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Integrative Psychiatry

Intrapersonal Development for Psychedelic-Assisted Therapists: An Ethical Imperative By Sara Gael MA, LPC

By February 18, 2022August 7th, 2023No Comments

Intrapersonal development is one of the main therapist competency categories of the IPI Psychedelic Assisted Therapy Training. Facets of intrapersonal development for the psychedelic therapist include:

  • An ongoing commitment to one’s own healing journey
  • Consistent prioritization of self-care
  • Ability to resource and ground oneself
  • Receiving support when one is struggling, including through therapy and supervision
  • Development of self-compassion
  • Healthy boundaries
  • Openness to feedback from mentors and colleagues
  • Awareness of one’s ego patterns and tendencies toward self-aggrandizing and/or self-deprecation
  • A high degree of self-awareness
  • Connection to a sense of meaning and purpose

While intrapersonal development is an essential competency in all forms of therapy, there are unique considerations specific to psychedelic-assisted therapy. Long sessions, marked emotional and somatic expression and release, increased transference, and pronounced relational and attachment dynamics are some of the factors that make psychedelic-assisted therapy unique and amplify the necessity for the therapist’s commitment to their own personal healing work. Just as psychedelics can catalyze the client’s personal healing, psychedelic therapists often experience a similar catalytic process working in this modality. Within the container of transformation afforded in the psychedelic-assisted therapy session, both client and therapist are invited to look at that within themselves which has been repressed, denied, or relegated to the shadows of the subconscious. The call to authenticity is awakened within both the client and the therapist.

Processing one’s own trauma and cultivating self-awareness allows the therapist to deepen their compassion for clients and hold space for the heightened and amplified process of the client. Self-examination and self-awareness increase one’s awareness of countertransference dynamics. In psychedelic-assisted therapy, self-care is not just a buzz-term but an ethical imperative. Burned out psychedelic therapists are more likely to be misattuned, make mistakes, and cause rupture or harm with clients who are in a vulnerable and impressionable state.

Psychedelic-assisted therapy is unique in that it is an expressive process as opposed to a suppressive one like most traditional psychopharmaceutical medications. When we invite in the expressive process of our clients, we must be prepared to witness the expression of intense pain and suffering without losing our seat or hiding behind a veneer of dissociation couched as professional detachment. Truly bearing witness to the pain of others necessitates that we bear witness to our own pain, which, just like that of our clients, has often been contained through a lifetime of suppression.

In her book The Places that Scare You, American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön writes:

In cultivating compassion we draw from the wholeness of our experience-our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

We can only take our clients as far as we are willing to go within ourselves. Psychedelics can reveal our shared humanity. This revelation in itself can be deeply transformative. While our specific life experiences are endlessly varied and unique from one another, when we are able to acknowledge our shared human experience we are able to enter into deeper relationship and connection with one another. It is this connection that ultimately heals.

Suppression of overwhelming emotions attached to individual and collective pain and suffering is supported and encouraged by cultural norms that have developed and solidified over time, held in place with the weight of centuries of unexpressed grief and trauma. This trauma and grief continues to jump from generation to generation impacting humanity and the natural world until it is healed. Psychedelic-assisted therapy offers a powerful path out of the individual and collective trauma cycle. While not a panacea, when applied mindfully and carefully, can significantly support the healing process for many individuals. However, for those struggling with severe symptoms of trauma, depression, and anxiety the benefits are best actualized with the support of a grounded self-aware guide committed to their own ongoing personal healing journey.

Written By:
Sara Gael MA, LPC
Course Director, Psychedelic Assisted Therapy Training
Integrative Psychiatry Institute

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.

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.