the middle of the RIGHT EAR. The brain is not getting enough energy from sound coming through the right ear and going on to the left hemisphere of the brain to keep the energy in that circuit flowing. Part of what that energy normally does is to keep the left brain dominant over the right brain. Left-brain dominance is essential to paying attention and to LEARNING and to mental health.
    2/ Each ear has parts inside the head that you cannot see. Behind the eardrum in the middle ear are three very small bones that conduct sound to the inner ear. The bony cavity surrounding those bones also conducts sound energy. The tiniest muscle in the body is the stapedius muscle attached by one end to that bony cavity and by the other end to the handle of the stirrup (stapes), which is the third bone of hearing. A nerve that runs from that muscle is part of the vagus nerve network that affects much of the body. The nerve running from the ear that carries sound to the left brain — the acoustic nerve — sends energy to the temporal lobe in the left brain that is very strongly influenced by the action — or inaction — of the stapedius muscle. The stapedius muscle controls how much high-frequency sound goes through that nerve to the brain. High-frequency sound has the greatest energy, which makes the left temporal lobe the organizer of all the perceptions from both brains. The body’s “control panel” requires constant energy from sound, even when the person is sleeping, to keep it in control of the whole body. In most people that tiny muscle in the right middle ear never rests; from before birth to death it is reactive to sound both outside and inside the body and keeps sending that sound energy to the brain.
    3/ Anything that damages that tiny stapedius muscle changes the amount of sound energy getting to the brain, allowing too much or too little. The middle and inner parts of the ear are like a “microchip” for the left hemisphere of the brain. If the stapedius muscle doesn’t control the stirrup, too much sound will get into the inner ear and cause pain. That is called “hyperacusis” and many people with autism, depression, schizophrenia and other unusual behaviours have hyperacusis because their stapedius muscle cannot protect the inner ear. Such people do not want to attend or pay attention to sound that hurts, so they make the situation worse by trying unconsciously to shut down the stapedius muscle even more, giving them more of right-brained consciousness. Listening to quiet, high-frequency sound may exercise the stapedius muscle so that it can become spontaneously reactive to sounds, moving the stirrup back and forth to protect the inner ear and effectively transmit high-frequency sound to the left brain.
    4/ The left brain is the “control panel” for both brains because that is where sound is heard first — as it arrives from the right ear. The same sound coming through the left ear arrives slightly later in the “control panel.”
    The left brain is where the language centre is located (and the short route of sound from the right ear is likely why it evolved in that location). The nerve connection from the right ear makes the shortest, most direct connection to the left hemisphere, which is why the left hemisphere dominates the right one. Usually, the process of increasing dominance in the left hemisphere continues automatically from infancy onward because the right-ear-to-left-brain loop is self-sustaining as long as the stapedius muscle is working properly. Most people (about 88%) are born left-dominant and are right-handed (right-lateralized) even before birth.
    The left-ear nerve route for sound going to the brain is longer, and therefore brings the sound to the left brain slower than sound coming from the right ear, which makes the left ear — and the right brain through which sound from the left ear flows on the way to the language centre in the left brain — subordinate. The degree of dominance that the person will develop depends on the condition in which the middle ear stapedius muscle is maintained (for example, singing is good exercise for it) and on how much emphasis is placed during socialization on activities that develop greater left-brain dominance (language; rational belief; self-control) in ways that also integrate the two brains (writing, art, making music, building things, and other creative activities.
    For people with right-ear impairment, the left ear usually takes over as the dominant ear and maintains left-brain dominance but with a greater level of right-brain influence; those people usually become left-handed and left-lateralized and while most of them are left-brain dominant they are constantly under the influence of the right brain.
    5/ The language centre in the left brain is where the person’s beliefs and self-control are developed through socialization. If anything impairs the right ear, the ability to think and speak logically or rationally, to believe realistically, and to control emotions and primal urges in socially approved ways is compromised — in proportion to the damage to the ear. That impairment probably can be measured as audio-processing deficits at particular frequencies in one or the other ear or both, in Hertz. Such measurements have been done on some categories of behaviour by Dr. Guy Bérard, a colleague of Tomatis. He measured the audio-processing deficits in 235 suicidally depressed people and noticed that deficits at particular frequencies of sound in Hertz correlate with that specific form of “mental” illness;” suicidal depression is distinguished by hyperacusis at 2 and 8 kHz. Of those 235 patients he healed 97.7% of them with electronically filtered high-frequency sound. Over 90% were healed within two weeks, most of the others were healed in two or three further 2-week blocks of treatment. He also noticed in other patients that moderate depression is the state of consciousness of people with audio processing deficits at 1.5 and 8 kHz; and people with mild depression have deficits at 1 and 8 kHz (in either ear; he does not specify laterality).
