Learning About Psychedelics from One of the First Pioneers – Dr. Bill Richards – HPP 61
In our modern world, especially with the threat of COVID, there’s no question that the amount of people experiencing trauma and other related mental illnesses are exponentially rising. In treating these illnesses, prescribing specially developed medicines have been extremely helpful. However, not all have a lasting effect that we so desire in our patients.
In this challenging field, opening new ways of treatment towards achieving full healing is something that is always accommodated. With this mindset, the question is what if there was an option for a new treatment with possible lasting effect? What if there was something that we could use in treating our patients that has always been there with ample research to back up its possible use?
In today’s exciting episode, we are deeply honored to be joined by one of the first pioneers in the study and use of psychedelics. We welcome Dr. Bill Richards. Join us as together we head deep into the topic of the psychedelic experience and the advantages of employing psychedelics in treating mental disorders.
The Early Years – 03:50
“and it was about how most people given psychedelics had kind of confused paranoid type symptoms and there was a thought that this would help us understand schizophrenia better. But there was no appreciation for support or set and setting”
LSD in the early 60’s – 06:49
“When I first received psilocybin in a German clinic, all I knew was that there was this new drug that was supposed to help you remember things from early childhood, and I was expecting to get some insight into my Oedipal complex, but I had no idea that it could trigger profound, awesome, meaningful, spiritual types of experiences. So I was one surprised kid”
Getting Involved in Psychedelic Research – 08:26
“And it was just an interesting opportunity that I thought I’d check out. I was recording my dreams in those days. And I thought that it might give me some new insight but had no idea that I was moving in the direction of research and teaching in the psychology of religion”
The Application of Psychedelics in treatment – 12:32
“But that changes our whole attitude of how we live fully until we die. There’s so many people approaching death with cancer or whatever, who are just kind of lying in bed being depressed, instead of living fully and it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m very fond of that application, if you will. But treating addictions and treating depression, post traumatic stress, we’re just starting to look into how it may impact Alzheimer’s disease, things like that”
Psychedelic Treatment: Being Prepared and Having Courage – 18:04
“Having a guide present, trusting the guide, feeling safe, allows you to be courageous to allow the dissolution of your everyday sense of self, the ego, whether you actually need to guide during the period of drug action or not. Sometimes the guide is simply a presence in the room. And if you need it, he or she is immediately there. But if you don’t, you’re well prepared in advanced and it’s okay”
Psychedelic Treatment: A Lasting Effect – 27:31
“And in those days, in order to do psychedelic research, you had to have two LSD sessions. That was on the job training you got paid for. So she had two training sessions at Spring Grove hospital to prepare her for working with alcoholics and hospitalized depressed people and so on with LSD. And it totally wiped out her depression and her post traumatic stress”
Unlocking Transcendental Experiences Through Psychedelics – 32:35
“If you really want to understand Dante’s Divine Comedy, or you really want to understand Plato, why not experience the states that they appear to have been writing out of? Or Abraham Maslow, who never took psychedelics, but had spontaneous transcendental experiences. When you have one of these experiences, you know exactly where it’s coming from”
A Spiritual Connection – 34:28
“That it’s not only a state of consciousness after death, but it’s a state of consciousness before birth. And as our Zen Buddhist friends say, it’s also in the middle of the present moment, if you can get there. In the living body with the heart beating and the lungs breathing, you can still wake up to this state, it’s always there. And we call it eternity or infinity”
The Importance of Well Trained Therapists to do the Work – 41:36
“We’re approaching a kind of certification licensure that before you say I am a certified psychedelic therapist, that doesn’t mean you can go to someone who’s not. But someone clearly has formal training and supervision and continuing education that increases the probability that that’s going to be a safe person to work with”
Dr. William Richards, Keith Kurlander, Dr. Will Van Derveer
Dr. William Richards 00:00
How do we train effective therapists? What’s important and what isn’t? And above all, it’s the ability to very rapidly establish a deep bond of trust and openness. It’s the being of the therapist that matters more than the collection of techniques you have in your back pocket.
