Healing and mental health support for Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color should be able to take place in an identity-affirming, trauma-informed space with therapists who share these lived experiences. Courtney Watson, MEd, MS, LMFT and her BIPOC team at Doorway Therapeutics are creating a pathway to healing that addresses both the cultural competency and access issues that often limit effective care for these communities, drawing on ancestral wisdom and healing.
Getting to Know Courtney Watson
Courtney Watson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Sex therapist. She is the owner of Doorway Therapeutic Services, a group therapy practice in Oakland, CA focused on addressing the mental health needs of Black Indigenous People of Color, Queer folks, Trans, Gender Non-conforming, Non binary and Two Spirit individuals. Courtney has followed the direction of her ancestors to incorporate psychedelic assisted therapy into her offerings for folks with multiple marginalized identities and stresses the importance of BIPOC and Queer providers offering these services.
Courtney spent most of 2019 training with the California Institute of Integral Studies’ Center for Psychedelic Therapies and Research to provide psychedelic-assisted therapy. She is deeply interested in the impact of psychedelic medicines on folks with marginalized identities as well as how they can assist with the decolonization process for BIPOC. She believes this field is not yet ready to address the unique needs of Communities of Color and is prepared and enthusiastic about bridging the gap. She is currently blazing the trail as one of the only clinics of predominantly QTBIPOC providers offering Ketamine Assisted Therapy in 2021. She has founded a non-profit, Access to Doorways, to raise funds to subsidize the cost of ketamine/psychedelic assisted therapy for QTBIPOC clients and training for QTBIPOC practitioners (now accepting donations for this cause). She is also hoping to offer other psychedelic medicines such as MDMA and Psilocybin as they become FDA approved.
An Ancestral Invitation
Courtney came to the path of psychedelic-assisted therapy through an “an ancestral push. I was just starting to move into more African diasporic religious practices and understanding and grounding in African indigenous knowledge systems.” Someone in the psychedelic field came into a workshop Courtney was moderating on mental health and shared about MDMA-assisted therapy. Courtney sees how the war on drugs and the targeting of Black people, including within her own family, have created real dangers and tangible barriers that keep BIPOC from connecting with plant medicines. Courtney then attended a conference hosted by the Chacruna Institute which worked to challenge the notion of psychedelics as medicines only for white people.
“I was really questioning why I was there, but I heard a voice that said, just wait, you’re here, just wait. And I knew that it was an ancestral voice…I am an obedient child… I hear these messages and I know that my folks will never lead me astray…By the end of the conference, I knew exactly why I was there. This is medicine that we all need to be able to have access to, and I wanted to be a part of making sure that happens.”
Respecting Lived Experience of BIPOC
Courtney’s therapeutic style acknowledges the broader context that shapes an individual’s life and wellness. Her healing practice is rooted in an applied social justice lens and is informed deeply by the needs of the individual client and their own lived experience as BIPOC. “We can have someone in front of us and say, ‘Ooh, this is a personality disorder.’ or ‘This is depression or anxiety.’ We can treat the person and completely miss the entire social context that that person lives in.” This can be especially true for Black women, who often hold so much of the physical and emotional labor of caring for their loved ones.
“We hear about the strong Black woman narrative and how much anxiety and depression comes with being that strong Black woman, being that woman that takes care of everyone. You’re depressed because anytime someone in your family needs you, you hop to it immediately, or you’re anxious because you have to hold everything together for everyone – your family, your community. Intergenerationally, we were taught that we had to make sure that everyone survived. The lesson is that we can never rest, that we can never sit down. And of course, it’s hard to be happy if you can never rest. So, if you only look at the symptoms of someone and not their historical cultural background, or the intergenerational trauma, then you’re actually missing the way to hold the reality of what the entire person needs.”
Courtney emphasizes the importance of holding both
“colonization…or imperialism…as part of what is happening today, while also holding the resilience of these communities. What did your folks [ancestors] do in response to these oppressions? What is the resilience that also got passed down intergenerationally? And how can we build upon that when we’re looking at how you can exist in this world, in a way that that actually feels better for you?”
To heal intergenerational patterns and historical traumas for BIPOC, Courtney is supported by spiritual work. “I lean on my gut…Sometimes, I’m in the therapy room and it’s not just me, it’s not just the client, it’s the ancestors that walk with both of us. It’s the spirits that walk with us, the spirits that work with me and assist me in this healing work. Sometimes the modality is that I have an inner knowing, and that the client has the inner knowing, and that together we will make our way towards what works for them. My modality is my gut.”
