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  • Alainnah Knight

Psychedelic Assisted Therapy: A Holistic Approach to Mental health

Psychedelic-assisted therapy can be a beautiful and transformative tool for holistic mental health. This approach integrates the therapeutic use of medicines with psychological support to heal and explore parts of ourselves that are sometimes inaccessible from traditional talk therapy. But what is the science behind this type of therapy? And how do psychedelics interact with our nervous system to help us heal through deeply rooted trauma? Let's talk about the transformative world of psychedelic-assisted therapy and its wonderful impact on the nervous system.


The Nervous System: A Team Captain in Your Mental Health

Before we explore how psychedelic-assisted therapy interacts with the nervous system, let's talk about the nervous system's role in our mental health. Our nervous system is an intricate network of cells and tissues that transmits signals between the brain, spinal cord, and the rest of the body. It plays a very large role in regulating emotions, thoughts, and our bodily needs.

When we have spent a lot of time in "fight or flight" or high activation states, we can experience anxiety, depression, and many other mental health issues. These are often caused by being in a state of high activation for a prolonged amount of time.


I often explain this to my clients with the example of a zebra in the wild having a leisurely sip of water from the local lake. But then here comes along a tiger. The zebra's sympathetic nervous system is going to become activated in order to move into a "fight or flight" state. The zebra will (hopefully) run until it finds safety from the tiger. Then the zebra will shake to re-regulate its nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, bringing the zebra back to "rest and digest." Oftentimes, when an individual experiences chronic stress or prolonged trauma, their nervous system is in a constant state of "there is a tiger around, I must run" or in other words, a constant state of fight or flight.


States of Consciousness

Now that we have a general understanding of the nervous system, it is also important to share a bit about our states of consciousness.

A brain and the interconnected parts of ourselves and nature represented

Primary Consciousness

Our primary consciousness is often referred to as "basic" or "primitive" consciousness, it is the fundamental level of awareness that directs our subjective experience. It's the awareness of sensory perceptions, emotions, and basic cognitive processes that occur in the present moment. The primary consciousness provides us with the ability to perceive the world, feel sensations, and experience emotions without higher-order thinking. It forms the foundation of our present experience, enabling us to connect with the immediate world and our inner feelings, basically a blank slate.


Secondary Consciousness

The secondary consciousness is a bit more complex level of awareness. This is where abstract thought, introspection, planning, and self-awareness come into play. Our secondary consciousness allows us to reflect on the past, imagine the future, and think about complex concepts. It enables us to analyze, reason, and form a sense of identity. The secondary consciousness is where we develop our thoughts, beliefs, and sense of self.


Default Mode Network (DMN):

The default mode network (DMN) is an important brain network that mainly operates when you are resting, relaxed, and even daydreaming. The DMN organizes your experience of your everyday consciousness, like a conductor in an orchestra! The DMN will use its conductor powers to suppress the primary consciousness, leaving us mainly operating from the secondary consciousness.


The primary consciousness holds biological mechanisms that are designed to be able to process stress, anxiety, trauma, and much much more. When we have an overactive DMN, we are not allowing the primary consciousness to come online, which is what allows us to process those traumatic and emotional events through, quite literally, feeling emotions and sensations in the present moment.



Psychedelics and Our Consciousness

Psychedelic-assisted therapy explores the root causes of many symptoms experienced from anxiety, depression, and trauma, by guiding you through a transformative journey within your own consciousness. Psychedelics have been shown to temporarily disrupt the DMN, which allows our primary consciousness to come online and our secondary consciousness to take a step back. When this happens, we are no longer attempting to filter and organize reality through analyzing and reasoning, but rather feeling more connected to ourselves, our emotions, and accessing the deep states of our consciousness.


Psychedelic Assisted Therapy and The Nervous System

By allowing the primary consciousness to be online, we are able to access sensation, emotion, imagery, and autonomic nervous system reactivity. The autonomic nervous system controls your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system responses. The ideal state is to live in a state of homeostasis, maintaining the resilience to access your sympathetic nervous system while also being able to reactivate your parasympathetic nervous system after the stressor. But so often we spend most of our time with our sympathetic nervous system activated, which leads to those symptoms of anxiety, PTSD, depression, attachment traumas, and more. When we are operating in these high activation states, we oftentimes will have an activated DMN and secondary consciousness, without allowing our primary consciousness, or present brain, to be accessible. Living in auto-pilot more often than being present is a great example of this.


We will utilize different coping strategies to bring us short-term relief from the symptoms we experience. Those coping mechanisms could be an array of things, such as fidgeting with your hands, exercising excessively, laughing when uncomfortable, analyzing or mentalizing, so many things we have naturally turned to bring us relief from the discomfort of anxiety, traumatic triggers, depression, etc.


With psychedelic-assisted therapy, there is an opportunity to deepen awareness of the experience of the exploration of consciousness and the opportunity to explore the autonomic nervous system responses in this state of consciousness. With the use of psychedelic somatic integration, we can access the autonomic nervous system alongside emotion, sensation, and imagery. We can inhibit the strategies that have brought you relief from those symptoms while being able to access the primary consciousness. When this happens, we give the system

access to non-verbal memories that have been trapped in our systems and holding us in a state of fight or flight. We bring awareness to the sensations and emotions that arise with the autonomic nervous system being activated and cultivate a space of curiosity and compassion. This is where the TRUE processing of emotions is unveiled. In order to process a stressful or traumatic event, we must experience sensation, affect, image, behavior, and meaning, which means that we must have access to our primary consciousness alongside our secondary consciousness. When we are able to reset the DNM, access the primary consciousness, and create a safe space of curiosity and compassion, we can begin to feel more connected to ourselves, our emotions, and the world around us. We build a new sense of trust in ourselves to know we can rely on our systems to process any other stressors that come our way in the future.


Psychedelics and Safety

Psychedelic-assisted therapy can offer so many wonderful benefits, but it's important to practice safely. Psychedelic-assisted therapy should only be administered by trained professionals in a controlled, safe, and carefully cultivated environment. The substances used in these therapies are potent, and their effects can vary from person to person. Therefore, guidance from experienced therapists is essential to ensure the therapy's safety and effectiveness.


Questions?

We would love to answer any other questions or make suggestions on other topics you may be interested in about Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy or specifically Psychedelic Somatic Integration Therapy. You can email us at Hello@holistichiveco.com or send us a message on Instagram @holistichiveco!




References:

de Vos, C. M. H., Mason, N. L., & Kuypers, K. P. C. (2021). Psychedelics and Neuroplasticity: A Systematic Review Unraveling the Biological Underpinnings of Psychedelics. Frontiers in psychiatry, 12, 724606. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.724606


Gattuso, J. J., Perkins, D., Ruffell, S., Lawrence, A. J., Hoyer, D., Jacobson, L. H., Timmermann, C., Castle, D., Rossell, S. L., Downey, L. A., Pagni, B. A., Galvão-Coelho, N. L., Nutt, D., & Sarris, J. (2023). Default Mode Network Modulation by Psychedelics: A Systematic Review. The international journal of neuropsychopharmacology, 26(3), 155–188. https://doi.org/10.1093/ijnp/pyac074


Razvi, S. (n.d.). An Introduction to a Novel Method of Therapy: Psychedelic Somatic Interactional Psychotherapy.


Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). Why you can’t think your way out of trauma. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-body-knows-the-way-home/202005/why-you-cant-think-your-way-out-trauma






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