Keith Kurlander 00:26
Thank you for joining us for The Higher Practice Podcast. I’m Keith Kurlander with Dr. Will Van Derveer. And this is the podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health. Welcome back. Now for those of you that are fans of psychedelic research and how psychedelics could potentially be a game changer in the mental health space and really helping people overcome really big issues. If you’re following that right now. If that’s something you’ve been involved in research or been involved in personally in your lifetime, this episode is for you. We are going to get to talk to one of the people that have been in psychedelic research, at this point, probably the longest. Maybe there’s a few others, but he’s been around for somewhere nearing 40 years when psychedelic research started. He’s extremely knowledgeable about the psychedelic experience and why the psychedelic experience is so useful in a mental health setting, and the cautions of doing psychedelics outside of proper settings. So we’re going to get deep into the conversation here about what is the setting that’s going to make this work especially as we’re seeing now, some psychedelics going to phase three trials. We need to start having that conversation. How do we do this correctly, so that these medicines are used responsibly and can really change lives? So you’re going to hear a lot about set and setting but also about what happens on psychedelics, some stories of how people got better, over really challenging issues, and then where and when to stay away from them. So it’s a great conversation. If you have any interest in psychedelics, this conversation is for you. Bill Richards is a psychologist in the psychiatry department at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Bayview Medical Center. A consultant trainer at sites of psychedelic research and nationally a teacher in the program of psychedelic therapy and research at the California Institute of integral studies, and also a clinician in private practice in Baltimore. From 1967 in 1977, he pursued psychotherapy research with LSD, DPT, MDMA, and psilocybin at the Maryland psychiatric Research Center, including protocols designed to investigate the promise of psychedelic substances and the treatment of alcoholism, depression, narcotic addiction and the psychological distress associated with terminal cancer, and also their use in the training of religious and mental health professionals. His publications began in 1966 with implications of LSD and experimental mysticism. And his book is sacred knowledge, psychedelics and religious experiences, was released in English by Columbia University Press in 2015, and has since been translated to four additional languages. Let’s welcome Dr. Bill Richards.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 03:50
Welcome to the show. Dr. Richards. It’s wonderful to have you here and we’re so excited to learn from you about this huge arch of experience that you’ve had in this world of psychedelic research. We thought we would start by asking you a question about what was the environment like? What was the attitude like back in the late 50s, early 60s as you got started around the hope for psychedelic compounds?
Dr. William Richards 04:20
Oh, it was the early 60s. 1963 to be precise. At that time, I was a graduate student in Germany. Model psychosis view was dominant. A psychiatrist in Göttingen, Hanscarl Leuner had just written a book called The experimental psychosis, and it was about how most people given psychedelics had kind of confused paranoid type symptoms and there was a thought that this would help us understand schizophrenia better. But there was no appreciation for support or set and setting. It was just giving a drug and leaving people alone and seeing what happens. And in his book labeled cosmic mystical experiences, and he just notes that every now and then this rare type of experience happens. And he mentions it just for the sake of comprehensiveness. Yeah, a good scholar. And when I volunteered in his clinic, I became one of these interesting characters, a strange American student who had the mystical experience. And so I participated really eventually in the recognition of set and setting in the German research. That was a long time ago.
Keith Kurlander 05:43
So it sounds like the launch pad here, which I didn’t totally know in the early 60s, was actually about trying to understand psychotic processes and not so much about using LSD as a mechanism to help people uncover unconscious material or get better. Is that right?
Dr. William Richards 06:02
The research going on in Saskatchewan in using LSD and alcoholism. It started off with the idea that LSD causes a model psychosis like delirium tremens. That might scare people into being healthier. But it was gradually in there that they realized that there’s something profoundly healing and therapeutic in some of these transcendental states. And if you’re adequately prepared, and guided, supported, it doesn’t have to be a nightmare at all. It can be an incredibly meaningful and helpful experience.
Keith Kurlander 06:49
Now in the early 60s, did mainstream culture know about LSD yet?
