October 4, 2021

Sex, Drugs, and Therapy: Healing Sexual Trauma with Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy

Sex, Drugs, and Therapy: Healing Sexual Trauma with Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:00:00
Traditional psychotherapy and the psychedelic supported therapy are both incredibly intimate processes that require vulnerability and trust between clinician and client. When their safety in the healing relationship, a deep level of healing is possible. This safety is especially important in working through the significant pain and suffering caused by sexual trauma. Sexual trauma has an extraordinary ability to destroy human well-being and caused long-term psychological distress and illness. Psychedelic supported psychotherapy is showing tremendous promise as a treatment for PTSD and the other forms of distresses sexual trauma can cause.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:00:39
I personally I'm so excited about the day when these new therapies will be widely available to people who are desperately longing to recover from sexual trauma. But I think it's also important to note that while psychedelics have the capacity to heal and restore the human spirit, there are some serious risks. The level of vulnerability and trust that this form of therapy invokes can potentially, in some situations, leave patients vulnerable to new instances of sexual abuse and mistreatment. In this episode I'll be talking to two practitioners about the benefits and risks of using psychedelic therapies to treat sexual trauma. Welcome to MIND CURIOUS, a podcast for those looking to explore the potential of psychedelic compounds.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:01:27
I'm your host, clinical psychologist, Dr. Sherry Walling. Please note that this podcast is not a substitute for medical care or legal advice. The perspectives of the guests are theirs alone and they don't represent me, my opinions or those of our sponsor Mind Cure Health. Before we dive into the promise of psychedelics in treating sexual trauma, I want to talk about a different, but related subject, spirituality. Using science and evidence based therapies can help us recover spiritual parts of ourselves that can be lost when we endure abuse or trauma.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:01:58
Both of my guests today specialize in treating sexual trauma and both mentioned spirituality as a core part of the conversation. My first guest is Laura Mae Northrup. She's a psychotherapist and educator in California. She also hosts a podcast all about treating sexual trauma with psychedelics and it's called Inside Eyes and it is absolutely excellent, highly recommend. Laura has found that psychedelic ceremonies can offer survivors of sexual trauma an invitation to heal, not only their thoughts and emotions, but really their spirit. I've heard you talk about the spiritual components of sexual trauma.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:02:47
Do you want to talk about that a little bit because I think your understanding of what happens when someone is experiencing sexual trauma is really nuanced and really adds, I think, a lot to the conversation around what we're doing when we're trying to help people heal.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:03:19
Yeah, so well first I'll say when I say the word spiritual, I definitely am not referring to any religion and I know that that word can turn people off if they have any religious trauma, or if they're just very not religious and they feel like that's not for them. I really hold the concept of spirituality as you could be talking about love. you could be talking about your life force, like something that is actually quite accessible and it doesn't need to be outside of people's framework of how they think about life. I'll say that in terms of how sexual violence is is traumatic in a spiritual way, there is something about your life force that is very connected to your sexuality. When I say sexuality, I don't mean that in a really narrow way.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:04:10
I mean really like your creativity, the part of you that connects to desire to being embodied, In some ways it's hard to describe but the thing I often say is that sexual violence crushes the human spirit. When I say that I feel like people get it without me having to explain it in a million different-

