As more mental-health, counselling, coaching and wellness professionals engage psychedelics in their professions, the more we need a common ethical foundation to guide our efforts. This is important for a variety of reasons, one of which is the fact that treating with psychedelics, or guiding others in their use, is unlike any other form of therapy, counselling or coaching. For instance, with most pre-psychedelic approaches to psychotherapy or coaching, there is no expectation that you have first-hand experience with the condition, state of mind/consciousness or pharmaceutical if involved. You don’t have to have first-hand experience of schizophrenia in order to effectively treat someone with schizophrenia. You don’t have to have used or been addicted to heroin yourself, in order to effectively treat a heroin addict (although it helps). You don’t have to have experienced a psychotic episode or used Clozapine (anti-psychotic), to treat someone with psychosis.
The same cannot be said when supporting, counselling, guiding or treating others with psychedelic medicines. Since psychedelics involve profound and often transformational alterations to thought, perceptions, senses and self (many of which are ineffable), first-hand experience with psychedelics, altered states, mystical states and inner work, is absolutely necessary – to start with.
There is no escaping the FUNDAMENTAL need to have actually used psychedelics and experienced non-ordinary states of consciousness in order to effectively treat with psychedelics or guide others in their use. Personally I also agree with Rick Doblin (MAPS) that one of the best places to start if you are planning to get into treating with, or guiding others in the use of, psychedelics, start with learning about (or getting a degree in) transpersonal psychology. A branch (Fourth Force) of psychology which at least partially, arose out of a need to engage with and understand the psychology of non-ordinary states of consciousness, spiritual philosophies, mystical traditions, mystical states, cosmic consciousness, self-transcendence and psychedelic experiences.
“Eastern spiritual philosophies, various mystical traditions, meditation, ancient and aboriginal wisdom, as well as the widespread psychedelic experimentation during the stormy 1960s, made it absolutely clear that a comprehensive and cross-culturally valid psychology had to include observations from such areas as mystical states; cosmic consciousness; psychedelic experiences; trance phenomena; creativity; and religious, artistic, and scientific inspiration.” ~ Stanislav Grof
The New Age and Holistic Health industries are already tainted somewhat and have lost a bit of respect due to their share of con-artists, snake-oil salesmen and unqualified or unethical “practitioners”. Although not perfect, compliance is voluntary and there is no enforcement body (yet), these basic principles and pledge, is a good ethic guide to start with, for anyone looking at getting into this growing new field of psychedelic-assisted therapy, coaching or guiding.
North Star is a relatively new ethical trade association for the psychedelic field. They recently announced their ethics pledge as a guide and set of principles for the psychedelic industry. Below are the main sections of their ethics pledge which can serve as a guide for anyone setting out in this new industry of psychedelic-assisted therapy, coaching or guiding. More information about North Star, the full pledge and some “possible actions” for each pledge, can be found here.
(1) Start Within
- I pledge to ground my work in the field with work on myself, and to treat personal growth as a lifelong process.
(2) Study The Traditions
- I pledge to grow my knowledge of the history of psychedelics and their many traditions of use, in a good-faith effort to appreciate both the potential of these substances and the conflict and complexity surrounding them.
(3) Build Trust
- I pledge to invest in building trust in my relationships across the psychedelic field, and repair trust where possible.
(4) Consider the Gravity
- I pledge to consider the implications of the choices that I make, understanding the potential consequences of unethical behavior to individuals, communities, and the psychedelic field at large.
(5) Focus on Process
- I pledge to make the process as important as the outcome, letting the future I hope to see guide the approach I take in getting there.
(6) Create Equality & Justice
- I pledge to actively take steps to make the world more equitable and just.
(7) Pay It Forward
- I pledge to support the flourishing of the psychedelic field and the communities in which I work, and to give back should my work lead to personal gain.