Dr. William Richards 06:55
They did in the United States. I didn’t. When I first received psilocybin in a German clinic, all I knew was that there was this new drug that was supposed to help you remember things from early childhood, and I was expecting to get some insight into my Oedipal complex, but I had no idea that it could trigger profound, awesome, meaningful, spiritual types of experiences. So I was one surprised kid. I didn’t even know the word psychedelic at that time. Aldous Huxley, had coined it. So that word had just been coined seven years earlier for mind manifesting and I had yet to hear it. I had no idea what psilocybin was. So at the end of that first experience, I said, what was that drug you gave? How would you spell it? And the rest of my life, in many ways, has been footnotes to that experience.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 08:15
So you were a graduate student in Germany. And it sounds like you weren’t going into that program with the idea of getting interested in psychedelic research.
Dr. William Richards 08:26
Not at all. Actually, I went there as the second of three years in a master of divinity program at Yale. And I thought I was going to study theology or maybe be a minister. And it was just an interesting opportunity that I thought I’d check out. I was recording my dreams in those days. And I thought that it might give me some new insight but had no idea that I was moving in the direction of research and teaching in the psychology of religion. So I came back from Germany with a very sharpened sense of vocational direction. I went there to study theology. And because of the structure of the German University, you can sit in on lectures anywhere. I could sit in on psychiatry classes, as well as theology classes. And it was in the School of Medicine actually, that I found the experiential dimension of religion. And in the world of theology, it was often kind of pedantic quibbling about the meaning of Hebrew words or whatever. It didn’t excite me. Theology doesn’t have to be that though, but it can be. I can imagine why the experiential contact with the mystery could be more compelling than a didactic phrase. The series of experiences there, but even the first one alone gave me an appreciation for the incredible beauty and mystery, if you will, an intelligence of the human psyche. Even then I could feel some differences in how I experienced myself. I was more what Maslow would call inner directed. Less a puppet of cultural forces. What I should think, what I should do and more a sense of my decisions coming from within me. I think I became more spontaneous, maybe a little more playful, more willing to take some risks in deep human relationships. Just more at home in the universe basically, and that came out of a few minutes of a four hour psilocybin session. Pretty awesome.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 11:10
Very awesome. And it sounds like that four minutes of a four hour session has really stuck with you over decades.
Dr. William Richards 11:22
Yeah, I mean, that awareness has been refreshed now and then by other psychedelic sessions or spontaneous experiences with meditation or music performance or whatever. There’s no doubt within me that there’s a sacred creative dimension of consciousness and I think there’s reason to believe it’s in every human being. A lot of depressed people just don’t know that it’s there. They don’t know what they’re capable of. They don’t know who they are. In religious language they are estranged from themselves, or from the deeper resources that are in them just waiting for connections.
Keith Kurlander 12:14
What do you feel like? Because you’ve been researching in the psychedelic space for 60 years now almost.
Dr. William Richards 12:21
it’s getting close to that, yeah.
Keith Kurlander 12:23
It’s getting close to 60 years. So you’re basically in there as long as anyone at this point, basically, right?
Dr. William Richards 12:29
I guess I’m one of the lucky survivors.
Keith Kurlander 12:32
You are. What do you feel like in all these years of research? We have this exciting psychedelic research Renaissance going on right now and what are you most excited about the applications of psychedelics for? Because you’ve got a great vantage point on it.
Dr. William Richards 12:50
Yeah. Well, there are many applications, in medicine, and I think ultimately in education and in religion, but what excites me most, there’s only 24 hours in a day on this planet, when are you gonna do it? My choice, I think, is probably to focus on the integration of psilocybin into palliative care. There is an oncology center in Rockville that’s just ready to open a new mental health division in their building and it’s going to offer psilocybin therapy in a research context. And to me, that’s incredibly exciting and who knows how that will build if it all goes well. It’s not inconceivable that many oncology centers may want to offer psilocybin therapy in a few years. And that takes me into how we train all these therapists to staff those places and so on. But that changes our whole attitude of how we live fully until we die. There’s so many people approaching death with cancer or whatever, who are just kind of lying in bed being depressed, instead of living fully and it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m very fond of that application, if you will. But treating addictions and treating depression, post traumatic stress, we’re just starting to look into how it may impact Alzheimer’s disease, things like that. Eating Disorders, those studies are just beginning. But psychedelic therapy seems to be very potent for a lot of different conditions. Basically, it’s not reliant on our DSM nomenclature, but it speaks to human beings who are estranged from their own inner resources. And it helps us wake up and come alive when it’s used intelligently and skillfully.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 15:16
And that’s a key phrase.
