What is Psilocybin? How is Psilocybin used in therapy? How do you prepare a client for a Psilocybin experience?
In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok speaks with ‘M’ about her work and journey with Psilocybin and plant medicine experiences from a therapist, mental health clinician’s point of view.
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In This Podcast
- Psychological paradigms and the psychedelic world
- Default mode network
- Preparing for a Psilocybin experience
Psychological paradigms and the psychedelic world
Not all of the psychedelic experience is going to fit neatly into our understanding of psychology from a Western perspective. We may be missing a lot of what the psychedelic experience has to offer in terms of deeply shifting us and our perspective on the world.
Default mode network
This is the idea that we all walk around with a set of assumptions about yourselves and about the world. There are fundamental assumptions we make about the world that helps us navigate in some ways, such as knowing that the sun is going to rise and this is how we eat. What psychedelics do is shake that up to make us know that it isn’t so.
Preparing for a Psilocybin experience
There is not as much of a tradition with Psilocybin and there is not the lineage of knowledge to draw from but it makes it feel full of possibility and interesting dangers. When preparing to take Psilocybin, physically there is a lot less to be concerned about. There are no foods that will interact with and has a great track record with physical safety.
‘M’ starts talking to her clients about a month in advance and figuring out what they are hoping to gain from this, the circumstances of their lives, what support structure they have. Two weeks before the experience they will start talking about how the client is preparing by winding down, taking up yoga, etc. She also encourages clients to speak with their doctors if they are any sort of medication and if they are in good physical condition.
Books mentioned in this episode
- Psychedelics Series: An Intro to Psychedelics – Ayahuasca Part 1 | PoP 444
- Slow Down School
- Killin’It Camp
- Next Level Practice
- Free resources to help you start, grow and scale
- Apply to work with us
Meet Joe Sanok
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[JOE]: This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok, episode number 445.
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Well, this is part two of our Psychedelics series. Make sure you listen to the first one first. As this interview kind of goes on from the first one. So just a disclaimer. First is that some of the drugs that we, and substances, plant medicines that we are discussing are illegal in the United States. People have died from use of some of them. I’m not a doctor and I never took chemistry and this is not an endorsement of any illegal drug. Please do your own research and be safe in whatever choices you make. Well without any further ado, let’s jump right back into that interview.
Well, welcome back to this episode with M, where we are talking all about psychedelics, plant medicine, experiences from a therapist, mental health clinician’s point of view. M in the previous episode kind of took us through some general terminology that’s really important to know, and then we talked, kind of did broad brush strokes around Ayahuasca and Psilocybin to just make sure that we’re all on the same page around kind of that type of medicine work. And then we dove into kind of what a typical Ayahuasca ceremony looks like and then coming out of that, and I looked at how long we had been talking. We had already been talking for half an hour and I thought, I don’t want to speed through Psilocybin and I think Psilocybin might get mad at me if we did that. So today we have M on the Practice of the Practice podcast. I would highly recommend so that you have the same terminology. If you’re jumping into part two of this, definitely go back to part one. They go together just like you’re not going to watch Star Wars out of order. You’re going to want to make sure you go back to part one. So M, welcome back to the Practice of the Practice podcast.
[M]: Thank you. I’m so glad to have you back here.
[JOE]: Yeah, well I kind of abruptly cut you off about Ayahuasca in that last episode and I wanted to make sure we had some time to kind of wrap up any final kind of thoughts you have about Ayahuasca, the Ayahuasca work before we dive into Psilocybin.
[M]: Yeah, I think there’s something that’s worth saying just about the intersection of sort of the psychological paradigms and the psychedelic world. And part of the reason I think it is so hard to put words around it is that not all of the psychedelic experience is going to fit neatly into our understanding of cycle psychology from a Western perspective. A mentor of mine often says there are failings in this idea of single person psychology and that is a really sticky point. You know, there are things that happen in any psychedelic experience that just do not translate, and when we kind of shoehorn them into this, “Oh, this is treating my anxiety,” or, “Oh, this is how I understand myself a little differently,” we may be missing a lot of what the psychedelic experience has to offer in terms of deeply shifting us and our perspective on the world. You know, psychology, we sort of are taught to think that, you know, it’s your emotions and it’s your neuro-psychology and it’s, you know, it’s your neuro-transmitters and it’s your history and in the psychedelic experience that is not always true.
