Jamie Beachy: Psychedelic Chaplaincy

Jenna Beachy: Psychedelic Chaplaincy

The newest episode of our university podcast, ‘Mindful U at Naropa University,’ is out on iTunesStitcher, Fireside, and Spotify now! We are excited to announce this week’s episode features special guest Jamie Beachy, Assistant Faculty and Director of the Center for Contemplative Chaplaincy, on the topic of ‘Finding Courage in Contemplative Education.’

play-iconJamie Beachy: Psychedelic Chaplaincy

“When we’re with people who are reviewing the end of their life or saying goodbye to a loved one, there’s this heightened sense of connection and awareness, a lot of times in crisis and sometimes difficulty. Psychedelic journeys can be — not always be easy and expansive, sometimes they’re challenging. And so there are a lot of — lot of our training, I think crosses over well into psychedelic therapies. And in particular, chaplains have this capacity to help assess the spiritual and religious landscape for a person before they go into a psychedelic experience. ”

About Jamie

Jamie Beachy, MDiv, Ph.D., is Assistant Faculty and the Director of the Center for Contemplative Chaplaincy at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. Jamie is a certified spiritual care educator (ACPE) and has served as a chaplain and ethics consultant in diverse contexts including hospice, palliative care, and trauma care settings. In addition to her faculty responsibilities with Naropa’s Master of Divinity program, Jamie is a co-therapist for the MAPS-sponsored phase III MDMA-assisted therapy study in Boulder.

Full transcript

Jamie Beachy
Psychedelic Chaplaincy

[MUSIC] Hello, and welcome to Mindful U at Naropa. A podcast presented by Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. I’m your host, David Devine. And it’s a pleasure to welcome you. Joining the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions — Naropa is the birthplace of the modern mindfulness movement.

[MUSIC]

David:
Hello, and welcome to another Mindful U podcast. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Jamie Beachy. Jamie serves as the assistant faculty for Naropa’s master of divinity program. She has also worked as a chaplain, ACPE certified spiritual care educator, and ethics consultant in diverse contexts, including academic medical centers, trauma, hospitals, hospice, and palliative care settings. Jamie also serves as a therapist with the MAPS MDMA assisted therapy studies site in Boulder. So welcome to the podcast.

Jamie Beachy:
It’s wonderful to be here with you, David, thank you for inviting me.

David:
Yeah. Just also to say it’s a pleasure to speak with you. I just wrapped up a podcast with Sarah Lewis, who is also a faculty member to the psychedelic assisted therapy certificate at Naropa. And it’s also a program in which you are teaching in as well. And it just feels very, like well rounded to speak to both of you. With her, I spoke mostly about the program and what to expect. And with you, I get to talk about more of like, what the program teaches and what you’ve learned. And I’m really just excited to jump into it. So —

Jamie Beachy:
Sounds good.

David:
So before we get started, what was your academic journey like? And how did you find yourself teaching at Naropa University?

Jamie Beachy:
Well, let’s see, I completed a master’s degree in Berkeley, California at the Pacific School of Religion some years ago. So that was a master of divinity. And then I went into — right into working as a chaplain, as a young person. So I started working for hospice first, and learned so much from the hospice patients there — in mostly rural settings at that point, and then have worked as a chaplain for many years. And just recently, I decided to complete my PhD in order to further explore, I guess, the field of chaplaincy and develop my theoretical sensibility. And so I completed that just a few years ago, and am now find myself very fortunate to be teaching at Naropa University in the master of divinity program.

David:
Awesome. What’s interesting is when I read your like profile, you seem to have taken many different directions in the space of healing and therapy and care. And with all these credentials, how is it that you define yourself because it’s like a therapist, trauma setting, chaplaincy assisted psychedelics — like where do you see yourself? What do you label yourself?

Jamie Beachy:
Well, let’s see for today, at least in this moment, I would say — I would say that chaplaincy has been the foundation for everything that I’ve been about professionally. So we work in — in varied settings, which is perhaps why I’ve moved around and in a sense in different kinds of clinical contexts. So chaplains are trained to be, you know, present to people in crisis, and when there’s distress, and perhaps some emotional struggle and loss. And we sometimes bring in religious resources, but a lot of the time were they are just to be a stable, available, caring presence in the midst of crisis. I would say all of the contexts that I’ve worked in have had that quality about them, either have been death and dying contexts or places where people are suffering or looking for healing from past traumas, or traumatic experiences as they’re unfolding. And in the religious studies departments that I’ve also been a part of as — as an educator, as a professor, we explore really the spiritual and religious questions that come up in those moments when people are suffering or experiencing loss. The existential questions and the existential meaning, that is a part of those journeys for people. And so those are the unifying I guess, commitments — are my professional life. And, you know, there’s the whole story of my religious journey, which I can — I’m happy to share with you if you want to go in that direction. But most of us in chaplaincy have pretty inter religious commitments. Many of us do anyway because we have so much interaction with people across traditions and we learn to appreciate a whole diversity of spiritual practices and traditions along the way.