Dr. William Richards 15:18
Yeah, it’s so much more than just throwing the drug in your mouth and seeing what happens. If I’m so happy about your ketamine work, Will, it’s in a matrix of psychotherapy. I think that makes all the difference.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 15:35
It’s so important, yeah. And so it sounds like what I’m hearing is a kind of almost like a unified cause, across multiple, let’s say, expressions or different colors of fruit on the tree of mental health challenge. This estrangement from the deep self where the capital S self or the spiritual self.
Dr. William Richards 16:02
Yeah. And it looks like it’s really there. And good old skeptics and agnostics, if anything, find it more easily within prints through belief systems. You know, if you can go into a session with psilocybin, certainly or any of the major psychedelics with a sense of security and openness, choosing to trust that you’re in an interpersonal matrix. In a confidential space, you feel respected. You don’t have to prove anything, you can just be yourself. And then you can choose to dive over backwards into the unknown waters and welcome whatever emerges, pleasant or unpleasant. It’s enough for you to fear them. And that intention, these drugs are just not only incredibly safe, but incredibly healing. I don’t think the drug does the healing. The drug gives the opportunity. It kind of gives you access to these other states of consciousness. And then it’s how you respond to that opportunity depends on who you are and who you’re with and your preparation, and maybe a little instruction on how to navigate in the internal world, that if something scary comes up, you don’t run away from it, but you go right towards it. you dive into the pupil of the eye of the monster. You don’t run from the monster. But you have to know that. Someone has to tell you that in advance.
Keith Kurlander 18:04
I’m really curious about the conversation here that we’re going toward now which is the monsters and you know, obviously, there’s still a lot of stigmatization around bad trips and the painful material that can come up on psychedelics, and I have my own history with psychedelics, and I’m sort of one that would have definitely benefited from only doing it with a trained facilitator because of the amount of complex trauma that overwhelmed me every time I took one. And what I’m curious about from all of your experience all these years is sometimes these states that become extremely overwhelming on psychedelics that I believe they’re material, that we can actually do something about on psychedelics, but I’m curious from your perspective now, is it simply that just having the guide there is enough to deal with if it’s a very big overwhelm or sometimes maybe the dose was too high or what’s your kind of current understanding of when people get in a real pickle on psychedelics and are seriously overwhelmed?
Dr. William Richards 19:15
Having a guide present, trusting the guide, feeling safe, allows you to be courageous to allow the dissolution of your everyday sense of self, the ego, whether you actually need to guide during the period of drug action or not. Sometimes the guide is simply a presence in the room. And if you need it, he or she is immediately there. But if you don’t, you’re well prepared in advance and it’s okay. But it’s not an accomplishment of the ego, you know, that I’m going to trust and allow anything to happen. Because when you get to this ego transcendence, ego dissolution, whatever you want to call it, stage in human consciousness, all the ego can do is choose to receive, to accept, to allow experiences to happen. You can’t be in control anymore. You’re getting beyond language. You can’t even put it into words often. So the secret is this courageous act of trust really, and that’s enhanced by being in a safe place in a good relationship. I think there is such a thing as too high a dose. When the door is open wide, you don’t think it doesn’t open any wider and I think sometimes you can just get into confused places that aren’t really helpful. I think the ideal session is where there is a sense of complete transcendence, a kind of a unitive state of consciousness, and then a gradual return to the everyday world to start into relating the two worlds, my everyday life and my relationships, and the insights of truth and beauty and goodness and love and forgiveness and all that, that are in these transcendental states. So you bring the treasures back to Earth. I think that’s the best of all possible sessions.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 21:49
It sounds like that bringing back is sort of the beginning of integration of the transcendental and the mundane.
