Ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KAP) is a powerful method to helping clients heal. Veronika Gold, LMFT and the team at Polaris Insight Center are focused on offering high quality KAP training to a growing community of therapists. Join Veronika as we learn more about their mission.
Getting to Know Veronika Gold, LMFT
Veronika Gold, a Czech Republic native, made the Bay Area her home in 2003. She has been interested in the exploration of consciousness and the healing potential of psychedelics since her teenage years. She has an expertise in the treatment of trauma, and she works with clients on preparation for – and integration of – psychedelic experiences, personal growth, and relationship issues. She is a co-founder of Polaris Insight Center providing Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy, as well as Ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KAP) training for therapists. She is also Sub-Investigator, therapist and supervisor on MAPS MDMA-Assisted Therapy for the treatment of PTSD. Veronika has also served as a consultant and facilitator in EMDR and Organic Intelligence trainings.
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Co-Founding Polaris Insight Center
“My journey started a long time ago, before I started working for MAPS. I had a lifelong interest in working with non-ordinary states of consciousness and the possibility of healing. In 2016, I entered the MAPS training program and started to work on the Phase Two study [with MDMA]. Ketamine was one of the medicines that is legally available, and I had colleagues who were working with ketamine at the time. I started working at an infusion clinic, and I’ve learned so much seeing patients working with the medicine, but I saw the limits of working in that setting. Talking together with my colleagues at MAPS, we decided to start Polaris Insight Center [to work with ketamine]. Five of us got started planning the clinic in 2017, and it started in 2018 and has been growing since then. We now have many more therapists who’ve joined us as well and have developed an on-line and in-person KAP training program.”
“There are (at least) different paradigms of working with ketamine. Many people know about the studies using ketamine for the treatment of depression. Almost all of those studies are from the use of IV ketamine [in the medical paradigm], and the focus there is really on alleviating the symptoms – that’s what they’re measuring. Ketamine is also used in the psychological paradigm, where it lubricates psychotherapy, lowers or relaxes defenses, and loosens boundaries and internal structures, so that people have more access to (and an easier time working with) material they need to bring in and work through. Then we have the psychedelic or transpersonal paradigm (also termed phenomenological in some academic/research settings), where the healing happens through the transpersonal or psychedelic experience (itself). And, we could say there is a shamanic paradigm, where the guide or therapist will be working together with the transpersonal experience in the process.”
“At Polaris Insight Center, we’re working with those four models combined together. Of course with all of these paradigms, the client is benefiting from the significant biochemical effect of the ketamine and support of psychotherapy. The focus is on processing underlying psychological material however we also consider the transpersonal psychedelic states as crucial for healing. The goal of KAP is to help people not only experience symptom reduction, but to help them have a better quality of life and address the underlying issues. Sometimes the treatment focus involves looking at dynamics and events that happened in their life, and sometimes the therapy process goes deeper to transgenerational trauma.”
KAP Training with Polaris Insight Center
“We’re expanding the way we think about consciousness, the way to healing, and what our KAP training program is focused on. We provide a general overview of the different ways people work with ketamine. [In the KAP training program], we cover different topics, strategies of treatment, but also what the psychedelic experience is, what can come up, and how to work with it. It wasn’t our plan to have a KAP KAP training program [originally], but it organically developed as we offered trainings for the students at CIIS. We started offering trainings for the therapists in our community to help them understand what clients are/would be going through with ketamine-assisted therapy processes and how we can work together to support the treatment process.
Now, [the KAP training program] is quite extensive. We have 10 modules. The first 5 modules are the introduction and focused on ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. The advanced modules 6 and 7 go into more complex topics and in-depth case presentations. We then have a module on working with the self of the therapist, because we see how different it is to be a therapist working with non-ordinary states compared to traditional talk therapy. We are highlighting how the therapist can take care of themselves when doing this work and how to help them process the material and carry it forward from session to session.
There is the medical module for medical providers (and others interested in an in-depth understanding of the biological and neuropsychological factors). We have a module on understanding the role of music including creating playlists for ketamine-assisted sessions. We have an intensive, immersive experiential KAP training where clinicians are learning to work with the medicine [directly]. We also provide consultation groups (for clinicians developing their practices and learning creative, grounded, and innovative ways to work in this field). All of these steps are part of becoming a competent, conscientious ketamine-assisted psychotherapist.”
“We structured the modules in a way to bring in many different topics. The broadest perspective on ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, and in fact, all psychedelic-assisted therapy, includes looking at the historical perspective and the indigenous roots of ways of working with non-ordinary states of consciousness, and really learning and honoring those. And then, we’re working somatically with touch and discussing transference and countertransference, and different integration challenges – not just how integration looks but also what are the struggles that we encounter along the way.
We also discuss working with trauma, addictions, and attachment issues, and dive into topics of transpersonal psychology. Throughout, as much as possible, we are also doing breakout groups, where people get to process what they have been learning with each other. There is a chat where people can ask questions throughout, as well as Q & A sessions. And we have a module devoted to practice focused on preparation, integration, therapeutic interaction, working with NOSC’s and working with music we use in session.
