Psychedelics and psychotherapy

My research interest is the ritual use of ayahuasca in small groups for insight and healing. I have further knowledge of the potential therapeutic applications of psilocybin, iboga/ibogaine, MDMA, LSD, ketamine, DMT, peyote and a range of other plant medicines and substances. Psychedelics and psychotherapy pursue overall goals of greater insights and well-being, though by different methods. The lessons from one can help with the other in a continuous, non-linear exchange.

Other therapists offer ‘preparation and integration’ services. By contrast, I am skeptical of templates, plans, systems or models. Such artefacts can only describe what worked in the past for somebody else. I am interested in what is unique to you in the present. Your therapy is like a hand-made suit or dress, rather than an off-the-peg garment. Every stitch is negotiated, and we adjust it every session.

That said, I think psychedelics and psychotherapy can work well together, including before and after your psychedelic experiences, whether recent, upcoming or decades ago. Just the same as psychotherapy is compatible with a range of other practices including yoga, meditation, dance, transformational breathing and so on. Sessions don’t focus on my expertise but rather your experience. Giving information, evaluations, advice or exercises is not part of my offer. These are available from a range of other sources, though I’m happy to discuss the results with you and what you make of it all. It’s your opinion, not mine, that counts.

Beyond that…

 
Think carefully

Think carefully

Looking for a psychedelic experience? AVOID underground therapists and ceremonies

I am an ‘overground’ therapist in that as a professional I operate within the law, with insurance, as a member of various regulatory bodies. There are other therapists and ceremonies that do not do these things, which I label ‘underground’.

I believe that psychedelics can help people, including and perhaps particularly those that have not been helped by Western medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy. I believe it is possible for most people to take psychedelics safely, and that psychedelics should be available to more people for insight, healing and recreation. I campaign for changes to make psychedelics more available, in the UK and internationally.

However, I strongly advise that if you want a psychedelic experience for insight and healing, you look for something that is:

  1. Legal

    Should you get into serious difficulty, there should be either a doctor on-hand or no hesitation in calling an ambulance, which can get you to a major hospital within 15 minutes.

    Ayahuasca is legal in Costa Rica and various other Central and South American countries. Peyote is legal within religious use in the USA. Psilocybin and ibogaine retreats operate in Portugal and elsewhere. MDMA therapy is not legal anywhere, as far as I know, beyond very limited clinical trials.

  2. Group-based

    • Don’t take psychedelics alone, particularly the first time, but even when you have gained experience.

      If you get into difficulties, you need someone there to help you. Straightforwardly, this could be physical symptoms e.g. heart attack. That is extremely rare but not unknown.

      What’s more likely is that you will need someone to reassure you during difficult moments. If that reassurance is not there, you may have a difficult and possibly traumatic experience. You cannot guarantee your physical safety, never mind your emotional and spiritual safety, if you are alone.

    • Don’t take psychedelics with just one other person. Unless you have known that other person personally, intimately, for years or, preferably, decades.

      Taking psychedelics with someone you don’t know so well, no matter their credentials, is an unnecessary risk. Unfortunately, sexual abuse by a shaman or a facilitator is reported from time-to-time, particularly (but not only) for women. If something bad or questionable happens to you, there will be no-one else there to confirm what happened, and then it’s your word against theirs - and you were on drugs.

    Group-based psychedelic sessions are also widely considered more effective for numerous reasons. That is why groups are the main mode offered by reputable centres. If the idea of journeying in a group troubles you, talk with a psychotherapist beforehand and separately, because it suggests something needs understanding better before you get into psychedelics.

 
Don’t journey alone

Don’t journey alone

Consider psychotherapy

While I can’t offer psychedelics, my experience and understanding is that psychotherapy can be profoundly helpful if given a chance. I appreciate that your past experiences of therapy may not have been positive. I wholeheartedly believe in the effectiveness of the psychotherapy I offer, in terms I outline elsewhere. This psychotherapy may be alongside seeking psychedelic experiences if you wish.

Underground ceremonies cannot offer what I do as a psychotherapist in terms of:

  • Five years of systematic, formal, university-accredited training focused on providing therapeutic support for you.

  • A lifelong, professional commitment to ethics and an official, well-documented and independent complaints procedure. I have a clean track record.

  • A written confidentiality policy, a relationship with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and GDPR compliant data processing, all to protect you.

  • Services that are within the law. We can contract safely for services of any duration without fear of being caught out or having to suddenly stop.

  • Regular supervision of my practice.

  • Work covered by insurance, including public liability and professional indemnity.

If you think I could be of service, please get in touch.

 
 
Art by William Blake

Art by William Blake

CAN YOU TELL ME WHERE I CAN GET PSYCHEDELICS? DO YOU PROVIDE PSYCHeDELIC PSYCHOTHERAPY? CAN YOU BE MY SITTER?

I cannot offer or help you find psychedelic experiences in the UK. I cannot conduct, promote or endorse activity that is illegal here due to ethical, legal and insurance constraints. I cannot be directly involved in your ceremony for the same reasons.

If you’re interested in ayahuasca, I have personal experience with the Soltara retreat center in Costa Rica.

In Europe, the London-based Psychedelic Society UK offer regular, legal, well-run Psychedelic Experience Retreats.

There is further useful information in ‘So, You Want To Find a Psychedelic Guide?’.

 
An appropriate setting is all-important

An appropriate setting is all-important

SHOULD I TAKE PSYCHEDELICS FOR MY ISSUE?

Only you can decide. Good information is available online, as also is some bad information, so exercise your judgement. I don’t consider it my role to assess, validate or recommend psychedelic treatments.

What I will say is that many common psychiatric drugs are considered incompatible with psychedelics (e.g. SSRIs, MAOIs), as are certain bodily states (e.g. pregnancy) and illnesses (epilepsy).

After that, it becomes trickier to assess eligibility. If you have serious, frequent problems with consensus reality (e.g. psychosis) or maintaining a coherent sense of self in daily life, exercise extreme caution.

Beyond that, you must do your own research.

I also want to manage expectations that despite the widespread enthusiasm and hope around psychedelics at present, it is unlikely that a single psychedelic experience will provide an immediate, lasting change in long-term problems. Where change is reported, this is usually the result of extensive work in terms of changing habits and taking up other practices, including psychotherapy.

 
A dance

A dance

Aren’t psychedelics dangerous? What about bad trips, jumping off the balcony?

Besides their illegality in the UK, psychedelics contain powerful psycho-active compounds that demand caution and respect.

My research and review of the literature suggest that psychedelics are relatively safe if you closely follow appropriate protocols. These protocols relate to the substance, setting, (mind)set and sitters/facilitators. I agree with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) that a ‘bad trip’ can, in the right circumstances, be seen as a spiritual challenge and an opportunity for growth.

In poor settings, on the other hand, first that’s when deaths and serious injury happen, of which there are several reports. Second, even if physical safety is assured, poor facilitation means that these challenging experiences can become incredibly difficult, traumatising and have lasting negative effects.

Michael Pollan provides a balanced assessment in ‘What do we know about the risks of psychedelics?’

Need further information?

I maintain a distinction between visiting me for a paid psychotherapy session and meeting to exchange information about psychedelics. The contexts, contract and expectations are different. Some resources are above, and I also refer you to my work with the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines, who publish a range of worthwhile articles.

My schedule generally prevents me from delivering 1-1 information and advice about psychedelics in-person, but feel free to reach out if you need.