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Psychedelic Medicine

Association

Psychedelics and Sexual Trauma with Laura Mae Northrup, MFT

Summary

In this episode of the Psychedelic Medicine Podcast, Laura Mae Northrup, MFT joins to discuss the crucial topic of psychedelics and sexual trauma. Laura is an author, education, and somatic and relational psychotherapist. She brings a spiritual and politicized lens to her therapeutic work and is deeply invested in mentoring healing practitioners and supporting the spiritual integrity of our collective humanity. In addition to her therapeutic practice, Laura is also a podcaster and has addressed the topic of psychedelics and sexual trauma in her show Inside Eyes.

In this wide-ranging conversation, Laura addresses the subject from two angles: first, looking at how psychedelic medicine can be effective in helping survivors of sexual trauma heal; and second, examining how sexual abuse is perpetrated within the context of psychedelic therapy.

To address the topic of psychedelic healing for survivors, Laura explains how sexual trauma has an affective aspect and an aspect related to the nervous system. With that in mind, it’s clear how psychedelics can be a powerful tool in helping survivors encounter difficult feelings and work with their nervous system. Laura also shares an interesting hypothesis regarding why ketamine—a dissociative substance—is actually often very helpful for people who dissociate in their daily lives as a trauma response. She contrasts this daily dissociation with the ketamine experience by explaining that as a trauma response dissociation works by compartmentalizing experiences and feelings, while the ketamine experience softens those boundaries, allowing the survivor to have a more integrated experience of themself.

Laura also emphasizes the necessity to go slow and put in a lot of prep work to ensure any psychedelic healing experiences are as safe and effective as possible for survivors. Because of the dynamics of trauma, it is easy to be eager for an experience of dramatic healing, but because of how powerful psychedelics can be, and because of the power that facilitators and guides have over participants during therapy, these can also be dangerous experiences which could lead to additional traumatic experiences. As such, ensuring a high level of comfort and trust prior to a session is essential, and, if that cannot be achieved, it is safer to pursue other kinds of healing until the right opportunity is available.

Finally, Laura discusses the crucial topic of sexual violence within the context of psychedelic therapy. She mentions that even within the more formal context of conventional therapy—with its checks and balances of professional licenses and credentials—there is a shocking amount of sexual misconduct between therapists and clients. Considering that a lot of psychedelic therapy continues to operate underground due to prohibition, there is serious cause for concern about the prevalence of this issue. Laura explains how, especially in the context of the psychedelic experience, it is impossible to give true sexual consent. This is doubly the case due to the power differential between a client and a psychedelic therapist.

Laura concludes this discussion by emphasizing that healing for those providing psychedelic therapy is absolutely crucial to address this issue, as it is because these guides and facilitators have not properly addressed their own healing that they continue to perpetrate abuse.

In This Episode

• The state of research on psychedelic healing for survivors of sexual assault
• The relationship between preparatory work and the efficacy of psychedelic therapies for people with PTSD
• The difficulty of choosing the right guide or facilitator as a person with trauma
• Why there isn’t one best medicine to heal sexual trauma
• Why ketamine may be effective for people struggling with dissociation due to traumatic experiences
• The importance of the three domains of mind, body, and spirit in psychedelic work
• The variety of ethical concerns relating to behavior of guides or facilitators

Quotes

“I really enjoy supporting survivors to heal, but also we need to be talking about this very, very concerning issue of people sexually abusing their clients.” [6:07]

“When we’re talking about healing from trauma, a lot of times what we’re talking about is growing the capacity to experience and endure very big feelings.” [11:00]

“Being able to work with trauma is like way more than just a little tiny workshop, I mean it’s truly something you’re learning to do throughout your career, it involves a lot of extensive training and consultation and guidance from more seasoned practitioners.” [24:21]

“If something is so powerful that it could do that much profound healing for you, man just make it the best it can be. Go with [a facilitator] that you don’t have any reservations about.” [33:00]

“You can always pause a therapy. And there can be such an emphasis on ‘no, move forward’—you can just say ‘that was weird for me, I need time.’ You can go and you can talk to your other people.” [45:29]

“It’s so complicated because the person you would maybe think is the number-one person you would go to to talk about something like this, is your therapist, who is also the person harming you.” [46:54]

“We need to show up to our own healing, because that’s why we abuse people, that’s why we harm people, because we are not doing our own healing work.” [56:48]

Links

* The Psychedelic Medicine Podcast has allowed the Psychedelic Medicine Association to post episodes as an educational resource, and in return the PMA is hosting the podcast show notes.