A Highway for Healing
Therapies like ketamine-assisted psychotherapy can play a key role in healing for people who are queer and BIPOC. “When I first started, I think a lot of folks felt like ketamine was a placeholder for other medicines which may [become available legally]. When I’ve talked to folks locally in this community, I’ve also I started to hear how folks hurt. Ketamine really has her own medicine…and so we do experientials as a part of our [therapist] training to be able to provide this medicine. In my last experience with ketamine, I saw her as this concrete highway – this manmade structure – and her role was to open the door for us to come back to former or previous ways of having holistic healing, included altered states of consciousness. Her role is to create a highway for healing for folks above ground, within the current medical healthcare system. Her role is to create a way. So, when I think about Black and Brown folks, BIPOC people, specifically, and the war on drugs and the…targeting communities of color, [I also think about] ketamine as a safe place within this psychotherapeutic system to access altered states of consciousness, to open up old pathways, to open up old ways of remembering, to open up connections to ancestors, and come back to former ways of healing that include spirituality.”
Joy of Healing with BIPOC
While therapy often deals with challenge and trauma, there is so much joy in the healing process too. When asked about what brings her the most joy in this healing process, Courtney shares,
“It’s the moment that folks remember themselves. It’s the moment when like a client remembers their magic. When, for the first time, they hear the voice of an ancestor and they make a connection with someone on the other side that is their predecessor. They realize that within them there is magic that they have not accessed previously, but also maybe it hasn’t been accessed for a couple of generations because of the separation, specifically [of] Black folks from the land. But the moment when…someone comes back to themselves – their history, their people, their magic, – I could live off of that feeling for the rest of my life.”
Courtney’s wisdom and insights benefit our whole field. Something in particular that the field of psychedelic medicine needs at this moment is “right relationship. It would not just be right relationship from humans to plants, but from human to human. So much would come out of right relationship – we would respect the plants, honor them, we wouldn’t abuse them, we wouldn’t be trying to profit off of them. We would be in a mutually reciprocal relationship with the plants. We would guard them and steward them. And human to human, the accessibility issue would be solved. We wouldn’t have to worry about who will be left out of having access to the plants or to psychedelic healing, because in right relationship, we would make sure that our sister, our brother, our sibling, everyone, is able to access to this healing. Everyone is supported in this healing. There is community integration.”
Opening the Doorway to Healing to BIPOC
In addition to the healing work that Courtney and her team offer at Doorway Therapeutic Services, she has also created Access to Doorways, a 501c3 non-profit that aims to raise funds to subsidize the cost of ketamine & psychedelic-assisted therapy for QTBIPOC clients and provide training for QTBIPOC practitioners. This work too comes out of Courtney’s obedience to the guidance of her ancestors. She also balances the tension that exists as a business owner providing thriving employment to her team, while also ensuring access to treatment for community members.
“I didn’t even have a ketamine clinic set up yet, and I knew I needed to start a nonprofit because of the cost [of treatment] – it’s so expensive. As someone that is a business owner of an organization of predominantly BIPOC, predominantly folks across gender spectrum, that speak various languages, I refuse to participate in the wage gap. We are not going to charge less because of our identities and try to meet the need of the community. We will charge the same as our colleagues who don’t have these identities…and everyone should be making the same amount that we make, so that everyone can live well. And, I don’t think that our clients should have to pay. No one will be turned away regardless of what their identities are, but we prioritize those who are most marginalized. We prioritize BIPOC folks and people that are gender expansive in this particular healing work. And we make sure that we as practitioners holds those identities, so that there’s some things that just don’t have to be explained. Those who are most marginalized definitely deserve access to this healing container.”
“We had to figure out this access piece, and I talked to a lot of people, and the thing that it kept on coming back was a nonprofit. We recently got our 501c3 status, and we can accept tax deductible donations. And my dream is that people – whether it’s allies, whether it’s major corporations, whether it’s people that got $5 to give every month – that people donate. So that those who are most impacted by the oppression and most severely holding the traumas of this world can get access to psychedelic healing with ketamine right now, and maybe with MDMA and psilocybin later on. Access to Doorways was me listening to my ancestors and saying, ‘Okay, we have to figure out a way for us to be able to receive this medicine, for us to be able to have this work.’ And that’s how it was born.”
We’re grateful for Courtney’s wise work, and for all the therapists at the Psychedelic.Support Network!