Psychedelic Therapy and Ethics with Kylea Taylor, MS, LMFT

Explore ethical awareness tools in psychedelic therapy. Kylea Taylor, LMFT discusses ethics, training, and navigating extraordinary states.
Ethical Awareness Tools. An image of Kylea in the center wearing a black top and a red cardigan She has long dark hair and glasses. Behind her is a green background with wavy wonky lines on it, and two duplicates of the image of her which are treated with a green effect.
Author: Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
March 4, 2024(Updated: March 7, 2024)

Why are ethics particularly important for clinicians practicing in psychedelic therapy? Kylea Taylor is a California-licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has been thinking, writing, and teaching about ethics for almost three decades. We spoke with her to find out.

Kylea developed and teaches InnerEthics®—a set of ethical awareness tools and a self-reflective, self-compassionate approach to ethical client relationships. She is now presenting this approach in psychedelic psychotherapy training. 

She started studying with Stanislav Grof, MD, and Christina Grof in 1984. In 1990, she was certified as a practitioner.

Throughout the 1990s, she worked with Stanislav Grof and Tav Sparks as a Senior Trainer in the Grof Transpersonal Training. She also worked for nine years in a residential substance abuse treatment program, where Holotropic Breathwork® was part of the recovery program.

During this time, she frequently assisted Stanislav Grof and Jack Kornfield, PhD, at the Insight & Opening weeklong programs that combined Holotropic Breathwork® and Vipassana meditation.

How Kylea Came to Specialize in Ethics and Psychedelic Therapy

Kylea shared that she didn’t think about ethics until she started working with Stan Grof in the Grof Transpersonal Training. She didn’t like ethics or think about it much before that.

“[Before working with Stan Grof], ethics seemed to be about people telling you what to do and what to not do,” adds Kylea. 

During her training, she noticed that a few therapists were getting into ethical trouble. These were good people, and that surprised her. So she started thinking about that and writing about it.

From a Grad School Ethics Paper to Publishing a Book

She was in graduate school, taking an ethics course, and had to write a paper. She wrote about the differences between ethics working in ordinary state subconsciousness and ethics working in extraordinary state subconsciousness. 

Then, after a week-long workshop called Inside and Opening, she consulted with Jack Kornfield. He was meeting with the facilitators afterward when an ethical issue occurred, so she decided to share her thoughts about ethical differences in extraordinary states.

After she said something, he grabbed her journal and wrote ETHICS in big letters. That was enough to give Kylea the permission and enthusiasm to write a book. She published The Ethics of Caring in 1995 and rewrote it in 2017. 

At this time, the psychedelic field got interested in her form of ethics, which she calls InnerEthics®. Since then, she’s been teaching and learning about this InnerEthics® model.

Why Ethics Are Particularly Important for Clinicians Practicing Psychedelic Therapy 

Ethics is essential to protect the therapist and the client. It clearly outlines what is appropriate during therapy and helps ensure decisions are made morally and meet professional standards and practices. However, what makes ethics in psychedelic therapy unique? Why do clinicians need a specific type of training in this area?

Kylea first shared that extraordinary states of consciousness amplify everything. 

“[E]very kind of ethical dilemma or situation that occurs in regular therapy sessions also can occur in extraordinary state of consciousness sessions, only more so,” explains Kylea.

Ethical Situations in Extraordinary Sessions

Kylea gave examples of ethical situations or dilemmas that can happen during psychedelic therapy sessions that don’t typically occur in regular ones. The experiencer is more vulnerable and sensitive. This makes everything more ethically precarious, which is why ethical awareness tools are important.

There is more possibility of transference and countertransference. There is a greater chance of misunderstanding words or touch between the practitioner and the client. The client is in a very suggestible state of consciousness, and the practitioner is in more of an up-power role.

Kylea also explained that there are different ethical issues with psychedelic therapy. She thinks a different scope of practice exists for working with clients in extraordinary states of consciousness. Training companies have sprung up to recognize this. Therapists are recognizing it and are taking these courses. 

Gaps in Conventional (Western) Training Education 

We asked Kylea about the gaps in conventional Western training and education that don’t address the ethical concerns seen in psychedelic therapy. 

“The ethical question is…is a particular person trained and experienced enough to be a psychedelic practitioner or to be a psychedelic practitioner for a specific person? Are we qualified as a psychedelic practitioner to be using this particular medicine? That we were trained in psychedelics, but are we trained in this particular medicine?” explains Kylea.

For example, for someone who is a recovering alcoholic, does a provider know enough about sobriety to do that? Or a client who has a very different life experience than the provider? 

Kylea stressed that it’s not enough to be trained as a medical professional, a clinician, a therapist, or a coach. Being competent to sit with people who’ve taken psychedelics requires a lot of experiential training. This includes having experienced the extraordinary states themselves and having supervised experience sitting for others who are having them.

Recognizing Our Motivations

Kylea explained that one of the gaps in the conventional training model is that it doesn’t teach clinicians how to recognize and work with their motivations, biases, and beliefs. These precede their behavior. It’s important to be conscious of these things so that providers have a choice about whether to act on them.

“If we’re not attuned to what’s happening in ourselves unconsciously, we might be distracted from attunement to the client. And not be there to make the choice at the appropriate time,” explains Kylea. 

She emphasized that it takes a lot of practice to be aware and conscious of ourselves, the client, the environment, and the history.

Extraordinary States of Consciousness are Therapeutically Different

Kylea believes that the training landscape will change because of how much psychedelics are coming into the culture. However, she explained that most conventional Western therapeutic education currently doesn’t teach future therapists about extraordinary states of consciousness. Extraordinary states of consciousness are different therapeutically. This is something that needs to be taught.

