The basics of psychedelic therapy

With numerous documentaries, articles and mounting research being put out into the public space, one might ask, what is psychedelic therapy? Beginning to answer this question requires abase understanding of where the word psychedelic comes from, and a general understanding of the broader definition of therapy.


Defining Psychedelic

Psyche from the Greek translation for “mind” or “soul”, and delos, the Greek translation for “making clear” or “revealing”. The phrase “non-ordinary states of consciousness” is used commonly and needs a general definition: states of consciousness that significantly deviate from our normal waking mode of perception, awareness and cognition (thinking). At its core, psychedelic therapy is the use of psychedelic substances to elicit a non-ordinary state of consciousness in order to aid the psychotherapy process (using the "mind revealing" properties of the substance to help enhance the impact of the therapy).


How is it different than traditional talk therapy?


           The central difference between psychedelic therapy and traditional talk therapy is the introduction and use of a psychedelic substance to produce non-ordinary states of consciousness. Currently the only legal psychedelic substance available in the state of Minnesota, outside of research facilities, is Ketamine. The Institute for Integrative Therapies currently uses Ketamine in our practice of psychedelic therapy, and as soon as other psychedelics, including MDMA and psilocybin (magic mushrooms) are available for clinic use, IIT will be providing them. Currently our therapists are in the process of completing their MAPS MDMA therapy certification training and will be approved to deliver MDMA therapy by the time it is available in Minnesota, likely 1-2 years from now. Psilocybin is probably about 3-5 years away from approval.


The Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy process is like talk therapy in the following ways:


-      a focus on the identifying issues that individuals are facing or suffering from

-      collaboratively creating a treatment plan and personalized therapeutic approach

-      assisting/supporting individuals in the process of change and cultivating a trusting relationship


The main differences are the use of a psychedelic substances, coordination with a medical professional for the administration of the psychedelic medicine and integrating the experience of a non-ordinary state of consciousness following the psychedelic experience.


It can be difficult to say how the psychedelic therapy process "works" exactly for each individual, since there is such a broad range of experiences that a person can have, and most of the time it's ineffible (difficult or impossible to describe in words). Some people may process traumatic memories, while others may have "transpersonal" or spiritual experiences, and yet others may "let go" of self-stories that are harmful.

On a basic level the altered perceptions induced by psychedelic substances may allow for a new view into one’s own perception of the world, and what they see is there "place" in it.


Sometimes traditional “talk” therapy approaches can reach an impasse, where verbal and other “skills”-based work are inadequate in terms of reaching core sources of pain, suffering and conversely, inner-healing. The use of psychedelics can allow someone to experience a lifting of their defenses, a connection to self-compassion and empathy, and a softening of the barrier between the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind. This essentially allows someone to “go deeper” into their own experience, story and psyche, to find and strengthen their connections to their core sources of meaning, resiliency and strength.


Historical relevance and current terminology


           Psychedelics have been used ceremonially across cultures for millennia, and archeological evidence suggests that near every culture within proximity of psychedelics have used them in various ways- for healing, ritual, rites of passage and community-building. Much more recently, modern psychedelic research was abundant from the 1890’s through the 1950’s and then became more limited, and nearly completely prohibited, with the introduction of the 1960’s counterculture and the war on drugs in the United States. The term Psychedelic Psychotherapy refers to the use of psychedelic substances in medium to higher doses combined with a variety of psychological, therapeutic modalities. The term is not specifically tied to a single person, entity, or research group but rather a broad umbrella term being used the current renaissance of psychedelic medicine. In the 21st century organizations such as Johns Hopkins, NYU, and MAPS have conducted controlled double-blind studies exploring the medicinal qualities of psychedelics for a range of mental health disorders, and are producing impressive and promising results in for various conditions. As these organizations have conducted these studies, they have also produced quality control procedures to facilitate client’s experiences. The Institute for Integrative Therapies has modeled its treatment protocols based on current research to ensure high ethical standards, effective treatment, and individualized care.