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:04:32
There's so much more than capacity to have an orgasm or to feel comfortable in a sexual encounter? It's a deeper, more whole person phenomenon that you're talking about.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:04:43
Exactly. I think that's why we see so much dissociation and so much disempowerment on and on and on about the symptoms of sexual trauma. Sexual trauma really creates symptoms on so many different levels, and in so many arenas. of a person's life. I also think there is something about the experience of having the fabric of your life disintegrate in a moment, this realization oh like. But when somebody hasn't experienced a very severe trauma from another person there may be a sense that, and obviously there's a lot of ways that we are wounded and not everybody has this strong, strong sense, but there might be some sense of, this isn't going to happen to me, or this is a thing that might happen to me but it's it's not as lived and embodied and visceral.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:05:30
Then when it does happen, it really forces the survivor to confront the very edges of how far the human psyche can go, like how far cruelty can really go. I think that is a spiritual experience, the same that experiencing the other side of that, like just how far love can go. It is also possible to be traumatized by experiencing wow and another human being would do something this horrendous to another human being.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:06:03
Feels like you're talking around these edge states where we are as humans really challenged to expand or sometimes even have our understanding of what it means to be human and the parameters around our experiences get shattered.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:06:20
Yes.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:06:20
I think that you're right, that it's such a spiritual question. It's these very questions about existence and the nature of what it means to be human.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:06:31
Absolutely, absolutely. I think that could be a really challenging thing for survivors to just live with, is the awareness that even if it never happens to you again, or if it happens to you multiple times, or if you're in some type of dynamic where it's ongoing, which many people experience sexual violence and ongoing way, just living with the reality that you know that there's this level of violence that that actually really does happen in the world is spiritually significant and really painful. I think it can be very hard in people's healing process, even if they've extracted themselves from the potential. Like let's say you were in an abusive relationship that was sexually harmful and you left or you were sexually abused as a child and you are no longer a child, just living with that reality all the time is spiritually a lot. It can be a lot in terms of trusting that you won't either have that happen again or that your life can actually grow and expand and you'll be okay someday.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:07:27
I think the depth of that is not often the conversation that we're having, at least in my training as a psychologist, right? Obviously we have to have ways of communicating around suffering, and the ways that we do that are through diagnosis and different criteria and symptoms. I don't want to disparage all of that 'cause I think we have to have ways of talking to each other as professionals, so there's value there. But when we're talking about symptom reduction, when we're talking about how many times someone experienced a certain phenomenon in their body, or a certain emotional reaction, we're not always getting at the depths of what is disrupted. when people have experienced sexual trauma.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:08:08
What is it in your opinion about psychedelics that seem to enter into that realm in a different way than talk therapy or traditional psychiatry?

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:08:25
Yeah. I have so many thoughts about this and it's really something that I just wonder a lot about.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:08:30
I know there's not one clear perfect answer, so no pressure for that.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:08:35
Well, there's two things that I think about that I could speak to. One is that I think people can do this healing work without psychedelics. I think you can do very deep altered state work without psychedelics. I also think that the way that we live at this point in time there's a way that our egos are supported so much more than our expansive letting go, surrendering potential just as humans, the potential to do that. With psychedelics, you're just forced into doing that. You say I want to have a psychedelic experience, I want to have an altered state experience that's really expansive and I take the psychedelic and it forces me into that Essentially.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:09:18
You're shifting your cognitive capacity. Prefrontal cortex is not as intentional or action oriented as it may be and you're walking around life and so in a psychedelic state there are other parts of the brain and the self. that are allowed a little more space is that-

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:09:35
Yes. I think that people can definitely do that without psychedelics, but I just think that culturally there's a lot that prevents us from doing it. If you don't have any experience, if you didn't grow up in a culture where spiritual experiences were normalized, or you might have had non psychedelic influenced spiritual experiences in your religious practice or in any practice, then it's really hard to reach that, it's really hard for people to let go. I think all psychedelic experiences open a portal to something that already is a capacity that exists in ourselves, which is the capacity to be connected to what I'm going to call the divine, the spiritual love, this transformative, expansive state. I think psychedelics provide that. Then another thing I think that they do is that, so I'm a somatic psychotherapist and I'm very interested in the body in relationship to trauma, and I don't think of the body and the mind as separate, but I know that a lot of these conversations.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:10:30
It's like we're talking about the body as though it needs its own separate thing, healing-wise. But basically there is something that needs to happen on a physical level to heal trauma. I really believe that. As a somatic therapist I can say if somebody doesn't have a frame of reference for surrendering and letting go and letting trauma sequence through their body, it can be very hard to actually just do it. That is an arena where psychedelics also in that portal open state allow people to suddenly they're shaking, suddenly they're moving, suddenly they're doing the physical motions.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:11:03
There are many somatic movements that need to happen to process the trauma, and oftentimes those somatic movements are related to the original moment of the trauma.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:11:24
Psychedelic experience tend to suppress the behavioral inhibitions based on our brain's prefrontal cortex. This cognitive dampening enables us to go beyond our cultural and somatic comfort zones. It opens the mind and body to express pieces of the past that we may not be consciously aware of. The space that these psychedelic journeys can provide also lets us discover or recover empathy, imagination, and even sexual desire. It's why non-ordinary states, whether achieved through psychedelic therapy or other methods, can be so helpful in treating sexual trauma. Dee Dee Goulpaugh is a psychotherapist and educator in New York who also believes that psychedelics have a huge potential in the treatment of sexual trauma.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:12:01
Their work focuses on integration therapy and more specifically, on the use of integration to treat issues around human sexuality. Like Laura, Dee Dee sees the power of psychedelic therapy to change the narrative of trauma by opening up a new perspective on the experience. What about psychedelics do you think holds maybe particular promise for folks impacted by sexual trauma?

