A Christian Therapist’s Glimpse into the New Psychedelic Revolution
Geoff Owens, MAMFT
Just a few years ago, it was all so simple. Illegal drugs are bad. They destroy the mind and body. They lead to abuse and addiction. As far back as grade school, teachers and visiting police officers have explained that there were three classes of drugs: depressants, stimulants, and hallucinogens. All bad. While the first two categories of illegal drugs continue to show high rates of dependency, abuse, and death, this third class is now seeking to reboot its reputation in society. Psychedelics are making a dramatic return to the context within which they first emerged many decades ago: the world of mental health.
It’s a strange new world we live in where psychedelic drugs, the possession of which can land a person in prison for years, are emerging from research labs with staggering results for treating anxiety, depression, addiction, and (especially) trauma. The claim is that they are really treating them too, not just managing symptoms. This is big news and scary news, too.
Given the data, is clear that the next few years will bring psychedelics-assisted therapy to a prominent place within the helping professions. As absurd as it may sound to anyone over 30 years old, mental health practitioners and consumers may soon feel forced to take a position on the use of magic mushrooms (psilocybin), ecstasy (MDMA), and LSD in the therapy setting. One drug, ketamine (related to PCP), is already approved and MDMA is only months away from FDA approval. Psilocybin is following close behind.
Unsurprisingly, certain natural psychedelic compounds are coming even more into vogue in alternative healing circles, which might feel awfully familiar to anyone who has studied or lived through the ‘60s. Your average mental health professional might find the reemergence of psychedelics disruptive, misguided, and even reckless. An evangelical Christian working in the helping professions might default to suspicion and denunciation for an additional set of reasons parsed from Scripture. These reactions are both understandable and perhaps slightly predictable. But are they necessary?
As a therapist, [we all like to scan the research for tools we can use to help others more effectively,] I have closely studied the emerging findings. I have dialogued extensively with practitioners and I have had the opportunity to witness “journey” experiences that are situated in appropriate contexts. I have also walked with my own clients through various dilemmas surrounding psychedelics: grappling with their potential, seeking to find an ethic between available legal and underground uses, and working through actual psychedelic experiences that were not wisely situated and quite traumatizing. I have parsed through uniquely Christian concerns as well through dialogue and study. I do not think that full denunciation of psychedelic therapy balances well with reason or with proper biblical context, but there are cautions.
As a result of all this, I have come to believe that this wave of psychedelics-assisted therapy could potentially have an important healing role to play in society As institutions formerly tasked with personal, community, or spiritual shepherding have turned to polarizing political answers instead of the way of surrender and vulnerability, the continued spread of “plant medicine” is almost certainly inevitable. These compounds are extremely powerful, both for healing and for harm. They will almost certainly do a lot of harm if society doesn’t keep appropriate guardrails in place to channel their use into healing contexts. If Christians do not arm themselves with appropriate information and join the conversation we cannot influence how this all plays out.
What should the guardrails be? Should they be determined purely by governmental, medical, and pharmaceutical institutions? Are these institutions, which have obviously lost the trust of so many Americans, even up to the task? How should we advise others in navigating the potential healing and the potential harm? Our children, parishioners, and clients will ask. The first step is simply to ask these same questions ourselves. Good information is out there, and it may not always line up with our knee-jerk reactions. Bad information is out there, too—we do live in the age of social media after all.
For anyone seeking to learn more, I suggest starting with the original program at John’s Hopkins Center of Psychedelic and Consciousness Research because it is the original reputable medical research institution begun by Dr. Roland Griffiths, et al 30 years ago. There are several other reputable research organizations which has come to the fore in this emerging field. Most well known among them is the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). I would recommend perusing their information for additional resources. Beyond this, I would recommend talking to people who might know. I would dialogue with as many people from a variety of perspectives as you can find so that you can discern for yourself what a wise perspective might be. Read or listen to first-hand accounts, (“trip reports”) of what these experiences seem to serve up for people struggling to heal.
What we cannot do is sleep on this one. This has happened too many times in the past—this is a common pitfall of the cautious. If we are close to someone who is suffering from past trauma and they ask our opinion about psychedelics, if we want to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves, we will try to discern the differences between our impulse and complex reality. At this particular moment, it will be challenging to find broadly educated Christian perspectives that can bridge the gap between a trusted faith framework and deep awareness of the subject of psychedelics. As a Christian therapist who has also parsed through this subject matter for years, I’m happy to dialogue with anyone who is interested in hearing more of my investigations on the subject or who just wants to learn a little more. Feel free to reach out because I’d love to connect.