Alba fidgeted with her hands, working up the nerve to bring up a topic she feared might be met with judgment. She had been seeing her therapist Dr. Chen weekly for three months to help manage her anxiety and depression. While the talk therapy sessions were helpful, Alba longed for something deeper to help her overcome her mental health issues.
“Dr. Chen, I wanted to ask your opinion about something I’ve been researching lately…it’s a bit unorthodox though,” Alba said hesitantly.
Dr. Chen smiled warmly. “I’m open to discussing anything that you feel could benefit you, Alba. Please go ahead.”
Alba took a deep breath. “Well, I’ve been reading a lot about psychedelics and how they are being studied for mental health and personal growth purposes. Things like psilocybin, LSD and MDMA…they seem to help people suffering from trauma, anxiety, and even addiction under the right conditions. I know it’s an out-there topic, but do you have any thoughts or advice from a therapist’s perspective?”
“That’s a fascinating subject,” Dr. Chen replied thoughtfully. “I’ll be honest that I have limited personal experience with psychedelics being used therapeutically. However, I’m open to having an informed discussion about the pros, cons, and risks involved if this is something you feel drawn to exploring further.”
Alba felt a wave of relief at Dr. Chen’s open-minded response. This felt like a good start to an important conversation.
Dr. Chen’s non-judgmental reaction gave Alba the confidence to open up more about what drew her to psychedelics. She explained that she had struggled with anxiety and depression most of her adult life, though the pandemic had exacerbated her mental health challenges.
While talk therapy provided some relief, Alba still felt plagued by negative thought patterns and emotional blocks she couldn’t break free from. She worried she would require medication and therapy indefinitely just to cope.
During late-night internet searches, Alba started reading scientific articles and personal accounts about psychedelics providing lasting relief for people with mental health conditions like hers. The way psychedelics reportedly fostered ego dissolution and neuroplasticity deeply resonated with her.
However, Alba also harboured fears about potential risks and unknowns around psychedelics. She knew set and setting would be crucial for any experience. Ultimately it felt important to raise the topic with Dr. Chen to gauge her reaction and seek guidance if she ever tried them.
Though nervous, Alba was relieved when Dr. Chen responded with openness and lacked alarm. She hoped this meant they could have constructive discussions to weigh the pros and cons, focusing on safety and her well-being above all else. Alba stressed that she sought to approach psychedelics maturely and intentionally.
Discussing the Benefits of Psychedelics
With Dr. Chen receptive so far, Alba opened up more about the specific benefits she had read about regarding psychedelics. She mentioned studies showing psilocybin helped cancer patients reduce end-of-life anxiety and depression. Other research indicated psychedelics could relieve OCD, addiction, and trauma-related disorders.
The spiritual dimensions also appealed to Alba. She was drawn to how psychedelics could occasion mystical-type experiences leading to lasting personality changes. Even single doses increased volunteers’ openness, creativity, and pro-environmental behaviour.
“These substances seem capable of rapidly dissolving negative mindsets and rigid thought patterns,” Alba explained. “It’s as if they give you a clean slate to rebuild new neural pathways.”
Dr. Chen nodded thoughtfully. She agreed that recent research indeed seemed promising. “However, I’d stress those studies were done in very controlled settings with carefully screened participants and expert guides,” she advised. “Recreational use can be risky without proper precautions.”
While validating Alba’s points, Dr. Chen urged thoughtful caution. More research was still needed to understand benefits versus potential harms. Alba appreciated her balanced perspective. It reinforced her instinct to approach psychedelics with care.
Alba acknowledged that most of the research was preliminary and needed more evidence. However, she remained compelled by the transformational possibilities. She brought up a Johns Hopkins study which found that about 60% of participants had “complete” mystical experiences leading to sustained positive changes under supportive conditions.
“That’s a truly remarkable statistic,” Alba said. “Relieving symptoms is great, but a shift in perspective and worldview seems even more powerful.”
Dr. Chen agreed the psychological and spiritual dimensions were intriguing. “I can understand the appeal of such a rapid and potentially catalytic shift in awareness,” she said. “At the same time, we have to weigh how destabilizing and frightening that could be without proper support.”
