5 Healthcare Professionals located in British Columbia were recently the first individuals to undergo legal, experiential psilocybin-assisted therapy for training purposes, in Canada, since psilocybin was made a controlled substance in 1974.
These healthcare professionals, who include a Palliative Care Physician, Emergency Medicine Doctor, Clinical Psychologist, Registered Clinical Counsellor and a Registered Nurse are involved as either trainees or trainers in Therapsil’s Psilocybin Therapy Beta Training Program, which launched on March 1st, 2021. These individuals are also 5 of the 19 healthcare professionals who were granted the first wave of section 56(1) exemptions for psilocybin-therapy training purposes, in December 2020, following a 166-day advocacy campaign led by TheraPsil.
The exemptions, approved by Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, allow the individually approved healthcare practitioners to use, possess, and transport psilocybin mushrooms under the condition “where psilocybin is used for the purpose of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy training in accordance with the TheraPsil Training Protocol and TheraPsil Curriculum”.
TheraPsil, a non-profit patient rights advocacy organization based in Victoria, British Columbia, in accordance with world-leading experts, believes that experiential learning with psilocybin – where trainees undergo their own psilocybin journeys and guide their cohort peers through the psilocybin therapy process – is a crucial learning module that best prepares healthcare professionals to provide this unique therapeutic modality for their patients and clients.
“As a physician who would be treating my own palliative patients with psilocybin, I needed to have this experiential training. It was essential in order for me to be able to properly prepare and guide my approved patients through their own psilocybin-therapy experience. Patients are so physically and mentally vulnerable during treatment as psilocybin opens the brain to new, healing neuronal connections. The trained therapist is crucial to helping the patient establish these new thought patterns and apply them in their lives. I would like to thank Minister Hadju for enabling health professionals, such as myself, to use psilocybin mushrooms for their own training in accordance with globally established protocols.” – Palliative Care Doctor, Vancouver Island
Since March 1st, 2021, 21 healthcare professionals associated with TheraPsil have been learning skills training related to the safe and effective facilitation of psilocybin therapy for palliative patients, in a 10 week, 100+ hour course led by Registered Clinical Counsellor, Dave Phillips.
In the final module, trainees with approved section 56 exemptions practice their skills training by facilitating psilocybin therapy for each other – holding space and guiding them through their experience.
The experiential psilocybin sessions facilitated for healthcare professionals in training, are book-ended by preparation therapy sessions beforehand, and integration therapy sessions following, as per TheraPsil’s standard clinical protocol for patients, based on the robust research of institutions such as Johns Hopkins, UCLA, and NYU.
TheraPsil’s lead psilocybin-therapy trainer, section 56 exemption holder, and Registered Clinical Counsellor, Dave Phillips, explains why experiential training is necessary for best practice:
“It is simply the truth of it…the altered state of consciousness when undergoing psilocybin therapy is substantially different than anything that would have been previously experienced by the physician or therapist. The professional, if they are to safely consult and guide this process must have experiential knowledge of this altered state. While psychedelics potentially represent an evolutionary leap forward in the treatment of mental health problems like end-of-life anxiety, the differences between psychedelic care and traditional “talk” methods are so vast that experiential learning is, in my view, mandatory. Healthcare professionals, such as myself, are now able to effectively assess and oversee this process for clients in a way that would have been not possible without my own psychedelic experiences.”
Registered Nurse and TheraPsil’s Clinical Intake Director, Natasha Fearnley, describes the impact of her experiential learning session on her ability to support patients:
“In December 2020, Minister Patty Hajdu granted me a section 56 exemption, alongside 18 other healthcare professionals, allowing me to utilize psilocybin within the context of TheraPsil’s clinical protocol and training program. Over the past 2.5 months I’ve built trusting relationships with two trained guides who led me to spend time truly preparing myself for my own therapeutic experience with psilocybin. Both practitioners were skillfully present and held witness to my entire psilocybin treatment day. Now, they continue to support me in integrating and finding meaning in the powerful mind-altering moments the psilocybin induced.
