This panel brought together Daan Keiman, spiritual caregiver and facilitator at a psilocybin retreat in the Netherlands, with Jamie Beachy, a MAPS MDMA Therapist and director of the Center for Contemplative Chaplaincy at Naropa University, in dialogue with Trace Haythorn of ACPE to explore their visions for psychedelic chaplaincy.
What is the potential role of spiritual caregivers in providing support for people preparing for, undergoing, or integrating psychedelic experiences? What are the challenges in creating psychedelic education and training opportunities for chaplains and clergy? To what extent does the continually increasing access to psychedelics call on us to rethink, reshape, or expand conceptions of chaplaincy writ large?
The panel was moderated by Rachael Petersen. Rachael is a visiting fellow at the Center for the Study of World Religion and the Psychedelics and Religion Program Director for the Riverstyx Foundation.
Daan Keiman holds an MA in Spiritual Care and has years of professional experience working in mental health and addiction care, drug harm reduction and hospice. He is one of the Lead Facilitators and the Director of Ethics and Advocacy at the Synthesis Institute, where he has guided hundreds of people through psychedelic experiences. He is a co-founder of the Guild of Guides Netherlands, an organization that seeks to professionalize professional sitting services. For the last three years, he has been working on an interfaith model for Psychedelic Chaplaincy, addressing the somatic, moral and relational dimensions of psychedelic experiences.
Jamie Beachy, PhD, is the Assistant Professor for Wisdom Traditions at Naropa University where she directs the Center for Contemplative Chaplaincy, an ACPE accredited chaplaincy training program. Having served as an ordained (Christian) chaplain, educator and ethics consultant in diverse trauma and palliative care settings, Dr. Beachy now teaches from an interreligious and earth-based commitment to spiritual care. In addition to her role guiding the contemplatively-based MDiv program at Naropa, Dr. Beachy serves as a sub-investigator and co-therapist for the MAPS-sponsored phase III MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD research study in Boulder, Colorado. Trace Haythorn, PhD, has served as Executive Director/CEO of the ACPE: The Standard for Spiritual Care and Education since 2013 in Atlanta, GA. Trace is the co-founder of the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab with Wendy Cadge (Brandeis University), and serves with Transforming Chaplaincy (Rush University) and the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health (GWU). His serves as contingent faculty for the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, and is trained as a Presence-Based Coach (ICF).
CHARLES STANG: My name is Charles Stang, and I'm the director of the Center for the Study of World Religions here at Harvard Divinity School. I see that people are still pouring in for this event. We have over 300 participants already joined, but I'm going to get started so that we have the full hour and a half.
So, welcome to the fifth event in our year-long series on Psychedelics and the Future of Religion, a series co-sponsored by the Esalen Institute, the Riverstyx Foundation and the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines. The next event in this series will be a lecture on Monday, March 8th, by Chacruna's founder and executive director, Bia Labate. That event will soon be up on our website.
As always, the best way to keep abreast of this series and everything else we do at the Center is to join our mailing list. We have an hour and a half together and I want to reserve time for Q&A. Today's panelists will be exploring a very basic question, what is psychedelic chaplaincy? In other words, what is the potential role of spiritual caregivers in providing support for people preparing for, undergoing or integrating psychedelic experiences? What are the challenges in creating psychedelic education and training opportunities for chaplains and clergy? To what extent does the continually increasing access to psychedelics call us to rethink, reshape or expand conceptions of chaplaincy writ large?
I'm very grateful to Rachael Petersen for helping me conceive [INAUDIBLE] this panel and now helping host it here at the Center. Rachael is a visiting fellow [INAUDIBLE] and is the Psychedelics and Religion Program director for the Riverstyx Foundation. She's also a writer and environmental consultant with a decade of experience in international climate policy. Notably, she served as senior advisor to National Geographic Society and founding deputy director of Global Forest Watch, an international partnership to monitor deforestation in real time, using satellite technology.
After suffering burnout, Rachael participated in the famous Johns Hopkins University clinical trial using psychedelics to treat major depression. She's working on a series of essays, exploring the unspoken theologies and theories at play in modern psychedelic clinical research and excavating the potential risks, rewards and implications for medicalising so-called mystical experiences. Her other writing illuminates the phenomenology of climate change despair and imagines new ontological frameworks in which to regard the [INAUDIBLE] [? ecological ?] crisis. Rachael was a Thomas J. Watson Foundation fellow and the Mulago Foundation Henry Arnhold Conservation fellow. So, she's very well-experienced, and we're so grateful to have her. I will leave it to Rachael to introduce our three other panelists-- Daan Keiman, Dr. Jamie Beachy and Dr. Trace Haythorn.
But before I hand the reins over to Rachael, let me take this moment to thank you three for accepting this invitation. It is truly a privilege and a pleasure to have you here at the center, albeit, virtually. Now I will disappear from your screen, only to reappear when we transition to the Q&A portion. So once again, welcome to you all, and a special welcome to Daan, Jamie, and Trace. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. Rachel, over to you.
RACHAEL PETERSEN: Thank you, Charlie. Thank you so much for that very generous introduction. And thank you also to the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab for sponsoring this particular event in our series. Before I introduce the panel, I do also want to thank Joe Welker, who's an MDiv student here at Harvard Divinity School, and who has been my thought partner and partner in crime in all things psychedelic chaplaincy. So thank you, Joe.
If you have been following our panel series, or really, any news media, I probably don't need to remind you that we are in the middle of a so-called psychedelic renaissance. Substances like LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA are now being tested as medical treatments for a range of mental health conditions, and in some cases, have been fast-tracked by the FDA as breakthrough therapies.
Alongside clinical research, many states and cities, including very recently our own Cambridge and neighboring Somerville, have moved to decriminalize psychedelics. Psychedelic therapies are predicted to become a $7 billion industry by 2027. All of this means that in the coming years, we will see a massive influx of a range of people having psychedelic experiences, whether in a recreational, clinical therapeutic, or even religious setting, which is why I often have the feeling that we are not, in fact, in the renaissance, but rather, in a Wild West.
And to bring order to this chaos, there is an ongoing conversation about how to safely and ethically meet demand. What do we require of those who help prepare for facilitate and integrate these experiences? What training, education, but perhaps more importantly, what orientation towards these experiences is needed?
Answering these questions, though, requires we get very clear on what psychedelics are and what exactly it is they do, which is challenging because I would argue by their nature, psychedelics defy easy consensus. To some they are neuroscientific tools that work by altering brain chemistry. To others, they are psychotherapeutic aides that support new perspectives on thoughts and behaviors. And to others, still, they are spiritual agents that facilitate primary experiences of the divine. And as Roland Griffiths discussed on our panel series, research has shown that these can sometimes be rated as the most personally significant and spiritually meaningful experiences of people's lives. In spite of this, there's been a recent call by some researchers for a secularized psychedelic medicine.
All of this raises very interesting questions. When it comes to these therapies, do we need people who can administer drugs or minister to souls? Of course, the answer is not straightforward because psychedelics are rich, complex sites of entanglement that complicate the boundary between medicine, religion, psychology, and spirituality.
But it is exactly in this complicated liminal boundary space in which many spiritual care providers and chaplains have long operated. These so-called ministers without portfolios often work outside mainstream religious institutions, providing care to a wide range of spiritual needs and people with far-ranging, differing beliefs. Chaplains think and reflect theologically, and then use that understanding to attend to suffering in profound ways often overlooked by the mechanistic, reductionistic lens of medicine.
And yet, in this fast-moving psychedelic Wild West, there has been shockingly little effort put into bringing these religious professionals into the conversation. And so we humbly hope to do so today in our small way with this panel by answering the question that Charlie posed, what is psychedelic chaplaincy? And I expect that question will take us on an ambitious and wide-ranging exploration of key issues of both theory and practice.
