Miranda Barker, MSW LICSW
Psychedelic Assisted Therapy combines talk therapy with the careful use of psychedelics to enhance the therapeutic process. This type of therapy helps people get “unstuck” and to access parts of the unconscious mind that can actually aid in the healing process. This is a Q&A all about Ellie Mental Health’s Psychedelic Therapy Program, Intero.
Psychedelic Therapy has been all over pop culture in the recent months. We saw it in Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers and in Netflix’s How to Change Your Mind. But how accurate are these portrayals, and is this actually a valid, helpful therapy?
I had the opportunity to chat with Kyle Ross, LPCC to understand a bit more about psychedelic therapy and Ellie’s new program, Intero Psychedelic Therapy. Kyle is a ketamine-assisted psychedelic therapist, Senior Director here at Ellie, and he’s completed the “MAPS” training for MDMA assisted therapy.
And trust me, this is much more than just microdosing mushrooms.
What is psychedelic therapy?
Psychedelic Assisted Therapy combines talk therapy with the careful use of psychedelics to enhance the therapeutic process. I like to say that it helps people get “unstuck” and to access parts of the unconscious mind that can aid in the healing process. A lot of the people who try this have already been in therapy and feel like they need something different.
Is this legal? Are other types of psychedelic medications like MDMA and psilocybin legal to use in therapy?
Currently Ketamine is the only legal psychedelic available in therapy settings in the state of Minnesota. As more psychedelic medicines are made available for clinic use, INTERO will incorporate them into practice. Many of our clinicians are already approved for MDMA once that becomes legal in Minnesota, hopefully in the next few years.
What conditions can ketamine assisted therapy treat?
So, current off-label use of Ketamine has been shown to be effective in many people suffering conditions including depression (also postpartum depression), anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and even certain pain syndromes. It can be beneficial for people struggling with these mental health diagnoses and we are continuing to learn more about this type of therapy.
You said “off-label,” but what does that mean?
“Off-Label” use of a medication is using an FDA-Approved medication in a manner that’s not approved by the FDA. This just means that it’s been approved for something else. Typically the process of getting a medication approved for something new is expensive and not usually worth
it after they have become generic. A common example of this is when a chemotherapy drug is approved for treating one type of cancer but is also used to treat a different cancer. It’s expensive to go back through the approvals to get the new kind of cancer treatment put on the label.
When you are ready for your treatment session, do you take it as a pill or something else?
We administer Ketamine by intramuscular injection at our therapy clinic. It’s administers by a doctor and we start everyone on a low dose, because this helps to orient you to the experience and get a sense of what it feels like. Based on someone’s initial experience, we will help determine if they are a good candidate for a larger dose injection.
How would you describe this session? Do you do it in a therapy office?
During what we call the “treatment session,” there’s a doctor with your therapist that will actually administer the Ketamine, and then the therapist will be present in the room for the duration of the session. You get to sit a comfortable chair that reclines, with pillows, blankets with eyeshades and headphones with a music playlist designed specifically to help support your healing experience. The therapist will be available for whatever support is needed and bases their responses off of your individual needs. For example, if you have something you want to process, talk about or engage with, the therapist will be there to help. Or, if you prefer to listen to music the whole time, the therapist will support this as well. The therapist may offer you some recommendation and options based on their experience and knowledge and they will support you in determining what direction makes the most sense for you.
Do you actually feel like you’re high in this treatment session?
Ketamine is classified as a dissociative and therefore a common expression for someone experiencing a Ketamine journey is to say they feel outside of themselves, or floating, or being disconnected from their normal waking consciousness. The word high has many connotations to it and in everyday language refers to the use of drugs. At Intero we distinguish between the word drugs and treatment or medicine session. Drugs are often used to avoid unpleasant feelings/emotions and medicine, or treatment is meant to engage more fully with what is causing distress. The substance of Ketamine does produce psychedelic sensations and alter how we experience our senses that contribute to a non-ordinary state of consciousness.
How much does this cost? Is it covered by insurance?
We take insurance and for most people, their insurance covers the initial assessment, talk therapy sessions, and a basic medical evaluation, but then the actual Ketamine experience (the treatment session) is not currently covered by insurance plans. While this may change in the future, this is currently an out-of-pocket service, which is $725 for initial treatment and $500 for returning treatments. We actually accept FSA and HSA for costs not covered by insurance. We try to keep the cost down as much as possible, while ensuring the safest and best care possible. Additionally, we also offer group treatment sessions, which brings down the cost to $500 per person and then there’s four people in your group. And actually, a big part of our mission is to develop funding sources to help cover the cost of treatment for those who cannot afford access. We do not believe that these medicines can heal society if they are only accessible by the privileged few. We are seeking creative solutions for reducing this barrier, and we’ll hopefully be announcing some options in the coming months.
Okay, last question: Do you think Nine Perfect Strangers and some other places that psychedelic therapy is portrayed in movies are accurate?
With so many shows and documentaries in the media right now, that is a difficult question to answer in full. A concept that is critical at Intero is called set and setting; this means it’s critical to work with the client to have a mindset conducive to psychedelic healing work and a physical setting that is safe and allows for an inward journey.
So much of what Intero does with psychedelic medicine is focused on set and setting framed within a clinical context, making it different than a show like Nine Perfect Strangers. Each step of the process at Intero involves dynamic consent from the individuals we work with; dynamic consent means client, therapist and medical provider are in communication throughout the process to ensure safety and agreement to continue the process. The show and other documentaries depict individuals’ personal journeys, each person’s journey is unique unto them and each experience, and therefore how they choice to explain it is accurate for them. One of the qualities of psychedelic is ineffability, meaning we lack the sufficient language to fully articulate each experience fully, therefore however someone explains it for themselves is accurate.
Interested in learning more about psychedelic therapy or looking for a clinic near you? Check out Intero’s website here: https://bit.ly/psychedelic-therapy