Dee Dee Goulpaugh - 0:12:43
Well, I think first we can look at the clinical, the MAPS study, that's the multidisciplinary association of psychedelic studies that's doing significant work on PTSD and including sexual trauma survivors and has had, tremendous results with dealing with MDMA therapy. We also have really interesting emerging research that seems to suggest that mystical experiences that are occasioned by certain psychedelics create increases in the domain of openness in our personality that are normally only seen over decades of life experience and we also know that those same psychedelics, psilocybin specifically, can increase creativity and empathy. To me as a therapist that deals with sexual trauma, I feel like these substances can really offer people an opportunity to re-narrate their very rigid stories about themselves and their trauma and their lives. That's all really powerful within the clinical realm. There's also this quality that can occur in psychedelic experiences, specifically around sexual trauma, and that's like the re-connection to the sacred or the re-connection to something greater than yourself.

Dee Dee Goulpaugh - 0:13:56
This idea of being alive in your body and being reintegrated where you may have been dissociated before. I haven't seen those particular things talked about in exactly that way in the psychedelic research, because sexuality is really not been looked at as a discrete arena in psychedelic research at this point. I do think that psychedelics can offer this opportunity to regain the ability to be present with pleasure. When you're having a psychedelic experience you are not thinking about the dishes, or the mundane (laughing) things of life. You're really alive in that experience.

Dee Dee Goulpaugh - 0:14:45
Hopefully that experience, it can be very challenging and those challenging experiences can be incredibly helpful too, but it may also have aspects of real. joy, and bliss, and positive feeling in them and being able to reconnect with that in your daily life to be alive and present with pleasure in the world, present with sexual pleasure in your life, that is what makes it worth being alive as a human being. We are here to feel and we're here to feel joy.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:15:25
Have you seen it go the other way? Have you seen experiences in your clinical work where people have engaged in a psychedelic experience and it has either brought to mind trauma that they weren't aware cognitively, of having memory of, or of even watching people further dissociate or feel further disconnected from themselves?

Dee Dee Goulpaugh - 0:15:48
I'm so glad you asked that. I was actually slightly hesitant to bring up this topic only because I didn't want to scare listeners into thinking that this necessarily would happen. But I have developed an approach to working with survivors of sexual trauma that recover memories of sexual abuse during psychedelic experiences. I want to be careful in how I talk about this. In the history of psychotherapy there is dark chapters of therapists suggesting that clients recover memories in various ways and this is a dangerous and unethical practice. I have also seen clients come to my practice who say I have had a lifetime of sexual dysfunction, I've struggled with substance abuse, I have these weird feelings in relationships I can't explain, They have a psychedelic experience and because of the way certain psychedelics can affect memory, they begin to have flashes or full memories of things from childhood that they did not have access to before.

Dee Dee Goulpaugh - 0:16:43
This can be an intensely distressing experience. For some clients it's turning on a light bulb, they just didn't know what was wrong and then all of a sudden it's like, well, this is what's wrong and they have more material to work with. I also had plenty of clients that come in a state of confusion saying I actually don't know if this really happened, I don't remember it, but this seemed like it could have. This presents an even trickier situation for therapists and so it's not necessarily that the material you see in a psychedelic experience is "real", it can be a concretization of very intense feeling states from childhood. It could look like sexual abuse in terms of what you see in the visions in the ceremony but it actually could have been feelings of of invasion or emotional abuse that concretize in that way.