David:
Interesting. So what I find very wild is, the type of work you do, you’re essentially like running towards trauma, willing to help. The amount of heart space to hold in such an interesting, existential crisis setting, it feels kind of wild to me. And do you feel like this type of work is for certain people? Or, you know, it doesn’t seem like everybody want to be there to hold space for a family that is going through a crisis or like a loved one. It’s — it’s very hard for people to hold emotionally. But yet you’re like basing your entire career off that.

Jamie Beachy:
It certainly isn’t for everyone, I’d say — I’d say that I agree with that, for sure. But some of us I think, are drawn to bringing care into those — into those moments, perhaps because we’ve been through things ourselves where we could have used to support in a way that wasn’t — wasn’t there for us, or perhaps because we just have a particular skill set, maybe that meets that need well. And Naropa is really unique in developing deep contemplative practices and deep contemplative foundation for their work, which is really adding a lot of benefit to the field. Because people do get burned out in chaplaincy, sometimes just as they do in the healthcare profession in general. And it does take a certain resilience and a certain depth of commitment to one’s own well being, you know, in order to be present in those situations. And so I’m really pleased to have — have discovered Naropa as a place to really explore the deep contemplative foundations that can support that kind of presence with people as they’re struggling. And there’s so many beautiful things about — about this kind of work. There’s so many gifts that come with those deep experiences that make it worthwhile overall, but it does take a real deep commitment to our own sense of belonging to the world and belonging to the earth in a good way. And the capacity to be present without losing our own footing and our own sense of — of well being when things are falling apart around us. So there’s a gift in that, I think, because the work in and of itself is a spiritual practice. And then we can bring these other practices in to even strengthen that — that capacity.

David:
Okay, very interesting. So what I’ve also realized too, is your path seems very unique, it seems very unique to you. And I’m curious, did you plan on that? Or was that — did it just happen? Did you take like a chaplaincy class when you’re in college and you really liked it and felt connected? And then you went on that path? Or did you connect it to something and then you took another class and it kind of pulled you this direction? Was it always a clear thought of where you wanted to end up? Or are you just here because of synchronicities, or —

Jamie Beachy:
I think synchronicity is certainly a part of the story of why you and I are here, you know, speaking over video today, in this time and place.

David:
Hello, video.

Jamie Beachy:
And Naropa community. So I would say that I — well, I grew up in a very religious family — very Christian family that was really committed to Christian practice. And so, I naturally went into a religious profession as a person in my 20s. And my mother worked in health care, she was a neonatal ICU nurse. And so I also had familiarity with health care and with, you know, that’s a pretty crisis oriented context as well. And so it was probably a natural fit for me to go into chaplaincy. But over time, my religious identities really shifted quite a bit to more of a commitment to earth based practice and healing, you know, the human relationship with the rest of the natural world and with the other than human world, and healing some of the causes of climate change and environmental injustice. And some of the problems that we’re facing today I think are really evident in healthcare. So through the years as a chaplain I — my religious commitment is certainly still there. I really appreciate Christianity and I identify very much with Christ and — but I also am a — understand myself as a Buddhist practitioner, and then indigenous practice, learning from people who have an intelligence about how to be in relationship with the earth through reciprocity and through a right relationship. You know, that’s a strong commitment of mine that — that I’ve developed over time and that really connects with the psychedelic therapy work because psychedelics are such a beautiful gift for healing our traumas and our broken relationship with each other and with our communities and the earth if they’re done in a good way, you know, with an attention to ethics and the capacity to really, you know, just to know what you’re doing with good training and safety and all of that. And so, chaplaincy started out as a very, maybe narrow religious endeavor for me, and it’s expanded to include a lot more than it did at the beginning of — of my professional journey.

David:
Wonderful. Yeah. And this kind of leads into my next question, too. So today’s topic is about psychedelics and chaplaincy and how they intertwine with each other. I guess to understand what is actually — you know, how we clarify this? My basic understanding of chaplaincy is someone who is affiliated with a religious or spiritual institution that performs worship services or holding space for people to seek higher authority in their lives. I sort of like, define that, you know, I found a definition and kind of winged it, but in conjunction with psychedelics as the catalyst for the healing potential, I’m curious, how do you define chaplaincy? And then also, how do you define psychedelic chaplaincy? Are they different or do they have similar parts? Like how does that work for you? And how does that work for the space in which you work in?

