I came up in the 1960’s in England, when LSD was making its first appearance in the culture. Psychedelics and I renewed our acquaintance about ten years ago, with ayahuasca, psilocybin, MDMA and a touch of ibogaine. In between time I had become a social worker and was working at a needle exchange in East Harlem. There I trained in the harm reduction approach to drug use, which integrates compassion, pragmatism, and an understanding of the social justice issues that swirl around drugs, race and class.
When my private practice started, it serendipitously included people who had recently taken psychedelics, and as I went along, I found that the very internal methods of my therapy melded well with the psychedelic experience. People are often able to go back to the places and spiritual figures that feature in their trip, and once there they can unpack more lessons from the experience by letting its imagery unfold to them anew.
Today I still work at the needle exchange part time, as head of a burgeoning holistic health program, while the other half of my time is spent in my private practice in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. Here I see people in one-on-one sessions, sometimes for long-term therapy and sometimes in preparation or follow up to a plant medicine experience. I also co-lead a weekly group for what we call psychedelic (dis)integration, meaning that group members help the psychedelic in its work of disintegrating the habitual thought patterns and cultural limitations that stand in the way of our spiritual/emotional evolution.
How I work with clients
Most of our problems are spiritual, and our symptoms are signs of an emotional discord that wants to resolve, or of something inside us that wants to show itself and grow. A lot of the work I do with people is very internal, where you go into a meditative state and encounter your different emotional parts, the physical/emotional sensations inside you, and the spontaneous visualizations that arise inside you. I’ve found this to be very coordinate with the plant medicine experience, in that you are revisiting the realm that poet William Blake called the Holy Imagination.
One of the methods I use is Internal Family Systems Therapy, where instead of thinking of yourself as one monolithic “I” you see yourself as a system of parts. One of your parts might be carrying a lot of anxiety, another could be an inner critic, while another you might call your inner child. You can develop a compassionate, non-judging stance to all of your parts, even the ones you don’t like so much, and help them heal. I also practice EMDR, a method for revisiting traumatic experiences and resolving them, as well as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, which can help you develop the presence and stamina you need to go on the healing adventure.
I’m also interested in issues of purpose and meaning, and I’ve found that it’s often useful for people to grapple with these themes after they have taken plant medicine/psychedelics. We see then how the medicine’s perspectives can infuse new understandings to life’s journey, and the role of what we call problems can play in it.