Psychedelics, Queer Identity, and Racialized Trauma with Wilhelmina De Castro

We discuss psychedelics, queer identity, and racialized trauma with Wilhelmina De Castro, LCSW. She supports clients to heal trauma.
Racialized trauma. An image of Wilhemina De Castro, with the background removed, in a repeating pattern of the image being the right way up and then upside down. There is a graphic of neat rainbow lines weaving through the repeats of Wilhemina.
Author: Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
January 12, 2024(Updated: February 5, 2024)

Psychedelics have been gaining attention for their potential therapeutic effects on mental health. While research is ongoing, there’s growing interest in exploring the role of psychedelics, queer identity, and healing racialized trauma.

Psychedelics and Queer Identity

For some within the queer community, psychedelics have been reported to provide unique opportunities for self-exploration, acceptance, and shifts in perspective. 

The non-ordinary states of consciousness induced by psychedelics may allow individuals to confront and process deep-seated emotions. These include those related to societal expectations, identity, and past traumas.

Psychedelics and Racialized Trauma

Racialized trauma refers to the psychological impact of systemic racism and discrimination based on race or ethnicity. 

Some proponents of psychedelic-assisted therapy suggest that these substances may offer a way to address and heal from such traumas. This happens by providing a different lens through which to view one’s experiences and fostering a deeper understanding of oneself.

Learn more about race and psychedelics and the underrepresentation of people of color in psychedelic research.

We spoke with Wilhelmina De Castro, LCSW, to further understand the exploration of psychedelics in the context of queer identity and racialized trauma. In addition to her personal experiences, she has worked with BIPOC, the LGBTQIA+ community, and polyamorous/non-monogamous people.

Wilhelmina is trained in KAP (Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy) through PRATI (Psychedelic Research and Training Institute). She is also trained in MDMA Assisted Psychotherapy through MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies). 

Honoring the entire person, Wilhelmina provides a safe space for her clients to explore the root of their pain. She helps them explore the situations that perpetuate their challenges and solutions that will help them achieve their ultimate goals. 

Wilhelmina has worked with hundreds of people in California and all over the world to meet their therapeutic goals. Her work specializes in the areas of anxiety, depression, trauma, and life transitions. 

Wilhelmina not only teaches Masters level courses in Psychology, Human Behavior, and Social Innovation. In addition, she is: 

  • Co-Faculty and Scholarship Program lead for PRATI (Psychedelic Research and Training Institute)
  • DEI leader for the Integrative Psychiatry Institute (IPI) year-long psychedelic therapy training program
  • A therapist on Compass Pathways Clinical Trial for Psilocybin and Treatment Resistant Depression

The Beginning of Wilhelmina’s Journey: “[M]y experience started out in the helping profession.” 

Wilhelmina’s journey into psychedelics and others stems from her culture and immediate family. Her mom is a physician, and her dad was a speaker—similar to a pastor or a highly involved church member. She spoke about how she was born to help folks.

“[Being helpful in my community] was pretty ingrained in me at a very young age…that’s part of the Filipino culture and my family.”

Those early experiences led her to do her Master’s in social work. Then she went into clinical work at a nonprofit focused on community mental health. She describes the challenges of her clinical experience:

“[I was] in the depths of some of the hardest places in the city, helping folks with a lot of systemic barriers and oppressions.” 

Getting Burnt Out in Social Work

After that experience, she became a clinical supervisor and an assistant professor in social work. However, there was a part of her that was getting really burnt out. She wondered while she was teaching and supervising others whether she still fully believed in what she was saying.

“I was supporting social workers in maintaining a level of status quo [but there was] part of me that really wanted to expand further. I know that there were more possibilities of wholeness not only for the staff I was supervising but for the people we were serving.”

Becoming Aware of Psychedelics

She felt that there was a wedge between what she used to believe and her truth. The wedge started to become bigger and bigger. That’s when psychedelics came into her awareness.

“I knew our existence was much more than coping and maintaining and helping others to do so. There was so much more out there for us as humans.”

That was her first experience with psychedelics. Then she had the opportunity to become trained through MAPS and then trained in KAP.

She described her experiences observing how psychedelic medicines worked with conventional psychiatric treatments. She was able to see the transformations occur.

“I saw some real opportunity to be part of some big changes and to engage in transformation in a way that felt more whole.”

Wilhelmina’s Queer Identity Journey: Psychedelics Can Help Us Go Beyond The Binary Space

Wilhelmina identifies as a queer person. She shared how plant medicines allowed her to understand that psychedelics are inherently queer.

“[Psychedelics] tap into spaces that exist beyond what is mandated by the dominant worldview…beyond what the binary is.”