It is my great pleasure to introduce our three panelists who will be helping with this intellectual cartography, as it were, of this emerging field. The first is Daan Keiman, who holds a Master's in Spiritual Care, and is one of the lead facilitators and director of ethics and advocacy at the Synthesis Institute in the Netherlands, where he has guided hundreds of people through psychedelic experiences, and is also the co-founder of the Guild of Guides. And it's very late where you are, Daan, so thank you for joining.
Dr. Jamie Beachy is the assistant professor for Wisdom Traditions at Naropa University, where she directs the Center for Contemplative Chaplaincy. In addition to her role guiding the contemplative placed MDiv program, she is also a sub-investigator and co-therapist for the MAPS-sponsored phase three MDMA-assisted Therapy for PTSD Research study.
And last, but not least, Trace Haythorn. Dr. Trace Haythorn has served as executive director and CEO of the ACPE in Atlanta, Georgia since 2013, and is also the co-founder of the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab, and serves with Transforming Chaplaincy in the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health. I am so grateful for each of you, and I will pass it off to Daan who will get us started. Thank you so much.
DAAN KEIMAN: Thank you very much, and I would like the first thank the Harvard Divinity School for really hosting this exciting panel and offering me an opportunity to share some of my ideas around psychedelic chaplaincy. I also want to acknowledge [INAUDIBLE], the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab, and the Riverstyx Foundation Support, and especially you, Rachael, because we've been really exploring some of these topics over the last couple of months, and these ideas have been fueled by those conversations. And, of course, the Esalen Institute for their ongoing commitment to exploring human potential in the face of the many existential crises that we currently face.
So I would like to start by acknowledging that I come to this conversation from, potentially for Americans, a somewhat unique angle. Our organization, the Synthesis Institute, offers legal, medically supervised, guided psychedelic experiences to people without health-related contraindications.
And before I really get into some of the ideas that I would like to explore today together with you, I would like to actually share a story of one of the first times I was working in the Institute. So I'd like to take you back to the first time that my colleagues and I guided a 16-person group retreat.
At the time, we followed some of the guidance that was developed by Bill Richardson and Roland Griffiths, who you just mentioned, through their leading psychedelic research at Johns Hopkins University. And we would offer what they called the flight instructions to help prepare clients to kind of navigate psychedelic experiences.
So these flight instructions serve basically roughly two purposes. The first is to inform people about the very rich nature and the variety in which psychedelic experiences can come. And the second is to offer the tools to navigate the different possibilities of those type of experiences. So part of the preparation is to offer an extensive description of the landscape of an altered mind, a map, so to speak. Whereas, the other is to offer instructions on how to traverse this sort of psychedelic terrain.
One such tool could be, for those that are slightly initiated, a reassuring mantra, such as trust, let go, be open. And this is a phrase that can be repeated during difficult psychedelic experiences, but it also doubles as a teaching device to elaborate on a wholesome mindset which people can bring into a psychedelic experience. It's trusting, open, and curious. And this mantra could be used when clients would engage in more challenging episodes during an experience, or when they would encounter scary or otherwise disconcerting figures.
Now, what we would basically do is invite clients to lean into difficulty or to lean into challenging experiences. And what we would advise them to do is by asking it questions, by being curious about it, or by asking it what they could learn from whatever was showing itself to them. And my colleague and I would offer very concrete examples on how to do this. And I, borrowing from my personal spiritual background, offered Buddhist teaching story.
And according to one version of the story that I shared, the Buddha sits down under his Bodhi tree just before realizing enlightenment, and the Buddhist devil, Mara, appears. Mara starts sending him distractions, tries to seduce him, and later tries to scare him away. But the Buddha doesn't budge. And rather than getting distracted, tempted, or scared, he just looks at Mara and invites him for a cup of tea. Rather than pushing difficult experience away, the Buddha looks at Mara and says, I know you.
So the moral of the story is basically invite your demons to tea and see what you can learn, and accepting-- and this wisdom, if you will, wasn't just prevailing wisdom in Buddhism. Through the third generation of cognitive behavioral therapies, the legacy of psychedelic '60s protagonists and Eastern philosophies, it kind of made its way into the best practices of today's leading psychedelic trial protocols and into our retreat center.
Yet, after the flight instructions, two people disclosed to my colleague that as devout Christians, they felt incredibly uncomfortable welcoming or inviting devils or demons to tea, let alone, to learn from them. In their world view, they explained, such figures were to be chased away and to resist it. Devils, demons, and even difficult or challenging experience showing up might actually be a test of their faiths. So rather than asking questions or trying to lean in or trying to learn from those experiences, praying to God seemed to them to be a more suitable approach.
Now, for those of you in the audience that are well-versed in the arts of interfaith spiritual care or adept at working in the interreligious context, this vignette might not really reveal anything new or exciting. But at the time, it did dislodge me from a sort of ontological self-centeredness. The painful truth was that although I had been trained as an interfaith spiritual caregiver, I had a glaring blind spot. I had wrongfully assumed that the prevailing clinical and therapeutic best practices, those underlying the Buddhist teaching story, were somehow universally appropriate and applicable.
But the incident made me realize that they can come with ontological and even theological assumptions. So this vignette has somewhat become the sort of hallmark of why I personally believe that we really need a psychedelic chaplaincy. And the question is, what is that then?
Well, as Rachael mentioned, current research demonstrates that psychedelic experiences can induce deeply significant and meaningful experiences. Spiritual mystical experiences are relatively common as well. And they even seem to positively mediate therapeutic outcomes. So I think it is this very nature of psychedelic experiences that opens up the potential involvement of religious professionals and leaders in this space.
As a leading researcher in the field that Rachel referenced, Matthew Johnson recently said in an interview the therapists are interested in the psychotherapeutic process, and therapists should always refer back to the client to kind of answer the big questions that might arise during psychedelic-assisted treatments. But this does, however, potentially leave some clients vulnerable.
Many clients will be able to move through the profound challenges to one sense of reality, sometimes called ontological shock, that can be caused by psychedelic experience. And most of them will probably be able to smoothly integrate the sort of existential or spiritual dimension of a psychedelic experience.
But some of them might need support, either with the process of making sense of profoundly weird and/or meaningful experiences, or with bringing those experiences back to their communities of belonging, and that could be religious communities, or with both. And in my opinion, such support should be offered by people who are well-trained in offering spiritual care, and who can actually bridge the gap between psychedelic experiences, and those communities of belonging.
Now, the nature of chaplaincy and spiritual care work is very well-suited to the features of the psychedelic experience. As Rachael said, spiritual care is less concerned with symptom reduction or treatment, and more with how people are making sense of their problems, often by utilizing higher level frameworks of meaning-making. And it's exactly here that Ido Hartogsohn hypothesizes that psychedelics could function as sort of placebo enhancers. So psychedelics assist in meaning-making.
In the words of [INAUDIBLE] and others, they say spiritual care is concerned with being present too, and accompanying the patient in their suffering, helping them find peace as opposed to fixing or curing their suffering. And research from Imperial College London shows that the traits of acceptance, openness, and connectedness increase after psychedelic experiences. And these traits too are associated with today's sort of broad catch-all category of spirituality.
Moreover, research suggests that engaging in contemplative practices and in community building after a psychedelic and before a psychedelic experience can actually deepen and sustain these and other positive changes. Now, religious professionals are experienced in offering support for these processes. We're used to working with questions of ultimate concern, as Paul Tillich calls them. Being present, listening, and offering spiritual guidance and instruction are some of our core tasks.
And contrary to often heard criticisms of religious professions in general, I do believe there is an art to working with these type of questions. It requires specific competencies that many psychotherapists simply do not develop during their training. And more to that point, certain complications that could arise during the integration process should maybe not be pathologized at all, but rather, seen as intricate parts of spiritual development. And they might not require therapeutic interventions, but rather, communal or spiritual support.
