COVID-19 and Psychedelic Group Work: It’s Still Too Soon

Psychedelics and COVID

By Joe Moore & Kyle Buller

An open letter to the Psychedelics Today audience

Dear Psychedelic Community,

We know this past year has been extremely challenging and isolating. Humans are social creatures by nature, and quarantine and social distancing have been hard on all of our psyches and mental health. But as a community, we have to get real: if we really want what’s best for the collective whole of humanity, the truth is that it’s still not safe to meet up in big groups to do psychedelic work or ceremonies.  

We’ve been talking about it a lot on the podcast, especially on Solidarity Fridays, so here is a reminder in print: COVID-19 is real, psychedelics and spirituality won’t make you exempt from catching and spreading it, and therefore, it’s still too dangerous to be doing group psychedelic work.

Often, when people justify disregarding masks or social distancing measures, their line of reasoning is that they’re not a senior citizen or immunocompromised, and so the current safety precautions don’t apply to them. But this is not a zero-sum, “die or survive” game, and it’s not just about you and your healing; it’s about the people around you–employees at your local grocery store, your bus or taxi driver, the nurses, doctors, and teachers in your community–people you don’t know and don’t think about, who still might be harmed by your actions. 

And COVID-19 is not temporary. There are psychedelic community members with vagus nerve damage, permanent vocal cord damage from severe coughing, lung issues, and other serious long-term conditions. We know plenty of people in their 30s and 40s who survived COVID-19 and thought everything was fine, but their post-virus quality of life has since been severely lowered. We know folks who are still sick, struggling with chronic pain, brain fog, and low energy for over a year, who have therefore been unable to work and have become dependent on family members to support them as their recovery extends past the 13, 14, and 15-month marks.

Beyond our immediate community, a recent study published in The Lancet journal of psychiatry found that a significant portion of COVID-19 survivors were diagnosed with a neurological or psychiatric condition within 6 months of contracting COVID, many for the first time. And remember- we’re still seeing COVID variants pop up, so while many feel we’re making our way out of this dark period, we may still have a long way to go. 

And it sucks. We understand people are struggling right now. Kyle sees it every day in his therapy and coaching practice, and we all feel it. Being in isolation and lacking human connection is extremely hard, unnatural, and affecting us all. The need for healing and contact is immense and only getting bigger, and we absolutely empathize with you all. We understand that it goes against our individualistic cultural conditioning, but this is a social responsibility that is beyond individual healing or personal politics, and we have to think communally. When the community is sick, the individual is sick. And when the individual is sick, the community is sick. 

When we’ve posted about this on social media, we’ve had folks bring up suicide statistics from 2020, using the high number as an argument for encouraging much-needed psychedelic healing work. Everyone on our team has lost someone to suicide and we know how difficult that is, and also how easy it is to think that perhaps an ayahuasca or mushroom ceremony could have saved our loved ones from their afflictions. So it feels insensitive to compare numbers of deaths against each other, but since that’s something that gets brought up a lot, look into it: while the 2020 stats aren’t final and don’t take overdoses into account, the numbers are actually very similar to 2019, with the number of deaths directly attributed to COVID-19 being drastically higher. It’s uncomfortable to think about, but the numbers speak for themselves. This is beyond our emotional ties to the issue; this is for the sake of the whole community of humanity.

The fact of the matter is, psychedelic group work involves a lot of touching, being close together for 6 to 12 hours, and being in close proximity to others’ bodily fluids while we cough, purge, or cry. Cups of water, pipes, snuff tools, and tobacco cigars are often shared. People hold hands, hug, and practice bodywork with each other. These are all optimal opportunities for viruses to spread. Plus, when you are under the influence of a psychedelic medicine, the realities of social distancing and spreading germs won’t exactly be in the forefront of your mind and can easily be cast aside as “silly human problems.” And while that belief may feel freeing, it won’t protect you from catching or spreading disease.

Are there safe options for participating in psychedelic healing work? At the moment, we think the safest option for those looking for mental health relief with psychedelics is ketamine-assisted psychotherapy and infusions. Unlike underground group work or retreats abroad, ketamine clinics and practitioners are regulated by organizations like OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) in the US, meaning they have to follow governmental guidelines for safe and sterile working environments. Also, ketamine infusions, injections, lozenges, and nasal sprays are not typically done in groups, and if they are, they also follow social distancing protocols, as outlined in our recent piece on the topic

We understand that for many, treatment options like ketamine-assisted psychotherapy may not be accessible or appropriate, and some people will still participate in group work anyway. To those people, we encourage everyone to do everything as safely as possible by only engaging in small ceremonies that are following strict safety and social distancing protocols and have contact tracing in place. If the work can be done outside, do it there. And if you’re traveling, please quarantine in consideration of the communities you’re traveling between. But don’t forget- there are lots of virtual psychedelic community offerings to keep us all engaged too. And think about the other work you can do, from meditation, breathwork, and journaling, to creating art or just going for a walk in the woods. Not all healing comes from psychedelics and group work. 