Set and setting

           The environment in which this type of therapy is done in is paramount to effective treatment outcomes- this is called the “setting” and refers to both the physical and interpersonal environment that someone has their psychedelic experience within. Psychedelic Therapy is done in a clinical setting… well, sort of. Most mental health therapies take place in a “medicalized” and “clinical” feeling setting (think of a doctor’s office, or any other type of medical facility). For psychedelic therapy, this type of setting can be off-putting and quite often even stressful (medical offices frequently feel antisceptic, sterile and cold). That’s why it’s of paramount importance that psychedelic clinic be designed with proper “setting” in mind, and every detail of the physical space needs to be taken into account. The setting must include attention to all the aspects of our five senses. People in a psychedelic state are hypersensitive to environmental stimuli, meaning that every piece of art, every fiber of fabric, and every element must be curated thoughtfully to convey a deep sense of calm, safety and comfort, so that the traveler is free to “let go” and explore their experience as it unfolds. An improper or unwelcoming environment is likely to increase fear, distress and sense of estrangement. At the Institute for Integrative Therapies careful and thoughtful energy has been put into the curation of art, music (IIT Music), furniture and overall aesthetic. We use the phrase, “curating experiences” to describe the work and intention that we put into the development of setting. As an example, in our clinic, we use all-natural fibers, all of our furniture is “real” (ie. real, solid wood) and the design aesethetic feels natural, earthy and supportive (lots of living plants too). As IIT grows, we will further integrate and synthesize these elements, and have plans to fully architect spaces (settings) that are essentially living works of art (in collaboration with a team of like-minded artists and creatives), designed to best carry the psychedelic journey. We are also in the beginning stages of developing original soundtracks and music that are aimed to optimize the sound experience, match the “effects curve” of the psychedelic, and help "tell the story" of a traveler's experience in the "trip".


The second part of “setting” refers to the interpersonal landscape- meaning the relationships you have with your guides or facilitators. At IIT, we spend a lot of time in the “preparation” phase, working on building trusting relationships with both our physician and therapist. In order to ensure a positive experience, a traveler must feel comfortable with the team that accompanies them in their journey- when there is trust and connection, people feel safe, supported and able to fully immerse themselves in their journey, which requires a high degree of vulnerability and openness.


            Set refers to the mindset of the individual has while going into a psychedelic experience. It cannot be overstated the importance of what are called preparation sessions. Preparation sessions are focused on building a foundation in which to have a meaningful experience with psychedelic medicines. Given how powerful these medicines can be, it is necessary to help create sense of safety and security so that individuals experience can foster greater meaning and connection to life. Set extends beyond whatever current thoughts a person may have, and includes aspects such as mood, expectations, and the intentions they bring to their experience. Prior to a session an individual can expect to work closely with a trained clinician on developing intentions, desired outcomes, and reasonable expectations- we spend a lot of time in the preparation phase, working with people to develop a framework and approach for going into their psychedelic journey, and ensure that we address any and all anxieties, expectations and worries before going into the treatment phase.


At the Institute for Integrative Therapies, we follow the same overarching structure and process that has been developed by leading researchers, and which is employed by institutions such as John Hopkins, NYU, MAPS and the Heffter Institute- this is a 4-phase process consisting of:


-    Assessment: a mental health evaulation with an IIT therapist and a medical exam with our physician- to ensure that you are both psychologically and physiologically safe to have an experience.

- Preparation: (as we just described) working one on one with your therapist to build trust, explore intentions, goals and expectations, to develop a framework for approaching the psychedelic journey (we do as many ofthese as needed, typically numbering between 3-6)

-      Treatment session: This is where you come into the clinic and receive the psychedelic. The physician and therapist are with you during your journey, and their to support in the way that you most need them to. During this session you wear eyeshades and headphones, and we play curated music playlists to help carry your journey (see our blog on the use if music in psychedelic therapy for more details about the music curation process).

-      Integration: This is arguably the most important part of the psychedelic therapy process, and focuses on watering the seeds that were planted during your journey. This is where you work one on one with your therapist to process and explore your experience, and see how you can bring the lessons and insights into the daily practice. During this phase, your brain and mind are more “neuroplastic”, meaning that you’re able to learn and build new habits and connections more effectively. This is how the impact of the psychedelic experience can be carried long into the future. We can do as many integration sessions as needed- most people end up doing between 3-6 sessions during the integration phase.


A brief philosophy in using psychedelics


           The Institute for Integrative Therapies believes that in our modern and fast paced society, there is a crisis of meaning (IIT Philosophy), and suffering often comes when we feel purposeless and disconnected, and when our lives are dominated by painful stories that are minds ceaselessly narrate to us. While IIT believes that psychedelics should not be viewed as cure for mental health disorders, it does believe that these medicines can help individuals to have deeply meaningful experiences and to often reconnect with a sense of purpose and personal source of resiliency. A term often used in psychedelic medicine is Inner Healing Intelligence, which means each person has an innate inner drive towards healing and wholeness (just as a seed has an inner drive to become a flower). Non-ordinary states of consciousness, produced by psychedelics, can allow for increased access to our innate drive towards wellness and wholeness, and offer distance from the self-stories that aren’t serving us well.

To learn more about our philosophy and approach to psychedelic therapy, check out our FAQ page.







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