You know, we find that, more like a union perspective, you may be swimming in a sea of emotions and when conditions are right, it just seems to constantly in you, but it does not belong to you. It does mean it’s yours to digest. And I think psychedelics can help us digest some of that stuff, but it really transcends all kinds of things like trauma narratives or you know, even personal histories or what your mother and father did or did not do for you. I think that is the greatest challenge and the intersection between psychology and the psychedelic experience for psychologists, not to try and contract the whole experience into the psychological paradigm because then we miss a lot.
[JOE]: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, you briefly kind of mentioned the default mode network when we were on the way out from that last episode. Maybe talk a little bit more about that and just so that we can kind of understand a little bit of what’s happening in the brain when plant medicine or when these experiences are happening.
[M]: Right. I can talk about it sort of from a theoretical perspective. You know, I don’t know exactly what’s happening in the brain, but I do know what happens in my personal experience. The default mode network is this idea that we all walk around with a set of assumptions about ourselves and about the world. And that is how we navigate through the world, sort of on a gross level like knowing that the sun is going to rise every day, this is what we do to eat, this is how we cook, these are foods that we eat. This is how we speak to people. This is how we know who other people are, whether they belong or don’t belong. You know, there are fundamental things that help us, assumptions we make about the world that just help us navigate in some ways.
What psychedelics do is shake that up and show us that it’s not always so. I worked with someone once who was still [inaudible 00:05:31], and maybe this is a segue into suicide, but who noticed that he was watching a plant and all of the leaves on the plant seemed to be waving and beautifully moving. And he was like, “I’ve never noticed that before.” And he said, “Maybe they do that all the time and I’ve just never noticed.” So, there’s the problem, right? Are we just missing something? And I think we are just not noticing and I think, you know, in those very open states we can begin to notice things really differently and then that can go back and shift the way you know, our understanding about the world and ourselves.
[JOE]: Yeah, you know, in Michael Pollan book, which I think was a bridge for a number of people How to Change Your Mind when they talked about the default mode network, what made sense for me is just that idea of over time your brain kind of prunes back to be efficient. That I know when I’m driving, I don’t need to think about, you know, that my left turn signal is down and my right turn signals up that, you know, that just becomes automated and that’s important to be able to kind of survive in the world. But that this default mode network allows parts of your brain that when you were younger that now don’t talk to each other as much, be able to. They’re talking about brain research in little, little kids, so under the age of five and how it’s more aligned with someone that’s on a psychedelic than with an adult.
And so even just the other day, our five year, we were playing Monopoly and we’ve been playing this like you know, 15 minutes at a time Monopoly game. And my five-year-old Laken was just in another world and I just had this moment where I was like, her brain is on psychedelics. It’s like I’m playing Monopoly with someone that just took some Psilocybin, and so, it gave me more compassion for my kid to be like, “I’m so glad the world is sparkly and wonderful and full of rainbows for you and we’re going to get to play Monopoly now. So that’s been helpful to just kind of understand this neuro research that, you know, I don’t need to know all the details of, but just kind of those core ideas.
[JOE]: Well, take us into, now it’s a Psilocybin experience. And so we talked about set and setting. What does that look like in regards to preparing mindset for someone that’s going into one of these experiences? And so with Ayahuasca, that’s in a group now, with Psilocybin, does that tend to be solo or is there also a group model too? So yeah, jump into that.
[M]: Yeah, so there’s not as much of a tradition with Psilocybin. There has been, you know, an old Mexican tradition. So, there’s not like this lineage of knowledge to draw from in a lot of ways and to me that makes Psilocybin feel a little bit more like the wild West but also full of possibility in that way, in the same way that, you know, moving out into unknown territory is always full of possibility and interesting, dangerous as well. So whereas in the, you know, the Ayahuasca tradition, you’ve got generations and generations and generations of experience and knowledge to draw on. Psilocybin is a little more unpredictable in some ways, and maybe that mirrors my serial networks in some ways that they just start kind of underground and unseen and you don’t always quite know what’s going on. So there are many, many, many different ways of working with Psilocybin.
And I think that’s part of the marvelous part of this, this world. There is still room for so much personal research. So when I work with Psilocybin or when I’m working with people and that medicine, I certainly transplant some of the training I’ve gotten from Ayahuasca world but you can’t just wholesale plunk it down. It’s a different medicine. It requires different things, I think still aside and still very responsive to sound in a lot of ways and certainly a lot of the research that’s going on with Psilocybin is showing the same thing that music and sound are part of it. Like, I don’t feel like I have a great handle on how set and setting would be different but I do know from all of my training in the Ayahuasca world that, you know, the things that matter to me still matter to me when I’m working with Psilocybin or working with someone who is using that medicine, you know, where you are, what are you bringing to it?