    Both Tomatis and Bérard healed the audio-processing deficits of thousands of people including autistic children. Their hundreds of practitioners have healed the audio-processing deficits of, likely, tens of thousands of people. But Tomatis and Bérard apparently did not understand losses of dominance in the perspective of “mental” illness.
    I think the other reason that further research on the audio-processing deficits of the ear has not taken place is because pharmaceuticals took over the entire field of care for the “mentally” ill. It seemed such an easy solution. But you have only to know someone on psychoactive medications or to have read Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic to know that pharmaceuticals cause much harm while they subdue behaviour. My report on my study of 107 people trying to get off their SSRIs shows most of their symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome are ear-related; that is, those people who got off their SSRIs apparently were left with ear damage. Most of the reasons for which their SSRIs had been prescribed looked to me like ear-damage behaviour, too. Many of them were suicidally depressed following their attempts to discontinue SSRIs, so the audio-processing deficit for those people, at least, can be theorized at 2 and 8 kHz in one ear or the other.
    6/ The right brain holds memories and makes loose or fluid associations, some of which become reinforced there, between the external perceptions it receives and its interior feelings. Those associations (some stronger than others) under the influence of the dominant left brain form the person’s emotional life. When the left brain is exerting some measure of control over the right brain, we call its other forms of awareness the imagination, creativity, the subconscious, mystic awareness, and dreams. Dreams are a condition of very low left-brain control, because the stapedius muscle relaxes to induce that low level of hemispheric integration and greater amount of right-brained consciousness, i.e., sleep. That sleep state of consciousness in most people is closest to the uncontrolled state of consciousness in those few people who are schizophrenic and experiencing the state of consciousness that we call “psychosis.” The difference between sleeping (and dreaming) and psychosis is that sleeping people normally have the ability to regain control over their state of consciousness, even waking themselves from unpleasant dreams, and people who are psychotic do not have that control over their stapedius muscle — they are stuck in the dream.
    When a person loses left-brain dominance the right brain becomes just as dominant as the left brain — in other words, neither brain is dominant — and the right brain becomes the source of the kinds of uncontrolled behaviours we call “psychotic.” That state of consciousness can occur briefly and suddenly (e.g., the outbursts of bipolarity, panic attacks, epilepsy) or can occur persistently and regularly (e.g., autism, Asberger’s, schizophrenia, dyslexia). If a person who has already had left-brain dominance becomes non-dominant (psychotic) and stays that way long enough, the structures of language and reason and self-control in the left brain erode through stages that may be quite dangerous all the way to advanced schizophrenia until they more nearly resemble the loose associations of the right brain. Such people often cannot care for themselves well enough to keep themselves healthy and they may harm other people with their semi-controlled or uncontrolled behaviour.
    7/ High-frequency sound, for example the music of violins, may activate a damaged stapedius muscle. Gentle exposure to focused, high-frequency sound is what the Tomatis Method and Bérard AIT practitioners offer their clients. That stimulation of the middle and inner ear is similar to (and possibly more efficient than) what anyone can do at home with headphones and a few CDs of classical violin music — which is how Daniel’s schizophrenia was healed. Even talking therapy that encourages the patient to listen can exercise the stapedius muscle and get it moving more naturally. When the stapedius muscle recovers a degree of fitness, the person’s behaviour changes in quite specific and easily observable ways: the spectrum of ear-related “mental” disturbances from severe to mild will be evident during healing. However, fully normal stapedius action and fully normal brain integration usually comes suddenly as the neurological loop becomes self-perpetuating.
    My book is not fun or an easy read. However, if someone wants to know how damage to the ear causes the behaviour patterns called “mental” illness, I have explained in more detail in my publications how it is caused by an audio-processing deficit of the middle ear. And if some people want to recover from the damage of psychoactive medications and/or from the ear damage that brought those chemicals into their bodies, my blog and my book Listening for the Light and my other publications might help.
    Thank you for listening!

