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.
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Jodi K. Silverman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Reiki Master whose mission is to support and guide human beings in their journey for meaning, purpose and connection.