Medical Editor: Dr. Lynn Marie Morski, MD, Esq
As a growing number of people seek help for conditions like treatment-resistant depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety, there has been a renewed interest in psychedelic substances while researchers explore new therapies.
This has many people asking questions about psychedelic-assisted therapy and how to find trustworthy services.
Keep reading to learn about these treatments, the role of psychedelic-assisted therapy, and how to find a practitioner who provides it.
What is psychedelic-assisted therapy?
Psychedelic-assisted therapy is just what it sounds like: the use of psychedelic substances as part of the therapeutic process. People often have profound experiences with psychedelics, and psychedelic-assisted therapy aims to leverage the power of these insights, providing guidance as they are applied in an actionable plan for making positive changes in daily life.
There might be a period of preparation wherein a person works with a trained professional to set intentions and manage expectations for the experience. Of course, there is the experience itself, which may or may not have a therapist present at the time depending upon the specific circumstances.
Psychedelic integration occurs after an experience with psychedelics and involves working with a therapist to examine the effects and process any realizations and to inform a plan for behavioral and cognitive change.
Possible benefits in mental health treatment
Several psychedelic drugs were being explored for the treatment of mental health conditions before they were classified as Schedule 1 drugs in the late 1960s and banned for recreational use. While there were indications of beneficial effects when these substances were used in conjunction with psychotherapeutic support, prohibition paused further groundbreaking discoveries.
New efforts have emerged with studies and trials investigating the safety and efficacy of psychedelics when it comes to treating non-psychotic psychiatric conditions. Laws are beginning to shift regarding the legality of some psychedelic substances, which may allow for the more widespread practice of psychedelic-assisted therapy and integration therapies.
Psychedelics have the potential to benefit the treatment of mental health conditions and help psychologically healthy individuals live more meaningfully due to the mind-altering nature of such substances. While traditional medications are taken every day (sometimes indefinitely), psychedelics are administered a limited number of times with potentially lifelong effects. Integration therapy can increase the likelihood that these treatments will offer longer-term relief.
Despite many possible benefits, there are also many potential risks associated with psychedelics. It’s important to work with an experienced practitioner about whether or not psychedelics are an appropriate course of action. Psychedelics should not be used by people with certain health conditions and those who have a history or potential risk of psychosis. For more information, read Psychable’s guide Health Risks and Considerations for Psychedelics.
While additional research is required to fully understand psychedelics and how they can be applied to psychiatric treatment and personal well-being, some practitioners offer psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy or integration support in different capacities.
Where can I get psychedelic-assisted therapy?
The legality and availability of psychedelic-assisted therapy depend on the geographic location and its laws pertaining to different substances. This has an impact on the accessibility of these treatments in certain areas, though further research has the potential to change federal and local laws in the future.
Federally approved studies and trials are an exception and are allowed to obtain or create substances that haven’t yet been approved for widespread use so they can be tested following specific protocols. Practitioners, organizations, healing centers, and institutions that are offering psychedelic-assisted therapy for research publicly post opportunities for participation.
Some underground therapists and researchers do provide guidance and psychedelic-assisted therapy in a clandestine manner; however, such a practice is not legal outside of a research setting. This factor can make it difficult for people to find what they are looking for in certain cases, but several psychedelic-assisted therapy options are legal in the United States.
Ketamine is legal and widely available with a prescription at clinics across the country. To get the most out of the experience, look for clinics that offer integration services and a therapist who will be present during the treatment itself. Another option is to work with a therapist who is able to attend treatments and provide integration services afterward.
Both psilocybin and MDMA have been designated as Breakthrough Therapies by the FDA for treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with studies for additional uses underway. After a preparation process, these treatments are administered and then followed up with psychotherapy to process the experience, or at the same time as a psychotherapy session as a tool to facilitate progress and comfort for the seeker in processing difficult emotions.
Oregon recently voted to legalize the use of psilocybin and was the first jurisdiction in the world to outline specific laws for how it can be used therapeutically. While it remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance federally, advocates of psychedelic-assisted therapy are nonetheless optimistic that Oregon’s state-level decision will help bring awareness of and acceptance for the psychedelic therapy community, helping to create a path for greater accessibility.
Many mental health practitioners are beginning to offer integration therapy to people who have had MDMA, ayahuasca, mescaline, and LSD experiences independently and wish to process their experiences in a meaningful, intentional way with a therapist. don’
Qualifications of a practitioner
There are different types of practitioners who provide psychedelic-assisted therapy and integration therapy. Those who have an MD associated with their name are medical doctors who frequently specialize in psychology, and who can legally prescribe certain substances for therapeutic use. Other medical providers, like nurse practitioners, may also specialize in psychiatry and be able to prescribe certain medicines.
Licensed therapists, guides, and sitters can also be certified through programs like psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy training, therapist training, and specialty programs for working with certain substances as therapies. Training and certification programs are available from reputable organizations such as The California Institute of Integral Studies’ Center for Psychedelic Therapies and Research and The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
Certification and training courses in these areas, while reputable, are considered preliminary because in many cases, it is unknown what the FDA will consider acceptable if and when further legalization of psychedelic substances occurs.
Psychable’s directory is a great resource for discovering practitioners, guides, therapists, and doctors who offer psychedelic-assisted therapy and psychedelic integration services. Click here to check it out.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine also offers a plethora of information from scientific studies on the subject of psychedelic-assisted therapy. You might start here.