Dr. William Richards 21:59
Right. What does the enlightened man do? He chops wood and carries water after he does the laundry, You come back, but you come back, inspired, centered, reborn in some ways, perhaps more courageous, more willing to address conflicts in your past or in your present relationships that you thought were hopeless. And there’s a sense of empowerment there and even playfulness after you’ve confronted a few monsters and kind of tame them, if you will, that the great dragon or Boogeyman kind of becomes your drunk father in the middle of the night, and you go, that’s all it is or whatever. It starts to be fun. You start going around the basement looking for monsters. It’s like the old knight on horseback looking for the dragons to engage instead of fearing them. Another big piece is that a lot of what gets labeled bad trips are really potent therapeutic opportunities getting into unresolved grief and guilt and reliving traumas from childhood. It’s not fun and maybe emotionally very exhausting, painful, scary. And yet, when you go through those experiences, you arrive at something beyond it, reconciliation, healing and insight. And that’s what makes us so powerful that unlike the SSRIs, we’re basically trying to turn off the symptoms of distress and just hope, hopefully with a little joy and pain, but not too much, but not really getting at the sources of the depression or whatever, the addiction of feeling that I just got to get away from life because it’s too overwhelming. This form of therapy enables you to go in and through that distress and tap into inner resources you never knew where there when the language of “AA” or “NAEU”, you find the so called higher power, and it’s really there. It’s not an abstract intellectual concept. It’s a vibrant reality.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 24:36
It’s a lived experience. Yeah. When I finished my psychiatry training in early 2000s, and started applying the tools that I had learned in SSRIs and cognitive behavioral therapy and these kinds of approaches, I got to a point of despair within a couple of years of doing that. That had me quitting psychiatry and going and looking for deeper answers. And that eventually is what led to getting involved in MDMA research and starting this institute with Keith and really looking for those root causes, and trying to help people to actually face these root causes. That’s where I think the psychedelics are so incredible as an opportunity.
Dr. William Richards 25:22
I also like to say, if this field keeps expanding and developing as it looks like it is, it could give a whole sense of rebirth to the profession of psychiatry. There will always be some people who just want the pain to be covered up, “give me an SSRI. I just want to cope better. I don’t want to understand it”. But I don’t think the drug companies are going to go out of business. Don’t be mad for them. But for those who are so motivated, it opens up such a beautiful meaning. I’ve hesitated to use the word soul because I’m not sure what it means. But it’s like giving psychiatry back its soul. That the human mind is an incredibly wonderful, beautiful thing. Creative, playful, inventive, and aesthetically beautiful when you explore with a psychedelic, often. Even the monsters are pretty incredible. And also, it gives back to psychiatry and mental health in general, and appreciation for the power of really therapeutic alliances, really good human relationships. I like to use the word interpersonal grounding. Like grounding in the electric circuit. And when you’re grounded in a good relationship, your mind can open up and work with things and go through things that it can’t do if you’re just trying to turn the biochemical soup in your brain. And there’s something beautiful about human relationships. Let’s let psychiatrists enjoy them, but this idea of getting licensed as a psychiatrist without ever studying psychotherapy, and not knowing what an archetype is, that’s really kind of a sad place, you know, and the human mind is so much more than that.
Keith Kurlander 27:31
So I had an experience on MDMA when I was 21. I had severe social phobia and anxiety, and it probably got about 80%, better in three hours on MDMA, and never came back, but was sort of this window into the loving connection that was always present between myself and everyone else and that there was a tangible feeling of some kind of force like gravity that my best understanding was love. And just experiencing that in that window, in that moment changed my life around social phobia, which I mean, it’s kind of amazing, right? And I’m curious from all of your experiences, you know, and what you’ve seen in other people like what are some of the more amazing little snapshots of stories you’ve seen like that of just these openings that last a lifetime sometimes?
