Researchers, therapists, and psychedelic-curious folk alike are increasingly intrigued by the therapeutic potential of psychedelics in helping overcome a variety of mental health conditions and improving quality of life.
Psychedelics have a rich history of use dating back thousands of years in religious and shamanic practices, but it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that they gained attention in Western medicine and psychology.
Indigenous communities knew of the profound benefits of entheogenic plant medicines for social cohesion, treating physical and mental health problems, and providing meaning, clarity, and a sense of purpose in life.
Early studies in the 1950s and 1960s suggested that, not just psychotherapy, but also hallucinogens like LSD and psilocybin could be effective for treating various conditions and disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Additionally, more recent studies are exploring psychedelic-assisted therapy for end-of-life anxiety in the terminally ill as well as their effects on trauma, which have otherwise been treated with talk therapy alone.
In this article, we will explore how therapists may offer additional support to journeyers and psychedelic facilitators, as well as the potential benefits of combining psychotherapy with psychedelic use.
What Are Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy & Talk Therapy?
Intentional, facilitated psychedelic experiences provide a safe container for seekers to interact with mind-altering substances while being supported during the journey, as well as during preparation and integration.
Psychedelics interact with serotonin receptors in the brain, changing brain activity and connectivity, and leading to altered states of consciousness and profound psychological experiences. Many users report feelings of spiritual oneness with everything around them, openness and connection, and profound states of creativity and euphoria.
Talk therapy, otherwise known as ‘psychotherapy’, employs different techniques in discourse with a licensed therapist to help a patient restructure maladaptive and unpleasant emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. Common approaches include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR), and Gestalt therapy.
How Talk Therapy Can Support a Psychedelic-Assisted Experience
While having a professional guide with a history and expertise around the specific psychedelic medicine is crucial, your therapist may offer you additional support around your guided psychedelic trip.
Offering More In-Depth Preparation
Preparation sessions are standard with psychedelic facilitators, but a therapist can offer additional prep meetings, insights, and tools, such as setting clear intentions and strategies for managing pre-trip anxiety.
Therapists can be supportive in preparation by:
- Asking questions to help journeyers dig deep into the “why” behind this experience and anchor them into their intentions
- Providing tips and tools on how to stay calm and navigate mental and emotional content that emerges
- Offering encouragement, empowerment, and understanding to journeyers for wanting to address their mental health
Furthermore, a therapist may assign journaling prompts and ask a variety of questions to help establish a framework around the medicine, understand what you hope to gain, and clarify how you want the experience to be.
Historically Informing the Experience
Similarly, having history with a particular therapist who is caught up on your mental and emotional health, traumas, and desires and goals can help you and your psychedelic facilitator better co-create the right approach.
Therapists can help provide:
- key details about the journeyer’s life, personhood, and mental state, which may otherwise be forgotten, so long as they are relevant for creating the right setting and approach
- a sense of confidence and solidity for the journeyer prior to their decision to take consciousness-expanding substances
Access to a supportive therapist separate from your psychedelic facilitator provides you with another perspective on your own history, helping you connect dots and not forget important details during preparation.
Allowing for External Support and Input
When it comes to this process, having multiple perspectives can provide a more complete, well-rounded vantage point for problem solving or gaining greater clarity. It takes a village, as the saying goes.
Psychedelic Guides offer harm reduction and insights into and insider strategies for the psychedelic realm. Therapists offer insights into the journeyer’s unique mental and emotional state and life-story. This creates a delicious recipe for transformation via a diverse and multi-faceted support system.
Providing Deeper Integration and Processing
When it comes to “bad trips,” they are often difficult but necessary. Regardless of whether you have a mind-blowing, ecstatic journey, or a contractive, uncomfortable one, there is a lot of information to be processed.
Because, in a way, psychedelics remove part of the filter from the mind, having support around integration is key for bringing all that wisdom into the space of everyday life and action. While psychedelic facilitators offer post-trip support and integration sessions after the experience, many people would benefit from longer forms of integrative support via traditional talk therapy.
How Psychedelic Therapy Can Boost Effectiveness of Talk Therapy
Allowing for Deeper Emotional Processing
Medicinal psychedelics have this powerful capability when it comes to opening up journeyers to suppressed or repressed emotions, like briefly removing the dam from a river. Through this intensity, journeyers can access and process difficult emotions and memories not previously accessible due to constructs and mental barriers developed over one’s lifetime.