Wilhelmina always found herself not quite fitting into many things—such as her workplace, identity, and things historically prescribed to her. She shared how psychedelics have been helpful in freeing these prescribed beliefs.

“[N]on-ordinary states of consciousness have been helpful for me, and I think particularly helpful for systematically oppressed people, disenfranchised people. [It allows them] to experience liberation from a lot of these oppressive forces.”

She shared that psychedelics can give us an inherent clearness to depart from the norm. It helps us tap into that space that exists outside what is mandated from them by modern Western society. For instance, gender embodiment, sexual liberation, and empowerment. 

Developing Psychedelic Programs For the Queer Community

Wilhelmina talked about developing programs for the queer community. She emphasized that there is a large spectrum of identities involved, even ones we cannot name. She explained that psychedelics can help the queer community through not only healing but also celebration.

“[Psychedelic programs for the queer community] can help heal…historical trauma and present trauma AND they can be a place to celebrate freedom, bliss, and pleasure as part of queer existence.”

Psychedelics and Connecting To Our Queer Ancestry

Wilhelmina emphasized that working with psychedelics is not only a method for treating PTSD and complex, historical trauma. It can also be a conduit to connect us with our queer ancestry. The queer ancestry that we may not have access to in this current, relational life.

For instance, our parents or the people who raised us may not be able to do that. However, through psychedelics, we may be able to access queer relations somewhere within our lineage.

“There could be some moments of queer wisdom…[that lets us] dig deep within our lineage, within our bloodlines, within our chosen queer community…those are places that I feel queer folks including myself can tether ourselves to…and explore who we want to be in this lifetime.”

Future of Psychedelics for the Queer Community

The current state of psychedelic therapy has many legal and ethical implications. Wilhelmina shared her thoughts on what she thinks the psychedelic landscape will look like in the future for herself and the queer community.

She imagines the psychedelic medicine cabinet is going to get bigger. We will get more specific and have more wisdom about which medicines may be helpful for what. 

Racialized trauma. An image of a BIPOC person walking down a street holding up a pride flag. They are wearing sunglasses. There is a feint psychedelic rainbow pattern over the image.

Eventually, she hopes we will be in a place where one medicine is not only used for one condition (e.g. ketamine for depression). Rather, a combination of medicines might allow us to tap into something in an intentional and safe way.

For the queer community, Wilhelmina believes the current work on how we can safely use psychedelics will continue to be fortified. It will shift from an individualist mentality and return to community care.

Psychedelics and Healing the Fragmentation of Society

She spoke about how psychedelics can help heal the fragmentation of society caused by trauma. Currently, we’re living with an individualistic, capitalistic, and limited resource-type mindset. We need to move towards a mindset of abundance where we are not merely surviving but thriving in this world.

“[Trauma in a society] can cause fragmentation. I think that psychedelics can bring us back to caring deeply for one another, to engaging in community care, and to being an interdependent system.”

Wilhelmina highlighted that not everyone has to know how to do everything. Instead, we should tap into what we are meant to do in the world and honor those different gifts. It will become a richer ecosystem of working together with those gifts. She shared how psychedelics can help facilitate this future.

“I don’t think that psychedelics are going to be the only key for that, but I will say that psychedelics can be one of the great facilitators in stewarding towards that goal.”

Wilhelmina’s Thoughts on Racialized Trauma

Wilhelmina explained that a way to look at racialized trauma is through a PTSD and trauma lens. It can be a form of acute index trauma where something has happened. It can also happen over time in a professional context and/or through the system, such as repeatedly experiencing microaggressions. She shared the toughest part of helping those who racialized trauma.

“I think one of the hardest parts in terms of working with folks who experienced racialized trauma is that after the time you work with them, they still go back into a world in which they are faced with the same oppressive forces.”

Dr. Monnica Williams’ Work on Trauma and Racism

Wilhelmina mentioned the powerful and amazing work of Dr. Monnica Williams on trauma and racism.

“Monica Williams is one of the leading researchers in the areas of race, oppression, marginalized communities, and psychedelics. Her work extends much further than that, but her work is very inspiring. She is one of the first voices to be a leader in talking about communities of color in the psychedelic space.”

Wilhelmina learned a lot from Dr. Williams. She learned about the factors that can help protect folks from the intensity and re-experience of racialized trauma. For instance, it can be helpful to connect with folks with a shared identity or shared social location.

“It’s being able to speak about the experience, to feel like you’re not alone in the experience, and to have a resource with one another.”