So I think that the field of psychedelic science and therapy stands to gain from a psychedelic chaplaincy, because it could actually help insulate the burgeoning field from unreflective and potentially unethical meaning-making practices, while protecting the spiritual integrity of clients. And what I mean with that is the right of a client to prepare for, experience, or integrate and understand their own psychedelic experiences in a way that is commensurable with their faith commitments and/or their existential outlook on life. Or, and this is important, with changes therein as a consequence of those psychedelic experiences.
And that does require a guide to be able to skillfully navigate ontological and religious differences, which brings me to the possibility of spiritual caregivers, religious professionals to pick up the existential or the spiritual part of the integration process, preferably as an adjunct to the psychotherapeutic integration, allowing people to understand their experiences in a spiritual discourse that they are familiar with, and with practices that they know that could really aid them in utilizing the insights and reinforcing the positive behavioral changes.
But since I've seen Christians and atheists become Buddhists, and self-proclaimed atheists become Christians and agnostics as a result of a psychedelic experience, it is important that whoever guides the client is actually capable of guiding them both deeper into or further away from beliefs that they might hold dear. So a client-centered and an interfaith stance should, in my opinion, be at the heart of any psychedelic chaplaincy.
Another way in which religious professionals could contribute to this field is by looking inside their traditions for sources that could actually help clients understand psychedelic experiences through the language, scriptures, practices, and rituals of their community or tradition of belonging. With so many expected people coming to psychedelics, it is almost inevitable that religious communities will see members of their congregations get high. The question is, if those that have taken a psychedelic could and should and would have a place in their religious communities of belonging.
I've guided different people that felt that they could not talk about their profoundly moving experiences with their pastor or Buddhist teacher due to, respectively, the idea that they tricked themselves into thinking that they had a mystical experience, and for the Buddhist, the fifth precept against intoxicating oneself. And disillusioned, yet, with a burning spiritual longing, these people turned to me to discuss the place that these experiences have had in their lives. And although I am happy to provide some grounding and normalize what they experienced, individual spiritual caregivers are not a substitute for religious community.
Now, lastly, a little more far out, if you will, are more serious engagements with psychedelic-assisted spirituality-- so beyond preparation, integration, and community support. So does the future of psychedelic chaplaincy also hold more hands-on approaches? I personally like to think so, and I love the work that I do. And my training and interfaith spiritual care, and especially in principles from Buddhist chaplaincy, have deeply informed the way that I guide people through psychedelic experiences. And I can only imagine what other approaches might look like.
However, I do think more specific skills are needed to safely and ethically guide people through the weird and wondrous mind-altering experiences that psychedelics can induce. And based on developments that I've seen in the field, and a growing awareness of some of the ethical concerns I have discussed, and we will definitely discuss today, I do think that a future with-- that I think a future with, for example, psychedelic-assisted Buddhist retreats would be possible, or Christian-oriented psilocybin for depression treatments, or interfaith spiritual caregivers guiding end-of-life anxiety sessions in hospice with psychedelics. I don't think that's too far-fetched, but it's important to keep in mind that psychedelics mean different things for different people in different cultural and religious traditions. So we need to have some humility.
To summarize, now, I'll be very enthusiastic today. I think the psychedelic renaissance provides us with a field in which a central tenet is meaning-making, a field that attracts people of all ages and walks of life, that invigorates academic, philosophical, and theological debate, and that deeply acknowledges this relation between mental health, spirituality, and mystical experiences. And it seems to me that this historic moment constitutes a unique opportunity to innovate the profession of spiritual care and chaplaincy work, and through that, could potentially positively impact the millions of lives of people who will try psychedelics in the very near future. Thank you.
RACHAEL PETERSEN: Well, thank you so much, Daan, for that both grounded and sweeping introduction to your vision on psychedelic chaplaincy. We will now turn to Dr. Jamie Beachy to hear her take on these matters. Take it away, Jamie.
JAMIE BEACHY: Thank you. First, I want to thank Rachael and Charles and all of those who organized this gathering for the opportunity to join this creative conversation. And it's also wonderful to be here with Trace and with Daan. Daan, I would love to-- once the pandemic lifts, I would love to visit Synthesis and learn from all you are-- all the beautiful work you're doing there with people and with the community that you have that is really exploring the practice of chaplaincy.
So I will spend some time sharing my ideas more from the training side of this question of what is psychedelic chaplaincy? I have a few cases to share, and also some thoughts that I'll share by way of slides. And as I do that, I'll be speaking from my experience as an MDMA therapist, and also from my years supervising chaplaincy students through the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education.
I'm a CPE educator, and that's a lot of what I do at Naropa. And we're currently exploring both a certificate program for psychedelic chaplaincy, developing a certificate option, and also clinical sites where chaplains can train, perhaps even in the short-term, in ketamine-assisted therapies. So that is the vantage point that I speak from, as well as my own deep healing experiences with psychedelic therapies and psychedelic communities in healing from both childhood trauma, and also from professional burnout.
So here I'd like to share some slides with you to-- so that I can gather my comments. And there's a lot of overlap between what I'll say and what Daan has already said, which is a good sign that we're all moving in the same direction here as a community of practitioners.
So first, I'd like to comment on what spiritual care education and spiritual care-- the practice of spiritual care and spiritual health has to offer psychedelic therapies. So the training that chaplains engage is very much about self-awareness and developing this presence with suffering, death, and dying, and just traumatic experience. So we spend a lot of time going deep into knowing ourselves well, so that we aren't conveying bias or impeding the healing opportunities for the people that we're with, so that we can do our work with integrity, with deep integrity.
Secondly, chaplains train in this deep spiritual and theological reflection. So we know our own spiritual and theological landscape well in order to invite those that we are caring for and the situations we're responding to, so that we can come with a well-developed understanding of our own spiritual landscape, and also the traditions that others might be bringing to the conversation, so that we have this well-developed spiritual and theological insight and wisdom, hopefully, to bring into the spaces that we are with people when they're in distress.
Compassion and resiliency training is another gift that the field of chaplaincy and spiritual care has to offer the field of psychedelic therapies. Because in my work as an MDMA therapist, for example, the traumas that we're sitting there with people as they're navigating and integrating can be very destabilizing. And so having a deep practice, a spiritual practice, and orientation to compassion and resiliency is really important. And in palliative care teams and other settings where chaplains work, we often are coaching and guiding and creating opportunities for compassion and resiliency training.
We train in ritual and contemplative practice. So in the ketamine clinic settings, I have a lot of interest in how to set up a space and perhaps rituals for people that may want that to be part of their healing experience, how to bring that into the ketamine therapies, and in the future with psilocybin as well. And with the MDMA FDA study, there's some limitations around how much we can do that at this point. But these ritual and contemplative practices are really a gift that the field has to offer.
And then interreligious and secular spiritual assessment and care-- so sitting with people as they are preparing for an experience, and helping them really identify their spiritual needs, their own spiritual values and beliefs, and then following people as they go through powerful experiences that can be destabilizing, and kind of, if you imagine that the person in relationship to their lived experience is like a tapestry, the tapestry can become sort of frayed, and so how we then aft through the experience of powerful psychedelic experiences, where people can either have really inspiring, or sometimes really difficult and scary experiences, how we then help them weave meaning and relationship to that which is greater than themselves; in relationship to community, how we help weave that together as the integration process takes place. And then ethical accountability, as Daan was saying-- this is a really important issue in psychedelic therapies-- how to prevent harm from taking place when people are in such vulnerable states.
