In the burgeoning realm of psychedelics, a conversation about professional qualifications and credentialing is fully underway. In this crucial conversation, we find ourselves at a crossroads where the dialogue about stopping colonization is perhaps a missing puzzle piece. In this blog, we tease out some of the intricacies of decolonization and its role in reshaping the landscape of credentialing and embodied learning for the new “psychedelic professional.”
To better understand the underlying message of this blog, consider reviewing our critical introduction to colonialism and de-colonialism within the framework of psychedelic medicine found in a prior blog post.
We begin this exploration with a look into the influence of colonialism on mental health and psychedelics, aiming to understand how and why we as practitioners need to understand the impact colonialism has on our field and begin to ask the important questions about how we can move and change this landscape through a decolonial lens.
What is The Influence of Colonialism on Mental Health and Psychedelics?
Colonization makes up the very roots of how this country was founded, and thus it makes sense that our values, beliefs, norms, and practices around mental health are formed from its legacy. Everything we have created is on top of a foundation of colonialism unless we have proactively resisted colonization and engaged in a process of re-indigenizing.
More specifically, colonization feeds on relationships of domination and “power over,” and in this way, it goes hand-in-hand with supremacy culture. Human supremacy assumes that humans are at the top of a planetary hierarchy and creates norms of ecocide and extraction of resources. Male supremacy as a norm creates relationships of control, domination, and violence against women, nonbinary, and gender-diverse people. White supremacy assumes the ways of being and doing associated with white culture are the valued norm and thereby creates relationships of exclusion, control, and domination in our social institutions.
The ties between colonialism and mental health are intricate, reflecting how even subtle relationships of power can influence an individual's sense of self and their perceptions of the nature of their suffering. The imposition of foreign norms, belief systems, and socio-economic structures led to a rupture of indigenous identity for those originally inhabiting this land and for those who were brought here against their will. The consequences of such disruptions echo in contemporary mental health struggles, as individuals navigate the challenges of cultural disconnection, marginalization, the burden of intergenerational trauma, and daily microaggressions.
People whose ancestors were the colonizers and who still today likely experience the privilege of whiteness are also impacted by a culture that cuts all of us off from our roots and from honoring a reciprocal relationship with the earth and our human siblings. It is white folks who must stop colonization and also do the work to disrupt white supremacy culture. Similarly, there is a need for white folks to do their own re-indigenizing, i.e. re-connecting with the lands and practices of their ancestors and re-engaging intimate connections with the earth and by extension, their communities and selves.
Stepping into the realm of psychedelics, we encounter the familiar tale of suppression and resurgence. Indigenous cultures across the globe have long employed these medicines for spiritual insights, healing, and connection with ancestors and the cosmos. However, colonial forces demonized and stigmatized these practices, diminishing their cultural significance, until they were “rediscovered” by white Westerners for extraction and eventual commodification.
The colonial lens painted psychoactive plants and fungi as alien and dangerous, further severing their connection to indigenous practices, ways of life, and the animate natural world. The suppression of these substances not only curtailed their potential for holistic well-being but also perpetuated the colonial agenda of cultural subjugation. A deep-seated bias against non-Western knowledge and practices, rooted in colonial and religious ideology, hindered the recognition of psychedelics' roles in healing, well-being, and spirituality.
What Are The Challenges of Creating Conscious Credentialing in Psychedelic Medicine?
Venturing deeper, we recognize the vast limitations of Western psychology in encapsulating the entirety of the human experience, consciousness, and spirit. As we strive to integrate psychedelics into mainstream healthcare, the danger lies in inadvertently sidelining other vital conversations and replicating forms of domination that are the very marker of colonialism.
Some of the problems of trying to fit psychedelics into white Western professional practice models include:
Limitations of Western Psychology: The primary language of Western psychology simply does not encompass the entirety of the human experience, posing difficulties in accurately addressing complex aspects of consciousness and other aspects of the psychedelic experience. Western psychology is a baby compared to thousand-year wisdom traditions.
Pathologizing the Individual: There's a constant quest in Western mental health models for precise terminology for pathologies, leading to extensive pathologizing of the individual. As the individual becomes the source of dysfunction and the target of treatment, we tend to neglect historical, social and systemic contributors to our pain and suffering.
Inadequacy of Individual Psychology Model: The individual psychology model as it overlaps with psychedelic work can lead us into endless personal processing of pain, trauma, grief, and self-worth and create inflated self-importance and big egos, even while purporting to dissolve egos.
Momentum Shift: While focusing on mainstream integration of psychedelics, the energy to address prohibitionist drug policies and support affected communities could diminish, sidelining broader social justice concerns.
Centering the Center: The emphasis on "centering the center" can overshadow interconnected movements, such as decades of racist drug policies linked to colonization and subjugation. As we focus on making psychedelics accessible to my 80-year-old white grandma who wants to do mushrooms with her doctor in a clinic (which is great, we want that to be available too!), we continue centering those with privileged identities and risk that nothing in our culture, collective relationships, or our systems is actually transformed.