As more people get vaccinated and the world begins to reopen, we are all feeling the excitement to move towards the sense of normalcy we all miss so much. But this is a slow process, and we encourage everyone to continue to move slowly, stay cautious, and continue engaging in safe practices and social distancing measures until we get there. 

We know that this is not what a lot of the psychedelic community wants to hear, but regardless of how unpopular putting this out might make us, we feel it’s a necessary reminder that we all have a shared responsibility to keep our communities safe.  

Thanks for your support,

Joe, Kyle, & the rest of the Psychedelics Today team


Working with Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy and Psychedelics: Everything You Need to Know

By Simon Yugler

Understanding what Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is, and how it could compliment psychedelic-assisted therapy and integration


“To me, what the essence of being psychedelic is is a flirtation with detail and multiplicity.”

–Terrence McKenna

My eyes had been closed for a while now. Navigating inner space is always a surprisingly visual journey for me. This time, in a guided Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy session, it was no different.

There are many paths from which one can enter the inner world, known as “trailheads” in this detailed method of psychotherapy. Just taking a few breaths within this dark, introspective place, I could feel something churning like magma in my stomach. I saw and felt hot, crackling flames of anger percolating within my abdomen; painful memories of betrayal filtered through my consciousness.

Using this bodily trailhead as an entrypoint, my therapist began to gently ask about it, as if the anger was a sentient presence. In fact, IFS is perhaps best known for working with what it calls “parts”, which are the many pieces of the psyche that comprise one’s personality.

“What would your anger do if it didn’t have to keep doing this job?” I heard from what now seemed like a far-off place.

“I don’t know,” I mumbled. “I like the anger. I know it’s here to protect me. We get along.”

It felt deeply familiar, like a well-worn sweatshirt that I couldn’t bring myself to let go of. It was safe. Or rather, it kept me safe. In the language of IFS, I had contacted a protective part of my psyche, which in this case, was a flaming cauldron of anger.

“Good. Let the anger know that you appreciate it. Really let it feel that… What does the anger have to say to you now?”

“That sometimes we lose people,” I sighed, “and that, that’s OK.” These simple words gave way to a massive sense of release.

I felt the turbulent energy inside me suddenly transform into something which encompassed my entire awareness. The fiery magma of anger which coursed through my body a minute ago shifted into something that I can only describe as an emotionally expansive, all-inclusive moment of peace.

This space was familiar. I had felt it before, this wordless balance between bliss and sorrow which the thinking mind, or “ego”, seems to dissolve in.

Now, instead of feeling the flames inside me, I was inside the flame itself. I felt my entire body relax. My mind, a psychic battleground only moments before, was quiet. 

I exhaled into a stillness which resonated throughout my cells. The immensity of all of life’s crushing beauty somatically flooded through my nervous system and inner vision. I felt my heart beat and my lungs expand as forgiveness flowed through my entire body. My mind relinquished control, letting the story behind this painful life chapter melt into the purifying, boundless flame I suddenly found myself engrossed in. I was deeply immersed in what IFS therapists call the energy of “the Self.”   

The distant voice advised me to stay there as long as I could. And so I did, until time began to loosen its grip upon my consciousness.

When I finally opened my eyes, I was still high. 


This experience could easily describe some of the most profound moments I’ve had with psychedelics. I am confident it would land somewhere on the Pahnke-Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire–the same scale used in Roland Griffiths landmark 2006 Johns Hopkins study on psilocybin and mystical experiences. Yet, this powerful inner experience was mediated through the internet, between myself and another person, without any substances whatsoever. 

As powerful as any psychedelic moment of healing, this visionary journey was facilitated by a therapist in my Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy training program. After being guided through this modality, my suspicions around its potential for use in psychedelic therapy and integration were confirmed beyond a doubt.

What Is Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy?

Developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz in the late 1980’s, Internal Family Systems is a psychotherapy modality rapidly growing in popularity. As an outgrowth of his work studying family systems therapy and working with patients struggling with severe eating disorders, Schwartz noticed that his clients spoke about their inner conflict in terms of “parts” of themselves guiding their troubling behaviors and inner conflicts.

In what is ironically a radical act in many areas of the psychological establishment, Schwartz actually took his clients at their word.

Integrating his knowledge of family systems, as well as the work of Carl Jung and other psychotherapeutic pioneers, Schwartz created the IFS model which embraces the notion that our personalities are actually composed of a symphony of different parts, as well as a core, boundless source of energy that both Jung and Schwartz deemed “the Self”.