And then here's the article that some of you have been referring to. And here's a quote that I think actually makes a really, really good case for psychedelic chaplaincy. Matthew Johnson highlights, "a little discussed danger at play in psychedelic research and one that will surely become apparent if psychedelics are approved as medicines. This danger is the scientists and clinicians will be imposing their personal religious or spiritual beliefs on the practice of psychedelic medicine."
And I think without this kind of deep theological, spiritual reflection and the opportunity to do that in a community with guides and with interdisciplinary support, I think there is a real risk that this might take place in the clinical field, in the clinical encounters with patients, when these beliefs are unconscious and not well thought through and considered.
So then it's also important to name, as Daan did as well, how spiritual care education and spiritual care as preparation for this work, how it may fall short. So first of all, chaplains may lack experience with deep mysticism and nonordinary states of consciousness.
Now, this is somewhat of a debate in the field. Does the chaplain have to have experienced psilocybin before guiding someone on a psilocybin journey? And I would say that guiding someone at the end of life with psilocybin, for example, you will want the chaplain to at least have contemplated death and dying, and have a relationship to death and dying that has some thoughtfulness and has some depth.
And similarly, while they may not have needed to-- maybe they won't need to have used psilocybin particularly, but to have some familiarity with mysticism, non-ordinary states, and visionary states of consciousness would be important to ensure trust and just a safe container and a competent process of guiding experiences.
Secondly, chaplains often hold other worldly theological commitments, and they may lack experience with earth-based and Indigenous traditions. Now, this is also somewhat controversial. But a lot of these medicines, including psilocybin and ayahuasca, come from deep Indigenous practice or communities of practice. And so to have some familiarity with indigenous traditions, and at least have sorted out some of the dynamics around colonization, and to have some deep thoughtfulness around appropriation would be really important. And I'm not convinced that that is always taking place in chaplaincy training in all of the different contexts.
And then spiritual and religious communities may have taboos against psychedelic use, and to explore that within our own traditions, and to understand how to relate from a Buddhist perspective, for example, with the precepts. And from a Christian perspective there are often understandings of psychedelics as taboo or not permitted. And so to have to work through that with our communities, and to have conversations about the taboos will be really important for us as a field moving forward.
And then one of the obstacles that I see as well would be this current lack of opportunities to train in psychedelic clinics. So I'm not sure that the psychedelic community is quite yet perceiving the value of chaplaincy in this field, but I hope to contribute to that over time. And I believe that with legalization coming in the future, that there is a great opportunity, in particular, for chaplains in the context of working with psilocybin at the end of life, but also with MDMA therapy for PTSD, especially in the VA systems if approval.
We're yet to completely see how this will unfold in these different settings. But there is certainly a lot of possibility. And if we can train people adequately to be well-prepared to step into these roles, then chaplaincy, I think, will be well-placed to be a major contributor to this field.
So I have some cases that I'd like to share to get at this question of, what is psychedelic chaplaincy? I have two cases that we can reflect on together perhaps in the discussion. And then I will wrap up and be open for questions or further discussion.
So Jeannie is a 75-year-old woman with advanced colon cancer. She scheduled a psilocybin session to work with her fear of death. A longtime member of a Buddhist community, Jeannie attended the Sangha, as well as her husband's synagogue during High Holy Days.
In preparing for Jeannie's psilocybin session in her home, Jeannie's chaplain guide met with her over several sessions to explore Jeannie's values, beliefs, and her hopes for the session. Jeannie is a lifelong classical musician and choral singer. After assessing her spiritual needs and resources, Jeannie's guide co-created a playlist of classical music and Buddhist mantras that was very particular to Jeanie's life experience, and worked with Jeannie to create a ritual to open and close the session that included elements from her daily Buddhist practice.
After her medicine session, Jeannie reported feeling less afraid of dying and more connected to her sources of support after some difficult experiences, that she was able to break through and find her sources of connection and support and inspiration. Jeannie shared that the playlist was the most important part of her psilocybin journey. Her hospice team had the playlist playing as Jeannie died peacefully at home surrounded by her family.
And here's another case I'd like to share with you, if I can get all of it into my-- here we go. Daniel, a 35-year-old man, sought MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD from early childhood trauma. Daniel's religious community refrains from all mind-altering substances including alcohol and caffeine. After a powerful healing experience in his MDMA-assisted therapy session, Daniel expressed dis-ease and shame about the joy and connection he felt in the session.
One of Daniel's guides, a spiritual care professional, wondered if perhaps Daniel was feeling at odds with the beliefs of his community of faith. Daniel shared that he believed God uses many different and unexpected pathways for healing, and that God wants me to feel joy, even if his community and extended family would not understand. In an integration session, Daniel explored ways to share his experience without revealing details about the therapeutic process that might alienate him from his religious community.
So hopefully, through these cases, you can have a glimpse of what psychedelic chaplaincy might look like. As Daan has pointed out, there are opportunities for working with groups, and many possibilities for this work as it is unfolding in-- and my experience comes mostly from health care institutions and working with hospice and palliative care, and also the MDMA-training experience that I'm so grateful to have learned so much from in my more recent experience.
So I really look forward to engaging you all in conversation. I'm interested to hear Trace's response. And I'm open to questions or clarifications as they come through the Q&A. So thank you so much for having me.
RACHAEL PETERSEN: Thank you so much, Jamie. We're very fortunate to have you as someone who is both a MDMA therapist, and also someone who is situated in an ACPE certified education center and thinks very deeply about how to make all of this conversation a practical reality through CPE.
Speaking of which, we are very happy to have Trace Haythorn as a respondent on this panel. Trace, I understand you are newer to this conversation around psychedelics, but I'm very curious as someone who has been tracking the evolution of chaplaincy in this country and abroad, what kind of key questions and themes you see refracted in this conversation. So I'm looking forward to hearing your remarks.
TRACE HAYTHORN: Thanks, Rachael. It's a privilege to be with you all today. And thanks to both Daan and Jamie for their comments as well. The first thing that comes to mind for me is precisely where you left off, Rachael, is this whole question of curiosity.
How can we begin to approach a conversation around chaplaincy and the use of psychedelics and chaplaincy from a place of curiosity, as opposed to a place that has been so tainted with stigma and fear? It seems so counterproductive to the kinds of healing and the kinds of support that is necessary at a time such as this.
I was thinking of all of the articles I've read in recent months about the kind of mental health crisis that health care workers, in particular, are facing, but more broadly our larger society. And what are the tools we're going to need to be able to emerge from this in ways that don't reify the dysfunction that seems to be so prevalent throughout our society as well? What are the kinds of things that we might imagine together and explore together? And I think that's where the kinds of research that's been going on is really, really important.
I had a very random association during both presentations, where in some ways the conversation is finally emerging, but it's not the first time that this conversation has emerged. There's been some history along the way. The image that popped into my mind was something back in the late '70s, early '80s, when Exxon, the oil company, produced a fax machine called the Qwip, that we tend to get technology sometimes ahead of when we are ready to begin to engage them.
And I think some of the experimentation with psychedelics along the way needed the kind of controlled studies and the careful stewarding, shepherding, that I hear both Daan and Jamie advocating for as we explore how this can be not such a stigmatized part of our conversation, but actually, a place where people might receive training and support in exploring this.
I do think it's a really interesting question as to whether or not chaplains would need to experience psychedelics to be able to be with people as they go through their own experience. One of the things that we try to do within clinical pastoral education is invite people into a really deep self-understanding, so that they can be available and present to people however they might meet them, wherever they might be in their own journey. I wonder how that would be true within a conversation around psychedelics.
For example, many of our people know very little about other faith traditions outside their own when they come into this. They may have read some books. But it's a truism of no one ever learned to ride a bike or swim by reading a book. It's not until you encounter another who's having that experience that you-- who can share their experience, that you might actually go a little deeper.
