Could taking and integrating ketamine in groups make psychedelic therapy more accessible? This blog explores what happens in the group and why it’s effective.
The following is an abridged version of an article written by Sean Lawlor, published by Psychedelics Today in March 2021.
As psychedelic-assisted therapy continues marching into the mainstream, the issue of how expensive the treatment can be continues to be challenging. One of the most promising strategies is offering psychedelic-assisted group therapy. Let’s consider ketamine, the only psychedelic medicine that’s already legally used in psychedelic-assisted therapy.
Though ketamine’s effects are relatively short-acting (about 1-1/2 hours), therefore requiring fewer therapist hours, each session still costs hundreds of dollars. An ongoing treatment series can easily climb into the thousands.
Group ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KAP) is different. Ketamine’s legality via prescription allows therapists to smoothly translate the modality into groups where an MD is present. As group members can then split the price of the therapist and MD’s time—the largest contributor to high costs of treatment—the overall cost decreases significantly. It appears groups of about 6 are an ideal number. The groups might meet once a month for 4-5 consecutive months or once per quarter, 4 times a year.
What happens in group KAP
Scott Shannon, MD (integrative psychiatrist) has teamed up with Sandra Fortson, LCSW, and they offer group KAP in Colorado. Their 5-week KAP group curriculum includes intake/preparation and personal introductions, 3 experiential sessions and a final integration session. Savings are 50% of what they would be for individual sessions. And, clients get the benefits of hearing from others. Experiencers work through challenges and implement insights with support of the therapist(s) and fellow group members. In this way individual experiencers develop a sense of community and mutual support that enhances their recovery and overall well-being.
Ketamine groups often include an opening shared ritual, time for dialogue, the ketamine experience followed by quiet rest, and, then, a potluck meal, with more time for sharing.
There are archetypal processes of ceremonial rites of passage that have factored prominently into countless cultures through the ages, and their general lack of existence in Western society may have some connection to the rampant isolation, existential confusion, and struggles of purpose and maturity afflicting so many people in this hyper-individualized capitalist paradigm.
Is group KAP safe?
“People are screened ahead of time for concerning medical or psychiatric issues,” Shannon says. “We haven’t seen any safety issues in our groups so far. I think that reflects our experience with KAP in general—that it’s a low-risk, quite safe medical process.”
For folks who have been properly screened and assessed, Shannon has found that the drop in individual attention from the therapist that groups entail does not negatively affect the healing process.
The value of the group
“I think we overrate the value of having an expert in the room, and we underrate the importance of connection and community in our current mental health paradigm,” he reflects. “My observation is that although the attention of the practitioner is more divided in a group, that is more than enhanced by the sense of community and safety and support that comes with it.…With the pandemic, and really just in modern society, one of the major plagues we’re facing is a sense of disconnection, isolation, and removal from our social roots as herd animals. A primary reason I like group KAP therapy so much is that it really makes use of the power of community and group process.”
KAP in a group format will not be for everyone, and it is not a panacea, but the modality holds tremendous promise to help people with a whole lot more than just lowering their bill.
This blog was extracted from a longer article with permission by the author, Sean Lawlor— a writer, and Masters student in Transpersonal Counseling at Naropa University. Contact: seanplawlor.com, or Instagram @seanplawlor.
Check out courses at IMHU about the effectiveness of other therapies using psychedelics:
Ibogaine: A Non-Pharmaceutical Way Out of Addiction
All of the above courses are sponsored by IMHU.org.