Preparation, physically there’s a lot less to be concerned about with Psilocybin. You know, there’s not foods that will interact with it. Psilocybin has this phenomenal track record in terms of physical safety. There’s just almost nothing you can do with it that is going to hurt you or harm you in any way, which is really nice. But still there’s a lot to be said for, you know, what is your psychological preparation? And certainly my experience has said that the moment you commit to going, to entering into that world, that’s the moment your actual work begins and that your medicine work begins and it’s, you know, the story is already being told. So similarly, I think the Psilocybin and being aware of it in that way.
[JOE]: So I’m wondering what sessions ahead of time look like going into an experience like this? Like, do you meet with them? Do you talk with them? Do you meet like the day before or is it you kind of just send them a worksheet and say, “All right, here’s how you prep.” What does that prep look like? And then maybe we can dive into the day of.
[M]: Sure. Ideally what I’m doing is talking to someone, I would say about at least a month beforehand. You know, we don’t know each other and we’re about to go into a pretty intimate experience together. So, and I think that’s worth spending some time on. I prefer to meet with people in person, but if they’re not from my area or the country, I certainly will do video, and that’s not a problem. But at this point, you know, I’m looking for them to kind of crystallize, why is it you want to do this? What is it you’re hoping for? What are your intentions? What are you bringing in? What are the circumstances of your life right now? What supports do you have just in terms of processing, you know, this kind of experience afterwards, you know? And I mean supports in any, from any perspective, you know, social supports, financial supports, practical supports. What does that look like for you?
And then I start to talk about you know, what a, how I encourage people to sort of prepare the garden of their mind and of their being for this experience. Generally then after we’ve met a little bit, we’ll talk again two weeks before such an experience and at this point we’re starting to look at more practical things to do. Like, you know, how are you may be cutting out some of the busy-ness in your life and how do you create more room? What other little practices can you take up over the next two weeks to kind of prepare and that can look anything like meditation or yoga to simple Artspace practices. And I found that it doesn’t even need to be a substantial practice to prepare. You know, lives are lives and we are busy. And if what you have time to do every morning is sit for five minutes with your hand around a cup of hot tea and just be aware of yourself, that’s enough.
But I do think, you know there are other things, you know, they encourage people to prepare with, a lot of times being outdoors or you know, unplugging from news and social media, but it’s a very personal process and we kind of work out what, I kind of work out with a person in what works best for you. Do you have a lot of physical preparations just in terms of being off any medications, especially any sort of antidepressants? And I always encourage people, you know, if it is something that they need to do that, the taper that they work with a doctor who’s supportive of this and move on a lot of resources for working on that. There are certain things that don’t interact with either MDMA or Psilocybin well and you do have to be cautious of those. And I’m also encouraging people to work with a trusted doctor to just talk about anything else you need to be aware of.
Have you got liver problems, kidney problems? I don’t want to pretend to be a doctor, but it’s not an unimportant aspect of this work as physical safety. And then so two weeks before people are really starting to dig in and prepare, I would say a couple of days before, especially if we’re using MDMA, I’m encouraging people that take antioxidants just as a nice preparation to kind of help your body process through. At this point, people are generally starting to feel some kind of anxiety. What am I doing? Why did I decide this? Am I going to be okay? And that I actually think of as a very good sign. I find that when people are feeling some kind of anxiety, it’s a sign that something’s really about to change. And so I think that that’s normal. It’s a normal level of anxiety. I once met someone who actually took the time to write up a will before timing and things [crosstalk] out like experience.
He was just so willing to let go of all of these pieces of himself. And he really experienced some profound, profound change because that’s where his mind was with it and he was willing. And generally I like to meet with people if I can the night before just to say hello and check in about any other last minute concerns. And the day of, usually it’s a, I would say, you know, the experience itself can last, once you’ve ingested, these molecules can last anywhere between three and a half and six hours depending. I do a lot for, you know, I think setting the day up just in terms of keeping a very clean, very tidy, very unimposing space. I am actually a musician and so during the experience, I’m actually making music the whole time because that’s the tradition I was taught in.
I don’t put on a playlist. I think these are living experiences and that helps conduct it. And afterwards I always spend, you know, a couple of hours with someone who’s still sort of putting their feet back on the ground to make sure they’re okay, that they have something to eat that they’re able to rest, that nothing is feeling undigested and that they feel safe and secure. And I think that’s where the psychological training comes in very, very handy in this work. That doesn’t always happen. And I think those are vital parts of making sure that people get out of this what they wanted.