Jamie Beachy:
So a lot of the answer to that is really emerging, I would say, and I certainly don’t speak for everyone, but I can share my — my perspective on that. So chaplaincy is really a bit broader than the definition you shared in certain ways. We are really there with people to explore questions of meaning and existential experience. So people who are approaching death or perhaps have lost a loved one or those moments where, you know, the fabric of the world as we understand it is shifting and or changing, fraying, maybe coming apart in some ways. And so really supporting people in those moments and creating spaces where the natural and intelligence that we all have this natural healing capacity can arise in, you know, and find — and find its way toward — toward wholeness is what chaplains are about. And sometimes that involves religious care, you know, thinking of higher power or relating to — to God or divinity, or some sense of the source of life, but sometimes it — it’s more about relationship to family or to work or to community or adjusting to illness, or perhaps, you know, ritualizing, loss or change. So it can be very secular in some ways. And so, I guess that’s a good attempt at — at your first question. I mean, there’s a lot that can be said about chaplaincy, but chaplaincy, a lot of us understand it as a practice of spiritual health, helping to support spiritual health, in the communities where we serve. And there’s usually a dimension of crisis that is part of — part of what we’re addressing and what we’re present to. So for psychedelic chaplaincy, the experience of using psychedelics in order to address you know, trauma, or perhaps sometimes physical illness, or all of the reasons that people seek out psychedelic experiences, including desire to have a transcendent experience, or to connect with something beyond ourselves and find our place in — in the world as a — as a person of the earth in a good way. And all of those motivations, I think, are very similar to what chaplains do in our work. When we’re with people who are reviewing the end of their life or saying goodbye to a loved one, there’s this heightened sense of connection and awareness, a lot of times in crisis and sometimes difficulty. Psychedelic journeys can be — not always be easy and expansive, sometimes they’re challenging. And so there are a lot of — lot of our training, I think crosses over well into psychedelic therapies. And in particular, chaplains have this capacity to help assess the spiritual and religious landscape for a person before they go into a psychedelic experience. Because what can happen is, you can have a very powerful existential, you know, awareness of like the presence of a being or maybe a feeling of connection and — and then it becomes important to integrate that with your — you know, understanding of the cosmos and the — your religious and spiritual commitments. So people can go into some degree of existential crisis or just transition — it’s a very creative space. And chaplains are good at navigating those spaces as they’re unfolding. So that’s what chaplains I think, have to bring to the field, but at the same time, there are a lot of religious taboos and a lot of teachings within the religious traditions that encourage staying away from psychedelic medicines. And so that conversation is very much happening in the field right now and among religious leaders and professionals and chaplains and it’s — it’s an interesting conversation that’s taking place you know about the right use of these medicines and plants and how we can also do that without harming the communities that they come from.

David:
Yeah, beautiful. And I love how you say that because I do have a couple questions about the taboo-iness of bringing something that’s you know, religious and spiritual, which might not be okay with psychedelics, but yet, in other cultures, psychedelics are the spirit — are the spiritual. So, chaplaincy has been around for a long time in various institutions. But this new approach, including psychedelic overlay seems a bit new to the space — to some regions, of course, because unless you like go to the Amazon, or shamans have been practicing psychology in their own way, for many years, it’s new to more the Americas, you could say, but when this was first established, and also how it was received when it arrived, so overlaying chaplaincy and psychedelics because you just spoke about the taboo-iness, but when did they come together? How did that look like? And how do we talk about the taboos of religious thought and psychedelic thought and therapy? How do those come together for you?

Jamie Beachy:
Oh, that’s it — there’s a really rich conversation there. And we’re thinking of maybe someday hosting a conference to explore that in more depth with some of the people who are thinking deeply about — about this in the world right now. But I can say that, in regard to the taboos, I think that really, depending on the religious tradition, there’s an interest in not doing harm and living ethically in the world. And sometimes certain spiritual traditions really shouldn’t be mixed to a psychedelic practice. It’s important like in Buddhism with the precepts, the precepts are there to, you know, create well being and to create the possibility for healthy relationships in the world. And so I think there’s a lot of benefit to living according to certain ethical principles or guidelines, you know, that are taught through your — through particular religious traditions. So exploring how, and when to perhaps, create flexibility where, you know, someone in their ordinary life might not ordinarily like drink a lot of alcohol or want to use substances, you know, but there might be a reason that they go to — into a psychedelic healing experience — because the therapies are proving so beneficial for healing trauma and for resolving certain kinds of distress. So some religious communities are saying, you know, well, it’s not recommended that you use these things recreationally, but therapeutically, you know, there’s reason to sometimes, you know, if you were to go into surgery, most people would use anesthesia, for example. And even though that’s a very strong, mind altering substance, because of the benefit and the potential for easing suffering, and preventing suffering. And so with these psychedelic therapies, I think most of the religious traditions are holding space for the possibility of benefit. And really, the interest in relieving suffering in the world is also an ethical commitment. So sometimes ethical commitments are in tension with each other. And it just has to be worked out. You know, is it more important to provide veterans who have been through combat, you know MDMA therapy, that might be more important than holding to a tenant that you know, we use no substances in our tradition ever. But as for how psychedelic chaplaincy has arisen, it’s arising right now in this moment. And so you know, it’s happening in a new way, in a very emergent way. So in my experience, I’m fortunate to be on the MAPS MDMA therapy team. And there are a handful of chaplains that are doing this kind of work. There’s a few of us, I think, who are MAPS trained, and then there are some who are training for psilocybin studies, mostly in oncology settings. And so we are training to do this work and discovering our own definitions of power going about it and what we have to bring as a member of these teams of clinicians that are seeking to do this in a — in a good way, based on research and also on taking wisdom from indigenous traditions really seriously in partnering in certain ways that can be of benefit hopefully.