Dr. William Richards 28:27
Let me give you one example actually from my wife, the mother of my children who died several decades ago. When she was a child in Germany, in 1936, she experienced the bombing of Germany of Dortmund. A very frightened, traumatized experience being in front of the bunker with her father while people were literally being killed. And early in our marriage, she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Whenever she heard of fire engines, it was always an air raid siren, she gets frightened. And she suffered from depression. Like, is it right to bring human beings into this suffering world? Maybe we shouldn’t have children. When she and I moved from Austin to Baltimore to do psychedelic research, she was a psychiatric nurse. And in those days, in order to do psychedelic research, you had to have two LSD sessions. That was on the job training you got paid for. So she had two training sessions at Spring Grove hospital to prepare her for working with alcoholics and hospitalized depressed people and so on with LSD. And it totally wiped out her depression and her post traumatic stress. So much that one of our cancer patients turned out where she and I were working, this man turned out to literally have been a 19 year old kid dropping bombs on Dortmund, and now he was a 49 year old terminal cancer patient. And just seeing their interaction, different period of history, different time, different issues, but loving, caring, respecting, forgiving. Like that’s the type of thing that gets triggered with this. I mean, she could die in a very supportive way. I’ve just witnessed so much in so many people. So many cancer patients who felt hopeless and in pain and complaining, who experienced decreases in pain, openness to interpersonal relationships. A wonderful thing about the cancer work is that it empowers the terminally ill person to almost become the social worker for the family, that they can open up the difficult topics instead of avoiding and feeling helpless. And it makes it possible often to live very fully right up to the last breath. If you say, “well, I’m outta here guys. So long!”. But it doesn’t have to have all the drama and despair that dying usually has in our culture.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 31:40
It sounds like a real balancing is possible with the support of psilocybin in the dying process. Support for balancing a story that this is only loss, or this is only a negative experience.
Dr. William Richards 32:00
My mind flows there to insert it into your podcast to inspire some psychiatry researchers out there. Another application of this therapy that is still waiting to be seriously explored is working with prisoners and people with sociopathic tendencies. Our country has more people locked up than any. It’s a huge industry. We’re housing people.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 32:32
Prison industrial complex.
Dr. William Richards 32:35
And so many of those people, I think, if you could build a trusting relationship and help them experience some of these transcendental states, it would provide a sense of ethics, if you will, feeling loved and a capacity for forgiveness, a sense of interconnectedness with humanity, of belonging, instead of being estranged of working through neglect in childhood that many of them have suffered. And it could enable them to contribute to society instead of being warehoused making license plates. Oh and a change in perspective that would be.
Keith Kurlander 33:21
I’m so glad you said that and spoke to it. Obviously, we need to completely reform our punitive system and move it into an educational system, which is really what you’re speaking to. I mean, psychedelics is sort of a 10 year education and a few hours, sometimes.
Dr. William Richards 33:43
Maybe 20 years. And not only for mental health people and prisoners, but for philosophers, writers and physicists. There are discoveries to be made in these other states of consciousness. Profoundly educational, if you will. If you really want to understand Dante’s Divine Comedy, or you really want to understand Plato, why not experience the states that they appear to have been writing out of? Or Abraham Maslow, who never took psychedelics, but had spontaneous transcendental experiences. When you have one of these experiences, you know exactly where it’s coming from.
Keith Kurlander 34:28
It’s interesting because my early experiences with psychedelics, 25 years ago now, it was sort of a memory for me, and I think I’ve heard other people speak about that way. It’s almost like the experiences are on the tip of my tongue but can’t quite touch it, and then it happens. And it’s just like, Oh, I always knew this existed. Do you know what I’m speaking about? Yeah, where it’s kind of like this window opens into a transcendental state and it feels like a returning rather than necessarily something that just happened for the first time.
Dr. William Richards 35:03
Yeah, cancer patients often talk about it as homecoming. That it’s not only a state of consciousness after death, but it’s a state of consciousness before birth. And as our Zen Buddhist friends say, it’s also in the middle of the present moment, if you can get there. In the living body with the heart beating and the lungs breathing, you can still wake up to this state, it’s always there. And we call it eternity or infinity, but it’s part of the human repertoire. It’s there waiting to be discovered. And it’s in the core of all the great religious traditions of the world religions. People have stumbled upon it either spontaneously or through meditative techniques or whatever and written about it. Put it into scriptures. And there it is.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 36:06
Well, in speaking of stumbling into it, do you feel that there are certain, let’s say techniques or psychotherapy approaches that seem to be more fitting or more effective and as a guide in supporting people to touch the transcendental state?
