Psychedelic therapy: a trip that requires an experienced guide

Trainees also learn to facilitate the process of integration in which patients incorporate into their daily lives what they thought and felt during their psychedelic journey. Again, conventional therapists may find themselves in uncharted territory. “In psilocybin trials, people are reported to have had mystical experiences. Usually, talking about it doesn’t necessarily fit into psychotherapy,” says Bit Yaden.

Some programs believe that therapists are best placed to help others process powerful feelings only after dealing with their own psychological issues. That’s why Vancouver Island University, Canada, offers a year-long training that includes plenty of self-development exercises and discussions aimed at fostering the personal and emotional growth of the therapist. “Using psychedelics is a way of remembering who you are,” says Geraldine Manson, a member of the Snuneymuxw First Nation of Canada, who teaches in this program.

Since psychedelics remain illegal, most programs don’t allow students to conduct an actual session with them, which is an unfortunate limitation to their training, according to Janis Phelps. Students on Vancouver Island can experience this, however, thanks to government waivers allowing certain mentally ill patients to legally use these drugs.

For the same reason, many students have not personally experienced these either. “When someone has never used psychedelics, it’s obvious. The type of questions he asks show that he has no idea what experience he is going to provide to his patient,” says Pam Kryskow, president of the medical portion of the Vancouver Island program.

Some encourage students to try ketamine under supervision in order to understand the extreme vulnerability of someone under the influence. Others attempt to simulate this state through holotropic breathwork (HRT), the practice of breathing rapidly in order to achieve a temporary altered state of consciousness.

A few trainees seek to have their own psychedelic experience with a spirit guide or by traveling to countries where indigenous people have been using these drugs for a long time. Anthony Back, a palliative care physician, used a guide several years ago, an experience that encouraged him to take the training. During this experience, as hewrote later in a medical journal, “my familiar sense of ‘me’, i.e. my preferences, my body, my history, suddenly disappeared, and what became tangible was a vast and deep sense of being unified with everything around us… There was a sense of complete belonging… of having access to an energy in the universe that is normally beyond our reach. It was exhilarating. »

Anthony Back thinks that such a framework could be useful for his terminally ill patients. “I realized that the process of dying was much more spiritual than I thought,” he says now. He is eager for these substances to be legalized.

Other health professionals seem to share this view. In the California Institute’s first class of forty-two students, several doctors and nurses insisted that their participation not be disclosed so as not to harm their professional reputations. This year, however, around 800 people competed for the school’s 400 places.

Despite this growth, experts fear that still too few therapists are being trained to meet the expected demand after the Food and Drug Administration approves MDMA, and possibly psilocybin, as the competition of thousands professionals will be needed. In Oregon, no professional has so far met all the criteria for obtaining a license for psilocybin therapy.

“No training program meets the demand,” laments Janis Phelps. His university is currently developing a licensing program that allows other higher education institutions to obtain the training materials and videos. Almost twenty-five institutions have already expressed interest, she says.

The only way psychedelics will ever become a cure for psychiatric disorders is to ensure that enough professionals receive high-quality training, says Anthony Back. “It’s a different treatment than most others where we’re talking about technology or medicine. Here it is necessary to combine therapy and medicine. »

Psychedelic therapy: a trip that requires an experienced guide