David:
Yeah, very interesting too, because you just sort of spoke about this of how people come to the psychedelic assisted therapy as a last resort. You know, it’s like, this didn’t work, that didn’t work. So they have this like, alright, let’s try this out. And I’m curious, why do people see psychedelic assisted therapy as a last resort and not a first resort? Is it because they just don’t hear about it — it’s not as popular. The person they’re working with is like, oh, let’s just keep trying this talk therapy or somatic or art therapy route? And then they’re like, maybe you came — maybe you do need to try some psychedelic? What do you think it is that makes it a last resort and not a first resort?

Jamie Beachy:
Sure. Well, I think there are people all over the spectrum with that. I think some people for — for many people, it is a last resort, and perhaps they’re cautious about, you know, taking such a strong plant or medically derived substance, because of just the risks involved, or, you know, the psychedelic therapy in the western kind of current context is fairly new, in a sense, to the mainstream culture anyway. I mean, it’s as ancient as human beings are probably, to use plants and psychoactive plants to heal. But in our current context, it might be new to some people, and they’re just not sure what to make of it, or if it’s safe, or, you know, because it hasn’t been the psychedelic renaissance, or whatever we want to call it that we’re in — is fairly — fairly emergent. But then there are other people who I think turned to psychedelics first. And maybe too often, you know, and don’t take seriously the supportive community and the integration and the preparation needed. And all of the context around psychedelics that’s important for healing as well, and people can sometimes be at risk of you know, of harm, if they’re not doing it in a good way. And they think that psychedelics will fix everything. And that’s the only — only solution. So I would say, people are kind of all over the place. And we’re finding our way with this very powerful way of dressing trauma and facilitating healing. And there’s a lot of things happening right now. And some of them are really beautiful and incredible outcomes. And some things that are happening are not so great. So we have to be in conversation about — about how to do this in the best way.

David:
Yeah, and to speak to the thing that you said a little bit ago of — of, we don’t want people to use drugs or medicine or plant medicine as recreational. And what I find about the labeling something as psychedelic is, it’s not something you want to do recreationally at levels that have therapy kind of usage, because it unravels you pretty quickly. The fabric in which you thought was real dissolves away. And it’s very scary sometimes. And so having a sacred space in a therapeutic setting is very potent for healing. So I find it very important to understand that it’s not easily abused like sugar, or meat, or alcohol. or cigarettes. Eating mushrooms everyday is going to like mess you up. It’s good to do something bad. So you need to be very mindful of the fact that what medicines you’re taking, how much you’re taking, and why you’re taking it. So I’m curious, why is it important for the role of a chaplain — like why is it important for the role of a chaplain to be there while somebody is experiencing a psychedelic therapy session? Is having a trained psychologist in a controlled setting ideal for a healing compared to like a solo setting, with an intention being set? Why is it important for someone to hold space in that therapy session?

Jamie Beachy:
Mmm. Well, I think that psychedelic therapies at this point are very — it’s an interdisciplinary endeavor, meaning that, you know, the person’s sitting with someone in let’s say, like a MAPS MDMA session. Usually there — there are always two therapists with the protocol, and one might be a physician and another a nurse or you could have a therapist and a chaplain or two therapists, you know, usually one person is — is licensed. And we could talk about what that means exactly, but I think that’s being sorted out, like what credentialing will be — will be required over time. And chaplains have a certification, which is not the same as a license, but it is a lengthy process that we have to go through and we’re vetted, and there’s peer review and all of that. So that, you know, we’re part of a community of accountability. But I would say that each person on that interdisciplinary team brings a particular insight and skill set. And so transpersonal — trans-personally based therapists, you know, graduates of Naropa are particularly well placed to step into those roles because of their training in — in therapy, and also in transpersonal therapies, and chaplains are well suited because of our attentiveness to the spiritual and existential dimensions, you know, of what’s happening in crisis. And that’s not to say that we don’t necessarily support some recreational use — that’s a conversation that would be all over the place. I think with chaplains, if you were to talk with us about what we think about — about legalization, and all of that, but you know, certainly in therapeutic settings, we bring this common commitment to emotional support, being able to navigate challenging existential spaces and knowledge of religion, how religion might be present in a psychedelic space. You know, someone’s either embedded, like childhood religion, or the religious or spiritual path that they’ve chosen, and how to integrate that so they can live well in the world and not feel alienated by a psychedelic experience. So each person brings a particular insight. Psychiatrists obviously, have a lot of training and physicians and nurses. So I think ideally, you know, we — there would be like communities of people that would be caring for folks in therapeutic contexts. I mean, in even more ideal world, this would all be taking place in like, contexts where connecting with the natural world, you know, is easily accessible. So, you know, in settings, where you can also include the trees and the earth, and the water and the sky and the birds, and, you know, everything that — that wants to be — be part of this interconnected web of — of support, and healing can also be accessed. And so my ideal would be like a interdisciplinary, you know, psychedelic clinic, where if someone has a lot of maybe religious dynamics going on, the chaplain would maybe be coming in to consult. And if someone has more medical issues and needs to be monitored closely, then obviously physicians and nurses would be more important as members of — present to that therapy session. So I think we all have something to bring, and hopefully over time, we’ll learn how to work together well, support each other well, and — and also include people that don’t have professional training, because that’s also important, you know. The lay people that have been doing this for a long time, or indigenous folks who have a lot of wisdom, but don’t have professional credentials, you know, to be accessing this kind of world.

