As the medicinal mycology industry attracts attention for its therapeutic potential, experienced doctors and therapists are needed to safely administer and guide patients through their psychedelic treatment. On November 30th, 2023, we had the privilege of speaking with Rae Gross, MA, an associate marriage and family therapist who is also educated in the preparation and follow-up therapy for those using legally prescribed psychedelic medications (such as ketamine).
Rae’s knowledge of psychedelic-assisted therapy makes it possible for her to both educate and provide insight into best practices to maximize the benefits of psychedelic treatments. Gross’ education and expertise allow her to help patients integrate their psychedelic experiences to improve their daily lives.
Integrating the Psychedelic Experience
Consuming a “magic mushroom” or similar psychedelic compound may not “magically” cure a mental illness or disorder by itself. In our conversation, Rae explained that following up a psychedelic experience with guided, professional integration sessions is an important and often overlooked step in maximizing the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic-assisted therapy.
Integration sessions offer the opportunity for patients to discuss their experience with an experienced therapist who can help them understand and assimilate what was learned and observed during their psychedelic experience. It also gives the patient a chance to ask questions should they feel confused or uncertain afterward.
You should always check with your doctor or therapist; however, it’s often recommended to schedule the first integration therapy session as close as possible to your psychedelic experience — a day or two after if possible.
Deep-seated, traumatic memories are often at the root of mental distress or suffering. However, accessing, confronting, and discussing these memories can often feel like an insurmountable task. Those suffering from PTSD or a traumatic event know this all too well.
For those struggling to find relief using conventional therapy alone, introducing the mind to psychedelics may offer the patient a path forward not previously available. Rae explains that providing treatment for the mind is often like treating our body. She provided the practical example of a patient being treated for a fever.
Imagine a patient showing up with a very high fever. To save the patient’s life, the immediate priority is to bring the fever down. Once the patient is no longer in danger, the next step is to identify the root cause of the fever, such as an infection. In the real world, this could look like using cannabis or Wellbutrin to alleviate anxiety. However, if you only take that step, you fail to address why the person is anxious in the first place. Treating the symptom without addressing the cause is merely managing the issue. Psychedelics offer a unique approach by dialing down the default mode network (Ego), allowing you to bypass some of a person’s defenses. This enables you to uncover the root cause of maladaptive thought patterns, like anxiety. By addressing the underlying issue, you can initiate healing both during the psychedelic experience and, subsequently, through careful integration.”Gross MA, Rae. Interview. Conducted by Omega Equipment & Supply. November 30th, 2023.
The term “neuroplasticity” refers to the physiological state of mind (usually before puberty) where the neurons and receptors in the human brain are more adaptive to change and reorganization. In other words, neuroplasticity is defined as,
The ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections.Mateos-Aparicio P, Rodríguez-Moreno A. The Impact of Studying Brain Plasticity. Front Cell Neurosci. 2019;13:66.
Psychedelics increase the brain’s plasticity, which is critical in helping a mature brain reconfigure how it adapts to and heals from traumatic memories and experiences not expected by the patient’s matured mind. This takes place frequently in those exposed to war, social violence, or other extreme interpersonal experiences.
As new forms of synthetic (ketamine) or naturally available compounds (psilocybin) are made available, so will new forms of therapy be available. This will allow the minds of those who have been psychologically damaged by traumatic experiences to obtain the brain plasticity necessary to reconfigure their neuro connections (with the crucial assistance of psychedelic-assisted therapy) and find lasting healing that may not have been achievable through conversation alone.
Genuine Healing Is a Journey
It’s important to allow your doctor and a licensed therapist to guide you when searching for relief from a mental health disorder. There is no “silver bullet” or “one treatment fits all.” Although humans may experience similar struggles, the path to healing is often different from person to person.
Psychedelic-assisted therapy is emerging as a (restrained) form of treatment due to the limited number of compounds legally sanctioned for use in treating various forms of mental illnesses and disorders. With continued research, psychedelic compounds may prove to be valuable tools in therapeutic treatment and relief.
Note: We do not condone the use of illegal substances. We do not provide, nor is this article intended to provide medical advice. If you have medical questions, check with your doctor. If you feel you may be struggling with a mental illness, you can visit the National Institute of Mental Health for general information and additional resources.