Dr. William Richards 36:30
I’m very involved in the California Institute of integral studies and with compass pathways in Minnesota Institute, so how do we train effective therapists? What’s important and what isn’t? And above all, it’s the ability to very rapidly establish a deep bond of trust and openness with an incredible variety of human beings, different occupations and races and educational levels and whatever. It’s the being of the therapist that matters more than the collection of techniques you have in your back pocket. And some techniques come in handy now and then. But it’s basically establishing this intuitive sense of safety. And then to be able to appreciate the different states of consciousness, that there’s no such thing as kind of the psychedelic experience unquote. But there are all kinds of different levels of experiencing within the realm of the ego and beyond the realm of the ego, and to kind of honor those and have an intuitive appreciation of them, and not be afraid that the person’s getting psychotic and you have to wonder about where the rescue medications are to be at home or to honor those different inner worlds. And to be able to teach by turning off the intellect that collects experiences instead of having to label them while they’re happening and try to understand them. They are so far beyond the limits of human language and our current ability to understand, if you will. So it comes to just collect the experiences, dive into them, let them happen, and then we’ll think about them after the drug wears off. But to be willing to relinquish that defense mechanism of intellectualization is incredibly important, and also to affirm the intent to welcome everything that emerges. To trust the wisdom. I like to use the word the choreography of your psyche, you know, that there’s something within that knows with incredible wisdom how to present the material that needs to be healed and understood. And if you’re willing to just dive in, and if it’s beautiful, fine, if it’s ugly, fine, if it’s exciting, fine, if it’s boring, fine. Just go in and through one experience and then in and through the next experience. And if the roller coaster gets a little too high, you reach out and hold the hand of your guide. But the intent is to welcome and the faith really is that if something comes to you, it’s an invitation to cope with it, and work with it. And this is a hypothesis but it’s known well in my 50 years, that if there’s any trauma within that you’re just totally incapable of dealing with, I don’t think it will even appear. And if it appears, it’s an invitation to work with it. So you don’t have to be afraid of releasing too much too soon. If the relationship is solid, bring it on.
Keith Kurlander 40:14
I like that. I also am curious along the trauma discussion, there’s a lot of emphasis in trauma therapy without psychedelics of tracking the person and seeing whether they’re dissociating or present and sort of trying to just track their overall state so that if they’re too dissociated, they’re going to get flooded, and if they’re more present, you can process the material. I’m curious when we look at trauma that arises during a psychedelic experience, do we just sort of let the medicine do its work with the person and not worry about whether this person here or dissociated? Or is it really just a different landscape?
Dr. William Richards 40:54
Yeah, I think that’s our need as therapists to talk about what’s happening, or to try to guide it and to control it. It’s kind of like doing the work in slow motion. But in a high dose psilocybin session, it’s happening in fast motion. Faster than you can talk, faster than you can think. If the relationship is solid, there’s nothing to fear. That doesn’t mean it’s simple. And sometimes people need two or three sessions instead of one. But they don’t need 20 years of taking prozac.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 41:36
As you have gained so many years of experience, and you kind of have this, at least from my point of view, you have this capacity to have this perspective about the community of where we’re going in psychedelic research. What is your biggest concern, if you have one, about where things could so to speak go wrong or where we could go down a less effective path. You’ve mentioned a few times training therapists and obviously, that’s something that you’re very committed to trying to make sure there are enough competent therapists available. Are there other concerns?
Dr. William Richards 42:15
I think it’s very important within the psychedelic research community, which is expanding incredibly rapidly internationally. I mean, I can’t keep track of all the research projects going on anymore. www.clinicaltrials.gov lists 44 when I looked a couple days ago, it’s really exciting. There’s a lot going on, and I think we need to support one another in the community, stay in very good communication, and not be too quick to judge. There’s some tendency of a few people to kind of divide the world into angels and demons. I love the Escher mandala painting you may know of angels and demons as these very pious and innocent angels and these very devilish demons. But together, they make up a beautiful pattern. And I think there’s an angel and a demon in most of us. And we need to guide, police, communicate within the psychedelic research community, but also not condemn and devalue their contributions that any one researcher may make. We’re all capable of poor judgment now and then. That’s why we need one another. But that doesn’t cancel out the contributions that people have made and continue to make. It’s important. We’re approaching a kind of certification licensure that before you say I am a certified psychedelic therapist, that doesn’t mean you can go to someone who’s not. But someone clearly has formal training and supervision and continuing education that increases the probability that that’s going to be a safe person to work with. And if we’re going to hire someone in our research operation, we might want to hire those people who are certified because we know that they got a background, not just in good intentions and little psychopharmacology, but they’ve been present in a few sessions, and they’ve watched a lot of videos and they talked about their ideas with others. They have the basic empathic tools to be effective.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 44:49
I’m really thrilled that the certification program is being planned out because I think it’s exactly what you were just saying about relying on each other as a community. To establish a kind of benchmark, or a kind of expectation, and it’s a way of keeping people safe, I think, and ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to encounter these milestones or these challenges, which are also opportunities.