David:
Yeah. And one thing I was thinking about, and I wrote this down while you’re talking was chaplains seem to have this holistic approach to whatever space you walk in, because you might walk into holding space for someone who’s very Catholic or Christian. And so your visionary explanations, the things you talk about, the words you use might be different than walking into like a more Buddhist Dow Zen person having an existential moment. So I’m finding it very interesting, because it does sound very interdisciplinary, it’s like many disciplines are coming to me in a space, but then you have to decide how the person needs you to show up to be able to resonate with the words and the imagery that you’re using. So I’m finding that really interesting, like, ooh, that’s very interdisciplinary.

Jamie Beachy:
And it’s very — it’s very creative, and sometimes a little messy and awkward, you know, but — and really, our goal is not to be everything to everyone, but to help people access the support that they — that they need, you know, or that they already may have forgotten. When you come into a hospital, sometimes it’s easy to forget your sources of support, because it’s such an unusual environment. And in a psychedelic journey, it can also be easy to forget, you know, to call on the help of like, beloved grandmother whose passed or call in, you know, spiritual support from a practice that’s meaningful. And so helping people make those connections and integrate their sense of — of who they are in the world in — in a healthy way and not feel like they have to either leave their religion completely at the door, and then just try to make sense of it afterwards on their own, or that they have to come in and have any kind of religious belief in order to please the caregivers who may be religious and may want them to have some kind of — a certain kind of experience it. Sometimes psychedelic psychonauts can be really opinionated about, you know, what they think psychedelics can do for you and what it’s supposed to mean. And so you know, really honoring the inner healing intelligence of each person and each person is so — so unique and the communities they come from a very particular usually and have — have these gifts to offer, you know, this diverse kind of human experience and so to — to really honor — honor all of that with humility is — is the goal of chaplaincy.

David:
Yeah, I love the fact that you’re using the word honoring because — because we’re here to honor the space and the person. So whatever way that shows up for them, that’s how you show up. And I love the fact that you’re saying like, messy because it’s like beautifully messy. You know, it’s like you got all the colors, but you got to make the right color that shines for the person that they like. Like when it comes down to this type of therapy, the MDMA assisted therapy programs and the psychedelic assisted therapy, what are the general issues and or blockages in which clients show up that they’re looking to heal from? Have you noticed a commonality within the patients that come to you and or to the programs? Or is like, everyone’s so unique, and they got all these, like individualized issues going on, where there’s parent, childhood traumas, or like physical traumas, or like emotional traumas? Or do people kind of show up with the same top five issues?

Jamie Beachy:
That’s interesting to think about, I don’t — I can’t say that I am, you know, have deep enough experience to speak for — for everyone in a sense, but as I’m learning — as I’m learning, you know, about the medicines that I’ve — have experienced mostly with would be MDMA and psilocybin. And with MDMA, I would say that it’s showing particular benefit for people who have pretty serious PTSD. So have had experiences, let’s say, in combat or sexual assault, or something that is so traumatic, that we are not able to, for some reasons that are being clarified, you know, really integrate the experience and move on. So the experience can sort of become stuck in a sense. And MDMA has a way of helping us go back to those moments and revisit them in a way that we can integrate and move through those experiences, and then no longer be somatically activated, you know, with — with PTSD symptoms, like intrusive nightmares, or being hyper alert, or those kinds of things that happen when trauma isn’t completely integrated in one’s experience in somatic experience. And so MDMA is particularly helpful. And the study is showing, you know, that the majority of people that go through the study, no longer meet the criteria for PTSD at the end of the study, which is pretty remarkable. But each medicine, you know, seems to have its own intelligence and works with people in particular ways. So psilocybin has been shown to be helpful for people with terminal diagnoses, because psilocybin can help sometimes open up this connection between ourselves and that which is larger than us, like —

David:
The cosmic nature of it all. Yeah.

Jamie Beachy:
You know, the earth, I — for my — from my own experience, you know, I — I’ll expect to still have some fear of death, when the time comes, you know, I wouldn’t be so bold as to say, I have no fear of death, that would be overstating it. But I did experience this sense of just being held by the earth and being — being cared for in a way that nothing is outside of that care. And I think people with — approaching the end of life or fearing death, are — sometimes find really tremendous healing in psilocybin journeys. And so there’s more research being done in that area to see what exactly is it you know, about those experiences that invite that kind of healing? You know, there’s studies happening all across the board, like, people looking at ayahuasca for eating disorders, and it depends on the context and the way that it’s offered and the support that it surrounds those medicines, and can certainly, you know, not always help and sometimes — sometimes they do harm if — if they’re not done in a safe way. And so, there’s a lot to be discovered yet about how — which medicines can be most helpful for which kinds of human challenges in the world, but there are always, you know, other ways to come about that kind of healing as well. But this seems to be something that’s really — really demonstrating just relief of suffering for people that have been suffering for — for years and years and have found no — no relief, you know, in other ways.

