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Integrative Psychiatry

The Role of Spirituality In Psychedelic Therapy

By December 11, 2023January 5th, 2024No Comments

The popularity of psychedelic therapy is on the rise as more individuals seek alternative and innovative approaches to mental health treatment. However, it is crucial that psychotherapists who offer psychedelic therapy have an understanding about the spiritual aspects that often accompany psychedelic experiences.

Psychedelic therapy is quite different from ordinary state therapy; therefore, creating a safe and supportive environment is essential so clients can explore mystical experiences that may arise in session.

What is Psychedelic Therapy?

Psychedelic therapy, also known as psychedelic-assisted therapy or psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, refers to the use of psychedelic substances in conjunction with therapeutic practices to facilitate psychological healing and personal growth. 

These substances, such as psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine, are administered under controlled and supervised conditions by trained professionals.The therapeutic approach involves creating a supportive environment for individuals to undergo a guided psychedelic experience. 

The History of Psychedelic Therapy

Psychedelic therapy has a rich history that dates back many decades. In the mid-20th century, researchers like Stanislav Grof and Humphry Osmond conducted pioneering work with psychedelics for therapeutic purposes. They explored the potential of substances like LSD and psilocybin in treating various mental health conditions. 

Therapeutic Potential 

Numerous studies and clinical trials have demonstrated the therapeutic potential of psychedelics in addressing a range of mental health conditions. To date, most research has focused on the treatment of depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, and end-of-life distress.

Research-backed efficacy

Numerous studies and clinical trials have provided evidence for the efficacy of psychedelic therapies. For example, research has shown significant reductions in depressive symptoms and improved emotional well-being among individuals undergoing psilocybin-assisted therapy. MDMA is finishing a phase 3 FDA trial for PTSD with impressive results, and there is a vast amount of literature on the efficacy of ketamine for depression. This research-backed efficacy highlights the potential of psychedelics as a valid therapeutic option.

Transformative effects

Psychedelic therapy can have transformative effects on individuals’ emotional well-being and overall quality of life. The intense and immersive experiences induced by psychedelics can lead to profound insights, increased self-awareness, and enhanced emotional processing. These transformative effects can facilitate personal growth, promote positive behavioral changes, and improve overall mental well-being.

  • Expanded Consciousness: Psychedelics can induce altered states of consciousness that allow individuals to perceive the world in new and profound ways. This expanded consciousness can lead to insights, epiphanies, and a deeper understanding of oneself and the world.
  • Emotional Healing: Psychedelic therapy can facilitate emotional healing by allowing individuals to confront and process unresolved trauma, grief, or emotional pain. It can help individuals access deep-seated emotions, release emotional blockages, and promote emotional well-being.
  • Increased Self-Awareness: Psychedelics can enhance self-awareness and introspection. They can bring clarity to one’s thoughts, beliefs, and patterns of behavior, enabling individuals to gain a deeper understanding of themselves, their motivations, and their relationships.

The Therapist’s Role in Psychedelic Therapy

Psychedelic therapy is a specialized form of therapy that requires therapists with unique qualities and skills. These therapists play a crucial role in guiding individuals through transformative healing experiences.

Being a psychedelic therapist requires a deep capacity for empathy, compassion, and client-centered approaches. These qualities allow therapists to establish a genuine connection with their clients, creating a safe and non-judgmental space for exploration and healing. Therapists must be skilled in active listening and clear communication to understand their clients’ experiences and guide them through the therapeutic process.

Training Programs

Proper training is of the utmost importance for therapists in the field of psychedelic therapy. It ensures that therapists possess the necessary knowledge, skills, and qualifications to provide safe and effective psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Therapists undergo specific education and training programs to develop their expertise in psychedelic therapy. These programs often include coursework on topics such as the therapeutic use of psychedelics, understanding altered states of consciousness, integration techniques, research, DEI, and ethical considerations.

