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Once seen as a high among hippies, psilocybin and other psychedelics are growing in popularity as wellness tools for mental and emotional health.
In areas of the world where psychedelic substances are legal, hallucinogens used at psychedelic retreats are becoming a breakthrough therapy for conditions including treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Rooted in the Greek words psyche (mind) and deloun (show), psychedelics refer to hallucinogenic substances that cause altered states of consciousness as well as psychological, visual, and auditory changes.
Mainstream entertainment is even taking note of the trend of psychedelic therapy. In “The Goop Lab,” Gwyneth Paltrow’s miniseries on Netflix, several of her employees travel to Jamaica to take psilocybin under the guidance of psychotherapists.
The latest scientific research in hallucinogens shows the potential for these drugs, which are illegal in many parts of the world, to be helpful in healing, in the right atmosphere, and with professional guidance.
What is Guided Psychedelic Therapy?
Guided psychedelic therapy is, as it sounds, the use of psychedelic or mind-altering substances in therapy with a guide and in a controlled and safe environment. Psychology Today reports that the use of psychedelics is promising in the area of substance abuse treatment.
When using a psychedelic substance, especially for the first time, having a trained professional to guide you through the healing process is vital.
Clinical trials show that taking psychedelic substances in a controlled and monitored setting can safely bring about lasting psychological and behavioural changes.
Psychedelics used in guided therapy include indigenous hallucinogens such as ibogaine and ayahuasca, mushroom-derived psilocybin, and ketamine, a drug used in anesthesia that has effects that can be conducive to therapy in some patients. Studies are also being done on MDMA and whether it can be a useful aid in psychedelic therapy.
Why Psychedelic Therapy?
Starting in the 1950s, research into LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs held medical promise. Research waned by the 1970s, and by then, psychedelic substances had gained a reputation for being dangerous. By the 1990s, though, research into psychedelics began to show the validity of their use as therapeutic tools.
In untrained hands, psychedelics can indeed be dangerous, and anyone taking a psychedelic substance is in a vulnerable position. This is why having a therapist you can trust is essential to the safe and effective use of psychedelics in therapy.
Interest is growing in psychedelic therapy because of their effects and that many of them are plant-based and natural. Psychedelics can also be effective when other, more mainstream treatments have failed.
Psychedelic therapies differ, but usually, patients listen to music through headphones as they lie down and feel hallucinogens’ effects. Once the psychedelic effects subside, the therapist discusses the experience with the patient. More psychotherapy sessions and patient monitoring follow.
Among conditions that respond well to psychedelic therapy are anxiety in patients with terminal cancer, PTSD, substance abuse, and depression that has not responded to other treatments.
Choosing a Psychedelic Retreat
Using psychedelics as therapy in a retreat setting can check off many of the safe psychedelic therapy boxes. This therapy is set in a peaceful and controlled setting run by professional therapists.
The surrounding beauty and amenities of a resort bring positive experiences, and those make for positive outcomes while using psychedelics such as psilocybin, ibogaine, ketamine, or ayahuasca. Trained therapists guide experiences, and guests can also enjoy chef-prepared meals, massages, and more.
Treatment centers are located in cities and offer care that may be more accessible depending on where you live.
When choosing a psychedelic wellness retreat or treatment center, be sure to first consult your medical team for their input. You should also be aware of any health risks as well as the legality of the retreat. Finally, be aware of what you will be ingesting and its strength.
Care Before and After
If you are contemplating guided psychedelic therapy, understand that the care spectrum expands beyond therapy sessions to include pre- and post-session care.
Before any psychedelic therapy, talk with your mental health provider to decide if psychedelic therapy is right for you. Following therapy, make sure to have psychotherapy sessions planned to discuss and deconstruct what breakthroughs are made.
Psychedelic Wellness Retreats
Well Beings Counselling values what guided psychedelic therapy in a wellness psychedelic retreat setting can offer patients and sees psychedelic therapy as one of many effective tools to treat conditions such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Here are several psychedelic wellness retreats that offer innovative therapies that are calming for the mind and spirit in breathtakingly beautiful surroundings. The wellness and lifestyle brand Goop, founded by Paltrow, has noted these options.