David:
Yeah, what I really like hearing from you is there’s a personality — a specialty in the spirit of the medicine in which that is being used and how MDMA can facilitate a faster healing process and or a more potential healing process for PTSD people. And mushrooms — psilocybin has more of a earthy connection. I love hearing about the spirits of the medicine because I do feel like you get to meet the spirit, and also how you said it’s very unique. Not everyone’s gonna meet the transformative dimensional self dribbling basketball aliens that Terence McKenna talks about unless you go break the chrysanthemum and go to that space and do that heroic amount. But not essentially like a therapeutic setting, it’s more of a dissolving of eco setting. And one thing I was thinking about was, you know, we have assisted psychedelic therapies, but why the use of psychedelics in the first place? Like why not — what is going on with the other modalities of therapies like Jungians, somatic, psychotherapy transpersonal or like meditative approaches? Are these not good enough? Are they not able to heal the person in which the healing needs or why psychedelics compared to like, chadding, or body movement, or art therapy? Why is psychedelics more of a place for potential?

Jamie Beachy:
That’s a pretty big question as well, I would say that, in my — in my understanding that some of those therapies certainly do work, you know, sometimes they might take longer, like more practice. Someone might have to have a stronger sense of agency.

David:
I like that.

Jamie Beachy:
You know, to commit to, let’s say — let’s say meditating, like an hour a day for months at a time, or going to a really deep meditation retreat to heal trauma, that can just be more than a person might be capable of, in — with the degree of suffering that they’re — they’re navigating. And so, a medicine, like MDMA can help just like a nudge, you know, just give enough support, that the fear responses and the PTSD responses can just be toned down enough that — that there’s this space to do this work, you know, and I think that other context, ceremonial contexts, like sweat lodges, and, you know, fasting, and there are certain — certainly other ways to create these kind of responses in the — in the brain and in the somatic field, and that allow for these healing opportunities to happen. And for someone who’s really suffering a lot and looking for relief, and just struggling with a sense of agency, or really severe depression, or, you know, it can just be helpful to show up and have a supportive therapist, a supportive — ideally, it would be a supportive community, you know, around a person, as they’re committing to their own healing by — by taking these medicines that just — that just make the healing process easier for some people. But again, it really depends on the medicines that we’re talking about. Because some of them can be very rigorous, and can be just as challenging as a really, in depth meditation retreat, or fasting for long periods of time, or, I mean, they all have their particular kind of intelligence and an offering that they bring to this — this healing work. So to learn — really learn about the benefits of each and to not just jump into something, because it is a psychedelic, you know, but to understand the differences between these plants and medicines, and, like you said, the spirits that they — the spirit that they bring, you know, in — in most earth based traditions, everything has spirit. So it’s not just you know, medicines and psychedelics that have spirit, but a computer has a spirit or, you know, a table has a spirit, like everything has spirit, and just to understand, you know, how to use — kind of partner with these — these medicines, in a good way, is really important that you wouldn’t want to use, you know, like, an airplane to try to go underwater, and that’s not going to work very well, you know, so you just have, like, rely — rely on people that know what they’re doing and to clarify intentions, because just one more example — some people with a lot of deep trauma might go, you know, an ayahuasca ceremony or a psilocybin therapy ceremony and there — there could be, you know, potential for re-traumatization. Whereas maybe MDMA would be a better place to start for someone like that. But for another person who doesn’t have a lot of childhood trauma and is maybe looking to — you know, make some life changes and deal with some habits and mild depression or you know, maybe — maybe those other modalities would — would be more appropriate. So it’s really helpful to know, you know, to really seek — seek a good counsel, seek good guidance, and not just be sort of all over the place, trying this and that and everything without a lot of wise guidance.

David:
And if you are working with a therapist, I’m sure your therapist will help guide you towards if you are interested in a therapy psychedelic assisted session. So they’re there to help you. So one thing you’re talking about is like, not everybody can just sit down for like, hours and hours of meditation. I actually host another podcast called Look Again, podcast, and I have three other co-hosts. And these guys have a organization called Holistic Life Foundation and they work with inner city kids, and they teach them yoga and meditation, and they help them just like be embodied and find themselves, I guess. And in some cases, they talk about trauma in form. So it’s like, kids don’t want to sit down because they got some trauma. So sitting down and being quiet, like actually promotes the trauma in their — in their head, in their body. So sometimes they have to do like more movement, somatic base practices, then to try and get them to sit down. So I’m really focusing on what you’re saying about like some — you just have to know what works for you and what situation you’re in, because the MDMA might be better than the ayahuasca. Ayahuasca will tear you up, you know, Mama Aya, she doesn’t care, she just like shows it to you. And sometimes you’re ready to see it and sometimes you’re not. MDMA feels like a warm hug from a lover, or like a warm relationship of like, I love you, and I want to heal you and I want — you know, there’s like different spirits going on with them.

