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Exploring Colonialism & Decolonization In The Context Of Psychedelic Medicine

How Can Psychedelic Practitioners Work Towards Liberating the Mind from Colonial Ways?





In our quest for understanding the appropriate intersections of mental health and psychedelic medicine, it is essential to explore the profound impacts of colonialism and the importance of engaging in a de-colonial perspective.


Colonialism, historically characterized by the domination and exploitation of one culture or society by another, has left deep imprints on the psyche of communities worldwide. De-colonialism, its counter-movement, advocates for reclaiming autonomy, cultural identity, and other ways of knowing and healing from the lingering effects of colonial ideologies.


This piece of writing is a prelude to a larger conversation about decolonizing the psychedelic renaissance in order to rethink credentialing for psychedelic professionals. Let’s get into the relationship between colonialism, de-colonialism, and their connection to mental health, with a focus on how psychedelic work and de-colonial work go hand-in-hand.


What are Colonialism and De-colonialism?


In order to understand this piece and Elemental’s approach to conscious credentialing for psychedelic professionals, it is important to understand our definitions of colonialism and de-colonialism.


Colonialism: Colonialism refers to the practice of industrialized nations and empires - foreign invaders - extending their dominance over indigenous inhabitants, exploiting their resources, enslaving or dispossessing their populations, and imposing their cultural, religious, political, and economic systems. The consequences of colonialism include:

  • Forced assimilation

  • Cultural erasure

  • Trauma

  • Disempowerment

  • Extraction of culture and resources


Each of these components leaves lasting scars on the collective consciousness of colonized peoples.


We live and breathe the legacy of colonization in nearly every space we occupy, including our own body-minds, unless we proactively and deliberately engage in the process of decolonization.



De-colonialism: De-colonialism, as an intellectual and socio-political movement, seeks to challenge and dismantle the ongoing effects of colonialism. It aims to undo the dominant ideologies, knowledge systems, and power structures we inhabit today as legacies of colonialism. De-colonial perspectives advocate for honoring diverse cultures and histories, restoring indigenous knowledge, and supporting marginalized communities to reclaim their identities and self-determination.


How Has Colonialism Impacted Mental Health?


Colonialism has profoundly affected the mental health of communities worldwide. The process of colonization involved the suppression of cultural practices, beliefs, and languages, leading to identity crises and feelings of imposed inferiority among colonized populations. Furthermore, the exploitation and violence experienced as part of colonialism results in intergenerational trauma, held and passed down in bodies and in the collective conscious.


The erosion of traditional healing practices and the imposition of Western medical models also have detrimental effects on mental health. Disconnection, dispossession from lands, the spiritual emptiness of colonized ways, and stigmatization of indigenous practices and beliefs have hurt us all.


In summary, colonization affects us all, disconnecting us from the land, spirit, and one another. For Indigenous communities, this impact goes deeper, stripping away autonomy and identity as self-governing entities intricately linked to the land and ancestral practices and has led to increased rates of anxiety, depression, addictions, and other expressions of distress.


How Can De-colonizing Mental Health Lead to Healing?

Decolonization in mental health seeks to reckon with the damaging impact of colonialism by centering the following:

  • Importance of cultural heritage

  • The need for all of us to deepen our knowledge of ancestry, lineage, and land

  • Honoring traditional healing practices

  • Supporting the autonomy of marginalized communities in determining their own sources and methods for healing.


De-colonial perspectives emphasize the importance of addressing historical trauma and intergenerational effects, recognizing that healing is a collective and interconnected process.


How Can Psychedelic Medicine Serve As A Tool For De-colonized Mental Health?


Plant and psychedelic medicines, which involve the controlled and intentional use of various psychoactive substances like ketamine, psilocybin, MDMA, and in some cases, LSD, has gained attention for its potential to facilitate transformative healing experiences. Some of these substances, such as psilocybin, have been used for centuries in indigenous cultures for spiritual and healing purposes. However, as part of colonialism, these practices were stigmatized, suppressed, and later re-appropriated by Western societies.


In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in psychedelic medicine, particularly for treating mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Engaging in psychedelic experiences with a de-colonial lens can facilitate healing by reconnecting with ancestral supports and wisdom, restoring cultural identity, and addressing unresolved historical trauma.


Furthermore, using psychedelics may help many journeyers’ tap into the intricate web of existence, forging a fresh bond with the natural world. As this awareness deepens, they may begin seeking an equitable and more respectful relationship with nature. This often leads to a draw towards indigenous practices and beliefs, mirroring more harmonious ways of life. To truly reconnect with nature for personal healing, embracing the work of decolonization becomes crucial. Indigenous communities hold great wisdom and can guide us towards shifting for our well-being and growth.


When we take a decolonial perspective, we are able to shift our attention away from our individual pain, trauma, and challenges, and by doing so, we can begin to recognize our place within a broader interconnected framework. This may lead us to perceive our personal difficulties as integral components of a more comprehensive collective experience. In this context, the responsibility to solely address our individual issues might diminish, as we embrace the notion that our adversities are intertwined with larger societal struggles. Consequently, we're encouraged to engage with both visible and unseen dimensions and teachers, fostering avenues for both personal and communal healing. For more on Rethinking Hyper-Individualism in Psychedelic Medicine read our blog on the topic.


Psychedelic therapy, guided by safe stewards and medicine keepers/holders, can provide a safe space for individuals to confront suppressed emotions, unprocessed traumas, and feelings of disempowerment. It can allow individuals to gain new perspectives, release emotional burdens, and access deeper levels of self-understanding and self-compassion. Beyond our individual suffering, psychedelic medicine work can further show us the truth of our interconnectedness, the support and wisdom available to us from the great web we are part of, and our responsibilities back to that web.


Conclusion


Bringing awareness to internalized colonial mindsets in the context of mental health requires a commitment to de-colonial approaches that honor different ways of knowing and healing practices. Individuals whose ancestry traces back to colonizer groups bear the responsibility to actively undertake the process of inner work associated with decolonization. This involves dismantling their own ingrained colonial mindsets. For more information on this theory, read 10 Ways White Supremacy Wounds White People: A Tale of Mutuality by Greg Elliott.



In this endeavor, psychedelic medicine can be a valuable tool, facilitating transformative healing experiences that allow individuals to grapple with the impacts of colonialism and embark on a path of self-discovery, greater connection, and collective healing.


As we move forward, it is crucial to foster inclusive, de-colonial mental health practices that recognize the interconnectedness of individuals, communities, and their shared histories.


To learn more about Elemental’s dedication to providing conscious credentialing for psychedelic professionals, visit our blog page.


Are you a practitioner currently providing or considering integrating psychedelic medicine into your practice, view Elemental’s upcoming workshops, training, and circles to help ensure you are ethically, effectively, and safely utilizing the power of psychedelic medicines.


Want to explore this topic further? Keep an eye out for our next blog focused on decolonizing the psychedelic renaissance.


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1 Comment


Article hits a lot of great points. I want to bring the conflict language of “de-colonization“ to your attention. Must we be against something in order to do good? Must there be a devil? A scapegoat for the sins of humanity. This article surely makes it sound as such. For me the medicines have brought an immense amount of peace, which has also allowed me to see conflict where others see “activism”. I encourage you to see if you can express what is good without creating more conflict. Thank you.

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