I have personally used psilocybin many times in my life before this, but I have never before had an experience as impactful and transformative as this one. It is clear that anyone seeking to heal with psilocybin should have access to trained guides who have first-hand experience with this treatment themselves. Experienced psychotherapists understand that healing does not come by simply ingesting psilocybin mushrooms. Healing comes through the journey one takes with their guide, in self growth, learning, and connection.
Through these layers of experiential knowing, I feel more empowered than I have ever been, to continue to help build the necessary foundations of psilocybin assisted-psychotherapy access in Canada, and ensure the patients I interact with everyday in my role at TheraPsil, are fully supported”
The experiential sessions for the remainder of the first training cohort will take place during a weekend retreat over 4 days in Mid-June, pending remaining exemption approvals.
16 of the healthcare professionals in this beta cohort group urgently await the same section 56 exemption approvals as some of their cohort peers, so they may complete their training in psilocybin therapy and provide this treatment option to palliative patients waiting for their support.
“Professional Training in this unique modality is critical to safely and effectively supporting patients who are seeking access to psilocybin-assisted therapy. Health Canada has made it clear they are prioritizing patient exemptions, and while this is excellent news, it is also true that allowing patients access without also allowing exemptions for training is putting the cart before the horse. Health Canada is creating a bottleneck which makes supporting patients in extreme distress nearly impossible. This would be akin to if patients required exemptions to access chemotherapy, but have virtually no physicians trained in how to administer it – absurd!
We have hundreds of Canadians in medical need who message us seeking access to psilocybin therapy and therapists, and without the ability to complete professional training for therapists, we are at a loss. Health Canada has been holding up over 40 doctors, nurses and therapists who have submitted their own exemptions for professional training, for over 2 months, stating they are “not the priority.” This is against the opinions of not only experts, but most importantly against the advice of the patients and health care practitioners being treated with and seeking psilocybin therapy. Minister Hajdu, we thank you for your compassionate leadership so far and we need you to continue to support both patients and the urgent need for healthcare professional training.” – Spencer Hawkswell, CEO, TheraPsil
To date, TheraPsil has supported 30 Canadians in accessing legal psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy since August 4th, 2020.
To meet the growing demand, TheraPsil has now launched 4 training cohorts across Canada and looks forward to helping many more patients by expanding its pool of trained psilocybin therapists across the country, in accordance with continued approved exemptions. Healthcare professionals interested in applying for a future training cohort are encouraged to sign up for the waitlist on TheraPsil’s website here.
TheraPsil looks forward to continuing to support patient applications and working with Minister Hajdu and Health Canada to facilitate an expanded mandate for safe and equitable access to training for healthcare professionals and psilocybin therapy for all Canadians in medical need.
TheraPsil’s Founder and President, Dr. Bruce Tobin, thanks Minister Hajdu for her compassionate leadership so far, stating:
“Canada has a National treasure in Health Minister Patty Hajdu. She has shown uncommon courage and vision in her willingness to allow desperate medical patients legal access to psilocybin. She understands that in an age in which Canadians acknowledge our right to die when confronted with intolerable suffering, we also have the right to try psilocybin, a still-experimental medicine that promises relief for thousands of Canadians. But Minister Hajdu also understands that legal access to psilocybin for therapists as part of their clinical training is crucial to the quality of treatment they are able to deliver to their patients. Our federal government’s policy towards compassionate treatment makes me proud to be a Canadian. Thank you, Minister, for helping to make Canada a world-leader in psychedelic medicine. We are proud of you!”
TheraPsil is a non-profit coalition that advocates for legal, compassionate access to psilocybin therapy for Canadians in medical need. TheraPsil, supports patients with their applications for ministerial approval of psilocybin for medical purposes and connects approved patients with qualified practitioners to receive psilocybin-assisted therapy treatment. TheraPsil has been advocating for compassionate access since 2019.
Individuals experiencing end-of-life or illness-related distress are invited to confidentially contact TheraPsil on the TheraPsil website.
Holly Bennett, Director of Communications, holly @ therapsil.ca
All other inquiries:
Spencer Hawkswell, CEO, spencer @ therapsil.ca