Diverse Priorities: Centering experiences of BIPOC communities, for example, may cause us to center different sets of priorities, like freedom from violence, in contrast to the conventional "right to heal" narrative initiated in white-led advocacy initiatives.
Whiteness as Norm: Standardizing psychedelic practice will necessarily reflect white norms, running a high risk of perpetuating white supremacy culture and ignoring diverse ways of knowing and practicing. White Western education and training tends to be abstracted, impersonal, standardized, rational, and fixed through the written word. Indigenous knowledge methodologies, in contrast, are more often holistic, oral, personal, contextual, experiential, and emergent.
Continuation of Colonialism: Creating credentialing standards based in unchecked white supremacy culture replicates colonial dynamics by imposing white-led standards of practice on many diverse bodies and traditions.
Decolonial Project: A crucial shift lies in recognizing this as a decolonial endeavor in itself, prioritizing non-dominant discourses, and establishing a foundation of relationship with medicine, spirit, and Earth.
Ownership of Healing: The question of "who owns healing" reflects a white Western perspective, prompting reflection on extraction, authority, commodification, and the need to unpack how deep-seated these constructs are in all of us.
Beyond Medical Domain: Just because we use the term "medicine" doesn't necessarily place psychedelics within the confines of the Western medical realm. By default, anything called “medicine” in our Western world belongs to the domain and expert authority of a Western doctor. We must resist this default placement and recognize that Western medicine does not get to “own” psychedelic work.
Creating a New Container: To honor reciprocity, the Earth, and the spirit of these medicines, the creation of a new container is necessary, capable of holding the knowledge and ways of this work. We must also start where we are though. This means we must be honest and real about our histories, and strive to grapple with all of these questions within the professions we belong to, whether social work, counseling, psychiatry, or other health and healing professionals.
While a comprehensive solution to these challenges remains a work in progress for us all, our community is sitting with this material and more as we conceptualize our own offerings in this space. Engaging in difficult introspection and posing essential questions, we're striving to take steps in this ongoing journey of transformation.
How Can Practitioners Stop Colonization In Psychedelic Medicine?
To put it bluntly, we do not have the answer to this question…yet. What we do have, however, are questions that will allow us to keep moving toward the possibility of doing things differently.
We will first start by asking, what if we reframed the narrative and charted a course that puts decolonial principles at the forefront? By addressing several 'what if' scenarios, we envision a future where these principles guide our path. Consider the following:
What would it look like to allow psychedelics to radically transform us and the nature of this new “psychedelic profession”?
What if instead of certification (that reflects a white Western way of evaluating so-called objective learning), we imagined an initiatory process? How do we slow down, be patient with our seen and unseen teachers to guide us through a living process, and honor the time it takes for learning to become embodied?
What if we saw ourselves as stewards of medicine and stewards of consciousness exploration, and within that, understood ourselves within a web of responsibility to seen and unseen living forces? What might it look like to be initiated into a web of responsibility?
What if we recognize that we are a culture often marked by youthful overconfidence and that we require the wisdom of elders and profound insights to attune ourselves to the Earth's rhythm and our inner intuition?
By reframing this narrative and asking these and other such questions, we are beginning the process of calling in something meaningfully new. By recognizing the ways in which the current approach replicates the exact things so many of us are trying to heal from, we begin to build a stronger foundation for new creations. This is what we are attempting to do at Elemental in an effort to build slow, intentional, conscious credentialing as an option among many other programs in the space.
How Is Elemental Psychedelics Engaging with Decolonization in Psychedelic Medicine?
At Elemental Psychedelics we aim for an approach to training, mentorship, and consultation that centers on connection, respect, deep relationship, and reciprocity. We hope to embody an alternative framework that can help bridge the wisdom and spirit of psychedelic practice with the realities of modern health and healing professions.
In the realm of psychedelic professionalism, the call for stopping colonization rings with utmost urgency. As we contemplate the future of credentialing, we must recognize that the conversation is inherently tied to the legacy of colonialism. Standardization, testing for readiness to practice through quantitative exams, qualifying as a psychedelic professional with little or no experience or relationship with the medicine – these all reflect the ways of white Western culture in mental health.
As we shape Elemental Psychedelics into a training organization, we strive to focus on how we can remain firmly rooted in education, experience, and ethics in the time it takes for embodied learning to happen. Here are a few things we have in mind to that end.
Our retreat intensives offer a space to decelerate, delve deep within, nurture our spiritual core, feel as needed into our grief and pain, and provide a stable foundation for personal growth and the amplification of our inner guidance.
In the year 2024, we're expanding our psilocybin facilitator program, focusing on offering multiple entry points tailored to individual paths, both clinical and nonclinical. The program also embraces an ongoing engagement, encouraging consistent interactions over time as your practice matures and transforms.
This journey encompasses everything from introductory workshops, both online and in-person learning modules, immersive retreats, diverse experiential opportunities, and professional guidance, all the way to an international pilgrimage for those profoundly immersed in their path.
To learn more about the Elemental Program visit our website which provides a more detailed look into the Elemental model and the upcoming trainings we are providing to both clinical and non-clinical practitioners who are seeking to add or improve upon the integration of psychedelic medicine into their practice.
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