I think there's a fair argument to say that people who have actually experienced this could have the most rich, stewarding, shepherding, chaplaining experience with people while they're having their own psychedelic journey. That said, I also am hesitant to say that's a requirement for people along the way. I think that's a dangerous set-up as we do this as well. Whenever we begin to restrict in those kinds of ways, we may limit the kinds of open opportunities that are available to people.
I really appreciate Jamie raising the question about the danger of imposing views along similar lines. I was listening this weekend-- Bill Richards, the researcher, has a playlist on Spotify of music to accompany people during a journey. And a number of the pieces that are on there are from Christian tradition. That's lovely. I appreciate a number of those. I've grown up as a Christian. I'm ordained in the Presbyterian Church as a pastor.
And yet, I think there-- music is one of those tools that we also want to be careful with in the ways that we use that, the ways that we invite others to deepen their own experience. So what are the things that would be helpful? And what's the kinds of ways in that, what Daan was talking about, those flight instructions-- how are those flight instructions similar to what my Catholic friends would call catechesis, what my friends that are participants in Indigenous religions might call the beginning of the mystical journey or the transition to adulthood, one of those kinds of ritual transitions as well-- how are those tools developed, and what are the kinds of things that the individual should name before things are introduced that might impose meaning on the experience?
I'm really interested, too, in this notion that Daan raised around the image of the conversation with the devil or the demon that appears to someone. You know, from Christian and Jewish tradition, the [? Satan ?] was the advocate, and much more like a legal argument, so it was one that you could argue with. I wonder what's needed to help broaden some of these rich metaphors and mythical creatures so that as people enter into this space, they feel like they've got some of the tools to engage this in ways that don't feel threatening and that might exacerbate the experience.
I'm really-- I'm curious about this notion of the role of communities of belonging within this as well. We have such a reactive culture in so many ways right now, and the thought of introducing this into spaces or inviting people to bring this into spaces-- what's the kind of public communication strategy that needs to take place around this, so that it's not just a conversation within small academic or medical communities, but that there is actually some dialogue that doesn't get reduced to media quips, pithy language about it, but instead, is engaged within community structures that can provide longer term support and encouragement for people who experience and engage in this process.
I'm thinking right now the need for care for PTSD, especially for people who have come back from war, from people that have experienced all sorts of violence. What are the ways of opening up their experience towards healing? I'm really fascinated in the use of this in treating addiction.
In some ways, it seems counterintuitive. And yet, if it can open up an experience in a way that invites someone to be able to live without the compulsions, without the sense of need for other kinds of stimulants or other kinds of intoxicants, I think this is a really vital conversation. Because in so many ways we've run out of other ways of addressing these things. We've come up against some walls and hit some challenges, and we need some new and fresh ideas.
And I'm also grateful for Jamie raising the question around ethics. I think that's just a vital question. One of the things that probably keeps people afraid of a more integrated use of psilocybin in chaplaincy-- sorry. My dogs are going to want to be a part of this conversation, too. One of the things that has made people struggle is their fear of how it could be abused, and how people might misuse this. We've seen this in plenty of other kinds of contexts.
So what are the kinds of controls? What are the kinds of practices and constraints we want to put in this to be able to let people know that they are protected and that they are safe as they go into a kind of an experience?
One other area that I feel like is really important to spend some time thinking around is that question of religious prohibitions. What are the kinds of things that people just feel reticent about within their own space? And I appreciate Jamie's case study. I think that's an interesting way of trying to get at that space of where someone might actually really be-- receive real healing through a process like this.
And yet, does that, then, alienate them from the same community that we talked about in terms of being supportive? How does that put them in sort of a different bind? Have we just moved the need for healing to a different context?
I think I want to leave it at that point and open up to some questions. I can see that there are several in the Q&A, and I'd love to hear more about that. I should say that the one other big question for me in a role with ACPE is, how would we operationalize this within an organization like ours, within all the different contexts that we work within? How could we make this possible? And that question's too big for this time, but it's one that I'll be entertaining for weeks to come. So again, thank you all for the opportunity to be with you, and I look forward to the conversation.
RACHAEL PETERSEN: Great. Thank you so much, Trace. And thank you for your dog and your dog's very thoughtful remarks as well. At this point, I'll invite our panelists to turn on their camera, and we'll spend about 15 minutes with discussion between us, and then hopefully open it up to Q&A from the audience. I'm overwhelmed by the vast terrain we have mapped together, and there's certainly much more to talk about than we're going to be able to fit in the next 30 or so minutes.
You know, I'm very struck by and grateful for your calling out that the flight instructions you've been using, Daan, are not theologically neutral. And similarly, Trace, with the mention of the playlist. The playlist at Hopkins has been just quite a rich conversation at the CSWR over the last couple of months. And it has me thinking, do we need to both raise the religious literacy of the psychedelic world and also the psychedelic literacy of the religious world? Like, it seems like there's a dual kind of need there.
But I guess dovetailing with that, and very relevant to that, is the paper that you brought up, Jamie, which was published recently, and I would encourage people in the audience to read it. It was written by Matthew Johnson, who's a leading psychedelic researcher at Johns Hopkins, and it's called "Consciousness, Religion, Gurus-- the Pitfalls of Psychedelic Medicine."
And maybe-- actually, maybe I'll pass it to Daan, who I know has read the paper, to give us a brief summary of the kind of diagnosis of the problem of the intersection of religion and psychedelics that Matt is doing, his proposed solution to that problem, and whether or not you agree with his proposed solution of how we can make-- how we can make peace with the inherently kind of spiritual nature of psychedelics.
DAAN KEIMAN: Yeah, thank you, Rachael. I think I'll center on one part of Matthew Johnson's argument, and I really want to do justice to him because he identifies the problem of people in psychedelic states, so who have taken the psychedelic, and/or who have just taken the psychedelic, are known to be in a heightened state of suggestibility.
So the reason he's giving this example-- in his article, he gives an example of, well, you know, it's common practice for a lot of people to have a little Buddhist statue in the room. And, let's say, you're almost in a peak of the experience. You have this sort of all-pervasive love. And, let's say, there is the Buddha, or there's a little cross of Jesus.
To what extent might we, in that very open, very vulnerable state in which we might kind of like loosen our own beliefs, we become open and impressionable to other beliefs, if we at that point see the Buddha or the Christ figure. Do we start to associate those type of experiences with that religious symbolism and the traditions and all the connotations and ideas that come with that?
And I think to his point, there is a problem here, especially because we also know that set and setting are so incredibly important. You might even call-- and repeating Ido Hartogshon's theory here, psychedelics placebo enhancers. So to what extent are the flight instructions not some sort of like descriptive tool, but actually, they're a primer for a particular experience?
And relevant in this context is that we see that people in America tend to have more mystical experiences, probably-- this is a hypothesis-- due to the fact that there's an emphasis on mystical experiences. There's the use of the mystical experience questionnaire, which comes from a very particular way of gauging and assessing what a mystical experience is. It kind of primes people that are about to have a psychedelic experience to think about certain questions. Whereas, in Europe, with a stronger psycholithic tradition, which is to say, less emphasis on mystical experience, but more on ego dissolution and more sort of psychodynamic processes, we seem to have less of those type of experiences.
Now, when the settings are very similar, but the priming is different, maybe there's something about the priming. So what Matthew Johnson is basically saying, even the more subtle aspects of our guidance as therapists could deeply influence someone. Now, I would fully agree with this problem. I think this is a challenge. And I love how Jamie and Trace have emphasized the sort of existential positionality, this deep, spiritual reflection on your own nature being spirituality. And I think that's what we need.
But rather than going with this, he proposes a secular approach. And he then also goes on to continue to say, the secular is basically what we can empirically verify. And I think-- I'm not sure to what extent we want to have a sort of in-depth discussion about this equation of the secular with that which can be verified empirically through science.
