How Psychedelic Trips Are Helping People Heal From Trauma

As psychedelic use for therapeutic treatment increases in popularity, individuals are finding themselves turning to psychedelics when all other options have been exhausted. Particularly with conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the painful flashbacks and images can be resistant to some of the most common treatments.

The powerful practice of integration—examining the insights gained from a psychedelic trip—is an overlooked, yet integral part to the effectiveness of psychedelics. Former police officer, Nick Watchorn, credits it to saving his life in the book MDMA: From The Club To The Clinic.

Ecstasy Remedying PTSD

In 1996 when Watchorn was a young police officer, he responded to the horrific mass shooting in Port Arthur, Tasmania, that left 35 people killed and 23 wounded. For more than two decades, Watchorn remained haunted by the scenes he witnessed that day and exhibited telltale signs of PTSD. From anxiety, depression, to destructive behavior, the weight of grief had a stronghold on his life. He sought relief in various psychotherapists, pills, and alcohol.

In 2018, Watchorn was able to participate in a trial conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) on treating PTSD with MDMA, also known as ecstasy. The trials in combination with psychotherapy sessions demonstrated promising data at treating the symptoms of emotional trauma.

Integration As The Bridge To Healing

The MDMA trial was conducted in 8-hour clinical sessions with trained therapists accompanying the patients. While on his trip with MDMA, Watchorn expected to be immediately confronted with gory scenes of the 1996 massacre. Instead, he started out experiencing early various childhood memories. The experience began at the beginning of his life, where the first seeds of trauma were rooted, such as rejection or abandonment issues.

Through integration conducted by the trained therapist afterwards, he was able to recognize that his prior trauma predisposed him to the way he would cope with his traumatic experience later in life. “My integration sessions were so confronting and profound, the feelings of relief and optimism were overwhelming for a long time,” he told Forbes in a 2021 interview.

Reshaping The Conversation Around Psychedelic Therapy

Dr. Ingmar Gorman, founder of Fluence—an organization focusing on psychedelic education and training mental health providers in psychedelic treatments—saw the need to present information and systems for healthcare providers to safely administer psychedelic therapy and integration. “Many psychotherapists and other providers have encountered clients who use psychedelics already, but there hasn’t been a consistent approach to working with these individuals,” Gorman told Forbes.

Dr. Gorman recently served on the Phase 3 clinical trials Watchhorn participated in on employing MDMA for treatment for PTSD. He also is a therapist for FDA-approved clinical trials studying  psilocybin-assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder and treatment-resistant depression.

Dr. Elizabeth Nielson, the co-founder of Fluence, also echoed the need for honest communication and the destimitization surrounding therapeutic psychedelics. “By learning how to have honest, respectful, and non-judgmental conversations with patients about psychedelics, clinicians can counter the harms of years of prohibition, misinformation and stigma associated with these experiences,” she said.

As the stigma around psychedelic use dissipates, individuals like Nick Watchorn may find refuge in these substances and the practice of integration. In a nutshell, “It’s not just about the MDMA experience itself, it’s about what you do with it,” said Watchhorn.

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