It seems that over the last year or so conversations around the use of psychedelics in psychotherapy crossed the tipping point into the mainstream. Up until recently I had been mildly aware of the research being conducted on the use of MDMA to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and every once in a while a training opportunity around the use of psychedelics in psychotherapy would show up in my inbox. For whatever reason however, it never really resonated with me. That is, until more and more people started to talk about it from an experiential perspective.
Through listening to stories and experiences, I learned that people were having Non Ordinary States of Consciousness (NOSC) experiences, and at times full on mystical and out of body experiences, and that with integration therapy they were using what they learned through those experiences to take intentional and committed action in their everyday lives. Whoa! As a holistic integrative practitioner who practices from a mindfulness and values driven framework, this is right up my alley. How did I not know this?!
So I did what I always do when something peaks my interest…a deep dive into the topic matter of psychedelic assisted psychotherapy. After reading numerous articles, listening to hours of podcasts, taking several self paced psychedelic assisted psychotherapy trainings and a live training on psychedelic harm reduction and integration, connecting with many other psychotherapists who are doing the work and joining a community with the intention of ultimately providing Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP), I am finally coming up for a little bit of air. Wow. There is quite a bit happening here!
There is a lot of promise in the use of psychedelics to treat stubborn mental health challenges including treatment resistant depression, anxiety and PTSD. The FDA has designated MDMA assisted therapy for PTSD a breakthrough therapy and it is currently in Phase 3 trials. Research using psilocybin (active ingredient in “Magic Mushrooms”) to treat mental health disorders is well under way and Oregon has legalized its use for therapeutic purposes. Ketamine, which is a dissociative psychedelic used in emergency rooms and on battlefields as an anesthetic, is being used off-label with great success for treating depression and alcohol abuse when in conjunction with psychotherapy. And of course, there is the indigenous use of plant medicine for healing and rites of passage rituals that has been occurring for thousands of years.
But this post isn’t about the medicine, or even the research that is being done. It is about the process, and how over and over it is made clear that the medicine by itself is not what heals. Without preparation, intention setting, integration and work on the part of the patient, the experience simply becomes a story that sits on a shelf. The medicine works as a facilitator that allows the individual to access unconscious material and non ordinary states so that they can do the healing work. Ketamine in particular improves the plasticity of the brain for a period of time after dosing which provides an opportunity to learn new skills and habits that may have otherwise been difficult.
This got me thinking about Reiki and whether it can be used in a similar way. Reiki after all, is a contemplative experience during which most people experience a trance state. Studies using EEG have shown that the recipient and the practitioner enter into beta, theta and delta states during a session. In my own subjective experience I find that a Reiki treatment allows me to drop in, similar to meditation but with more ease and support as I am energetically held by the practitioner. Individuals with whom I have provided Reiki with intention setting often report an experience of being able to go “deeper” and coming out with a clearer understanding and more insights.
As I come to learn more and understand the use of psychedelics to treat mental health challenges, as well as for personal growth and enlightenment, I am drawn to the desire for us as human beings to access “something more”. During this time when anxiety and depression are the highest they have ever been and we are struggling to find purpose and meaning amidst the toxicity and stress in the world, we are reaching. While psychedelic experiences can certainly open doors, with the exception of Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy, currently psychedelics can only legally be used in this way in research trials.
Also, if you don’t already have a contemplative practice nor have had the experience of Non Ordinary State of Consciousness a psychedelic experience can be jarring. If you are contemplating the use of these medicines as an initial step at healing, it is strongly advised that you find a therapist who is trained or knowledgeable about psychedelic harm reduction and integration to help walk you through the decision, weigh the pros and cons and ensure safety. It may be that what you are seeking can be found in other ways, including a contemplative spiritual experience such as Reiki or breath work.
See here for more information on how I use Reiki in my holistic integrative practice.
Most of us who enter the helping profession do so with a conscious drive “to heal” others. This is usually because we have our own wounding that may still need attention, or because we want to give back, having had the impact of powerful healing in our lives. The “Wounded Healer” archetype was coined by Carl Jung. Jung believed that disease of the soul could be the best possible form of training for a healer. In essence, our woundedness serves as an inherent drive to heal others affording us the ability to empathize and come into wholeness with those we serve.
The shadow side of the wounded healer however leaves us vulnerable to misusing our gifts as a way to feed our egos. Our shadow seeks other wounded souls believing we can save them. We ignore our own needs and get hooked by our ego, believing we know better and have all of the answers. We can lose touch with ourselves and the gentle art of creating space for healing to occur.
Shadow sides of any archetype are not inherently bad, yet they are often unconscious and drive behaviors without awareness. The lack of self care and the need to keep wounded souls in one’s orbit without realizing it can easily lead to burn out, misuse of power and toxic relationships. If the healer is not properly trained, nor seeking supervision and doing their own reflective work, their conscious drive to heal and help ultimately becomes driven by the unconscious needs of the shadow.
When this archetype finds themselves in a leadership role, their system can become easily confused creating an opening for the shadow to dominate. As a leader the primary role is no longer “to heal” others, instead it is to guide or shepherd towards a shared objective or goal. This can be confusing to the shadow as without conscious awareness they continue to seek relief from their hurts and fail to take responsibility for holding the vision of the greater good. Without realizing it, healers turned leaders can fall to the shadow using power, control and blame to satisfy their unmet need. A transpersonal approach gives us a perspective from which we can continue to ground ourselves in leadership roles and bring light to our shadow part.
Four ways healers turned leaders can bring light to their shadow for transpersonal leadership:
2. Learn and Understand your Relationship with Power
As healers we tend to have a complicated relationship with power, especially if it is involved in our original wounding. We enter into space with others in a unique hierarchical relationship. Although we would like to think that it is balanced, people come to us for help which automatically gives us implicit power. When we are operating from our shadow, we can take advantage of this unknowingly and in the most toxic forms we may even keep people dependent on us.
The power dynamic in a leadership role however is explicit and necessary. Minimizing or ignoring it can leave people confused and feeling unsafe. A transpersonal leader understands their influence and is able to empower individuals while still holding them accountable. Transpersonal leadership requires us to identify our unconscious use of power so that we can use it to serve rather than control.
3. Practice Humility
As healers we are taught to practice humility however our shadow side believes that we should have all of the answers. Transpersonal leaders operate beyond their own ego to balance the needs of those they lead and the organization or community they serve for the greatest good. A transpersonal leader knows that they don’t have all of the answers. Instead they practice curiosity and humility. Their job is to ask the right questions and take in all of the information exercising flexibility and conscious decision making when it comes time to make the tough decisions.
4. Identity your Values
As healers we are required to do our own work including the continual identification and alignment with values. Transpersonal leaders align with their values as well as the values of the organization/community and use them to help guide decision making. These decisions are not always easy and knowing how you want to show up will become your north star. How do you want to treat yourself and how do you want to treat others? Is this move aligned with the mission of the organization and how does it impact the greater good? Transpersonal leadership requires healers to think beyond themselves and the individual in front of them, knowing and aligning with values will help you stay on track.
Ultimately, healers have the training and insight to be powerful change agents and leaders. Often we are thrust into these positions because we are good at what we do even if we have little leadership experience. Luckily, as trained healers we are not strangers to ourselves. Transpersonal leadership requires us to continue our internal work, shining light on our shadows, so that we can show up in authentic and radical ways holding the vision of the greater good.