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Integrative Psychiatry

Neuroscience and Spirituality with Joan Borysenko, PhD

Watch this video with Dr. Joan Borysenko as she talks about Neuroscience and Spirituality.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

One of the things that we’re going to be looking at is that much of the research has to do with asking people to write down or to speak spiritual experiences that they’ve had. And it turns out, we can change our brain, activate different parts of the brain that we’re going to look at, and kind of install that activation, link neurons together.

The Neuroscience of Spirituality: An Overview

The first thing is a personal spiritual experience. And so what was happening in my brain just a few minutes ago, is that we would have been seeing increased activity in the nucleus accumbens, as well as the frontal, attentional and ventromedial, the bottom middle part of the prefrontal cortex. And this is pleasure and reward circuitry. Different kinds of spiritual experiences, of course, are going to activate different areas of the brain.

Concentration meditation, for example, if you’re just concentrating on breath, or concentrating on mantra, or concentrating on a visual, like a candle, those kinds of concentration experiences, plus a verbal prayer, let’s say, doing the rosary.

Neural Networks of Ego and Present Moment

And that is a midline network, it extends from the orbital medial prefrontal cortex, back to the posterior cingulate cortex. And it includes the amygdala and hippocampus. And that, as I’ve said before, is the source of mind wandering and rumination. And that’s also called the self-referential network, thinking I, me, mine, and that, of course, can really depress you after a while. And this is the network that allows us to constantly bring back up our well-practiced narratives, that, you know, I’m a victim of that. This always happens to me, whatever it is, we all have our stories.

Identity Narratives: Borderline Personality Disorder

There’s actually quite a lot written about our stories, our narratives, and how they create our identity.

Identity, the Buddhist kind of idea is that we have no fixed identity at all, they have a word called Anatta, no self. And we’re constantly creating identity with the stories that we tell ourselves. This is good news. Because if we tell ourselves a new story, then our ego identity, which we do need some ego identity, of course, to move through this world, is going to be much more benign.

Can we challenge our brain volitionally?

And of course, the foundational work of Donald Hebb tells us neurons that fire together, wire together. Inner strengths of any kind, including flow, are grown from experiences of those strengths. In other words, the state has to be activated for the neurons to be firing so that they can wire together. And once you’ve got activation of the state, you can install temporary states as traits. And this is of course very much also the work of self-directed neuroplasticity.

Just little bits of meditation during the day can help put you in a better state and give rise to a more balanced mood.

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.