How to Talk to Your Therapist About Psychedelics
One patient's counsel on how to counsel your counselor
Posted Oct 21, 2020
Talking with your therapist about psychedelics for the first time can be difficult. It can bring up difficult emotions for your therapist. They may be reluctant to talk about it at first. Therapists can be a cautious, sensitive bunch. So it's important to show your professionalism as a patient. Remember, your therapist has what, only 20 or 30 years of training? Don’t worry. With patience and guidance, you may just have your therapist openly discussing psychedelic therapy or even preparing to integrate your psychedelic experience.
Recently, I was seeing a therapist who was unacquainted with psychedelic research and I gently guided him towards helping me integrate my psychedelic experiences. Integration is the process of drawing insight from an often enigmatic experience. Here are some potentially helpful questions to ask your therapist.
How Does That Make You Feel?
The first order of business is to understand how your therapist feels about psychedelics. Perhaps you might test the waters by gauging how they respond to related topics such as cannabis, Burning Man, Tim Ferriss, or the plot of the movie Inception. Next, consider their demographics. If your therapist is a Boomer, they might remember the turbulence of the 1960’s. Watch out for countercultural baggage. When the time comes to broach the topic of your desire to try psychedelic therapy, be factual but open-minded. Do not be evangelical. The hallmark of the evangelist is an inability to listen and consider alternative opinions. Make sure you hear your therapist out if they are skeptical or initially averse or simply curious.
Do You Feel Valued?
Some therapists may feel threatened or scared about what this means for your relationship. They might experience your stated desire to try a new type of therapy as a message that they are not good enough. Take this piece of advice from people who’ve successfully asked their spouse for an open relationship: A little praise goes a long way. Make sure your therapist knows you value them deeply and that your desire to explore does not mean you want to end the relationship.
Tell Me About Your Mother.
OK, so maybe don’t ask your therapist about their mother. But it is helpful to understand their background. In what psychotherapeutic tradition is your therapist’s approach grounded? You can then use the language of their chosen approach to explain the benefits of psychedelic therapy.
- Have a Gestalt therapist? You might say, “It’s one thing to role play, but what if there were a medicine that might allow me to actually talk to my late father?”
- Have a Psychodynamic or Psychoanalytic therapist? Try: “If dreams are the royal road to the unconscious, then psychedelics are the super highway.” Tread carefully here: Psychoanalysis and psychedelics have history, so your therapist probably has strong feelings for or against them already.
- Have a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist? You might say, “Psychedelics have helped patients to recognize and reevaluate patterns of thinking in order to optimize their performance. Here's a worksheet."
- Have a Client-Centered Therapist? Just tell them you’re doing this.
Everything You Say in Here is Confidential.
The first concern of many therapists is legality, so it is important that you remind them that integration sessions are completely legal. There’s nothing illegal about discussing psychedelic research, answering questions, or even setting a plan. However, unless you are undergoing a psychedelic session in another country where psychedelics are legal or using them within the purview of an FDA-approved study, the ingestion of psychedelics is not legal. But your therapist is not liable for your actions. So, for better or worse, you are assuming any risk on your own.
You also might want to consider whether your therapist is stifling their own enthusiasm. Therapists, no matter how well read or optimistic about psychedelic science, cannot recommend psychedelics outside a legal context. When you talk about psychedelic therapy, do your therapist's eyes widen like a cartoon dog seeing a T-Bone steak? Do they sit on their hands so as not to involuntarily pump their fists in the air? These might be subtle signs that your therapist is secretly enthusiastic.
Could You Challenge That Thought?
If your therapist is skeptical of or unaware of psychedelic research, are they open to having a conversation about it? Is it possible to change their mind with evidence? Perhaps not. Remember that you’re all on the same side.
What Are Your Goals Here?
Sometimes, it can be helpful to remind your therapist of your co-constructed goals in therapy. Whether these goals are related to your anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, sense of purpose, or other issues, psychedelic therapy has a track record of promoting neuroplasticity. This may facilitate the necessary behavior change to achieve your goals. It might be wise to remind your therapist that you’re both on the same side in trying to achieve these goals.
You Are Not Alone.
Psychedelic psychotherapy is a relatively new (or newly returned) branch of medicine. It’s normal and healthy for your therapist to be unaware of the many advances in psychedelic therapy. Luckily, there are resources. MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, has a comprehensive bibliography of all research papers on the benefits of psychedelic therapy and a timeline of legalization. If you decide to seek out a separate integration therapist, Psychedelic Support has a list of integration practitioners. When the time comes, you or your therapist may want a more formal introduction into the world of integration. Fluence is a psychedelic integration training institution that has already trained hundreds of therapists. It is run by Drs. Ingmar Gorman and Elizabeth Nielson, two experienced practitioners who understand the trials of counseling counselors.
OK, We're Out of Time for Today.
At a certain point you may realize that you will not be able to persuade your therapist on the matter of psychedelics. It’s important to establish boundaries and to know when to let it go. Depending on how intent you are on undergoing a psychedelic psychotherapy session, this may come at a heavy cost. It may be difficult to have a psychedelic experience and integrate with another therapist. Or it might be difficult to not bring up this experience (either the psychedelic session or the integration) with your current therapist. Ultimately, it took me a couple months, many conversations, and plenty of research to warm my therapist to the point of agreeing to help me integrate my psychedelic experiences. But like so many wins in therapy, it was worth the time.