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In January 2021, Tim Ferriss featured an interview and demonstration with Schwartz, giving his millions of listeners a front row seat into this intimate method of exploring the mind and the many parts, or subpersonalities, that populate it.

In fact, both Schwartz and Ferriss concluded that IFS can indeed bring one to the “same place” that psychedelics can.

Michael and Annie Mithoefer, pioneers of the MDMA-assisted psychotherapy protocol currently used by MAPS, are trained IFS therapists and integrated this method into their work.

When asked about working with IFS and MDMA, Mithoefer said, “I have learned how well the spontaneous observations and experiences of our participants map onto IFS, including both parts and the Self… In my experience, people are hungry for this perspective. Dick didn’t make it up–IFS taps into real phenomena.”

Schwartz himself has spoken about his experiences with psychedelics and how those insights helped open his awareness to the “multiplicity of mind”, a core principle of IFS.

In the past, the field of psychology viewed subpersonalities with great skepticism, giving way to infamous diagnoses such as dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly called multiple personality disorder (MPD). Yet IFS, a non-pathologizing form of psychotherapy, looks at the many subpersonalities, or parts, as natural facets of the psyche–aspects of ourselves which yearn to be known, understood, and healed.

As a depth psychotherapist, I was trained to suss out the unconscious and possibly archetypal aspects of a given dynamic or situation with my clients. Image and metaphor have long been the bread and butter of depth psychology, with myths and fairytales frequently providing the backdrop for some of this tradition’s most memorable texts. In other words, both depth psychology and IFS take to heart the notion that image and psyche are one and the same.

After slowly developing my own therapeutic style, which is influenced not only by human teachers, but psychedelic plant teachers as well, IFS felt like an immensely practical tool with which to weave this odd tapestry of animism, image, and archetypes.

After all, what is an archetype if not psychic energy crystallized into an image?

What are “Parts” in IFS?

For millennia psychedelic medicines have been used by humans to invoke visions, as well as bring one into dialog with some larger presence–the Great Spirit, the spirits of teacher plants, animals, elements, or the ancestors. Especially with Ayahuasca, DMT, and other tryptamine-containing substances, people report encountering beings who often communicate detailed information that can be recalled after the effect itself has worn off.

Whether these entities are mere reflections, or personifications of psychic parts, is a valid, but different, discussion. The point is that when one goes deep enough into the mind, research and anecdotal evidence proves that it is not unusual to encounter presences that seem entirely other than one’s own self.

Instead of entities, beings, or spirits, IFS employs the language of parts to describe the psychic presences which collectively constitute one’s personality.

As a psychedelic integration therapist, IFS provided me with a systematized toolkit for working with people trying to make sense of the paradigm-bending moments that can often occur during a psychedelic journey.

For example, take the voice that suddenly tells you to quit your job; the sinking feeling in your stomach when you think about a memory from childhood; feelings of unworthiness that you’re doing it all wrong; or that suddenly you’re not safe, despite all evidence to the contrary. From the IFS perspective, these are most likely parts expressing themselves and asking for your attention. From a shamanic perspective, these messages might be coming from the spirit of the plant you just ingested, from the ancestors, or from something else entirely.

For psychedelic explorers who prefer not to think in terms of spirits or entities, IFS can provide a useful method of conceptualizing and categorizing potentially confusing aspects of psychedelic experiences that might not fit within their worldview.

Defining “Self” in Internal Family Systems

Both IFS and psychedelics work by reconnecting one to an internal source of transpersonal energy, which Schwartz, taking a page from Carl Jung, calls the Self.

Like told in my own story above, IFS has the potential to lead one into profoundly visionary and emotionally cathartic experiences which are comparable to some of the most healing moments that I’ve experienced with psychedelic medicines.

IFS can provide both facilitators and participants a language by which to conceptualize and map an experience that would otherwise be, by its very nature, ineffable.

In describing the energy of the Self, Schwartz developed what he calls the 8 C’s: 

  1. Compassion 
  2. Curiosity 
  3. Calm 
  4. Clarity 
  5. Courage 
  6. Connectedness 
  7. Confidence 
  8. Creativity. 

In IFS, it is the energy of the Self, not the therapist, that truly heals.

The good news here is that everyone, regardless of past trauma or experiences, has within them the boundless energy of Self. Thus, Internal Family Systems believes that everyone has the capacity to heal.


After all, what is an archetype if not psychic energy crystallized into an image?


The notion of the Self firmly locates IFS therapy in the terrain of existential-humanistic, transpersonal, and depth psychology, all of which form the foundations of emerging and long-standing modalities of psychedelic psychotherapy (for examples, see Grof, 1975, Stolaroff, 1997, and Leary, Metzner & Alpert, 2007). 

