Over the past several decades, public interest in psychedelic therapy has waxed and waned. In recent years, intrigue around entheogens is again on the rise, as is their potential for healing and medicinal use. In some ways, this is a sign that the Western concept of wellness, which has long eschewed the mental and spiritual for the physical body, is beginning to come back around.
Another signal of this shift in attitude is the renewed interest in psychedelic assisted psychotherapy. While legal restrictions compel many seekers to travel abroad to find practitioners of psychedelic healing, there are some therapists choosing to brave the domestic climate in service to their clients.
The legal hostility to psychedelics combined with the “party drug” stigma they carry makes it difficult to find psychedelic therapy in the mainstream. However, some individuals are participating in research in the form of clinical trials involving psychedelics, with legal permission granted by the DEA.
Attitudes surrounding medicinal psychedelic use are beginning to shift, and policy is likely to (eventually) follow suit. As we have seen with the state-level legalization efforts for cannabis, change can be achieved with persistence.
In the meantime, however, there are many potential benefits of psychedelic therapy, especially for conditions resistant to traditional therapies. Here, we’ll discuss different methods of psychedelic therapy, how to access psychedelic therapy close to you, and where to turn if there are no available legal resources for you. We’ll also discuss getting to know your therapist and how to determine if their practices align with your wellness goals.
Types of Psychedelic Assisted Therapy
When we think of “therapy,” we tend to picture some variation of a person on a couch talking about their feelings with another person, who is often taking notes. This is a largely Western concept that we have Freud to thank for (yes, that Freud), but it doesn’t account for all types of therapy or therapeutic approaches.
Despite our (often narrow) connotations, therapy is a very broad term for any application of a process or treatment with the intention of healing or alleviating a condition. In this context, therapy is not limited to Western concepts of health and wellness.
Long before modern Western medicine became the prevailing norm, humans looked at mental, physical, and spiritual health through a much more holistic lens. Early civilizations (and many that continue to exist well into the modern age) understood that the mind and body are not separate entities, and treated them together in ritual and herbal medicine.
While many of these practices, reflected today in indigenous traditions in North and South America, Africa, Europe, Australia, and Asia, involve psychedelic compounds, many do not. In these non-Western traditions (somewhat controversially referred to as shamanistic traditions), many different methods are employed to promote healing. These may include herbal medicine, ritual healing, sound, movement, animal and nature spirits, water therapy, ritual cleansing, energetic work, altered consciousness, and other methods.
As with Western medicine, the goal of shamanistic medicine is to promote healing, growth, and integration of the soul. This may involve psychedelic medicine in the form of traditional compounds or may use meditation or other techniques to induce altered states.
These techniques may be legally employed by a therapist in an effort to induce an altered state of consciousness during a session. While this isn’t “psychedelic therapy” in the strictest of terms, it may be worth exploring for some.
Finding a Therapist Locally
While psilocybin mushrooms have been decriminalized in Oakland, CA, Santa Cruz, CA and Denver, CO, this is a far cry from legalization. Consequently, accessing psychedelic therapy locally and legally can be a challenge. While there are some practitioners willing to take the legal risk, these people are not always trustworthy.
Psychedelic assisted therapy with ketamine and cannabis is currently legal, but therapy with any other psychedelic substance is deemed illegal. That means there are both legal and illegal therapists doing this type of work in the US. While we aren’t against underground therapists operating illegally, we cannot recommend or refer them. Because of the current legal climate, the burden will fall on you to properly vet out any practitioner (legal or illegal) to ensure your safety.
If the vetting process seems like too much, you might consider enrolling in a clinical trial of a psychedelic compound. There are currently several active clinical trials of different psychedelics in different parts of the country. While a clinical trial may involve substantial time and travel, it will provide government-approved access to psychedelic therapy in a controlled setting without worry of legal consequences.
If you are seeking therapy with ketamine or cannabis, you should be able to find a legal source within a reasonable distance. A simple Google search will yield several clinics in any major metropolitan area.
Ketamine therapy is demonstrated to be especially effective at treating depression and anxiety, and further study is being conducted. Treatments tend to be quite expensive, but this is also relative; compared to a psychedelic retreat on another continent, a few ketamine infusion sessions might appear perfectly affordable. We’ve put together a guide on how to find ketamine assisted therapy near you.
Expanding Your Search
If you are unable to join a trial or are uncomfortable with exploring other local alternatives, you might consider traveling to a country like Mexico, Brazil, Jamaica, or Costa Rica with active psilocybin retreats. Mexico and Brazil in particular are also home to indigenous healers and psychedelic medicine people, both within retreat communities and separate from them.
As you begin to expand your search for a psychedelic healer or guide, we encourage you to remain conscious of your own wellness goals. It helps to set an intention for your first psychedelic session, even a very simple one. The more clarity you’re able to get on what you hope to gain from your psychedelic therapy experience, the more equipped you’ll be to learn and integrate those lessons successfully.