Ethics and Legal Considerations

In the field of psychedelic therapy, therapists must navigate complex ethical and legal considerations to ensure the well-being and safety of their clients. Here are some key aspects that therapists must be mindful of:

  • Informed Consent: Therapists must obtain informed consent from clients before engaging in psychedelic therapy. This involves thoroughly explaining the potential risks, benefits, and alternative treatment options, allowing clients to make an informed decision about their participation.
  • Appropriate Therapeutic Boundaries: Establishing and maintaining appropriate therapeutic boundaries is crucial in psychedelic therapy. Therapists must maintain a professional relationship with their clients, avoiding dual relationships or personal involvement that could compromise the therapeutic process. Therapists must also be trained extensively on therapeutic touch.
  • Adherence to Regulations and Guidelines: Therapists must stay up-to-date with the regulations and guidelines set forth by governing bodies and professional organizations. These may include specific protocols for administering psychedelics, record-keeping requirements, and guidelines for ethical conduct. Adhering to these standards ensures that therapists provide care within legal and ethical frameworks.

Spirituality in Psychedelic Therapy

The use of psychedelics in therapy has long been associated with profound spiritual experiences. The connection between psychedelics and spirituality lies in their ability to transcend ordinary states of consciousness and facilitate a deep exploration of one’s inner world.

Set and Setting Matters for Spiritual Experiences

The mindset (set) and physical environment (setting) play a crucial role in allowing for spiritual experiences to emerge in a safe way during a psychedelic therapy session. Research shows that both factors significantly influence the depth and transformative potential of psychedelic therapy sessions. Here are some key points to understand the overlap between set and setting and spiritual experiences that may occur during psychedelic therapy:

  1. Influence of Mindset and Environment: The mindset or mental state of an individual before and during a psychedelic experience can greatly impact the nature of their spiritual experience. Factors such as beliefs, expectations, emotional states, and intentions can shape the direction and depth of the experience. 
  2. Creating a Supportive Setting: Establishing a supportive and safe setting is essential in enhancing the potential for profound spiritual insights during therapy sessions. This involves carefully considering elements such as lighting, comfortable seating or lying down arrangements, soothing music or soundscapes, and minimal external distractions.
  3. Intention Setting and Preparation: Intentional preparation can significantly enhance the depth and quality of the experience. Setting clear intentions, reflecting on personal goals and desires for the experience, and engaging in practices such as meditation, journaling, or guided visualization can help individuals enter the experience with focused awareness and openness to spiritual insights. 
  4. Integration Practices: The integration of spiritual insights gained during psychedelic experiences is a vital aspect of optimizing the therapeutic benefits. Integration practices, such as ongoing reflection, journaling, discussion with a therapist or support groups, and incorporating mindfulness or meditation practices into daily life, can help individuals integrate and apply their spiritual insights in practical ways, leading to long-lasting positive changes.

Psychedelics, Spirituality, and Mental Health

The intersection of psychedelics, spirituality, and mental health is an area of growing interest. Researchers and practitioners are examining the potential therapeutic benefits of  psychedelic-assisted therapy and the relevance of spiritual experiences for mental health. As a psychedelic-assisted therapist, having a really solid grasp of how to work with spiritual experiences on psychedelics is essential in order to get the most out of a session and also not misinterpret a client’s insights. 

Sara Reed, MS, LMFT

Sara Reed is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and CEO of Mind’s iHealth Solutions, a digital health company that provides evidence based and culturally responsible mental health services for underserved groups. As a mental health futurist and clinical researcher, Sara examines the ways culture informs the way we diagnose and treat mental illness. Sara’s prior research work includes participation as a study therapist in psychedelic therapy research at Yale University and the University of Connecticut’s Health Center. Sara was the first Black therapist to provide MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in a clinical trial and continues to engage in ongoing advocacy work around health equity in psychedelic medicine.

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Jeffrey Guss, MD is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and researcher with specializations in psychoanalytic therapy and the treatment of substance use disorders. He was Co-Principal Investigator and Director of Psychedelic Therapy Training for the NYU School of Medicine’s study on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of cancer-related existential distress, which was published in Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2016. He currently is a study therapist in the NYU study on Psychedelic-Assisted therapy in the treatment of Alcoholism, a collaborator with Yale University’s study on psychedelic-assisted therapy for Major Depressive Disorder and a study therapist with the MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) study on treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy. 

Dr. Guss is interested in the integration of psychedelic therapies with contemporary psychoanalytic theory and has published in Studies in Gender and Sexuality and Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society. He has published (with Elizabeth Nielson, PhD) a paper on “the influence of therapists’ first had experience with psychedelics on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy research and therapist training” in The Journal of Psychedelic Studies, August, 2018. He is an Instructor and Mentor with the California Institute of Integral Studies’ Center for Psychedelic Therapies and Supervisor in NYU’s Fellowship in Addiction Psychiatry. 