Resmaa Menakem: Trauma Retention versus Cultural Norms

Wilhelmina explained that when someone experiences racialized trauma, they begin to embody racialized narratives. And some of those narratives become really calcified. 

She mentioned Resmaa Menakem’s book, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies. She explained that the book presents new and radicalized views of how to look at justice and healing.

“The book explains that at a certain point in time in history, there were certain behaviors that were cultivated in order to survive. As time goes on, the historical context changes, but some of those behaviors stay the same because of trauma. [Trauma causes us] to be constantly guarded, trying to protect ourselves from being harmed.”

Eventually, those ways of coping are seen as the norms in a family. Then they become norms in a society or a culture. They are perceived as these overarching characteristics that one particular racial group has.

“Resma describes this experience as trauma retention versus cultural norms. Over time, we just retained ways of how to survive. And it’s seen as cultural norms versus actually long-term historical trauma retention…when things are routine, then they become narratives that feel factual.”

Psychedelics, People of Color, and Liberation

Wilhelmina shared that when we invite in psychedelics, we begin to soften some rigidly held beliefs. The hope is that psychedelics will allow us to be freed from unhelpful beliefs—to operate from a place of liberation.

“[W]e could leverage psychedelics to engage in a more liberation-centered narrative, one that is not indoctrinated by Western society, or white cis heteronormative society, one that’s really coming from our own lineage, from our own truth…that’s where psychedelics can create the innovation for that.”

A liberation-centered narrative can support people of color not being defined by their history of trauma. Rather, by how they want to be defined. This includes their lineage and the things that they want to celebrate in their culture and in their being.

Wilhelmina cautioned that getting to a place of liberation has always been dangerous for communities of color.

“[For people of color], getting to that place of celebration and embodiment of soul has inherently been a risk…because our freedom challenges the power upheld in the dominant culture. So I think that being paired up with a facilitator who might share a similar identity with you is one important step in being held in a brave space.”

Historical Atrocities of Psychedelic Use for People of Color

Wilhelmina recalled the historical atrocities of psychedelic use and marginalized populations.

She mentioned Elijah McClain’s story, a young black man killed by police while walking home from a convenience store. Upon the paramedics’ arrival, in order to sedate him, they injected him with an extremely high dose of ketamine.

“There is a deep, real fear of getting folks into non-ordinary states [because of] what has historically happened to many of our communities. It is important that we create room to speak and understand these fears when we do work with marginalized communities.”

Psychedelic Use: Systemic Risks for People of Color

Wilhelmina talked about the privilege of working with psychedelics. She shared an article that her dear friend Dr. Joseph McCowan wrote for a MAPS bulletin.

“He was talking about how if black people put on Burning Man in the middle of the desert, it would be a whole different story. It would be received differently by our society. ”

Wilhelmina talked about what would happen if communities of color held such an event and tried to bring it to the above-ground landscape. She shared that the legal implications and the systemic risks that they would take on would be much heavier.

Psychedelic Research: A Need For Diversity and Inclusion

We spoke about the lack of diversity and limited participation of people of color in psychedelic clinical trials. Wilhelmina shared her thoughts on how we can move forward in closing this gap.

“Some of the research studies are getting better around not only having a more expansive and inclusive population and subjects who are receiving treatment in clinical trials but also for the therapists and the researchers involved to be diverse themselves.”

She stressed that research is a major gateway for access to these medicines. 

“As we continue to evolve into a much more heterogeneous society with different types of identities, the majority of people will hold one marginalized identity. If we can uplift the voices of marginalized people, then as a collective, we will benefit. The more we begin to evolve into that, the more connected future we will have with psychedelics.”

She emphasized that the responsibility lies on the folks who hold power. They need to uplift the voices of a diverse population. Then they can be change makers and choice makers at the table. 

The exploration of psychedelics in the context of queer identity and racialized trauma is an emerging and complex field. Research is ongoing. Discussions around these topics often involve both personal experiences and evidence-based investigations to fully understand the potential benefits and risks.

Connect with Wilhelmina through our leading vetted psychedelic therapy directory!

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Carlisle, N. A., Haley Maria Dourron, MacCarthy, S., Ali John Zarrabi, & Hendricks, P. S. (2023). Exploring the Unique Therapeutic Potential of Psychedelics to Reduce Chronic Shame Among Sexual and Gender Minority Adults. Psychedelic Medicine.

Williams, M. T., Davis, A. K., Xin, Y., Sepeda, N. D., Grigas, P. C., Sinnott, S., & Haeny, A. M. (2020). People of color in North America report improvements in racial trauma and mental health symptoms following psychedelic experiences. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 28(3), 1–12.

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.

Published by:
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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