But there is so much that we don't know, that going by that, it's a very meager definition, I think, of secularism. And I think it doesn't really address any of the concerns. I think it even naively suggests that if we just would wear a white coat and strip all-- everything that kind of even smells remotely like meaning, we'll be fine.
And I think the very conversation that we just heard Trace and Jamie alluding to the music, shows that meaning is much more subtle, that it's not-- this-- I think it's a bit of a naive sort of idea of what-- that secular would be a suitable approach to this. And so I would advocate for a deep understanding that everything that we do is endowed with meaning to a certain extent.
And it's maybe better to be very honest about that and forthcoming about that, and reflect maybe even on the ontological assumptions in our psychotherapeutic approaches and models, and then have another conversation, but be transparent. We can then start to work with informed consent. We can start to do spiritual assessment which is client-centered, rather than based on someone's personal background.
So I'm not sure if I'm doing justice to his argument. I do want to say, Matthew is very nuanced in interviews as well. And I think sometimes people are kind of straw manning his argument. But yeah, I don't find the solution very appealing. So I'll leave it at that, if that is satisfying.
RACHAEL PETERSEN: It is. No. And I think he is using the word secular when the word interfaith might be more appropriate, if we include in interfaith, for example, a rationalist, empiricist view. That is arguably one commitment among many. So it's frustrating to see the kind of medical model as the-- being positioned as the position of no position, and everyone else, you know, like-- so I agree with you. It's an important paper, and I would encourage everyone to read it.
Maybe one question I'll turn to Jamie and Trace, now. So Jamie, you mentioned, I believe, that you're not sure, and I would agree, that the psychedelic community yet fully understands the value of spiritual caregivers and chaplains. And I'm curious to hear from Trace, but I think that's probably true of the general population. I'm not sure if you stopped someone on the street and said, do you know what a chaplain does or is, that they would necessarily know.
Indulge me here, but I know that presence has been traditionally an important way chaplains describe their work and their authority and their identity. And I can say from firsthand experience that I think presence is a vital part of guiding these experiences. And so I'm curious how you think about presence, and how does theological formation or education shape presence? How do you teach presence? And how does presence come into this conversation around psychedelic chaplaincy?
JAMIE BEACHY: My first response to that would be that presence implies kind of a self-awareness or a presence that is conscious presence in a sense. Like, we all carry unconscious motivations and things about ourselves that we're less aware of than others might be. And a lot of the work that psychotherapists will do, and psychiatrists, is to explore those themes in themselves, so that when they're in the psychotherapeutic encounter, they're bringing awareness and presence to those moments without burdening the people that they're responding to, the people they are caring for or sitting with, or guiding with their own projections and transferences and things.
So presence has something to do with having a facility or flexibility with our motivations and our commitments and our beliefs and values. And not all therapists have the opportunity to go through deep theological inquiry and deep spiritual reflection or formation. And so they might unintentionally just bring those motivations into the therapeutic encounter in ways that are not helpful.
And then presence is also, for me, about being connected to something that is broader than just myself. So whether that is connection with God, or a connection with the divine, or perhaps a sense of the interconnectedness of all of life and that I'm part of this beautiful interconnected web of being. And so when I bring my presence, I'm also mediating something greater than myself.
That's the other sense of presence for me, is being sort of connected to something, but being conscious of what that is, and not using vague terms that Matthew Johnson refers to that some therapists have been using that he calls kind of like New Age terms that are sort of vague, and we assume everyone knows what it means to say that I'm in a unitive state, or I'm having a mystical experience, to have really a well-cultivated sense of what that is, and to be skillful in knowing when the presence that I'm bringing into a room, maybe I'm becoming alienated from that. And so then I can bring myself back to a more spacious, compassionate, loving response for the person that I'm with, and knowing how to navigate spaces where we can easily be thrown off.
And psychedelic experiences are very powerful. They're-- people go away into like territory that-- the vast territories of human experience, and so to have a well-navigated landscape, and also a practice that orients us to distress and to joy and affection. And some of that, I think, really is developed in psychotherapeutic practice, but this dimension of it that is the spiritual and religious experience may not be always. And so I think Matthew Johnson-- you know, I would love to see just a chaplain specialist on that team, a spiritual care professional to consult with that group to provide this kind of insight and wisdom to round out the experience that people are having with really very skilled and highly skilled clinicians.
TRACE HAYTHORN: I just want to say yes, yes, yes on everything Jamie just said, around presence in particular. The second piece is kind of looking at that world of chaplaincy. It's growing. So the data from the Department of Labor shows that chaplaincy is only on the increase.
A couple years ago the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab got a couple of questions on the General Social Science survey, the GSS, and showed that within two years, 20% of the US population had had an experience with a chaplain. We had to define what a chaplain was, but they recognized that and there was some clarity there.
So it feels like it's only growing and emerging, and we want to pay careful attention to that. And the many different ways that people identify as chaplains seems important as a part of that, too.
The other thing that I hear in this that I just want to name is I think within human experience there's the seduction of the pure-- that somehow we can get to a pure experience, whether that's purely objective, which is part of what I hear Matthew Johnson arguing for, which there's no such thing. I mean, you want to give me a hard time about myth. That's a myth.
And so recognizing the very fact that we are in someone else's space, that we are-- that someone can see us, experience us, smell us, hear us, all of those senses-- that changes the experience that the person has simply because we're there. So there's a piece of self-awareness that's really important for the person who enters that space as a care provider, as a caregiver, and a recognition that you're very-- very fact that you're showing up is going to change things.
So in light of that, where do you go from there? And knowing that within this work of psychedelic experience, just what can be opened up. I think that raises important questions for the training of people who would be in that space, not only for the self-awareness piece, but being able, then, to sit with people as you inadvertently open up things with them that you never intended to open up, but because you are there, that's what's happened.
Daan may have more comment about that just from his own experience. But I would have-- I would have a real concern that anybody think they could go into this and somehow not have an effect on what the experience of the other would be.
RACHAEL PETERSEN: Daan, do you want address that, and then we'll jump to Q&A? Yeah. Go ahead.
DAAN KEIMAN: Yeah. I think you articulated the right sentiments and potential challenges, Trace. Psychedelics tend to amplify processes of transference and countertransferences. And beyond the sort of psychotherapeutic countertransferences and transferences, we see that people-- people refer to me-- I used to have longer hair-- as Jesus. And we walk around in white clothes, and we have a rationale for wearing white clothes. But it comes with all these connotations that you need to be very aware of.
Then, in another moment, people looked at me and said, you're Satan. So just these-- it's not just the ministry of presence that already starts to change things. Now, there's a couple of extra layers of projections going on, and even the smallest gestures can be the difference between someone having the sense that you're a reassuring presence, or the sense that here's a challenge, and why I would also advocate for psychedelic chaplains if they want the guides to actually have experience with a psychedelic substance themselves.
We've had people that were well-trained, that were deeply informed about psychedelics, and that would sit with us in the space as a volunteer. And someone would have a difficult experience and start to loop, so kind of repeat and get stuck in a very particular thought. And one of the volunteers got scared and didn't know what to do, whereas, most of the more experienced staff felt like we're just going to be here. This is-- this too shall pass.
But the shocked response of the volunteer actually triggered another extra layer of distress in the client. Because if the guides are shocked by my experience, then should I be worried? What is going on here?
So a profound and deep embodied sense of understanding the psychedelic landscape and experiences and all the different type of iterations of those experiences, and being able to be a very calm, reassuring presence. And then especially, not doing too much. This is why I love this whole ministry of presence. To me, it deeply informs how I do this work. Just be present. That's already doing so much.
So I loved your remarks there. I think you're absolutely right that there's a sort of basic training, but then we need to actually train more extensively and more in-depth on what that means in the psychedelic space. And then Jamie, your notions on ritual and ceremony, I would love to have a conversation there as well, because I think that's beautiful to really tailor-make this for someone. And it's almost like a gift, what you're giving people. It can be beautiful, yeah.
