“Psychedelics, used responsibly and with proper caution, would be for psychiatry what the microscope is for biology and medicine, or the telescope is for astronomy.” – Stanislav Grof
Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (PAP) has the potential to completely transform mental health care as we know it. With our current system, the “pill for an ill” adage is failing the majority of people with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other debilitating mental health disorders. In psychedelic therapy trials over the years, controlled doses of select psychedelics like ketamine, psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, ibogaine, or MDMA are given to the patient, while a therapist sits with them during their experience. In traditional ceremonies, and in real world “underground” psychedelic circles, it may be a shaman, an elder, or a friend who serves the medicine and holds the space.
Most of the actual “therapy” is done after a little bit of time has passed since the psychedelic journey, ideally the next day or within a few days, while the experience is still fresh. Psychotherapy is where the magic happens, as it serves as an integration of the patient’s psychedelic experience, any insights that they received, and their own life so that they can incorporate their new knowledge and make actionable changes in their day to day. By pairing various psychotherapeutic methods to help patients integrate meaning from their journey, new insights can be accessed and explored, which lends to greater personal healing.
While psychedelics can enhance many existing modes of psychotherapy (like the microscope does for biology), there are certain types of therapy that just seem to go hand and hand with psychedelic therapy. I will provide a glimpse into a few of my favorites.
I have patients that are currently integrating their at-home ketamine therapy with a variety of types of therapists and coaches. But, I believe that integrating experiences with practitioners trained in the types of therapy below may lend to an even deeper possible healing as they already incorporate a non-ordinary perspective through which to appreciate the world and to see oneself.
Transpersonal psychology works with aspects of the mind that extend beyond the individual and into the spiritual. It is an expansive field, incorporating ideas from cognitive science, literature, philosophy, religion, and more into individual therapy plans. Practitioners integrate ideas of spirituality and transcendence into traditional modes of therapeutic inquiry also focusing on the broader conception of how a person achieves meaning, purpose, and happiness.
The therapy originally included a greater focus on altered states of consciousness from which a patient can see themselves and their lives from a different perspective. Before psychedelics became controlled substances in the late 1960’s, these altered states were achieved, in part, through the use of psychedelics in therapy. Afterwards, there was more focus on meditation, holotropic breathwork, and other methods of achieving non-ordinary states of consciousness and mental transcendance.
This openness to spiritual inquiry lends itself to further internal exploration. By adding psychedelics to a transpersonal approach, both the spiritual openness and the journey within can be greatly enhanced.
Internal Family Systems
The Internal Family Systems (IFS) approach to psychotherapy posits that an individual’s psyche is made of multiple separate parts. These parts represent an internal family within each of us. These sub personalities can consist of painful emotions, and wounded parts of ourselves. Instead of the widely accepted notion that a person has a single identity or “self,” IFS therapy invites us to look internally for the different, sometimes contradictory parts within ourselves. These parts have served valid, important roles in our lives and they need to be acknowledged for progress and healing to happen.
In IFS, one works with a therapist to identify and understand these parts, or sub-personalities. Once you acknowledge your feelings about these suppressed emotions, you can learn how to release these feelings in order to be freer to address the actual problem at hand. Ultimately, as you come to know your family parts, this approach leads you to find more positive ways to manage conflicts on your own. As an example, an IFS-informed therapy session may include the therapist inviting the patient to sit with a newly discovered latent anger. First, the patient must recognize the anger and the service it has provided. Then, they thank the anger for the role it played and contemplate ways to move forward without needing that anger again.
An IFS approach can be very well complemented by psychedelic medicine treatments. Under the influence of psychedelic medications, the user has an enhanced ability to separate from the body and can therefore better observe the various parts of the self. Psychedelic-assisted IFS therapy has helped patients foster the internal flexibility needed to identify and address their parts, in order to better heal and move forward.
Art therapy is a powerful modality because of its ability to engage the body and the brain by embracing impulses to create. The process of making art requires somatic engagement like handling materials such as pencils, brushes, paper, and scissors which helps to allow one to express themselves, or their subconsciousness, artistically. The trained art therapist can then examine the psychological or emotional undertones in the art and interpret any nonverbal messages, symbols, or metaphors to help the patient better understand their feelings.
Professional art therapists work with individuals across the lifespan on a wide range of issues, from anger, autism, trauma, depression, and grief. Artistic expression paired with talk therapy modalities can help patients access emotions and thoughts that may otherwise be unavailable. In a psychedelic session, it can often be difficult to put words to the grandeur or the etherealness of one’s experience. Using art to help express the visuals, feelings, and perspective that was gained, helps to solidify and integrate the insights attained. It can be easier to talk with a therapist about the art you drew relaying a difficult emotion, or a psychedelic experience, than discussing the actual emotion, or experience itself.
Similarly, the incorporation of psychedelics into art therapy can create further opportunities for expression, action, and insights. By supplementing art therapy with psychedelics under the guidance of a qualified clinician, individuals can use non-verbal forms of expression to access and share non-ordinary states of consciousness. This can lead to pretty incredible breakthroughs for patients who have previously felt stuck and unable to express themselves adequately.
As with psychedelic medicines, these three types of therapy encourage patients to go deep within themselves to gain a new perspective – whether through Spirit, the subconscious, or internal family parts.
I also just so happen to know amazing women trained in each of these modalities who are ketamine integration specialists. If you need a good recommendation for a psychedelic assisted psychotherapist, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you curious about how any of these approaches might fit into your mental health goals?
Check out our at-home Ketamine assisted therapy offerings, our FAQs and pricing to see how it works, and if you still have questions about how this would look for you, feel free to book a ten-minute phone consultation with Dr. Courtney King to see if this is the right fit for your mental or spiritual health.