Dee Dee Goulpaugh - 0:17:45
My approach with clients across the board is really to work somatically. What is your body saying to you? This image is linked with the sensation, but what can we do with your body to help you process this sensation? The medicine is giving you this image 'cause it's giving you an anchor to work with and now will work with that anchor and the clients that I see who have the best outcomes are the ones that can tolerate, not knowing per se, and focusing on what am I experiencing in my life right now and how can I make that better? Now as to your question on further dissociation, psychedelics they carry risk.

Dee Dee Goulpaugh - 0:18:22
Some folks it can exacerbate mental health issues, it can cause real internal crisis. I think that really rigorous screening and support, that's where the integration piece really comes in because for a small number of folks, psychedelics are not a good healing root for them because it can really exacerbate previous mental illness. But people can have really difficult experiences with psychedelics and it has nothing to do with that. It can be that they're not prepared to deal with the overwhelming nature of the experience or the overwhelming nature of the trauma that might be unearthed, or that the experience itself didn't feel safe to them, which can mirror the experience of trauma and be extremely overwhelming. I think all of those things are situations that a good integration therapist should really be prepared to support a client through.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:19:24
Dee Dee's treatment focuses on what we know to be true. The patient's physical state, the sensations that come up during the psychedelic journey, in fact, is very similar to Laura's perspective on the controversial topic of recovering memories. Laura spoke about the potential damage that recovered memories can cause especially as it relates to sexual trauma and the need for clinicians to be extraordinarily careful as they support clients and processing, thoughts or snapshots about experiences that may have occurred in the past. One of the things that I think can be somewhat complicated, particularly around stories involving sexual trauma is that sometimes there's this desire to try to figure out what happened to me? What's the story? I've certainly talked with a lot of folks who have had a sense that maybe something wasn't right or there was a feeling of trauma but without a cognitive memory of what happened. In some situations psychedelic work can bring a story to that emotion.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:20:37
Have you observed that? What do you think about that?

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:20:45
Yeah, well it's really complicated question because there's so much about repressed memories and people being against repressed memories. What I'll say is yes, that definitely happens. People go into psychedelic work not even expecting to uncover that, and they see images of something, or they get a sense. Like, oh yes, I was sexually abused by my camp counselor or whatever. Then there are also people who go in wanting a story and they don't get one. They go in and they're like, but why? Why am I like this?

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:21:22
This must make sense. I think we can only be with what we know to be true at any given moment, and so for example, the person who wants the story but maybe hasn't gotten it yet and maybe they do get it or maybe they don't when they do the psychedelic work. With that person, I would say we can just be with what we know is true and what we know is true is that you're really activated around sex, we know that you are struggling to feel your body, and we know that you're really dissociated a lot. That's not everybody, but let's just say that's one person.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:21:59
Yep.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:21:59
We can just be with that and know that there's something and it's hard. This is tolerating confusion, is tolerating a feeling. Tolerating uncertainty is a feeling and I think there's a lot of room even to go into like and what would it mean to know? I think for a lot of people it's I would feel more validated and I would also feel less disturbed. It's disturbing to not know whether I actually think my family was abusive or not abusive.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:22:21
I think we can do a lot of exploration into like what does it even mean to know and what does it mean to not know and what do we actually know, and let's just trust what we know. We know what your symptoms are and that's a lot. There's always a lot to work with, even if someone doesn't have a memory. Then in terms of people who go in and they recover a memory, with that I think it's just really important to hold both that that could be a very very true experience and also that it's important. There are a lot of things that we see in psychedelic spaces that aren't necessarily based on truth, and this is complicated so I'm not denying.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:23:09
Not literal, Mae.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:23:09
Not literal, yes.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:23:09
They're not literal, so maybe someone has an experience of my body transformed into a tiger. You felt that, but it's an analogy or an allegory. It can be true and real, but not literal.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:23:23
Yes, yeah. For that reason, I don't say that to minimize the experience or the recovered memory at all, but just to hold it with that. How do you feel about this? What would it be if that was true? How is it? Then I think if you're the integration therapist, or whatever the person supporting, that it's really important for us to keep our stuff around that and our bias out of the conversation.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:23:44
I would never tell somebody what you saw wasn't real, I would just help them to be really curious about it. People do also go in and have experiences where they come out and they're like this is actually what I have already known and I'm now ready to look at it. I hope that answers the question, I hold it with a lot of complexity.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:24:08
A psychedelic supported therapy has become more mainstream. Clinicians and clients will have to be very, very thoughtful about how they talk about and work with session based content that feels like memory. I hope that this is not a complexity that we run away from, but that we as mental health professionals and physicians, those who are providing care are willing to thoughtfully and wisely navigate some of these complexities with supervision and proper training. As I mentioned at the beginning of this session, psychedelic supported psychotherapy also has the potential to increase the risk of sexual or romantic transference. Very simply, that's the situation in which the client falls in love with their clinician or longs to pursue a sexual connection to them. This sometimes shows up in traditional psychotherapy relationships, and it's something that clinicians have a lot of training and ethics that guide their behaviors related to romantic feelings.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:25:02
Psychedelic therapies introduce even a new level of intimacy to the therapeutic relationship, which can lead to complicated feelings or in some cases even abuse, as the worst case scenario. One of the additional concerns is even the possibility that there is sexual impropriety or confusion in the context of the session. In training as clinicians, there's lots and lots of conversation around boundaries and complicated, even romantic and sexual feelings back and forth between clinician and client, and so there's a lot of language around the ethics of that, and that doesn't necessarily exist in the underground community or the places where people may go to meet with a shaman, or even meet with a trained therapist but it gets a little funky. I guess I would just like to ask about that and how you see that potential danger and what kinds of recommendations you have for people in terms of avoiding them.

