In my work with spiritual abuse survivors, it never ceases to surprise me that wherever folks are able to access spiritual connection and activation, abusers are so often standing by, prepared to take advantage of and credit for someone else's healing journey or spiritual expression. This can show up in many ways, such as a spiritual leader pursuing sexual connection with someone seeking emotional holding or guidance or financially exploiting those under the guise that they exclusively hold the key to an individual’s healing or enlightenment.
Spiritual abuse can show up in any kind of relationship where a power dynamic is at play, hence the importance of taking inventory of the power dynamics in each relationship we find ourselves in. To better define this, spiritual abuse is the conscious or unconscious use of power to direct, control, or manipulate another’s body, thoughts, emotions, actions, or capacity for choice, freedom, or autonomy of self (Reclamation Collective & Religious Trauma Institute).
As we know, many people do indeed tap into spiritual sensations of connection and expansion within psychedelic experiences, and thus it is vital to the safety and wellbeing of those receiving intervention and clinical care within psychedelic integrative therapies that we all take a little inventory of the power dynamics, boundaries, and protections that are put in place to ensure that people have access to autonomy and authenticity throughout their process.
My initial invitation to hold space for spiritual abuse survivors was prompted by community awareness of people abusing others within plant medicine and yogi contexts in the twin cities and greater Minnesota. These abuse narratives now help inform my practice, as I seek to advocate for greater awareness and protections for those navigating psychedelic interventions in a therapeutic context. The focus of my practice had historically been on religious trauma, however this opportunity has expanded my understanding of the spectrum of communities and contexts in which spiritual abuse can incur. Considering the courageous vulnerability that is invested in a psychedelic experience, it is key for clinicians holding this sacred space with folks to be mindful of protecting each individual’s sense of autonomy and safety throughout their experience. This can be curated in anumber of ways that invite an individual to have as much involvement in curating their own experience. When an individual’s psychedelic transcendence is understood to be “holy and organic” to them, it prevents the therapist/guide from claiming the power and credit for the individual’s healing journey, trauma work, and/or spiritual expression.
Kayla Felten is a psychedelic therapist with the Institute for Integrative Therapies, providing psychedelic therapy at IIT's St. Paul, Minnesota clinic. Kayla is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, with training in Ketamine-Assisted Therapy. Kayla is currently in the process of receiving training in MDMA-Assisted Therapy through MAPS.