[JOE]: Yeah. Just thinking about the marathon that you kind of run through this of playing music that whole time and even just thinking practicality of when do you eat or when do you go to the bathroom and figuring out how you do that. Are you playing music with one hand and eating some almonds with the other and trying to not make any noise to affect the experience? I mean, it’s just, oh. Yeah, so, —
[M]: I don’t stop to eat. If I do, I’ll just grab a bite or something, but I’m so invested in what is happening in my attention, so on the experience. But afterwards I’m usually ravenous.
[JOE]: Oh, I’m sure. Now, what are the types of experiences people have? What is it, and I know it’s similar to probably Ayahuasca. It’s hard to say here’s what most people have, but just so people that haven’t kind of witnessed being a guide, if they were there kind of getting mentored by you to kind of just help with an experience or even going through it, what are just some things that maybe you see more often than not? Or just kind of what happens on this plant medicine that you can speak to?
[M]: I would say a couple of sort of things I see people doing all the time that are, they’re actually good gateways. If you can kind of notice them are either believing that they’re not having an experience when I can tell they’re actually really altered. So it’s that set of expectations. They come in with like, “I’m supposed to see the rainbow Jaguar and it’s going to come down and give me all the answers and that’s not happening.” So they think they’re not having an experience. So part of my work is generally to kind of guide them into noticing that you are experiencing something right now. And if we can stay with that, then it often blossoms into a very, very different and more altered experience. So I sometimes see people freezing up about I’m not doing it right. Getting caught in cognitive loops is another thing that really happens and all of these things can just be gateways into your real, you know, into really what’s happening to, it’s never a mistake.
I think that’s a guiding principle for me in doing this work, that there is nothing that a person comes in with it, that they are doing wrong somehow or that they’re not, you know, it’s not that you’re not doing it right, it’s just where you’re at. So getting cut in cognitive loops, you know, where you’re just thinking about the same things over and over again and not sort of connecting with your body or your felt sense of what’s happening. So a lot of times if I see people or experiencing people getting stuck in that way, you know, I just encourage them to notice where you feel that in your body. And that’s where somatic training is so helpful in this work.
All of the somatic psychologies and somatic ways of approaching, you know, our experiences are vital, vital, I think, to the psychedelic experience. And that said, I really don’t think there’s a common journey. There’s often something that I think people are afraid to touch but also secretly want to. And so there’s a sort of dance that can happen around, “Oh, I want to relive this. I don’t want to relive this. Oh, I want to acknowledge this. I don’t want to acknowledge this,” and sustain in that dance for a little while until there’s a moment of kind of surrender to it. It’s almost like there’s a little bit of a fight happening inside the person and then they often surrender to what is happening. And that’s when things really begin to shift and unfold in a different way. I think that’s a good guiding principle tool that certainly many people in this work and my mentors have deeply instilled in me is this idea of surrendering to the process.
[JOE]: Hmm. Yeah. Well, and then take us through kind of aftercare, the day of and aftercare kind of following it.
[M]: Yeah. So, the day of you know, if I’m working with someone during the day, I want them to be able to take their time and put their feet on the ground. So I’m always kind of planning ahead. They either need to stay where they are for the night or they need a ride home. I don’t want anyone getting in a car you know, unless they feel, unless they’re really experienced and I feel like they’re safe. But it’s generally a good time to both, interestingly both be still and be quiet with yourself and finding a way to cultivate that, but also really connecting with loved ones. And I find a lot of people really do want to talk to just one or two people afterward and let them know that they’re okay and just making sure people have the space to do that.
I love sharing a meal with people afterward. It’s a great way to start to ground yourself and realize that you are recomposed and you are here. And I certainly meet with people the day after as well. Sometimes I think MDMA has got this reputation of being, having a bit of a bumpy re-entry, like you’re going to feel a dip. And I found that that’s not always true. I find that sometimes when people feel a little crappy the next day or a little physically kind of not well, it almost means there’s something we’ve bypassed, that we’ve missed, that we’ve got to go back and work on. So I think it is vital to meet with people the next day to make sure that then we haven’t missed anything important. That it’s really closed down.
[JOE]: Yeah. And how important is it for people to say journal and put words to it versus kind of sit with what happened? Because I would imagine that the experience is not really able to be caught in words, but then you know, and people probably want to capture the experience. So, how do you recommend people handle that?