Dee Dee Goulpaugh - 0:26:18
Oh yeah. Well, I'll answer this question in two different ways. First, I will say that unfortunately there is many instances in unregulated contexts of people experiencing sexual misconduct, and unfortunately there are some documented cases of this happening in research context as well. Even though there are all these therapeutic boundaries and training, unfortunately these things have still occurred. I think when you're dealing with survivors of sexual trauma, psychedelics can sometimes for some clients 'cause certain acting out behaviors or reenactments of trauma scenarios. Clients can experience intensely erotic feelings towards a therapist or facilitator and facilitators or therapists need to be extremely well trained and grounded at how to deal with those erotic projections so they are not causing harm. That's a really hard thing to do.

Dee Dee Goulpaugh - 0:27:19
It takes a lot of clinical supervision, it takes a lot of support, and it takes a lot of honesty. Then of course the more common and more, I don't know, sinister is the word coming to mind because to me when we violate a vulnerable person, it's a real, it's a deep spiritual trauma. I think that in research settings the psychedelic guide or facilitator is presumably a sober guide, meaning the therapist is not taking the psychedelic, just to the client is. That may or may not be true in more unregulated contexts. I think that a lot of honesty and oversight is required for people to know what to do with the power they have when they are facilitating an experience like this for someone.

Dee Dee Goulpaugh - 0:28:21
Unfortunately for a certain number of people, psychedelic use seems to increase their narcissism and perhaps create an even more difficult situation in then seeing the power that they wield over a vulnerable person. I think the answers to this are first community accountability. What do we actually do with people who create harm? How do we create venues for them to heal themselves, to make amends, and to be removed from the community if necessary, or to be prevented from creating further harm? In clinical arenas, I think we need way more supervision because I'll tell you like my fundamental training as a therapist was more psychodynamic and we talked about erotic transference and erotic feelings.

