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Integrative Psychiatry

Psilocybin assisted therapy for existential distress in cancer patients By Dr. Jeff Guss, MD – Part 2

By September 11, 2020December 3rd, 2020No Comments

For indigenous people, psychedelics is a way of opening doors to a spiritual or imaginal plane. It is used to access vital information to help tribal cohesion and survival instead of being seen as treatments for disorders or problems. It has been recorded as part of a number of life cycle transitions from birth, maturation, up to death.

During dosing sessions therapists as much as possible do not encourage to think about cancer but instead encourage to practice radical acceptance of all the emmergers during the session.

The first theme that emerges a patient experiences with Psilocybin assisted therapy is relational embeddedness which talks about the profound transformations in their personal relationships reporting a great sense of emotional depth far more when their living their ordinary day to day life which links to a more deeper narrative.

In this topic transpersonal psychology is about helping individuals explore their spiritual side and work with the pairing of any shattered piece of their soul. A deeper research and study of this is needed in order to better understand the difference between the soul and psyche.


For indigenous people psychedelics are a way of opening doors to the spiritual or imaginal planes. They were not really seen as treatments for disorders or treatments for problems. Instead, they were used to access vital information to help tribal cohesion, and to help tribal survival, and engender pro social values for people. They were used to facilitate healing and predict the future or define the future, to protect the community from danger, enhance learning, solve social problems, and facilitate the dying process. In fact, psychedelics have been recorded as part of a number of life cycle transitions in a variety of indigenous cultures such as birth, death, which maturation boyhood to manhood, rituals, marriage, and childbirth.

What is existential distress? In this context, it is the pain that results from questioning the very foundations of life. Whether my life or this life has any meaning, purpose, or value. existential distress is characterized by fear, anger, terror, sadness at the prospect of not existing, a loss of purpose in life and, a loss of meaning in life.

The goal of the therapist is to support the medicines effect and the participants immersion in their inner experience. We did not do very much talking with the participants during their journey, unless they really insisted on it. And even then, we try to just talk for a little while, and then have them returned to their inner-directed work with the earphones and an eye shade We do not give them any encouragement to think about cancer, we encourage them to practice a radical acceptance of all that emerges during the session. When you’re with them, they endure and learn and have a profound experience as a result of going to that edge and you certainly see this in psychoanalytic work.

The first theme that emerged was relational embeddedness. And I think it’s really should have been called embeddedness in relationship or embeddedness into relationality. People talked about profound transformations in their personal relationships, often emotionally laden with grief and hope. People reported a great sense of emotional depth. They just felt more, a lot more, far more than they did an ordinary day to day life. They had intense feelings of bliss, joy, and love, as well as despair, and fear and sadness and grief. They had disparate emotions that change quickly, sometimes having opposing emotions at the same time and these were always linked to meaningful narrative. People felt that they were shown or they were given wisdom, they receive transpersonal insights into the nature of the universe, or existence, and these are often things that if they were said in in regular words, they would seem trite or cliched, but as a felt experience about the unity of all things are the essential core of love as the most important force in the universe. And there reported lasting changes to their sense of identity, greater confidence, ability to overcome barriers, changing problematic behaviors, and a sense of being reborn.

Transpersonal psychology is about helping individuals explore their spiritual side and work with repairing any shattered pieces of their soul. So, if you ask a traditional psychoanalyst the difference between a soul and a psyche, they won’t really have a very coherent answer for you, but a transpersonal psychologist will. A transpersonal psychologist is a specialist in understanding spiritual work, spiritual growth, spiritual illness and malady, spiritual emergence, and integrating this as part of the human being.

Frederick Barrett is a cognitive neuroscientist with training in behavioral pharmacology, and the Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. Dr. Barrett has been conducting psychedelic research at Johns Hopkins University since 2013, and his research in healthy participants and in patients with mood and substance use disorders focuses on the psychological and neurological mechanisms underlying the enduring therapeutic and other effects of psychedelic drugs. In 2017, he received an NIH “R03” grant as Principal Investigator to investigate biological mechanisms of psilocybin effects, the first federally funded research since the 1970s administering a classic psychedelic to people with psychedelic effects as the primary focus. He has developed measures of subjective effects of psychedelic drugs, and has also published first-in-human studies characterizing the acute and enduring effects of psilocybin on the brain. He is currently leading clinical trials to investigate the use of psilocybin to treat patients with major depressive disorder and co-occurring alcohol use disorder, and he is leading a number of ongoing studies aimed at better understanding the psychological, biological, and neural mechanisms underlying therapeutic efficacy of psychedelic drugs.

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.