The work of the Transforming Chaplaincy Psychedelic Care Network
Rev. Caroline Peacock, DMin, LCSW, ACPE, BCC
Director of Spiritual Health and Community Care, Winship Cancer Institute
Co-Vice Chair of Wellness, Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology
Emory University, Woodruff Health Science Center, Atlanta, GA
The Transforming Chaplaincy Psychedelic Care Network began its work in January 2022. We started with a couple dozen interested members and over nearly two years have grown to 150. Our mission reads: The Psychedelic Care Network convenes professional spiritual care professionals, researchers and educators engaged in or pursuing opportunities to begin psychedelic-assisted therapies. To support safe and ethical practices rooted in principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, we convene monthly to discuss current research and emerging best practices in psychedelic-assisted care, to contribute to this emerging field.
Psychedelic assisted therapy is an emerging field in health and mental health care contexts following the resurgence of clinical trials in the early 2000s. During the mid-twentieth century, numerous clinical trials were underway with promising results, however these were halted under the controlled substances act of 1970. In this new wave of psychedelic medicine there are efforts underway to understand the most effective configuration of the therapeutic teams within psychedelic assisted therapy. Psychedelic experience often includes spiritual experience, and psychedelic medicine has been practiced within spiritually oriented contexts, such as Indigenous communities for millennia. In the translation of psychedelic healing arts into healthcare environments, attention the spiritual, existential, religious and theological concerns have not received ample attention. Our Network aims to change that.
Over the past two years we have gathered monthly for education, networking and community. We have heard from leaders in the field, such as Bill Richards, PhD, therapist and researcher of PAT and author of Sacred Knowledge. Michael Mithoefer, MD, researcher with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Science presented on the history and current work relating to PTSD treatment. We have had presentations on equity (Oriana Mayorga, MDiv), and ethics and safety in psychedelic medicine (Jennifer Jones, PhD, and Aisha Mohammed, LMFT). We have learned about critical clinical themes in psychedelic medicine such as attachment dynamics, from Rabbi Aaron Cherniak. As we round out our second year, we will have a presentation from Roman Palitsky, PhD, lead author of “Importance of Integrating Spiritual, Existential, Religious, and Theological Components in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies.”
As a network we have also focused on networking and advocacy. Many spiritual health practitioners have an interested in this clinical area, but because of very limited opportunity to practice there is a hunger to connect and learn more as the field grows. Over the next few years MDMA and psilocybin assisted therapy may become FDA approved modalities for treatment of particular conditions, such as PTSD and treatment resistant depression. If and when these approvals happen, there will be a need for well-trained therapists step into these roles. Therefore, as a network we are taking this critical time to advocate for the role of spiritual health practitioners/chaplains in this work. Recently the FDA developed guidelines for psychedelic assisted therapy in clinical trials, which did not include our profession on proposed therapist teams. We responded to the invitation for comment with a letter advocating for the inclusion of spiritual care practitioners as “lead monitors” alongside other professionals. We are also connecting with programs offering certification and training in psychedelic assisted therapy to advocate for the inclusion of spiritual health practitioners.
We are also busy presenting on various topics around the globe. Co-convener Steve Lewis, DMin presented at the Association for Professional Chaplains annual meeting. Former co-convener Jamie Beachy, PhD and network member, George H Grant, PhD presented at the historic MAPS Psychedelic Science gathering in Denver this past summer. And network member Jaime Clark Soles, PhD presented on a panel on Sacramental Plants and Fungi at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago alongside Fr. Richard Rohr, Bob Jesse, Jim Marsh and Elaine Pagels.
As we look into our third year as a network we will continue the work of education, advocacy, and networking. Our hope is that through bringing convening spiritual care practitioners who are experienced and interested in psychedelic assisted therapy, we may ultimately improve the care of patients who are suffering. By having qualified spiritual care practitioners attend to the spiritual, existential, religions and theological concerns that naturally arise in a psychedelic experience, we can enhance care for patients. Furthermore, our skills in interdisciplinary collaboration, attention to power dynamics, and awareness of cultural competencies, are an asset to the field at large. As a network, we welcome spiritual care practitioners/chaplains and researchers interested in joining us. To learn more, please go to: https://www.transformchaplaincy.org/about/research-incubator/
1. Psychedelics as Catalysts of Spiritual Development. The Beckley Foundation.
2. At Johns Hopkins, clergy try mind-altering drugs for scientific research – The Washington Post.
3. Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial – Roland R Griffiths, Matthew W Johnson, Michael A Carducci, Annie Umbricht, William A Richards, Brian D Richards, Mary P Cosimano, Margaret A Klinedinst, 2016.
4. Psychedelics for Psychological and Existential Distress in Palliative and Cancer Care.
5. Transforming Chaplaincy Psychedelic Care Network Transforming Chaplaincy [updated 12/15/2021. Available from: https://www.transformchaplaincy.org/about/research-incubator/.
6. Beachy J. Tending the Sacred The Emerging Role of Professional Chaplaincy in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies. MAPSorg. 2021;Volume XXXI(Number 2).
7. Byock I. Taking Psychedelics Seriously. Journal of Palliative Medicine. 2018;21(4):417-21.
8. Cole-Turner R. Psychedelic Mystical Experience: A New Agenda for Theology. Religions. 2022;13(5):385.
9. Griffiths RR, Johnson MW, Carducci MA, Umbricht A, Richards WA, Richards BD, et al. Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial. J Psychopharmacol. 2016;30(12):1181-97.
10. Griffiths RR, Richards WA, McCann U, Jesse R. Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology. 2006;187(3):268-83.
11. Ko K, Knight G, Rucker JJ, Cleare AJ. Psychedelics, Mystical Experience, and Therapeutic Efficacy: A Systematic Review. Front Psychiatry. 2022;13:917199.
12. Pahnke WN. The Psychedelic Mystical Experience in the Human Encounter with Death. The Harvard Theological Review. 1969;62(1):1-21.
13. Pahnke WN, Richards WA. Implications of LSD and Experimental Mysticism. Journal of Religion and Health. 1966;5(3):175-208.
14. Palitsky R, Kaplan DM, Peacock C, Zarrabi AJ, Maples-Keller JL, Grant GH, et al. Importance of Integrating Spiritual, Existential, Religious, and Theological Components in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies. JAMA Psychiatry. 2023;80(7):743-9.
15. Phelps J. Developing Guidelines and Competencies for the Training of Psychedelic Therapists. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 2017;57(5):450-87.
16. Williams MTL, Beatriz C. Diversity, equity, and access in psychedelic medicine. Journal of Psychedelic Studies. 2020;4(1):1-3.