  2. dear will

    great show.
    suggestions for other shows;-

    tina mincavitzs crpd human rights lawyer new york
    gabor gombos particle physicist and user activist hungary
    moosa salie anti apartheidt activist and mh campaigner south africa
    peter munn activist and recovery trainer wales
    john mc carthy larger than life campaigner for mad pride ireland.

    i met all these guys in kampala at the wnusp conference 2009.
    there all good speakers with a good story to tell.
    happy new year to you and madness radio
    joe kelly

  3. hi all,
    i just checked in again and read the comments here—how nice! thank you all—much appreciated. Will, you really do a good service with Madness Radio. happy new year, Daniel

  4. Thank you to Daniel and Will for an amazing listening experience that I can wholeheartedly empathise with and relate to. I live in Australia and this information is not well known about in the general public. I am considering doing a documentary locally to get the issues out in the open. Our mental health system needs a major shake up and our politicians are easily swayed by professors with connections to pharma donations, you know the story! I am very passionate about putting new ideas out there and cant wait to get started. Best of luck with the shows, I am so glad i found this resource, Lisa

  5. for being the therapist I’d always wanted to have.

    for giving us what we all need–love.

    for telling the plain truth in this interview.

  6. Great. Inspiring. Thanks for your work and thanks for talking about it. Not causing further harm – and hope.

  7. What a beautiful interview! What is so remarkable is that Daniel found in his loving heart the ability to fearlesly give of himself and develop real, human relationships with his client’s in the face of himself being marginalized and rejected by his professional peers.

    As a veteran consumer/provider for 30 years doing alternative therapy with consumers in psychotic and visionary proceses without medication, I can affirm that all the successful alternative sanctuary programs here in the Bay Area- Soteria House, The Agnew’s Project, Diabasis House, I-ward- they all were based on providing the same basic heart centered relationship that Daniel gave to his clients.

    That kind of warm, receptive relationship where the free expression of emotion is welcomed, is the necessary and sufficent healing balm that brings rest and renewal.

  8. Wow! What an awesome show! I could have listened for another hour at least! As a relatively new psychotherapist, I can relate to SO much of what Daniel expressed. It was refreshing to feel connected to another therapist, and to hear, passionately, from one who has his heart so obviously in the right place. It inspires me to continue working as a counselor and to courageously speak out from that fiery place inside, just as Daniel has and is doing.

    Although I do not have as much experience in working with others, my current position is quite small, I have had enough experience to know that our system is doing more harm than good, and something needs to shift BIG TIME!I think the ethos DO NO HARM has been forgotten, and it needs reviving, for the sake of all people and our entire planet. The world needs more people who are considered “radical” and alternative by the perception of the status quo. I love the gifts of empowerment and strong bonds of community that are born out of peer support groups. I truly see a positive shift occurring within and around these groups. I also feel that the more we can all be honest, beginning within ourselves, our families and educational systems, that we will move in a better direction as a society; one that truly cares for one another, not silences each other.

    I own and have read (a few times) A Way Out of Madness. It is a phenomenal book, and I share it every chance I get. My cousin has it now…and is loving it! Thank you so much for this interview!

  9. Hi all! I just listened to the show, Will, and you did a great job editing it. As a fellow editor, I was listening to it with the “editing ear,” and I realized how FAST I talked! That is not easy to edit — and you did a seamless job. I am a big fan of Madness Radio and think I talked so fast because it was like magic being ON your show. Kudos Will!

  10. Wheres your Twitter button? I tried to find it but cant. I really want to twitter THIS 🙂

  11. HI

    I cannot express how I felt listening to this interview. I have heard and seen so much badness over last few weeks, but Daniel –his energy, his seeing clear through the crap, his energy, and good vibrant nature is so…INSPIRING and restores my faith in humanity when sometimes it can get very battered.

    IF there was one critique it was somewhere near end when you were talking about the politics–and suggested that ‘Medcare’ and their payers etc would be GLAD of ‘saving money’ on people feeling better? I cannot see that. I see the pharmaceutical industry and DSM more and more trying to spread its net even targeting children with their bogus labels and toxic drugs. I saw a terrible article that they are diagnosing BABIES now with having ‘schizophrenia’

    Their power also suppresses the vast healing potentials of marijuana/hashish oil for diseases including cancer, and also the entheogens because they cant patent natural plants and substances. But MAPS hopefully is radically changing things there–but it is very slow. Meanwhile people are at mercy of errrm ‘other ‘help”…

    But this interview is just so amazing, and I am so very glad I came to hear it. I know Daniel having subsribed to him at least last year at Youtube. I just love him deeply.

