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Psychedelic Therapy Career Guidance

Thinking about a change and need some psychedelic therapy career guidance? Start here with vital considerations prior to joining the field.
By Adam Miezio
April 5, 2021(Updated: April 16, 2021)

Considering a vocational change and looking for psychedelic therapy career guidance? You found the right place to start. Congratulations on finding your way here, as you have already passed the first obstacle. More hurdles await you on your journey should you choose to move forward.

For a number of reasons which will be discussed later, the field of psychedelic therapy proves to be a chaotic one at this time. The field is also changing and shifting in a rapid manner. Simplify your path along the road of psychedelic therapy training. Become familiar with the macro issues facing the field as it matures into a socially accepted and mainstream form of medical practice. As you navigate these core issues, you will reach a fuller understanding if you want to become a psychedelic therapist.

Psychedelic Therapy Career Guidance: 4 Main Issues

There are 4 broad areas that steer the field of psychedelic therapy at this time. These include: novelty, experiential knowledge/wisdom/skills, lack of universal certification, and vocational risks. Due to these forces influencing the field, you may find that becoming a psychedelic therapist is not as straightforward as you would like. Conversely, you may find that entering the field is easier than assumed.

This oxymoronic aspect of the current state of psychedelic therapy indicates its embryonic stage of growth and uncertain path. Regardless of your initial intuition regarding your qualifications one way or another, push forward with your learning. The end result may surprise you. Oftentimes, something novel surprises you, which the field of psychedelic therapy is sure to do. Here are the vital considerations of psychedelic therapy career guidance.

Novelty

Psychedelic therapy is a novel field. Along with this aspect comes a host of nuances, complexities, challenges and opportunities. Thankfully, the field isn’t entirely coming out of the dark unknown.

President Richard Nixon put psychedelic plants and medicines under Schedule I status in 1970. Thus defining them as having “no currently accepted medical use.” Their illegality went into effect the following year, in 1971. Events culminating in the late 1960s helped Nixon cast out psychedelics from pop culture. The Nixon administration’s psychedelic stigmatization paved the way for this landmark legislation. However, this unfortunate policy redirection put a grinding halt to research efforts, consequently criminalizing all psychedelics.

Prior to this legal sea change, psychedelic research benefited thanks to thousands of studies throughout the 1950s and the 1960s. The huge setback of “Schedule I” classification sealed the field’s fate for many years to come. As a result, the classification plunged the field into its version of the dark ages for decades. At the same time, the status quo began demonizing psychedelics.

50 Years Later

Now, 50 years later, the dark age has passed and the field enters the light again. Psychedelic plants and medicines are resurfacing in the mainstream with a second lease on life. Fortunately this time around, the psychedelic second act comes with a much more mature and nuanced framing. This retooled approach owes to the psychedelic “old guard” maintaining perseverance and perspective in its research and studies.

Think of key figures like Rick Doblin at MAPS and Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins. Thanks to them and other psychedelic pioneers, their elder wisdom inspired a new generation of researchers, scientists and scholars. This new generation provides a more mature, and well-rounded framing. Think Robin Carhart-Harris at Imperial College London and Matthew Johnson at Johns Hopkins. Psychedelic plants and medicines have been on a distinct journey in the United States. Psychedelics have gone from unknown, to novel/thrilling, to banished, and are now back again…legally! This creates its own unique issues.

Let’s take a look at the 3 main, unique issues stemming from the novelty facing psychedelic therapy.

Western Dogma

How long ago did Nietzsche proclaim “god is dead?” Religion has been on the decline for a long time, increasingly more so in the United States. What has replaced it? A dogmatic grip on science and the rational mind.

As a result, the connection to spirit has been lost. There is no space in Western culture and society for experiencing, understanding or integrating the mystical and the sublime. Anything that isn’t empirical, can’t be measured, weighed, felt, seen, heard, smelled, etc., is offered no room for consideration. Psychedelic therapy flies directly into this headwind. The practice obliges practitioners and patients alike to radically adjust their ontological and epistemological perspectives.

Psychedelics have a tried and true ability to elicit home truths*. Home truths often challenge (sometimes even obliterate) the narrow, mainstream, Western lens of reality. If minds aren’t initially set up to handle this, neither are medical systems or communities. For thousands of years, indigenous cultures have embraced the intangible mysticism behind psychedelics with ease. Only now is the West just getting around to this idea (Or finally returning to it if you consider the Mysteries of Eleusis). In turn, this leads to a critical gap in providing quality care.

*Home truth (n): an unpleasant fact that jars the sensibilities

No Infrastructure

The United States and other western countries lack the infrastructure to efficiently and safely implement a whole new system of therapeutic remedies and/or mental healthcare. This is a twofold problem. Safe, healthy use of psychedelics requires a complete community which must be built from the bottom up.