Set in a rainforest along the Gulf of Nicoya in Costa Rica, Soltara Healing Center offers ayahuasca sessions that can last from five days to three weeks. Sessions are led by indigenous Peruvian healers as well as clinical psychologists and use traditional plant-based therapies to help patients release self-limiting beliefs and gain a greater connectedness.
In the Amazon region of Pucallpa, Peru, Niwe Rao Xobo offers traditional Shipibo ayahuasca therapies in a 14-day program that includes periods of isolation in the rainforest on a restrictive diet to help clear trauma and painful psychological or emotional experiences.
Using mindful language techniques and self-inquiry in addition to plant-based ibogaine therapies, Pangea Biomedics is located near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Emphasis is also placed on nutrition, including superfoods and prebiotics and probiotics, to revitalize the body and repair the neurological damage that can be caused by trauma, substance abuse, and stress.
In Cancun on Mexico’s sunny Yucatan peninsula, Clear Sky Recovery offers ibogaine-assisted drug detox therapies and multiple medical ibogaine studies focused on addiction. Psychotherapy and meditation are among other techniques used in confronting issues contributing to substance abuse and lifestyle choices. Patients leave more able to cope with not only addiction but the causes behind it.
This resort in Amsterdam offers three- and five-day retreats where patients consume doses of psilocybin from truffles to gain creative breakthroughs, remove negative thought patterns, find meaning and purpose, and explore consciousness. Saunas, yoga, plant-based meals, and private and group coaching are part of the experience in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
Psychedelic Treatment Centers
Care providers who offer guided psychedelic therapy in treatment centers may be more accessible than wellness retreats and resorts, depending on where you live. These guided psychedelic treatments are done on an outpatient basis, with counselling and other supportive therapies included in care to reach successful outcomes.
Based in Los Angeles, Dr. Will Siu offers treatment for mood and personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, and other conditions and helps patients manage their medications. In some cases, Siu helps patients manage their conditions without medication. Ketamine, a legal medication used in anesthesia that induces a trance-like state, is incorporated into care when appropriate.
Ember Health, located in Brooklyn, N.Y., uses ketamine treatments to help patients suffering from depression take back control of their lives. Treatment includes four 60-minute ketamine infusions over two weeks, following American Psychological Association guidelines.
This Fort Collins, Colorado-based mental health center, offers integrative psychiatry, naturopathic medicine, and, for some patients, ketamine therapy. For those patients with treatment-resistant mental health conditions, the ketamine experience offers a break from the ordinary mind and a reduction in defensive and negative thinking.
Licensed professional counselor Craig Salerno of Boulder, Colorado, helps patients who suffer from addiction, depression, anxiety, and trauma. Treatments include mindfulness and meditation as well as ketamine-assisted therapy, when appropriate. Ketamine therapy is just one of Salerno’s range of therapies and is not available a la carte.
Also, in Boulder, Colorado, Marcela Ot’alora G. helps patients who are coping with trauma and suffering from depression with ketamine sessions. She also heads an MDMA-assisted psychotherapy research site for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
Is Psychedelic Therapy Right for You?
While interest is increasing in guided psychedelic therapy as a trend, it is not right for everyone, nor is it a panacea for all mental health conditions. Before scheduling a trip overseas for a guided psychedelic retreat, talk with your mental health care provider about your personal condition, whether psychedelic therapy would help, and the physiological and emotional risks involved in this care.
If you and your mental health team have determined that psychedelic therapy could possibly help your condition or even provide lasting improvement to your mental health, schedule therapy sessions afterward to discuss what was revealed during guided psychedelic therapy and how that has affected your life.
Understand that even with guided psychedelic therapy sessions, the healing but sometimes difficult psychotherapy and introspection work will be needed for meaningful change to occur.
Whether through wellness retreats in exotic locations or at treatment centers in major cities, guided psychedelic therapy can be a useful tool in helping some patients see the improvements in their emotional and mental health to live fuller, happier lives.