Dee Dee Goulpaugh - 0:29:06
But you don't really learn in a in a structural behavioral way what to do with clients in these intense situations until I was doing sex therapy training because you're literally sitting and talking about sex in a really frank way with clients. We need new disciplines to come into psychedelic therapy who know how to deal with these situations 'cause sex therapists get a lot of training of how to deal with these things, and that's really, really necessary. I think the last thing is ending illegality because things fester in the dark. If we were able to have these ceremonies happening, not in underground context, but in community contexts where there was an actual community of people that had accountability to each other, I think you would see far less opportunity for exploitation.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:30:10
I know that not everyone is a fan of the medicalization of psychedelics. Not everyone sees FDA approval as a great thing. But one benefit of the formalization of integrating psychedelics into established therapies is that that involves training and standards and conversations about ethics. When any professional is learning a new therapeutic modality, they are required to have supervision and to have consultation with other clinicians. While these standards and formalities are not perfect and certainly are no 100% guarantee that psychedelic clients won't experience mistreatment, they do provide clinicians with tools and training, guidance and support. Until such time as those regulations are more formalized, we have to rely on the psychedelic communities, those who are using psychedelics, to self regulate and prevent abuse within their own local ranks.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:31:07
For more on this, I really do recommend that you check out Laura's Podcast Inside Eyes. She did a whole episode about the sexual complexities and dynamics that can arise in the psychedelic relationship. Why do you think it is important to talk about the complications that can come up in treatment of sexual trauma?

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:31:33
Yeah, I think it's important for a couple of reasons. One is because people just do a lot of violating things in these spaces, both non psychedelic therapists and also psychedelic therapists and psychedelic guides. There's just a lot of reports of sexual violence. I felt like I'm really all about complexity, so that's one of my big things. (laughing)

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:31:55
I'm right there with you.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:31:57
I can't make a podcast series talking about how all these people are healing and not add also like plenty of people are going to these spaces and and actually experiencing sexual violence. That's part of it. Then another piece is that there are definitely people who do, obviously this is in the underground, but do psychedelic work that's combined with sexual work, so like sexological body workers and people who do touch work and things like that. I just think some of that is really powerful and amazing work, and some of it can also include sexual violation and I just think it's very important for people to understand that if they're going to go into this world that you cannot just be all trusting. There's this idea with psychedelics like everybody who's using psychedelics is enlightened. No, they're regular people just like us like everybody is just a regular person.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:32:43
There are amazing clinicians, there are clinicians who probably should get more training, there are clinicians that do not harm their clients, and there are people who definitely do, and it's been well documented in the world of psychedelics.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:33:02
Do you think that psychedelics adds and another layer of risk or another layer of almost intimacy to a treatment relationship?

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:33:12
I would say that I fall more on the side of yes. I think it does, and I think that people are just incredibly vulnerable when they're under the influence of the medicine, I think that when someone else is incredibly vulnerable, that also creates a corresponding experience of the other person being quite powerful. If you don't have, as the clinician or the guide, if you don' have your unconscious stuff very, very worked through, that is a potentially damaging relationship. We're talking about sexual trauma. Obviously, there's many other ways that guides and clinicians can act out their material with a person who's journeying. But I think that just some of that could be, pretty benign, like oh, I want to feel like I'm extra important around you and I'm a little bit feeding my ego off of this experience.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:34:02
That might not be that damaging to the client, but obviously raping your client is incredibly damaging, and that happens.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:34:19
Maybe this whole episode has scared you away from the idea of a psychedelic supported therapy for sexual trauma. Maybe the risk of enduring more abuse or mistreatment isn't worth the potential reward of healing. My hope in raising these questions is not to discourage anyone from accessing care that might be helpful to them, but it is to tell the truth about some of the potential risks so that they can be mitigated or minimized. Many of the clinical trials are thinking very carefully about this by working in therapist teams, or implementing other standards of practice that help to create safety and trust in the midst of vulnerability, but also keep people really safe. I wanted to finish my conversations with both Dee Dee and Laura by talking about the hope that this treatment can bring to survivors as well as addressing the fear that comes along with it. Here's Dee Dee.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:35:09
I guess I'm imagining someone listening to this conversation who is thinking, I've had some rough experiences in my past and psychedelic sound like a really interesting healing opportunity for me. The way that Dee Dee talks about it, it sounds so hopeful there's possibility of restoration of pleasure, I could enjoy sex again, like this sounds lovely, but also it's scary. How do you navigate that conversation with someone?

