We are in a time of great turmoil and change, but we are not alone. To all those in our beloved medicine community, and beyond, we wish you safety and well-being, wherever you may be.
If you or someone you know may be interested in working with plant medicine, please help us to spread the word, share the healing, and create ripples of positive change towards a future that serves us all.
With love and infinite gratitude from the entire Soltara family,
Soltara Healing Center
Soltara Healing Center, Costa Rica
When people ask me what ayahuasca is like, I try and offer the simplest metaphor I’ve found to be true in my experience – a really big, really shiny mirror. Ayahuasca reflects life back to you, often in ways you’ve never seen before, if you are willing to look. In this way, it imitates life – condensed, and at high speed. It affords us the perspectives which can typically take years to unfold. It can be painful, it can be difficult; but sometimes, at the end, we discover a sense of clarity, the likes of which we may be experiencing for the first time in our lives. The gift in seeing the full picture like this is, for many, a much clearer understanding of how to move forward.
This pandemic, global lockdown, and disruption to the status quo is a difficult moment for us all. Individual and collective pain, trauma, challenges – chaos. So many emotions coming to the surface, vacillating across the whole spectrum: anger, fear, despair, sadness, contemplation, compassion. Condensing the feelings of years into the span of weeks.
Collectively, this feels like a reckoning. A mirror. Reflecting and magnifying facets of the larger picture. What seeds did we plant in the last decade which are showing up now? Is their fruit enough to feed us all, or do we need to plant differently for this next one?
We’ve now isolated ourselves physically through social distancing, but is this merely the external manifestation of what we’ve been doing for the last several years?
Many of us feel this, deep down. Before this pandemic struck, we as a society have been simultaneously more connected, and yet somehow more disconnected, than ever before. For a simple example (there are so many), we need look no further than the phones in our pockets: the technological miracle of the internet, and social media – the ultimate ‘virtual connector’ – often leads to connecting even less with the people right in front of us, and in many ways, creates another mask; another layer of separation.
For another example, many young people from my generation have been told that happiness and fulfillment are right on the other side of college, a corporate job, and a white picket fence. And yet, when I got there, I realized that instead of meaning and purpose, what I experienced was anxiety, depression, and massive, soul-crushing debt with no clear way out.
The “golden promise,” for me as it has been for so many others, was a lie. My corporate coworkers and I joked (in a way that was half joke, half coping mechanism) that it had instead become “golden handcuffs.”
For others, this disconnect can take the form of a seemingly ‘modern’ society still hopelessly trapped in systems of oppression. Or, as many Americans are experiencing now, severe economic inequality, with so many falling through the holes in our safety net, in what is loudly proclaimed as ‘one of the richest nations in the world.’
When the formulas and societal structures we’ve been told should work, don’t, there is a fundamental disconnect. For me, it was a deep feeling of alone-ness.
They told me it should work like this, and yet I felt completely lost, and unfulfilled – was there something wrong with me? Was I simply just not good enough? Did I fail at doing it right?
As I started to look in the mirror and recognize these gaps within myself, I also had the chance to talk to many people who came through Soltara who felt a similar disconnect. I realized I wasn’t, in fact, alone in this.
This cognitive dissonance has been tearing us apart. It’s created this massive void within us, and all the prescriptions that our modern world has recommended seem to fall short. Following the steps society has laid out doesn’t reliably get us across it; external metrics of achievement don’t seem to fill it; consuming or accumulating more material things doesn’t seem to fill it; and when we try to escape it by numbing ourselves with the cornucopia of distractions and coping mechanisms available to us, it just gets worse.
Technically speaking, modern life should be easier, and more abundant, than ever. Yet stress, anxiety, depression, and economic inequality (among others) have been at all-time highs around the world, even before COVID-19 brought so much more of this to the surface.
And as within, so without. This unprecedented global digital connectivity has brought to light just how disconnected a country’s people are from those in power who claim to serve them. This has become so obvious that 2019 (seems like 10 years ago now, doesn’t it?) was considered by journalists and academics as the year of the Global Protest Wave, bearing witness to street protests “from Paris and La Paz to Prague and Port-au-Prince, Beirut to Bogota and Berlin, Catalonia to Cairo, and in Hong Kong, Harare, Santiago, Sydney, Seoul, Quito, Jakarta, Tehran, Algiers, Baghdad, Budapest, London, New Delhi, Manila, and even Moscow.” (New Yorker).
Across the geopolitical stage, tensions have been rising for quite some time, and the year from 2019 to 2020 has appeared to move things from a simmer to a boil.
I’m no expert in socioeconomics, but this cognitive dissonance seems to be a pervasive theme across class, economics, government, ethnicity, technology, employment, healthcare, and our own individual pursuits of happiness, meaning, and purpose.
This crisis has only made these gaps that much more apparent, condensing what could have taken many more years to see into mere months.
To heal the world we need to start bridging these gaps, within and without.
As a middle child, caught between my parents’ divorce, I’ve had an ability and desire to see both sides of things since I was a kid. More recently, coming from an engineering and scientific background into the world of plant medicine, my sense that there are bridges that need building has been further reinforced.
Bridge-building has since become the north star in my personal and professional life. And in trying to make sense of what’s happening now, this north star appears that much more important as this crisis transitions us from one decade to the next.