One could say that within the psychological establishment, the idea of the Self is as radical a notion as LSD being used to heal. In many mental health agencies or governmental health services, both concepts would likely be given a sideways glance at best, mockery or early termination at worst.

In my own psychedelic experiences, I can recall moments of feeling immersed in many of the 8 C’s. Formal research has yet to be conducted connecting the Jungian and IFS concept of the Self within psychedelic experiences and its potential for healing, though the work of Stanislav Grof, as well as Griffith’s research mentioned above, comes close.

Perhaps the expansive, all-encompassing energy of the Self is what the famous Mazatec curandera, Maria Sabina was referring to when she said, “Heal yourself, with beautiful love, and always remember, you are the medicine.”

How Psychedelic Integration Could Employ Internal Family Systems

After a psychedelic experience, my clients often share what can seem like a deluge of information, imagery, and questions. In addition to archetypal imagery, transpersonal, and shamanic perspectives, IFS provides me a detailed map for understanding and deeping into the integration process with clients. Often, there are recognizable themes or patterns that can emerge during a psychedelic experience–for good or ill.

Here are some core concepts in IFS therapy that I have found useful while facilitating integration work: “Unburdening”, “Polarization”, and “Blending”.

“Unburdening” in IFS

If one could distill IFS therapy down to a single sentence, I would say that it consists of helping certain parts of ourselves let go of outdated or inherited ways of being that cause us to suffer.

IFS calls this process “unburdening, as it understands that certain parts take on “burdens” early in life which, as we grow, might become less and less helpful or healthy.

This unburdening is achieved by establishing a connection to the Self, so that the part can realize it doesn’t have to do it all by itself, that it’s not alone, and that its past experiences don’t dictate the future. Usually, these moments are profoundly cathartic and emotional. It can also take an immense amount of work to get there, which is why psychedelics can potentially play a helpful role in this therapeutic process.

From an IFS perspective, unburdening is often what happens in a positive psychedelic experience, and can be some of the most memorable moments of the journey. For example, metaphorically giving your anger to the fire; letting your grief float away into the ocean; or planting your sadness into earth. Such images are common in both IFS therapy sessions and psychedelic journeys.

Through the lens of IFS, our stories about who we are or how the world is might be a burden carried by a part. For instance, seeing oneself as a savior, victim, martyr, or outcast is a story that might be severely limiting one’s idea of who they really are and their self worth. Tendencies towards workaholism or scarcity fears, chronic shame, feelings of not being enough and needing to prove oneself, are all burdens that certain parts might carry for decades. Many burdens were placed upon us during childhood by family members, and in that sense are not true reflections of who we really are.

On an even deeper level, some burdens are inherited through our blood lineage and ancestry, or experienced through what author and psychotherapist Resmaa Menakem calls HIPP (historical, intergenerational, persistent institutional, & personal) trauma. These heavy burdens may inform every aspect of someone’s life, and are heartbreakingly real, but are still not accurate reflections of who they truly are.

Trauma twists someone’s story about who they are. Healing helps rewrite it.

“Polarization” in Internal Family Systems

Dealing with “polarization between parts is a common occurrence in IFS therapy sessions. Through an IFS lens, challenging psychedelic experiences can often occur because these same polarized parts are amplified during a journey. Looping or confusion–a frequent element of a bad trip–might be seen as an extreme polarization.

Polarization is like an inner battle. A difficult psychedelic experience might occur because of this inner tension: One part wants to surrender, another part is terrified to do so. One part says to take a second dose, another part cautions against it. One part wants to lay down under a blanket, another wants to stand up, stretch, and go outside. Such conundrums can be viewed through Internal Family Systems as polarized parts playing a psychic tug-of-war.

This can get exhausting. And usually, there is a much deeper process going on beneath. The IFS therapist’s job is to tend to the parts that arise with compassion, to witness them, help them unburden, and reconnect them to the energy of the Self.

“Blending” in IFS

We all have certain parts that become strong aspects of our personality. Many people who live outwardly successful lives might be plagued by a “manager part which acts as a strict taskmaster, inwardly limiting their creative expression and spontaneity. High levels of anxiety, especially social anxiety, can be viewed through IFS as a “critical manageror “worrisome exile part which gains control in uncertain situations. Or someone struggling with a strong addiction, for example, can often revert to what’s called a “firefighter”–a reactive part that rushes in to dramatically protect the system when triggered, even though it ultimately sabotages that person’s wellbeing.

Such experiences are referred to in IFS as “blending”.