The first problem is the obvious lack of psychedelic therapists and healthcare system infrastructure. Besides the need for therapists, psychedelic therapy requires consciously designed clinics. It does not need sterile, stark white hospital rooms and mental health wards. The much needed shift is already underway. Care is shifting towards alternative forms, as well as holistic health offered in healing positive contexts. Examples include greater consideration of a patient’s mental and spiritual health. Hospice care is one such example. Hospice now embraces the ancient Eastern, healing practice known as reiki. Moreover, hospice offers reiki in the comfort of your own home.

The care we provide is changing. So the context in which care is provided must shift as well. Psychedelic therapy is no different. A new methodology has to not only include the new art, but the gallery to display it in too. At this time, our healthcare system lacks the necessary setting and venues for psychedelic therapy. This requires time to build.

Think about other revolutionary advances in science and medicine. How long did it take to upskill and implement the microscope upon invention? What about the discovery of antibiotics? 

No Community Support Networks

The second problem is no existing community support networks. Among indigenous cultures who have used psychedelic plant medicines for thousands of years, social networks exist to manage psychedelic experiences; shamans, rituals and myths for example. The western world lacks this social infrastructure for the most part, save for a few pockets found on the fringes of society. Psychedelic therapy isn’t solely a health care system issue.

For proper implementation into our culture, psychedelic therapy obliges us to implement deeper community bonds and ties. Think family, friends, religious/spiritual leaders, counselors, etc. Personal experiences with psychedelics are crucial to building proper infrastructure, yet are lacking due to gross demonization and being taboo. Furthermore, many psychedelics are still illegal in most of the United States prohibiting and inhibiting enculturation.

Taboo

The western world has been conditioned and taught to treat psychedelics as taboo, thus rejecting their social acceptance by and large. Now, with a sudden burst of great energy and scope, psychedelics have re-emerged and demand respect as legitimate tools to address a host of mental health issues.

This 180 degree turn won’t be easy for society to integrate. How do people go from rejecting psychedelics as the bane of humanity to embracing them as vital, mental health tools in a flash? How do previous generations of therapists, doctors, scientists and institutions suddenly change their perspective? Moreover, how many medical professionals have firsthand, personal experiences with psychedelics?

This society level shift from taboo to social acceptance will be psychedelic* in and of itself. How do we undo decades worth of propaganda convincing us that psychedelics would fry our brains like eggs? This leads to the second macro issue influencing psychedelic therapy. 

*Psychedelic (adj): mind manifesting

Experiential Knowledge, Wisdom and Skills

Like any other sound advice, psychedelic therapy career guidance includes having both a quality skillset and background. Proper qualifications for a psychedelic therapist comprise 2 components – firsthand experience with non-ordinary states of consciousness and clinical skills. The great majority of prospective therapists at this time lack their own psychedelic experiences.

Due to the vast spectrum of subjective experiences that psychedelics enable, having your own knowledge and wisdom of the power and potential of psychedelics is crucial. How can you become a journeyman if not first an apprentice?

Consider teaching English as a foreign language. During teacher training you’re required to learn and speak a foreign language. This allows you to empathize with future students and teach with greater efficacy. This is no less crucial for psychedelic therapists to-be.


Let’s return to the previous point above about western dogma. What if a therapist to-be hasn’t at least once experienced the mind manifesting and soul revealing effects of psychedelics? How can you properly treat your patients?

This experiential component of psychedelics almost overshadows the required clinical skill set, although no less important. Who thought that the best psychedelic therapy career guidance would tell you to experience psychedelics firsthand?

A properly qualified psychedelic therapist will still need the basic skill sets and training of psychotherapy and/or psychiatry. Or will they? This leads to the third main issue of psychedelic therapy career guidance.

No Universal Certification

At this time, there is no universally accepted certification for psychedelic therapy. Due to the field’s novelty, no governing body or agency has assumed oversight of the field. This lack of oversight gives it a bit of a Wild West feeling. The moment is similar to when the internet arrived and threw a gigantic, wide open and unregulated landscape in front of us.

Any number of organizations currently offer their own certifications at the moment. However, it’s unknown how these will stand the test of time should a legislative, governing body begin to oversee the industry. Many questions already abound surrounding this issue. There is a primary one. Does a psychedelic therapist have to be a previously licensed and/or qualified therapist?

For example, there’s a question about clergy or chaplains being able to administer psychedelic therapy. Are they qualified to do so? Perhaps a shaman in your community conducts plant medicine ceremonies. Does the shaman need to be certified? Then there’s the question of therapist vs. “sitter.”

What is a “Sitter?”

A therapist will help the patient heal their mental health issues with clinical techniques and strategies, followed up with integration sessions. In contrast, a sitter is one who holds space for the psychedelic journeyer to primarily keep them safe and nothing more. In many circumstances, having 2 people (preferably 1 of each type) present during a healing session is recommended.

