Universities including UC Berkeley in California and Vancouver Island University in British Columbia have launched programs to train professionals in psychedelic-assisted therapy.
With interest in the beneficial effects that psilocybin may have for mental health seemingly increasing every day, the need for professionals trained to harness the therapeutic potential of the compounds is also rising at a similar rate.
Dr. Rick Doblin, the founder of the pioneering Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), estimates that the number of therapists with the training needed to safely and effectively facilitate psychedelic-assisted therapy could approach 100,000. To fill that need, universities including the University of California Berkeley are creating training programs to prepare psychedelic therapy guides who are ready to safely and ethically treat people with psychedelics including psilocybin.
Psychedelics including psilocybin, MDMA, and ketamine have all shown potential as adjuncts to traditional psychedelic therapy. The University of California- Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics (BCSP) launched its psychedelic guides training program in 2022 with 24 students enrolled in the inaugural class. BCSP notes in its description of the training program that research into psychedelics such as psilocybin has shown the compounds have the potential to play a positive role in both mental health and spiritual well-being. Tina Trujillo, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Education (Berkeley Education), notes that much of the attention given to psilocybin therapy by the mainstream media focuses on the molecule itself. But to get the most benefit from the healing properties of psilocybin, it is likely that the molecule must be administered in conjunction with an integrated program of professional support, including talk therapy.
“There is a lot of evidence about talk therapy that concludes that what matters is the therapist’s relationship with the client. That’s not that different here,” Trujillo told Berkeley News. “But what is different here is the psychedelic catalyst that may fast-forward the process and can help achieve what might take someone several years to do in talk therapy, or that can help achieve what all other therapies have not. But it must be combined with safe conditions and the right facilitators.”
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Effective Psychedelic Therapy Requires Trust
Before psilocybin is administered, the therapist meets with a patient to explain the process and prepare them for the experience to come. In a clinical setting, a psilocybin therapy session can last up to eight hours and involve two facilitators. To get the most benefit from psychedelics, Trujillo says that patients must establish a relationship of trust with the therapists administering psilocybin.
“A trusting relationship between the facilitator and the participant needs to be thoughtfully cultivated, and that includes, among other things, the facilitator gathering information about the participant’s history, so the facilitator may be better prepared for some of the material that might surface during the psychedelic experience,” she explained. “Clients must understand, to the extent possible, what they’ll go through, what might happen during the session, what might be comfortable or uncomfortable.”
Trujillo led the creation of the BCSP’s Certificate Program in Psychedelic Facilitation, a 9-month, 175-hour professional training and preparation program for psychedelic facilitators, including 150 instructional hours of on-campus weekend immersions, small-group and online learning, contemplative practice, and a five-day retreat to be held off campus in Occidental, California. The remaining hours are fulfilled through a 25-hour practicum. The curriculum includes interdisciplinary study in clinical science, psychotherapeutic methods, spiritual care, and contemplative science. Additional topics include ethics diversity, equity, and inclusion in psychedelic-assisted therapy and ancestral entheogenic traditions.
“We teach our learners about the ancestral histories of mushrooms that existed long before science did, hundreds or thousands of years before the Age of Enlightenment, and the ceremonial use of psychedelic plants,” said Trujillo. “We teach professional ethics, what it means to provide this kind of care with an impeccable level of ethical integrity and safety, and about some of the ideal characteristics of a psychedelic facilitator. We learn about neuroscience and what it offers this work.”
Trujillo says that other research universities are currently developing programs to train psychedelic therapy guides, but so far, UC Berkeley is the only one to launch its program and begin training students. But other, non-research universities already have programs in place to train professionals in psychedelic therapy.
At Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, the Center for Psychedelic Studies offers a 10-month, 200-hour certificate program that provides post-graduate level training for advanced professionals working in relevant therapeutic areas, including mental health counseling, psychiatry, chaplaincy, and social work. When the program was started in 2021, Charles Lief, the president of Naropa University, noted the importance of properly trained therapists to facilitate therapy with psilocybin and other psychedelics.
“The effectiveness of the scientifically validated potential of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies is directly linked to the skill of the professionals who guide clients through the experience,” Lief said in a statement. “Naropa University is well positioned to offer this new Certificate, which draws from our almost 50-year history of integrating academic study, community-based learning and contemplative disciplines as the foundation for training therapists, counselors and chaplains. Naropa graduates are sought-after practitioners, and their impact on mental health care is internationally known. We are proud of our faculty and alumni who are making outstanding contributions to the field.”
Other Psychedelic Guide Training Programs
Organizations not directly affiliated with universities also offer training for psychedelic-assisted therapy guides. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has a program that trains professionals to use the drug MDMA to assist with therapy for mental health conditions including PTSD. The Beckley Foundation, a pioneering organization founded in 1998 by early psychedelics activist Amanda Fielding, offers psychedelic training through the Beckley Academy, which has programs for both psilocybin and MDMA.
Regulators with Oregon Psychedelic Services have approved the curriculum for nearly two dozen training programs for psychedelic-assisted therapy guides including the one offered by BCSP.
The Synthesis Institute, another program approved in Oregon, offers a 13-month training program that offers an interdisciplinary approach to providing effective and ethical psychedelic therapy for professionals from various backgrounds and industries.
The California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco also has a certificate program to train guides for psychedelic therapy. The program, which was developed using the work of scholars and researchers on psychedelic-assisted psychotherapies, transpersonal psychology, consciousness studies, psychoanalysis, comparative mysticism, and cultural anthropology, aims to train 1,125 licensed therapists and ordained clergy in psychedelic-assisted therapy over the next three years through programs in California and its newest training site in Boston, where operations began in 2021.
Psychedelic Therapy Guide Training In Canada
In Canada, where psychedelic-assisted therapies are now legal with proper authorization, Vancouver Island University offers a graduate certificate program designed to meet the need for trained therapists. The curriculum for the program, which was developed by experts from British Columbia in collaboration with the University of Ottawa and the University of British Columbia, integrates Indigenous and Western knowledge, the growing body of academic literature, functional medicine theory, and feedback from graduates.
“This program strives to embody Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshall’s Etuaptmunk (Two-Eyed Seeing) approach. Etuaptmunk lets us ‘see from one eye with the strength of Indigenous ways of knowing, and to see from the other eye with the strengths of Western ways of knowing, and to use both eyes together.’ We aim to bring together the best of Western and traditional perspectives,” the University writes.
MAPS founder Doblin, a pioneer in psychedelic research, said that up to 100,000 trained professionals could eventually be needed in the United States to facilitate therapy with patients living with serious mental health conditions. Up to a quarter of that total could receive training from the organization he started in 1986.
“MAPS’ goal is to train 25,000 therapists in MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD before 2030,” Doblin told LA Weekly. “There are so many other potential clinical indications for MDMA and psilocybin such as alcohol and substance abuse, social anxiety, phobias, etc., etc., that 100,000 therapists could be kept busy.”
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