A therapeutic psychedelic experience can benefit a journeyer’s general talk therapy sessions by enabling the psychotherapist to get straight to the wound, which would otherwise take years to access through talk therapy alone.
Through psychedelic-assisted therapy, many have found a level of self-acceptance and understanding through heightened states of introspection while tripping. One anecdotal report includes powerful positive personal transformation:
“Psychedelic therapy has changed the game for me…I have acquired new beliefs about myself and the universe…Psychedelic therapy has made me actually feel, live, and breathe a new reality.” -C1
Different from rumination, mind-altered introspection seems to lead to more self-compassion and enhanced mindfulness. This deep opening to the self through psychedelic therapy can aid traditional talk therapy’s goal of forming more adaptive, positive frames of thinking and releasing shame, self-doubt, and self-criticism.
Growing the Capacity for Creativity
People are increasingly recognizing the role of creative thinking in mental health, specifically characteristics of openness, receptivity, and formulating patterns and meaning from information.
A random, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in 2018 by Prochazkova and colleagues showed that microdosing psychedelic truffles had significant effects on standardized levels of creative thinking.
Participants displayed increased levels of both divergent thinking—which involves symbolic, flexible thinking and creative problem-solving—and convergent thinking, which involves direct and simple problem-solving.
The increase in divergent, symbolic thinking was specifically noted as having potential significance for psychedelic-assisted therapy in the future, because “outside-the-box,” original thinking is strongly correlated with mental fortitude.
Psychedelic therapy in combination with talk therapy may act as a powerful catalyst for transformative modes of thinking, essentially accessing creative solutions to our psycho-emotional struggles.
Heightening Empathy and Spiritual Connection
It’s no secret that psychedelics can increase feelings of connection. MDMA is specifically known for “opening the heart.” Users report feelings of merging with everything around them and a sense of connection and belonging.
In a 2019 study, MDMA proved to create feelings of “higher subjective emotional empathy” from long-term use, which was unexpected to researchers who previously thought prolonged use induced social anxiety (Carlyle et al.).
Furthermore, a key element in the psychedelic journey is purely subjective and mysterious—something that indigenous shamanic cultures honored through communal tradition and ritual—spiritual connection.
Through traditional talk therapy, these types of experiences and their profound benefits are rarely—if ever—evoked, and these are the types of experiences that create life-long, drastic changes for someone.
These themes of heightened empathy and spirituality can invoke a level of significant interpersonal trust, empathy, and openness with one’s psychotherapist, which would otherwise take years to develop.
The Legal Landscape of Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy
It is important to note that, in the United States, most psychedelic substances—including magic mushrooms (psilocybin), LSD, and MDMA—are still considered Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act.
This means they are deemed to have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, even though science seems to disagree. While there are a few ways to have legal psychedelic experiences in the US, such as Ketamine clinics and joining a clinical trial, options are limited, and many resort to traveling out of the country—which isn’t available to everyone.
Because psychedelics have the potential to induce intense and challenging experiences, it is best to have a trained expert to help ensure your trip is safe and to offer guidance and support.
Note that a psychedelic therapist is a licensed mental health professional with special training in psychedelic-assisted therapy, but because of the legal climate around psychedelics, licensure is not standardized.
How to Work With a Psychedelic Facilitator & a Therapist
Despite the challenges, the promising results of recent studies have led to increased interest and investment in psychedelic-assisted therapy. As you have seen in the studies covered in this article, several organizations and research institutions are currently conducting clinical trials to investigate the safety and efficacy.
With increased success rates, psychedelic-assisted therapy is becoming a mainstream treatment option, and will continue to grow in the coming years. Psychotherapists can be included in the process surrounding a facilitated psychedelic experience, and we believe this opens up many doors for mind-altering medicines to be even more effective in treatment.
We at Psychedelic Passage have a network of pre-vetted professional psychedelic facilitators who specialize in harm-reduction and navigating the psychedelic landscape.
In a past article, we go deeper into the differences between a psychedelic guide and a therapist, however, we do work both with therapists seeking psychedelic assistance for their patients and potential journeyers.
Explore How It Feels To Be Connected
Whether you are a therapist looking for more ways to support your patients, or a potential journeyer interested in discovering yourself and healing deeply, we encourage you to explore psychedelics safely.
Book a consultation with our psychedelic concierges today to get connected to a network of expert facilitators located all over the country. You can find many more interesting articles and information on our resources page. Safe journeys!