Jamie Beachy:
They can each be difficult in their own way, for sure. And — and very loving, but right, just to — you know, to talk with the people that are doing the therapies, like what do you think would be right for me and seeking out a therapist that has knowledge of, you know, legal settings, and, you know, whether ketamine, or some of the therapies that are legal in the US, might be of benefit. And then if you do go overseas, or seek out something like that, or something in the US, you know, from like, a more harm reduction perspective, it’s just good to, just to ask people who know about this and what seems to — to be the best pathway for your particular goals.

David:
I like how you said, seek the counsel, you know, get a diverse opinion of what could work, what couldn’t work, you know, so you’re informed, because we want to be informed. These — these are adult decisions were making, these are not — oh that sounds fun. I mean, it can be fun, but they can definitely not be fun too.

Jamie Beachy:
Definitely a place for that. And I mean, even if you’re planning to have fun, you know, to get some harm reduction training, just like how to have fun in a safe way, is really important, too. So it actually is fun and doesn’t turn into something that’s very much not fun at all.

David:
Yeah. So I — I have this question. I want to ask it in a very polite way.

Jamie Beachy:
You can just be really straightforward. Chaplains appreciate that.

David:
Okay, here we go. So we as people sensationalize drugs and psychedelics and the healing potential they have and to know how something works, someone, you know, as a therapist or as a chaplain needs to understand the medicine. And so I like — I guess, here’s the question, I sort of wonder, when a person has like one MDMA life changing altering experience, but they’re like a lifelong psychologists, and now they’re like, oh, I’m going to study this and do all my work, but yet they don’t have a relationship with the medicine. Would you see it getting in the way of actually doing the potential work of MDMA or psilocybin, if they don’t have their own practice? Because I feel like I’ve met a lot of upcoming psychologists and or people who talk about psychedelics, but who do not practice psychedelics, and I wonder are we sensationalizing the — the healing modalities of it? Or, you know, like, is it more potential of a person of MDMA to check in with MDMA every now and again?

Jamie Beachy:
I appreciate your question. That’s a debate that’s going on in the — in the field right now, I would say, you know, does someone have to have experience even with a particular medicine, let’s say psilocybin, if they’re going to be a guide for psilocybin journeys in like an oncology setting. And I think the challenge for some of the practitioners is that mushrooms are decriminalized in Denver, you know, and in a few other parts of the country, but in a lot of places, there’s not a lot of easy access and therapists are wanting to — to serve populations and chaplains and be of benefit and not, you know, they’re not really sure how to go about having their own safe experiences. So it’s a little bit of a challenge for people sometimes who even want to explore — explore those pathways. And then there are some people that just think, well, it’s just a medicine just like a pharmaceutical medicine. And, you know, obviously, you don’t have to have been on anesthesia to take care of someone in the ICU, or — I do come down myself personally on the side of being committed to one’s own healing, some way that has a ceremonial quality or a transformative quality, like either working with a psychedelic medicine over time, like if, you know, your goal is to become like a psilocybin therapist, then I think working with psilocybin would be important, you know, in the ways that you’re able to. And there are definitely legal settings if you can afford to get to them and some decriminalized settings. And being a MDMA is a little bit more difficult, though, because MDMA is harder to access. But I think, you know, working with ayahuasca definitely prepares you in some ways to work with psilocybin and doing deep work with psilocybin makes you more likely to probably navigate experiences with MDMA. And so sometimes people have to do their best with what is available as their training. But I would agree with you that having some commitment to deep spiritually transformative practice would be — it’s just my particular take on it would be important. So, you know, practicing in like an earth based community where you do some kind of like form of vision quest, where you go out into the wilderness for days at a time with support, or participating in like — going to like a Vipassana retreat once a year, a 10 day Silent Retreat once a year, you know, brings you into — into that space of transpersonal awareness that then allows, I think, for greater capacity to be a benefit to someone in a psychedelic journey. So maybe that’s a roundabout answer, but I do think that people working with psychedelics should have experience with them. But I also recognize that, you know, for health reasons, or for spiritual and religious reasons, or for access reasons, might not be available. But there are a lot of ways that in our human experience that we — we’ve learned to put ourselves in non ordinary states, you know, and explore those states with a lot of depth and that feeling of risk that people would feel going into a psychedelic journey.

David:
Yeah, beautiful. And, you know, you sort of spoke to this, there’s like legal issues. You spend massive amounts of your younger years or later years, and just time in general, becoming a therapist, becoming clinically trained and getting a Master’s, a doctorate, you know, like a very long process, and then it can be all taken away, because you did something, hence illegal. So there’s, like, you know, your license can be revoked, you can get in trouble with the law. So I do see it as like a legal potential there, in some sense. So you do have to be very careful. And that’s why I’m like really interested in the laws changing, and to lawmakers finding that the role of therapy and assisted psychedelic therapy is very important for people and the health of their community. So I would love to see policy changes over time. And it sounds like MAPS is doing their thing and Naropa is doing their thing. And it’s just like, really beautiful to see the climate of psychedelics and therapy come together.