Fear of letting go, or becoming stuck in certain thought patterns is a basic example of being “blended in a psychedelic state. The psychic energy being taken up by the part in question is inhibiting one from connecting to the body, the deep nervous system, and the Self, which is how healing most easily occurs.

Extreme examples of negative outcomes from psychedelics can often be seen through this idea of blending.

How many of us have experienced someone–possibly ourselves–fresh out of a psychedelic state convinced they are either some kind of messiah with a sacred mission, or at fault for some global catastrophe, disaster, or cosmic mishap?

Taken to the extremes, this is the stuff that psychedelic-induced psychosis is made of.

And almost guaranteed, there is a much deeper reason why the part in question took over. Likely, it is to protect the psyche from facing something incredibly scary or traumatic.

From a Jungian lens, one could view these extreme examples of blending as a type of “archetypal possession”, resulting from some form of inflation. During an archetypal possession, according to Jung, an archetype takes “hold of the psyche with a kind of primeval force and compels it to transgress the bounds of humanity. The consequence is a puffed-up attitude, loss of free will, delusion and enthusiasm for good and evil alike.”

Interestingly, psychedelics can both inflate or deflate the ego, filling someone up with grandiose visions of spreading the “good news,” or reducing one into a fragile shell of themselves.

This is the critical role of integration: to recalibrate the ego with the Self, to witness and guide the vulnerable parts that need care, and to ground potentially expansive visions into a genuine path of tangible healing.

Using IFS to Navigate Psychedelic Journeys

Beyond integration, Internal Family Systems can offer an immensely valuable toolkit for navigating psychedelic space as well. Speaking from personal experience, IFS has helped me to create more psychic spaciousness within a journey. Much like mindfulness, remembering my IFS training has helped me practice observing, rather than getting “hooked” into particular thoughts and feelings that might emerge during a psychedelic experience.

The basic premise of IFS is that the psyche is inhabited, and that we can learn to dialog with these presences or parts. Remembering this simple fact, I’ve been able to remain in a space of gentle curiosity when, for instance, I might fall into a thought pattern that could potentially send me down a critical, anxious, or confused internal loop during a journey.


Trauma twists someone’s story about who they are. Healing helps rewrite it.


Cultivating the ability to remain connected to Self, or any of the 8 C’s which characterize this energy, helps me to remain grounded and present within psychedelic space. Much like mindfulness, the goal is to create psychic flexibility, spaciousness, and literacy, so that we might more deeply be able to do “the work” that psychedelics inevitably ask of us.

Conclusions

Every IFS therapy session, like every psychedelic experience, can be worlds apart. Speaking from experiences both as a therapist and client, I am continually blown away by what this therapeutic modality has revealed to me and those I’ve been lucky enough to work with.

As psychedelics are being embraced by the psychological establishment, and as these medicines collide with the demands of our capitalist economy, the need for highly trained, dedicated facilitators will become increasingly in demand.

Internal Family Systems is not only an effective psychotherapy modality with an extraordinary capacity to heal trauma, demonstrated in a pilot study in which 92% of participants no longer qualified for a PTSD diagnosis, it is also a non-pathologizing, client-directed, and ultimately psycho-spiritual framework for guiding one on the potentially infinite road of inner work.

As every good navigator knows deep down, the map and territory will always remain two very different realms. Yet as far as a set of directions for charting the inner world, and for helping people integrate potentially life-altering psychedelic experiences, Internal Family Systems therapy presents a toolkit which can greatly benefit therapists and facilitators looking for a detailed, multifaceted, and truly psychedelic methodology for exploring the soul.


About the Author

With a masters (MA) in depth counseling psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute, Simon Yugler is a depth and psychedelic integration therapist based in Portland, OR. Weaving Jungian psychology, Internal Family Systems therapy, and mythology, Simon also draws on his diverse experiences learning from indigenous cultures around the world, including the Shipibo ayahuasca tradition. He has a background in experiential education, and has led immersive international journeys for young adults across 10 countries. He is passionate about initiation, men’s work, indigenous rights, decolonization, and helping his clients explore the liminal wilds of the soul. Find out more on his website and on Instagram , Twitter (@depth_medicine) or Facebook.

9 Women of Color Creating A More Inclusive Psychedelic Movement

By Rebecca Martinez

Nine women of color who are working hard to ensure their communities have access and representation in the psychedelic movement

As interest in psychedelic medicine explodes, it is trailed by conversation about representation and access. From leaders, authors and filmmakers, to researchers and clinical study participants, one simple fact is clear: The psychedelic community is disproportionately white. The recent global focus on racial inequity and social justice has called us all to reflect on our impact and seek out tangible ways to show up for communities of color. Now, this conversation has reached the psychedelic community and called leaders to task. Are we ready to explore why the movement is so homogenous, and to learn from leaders of color who can help us shift and evolve?