Right now any training or certification(s) obviously can’t hurt to become a psychedelic therapist. Above all, even before acquiring any training or certification, gaining a foundational understanding of psychedelics is essential. Knowing the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of psychedelic medicines lays the groundwork for future training. Learning everything from how psychedelic substances work to current research findings, takes the crucial first step for therapists working with clients for psychedelic integration and harm reduction.

However, don’t be surprised if further requirements and certifications are needed in the future. Alternatively, don’t be shocked if certifications earned now are determined null and void by a governing body down the road. This is a vocational risk you take, along with others. The best psychedelic therapy career guidance doesn’t hide the inherent risks.

Vocational Risks

As just noted above, there are some vocational risks involved with becoming a psychedelic therapist. You may need further certifications in the future. At minimum, in regards to the rapid growth in a novel field, keeping a finger to the pulse of all the latest news, trends and education will be key. The body of psychedelic research will continue expanding and clinical practice guidelines will be constantly evolving. The more knowledge of these is kept current the better. Certifications will only be one tool in the toolbox. Even then, that tool could end up useless.

Certifications you’ve already earned may become redundant. Also there’s a maze of liability issues to navigate, as well as in-session protocols that need to be hashed out. Beyond that, psychedelic therapy could require transitioning from a solo practice to needing a physician to prescribe and oversee a program and/or medicine. Additionally, co-therapy teams, all-day session spaces, and more patient contact hours may be needed. The strain that these factors could place on a business model must be considered.

These are on the personal, individual level though. What about the field of psychedelic therapy at-large?

Psychedelic Therapy Field Has 2 Risks

There are 2 main risks that loom large for the practice – the rush to legalize psychedelics and the lack of therapists. The building momentum of legalizing psychedelics risks the application and usage of them outrunning the knowledge and science behind them. This would ultimately be an unfortunate return to the same mistake of psychedelic prohibition in 1971.

There’s great enthusiasm behind psychedelics deriving from their novelty to a new generation, as well as their promising and potent ability to treat trauma and mental health issues. However, this energy, enthusiasm and goodwill could be squandered if the floodgates are thrown open and the reigns of conscious, clinical use are tossed aside. In turn, this feeds into the final issue of not having enough qualified therapists at the moment.

Ravenous Demand

The total number of certified psychedelic therapists right now is in the hundreds. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, will be needed to address the mental health crisis facing us. This ravenous demand feeds back into the previously discussed issue of psychedelic therapy training and certification, and could create a circular problem.

How does the system upskill sufficient qualified therapists if the system isn’t set up yet? Who will supervise new psychedelic therapists considering the field’s lack of experience? How will therapists keep up with the immense volume of research on novel, psychedelic drugs heading to market? For example, did you know there’s a psychedelic drug development tracker?

At the same time, considering how dire the mental health crisis is, how long can we wait to set up the system and facilities? This presents a tricky issue indeed. If the rush to legalize is added in, then the demand for qualified, certified therapists becomes even greater. 

What’s Your Comfort Level?

Considering the issues at hand facing psychedelic therapy, one must assess their own comfort level moving forward if this career path is chosen. Each person will have their own unique factor that creates the most hesitation or anxiety. Not everyone will be cut out for a novel field that’s growing, maturing and evolving as fast as the numbers of people seeking its services. Questions, doubts and uncertainties abound. 

Nevertheless, there’s one thing that overcomes all of the unknowns – compassion. Considering the breadth and depth of the impact that psychedelic therapy holds for the United States, has there ever been a greater time in our history to recognize the suffering of others and then take action to help? 

Join the Transformation  

A grand opportunity stands before the United States to improve and heal the human condition. We can elevate the standards of care for our fellow men and women, setting a course for wealth in health the likes of which has never been seen. Once pain and suffering are mitigated, we’ll possess the collective courage to face and deal with our trials and tribulations. We can unleash harmony and prosperity to every boundary of our social fabric. We can define a new America, directed by kindness, compassion and love.

If this is a future you’d like to entertain, then cast any hesitation, concerns and doubts aside, and join the transformation. Hopefully, this psychedelic therapy career guidance persuades you to take the next step.

Think you’ve got what it takes to become a psychedelic therapist despite the risks?


Published by:
Adam Miezio
Originally from Chicago, I call Austin, TX home with stops in Spain and Florida in between. I’m active in the psychedelic culture here, allowing me to see speakers like Jamie Wheal, Anthony Bossis, Roland Griffiths and Dennis McKenna. Austin led me to my first ayahuasca retreat, which supports my yoga, meditation and floating practices. I hike national parks, enjoy abusing my passport, listen to the Flaming Lips and read: Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Montaigne, Graham Hancock and Alan Watts. As my beloved Bill Hicks said, “It’s just a ride” so put more pronoia into your life.

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