Dee Dee Goulpaugh - 0:35:45
Well, I mean listen, there's actually multiple layers to the conversation that you're alluding to, because the first thing is as a licensed therapist, I can't give people referrals who's going to get into a research study. People get into research studies, but it's extremely arduous, and it's very few people that actually have access to these medicines in a clinical context. You're looking at being really hamstrung as a therapist, because you are ethically unable to make referrals to any non clinical context, right? The first thing is helping clients to decide on their own, whether that is for them and helping them to ask the right questions to find out, especially as a trauma survivor about, is this context I'm choosing going to be a safe one for me? Pre pandemic I had a lot of people who would leave the country and go to retreat centers in various places, Jamaica, Peru, that can work legally with different medicines and there are variable quality.

Dee Dee Goulpaugh - 0:36:40
Really helping people to understand and know how to ask what they need to ask about whether I'm going to be safe here is a preliminary step to the question about scary. (laughing)

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:36:58
(laughing)

Dee Dee Goulpaugh - 0:37:00
It can be scary and I think what happens in the experience itself is often unpredictable, but what we can know is that clients who experience less anxiety generally have more positive experiences going into psychedelic work. Clients that feel well prepared and feel like the the people that will be there that the set setting and cast who will be there, where is it going to happen, and what's my mindset going in, when those things are aligned and feel positive they have a much better chance of having an experience that's healing for them. I think validating that it is scary, you are taking a substance that is going to alter your consciousness in some way that might be unpredictable to you, acknowledging that that in itself takes a lot of bravery. If we look through a more animistic or shamanic lens, we want to acknowledge that you're welcoming a nonhuman presence into your body that may have its own agenda for you, its own ideas about healing, and what it's going to offer you. Again, we're talking a lot that science, spirituality, peace. Somebody could believe or not believe that to be true, but in the experiences I've had, the sense of being met with a sentience that is not human and coming into very intimate contact with you is an experience like nothing else that you've ever had if it's new. To help clients prepare and develop a sense of curiosity validating fear and trying to transform what's possible into a sense of curiosity, I think is a good approach.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:38:53
Here's Laura. The last thing that I wanted to ask you about is, one of the things that I've been thinking a lot about is not only healing from PTSD or maybe symptoms related to having had an experience of sexual trauma, but of really restoring that life force. Talk to me about working with folks who you've seen really rebuild or recover, or maybe build for the first time a sense of themselves as empowered sexual beings.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:39:28
Yeah. One thing I always say in interviews is it's a long game. I say this all the time because you know people are like okay, you do three sessions of MDMA with the therapist and then you're totally healed and PTSD symptoms are reduced by 60 percent or whatever. I'm sure that happens. But in terms of what you're talking about, it's not just like not being traumatized. It's like, yeah, that re connection that my life is fulfilling, and I'm interested, and I'm curious in myself, and I'm engaged with myself, and I'm connected to desire, and etc.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:39:53
Does it make sense to read some books about sexuality? Does it make sense to explore your sexuality with yourself, and if you have a partner or partners, explore it with them in new ways? It's not just a single incident, it's not like you're going to go to a weekend workshop and be like okay, desire healed, check but really putting the time and energy in. I think something that can be hard for people to wrap their minds around in the world that we live in is the amount of effort you put towards your job, or towards going on a vacation, or towards, I don't know, shopping for groceries, whatever the the things are in your life that take up a lot of time. If you want to grow a part of your life that has been really stunted or wounded, you have to put a lot of energy in.

Laura Mae Northrup - 0:40:46
If you go grocery shopping an hour a week, what would it be like to spend that an hour a week feeding yourself, sustaining yourself around your sexuality and really thinking about it like here's a project I'm doing for a year.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:41:10
True recovery isn't just about healing from sexual trauma. It's also about regaining empowerment, passion, creativity, spirit. Pursuing psychedelic treatment like this can be risky, but it can also help patients recover their whole self. While the clinical world certainly needs to do more to create both accountability and safety, the hope for a restored life force, as Laura calls it, makes this challenging work worth the complexity. Thank you to Laura and Dee Dee for jumping into these complexities with me and for addressing the many facets of the field. Very grateful for their wisdom and insights.

Dr. Sherry Walling - 0:41:49
If you want to weigh in or have a story to share, we'd love to hear from you on our social media channels. We are @mindcurehealth on Instagram. You can also contact us directly at mindcure.com. Thanks so much for listening and as always, stay curious.