While psychedelic press coverage focuses on hand-wringing over the privileged corporate takeover, there is a more hopeful subculture emerging. Around the world there are visionary and collaborative leaders who aren’t waiting for an invitation from the vanguard of psychedelic elites. We spoke with nine women of color who are shaping psychedelic culture at the grassroots level and helping to create more inclusive spaces within the movement for global healing.

Buki Fadipe, Founder Adventures in Om

Buki Fadipe is the founder of Adventures In Om

Buki Fadipe, founder of Adventures In Om, is a transformational guide, artist, and psychedelic practitioner in training based in London, England. Her work focuses on empowering individuals to take part in their own healing and consider all aspects of the self: emotional, physical, environmental, spiritual and psychological. “When we self-heal, we do so for our lineage, community, collective, Mother Earth and all living beings,” Fadipe says.

In the future of psychedelics, Fadipe hopes to see better representation and access.

“Accessibility is a big issue,” she says. “The way the industry is currently heading does not leave much room for focusing on marginalized groups. These medicines are being worked into a psychiatric framework, a system that is already incredibly dismissive of those from lower economic brackets who are often most in need.”

Fadipe’s goal is to positively disrupt the conversation, one which she says overemphasizes the clinical model and dependence on quick fixes, pharmaceutical medicines, and years of ineffective talk therapy.

“This is an emerging field,” she continues. “How can we map its scope without more diverse data coming from a realistic representation of society? I hope that the future will lead us to see more leadership from BIPOC and women who need representation across the industry, from clinical research and decriminalization to harm reduction, education and integration.”

Jenn So, Founder SO Searching Oneself

Jenn So is the founder of SO Searching Oneself

As a femme embodied person from a family of Viet-Khmer immigrant refugees, Jenn So, LCSW and founder of SO Searching Oneself in Washington, USA, is passionate about generational healing. So has worked as a professional social worker for the past 14 years, and her private practice specializes in racial trauma, adverse childhood experiences, and intimate partner violence. She first became intrigued about the healing potential of psychedelics after witnessing firsthand how psilocybin transformed her cousin’s life.

“Psychedelic-assisted therapy could help someone who has experienced trauma return to a specific moment in their memory and know they can be safely walked out of it,” So explains. She emphasizes the importance of trained professionals and safe environments.

“Western life is disconnected from the idea of things being passed down generation to generation. We don’t live with our elders. We don’t have opportunities to be closely involved with their lives and experiences the way traditional cultures do,” So says. She believes we are just beginning to appreciate the way trauma impacts the body and family lineage.


“These medicines are being worked into a psychiatric framework, a system that is already incredibly dismissive of those from lower economic brackets who are often most in need.”

–Buki Fadipe

Is the mental health community ready to take a serious look at the potential of psychedelic medicine? So isn’t sure.

“The stigma around psychedelics is largely because we don’t fully understand them,” she says. “We humans believe that what we know is all there is to know, so new information is met with skepticism and fear. The mental health community isn’t immune to these attitudes.”

So hopes to bridge the conversation and help mental health practitioners better understand psychedelic medicines.

Charlotte James, Co-Founder The Ancestor Project

Charlotte James is a co-founder of The Ancestor Project

When co-founders of The Ancestor Project (formerly The Sabina Project) Charlotte James and Dre Wright met, they connected over their shared experiences in white medicine spaces and the recognition of the need for BIPOC-centered healing environments. They launched The Ancestor Project (TAP) in 2019 with a focus on Baltimore-based events, then shifted online when the pandemic hit.

James outlines some tangible steps the psychedelic community can take to better support Black community members: “We invite White folx to buy our Psychedelic Anti-Racism workbook. To sit in their discomfort as they unravel privilege and find their role in the collective liberation movement.” James continues, “Also, recognize that racism causes trauma, [and so] treat Black and BIPOC folx with the same trauma-informed care you provide others.”

The mantle of leadership is heavy for a woman of color navigating her own healing path while working to further conversations about psychedelics as medicine. James emphasizes how important it is to slow down. “I really try to live my life in ceremony. I have a massive toolbox of practices and technologies that support me: sitting in ceremony, practicing Kemetic yoga with my partner, spending time in nature, dance, meditation, drinking lots of water, and building a healthy, shameless relationship with food. I would say though, when you’re walking in your purpose, the work is less draining–even when it is really intense.”