[M]: It’s a good balance. I love to see people take a few notes, especially of potent images or things that surprised them. So rather I encourage people rather than narrating the whole experiences, is maybe jot down like what comes up for you as you recall, that image that came to you, you know, where that appeared to you. What comes up for you and writing it down in such a way that you’re not boxing it in with a story about what you think it is. That you’re leaving it alive. I think part of integration is in some ways an important and not important part of this work. It’s sort of a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, but I don’t think anybody really knows what that means. There’s not one good definition of integration, but I do think it is a practice of keeping alive what has been gifted to you.
It’s almost like in these journeys we receive a lot of unexpected gifts. And if you put that gift in a closet and shut it away, and by shutting it away, I mean putting a story around it and saying, “Oh, I know what this is. I understand it fully now.” It kills the gift. So integration for me is how do I keep not the experience alive, not in a way of chasing the high, but how do I take the gifts that I’ve been given and do something with them and continue to honor that gift? And writing can be a great part of that. So capturing the story in that way can be a really healthy part. And I also think a lot of what happens unfolds over time and we don’t have words for it. It’s like these gifts and these seeds get stashed inside of us and maybe a year later, you know, you find yourself doing something really, really different and you think, “Oh yeah, that was born out of that journey and I could not have predicted that.” So the writing is a helpful part of it, if it helps you do that. I think.
[JOE]: So if someone’s hearing this and they’re thinking, “This kind of work sounds amazing, I’d love to learn more about it or get connected to this kind of community,” or they’re hearing this and saying, “I would love to do a journey.” I mean, obviously you’re not going to like give your email out or anything like that, but how does someone even, like this is illegal? It’s, you know, there’s a lot of questions around how you would like even find someone that’s reputable and that isn’t going to take advantage of you. What should people do to stay safe, to find someone that’s good, to not get in trouble or get someone else in trouble? Like how do you even find someone? You know what I’m asking.
[M]: Yeah, I do. I do. And it is such a tricky thing, too, and I appreciate how much, how careful people are being. And certainly, I’ve gotten strange cold calls from people that, I don’t know you, I don’t know who you are, what your history is, I don’t know who you are, I don’t know the situation. So anyone who’s kind of advertising these services, I almost think that’s sometimes a red flag. Like, be careful. Be careful if someone feels free to advertise you know, illegal things because of what, you know, what risk does that mean they’re putting themselves and you at? It is a very guarded community but I think it’s almost the gift in it is that we have to keep having these conversations and keep asking questions and keep connecting with people and eventually you find your way in.
Because usually, the way it happens is a guide will have a circle of people that they know and trust and if they get a referral from them and said, “Oh, I met this person.” You know, I think that’d be a good situation and then a good guide, you know, will say yes in that situation. So it is a matter of connecting and keep asking and keep having the conversations. Ask people who you look up to and whose lives seem good to you. You know, don’t ask the people that you wouldn’t want to end up, maybe that’s not, I don’t want to be like that person. So maybe I won’t trust their judgment. Any good —
[JOE]: Read Michael Pollan’s book in public. Honestly, it’s so funny how reading that book, the amount of friends that have talked to me and said, “You know what? I’m considering an experience.” I’m just like, “I don’t, I’m just reading the book.”[ crosstalk]
[M]: God bless him for writing that book because I think it’s not some clause in it, but oh my God, I can hand that to, you know, to my mom who’s close to 80 and she gets it like, “God, thank God for opening that conversation.”
[JOE]: Yeah. Well, and even just, I mean him saying here’s what kind of standard best practices are without even saying here’s how it should be but just having a flight plan, having these, I mean, just to have a basic sense of, okay, someone put some thought into understanding this world. Well, I know that we could go on forever and ever. This has been amazing. The last question I always ask is, if every private practitioner in the world were listening right now, what would you want them to know?
[M]: Oh boy. Oh gosh. There are so many ways I could answer that question. I want to say don’t be afraid of psychedelics and don’t be afraid of talking to your clients about this. It is not a panacea, it is not a magic bullet, it is not going to save the world. But there is good stuff in here and the more we educate ourselves and share in community experiences about this, I think the better it’s going to get.
[JOE]: M, thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice podcast.
[M]: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure to be able to talk about all this.
[JOE]: Well, thank you so much for listening to today. We have more in this psychedelic series coming up and make sure that you support our sponsor Therapy Notes. Therapy Notes is the best electronic health records out there. They are amazing. Go check them out. Use promo code [JOE], [J O E], if you need to get two months for free, and if you are a Next Level Practice member, you can get six months free when you sign up your first time. Just make sure you connect with us when you do that. Thanks so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have an amazing day.
Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music. We really like it. And this podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.