What makes psychedelic therapy different from traditional therapy?
Traditional Therapy & Psychedelic Therapy Similarities
Traditional therapy and psychedelic-assisted therapy are similar in many ways. Most importantly, both approaches to mental health involve the provision of individual or group counselling sessions and the same general principles apply in both cases:
- creating a safe and welcoming therapeutic space,
- providing clients with unconditional positive regard, and
- supporting clients in developing insights, understandings, and breakthroughs that lead to sustainable changes in their lives.
The exact modality utilized will differ depending on the clinician’s training, interests, and experience, but regardless of the approach, different modalities (CBT, art therapy, somatic therapy, EMDR) are involved to increase a client’s ability to identify, understand, and regulate their emotions throughout their therapeutic journey.
Clinicians in both approaches work with clients to help them develop coping skills and process experiences; through therapist-guided psychoeducation, clients will learn how to apply these principles to their lives and increase their understanding of themselves.
|Traditional Therapy||Psychedelic Therapy|
|Available to all||Yes||No|
|Requires* Medical Screening||No||Yes|
|Requires* supervision of a medical doctor or psychiatrist||No||Yes|
|Requires client commitment||Yes||No|
|Utilizes EMDR, Somatic Based approaches, Art Therapy, or other therapeutic modalities||Yes (depending on clinician approach)||Yes (depending on clinician approach)|
Traditional Therapy & Psychedelic Therapy Differences
Psychedelic Therapy and the Medical System
The biggest and most important difference between psychedelic-assisted therapy and traditional psychotherapeutic approaches is psychedelic therapy’s close ties to the medical system.
Since psychedelics alter perception, consciousness, heart rate, blood pressure, and can interact with concomitant medications, a comprehensive medical screening is required to ensure client safety. Medical screenings by a doctor or psychiatrist ensure that prospective clients are thoroughly assessed for contraindications (such as heart conditions, in some cases undiagnosed) so that unintended medical consequences are not suffered as a result of this therapy.
On-Going Client and Therapist Commitment
In addition to the stringent safeguards required to ensure client safety, psychedelic therapy requires a significant commitment on behalf of both the client and the therapist.
Psychedelic therapy is not a “one off” experience; there are no “solution-focused” or “single session” models of therapy in the psychedelic medicine world. Generally speaking, programs currently offering psychedelic-assisted therapy (utilizing ketamine, a psychedelic-like substance) require a commitment of several sessions (8-12+ sessions).
To ensure ethical care this commitment may, at times, be much greater such as when complex clients require stabilization work or acute addiction treatment prior to psychedelic treatment. Committing to several sessions ensures participants complete appropriate pre-experience preparation and post-experience integration, which are as important as the psychedelic session itself.
Psychedelic therapy also involves a significant time commitment to participate in the experience, with the effects of psilocybin lasting 4-6 hours. For that psychedelic experience the participant will be with a psychedelic facilitator and not with their therapist.
Read more: What’s the difference between a psychedelic facilitator and a psychedelic therapist?
What is Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Good for Treating?
Current indications are that the regulatory guidelines will likely allow for psychedelic therapy for treatment-resistant depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and end-of-life anxiety.
Due to the complex nature of these conditions, therapists are highly encouraged to seek out trauma and somatic-specific training in addition to psychedelic therapy education. Approaches such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), Somatic Approaches, and Internal Family Systems (IFS) are all excellent companions to psychedelic therapy for therapists who have not received this type of training already.
Interested in adding psychedelic-assisted therapy into your practice?
Download the Psychedelic Basic’s Guide now for more information on psychedelics and how you can integrate this new treatment into your practice.