The Value of Mentorship for Psychedelic-Assisted Therapists
The main intent of mentorship is to support and grow an honest, humble and safely practicing therapist or “guide.” Mentorship is ultimately in service of the wellbeing of the clients the guide/therapist serves. Mentors assist mentees (guides and psychedelic-assisted therapists who have agreed to a mentorship relationship) in monitoring their own triggers, becoming aware of projections, tracking their egos, helping them uncover the unconscious material that inevitably surfaces in therapeutic relationships, and in being accountable to the impact they have on their clients.
When one thinks of mentorship, one might imagine the clinical model, the role of a supervisor who monitors cases and reports problems. Or they might imagine the need for mentorship being a reflection of some kind of inadequacy, inexperience, or because of underdeveloped ethics. We’d like to invite another perspective on what mentorship is, one that is framed more positively, is less hierarchical, one that holds the mentee in their basic goodness and humanity. The kind of mentorship we are referring to, that we support in our training programs, engenders feelings of empowerment and humility. It supports growth in the practitioner, in service to their clients. It is a potent, ongoing relationship in which a guide may receive mirroring and insight about both their strengths and weaknesses. It’s an opportunity for guides to deepen their connection to themselves and their shadow or unconscious aspects. Mentorship in this light is neither a burden nor a clinical hoop to jump through, but a meaningful, fulfilling and sincere relationship in which a guide has a unique opportunity to learn and grow both personally and in their role as a guide. We believe it is essential to safe and ethical practices.
That a guide assumes the role of a mentee is a mark of humility, a relationship to be proud one is engaging in. In a culture that extols the virtues of exceptionalism and expertise, mentorship provides a framework in which to receive feedback and temper the possibility of ego conflation, false shamanism, arrogance, and most importantly, in mitigating potential harm to clients. Traditionally, this kind of healing work isn’t done in isolation. It takes place within a community structure, with guidance, and with permission from elders. The mentorship model we advocate for follows this notion. We believe no one ought to be working with something as precious as the psyche and soul of another being, especially given the complexities of expanded state of consciousness, without ongoing mentorship, without some form of accountability and reflection.
People tend to pursue becoming psychedelic therapy practitioners because they want to help other people heal. They genuinely want to be of service. They may have experienced the meaningful transformation from psychedelic-assisted therapy. Or perhaps recent research results have inspired their interest in this particular modality. Regardless of how one comes to this work, even with the purest intention, working with such approaches is very complex, particularly around the themes of projection, transference and countertransference. All clients deserve a guide that is willing to do everything they can to provide the safest and most supportive relationship possible to assist the client’s tender unfolding. Mentorship acts in part as an anchor in humility; to help the practitioner uphold the intention they came to this work with, namely, to be of service to those that seek healing. In a mentorship relationship, the practitioner, regardless of the length of time spent practicing, remains a student, maintains a “beginner’s mind,” a mind/heart that is open, curious, humble and committed to being the best version of themselves.
A mentor is someone who has many years of experience working with clients and guides. They are individuals who have accepted the role and responsibility of what it means to be a mentor and are willing to commit to the relationship. A mentor is someone who isn’t afraid to be honest with their mentee, to name what they see even if it is challenging, to hold them accountable. They are ideally, someone who sees the unique gifts and goodness in the mentee and seeks to bring those qualities further to the surface. At the same time, a mentor is not one’s therapist, guide or coach. Best practices would suggest a mentor is assigned by an experienced supervisor, therapist, or chosen by the practitioner, with supervision and/or community oversight.
For mentorship to be effective, there must be an agreement to show up consistently, in the same way one would with a therapist or coach. Regular, scheduled meetings, the kind where one shows up even when they don’t want to or think they might not “need” the session, are essential for growth to occur as a practitioner. It is our stance that anyone practicing as a guide should participate in ongoing mentorship, for the duration of their time as a guide, however brief or longer term. Ideally, the mentor has a mentor, ad infinitum.
As the field of psychedelic-assisted therapy is developing it is essential that structures creating safety for clients are put in place. Mentorship for practicing guides is one of these structures. In the clinical psychotherapy world, as well as in other mental health approaches, there are hundreds of hours of training, assessment and supervision and a governing board such as the Board of Behavioral Sciences overseeing transgressions and malpractice instances. While it is still unclear what shape the field of psychedelic-assisted therapy will take, amongst other facets of this developing field, we advocate for the invaluable services mentorship provides to practitioners and ultimately towards the wellbeing of the clients they serve.
The mentor/mentee relationship is one that has the potential to be deeply nourishing and resourcing for the guide. It is our hope that guides might view being in relationship with a mentor as a source of inspiration and pride, pointing neither to insufficiency or inferiority, but rather, to the deep and sincere commitment to the wellbeing of clients seeking healing. Mentorship provides an essential role in a much needed system of accountability, an opportunity to practice humility and an ongoing learning environment in which client care is given primary importance.