James shared about TAP’s recent name change, and the importance of modeling accountability:

“We have to walk the walk. We can’t be out here holding White folx accountable to their sh*t and not also reflecting on the ways that we have deeply internalized their ways of being to the point that the system becomes self-replicating. It’s okay to be vulnerable and admit when you have self-reflected and recognized a misstep. I’m grateful for the humans who support us as we do our own liberation work, and to the ancestors, spirit guides, and relatives who are the true geniuses and creators of this work.”

Elan Hagens, Co-Founder Fruiting Bodies Collective

Elan Hagens is a co-founder of the Fruiting Bodies Collective

Elan Hagens is the co-founder of the Fruiting Bodies Collective in Oregon, USA, which was born out of a need for education, advocacy, and community within the state’s new psilocybin therapy program.

“Just inviting people of color into the scene or making options financially accessible isn’t enough,” Hagens explains. “We need to consider why communities of color aren’t as aware of or interested in psychedelics. We need to understand the history of the War on Drugs and what can happen if we invite people into vulnerable healing spaces and then they return to a world that can be dehumanizing.”

Hagens also explains the need to be mindful of the language we use. “When enthusiastic advocates talk about “magic mushrooms” and “tripping”, we can lose a lot of people due to stigma and cultural connotation. Instead, can we talk about these medicines with respect and in a new way that people from all walks of life can understand and relate to? Healing goes beyond one subculture. We all have hearts and souls and an innate ability to heal in the right conditions.”


“We have to walk the walk. We can’t be out here holding White folx accountable to their sh*t and not also reflecting on the ways that we have deeply internalized their ways of being to the point that the system becomes self-replicating. It’s okay to be vulnerable and admit when you have self-reflected and recognized a misstep.”

–Charlotte James

Ultimately, healing must go beyond the individual. The founders at Fruiting Bodies believe that individual healing and societal change are inseparable. Beyond helping shape Oregon’s program, their mission is to shift the narrative and destigmatize psychedelic medicine through relationship building and storytelling.

*Note: Elan Hagens is co-founders with Rebecca Martinez, who authored this article.

Robin Divine, Founder Black People Trip

Robin Divine is the founder of Black People Trip

Robin Divine is the founder of Black People Trip, an online community with a mission to raise awareness, destigmatize, teach harm reduction, and create safer spaces for Black women in psychedelics.

“There is such a stigma around drug use (as well as therapy) which makes the idea of psychedelic therapy taboo for many Black people,” Divine says. “We need to see the faces and hear the stories of people who look like us in order to begin to break down these outdated ways of thinking.”

Divine explains that Black communities are traumatized. She sees psychedelics as a way for people to take healing into their own hands, down a path to wellness that exists beyond Western medicine.

“I invite white community members to get involved. If you are truly committed to equity in psychedelics, then take action. If you have the resources, then donate money to organizations that are doing the work to create better access in Black communities. I’d also ask them to respect the idea that Black people need their own spaces to heal that don’t involve them. In short: take action, and honor our space.”

Jessika Lagarde & Tian Daphne, Co-Founders Women on Psychedelics

Jessika Lagarde is a co-founder of Women on Psychedelics

Jessika Lagarde and Tian Daphne are the co-founders of Women on Psychedelics (WOOP), which began organically during the COVID-19 lockdown while the two were volunteering for a mushroom-related initiative. “Having ourselves experienced the healing and transformative power of psychedelics, we saw a glaring need to not only normalize the talk around psychedelics, but to specifically work to end the stigmatization around women’s mental health and substance use,” Lagarde explains.

Tian Daphne is a co-founder of Women on Psychedelics

The promising research inspired them to become advocates. But as they dove deeper, they quickly noticed a lack of diversity in the psychedelic space. “Despite having disproportionately higher rates of trauma, people of color and women remain underrepresented in research amongst participants, as well as in underground psychedelic communities and the movement toward decriminalization and legalization,” Lagarde adds.

“Through Women on Psychedelics, we hope to connect women through social, creative, political, and educational content and activities. We truly believe that everyone should have the freedom and ability to access psychedelics for their own healing and growth.”

Mariah Makalapua, Founder the Medicine Collective

Mariah Makalapua is the founder of the Medicine Collective

Mariah Makalapua is a Hawaiian and mixed Native North American artist and mother who is the founder of the Medicine Collective in Oregon, USA. Since 2017, the Medicine Collective has combined art and medicine for the purpose of healing people and the planet. Makalapua’s mission is to provide safe and respectful healing experiences rooted in indigenous traditions.

Makalapua believes respect for indigenous rights and wisdom is an expression of an individual’s healing process. “Trauma healing has to do with diving into your upbringing, your ancestry, and ultimately, decolonizing and clearing your own lineage and understanding where you come from. We all have ancestors. No matter who you are, there is a reality of what colonialism and patriarchy did to your family.”


