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 a non-ordinary, or expended, state of consciousness for the purposes of healing and growth. “Psychedelic-assisted therapy” is a commonly used word to refer to working with psychedelics in a therapeutic context.
Psychedelics are a class of hallucinogenic substances that trigger non-ordinary states of consciousness. Commonly used substances, both natural and human-created are: Acid (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 clients unconscious than might otherwise be available. Psychedelics can help reveal, amplify, or deconstruct unconscious perceptions, patterns, and behaviors. They also have the potential to reveal one’s inherent goodness or essential self, ultimately providing a sense of belonging and wholeness.
At Gather Well we prefer the term psychedelic healing modalities (rather than Psychedelic- assisted therapy) as it is more inclusive of practices with psychedelics that do not ascribe to a psychotherapeutic framework or psychologized lens of self, other and the collective. Here at Gather Well we synthesis trauma informed counseling frameworks and ceremonial practices*, approaching these practices with reverence and a goal toward healing, balance, and wholeness. This model is somatically informed, meaning it draws on the wisdom of the body. It is trauma-informed, meaning practitioners learn the complex ways trauma is experienced, held in the body, and can impact the life of an individual and of culture. 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 within people but also within the culture that they exist in. Thus, we seek to bring an individual back into balance in all aspects of their lives, while also maintaining a cultural context, and believe in a collective responsibility to change culture to relieve suffering for the individual, rather than relying on the individuals most suffering to change the culture. 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 nature, and greater contexts of existence.
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. 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 may be more accurate to say that they shine a light on the parts of the human experience that were previously hidden from view aka, unconscious.
Integration is everything
Preparation and integration are key to an expanded state experience translating into lasting transformation. Preparation and integration practices provide a framework so that insights and embodied changes don’t dissolve into transitory state experiences. While expanded state experiences can be beautiful and sometimes intense, the greatest value toward healing isn’t about the experience itself as much as how well what was seen, felt and experienced during a session was metabolized and integrated once out of the experience.
Psychedelic healing modalities can take a variety of forms but, ideally for careful practice and lasting change, at minimum, include a phase of preparation involving meeting with an educated practitioner, guide or therapist, a multi-hour session where the client has ingested a psychedelic and experiences a non-ordinary state of consciousness supported by the guide, and a phase of integration that involves meetings with the guide to integrate the insights that arose. Guides, practitioners and therapists can sometimes offer ongoing formats therapeutic relationship, meeting weekly for talk sessions, or at regular intervals.
All healing happens in relationship
At Gather Well Psychedelics, we believe in the importance of relational healing. 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 to accompany, as a guide, a midwife, a friend of the soul. They are there as someone who to some degree understands the landscape; who knows psychedelics and what they are capable of, who understands the terrain of the psyche. A skilled psychedelic practitioner or guide, has done and is committed to doing their own personal work.
The wound is the door
Trauma is stored in the body, so too, healing must happen in the body. A well trained psychedelic guide knows how to track and access signals in the body and recognize them as the doorways to healing. A psychedelic guide trained at Gather Well Psychedelics, recognizes the brilliance of the body for developing these survival and coping 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.
They are well educated about the role of consent as well the ways someone with trauma may not be able to state consent or uphold the very boundaries they need to heal. They move gently, always with informed consent, never from their own self benefit or agenda. They trust the clients innate capacity to heal and respectfully follow their lead.
The psychedelic guide 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 of understanding and ultimately empowerment in one’s own life. 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 guide also works with the client to make room for the shadow of the client in their work together (often uncomfortable or confronting parts of oneself or parts of one’s relational strategies that are unconscious but affect one’s life and the people and culture around them). Through relational trust and somatic tracking, the unconscious can be made conscious. Healing oneself by bringing all parts of the individual into conscious compassionate awareness, leads to an increase in empathy, empowerment, a capacity for connection to others who may be similar or different from ourselves. That empathy and capacity 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 psychedelic healing modalities as a powerful means of addressing the current mental health, sociopolitical, and climate crises and radically transforming global 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. At Gather Well Psychedelics, we teach practice engaging psychedelic substances where it is lawful, and for use in jurisdictions where such practices are not prohibited.