Healing takes many forms, and we all continually seek pathways to restore connection and wholeness. Ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KAP) and other psychedelic therapies have great potential to bring profound transformation, and when combined with mindfulness practices, these two approaches enrich each other.
As Thich Nhat Hanh writes in The Miracle of Mindfulness, “In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.”
Mindfulness and KAP
It’s vital to recognize that mental health is not the absence of illness, but the restoration of balance and equilibrium within the ecology of body, mind, and spirit. Psychedelic medicines, as well as mindfulness and meditation practices, possess a unique ability to catalyze the dissolution of our constructed, separate self and reveal the truth of our innate wholeness. In combination, they can gently lift the veil that shrouds our perception, helping to connect to life and the cosmos.
Before we look more closely at specific techniques, let’s consider the symbiosis between mindfulness and KAP. Both approaches share a common goal: to promote healing and well-being, albeit through different avenues. On a deeper level, we might understand this as accessing deeper self-knowledge as a whole, integrated being. While KAP introduces clients to non-ordinary states of consciousness induced by ketamine, mindfulness offers a set of tools to enhance awareness, presence, and self-reflection. Both are potential paths to heightened states of consciousness.
One of our PRATI faculty had this case study to share from their clinical practice:
A 50-year-old male client receiving a series of KAP treatments for PTSD and self-exploration already had an established meditation practice. While these longstanding practices were helpful for him, he felt limited and “stuck” in his progress. His goal in treatment was to support a shift in perspective away from his analytical, rational mind toward a deeper, non-linear awareness of Self. Over the course of seven KAP sessions, he was able to repeatedly access a state of deep mind — an essential foundation of consciousness both objectively aware of and liberated from his worries, traumatic memories, and defense mechanisms. During his integration process, he found his mindfulness practices transforming in depth and focus; rather than analyzing and criticizing his experiences in meditation, he became better able to stay curious about what arises moment to moment. This increased capacity for presence supported his emotional regulation and reduced his reactivity when intense feelings or trauma triggers came up in daily life, contributing to greater hopefulness and well-being.
Mindfulness Techniques for Clients
Mindfulness techniques can be incorporated into every stage of the psychedelic therapy journey. When therapy is approached mindfully, it can foster a holistic and transformative therapeutic environment. From the initial intake — through preparation, the journey itself, and integration — mindfulness can be an invaluable healing tool.
In the psychedelic journey itself, feelings can emerge that clients are not expecting. Mindfulness techniques can help them welcome these feelings, whether they are enjoyable or challenging. A common psychedelic intention prior to journeying is “welcome all that arises.” Mindfulness can help clients welcome and move toward any discomfort that may arise in a psychedelic journey rather than resisting potentially challenging experiences or insights.
Guided Meditation and Visualization
KAP therapists can incorporate guided meditation and visualization techniques to aid clients in navigating the inner landscapes revealed during ketamine experiences. Here are a few techniques:
- Pre-Session Meditation: Prior to a KAP session, therapists may lead clients in a brief mindfulness meditation. This prepares the mind (the “set” aspect of set and setting) for the journey ahead, helping clients enter the session with a calm and open mindset.
- Integration Practices: After a KAP session, therapists can guide clients through mindfulness-based integration exercises. These may include visualizations that help clients explore and integrate the insights and emotions that arose during their ketamine experience.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
Drawing from established mindfulness-based interventions like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), therapists can adapt these techniques to complement KAP:
- Body Scanning: Therapists can guide clients through body scans, promoting awareness of physical sensations and helping clients release tension or discomfort prior to entering the ketamine space.
- Mindful Movement: Incorporating gentle yoga or tai chi exercises, therapists can encourage clients to connect mind and body, fostering a sense of groundedness and flow.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy combines elements of MBSR and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to cultivate and observe thought patterns and beliefs.
- Self-Compassion Practices: Emphasize self-acceptance to help individuals relate to themselves and their experience with greater kindness and less judgment. Doing so can support CBT by helping clients learn to recognize automatic thoughts that are contributing to their emotional suffering. Metta meditation is a profound and useful approach to explore here.
