Psychedelic-assisted therapy, PAT, is an approach to healing that combines traditional therapeutic modalities with the use of psychedelic substances in a supervised and intentional setting to induce an expanded state of consciousness for the purposes of healing and growth. Psychedelics are a class of hallucinogenic substances that trigger non-ordinary states of consciousness. Commonly used substances, both natural and human-created are: (LSD), mushrooms (psilocybin), ecstasy (MDMA), ayahuasca, DMT (dimethyltryptamine), and ketamine. They alter our brain chemistry in such a way that both client and practitioner have access to deeper layers of the unconscious than might otherwise be available. Psychedelics can help reveal, amplify, or deconstruct unconscious perceptions, patterns, and behaviors. They can also reveal one’s inherent goodness or essential self, ultimately providing a sense of belonging and wholeness.
Psychedelics are one way to induce expanded states. There are numerous other methods; breath work, meditation, dance, music, prayer, fasting, etc. Psychedelic-assisted therapy can be experienced in individual or group contexts. Sessions are conducted in spaces dedicated to therapeutic work. The experience itself can last anywhere from a few minutes to many hours, depending on the substance and method.
At CCM we teach the practice of PAT where it is lawful, in the context of a federally approved research trial or in a jurisdiction where such training and practice is prohibited. The way we teach and practice PAT at The Center for Consciousness Medicine, or CCM, sessions are a synthesis of psychotherapeutic methods and the ceremonial practices of Indigenous Mazatec culture. This means that we approach these methods and substances with reverence and a goal toward healing, balance, and wholeness. In these sessions, commonly referred to as “journeys,” profound realizations can and do occur, often along with potent sensory and emotional experiences. While it is commonly said that these plants, compounds and substances induce psychedelic experiences, it’s more accurate to say that they shine a light on a part of the human experience that was previously unconscious.
Departing from the standard definition of PAT, CCM relies on a holistic approach to mental health and wellness. This model is somatically informed, meaning it draws on the wisdom of the body. It is community informed, because we are all interconnected. Community health and well being is inextricably linked to individual health and well-being. It is non-dogmatic, spiritually informed, meaning these practices are free from particular religious affiliations while remaining deeply rooted in Spirit, reverence and reciprocity. Within this frame, we view addiction, mental illness and other “pathologies” as symptoms of imbalance and thus, seek to bring an individual back into balance in all aspects of their lives. Ultimately, holistic approaches are not new ideas, but rather reflect and draw upon indigenous wisdom traditions that perceive the human as an integral thread in an interrelated web of being.
All healing happens in relationship
At The Center for Consciousness Medicine, we believe in the importance of relationships in healing and hence, rely on a relational model of therapy. It is possible for humans suffering from all kinds of trauma to transform through a relationship with a therapist or guide who is able to hold a compassionate, loving presence. The therapist isn’t there to “heal” the client, they are there as a guide, a midwife, a friend of the soul. They are there as someone who understands the landscape, who knows psychedelics and what they are capable of, who understands the terrain of the psyche. A skilled psychedelic-assisted therapist has done and is committed to their own work. They act as a mirror of the client’s innate goodness, listening attentively, offering space and simultaneously tracking their own process as the relationship unfolds.
The wound is the door
Trauma is stored in the body, so too, healing must happen in the body. A well trained psychedelic-assisted therapist knows how to track and access signals in the body and utilize them as the doorways to healing. A psychedelic-assisted therapist, trained at CCM, recognizes the brilliance of the body for developing these survival strategies. They work with the client in allowing old stories connected to trauma the space to breathe so that the nervous system has an opportunity to experience trust, to relax, and to form new neural pathways from which to respond to life.
The psychedelic-assisted therapist knows the nuanced way psychedelics can disorganize the usual modes of perception and meaning making that are responsible for one’s behavioral patterns and core beliefs. This disorganization provides an opening, a new point of access. Through active engagement with the psyche, an opportunity is present for the client to perceive the aspects, stories, and beliefs that make up their life in a new way. A skilled psychedelic-assisted therapist also works with the client to make room for the shadow that is revealed through psychological exploration. Through relational trust and somatic tracking, the unconscious is made conscious. Healing the psyche by bringing all parts of the individual into conscious awareness, leads to an increase in empathy. That empathy can expand outward in concentric circles beyond the self, to family, community, the human family, the non-human family and finally the world. For this reason, it is possible to view PAT as a powerful means of addressing the current mental health and climate crises and radically transforming global suffering.
Integration is everything
Preparation and integration are key to an expanded state experience translating into lasting transformation and wholeness. PAT provides a framework so that insights don’t dissolve into transitory state experiences. While expanded state experiences can be beautiful and sometimes intense, it isn’t about the experience as much as how well what was seen, felt and experienced during a session was metabolized and integrated once out of the journey.
Sessions can take a variety of forms but, generally, at minimum, include a phase of preparation involving meeting with an educated practitioner or therapist, a multi-hour session where the client has prior to the session ingested a psychedelic and experiences a non-ordinary state of consciousness supported by the therapist, and a phase of integration that involves meetings with the therapist to integrate the insights that arose. PAT can, and often does, evolve into an ongoing standard format therapeutic relationship.
CCM’s approach of using well trained guides and a therapeutic relational container, improves upon the current, western medical paradigm in order to maintain efficacy. This approach differentiates from some of the clinical work that is happening in regards to psychedelic-assisted therapies by emphasizing the work and role of the guide. It is a belief at CCM that the guide can only take the client as far as they have gone themselves, therefore making it prudent for practitioners to have done, and maintain a commitment, to doing their own personal work and ongoing supervision with their practice. At the Center for Consciousness Medicine, we believe that psychedelic-assisted therapy, when guided by a trained professional using a rigorous intake process and therapeutic protocol, is the most potent and efficient way to alleviate human suffering.
PAT is currently legal in the United States with the use of Ketamine by prescription. MDMA, Psilocybin, and other substances may be approved by the FDA to treat or manage various diagnoses in the coming years.
History of psychedelic-assisted therapy at The Center for Consciousness Medicine
CCM was co-founded by a group of individuals who have invested 30+ years of study and apprenticeship with psychedelic healing practices including a specific Mazatec lineage in Mexico. With their blessing, these practices are being transmitted with the goal of greater access for all. In 2018 The Center for Consciousness Medicine was founded to provide programs to transmit this knowledge so that those who are called may carry it forth and serve others.
CCM’s co-founders have been working directly with clients ingesting psychedelics in Mexico (in a legal context) and holding the psychotherapeutic process surrounding the use of psychedelics for 35 years. An incredible amount of experiential knowledge has been cultivated through these decades of experience. The Indigenous framework deeply informs the holistic way in which we work with clients, as does the body of wisdom coming out of the field of psychotherapy. CCM upholds rigorous psychotherapeutic training standards emphasizing the value of thorough preparation and integration as critical components of the psychedelic experience. The results are observable. Clients going on to lead more balanced, engaged, meaningful lives, fueling a need for psychedelic-assisted therapies to be increasingly available and accessible.