RACHAEL PETERSEN: Thank you, all of you. And I see we have-- I think we have close to 70 questions. So I'll invite Charlie on to guide us through the most pressing issues.
CHARLES STANG: Well, first of all, let me thank the three of you for your presentations. And thank you, Rachael, for your role in bringing out these points. This has been incredibly rich.
For those of you who have posed questions, first of all, thank you. The questions are actually extraordinarily good, and I've been going through them closely. Obviously, I cannot post 70 questions in the next 18 minutes. So take some consolation in the fact that we will share all the questions with the panelists, and so they will know the kinds of comments and provocations that their comments-- I'm sorry. They'll know the sorts of comments that they have provoked in you.
So I'm trying to kind of synthesize a few questions from the comment-- from the Q&A here, so forgive me. But this one is aimed, first and foremost, at you, Daan, but I would be curious to hear Jamie and Trace's reaction too. And it has to do with the individual versus group experience of psychedelics.
So in the trials at Johns Hopkins, you know, we had Roland Griffiths in the series, we heard quite a bit about those trials. And one of the things that's curious is we asked him, well, why don't you study group experiences? And he said, oh, we could. It's just incredibly complicated and would take a lot of money and a lot of time.
I'm less interested in the study of it. I'm more interested in your reporting of your experience. What does it look like for groups to experience psychedelics in a kind of psychotherapeutic context as opposed to individuals? And there, I also want to flag-- Rachael has added an interesting point is, how does that-- how does the interfaith dimension of this experience enter when you have a group of people? So could you comment on that, please?
DAAN KEIMAN: Yeah. So let me preface this by saying that we're explicitly not a group psychotherapeutic [INAUDIBLE], right? And I think that actually opens up a slightly different conversation around this sort of interfaith practice, because we're not there to treat anything.
CHARLES STANG: [INAUDIBLE].
DAAN KEIMAN: And my colleague is currently building a [INAUDIBLE]-- a more therapeutic-oriented. We're looking at the terminology that is fitting there. She's building a year-long integration program, and a sort of model that also has psychedelic-assisted group therapy, if you will.
But in this context, I think one of the things that we start to ask ourselves after this incident with the two Christian clients is, how do we address the fact that people that come to us come from different walks of life? And you have them all in the room, and now you need to start talking to them. And you need-- you still need to offer instruction, because you need to prepare them well for an experience.
And one of the ways that we found actually works quite well is to work with multidisciplinary teams, not much different from the hospice setup, where you have a psychiatrist, you have a palliative care doctor. You have a spiritual caregiver. And if you have a multidisciplinary client sort of case discussion. Everyone kind of offers their perspective. So when we talk about spiritual assessment, it's like everyone is kind of offering their perspective about what they perceive in individuals that are in the group retreat.
Now, the other thing that we would do is really honestly reflect on our own existential positionality. So I'm honest. Like, I have an academic degree. I'm a practictioning Buddhist. I have quite some context with contemplative Christian tradition. So these are-- this is the sort of place where I feel comfortable.
We have a clinical psychologist on board. We have a trauma therapist on board. And then we have people that have been training with the Shipibo tribe or with the Hopi tribe. And there's someone that might have a slightly more New Age approach.
And then we would see that during the retreat, people-- the participants would kind of naturally gravitate towards the people in the team that they felt most connected with. When we would offer them one-on-one conversations, we always say, if you don't feel comfortable with the person that you've been sort of like assigned to, please tell us honestly, and we'll assign you to someone that you feel more akin to.
But at the heart of all of this, we always try to have a client-centered approach. And then something magical happens, and I would love more research about this because I'm biased. It's like, this is the place where I work. But what we would see in group retreats is that for some reason, the things that happen, just like in normal group therapy, trigger things in other participants. But somehow, this very often works out incredibly well.
And a comment that I've heard tens and tens of times is it is-- it was as if everything was orchestrated in such a perfect way, and everyone fulfilled the role that they needed to fulfill. And there's something about a group retreat that seems to enhance, especially, the sense of connectedness. And the research that has been done at the Syntheses Institute by the Imperial College team actually seems to confirm that the sense of connectedness amongst people increases significantly in comparison to individual experiences.
So I think there's a lot to say for group formats. It comes with a whole different set of challenges. And especially-- and I'll end with that-- the notion that we needed to start emphasizing that if people hear something that rubs them in the wrong way or that doesn't resonate with them, we encourage them, please don't listen. Like, just follow what-- take from what resonates with you. And we would always encourage them, see why it rubs you in the wrong way maybe, kind of reflect on that.
But it's a very open, very calm setting. And we would always ask consent, like, do you feel comfortable with the practices that are available to you here in this room? Do you feel comfortable with touch? So there's a lot of consent building. And collectively, this allows for a sense of trust that would allow the whole group to kind of like release into these experiences, and that's-- it's truly beautiful. Again, I'm biased, but it's truly beautiful to see.
CHARLES STANG: Maybe in the interest of time, I'll pivot to a different question and pose this one principally to Jamie, given that you're at Naropa. So there's a tremendous amount of interest in the Q&A, not surprisingly. People are drawn to this work. People want to know where it's happening.
So I'm wondering, Jamie, or others, could you speak to those basic questions. Where is this training happening now or in the near future? What sort of preparation is necessary to enter this kind of work? What kind of qualifications? How do you embark on this journey if it appeals to you? And Jamie, if you could speak not only about Naropa, but I understand GTU has some sort of nascent enterprise, and any other ventures that you're familiar with. Thank you.
JAMIE BEACHY: Sure. And yes, Rachael may want to chime in as well, because she's been helping to kind of map the landscape of chaplaincy training opportunities. So I went to a-- once went to a MAPS discussion of this question of how to become a psychedelic guide. And Marcela Ot'alora, who's my mentor at the MAPS training site here in Boulder, she said something that I thought was really wise, which is if you want to become a psychedelic therapist, first become a really good therapist. First, become a therapist.
And I would say the same for chaplaincy, that really, it's important to develop just the core competencies for becoming a good chaplain, choosing a good theological program. And then in the US, going through the CPE process and looking at certification, because that process is so formative that that community, hopefully, finding a place that can hold this intention of becoming a psychedelic chaplain well enough to sort of support that aspiration would be helpful. But to really become-- just become a solid practitioner.
And then, fortunately, in a few years from now, we're anticipating that MDMA will be legal for medical use, and psilocybin is likely to have-- it's already decriminalized in a few states, and is likely to be legal and used in hospice and palliative care settings. So I think that if you're just starting out, it would be important to find a place that has some openness.
If you bring it up in your interview, and they say like, what's that? No way. We're not talking about that. That would not be the right place for you. But a place like Naropa or the GTU or some other theological seminaries are very open to thinking about this.
And then to just be involved by becoming a member maybe of MAPS, becoming a member of different organizations, going to conferences, meeting people. And then eventually, it's unclear how this will unfold in the future, but it looks like some kind of additional training will also be required.
So maybe like a certificate like we might be developing at Naropa or at the GTU, or clinical training at a residency-- CPE residency chaplaincy program, like, perhaps, places like NYU or Johns Hopkins or Emory. Hopefully, there will be opportunities for chaplains to train in, or at the VA. I'm really hopeful that chaplains in the VA system will be able to learn these modalities in real-time in residencies or post-- maybe post-residency fellowships. So just to become involved. I don't know if, Rachael, if you'd like to add anything to this emerging field for training chaplains.
RACHAEL PETERSEN: No, I think you mapped it pretty well. As you said, in the near term, it seems to be the model is the certificate programs. And, of course, CIIS also has a psychedelic training certificate program. And I know they're keen to get more religious professionals and chaplains in that program, though to date have not had many, I believe.