- Conscious Breathing: Encouraging clients to focus on their breath during a KAP session can help them navigate intense emotions or sensations that may arise during their journey. Therapists can guide clients through various breathwork exercises such as diaphragmatic breathing or “square breathing” to manage anxiety or discomfort.
- The insights and experiences gained during KAP sessions can be profound. Mindfulness techniques can assist clients in integrating these insights into their daily lives, ensuring that the healing process extends beyond the therapy room.
- Learn more in-depth integration techniques
Mindfulness Techniques for KAP Therapists
KAP therapists can also cultivate the art of mindful presence to support their therapeutic approach and prepare themselves to hold space for their clients. Here are some techniques to consider to foster mindful presence:
- Grounding in the Present Moment: By practicing techniques for staying grounded in the present moment (such as reciting mantras silently, watching our thoughts, or feeling our feet on the earth), therapists are able to be more fully present with their clients during KAP sessions. This means letting go of distractions, judgments, and preconceptions to create a safe, non-judgmental space where clients can explore their inner landscapes.
- Breath Awareness: The breath is a powerful anchor to the present moment. Therapists can benefit from their own breath-awareness practices to remain centered and attentive, serving as a stabilizing force for their clients during the sometimes turbulent waters of a KAP session.
- Empathetic Listening: Mindfulness practices can help therapists actively listen to their clients’ verbal and non-verbal cues. By being fully attuned to clients’ expressions and language, therapists can respond with empathy and support, strengthening the therapeutic alliance.
- Non-Judgmental Inquiry: When clients share their experiences or emotions, therapists should engage in non-judgmental inquiry, encouraging clients to explore their feelings without fear of criticism or evaluation.
Energetic Benefits of Mindfulness
- Deepen Human Connection: therapists/facilitators in psychedelic sessions can amplify the intention that clients bring into their journey. They witness the client/journeyer as they are empowered to heal themselves and find a more authentic state of being. Therapists can maintain an open state of calm and curiosity, holding their client’s intention during the journey.
- Build a Welcoming Container: psychedelic journeys allow people to access hidden or unfamiliar parts of themselves that are clouded by parts of themselves — protectors, the default mode network, or ego — creating a vulnerability that can be easily affected by the energy in the setting they are journeying within. A psychedelic therapist can assess the energetic space and build a supportive container by encouraging intention setting, releasing negative energy, and creating a sacred space through ritual or incorporating objects the journeyer finds sacred.
Create Space for Deep, Lasting Healing
Psychedelic therapy and mindfulness are partners on a journey toward healing for clients. By incorporating mindfulness practices into their work, KAP therapists can assist their clients in achieving lasting positive outcomes. It is an approach that invites therapists to also be aware of how they hold space and the energy that they bring to every session.
At PRATI’s psychedelic-assisted therapy trainings, we teach mental health professionals to incorporate a wide range of therapeutic practices, including mindfulness. If mindfulness and meditation practices do not resonate with your client, there are many alternative resources available, including these psychedelic integration practices. Whatever methods you choose to use in your practice, we encourage you to hold the sacred at the center of your work, and remember that we are all interconnected and interdependent beings journeying through this web of life!
If you are new to psychedelic therapy or are looking to expand your practice, explore our training offerings. If you’d like updates on the work that PRATI is doing, including webinars and other resources, sign up for our mailing list!
For therapists interested in delving deeper into the relationship between mindfulness and psychedelic therapy, here are some recommended resources:
- The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation – Thich Nhat Hanh
- The Ketamine Papers: Science, Therapy, and Transformation – Phil Wolfson, Glenn Hartelius
- Mindfulness and Psychotherapy – Ronald D Siegel, Paul R. Fulton
- We Were Made for These Times: Ten Lessons for Moving Through Change, Loss, and Disruption – Kaira Jewel Lingo
- Mindfulness for All: The Wisdom to Transform the World – Jon Kabat Zin