Dr. William Richards 45:20
And also to integrate this therapy into our culture where it is now. If you get too far out, you frighten the horses. When you’re dealing with the FDA, you have to speak respectfully in a language that the FDA understands, or you don’t get anywhere. And there are some voices out there who want to reform all our political systems yesterday. That youthful enthusiasm I think I kind of admire it but I don’t think it’s going to work. We got to work very patiently, very respectfully, very gradually. There’s a huge educational job we have to do in the population as a whole as well as in the mental health community. And one step at a time, folks.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 46:15
Speaking of education, that kind of takes us to our final question that we’d love to invite you to respond to, however you wish to. We ask every guest this final question on the podcast, which is if you had a message on a billboard that everyone could see, like a paragraph on it, what would you say? What would you like to say?
Dr. William Richards 46:35
I have to think about that a good bit. I might have different messages for different billboards. But I think it would be a “Be yourself and keep waking up”.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 46:48
Keith Kurlander 46:51
You’re not the only one that said keep waking up.
Dr. William Richards 46:57
Don’t underestimate the contributions you can make to the world and the meaning you can find in your own life. And in that framework, the psychedelics, like meditative procedures, are valuable tools that some people may choose to use in the process. They’re not for everyone. But for those who are so inclined, I think the day is coming when we can use them responsibly and intelligently and they can enrich life. For most people, psychedelics are very safe psychologically, and certainly, we know they’re safe physically, they’re kind of non addictive, essentially non toxic, and people who have good experiences often don’t want to take them again for quite a while. They’ve got a lot to digest. It’s not likely to become a drug of abuse, but more a drug of gradually waking up and developing as human beings.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 48:16
This has been an absolute pleasure to get to have this conversation with you, Bill. And I just want to thank you personally for the contributions you’ve made to opening up healing pathways for all kinds of different suffering in the world. Thank you.
Dr. William Richards 48:32
Oh, it takes one to know one, Will. Onward!
Dr. Will Van Derveer 48:41
Onward together. Thank you.
Dr. William Richards 48:43
Okay. Take care.
Keith Kurlander 48:44
Yeah. Thanks, Bill. That was a great conversation. I also really respect what you’ve done and it was great to chat with you and kind of get in there.
Dr. William Richards 48:55
Good, good. Likewise. Stop by when you’re in town.
Keith Kurlander 48:59
Absolutely. Thank you! Well, that was quite a show. The conversation around psychedelics is, I think, extremely important to have right now. We are on the cusp of a revolution around psychedelics and we need to do it properly and responsibly, so that we can use these medicines in an extremely effective way to treat some pretty serious mental illness that people are facing. So I’m excited that there’s people out there like Bill Richards that has been forging a new path for us for so many decades, doing the research that we need to change public perception about these medicines and to change the perception at the level of government structures which is happening so that we can pave the way for a new frontier in medicine. Where we’re using these medications properly, and it’s coming. And that’s very exciting. If you like what you heard, and you want to share this with others, please leave us a review. Reviews really allow this podcast to get into other people’s hands. And this podcast is all about helping people optimize their mental health. So if you feel like you know someone that would benefit from the show, share it with them, and leave a review. And that’s the way that others will hear about it. Also, if you want more information, whether it’s about the latest research on psychedelics, or how your body is involved with your mental health, or what’s the role of your mind? What’s the role of relationships? If you want that information, just go to email.psychiatryinstitute.com. You’ll be joining a community here where we send out newsletters regularly. We send out videos to help you achieve optimal mental health. We look forward to connecting with you again on the next episode of The Higher Practice Podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health.