14 Oct 2018

In conversation with Mark Haden: The tools of transformation

by Psillow

In the final installment of this three-part series, the trailblazing B.C. professor looks at how psychedelic psychotherapy should be administered

Wanted: A psychedelic supervisor.

This job posting hasn’t appeared on LinkedIn just yet. But as clinical trials of MDMA and psilocybin progress, and as clinical interest in psychedelic drugs continues to build, it may only be a matter of time.

The position certainly needs to be filled, says Mark Haden, executive director of the Canadian arm of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. “Psychedelics, in order to be a medicine, require containment. You don’t really need safe environments for people who are smoking cannabis, but you do for Psychedelics. What we need, then, is a new profession: The psychedelic supervisor. It doesn’t matter how they supervise. They can do it lying down, in an indigenous context, while walking in nature, and so on. What matters is that there is a person in charge, and that they’re a skilled professional, and that they’re supervising an environment of safety.”

First, however, the exact nature of the job description needs to be ascertained. “There’s a huge discussion going on in the psychotherapy community as to the ideal skill set for psychedelic therapists,” Haden says over the phone from his office at the University of British Columbia. “There are those who say that these are drugs that need to be managed, so therefore it’s a psychiatrist who should be there. Others say it’s a psychologist who needs to be there, because there is some verbal engagement. Then others say, ‘Hang on, we really need to be running these things in groups, or in a family context, because it can be incredibly beneficial for family counselling and for couples.’ That’s the skill of a social worker. And then there are people who say, ‘It’s easy to get very distracted with all that, and the therapist becomes a bit of a problem because they get in the way of healing. So really what you want is a birthing nurse. You want this huge compassionate presence that won’t get in the way. Then there’s a fifth person, the aboriginal healer, who is more in tune with the relevant religious and spiritual traditions. Suddenly, we’ve got five completely different frameworks for approaching this thing!”

Regardless of who is in the room, the focus should always be on the therapeutic power of the drug, Haden says. “It’s more about compassionate presence than how the therapist acts. You have to allow for silence and provide safety and security. If the therapist is being a therapist, then we have a problem.”


Adam Bisby is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

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