Sadly, not all psychedelic therapists have your best interest in mind. Here are some red flags to monitor to help you choose an ethical facilitator.
At Retreat, we lovingly advocate for intentional psychedelic experience as a tool for healing, growth, and self discovery. We also champion seeking guidance from a psychedelic therapist or facilitator to source wisdom from those experiences and integrate them into your life.
However, as in any industry, plant medicine has a dark side. Beneath the mainstream, is an underworld of abuse and illegal practices. While the emergence of underground spiritual guides may sound like a positive nudge toward increased accessibility to psychedelic healing, with less regulation comes more risk.
It can be tough to tell if a stranger is a kind-hearted, ethical guru or two scammers in a trench coat looking to coerce and control. To protect yourself, it is paramount that you vet your prospective facilitator.
Here are five red flags to look out for when pursuing a psychedelic therapist:
Healthcare workers and clinical therapists can’t practice without an active license. Meanwhile, with five minutes and a little tech knowledge, anyone can pin up an e-shingle claiming to be a psychedelic guide. Licensing boards ensure ethics, oversight, and access for clients to flag bad behavior. Without a licensing board to back them, there’s no way to guarantee that your “therapist” hasn’t engaged in abusive, boundary-breaking behaviors in the past.
Conversely, in indigenous cultures, healing is passed down through ancestral traditions, learning from elders, through rituals and guidance—that while different from traditional Western medicine, can be equally healing.
If you’re pursuing a healer, like a shaman, where licensing is rare, a few good questions to ask before committing include:
Learn to microdose with our free guide.
Just like a traditional therapist, a psychedelic guide should do just that: guide. Their priority should be inching you toward your inner wisdom without unduly influencing your decisions. If they’re telling you to confront your father, ditch your wife, skip your endocrinologist visit, ascribe solely to their version of spirituality, and eat only ancient grains–they are abusing their power and are unethical.
Psychedelics cut through our defenses to expose vulnerabilities; that’s one of the many reasons why plant healing is so profound. But it’s also a factor that malicious facilitators try to exploit. Boundaries between time and space, you and your subconscious, and you and others sway and dissolve during the psychedelic experience.
However, under no circumstances should boundaries ease for the therapist during facilitation and integration. Since actions like physical touch and holding can be therapeutic during a trip, some psychedelic therapists pass off abuse as a part of the experience.
Always interview a potential guide and ask these questions:
Search for another facilitator if your intuition says something is amiss as they answer these questions.
While we all believe in the power of plant medicine (that’s why we wrote this and you’re here educating yourself), it’s important to remember that psychedelics aren’t a magic fix. For many of us, a mix of western medicine, spiritual guidance, and a healthy lifestyle are the cornerstones of longevity and happiness. However, some untrustworthy psychedelic therapists will push you to take entheogens before you are ready. They may claim that anxiety and depression are henchmen of big pharma or do not exist at all. If you express that you’re nervous to begin your psychedelic journey or don’t want to quit antidepressants and your “therapist” gaslights you or invalidates your desires, it’s time to search for someone new.
Psychedelics are famous for turning our egos inside out. But, for some psychedelic therapists, it seems psychedelics only inflate the ego. In the words of Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D. and founder of a consciousness school in Berkeley, some facilitators “take the power of the plants and wear it themselves.” This obviously can lead to problematic power dynamics and a lot of pain.
Ethical facilitators know that there might be better matches for a client who needs guidance outside their scope of healing; a good therapist is quick to kindly refer a client who needs specialized care to another facilitator. Meanwhile, an unethical psychedelic therapist will see themself as an infallible, perfect healer and direct link to a higher power.
Remember, a facilitator’s job is to support you, not confuse you with grandiose unsolicited stories about why they’re so special, and you should give them more money. Sharing stories to dispense wisdom can be valuable, but sharing unnecessary details about their many “spiritual successes” is a red flag that they are trying to cement a dangerous power dynamic.
Learn more about god complexes in psychedelic therapy in this radio segment featuring Dr. Rick Strassman, author of The Psychedelic Handbook: A Practical Guide to Psilocybin, LSD, Ketamine, MDMA, and DMT/Ayahuasca.
Now, we know that was all a little negative. But don’t be discouraged! There is an abundance of experienced, empathetic, and ethical psychedelic facilitators working everywhere–you just have to sort through the muck to find them.
If you fear your facilitator, healer, or therapist has a messiah complex, is trying to control you, or is ignoring your valid concerns, you’ll be in better hands with a humble facilitator who cares about cultivating your inner wisdom–not replacing it.
Looking to begin microdosing therapy or searching for a new facilitator? Set up a consultation with a Retreat or purchase our microdosing course today. You can also apply to join our private, members-only community to get peer-to-peer recommendations for facilitators from the community.
Learn to microdose with our free guide.
Benefits and side effects of Microdosing
How to microdose
Psychedelics & the Future of Health