In module 2, there is an hour and a half experiential where we guide participants through a session where they go inward using eyeshades and having the music and then have an integration group – without the medicine. We’re introducing people to understand and practice the set and setting, and the ritual or the ceremony elements of the session. And in module 5, there’s a practice session where we ask people to work with something that’s real for them. Often that’s the module people feel most nervous about ahead of time, and at the end of the day, it’s their favorite module. So, there is a lot of different interactive and engaging elements to the KAP training program.”
“You know, the journey to becoming a skillful KAP therapist is not based on taking any one or even ten webinars that somebody will take and is ready to be a psychedelic-assisted therapist. It is really a journey of “becoming” – continuous learning, self-reflection, consultation and self-experience. There are things that people can learn themselves by reading books or watching webinars and presentations, but also, it’s important to have an interactive training and then practice. In module 5, people practice with each other without the medicine, to really learn the principles of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy and non-ordinary states. Once you finish the KAP training, and you have your own experience with the medicine, it is so important to continue with peer consultation.”
The Experiential Retreat & KAP Training
“The experiential retreat is a controversial topic in the field for different reasons. What if people don’t want to have an experience with the medicine (for any of a variety of reasons)? We think you can work with the medicine without (direct) experience, but it really brings a different level of insight and understanding if the therapist has an experience with the medicine they’re working with.”
“We are providing the retreats in collaboration with Rainfall Medicine in Portland, [Oregon]. This immersive KAP training retreat is a collaboration of Polaris Insight Center and Rainfall (that takes place) over 5 days. We want the practitioner to learn through their own experience, start to create a relationship with the medicine that they’re going to be working with, and also have the possibility to see a lot of different sessions, because people respond to ketamine very differently. When they come to the retreat, each person will have two sessions as a client – one session with a sublingual lozenge of ketamine, and one session with the intramuscular ketamine.”
“People have the opportunity to be both the therapist and the client. Each person works with two different people over the week, and they switch roles. When they’re in the role of the therapist, they are supporting their client. At the same time, they’re seeing the integration process for other people in the group and hearing about their journey. The retreats have 20-24 participants, and so when people come out of the retreat, they have heard or witnessed about 40 or 50 ketamine experiences.
We introduce different kinds of preparation and integration methods and activities, and we see that is so crucial in creating the setting and the space for the integration of the material….We bring in art therapy, movement, yoga, meditation, sound journey. There are a variety of activities that we are doing together as well as teaching different somatic techniques that people can do in sessions with clients. We talk in detail about a constant process and help people stay with the process and go deeper. And, we do improvisational based on what comes from the questions that arise in the retreat setting…Taken together, this combination of experiences can really bring them more confidence in starting to work with clients.”
“It’s really beautiful to see how many people have really taken the experience into their practices and their communities and then became more capable of having more trust and understanding of working with the medicine. KAP is something that is hard to learn just from webinars of videos. So, there’s a felt sense of the experience and trust of working with the medicine that they can bring to their teams and for building community. I think community in psychedelic work is so important because it’s a new field and there are people who are in areas where…they might be the only person providing this type of work. These retreats have the potential for people to really create alliances and build professional support networks. We’ve seen that people continue to meet after and create peer consultation groups, peer support groups, and start clinics. For us, [the community] has been most important in doing this work – from our team, the other clinics we’re fortunate to know – and there’s been so much collaboration and support, and that’s really crucial and beautiful.”
The Future with Ketamine and MDMA Therapy
“We are living in such an exciting time, with so much change and potential. My orientation has been working with trauma and helping people with PTSD. Being able to work with MAPS and the MDMA-assisted psychotherapy trial has been so beautiful and life-changing – offering different treatments to help people resolve some parts of their trauma. I am so looking forward to this therapy being available. I imagine that there will be combinations in the future where people might be working with MDMA and ketamine together, so that there will be more possibilities for healing… I’m excited about a possibility of providing this treatment, including MDMA treatment, in retreat settings, where someone can take a few days off before and after and have even more time to be with what is unfolding – to hold them and go even deeper into the process.”
“The MDMA therapy is provided in co-therapy pairs, which is something that’s not so common, but it’s really beautiful to work with another clinician. It has been a great gift for me. I’ve been so grateful for the co-therapists I have worked with. I think we were able to provide more to the participants in the study than we would have been able to provide just by ourselves.
We are looking forward to this model of having co-therapy teams providing the MDMA therapy and being able to…see the goals of the client and create treatment plans…There will be this kind of collaboration and care and support that that will be provided for the clients…I think it’s really important to stay connected to our values as we are doing the work – why we are doing this – and increasing our training, getting help, [and] cultivating community. I’ve learned so much about what this work requires of us and how much self-care we need to be able to do it well.”
Connecting with Polaris Insight Center
Veronika and the team at Polaris Insight Center would love to connect with you! “Please visit the website and all the information is there. We have a newsletter that people can sign up for. Feel free to email any of us at Polaris Insight Center, and we’ll be happy to answer any questions or provide consultation.”