There's a chaplaincy certificate program being developed at Naropa and GTU, as was mentioned. But I think this is an ongoing conversation with the FDA too about just the standards of training that will be required in legal settings. Although, I think ideally, eventually, it would be amazing if there was integration with CPE, so that if you are in a Divinity school, you could get your field training through an accredited site where you're doing end-of-life palliative care work as a chaplain. So I think there's a big vision here, but still some pieces to be put in place.
JAMIE BEACHY: Yeah, and I would just add that within all of the professional organizations within the Center for the Advancement of Palliative Care and hospice, there are groups that are thinking about this, so to become involved in these practitioner groups early on, and to be part of the conversation, I think, would be important as it's unfolding.
RACHAEL PETERSEN: Trace, were you going to jump in as well on this?
TRACE HAYTHORN: I was just going to note, I got a text in the middle of this from George Grant at Emory about a new study that they're conducting there beginning in the fall with 10 folks, and looking at how that's going to shape spiritual health as a department, and how they'll be thinking about that going forward.
So when you think of Naropa, and you think of the GTU, it's not hard to imagine psilocybin studies there. When you think of Emory, most people tend to think of Coca-Cola, so it's a different spin. And it feels like there's some things opening up right now.
RACHAEL PETERSEN: I'll just dovetail on that quickly. So of all of the trials, the psychedelic trials, that have been done since 2010, I think there's close to 50 of them, not a single one has intentionally included chaplains in their clinical protocol. I believe Emory and Dana-Farber has an upcoming study as well, which will be the first. So I think there is movement in this direction.
CHARLES STANG: OK. If I could jump in and, again, with one very brief comment, and then a concluding question. So the comment is jumping off something Daan has said about how-- that one can find-- a guide can help a client find sources within his or her own tradition for making sense of psychedelic experiences.
I want to underscore that, because one of the things I find somewhat frustrating about the Johns Hopkins experience, and again, Daan, you sort of flagged this, is the degree to which it's primed for a certain kind of experience which it wants to label as mystical, which is actually a fairly specific and narrow account of the mystical experience within the archive of certainly Christian mysticism and the other traditions with which I'm familiar.
And I think it's important that people realize that there is a full suite of experiences cataloged, in some cases, very ancient traditions, so that they don't have the defining mystical experience. They don't walk away from the experience feeling somehow deficient or cheated or beset by something. So I just want to underscore that, if you don't mind. Thank you for making that point.
My final question has to do with this question of experience. And here, I want to play a little bit of the devil's advocate. I actually have no idea where I am on this particular question. But I take it the question is, do psychedelic chaplains need to have experience with psychedelics in order to be effective chaplains? And Daan, you've said yes for a very good reason. You gave us a kind of a wonderful case study or an episode that illustrates the necessity for that.
OK, two things. One is different psychedelics have different profiles. So is it the case that a psychedelic chaplain should only work with people with the psychedelic that he or she has experience in? Should it be a kind of-- a little bit more specific and siloed? So I-- for instance, let's say, I have MDMA experiences, then I should work with MDMA. And you take my point. How widely experienced does one need to be?
And I think about that from the other perspective, and thinking here of Trace in your experience as a chaplain, where chaplains are called upon to be chaplains to people who are going through things that they have never experienced, and perhaps, never will. And in many cases, they certainly don't want to experience the thing that the person's going through.
So how do we balance-- that seems to me a sort of a strange inconsistency, that an effective chaplain in a normal condition doesn't need to share the experience. But we want somehow psychedelic chaplains to do so. So again, I'm not asking that with a particular agenda. It's very open-ended. So Trace, why don't we start with you, and then we can move to Jamie and Daan if they feel moved to respond.
TRACE HAYTHORN: Yeah. I think if we start saying that you have to have certain kinds of experiences, we're going to wear chaplains out and freak them out completely with all the things that we're going to try to make them do. I mean, the notion that we can somehow have sufficient experience to be able to engage people in the variety of ways that they're going to be asked to engage, there's just not enough capacity within someone to have all of those experiences.
At the same time, especially at this stage of exploring what's going on within psychedelic chaplaincy, I'm willing to argue that we need some folks who will be experienced in ways different from the rest of us. So I want to hold that in some tension. So maybe we need some who-- we need the Daans of the world who have actually experienced this and know what it's about, who then can sit with people like me and say, OK, you need to understand these things. Here's what I bring to this conversation, so that it's not an either/or. Any time we get into that kind of stuff, it just makes me crazy.
So instead, we're talking about a kind of complementarity, similar kind of continuum of experience. Because I also want people to push back and challenge out of whatever their fears are, so that we also know how to address those fears, that it doesn't become sort of a unified voice that says this is all good and always good, but instead, here's the range of experiences and how do we engage this constructively going forward?
JAMIE BEACHY: I might just add, there's probably a middle path between no experience and like a full-on years of training at Synthesis. So I would advocate for some experience with nonordinary states, whether it's a meditation retreat or deep practice, breathwork, experience with one medicine that might cross over into another.
I do think if there's not familiarity, a lack of familiarity with-- and honestly, like, grieving intensely can be a nonordinary state-- someone that's had a really intense loss and been through a traumatic experience feels very similar in some ways to psychedelic experience. That's a whole future conversation. But I think that there's a middle path that we can aim for with some experts in the field who are kind of advising the way forward.
DAAN KEIMAN: I think I agree to a very, very large extent with what Jamie and Trace say here. And Jamie, I want to sort of reiterate this sense of maybe not a psychedelic substance, but extensive experience with nonordinary states of consciousness. I think you framed it like deep mystical or spiritual experiences or a familiarity therewith.
I would maybe challenge one aspect, which is maybe we can discern between helping people understand these experiences, and actually guiding them through the experience. Maybe those are two different professions. And I think chaplains and spiritual caregivers could definitely pick up both.
But I do think the actual guidance might require more competencies along the lines of having personal experience. And we can have conversations about how extensive that experience should be, and if it could be substituted by breath work or other modalities, I'm very open there.
But I do think that the actual guiding work has some relevant differences to chaplaincy work in it, sort of if you look at it in a more naked way. So-- and I think one thing that I-- in whatever capacity you want to work with this, I feel hesitant of saying this, but I think you need to be open to the weird.
Because sometimes people come back with experiences that are not like grief, but that are like there was a self-transforming machine elf dancing on my shoulder, and then it showed me the entire universe, and then it farted. And to truly appreciate that that can be the most meaningful experience of someone's life, I think is a core competency of doing all of this work.
TRACE HAYTHORN: I have nowhere-- no idea where you go after that.
CHARLES STANG: That's definitely the sign that we need to wrap up. So I'm conscious of time, but that was a really wonderful exchange there, and I want to say one question that has haunted me about this conversation from the beginning, which is-- I'm fairly new to this conversation. But since the idea of psychedelic chaplaincy has been introduced to me, was whether it is-- whether chaplain is the appropriate category to capture all the dimensions of what kinds of presence or guidance is needed.
It may be that it's the right category, but I would just like to underscore that Daan has, at least, introduced the category of the guide. And we've seen in the Q&A, a number of people, of course, are mentioning the Shamanic traditions as another kind of adjacent category, which is also deeply of interest to me.
So I want to say, first of all, thank you all for this. This has been incredibly rich. Rachael, thank you for taking the lead with this conversation. And thank all the participants for their wonderful questions. I'm so sorry we didn't get to more of them. There are currently 93 questions open.
But Jamie, Trace, Daan, first and foremost, my thanks go to you for taking the time to join us. And this has definitely enriched this series. And I have a sense that this particular topic is going to actually bloom into something bigger at the center in the next year or two. So thank you for participating, and thank you for your contribution.