    1. Hi, Juliano,
      Several times lately I have run into the idea that children are bipolar; you mention having heard someone diagnose infants as schizophrenic. In most instances those diagnoses are false, but this is why those mistakes are made: the schizophrenic person is in the process of losing her or his socialization. Babyhood is the stage of life at which one has very little socialization. So, there are features of infancy and of schizophrenia that seem to have something in common. The same mistake applies to older children who are mistakenly diagnosed as bipolar. In bipolarity, the person does not have secure left-brain dominance and so various kinds of stresses can push the person into sudden, usually brief, episodes of rage, panic, crying jags, or even psychosis (bipolar I). A maturing child is learning self-control in, usually, increasingly challenging circumstances. We try to protect children so their environments are not too challenging. But children frequently meet new challenges, even in the best of surroundings, with losses of self-control. That is part of the learning process. However, just because a child has tantrums, panics, bursts into tears easily, or otherwise loses control does not mean the child is bipolar, although the behaviours look similar.

      The reason there is confusion in analyzing behaviour is that very few people understand the role of the ear. If there is a physiological problem, i.e., if the stapedius muscle cannot function properly, the infant, child, or adult cannot learn normally. Self-control is learned behaviour that increases the dominance of the left, rational brain over the right, emotional brain. (See my long post below.) Only when that learning cannot take place do the diagnoses of autism (infantile schizophrenia), childhood bipolarity, and adult bipolarity or schizophrenia have validity. Those conditions are very rare. And evidence suggests those conditions can be improved with high-frequency sound.

      There is another category of arrested development when the child or adult has been so severely traumatized that s/he has unconsciously or semi-consciously shut down the stapedius muscle in order to retreat more into the right-brained state of consciousness, which seems to be the group Daniel Mackler is reaching. However, the vast majority of children learn normally. It is potentially hugely damaging to suggest that infants and children who have the capacity for normal learning and development are impaired, especially when so many practitioners today resort to pharmaceuticals or resort to philosophies that blame the parents for failing to nurture the child. (I am not, of course, referring to parents who actually are abusive.) I have seen families tragically shattered by the ignorance and bad advice of psychiatrists who fault parents, especially mothers, for the ear-related mental problems of the children. When children do have learning disabilities, in my opinion the worst thing one can do is apply antidepressants, neuroleptics, and other pharmaceuticals because most of them damage the tiny, vital stapedius muscle in the middle ear that is already not functioning properly.

      Extremely high success rates with ear-related behaviour problems in children have been obtained through the Tomatis Method (and the very similar Berard AIT method) of ear stimulation with high-frequency music. As I have improved the theoretical understanding of that form of healing, I hope their success rates will climb even higher. And as our son Daniel recovered from schizophrenia without such specialized electronic equipment but simply by focusing high-frequency music onto his ears with headphones, the possibility that others who want to recover from bipolarity, schizophrenia, and other ear-related behaviour can do so inexpensively is wide open.


      1. I’m quite fascinated by your post. My own experience — an experience I prefer to call “ego collapse” or “ego fragmentation” — was several years ago. Music featured quite predominantly through it and after it.

        I’ve never been medicated or hospitalized but I am recovered. Do you have any additional sources in regard to this approach of using music as a form of treatment?

        If so, please share. Thank you.

        Never mind. I just found your link. I’ll be sharing it with others.

  12. Brilliant episode of madness radio, in the top 15 of all time.

    From a friend in Australia.

    1. Thanks for the support – and I’d love to hear your list of top shows!
      – Will

  13. Brilliant interview, Daniel. Full of heart and soul and connection. It takes a brave person to stand up for what is right and good and true in a profession that largely bought into de-humanising practices (through ignorance and fear). To stand alone on the frontline and fight for what’s right is admirable. And you’re so right, you cannot put a price on hope and love. Joshua and Hazel were talking about you just the other day – we were so happy to meet you.

    1. Daniel Mackler • 3 hrs ago Report Abuse

      but i thought U.S. Marines were sophisticated, educated, worldly, mature, historically-minded, and peace-loving. Oh, that’s right, I forgot, they’re just immature kids who are hired to kill in fancy ways.

      1. Great show, keep on changing the ‘mental health’ system from top to bottom ! Thanks to Daniel, hope to see Will on the MIA webinar.
        My best wishes to all on this great radio station.

  14. Pingback: Therapy for psychosis with Daniel Mackler: Madness Radio – Beyond Meds

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