Jamie Beachy:
Yeah, and our new psychedelic therapy certificate program — our certificate in psychedelic studies, is going to launch in March of this coming year. And we’ll take on some of the questions and the beautiful conversation that you’ve brought — brought here today about right use and what is the best preparation and who should be doing this? And what are the skills needed? And how do we partner with nonprofessional communities, you know, people that have the wisdom, but don’t have all the credentialing, all of those things will be part of our certificate program. And you know, Sarah Lewis and I are co-directors, faculty co-directors for the program. And we have a lot of excitement and optimism about what we’re drawing together and the kinds of people that are coming together to teach for the certificate program. So it’s a really exciting time at Naropa. And hopefully, we’ll have some chaplains in the certificate you know, to explore chaplaincy more, and maybe we can have a conference someday you know about spirituality and religion and psychedelics that would be really, I think, engaging so we’ll see what — what’s about to happen next, but it’s very encouraging.

David:
Man like — like hearing you talk about what might be talked about and or topics in which will be talked about in the course makes me — I’m excited for that. I want to be there. Hit me up, like let me know, I’ll just be like a fly on the wall. I would love to hear the yea’s and the nays of why it’s good, why it’s bad. But within academic setting — a very intelligent academic therapeutic setting would be really beautiful to hear that conversation. So I have one more question for you, and then I’ll let you go. So I’m noticing the — the program in which we’re speaking about it has like an MDMA psychedelic spin to it. And when I think of MDMA, I don’t necessarily think of a psychedelic, I think of as synthetic medicine in which that is like lab created. It’s not like you find MDMA on a flower, or like a root in the ground or something. So I’m curious, how does MDMA become a psychedelic? Because most psychedelics are like plant based, and I guess LSD is kind of like a little — you’re kind of on the fence as well. But how does that work for you?

Jamie Beachy:
Yeah, I would say, you know, some are plant — plant derived and — and then even — even among the plants, and, you know, mushrooms are not technically plants, they’re fungi, and so —

David:
Different Kingdom altogether.

Jamie Beachy:
You know, and there are people that are really committed to the fungi as a whole, you know, being and others that — that are creating synthetic versions of psilocybin. And MDMA, as — as you said, is not necessarily a plant, but it does derive from the sassafras tree. And so there is a way to honor that being as part of the presence of the spirit of MDMA. But I think it’s important, like we were talking about to recognize that everything has spirit, and that there’s a lot of benefit for these medicines, when they’re used in the right way and at the right time, and — and we’re discovering what that means, as a psychedelic therapy community, over time, and more conversations will be had. And so I think that dichotomy is maybe not always helpful, you know, because something can have a beautiful spirit that’s — isn’t necessarily a plant or — or what we need to understand is organic, you know. Some of the technologies we use to, like relieve suffering in the medical world, you know, we’re so grateful to have access to, and they’re not necessarily plants or animals. So humans have this beautiful capacity to create things of beauty when we are doing it in a good way, you know, and then maybe in a — in a thoughtful way, in a way that has heart and perhaps a prayerful way. And so we shouldn’t — I think we shouldn’t underestimate the wonderful things we can create when we’re seeking to relieve suffering, even though we obviously create things that are sometimes not so helpful at — you know, on the other hand, but I think to — to see the benefit that — that they’re showing is — is the proof that there’s a place — there’s a place for all of these spirits, I guess we could say, if that’s what we’re landing on in this conversation.

David:
Yeah. And I just had a thought, where I’m like, science is psychedelic, let’s be honest — splicing molecules, and genes. And like all the things that we have. We have a very useful tool to do good, and to do some bad and to do some psychedelic type of research. So I do see science, whether you know, the drug may be or medicine may be plant based, organically made, and or if it’s scientifically made, there is spirits and potentials for healing, as long as we as people and chaplains, and therapists hold a potent space for such healings.

Jamie Beachy:
And I think a sacred regard for what we’re doing. Whether that’s a — it doesn’t have to be a religious regard, you know, but just the sense of — a sense of the sacredness of this work, and that there’s a place for joy and fun and celebration, and — but in some sense, a feeling of reverence, and just do these — go about this work in a good way.

David:
You know, I really appreciate this conversation with you. I love having like an adult conversation about psychedelics, and I love hearing about the program at Naropa. It feels very unique, and it’s — it’s super new. And you and Sara, I feel are — you have such a good head on your shoulders and you like, together, you both have like five or seven master degrees. So there’s just like a wealth of knowledge that you have. And I’m just really excited for this program to come out and to support it with the podcast, and I really appreciate your knowledge and you speaking with me, and just you’re passionate about therapy. So thank you so much for joining us.

Jamie Beachy:
Thank you, David. It’s been wonderful to be with you and I appreciate the opportunity for conversation.

[MUSIC]

On behalf of the Naropa community, thank you for listening to Mindful U. The official podcast of Naropa University. Check us out at http://www.naropa.edu or follow us on social media for more updates.

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