Before you meet your prospective therapist, you should have a basic concept of the issues you’re looking to explore in your therapy. Be prepared to discuss your goals, fears, and concerns openly with your therapist. While feeling vulnerable with a new person is uncomfortable, it’s important to be candid with your therapist so they can truly understand your situation.
If you’re one to get flustered or nervous when meeting people, it might help to write down your thoughts in advance or bring notes with you. Don’t worry about seeming overprepared or strange—the therapist has absolutely seen wilder things than a notebook. The important thing is that it helps you better express your needs, regardless of whether it appears “normal” or not. Odds are your therapist will appreciate the preparation and effort you’ve put into your healing.
It might also help to take some time to reflect on any insecurities or doubts you have around this type of therapy. If you have questions about psychedelic therapy, jot them down. If you have specific ideas about what might work for you in therapy, write that down, too. The more information you can bring to your therapist, the better equipped they’ll be to help you.
At the First Meeting
Once you’re ready, it’s time to meet your therapist. Ideally, you should be doing this in advance of your first psychedelic experience with this person. Few things feel less safe than being in an altered state of consciousness with someone you’ve only just met—ask any psychonaut.
When you arrive to meet your therapist, take notice of their space and the energy within it:
- Do you feel comfortable here? Welcome? Relaxed? Note these feelings, and feel empowered to trust your gut feeling, even—and perhaps especially—if it feels unsafe.
- Does the therapist have any staff or colleagues?
- How do you feel around them?
Once you’ve met your psychedelic therapist, be mindful of your first impressions:
- How able do you feel to open up to them honestly?
- Do you feel you could be vulnerable with them?
- Also, notice the space itself. Is this where you would have your psychedelic experience under this therapist’s care?
- Do they alter the space in any way to make it more conducive to psychedelic therapy sessions?
This is the time to ask about the methods this therapist employs during sessions:
- Will your work together be exclusively talk therapy, or will there be sensory elements incorporated into it as well?
- If it will primarily be talk therapy, what methods will they employ?
- Do you have any concerns you’d like to address with this person?
- How comfortable do you feel addressing those concerns together?
Your overall impressions of the different aspects of your therapist’s practice will inform your final decision of whether or not to continue working with them. There is no incorrect decision, just the one that’s best for you and your wellbeing.
You may feel pressured to work with a therapist out of fear that you won’t be able to find another, but don’t do anything out of fear. Though this isn’t an unfounded concern, your safety and comfort should take priority. If your first choice doesn’t work out, explore other options and practitioners. Don’t give up immediately.
After the First Meeting
After the first meeting, you might be on fire with excitement to get started with your therapeutic journey. That’s wonderful and worth celebrating! However, don’t schedule that session just yet.
It’s still a good idea to check references and do your own research. Public records searches are a good resource, especially if you are feeling less certain.
When you’re certain that this is the right therapist for you, it’s time to schedule your first psychedelic therapy session. Depending on the method or substance you’ll be working with, you’ll likely receive instructions from your therapist for preparation.
Follow these instructions, and call the therapist with any questions concerning medical interactions or other potential concerns. Eat sensibly and stay hydrated in the days leading up to your experience, and be sure to follow any specific directions to prepare for the day of your session.
You should also make arrangements for a trusted loved one to take you home from your session. This is because you may not be comfortable with—or capable of—driving immediately after your session has ended. A quiet ride home with a trusted friend or partner is certainly preferable to getting stuck with a chatty Lyft driver—or worse, the bus.
If this meeting didn’t go as you’d hoped and you don’t feel comfortable moving forward right now, that’s okay. If this is because you need more time to get to know this particular therapist before your first psychedelic session, that’s also okay. It’s perfectly fine to take a few sessions in this realm before incorporating altered states of consciousness.
If you don’t feel comfortable seeing this particular therapist again at all, that is also fine. Your comfort and safety are meaningful and important, and you shouldn’t attempt to force yourself to work with a therapist for any reason. It is important to understand exactly why you are not moving forward with this particular therapist so that you can include that in your research and due diligence for future healing options.
It is true that these therapists are not especially common (in an already understaffed field), but there will always be other opportunities. Continue to search for new providers and places to explore psychedelic therapy with someone you connect with.
When seeking a psychedelic therapist, it can be hard to know what to look for. Between legal concerns, ethical considerations, and conflicting information, psychedelic therapy is difficult to access in the United States.
When you are seeking a therapist who specializes in psychedelic techniques, explore your different possible options before making a decision. Don’t feel pressured to settle for a therapist you feel uncomfortable with, even if it takes time to find one that you connect with.
If you need personalized help in selecting the perfect therapist to fit your needs, we encourage you to reach out to us today. We also understand that the vetting process may take a while, and you have a sense of urgency to start your healing process. We can help you prepare for your psychedelic experience, select a trusted practitioner, and integrate the insights to make lasting change in your life. Simply book a free discovery call with us today to get started.