To Use a Direct Approach, or To Facilitate?

One of the things that conventional education does not address is how to distinguish when to use a more direct approach. When acting more like a midwife is more appropriate, the facilitated process is already underway internally in the extraordinary states. 

Kylea shared that it’s sometimes necessary to be directive in ordinary states. This allows you to have a cognitive discussion to get through the client’s defenses. However, in the extraordinary state, the psychedelic has done that. The defenses are down. 

Inner Healing Intelligence During Extraordinary States

In extraordinary states, the process is more inter-directed by our inner healing intelligence. Kylea explained that our inner healing intelligence is something that fixes a cut on our fingers without us even thinking about it. 

She shared that we also have an inner healing intelligence that works on our psyche to bring up stuff that needs attention and healing. When someone is in an extraordinary state of consciousness, that material that needs to be addressed comes up. This is a precious opportunity for them to pay attention. 

Kylea explained that in that situation, the person just needs therapeutic support. The therapist provides the right conditions of protection, encouragement, and presence. The client can experience any extra external intervention that interferes with the inner healing process.

How To Make Ethical Decisions When Practicing Psychedelic Therapy

We asked Kylea for tips on how to make ‘in the moment’ ethical decisions when practicing psychedelic therapy with clients. She expressed that she’s been thinking about that question for the past three decades. 

Kylea teaches practitioners effective ways to stay ethically alert. This allows them to make ethical decisions and helps them stay in what she calls a ‘right relationship’ with their clients. She developed InnerEthics® ethical awareness tools. To create those tools, she first had to ask herself the following:

  • What are the core ethical duties of psychedelic practitioners? 
  • How are practitioners getting into ethical trouble? 
  • What are the common ethical pitfalls? 
  • What kinds of choices are challenging to have psychedelic practitioners? 

Kylea believes there are two duties of a practitioner:

  • To protect the client 
  • To put the best interests of the client before their own interests. 

InnerEthics® Ethical Awareness Tools

These two duties require capacity for presence and self-awareness. She created five main inner-ethics ethical awareness tools and ways to practice them. The first four tools are ones providers can use individually and privately to increase their self-awareness and consciousness development. 

These tools are meant to be used ’at the moment’ during sessions once they have practiced and learned them. It allows them a way to be more conscious of what the situation is and how to deal with it. 

“[InnerEthics® ethical awareness tools] provide ways to identify, recognize, and work with ourselves about our motivations, about common ethically precarious situations that might be involved with the relationship and to be aware and assess and rebalance what you were talking about, the amounts of protection and permission and connection that’s needed in the therapeutic container and conflicts of interest between what we want and what the client needs,” shared Kylea.

InnerEthics® Peer Consultation Group

She’s working a lot with the fifth tool, which is discussed in her Ethics 103 course. It’s a peer consultation group. It is specifically structured to make it as safe as possible for everyone in the group to take turns looking at themselves in the vulnerable seat. Kylea believes that nobody can learn or change without compassion.

When someone brings up a confusing or challenging situation, the group is designed to focus on bringing compassion to the person. Everyone else in the group takes one of the roles and helps the person do self-inquiry and relational reflection. 

The group members do that by asking questions that support self-reflection. They might suggest using one or more of the ethical awareness tools to help the person figure out what’s happening. The structure provides a way to feel safe enough to go into what they need to go into.

She shared that people who have gone through the training have unanimously shared their positive experiences.

“[People have reported to me that] they were amazed at how safe it felt for the person bringing the situation to the group and how much compassion was provided by the group to that person. And they say that even if it’s a demonstration group and the people don’t know each other or even if they’ve never done this…kind of group. [M]ost of them who have done this group have never done it before,” added Kylea.

Getting Permission to Show and Express Compassion

Kylea believes that a sense of belonging and a sturdy state of self-compassion are all too scarce in our Western culture. She clarified that it’s not that we don’t have compassion for each other in this culture. Instead, she thinks we need more permission to show and express it. 

As a society, we are often very hard on ourselves. It’s difficult to have self-compassion because of all the expectations we hold against ourselves. We don’t believe we have the permission to talk about how it feels when we are disappointed in ourselves. 

She designed these peer consultation groups to give that permission. It helps to have someone or more than one person who can normalize the feeling of beating ourselves up. And then, having the person or people come back with compassion helps normalize it.

“[W]hen you hear compassion from several people, it sinks in. And it’s like a balm, and you get to be self-compassionate about this. And then [you] can look at [yourself] and see [what] needs to change…and it’s okay. [You’re] not a bad person. But it’s hard to look at that before you feel okay enough and do it,” explained Kylea.

Connect with Kylea

There are many ways to connect with Kylea:

Kylea is the author of The Ethics of Caring: Finding Right Relationship with Clients, The Breathwork Experience, and Considering Holotropic Breathwork®, and is the editor of Exploring Holotropic Breathwork®. Grab a copy of Kylea’s books today.

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The content provided is for educational and informational purposes only and should be a substitute for medical or other professional advice. Articles are based on personal opinions, research, and experiences of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Psychedelic Support.

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Author: Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine has over 15 years of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system, leading patient safety incident investigations, quality and systems improvement projects, and change management initiatives within mental health, emergency health services, and women's health. She has published in scientific journals and co-authored health research books. Her bylines include Verywell Mind, CBC Parents, Family Education, Mamamia Australia, HuffPost Canada, and CafeMom. Check out her books at Sum (心,♡) on Sleeve.

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