Alba concurred there were definite risks to navigate. She stressed she had no interest in recreational use, but in thoughtful therapeutic application. Dr. Chen emphasized that while she respected Alba’s curiosity, traditional talk therapy modalities remained her primary expertise. But she promised to keep an open mind and provide guidance as Alba explored this path. Their shared goal was Alba’s well-being and personal growth above all else.
Discussing Risks of Taking Psychedelics
While intrigued by the potential, Dr. Chen highlighted the risks Alba would need to account for if she tried psychedelics. She advised starting with very low doses to assess how Alba reacted. Having an experienced, trusted guide would also be essential.
Dr. Chen noted that many psychedelic guides lacked the training to handle acute mental distress or trauma that could emerge. The role of the facilitator is more about providing emotional support and a safe space. If Alba did work with a guide, Dr. Chen asked to be informed beforehand so she could offer input if any mental health concerns arose.
Some key risk factors they discussed included:
- Having a pre-existing mental illness like schizophrenia, which psychedelics could exacerbate
- Taking an uncontrolled dose in an unstructured setting
- Not having adequate support during the experience
- Failing to integrate any powerful insights afterwards
“Set and setting are so crucial,” Dr. Chen emphasized. “Without proper precautions, there is certainly potential for harmful effects, especially with fragile mental health.”
Alba agreed wholeheartedly. She did not want to dive into psychedelics recklessly but rather explore their potential cautiously with Dr. Chen’s guidance. Their candid dialogue helped Alba feel more grounded about the path ahead.
Finding Common Ground
After thoroughly discussing potential benefits and risks, Alba and Dr. Chen found themselves aligned around key points. Alba stressed that she approached psychedelics with sincerity and maturity, not youthful recklessness. Her intention was healing and growth.
Dr. Chen acknowledged Alba’s thoughtfulness so far. “I respect your interest in psychedelics and your desire to research them thoroughly. My role [as therapist] is to support you in exploring this safely, not pass judgement,” she said.
They agreed to continue their open dialogue as Alba looked further into psychedelics. Dr. Chen would help her vet options and provide input around preparations, dose, and setting. She also asked Alba to check in before and after any experience.
Most importantly, they would integrate insights together, focusing on sustainable well-being. Dr. Chen made Alba feel comfortable revealing her deep curiosities without fear of overreaction.
“I’m grateful you see me as a collaborator in this process,” Alba said. “With your guidance, I can give psychedelics due diligence and see if they could positively impact my mental health journey.”
Dr. Chen smiled warmly. “I’m here to help you on your path in life, not dictate it. Let’s continue exploring this topic together.” Alba left the appointment feeling understood and supported.
Key Takeaways Talking to Your Therapist About Psychedelics
Alba’s candid discussion with Dr. Chen exemplified how to approach the topic of psychedelics with a healthcare provider. Being honest about her curiosity allowed Alba to gauge Dr. Chen’s openness. Thankfully, Dr. Chen responded without a knee-jerk alarm.
They developed a shared framework by finding common ground around safety and well-being. Dr. Chen made it clear she was there to guide, not obstruct, Alba’s exploration. Even if sceptical, a good provider should remain non-judgmental.
Had Dr. Chen reacted dismissively or refused to discuss psychedelics, Alba may have sought a more open-minded therapist. But Dr. Chen’s balanced guidance reinforced that with trust and intention, psychedelics could perhaps play a constructive role in Alba’s mental health.
Moving forward with caution and self-education, Alba felt empowered by this first step. Patients should remember that healthcare workers support their health journeys, not impose their own agendas. With patience and care on both sides, psychedelics can be discussed productively, prioritizing well-being over stigma.
It’s also vital to remember that psychedelic guides and coaches cannot replace the role of a licensed mental health professional. They lack the training to support acute mental health crises or trauma. Someone already dealing with an unstable mental health emergency may find psychedelics overwhelming. In such cases, traditional therapy and medication should take precedence. Psychedelics require a baseline level of psychological stability and support. They complement therapy but cannot substitute for it when urgent intervention is needed.
[this story represents the conversation you can have with a therapist or other healthcare provider, told through the eyes of Alba, one of our three characters that help explain psychedelics through stories]