The Complexity of Guiding

We are launching this blog post series in hopes of joining in constructive conversation within the psychedelic community.  Through the series, individual staff members within CCM will share their personal perspectives and viewpoints. The views, information, and opinions expressed as part of this blog series are solely those of the author of each post and do not necessarily represent those of CCM and its employees as a whole. 

There is an ongoing discussion in different forums about the problem of abuse in psychedelic circles and the need to better train guides. We could not agree more. The Center for Consciousness Medicine (CCM) is deeply committed to safety, professionalism, and accountability in the field of psychedelics-assisted guiding and psychotherapy. In many ways, that is why CCM was born, to be a voice in the field, insisting on the importance of comprehensive training for guides.

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The Complexity of Guiding

Helping others to work with expanded states of consciousness is not an easy job. Of course, every profession has its occupational complexities; still, I am convinced that due to what it attempts to achieve, being a psychedelic guide (at least as CCM understands it) is not for the faint-hearted.  

Psychedelics can be defined as unspecific amplifiers or catalysts that make it possible to take a journey into one’s psyche and explore otherwise inaccessible deep recesses of the unconscious.(1) This means that they bring to the surface whatever is hidden deep in the unconscious. As any psychotherapist can tell you, this has an incredible healing potential AND conceivably is also a recipe for disaster.

It is common knowledge that the unconscious is the holder of all kinds of repressed and disowned material. Among other things, it includes our darkest impulses, hidden wounds, and private fantasies. If that was not enough, we also need to add archetypal and transgenerational forces dwelling in the collective unconscious.

The psychedelic guide job’s description includes the willingness and ability to work with these wild subterraneous currents, operating both in the clients and the guide, to facilitate healing and growth. A good guide must be able to engage not only at the mental-emotional level but also focus on the body, energetic, archetypal, and spiritual ones. To do this, they must become skilled in Western psychotherapy interventions as well as those emanating from the spiritual and shamanic traditions of the world. Quite an undertaking!

With such a high bar to meet, mistakes are bound to happen. In Mexico, an old proverb says: “In the soap maker’s house everybody either falls or slips” meaning that one should not be quick to judge others because, sooner or later, we too will make a blunder. In a way, guiding happens at the soap maker’s house.(2) But how can we reduce the risk of making such mistakes? The answer is quite simple: training, training, training. Or, more specifically, learning, doing our own inner work, staying humble (and getting plenty of supervision too!).

Being fully aware of the complexities of guiding, at CCM we begin our training by talking to the new students  about ethics. Safety and ethics are infused into the teaching modules at every step of the training. Two years later, we end our training reminding them again about the value of ethical behavior and their responsibilities towards clients. We spend time talking about the transference (including the erotic one) and countertransference, working with shadow material (the client’s and the guide’s), teaching about working with physical touch, respecting boundaries, working with childhood and attachment wounding, appreciating the power-differential in the guiding relationship, etc. We put particular emphasis on reminding them how and why the stakes are even higher when clients are in expanded states of consciousness.

However, talking about ethics is never enough. We help students to understand why these ethical principles and healthy boundaries are needed. Experience has shown that ethical principles rarely work when presented as a list of “thou shall not.” They only function when guides internalize and commit to upholding these principles.  

As it is often pointed out, psychedelics are going through a “renaissance.”  Among the many aspiring practitioners who approach CCM wanting to become guides, a few always want to do it for personal (often unconscious) reasons. There is often a guru or messiah syndrome somewhere to be found and/or old hidden childhood wounds crying for attention.  Our job is to teach them that being a guide requires a profound humbleness, an endless openness to learning, and an unwavering commitment to be of service to others. As expressed initially, being a psychedelic guide or a psychedelic-assisted psychotherapist is not for the faint hearted. It demands standards of care, ethics, and practice well above those in most related professions. The stakes are higher, and the potential for damage (and for healing) is formidable. We reiterate our pledge to continue working in training guides entirely devoted to such standards. Let’s do it together.

Sergio Rodriguez-Castillo*

CCM Core Faculty

*The following individual is writing in their personal capacity only and their views are not meant to represent the views of CCM or its staff as a whole. 

 

 1 Grof, S. (2006). The ultimate journey: Consciousness and the mystery of death. MAPS.

 2 Of course, as a good guide, I need to ask what unconscious motives move me to quote a Mexican proverb here? Is it a concealed superiority complex that makes me think that Mexican culture is better than…? Could it be an attempt to resist the pull to be assimilated into the dominant culture? Maybe it is a hidden unmet need to appear both wise and folksy. The fact is that we never know what lurks in the unconscious. :0