Yesterday evening, a group of 15 Canadian healthcare professionals participated in the first session of a groundbreaking training program, hosted by nonprofit advocacy group TheraPsil.
The program, which spans ten weeks and will be led by clinical counselor Dave Phillips, is the first of its kind to commence in Canada. TheraPsil’s Founder, Dr. Bruce Tobin, explained that the launch of this program makes the country “a world leader in psychedelic medicine.”
The curriculum for this cutting-edge training has been approved by Health Canada, and is “hyper-focused” on equipping healthcare professionals with the practical skills necessary to facilitate safe, effective, and legal psilocybin-assisted therapy.
Trainees Undergo Three Psilocybin Sessions as Cornerstone of the Program
Unlike other programs emerging in Canada, TheraPsil’s focus is on psilocybin therapy for end-of-life individuals. What also sets this program apart is the fact that the British Columbia-based nonprofit has already secured the exemptions necessary for its trainees to engage in psilocybin therapy sessions themselves, a core element of their training.
Each trainee will undergo three psilocybin sessions, which take place in a three-day format: preparation, medicine, integration. The first is supervised by a trainer, while the remaining two sessions are conducted by fellow trainees under supervision. TheraPsil describes the learning objectives of these experiences as such:
- Trainees experience the role of the patient in psychedelic psychotherapy, and reflect on it from personal and professional perspectives;
- Trainees experience the healing potential of a non-ordinary state of consciousness
- Trainees apply theoretical concepts and models of psychedelic therapy personal experience;
- Trainees experience the impact of therapist interventions in medicine sessions and develop clinical intuitions about intervention practices.
The legality of this element was achieved via a number of Section 56 exemptions granted by Health Minister Patty Hajdu after 166 days of deliberation. Initially, 17 healthcare professionals were granted access to psilocybin-assisted therapy via the exemptions. Shortly after the approvals were announced by TheraPsil, two other practitioners received exemptions, bringing the total to 19.
Building a National Network of Psilocybin-Assisted Therapists
Graduates of TheraPsil’s program will form a pool of qualified healthcare professionals – referred to as TheraPsil Clinical Associates – from which the nonprofit may draw to provide psilocybin-assisted therapy to the growing number of Canadians receiving Section 56 exemptions. These Canadians are almost exclusively palliative, however, one non-palliative individual (Mona Streleaff) received an exemption in November 2020.
Thus far, TheraPsil has supported 27 Canadians in accessing legal psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy. It hopes that a national network of TheraPsil-trained therapists will augment its ability to scale access for those in need.
“Our beta-program training group is made up of highly skilled and experienced healthcare professionals. When you combine that level of expertise with the passion of using this medicine in a curative way to relieve people of their anxiety and depression, the result will be a game-changer in the world of mental health for Canadians.”Dave Phillips, Clinical Counsellor
The first iteration of the program constitutes a beta model, which CEO Spencer Hawkwswell says will be used to “optimize future iterations of the program, determine next steps,” and allow the nonprofit “to open this program to larger cohorts.” Some of the scaling of the program may be achieved in partnership with other organisations across Canada.
As Regulatory Change Accelerates, Attention Turns to Training Psychedelic-Assisted Therapists
TheraPsil’s program reflects a growing interest in, and attention to, the training of psychedelic-assisted therapists, which is no small feat. Local decriminalisation and legalisation initiatives, coupled with ad hoc exemptions such as those handed-down by Health Canada, are presenting a growing pool of individuals who are able to access psychedelic-assisted therapy.
In response, a number of organisations – for-profits, non-profits, and charities – are seeking to meet this nascent demand to facilitate safe access to such therapy. In the United States, Mount Sinai’s new Center for Psychedelic Research is set to be a leader in this regard. The Center has a core focus on training clinicians in MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, in partnership with MAPS.