Older Adults and Psychedelics

Psychedelics have the potential to help older adults process life transitions, heal, and grow, if they are included in therapy and studies.
By Nancy Rhine, LMFT
May 26, 2021

Older adults and psychedelics pair well. Older adults make up a huge, and growing portion of the United States, yet there is often too little space for them to process life transitions. Nancy Rhine, LMFT, explores the potential of psychedelics to aid older adults in growing and healing throughout the aging process.


What brought you to the field of psychedelic therapy and medicine?

I experienced a set of traumas a few years ago that led to my own challenge with PTSD. I tried all sorts of therapies and practices for healing, all of which helped to a certain extent. Not until I experienced my own guided psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy journey did I realize the healing power of this type of treatment. As soon as I experienced it for myself, I had a realization. I realized that as a mental health professional, particularly one focused on serving midlife and older individuals, I wanted to learn about this treatment so I could offer it to my clients. I was fortunate enough to find a wonderful training program and am now offering pre- and post-session integration services for clients.

These seasons of life present times when we typically begin to shed practices and habits and defenses that no longer serve us.

You have a passion for working with midlife and older adults on issues that arise during these life stages. What are some of the issues and opportunities your clients are facing?

portrait of Nancy Rhine wearing a yellow shirt, resting her chin in her hand, and smiling at the camera.  Nancy works with older adults.
Image Credit: Nancy Rhine, LMFT

As we grow older, we experience what is called cumulative loss. Grief is a predominant challenge. So are many other issues such as:

-Coping with constant change
-Life transitions
-End of life and existential anxiety
-Depression
-Dealing with illness
-Surmounting ageism in the culture
-Healing multigenerational relationships

-Etc.

The opportunities in midlife and older years are, at the same, rich, deep and profound. These seasons of life present times when we typically begin to shed practices, habits and defenses no longer serving us. We start to explore new passions for creativity and purpose and connection. It can feel very freeing and exhilarating, as well as somewhat frightening. The whole gamut, or as the Buddhists say, the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows.

How can psychedelics play a role in healing for older adults?

Guided and supported psychedelic experiences, with integration, typically create a fluid environment. In this environment individuals are able to soften their ego defenses or “armoring.” They are able to take a look at life experiences, challenges and/or fears that they have compartmentalized or closed away over the years. We all have those experiences. With the help of a compassionate and competent psychotherapist and guide, many individuals are able to explore parts of themselves and their lives. They begin to develop new, wider perspectives that often include forgiveness of self and forgiveness of others. In older life, there is often a process called life review that naturally occurs. This process can be greatly facilitated by psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.

What role does education play in normalizing life experiences, like aging and grief?

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Image Credit: Cristian Newman

Education plays a huge role in normalizing life experiences. There are typically very few places for older adults to talk with each other about the deeper feelings involved in growing older and experiencing grief. As a result, I find that individuals can fall into a trap. The trap of self-critical thinking that they are somehow deficient or are doing things “wrong.” This painful, negative self-judgment often results in loneliness, isolation, fear and depression. Educating and normalizing – while not taking away all of life’s challenges of course – do lighten the load and let people know that they are not alone. Plus, they can learn from other people. Moreover they find out tips about how to navigate these years and challenges and opportunities. Thus, in essence, not having to “reinvent the wheel” or “tough it out alone”.

If you could, what idea would you make a part of the older adults and psychedelics field?

In this renaissance of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, lost access for older people concerns me. Precisely in the years when humans are facing some of our most potent, and unfortunately often the most debilitating, existential crises. Older people will be best served by teams of progressive medical, mental health, and guide professionals who can evaluate and pre-assess their overall health qualifications so that they can have safe experiences.

Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is not for everyone, but many older adults have experienced the 60’s and 70’s and are familiar with various substances, albeit in a different experiential format. Now that they are reading so much in the lay literature about the psychedelic renaissance and the groundbreaking, positive research studies – such as those at Johns Hopkins regarding psilocybin and end of life patients – many of them are wanting to explore experiences and benefits for themselves. They should be supported in these inquiries and not left behind. Research studies need to continue, particularly with older client populations.


Published by:
Nancy Rhine, LMFT
I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist located in San Anselmo, CA. Learn more about my integration and mental health services on my profile page in the Psychedelic Support Network. Visit my website to learn more.

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