Dr. Guss maintains a private practice in New York City.

Will Van Derveer, MD

Will Van Derveer, MD is Co-Founder of Integrative Psychiatry Institute and Integrative Psychiatry Centers. Dr. Van Derveer was co-investigator on a phase 2 MAPS study of Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy for treatment-resistant PTSD, and co-authored the publication of this study in 2018. He has also provided Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy in two MAPS training studies. An active provider of KAP at his clinic in Boulder, CO, he has been teaching others KAP therapy for several years. Dr. Van Derveer contributed a chapter on mescaline in the 2021 "Handbook of Medical Hallucinogens" (edited by Charles Grob and Jim Grigsby). He is co-host of the Higher Practice Podcast.

Dr. Van Derveer regards unresolved emotional trauma as the most significant under-recognized root cause of psychiatric symptoms in integrative psychiatry practice, along with gut issues, hormone imbalances, inflammation, mitochondrial dysfunction, and other functional medicine challenges. He is trained in Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, Internal Family Systems, and other psychotherapy techniques. His current clinical passion is psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, which he mentors interested doctors in providing. An avid meditator, he has been a meditation instructor since 2004.

For the past several years Dr. Van Derveer has taught psychiatrists and other psychiatric providers integrative psychiatry in a number of settings, including course directing the CU psychiatry residents’ course as well as with Scott Shannon and Janet Settle at the Psychiatry MasterClass.


Scott has been a student of consciousness since his honors thesis on that topic at the University of Arizona in the 1970s under the tutelage of Dr. Andrew Weil. Following medical school, Scott studied Jungian therapy and acupuncture while working as a primary care physician in a rural area for four years. Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy became a facet of his practice before this medicine was scheduled in 1985. He then completed a psychiatry residency at Columbia program in New York. Scott studied cross-cultural psychiatry and completed a child/adolescent psychiatry fellowship at the University of New Mexico.

In 2010 he founded Wholeness Center in Fort Collins. This innovative clinic provides cross-disciplinary evaluation and care for all mental health concerns. Scott serves as a site Principal Investigator and therapist for the Phase III trial of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD sponsored by (MAPS). He has also published numerous articles about his research on (CBD) in mental health. Currently, Scott works extensively with psychedelic-assisted-psychotherapy. He lectures all over the world to professional groups interested in a deeper look at mental health issues, safer tools, and a paradigm-shifting perspective about transformative care.

Will Van Derveer, MD is co-founder of Integrative Psychiatry Institute (IPI), along with friend and colleague Keith Kurlander, MA. He co-created IPI as an expression of what he stands for. First, that anyone can heal, and second that we medical providers must embrace our own healing journeys in order to fully command our potency as healers.

Dr. Van Derveer spent the last 20 years innovating and testing a comprehensive approach to addressing psychiatric challenges which transcends the conventional model he learned in medical school at Vanderbilt University and residency at University of Colorado, while deeply engaging his own healing path.

He founded the Integrative Psychiatric Healing Center in in 2001 in Boulder, CO, where he currently practices. Dr. Van Derveer regards unresolved emotional trauma as the most significant root cause of psychiatric symptoms in integrative psychiatry practice, along with gut issues, hormone imbalances, inflammation, mitochondrial dysfunction, and other functional medicine challenges. He is trained in Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, Internal Family Systems, and other psychotherapy techniques. His current clinical passion is psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, which he mentors interested doctors in providing. An avid meditator, he has been a meditation instructor since 2004.

For the past several years Dr. Van Derveer has taught psychiatrists and other psychiatric providers integrative psychiatry in a number of settings, including course directing the CU psychiatry residents’ course as well as with Scott Shannon and Janet Settle at the Psychiatry MasterClass. In addition to his clinical work and teaching, he was co-investigator in 2016 a Phase II randomized clinical trial, sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). He continues to support this protocol, now in a Phase III clinical trial under break-through designation by FDA.

Dr. Van Derveer is a diplomate of the American Board of Integrative and Holistic Medicine (ABoIHM) since 2013, and he was board certified in the first wave of diplomates of the new American Board of Integrative Medicine (ABIM) in 2016.