“We need to consider why communities of color aren’t as aware of or interested in psychedelics. We need to understand the history of the War on Drugs and what can happen if we invite people into vulnerable healing spaces and then they return to a world that can be dehumanizing.”

–Elan Hagens

If people understand these things, she says, we will no longer need to argue about cultural appropriation because we will develop a heart level-understanding of it. “You wouldn’t attend an ayahuasca ceremony and then think a medicine leadership role is yours to take. You just wouldn’t be having that jump. It’s not a healed or whole approach.”

In regards to Oregon’s legal psilocybin therapy program, Makalapua advocates for wisdom, accountability and intentionality.

“Historically, indigenous communities did not exist in a vacuum in their healing. The medicine was part of the larger culture and there was a collective consciousness around it. They understood: This work is terrifying, necessary, and we must go to the right people. But this collectivism has been lost from modern culture. We need support in watering the seeds planted during ceremony. It is deep, inner, relational work: making changes, making boundaries. It requires friendship, community, and at least a few close people who can support and guide you through that change.”

“The mushrooms are going to be mushrooms no matter what we do,” Makalapua continues. “I want to protect their sacredness. It’s like protecting your grandmother. You know she’s strong and a badass, but you’re not going to let her go and do something dangerous. It’s the same with the mushrooms; we should respect them, love them, and help carry their groceries, so to speak.”

Hanifa Nayo Washington, Founder One Village Healing

Hanifa Nayo Washington is the founder of One Village Healing
Photo credit: Rachel Liu

Hanifa Nayo Washington is an award winning cultural artivist and sacred activist combining arts, healing, and activism for the last 20+ years. Based in Connecticut, USA, Washington is the founder and principal organizer of One Village Healing, cultivator of beloved community at the Fireside Project, director of community engagement for CEIO, and a founding member of several emerging psychedelic initiatives, including the Equity in Psychedelic Therapy Initiative.

In 2017 she released her third album, Mantras for the Revolution. In December 2018 Washington received a Phenomenal Women Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven for her contributions and achievements in the arts. She is currently working on a storytelling project called Growing Wilder, which is expected in 2022.

Washington explains how her own healing experiences led her to the intersection of psychedelic medicines and social transformation:

“Going into ceremony and creating sacred spaces…helped me deconstruct the poisons of internalized systems of oppression. These allies, these plant medicines, have helped me to unhook these things from my body and mindset, and allow me to be in deeper relationship with myself and others in ways that are not poisoned,” she says.

What makes Washington’s leadership stand out is both her joy and her specificity. One vision many emerging leaders share within the psychedelic space is inclusion. Washington carries a torch into the unknown and helps to illuminate the “how” by shaping practical models with which to realize this shared vision. Equity and access are more than buzzwords at One Village Healing–they are the pillars that form the very structure and breath of the organization, which currently provides seven online wellness sessions for free to the community.


“Historically, indigenous communities did not exist in a vacuum in their healing. The medicine was part of the larger culture and there was a collective consciousness around it. They understood: This work is terrifying, necessary, and we must go to the right people.”

–Mariah Makalapua

The immense value of Fireside Project’s Psychedelic Peer Support Line is multiplied by their attention to “providing compassionate, accessible, and culturally responsive peer support, educating the public, and furthering psychedelic research, while embracing practices that increase equity, power sharing, and belonging within the psychedelic movement,” Washington says.

In order to create safer spaces and experiences for marginalized communities, Washington suggests a few practical steps:

  1. Normalize and furthermore, require, inner work as a fundamental part of all psychedelic organizations, businesses, and institutions. “That means creating space and time within the work schedule for individual and collective learning, to practice and imagine ways of being that support healing from the trauma of oppressive systems.”
  2. Within this process, trust and invest in affinity integration spaces.
  3. Listen to, fund, and invest in individuals, businesses, projects, and initiatives led by people who have been impacted the most by systems of oppression.

“Without representation in leadership,” she says, “I’m pretty convinced that these aforementioned aspects will not happen.”

Conclusion

The common threads that come through these interviews help weave together a larger story. It’s a vision for global healing that doesn’t stop at getting over depression or healing family trauma. It’s a call to recognize our interconnectedness with one another and the Earth, and to commit to the work which enables psychedelic insights to transform us into more engaged, justice-focused citizens. Because of their intersectional identities, women of color offer the presence, leadership and perspective which are essential to the integrity of the psychedelics movement. We have endless opportunities to lift them up and learn from them as we grow and heal together in the years to come. Let’s begin today.


About the Author

Rebecca Martinez is a Portland, Oregon-based writer, parent and community organizer. She is a co-founder of the Fruiting Bodies Collective, an advocacy group, podcast and multimedia platform exploring the intersections between healing justice and the psychedelics movement.