The quarantine has afforded me a bit more space to work on my book, which is about my exploration into how we might bridge some of the gaps in our approach to healing – mind and body, science and spirituality, Western medicine and tradition.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from the psychedelic renaissance, it’s that people are yearning for a different approach to healing. While the miracles of Western medicine speak for themselves, when this approach falls short, it deeply affects those who depend on it. In so many of these instances, there are perhaps alternative modalities that present answers where Western medicine has none.
I think the recent boom in Westerners seeking out traditional plant medicine, and the psychedelic renaissance, mirrors our collective yearning to bridge those gaps in our approach to healing, and to connect more fully to ourselves; and even onto something greater than ourselves.
This feels like the way forward.
Seeing multiple perspectives, and the larger picture.
Right now we are collectively staring into the abyss – and to paraphrase Nietzsche, it is staring back. Everything we’ve constructed to form the foundation of our realities, our systems, our meaning that we draw from life, is being called into question.
Do these things really serve us? Have they really been serving us?
We are staring into the unknown like never before and all of a sudden, we are unsure whether what we’ve been constructing as a society is made of bricks, or cards.
This is a chance for us to come together as a global community and decide what we want to build.
Like an ayahuasca ceremony, this crisis is a mirror, and we can’t unsee what we’ve seen. It’s exposing our flaws, our disconnection from ourselves, each other, and the world. It’s uncomfortable. It’s also showing us a way forward.
And like an ayahuasca ceremony, the challenges we’re facing now are a condensed version of what we’ve been facing for years. For many, it was just too spread out for us to see clearly. Now it’s crystal – painfully so.
How we approach these next few months; how we start to reconcile the cognitive dissonance that underwrites this era; how we integrate what we’re seeing and act accordingly; will set the tone for the next decade.
Will we shy away from our reflection in this really big, really shiny mirror? Or will we take this opportunity to bridge the gaps we see?
Certainly for myself I feel a heaviness most days. But between the waves of spontaneous tears there are waves of gratitude for the bright moments, the times where community triumphs over divisiveness, where small acts of kindness become heroic deeds for the magnitude of hope they bring. These are the seeds I wish to tend and sow, water and nurture – to bear the fruit that will nourish us all.
I hope this message finds you safe, healthy and happy. At this odd time in history, I think we have an opportunity to make the best of a crisis, so I wanted to share some of my personal thoughts that might help add some perspective to the situation.
At this point we have all been impacted by COVID-19. It has reached its tentacles around the world and has shaken up life as we know it. We’ve seen commentary from each end of the spectrum and everywhere in between from alarmists to conspiracy theorists to “coronavirus deniers.”
How do we make sense of it all?
One obvious fact that we can agree on and must heed is that the virus passes easily and rapidly from person to person. Our health authorities and our vulnerable people have asked us to distance ourselves from each other to reduce potential touch points where the virus can spread. With no other potential solution at hand right now, we as good citizens must pay attention to this and do as our authorities have advised us (and in some cases, enforced).
This is obviously not what any of us want. It is a challenge for every single person around the planet. But these are the times that have selected us to become leaders and socially responsible citizens. Hard times breed hard people, as my friend @therealbrianrose would say.
While we don’t yet have a proven treatment or a vaccine, there are dozens of potential treatments that show promise and a huge push to make a vaccine available as quickly as possible. I do have faith in human ingenuity and the fact that the global community has mustered the willingness to work together to fight a common enemy. This is unprecedented and gives me hope for not only this crisis but for the other crises that we will almost certainly face in the years ahead. Now more than ever, humanity needs to work together to solve the existential threats that continue to pile up and impede our ability to live sustainably and healthfully for centuries to come.
This episode is proving just how quickly our global community can mobilize around a problem when we need to.
In modern history, we’ve never applied the brakes like this to the incredible momentum of our economy or our society. The economy has been a global juggernaut and any effort at slowing it or changing business as usual has been met with impenetrable resistance on the macro and micro scales. And what we’re seeing now is that all it took was the wrong virus bred in the wet markets of Wuhan to pull the emergency brake and shut everything down overnight. Three months ago this would have been unfathomable. Yet here we are.
Momentum is one of the most powerful forces in physics. It’s hard to start and it’s hard to stop, but once it’s moving, it requires a little effort to stay moving. Having put the brakes on our society’s momentum, this now allows us to build momentum where we want to build momentum, with the future in mind. As we start to build momentum again, as humans, as families, as businesses, as colleagues, and as a society, we now have an unprecedented opportunity to start building the momentum of our choosing. Not just doing what has been done in the past, but doing what should be done in the future because we know how momentum works. We know that the momentum we start to build now will be hard to stop in ten years.
I truly hope this economic “reboot” doesn’t last long, for the sake of all of us. Nobody wants to be in this position. Alas, some things just need to be accepted. Once you accept them you can deal with them. So, let us accept the fact that we’re going through a reboot. Let’s hope it doesn’t last long, but let’s not lose this opportunity to reset, and to start using momentum in our favor.
I’ll be half of all of our team here at Soltara I wish you the best possible outcome in all senses of the word. Our sole objective at this point is to be alive and ready for you, and ready to help heal the world , once we come out the other side of this thing.
With much love and heartfelt support, gratitude, and hope, the Soltara family is here for you.
Founding Partner and CEO
Soltara Healing Center, Costa Rica
Transparency with our community has been our mantra since we started Soltara Healing Center here in Costa Rica. We knew venturing out from our first home in Peru would be difficult but our dreams of bringing the sea, mountains, and jungle together with the medicine were something we all diligently worked to create. Our dedication was worth every second because the work that we are doing at the center truly makes a positive impact on so many people’s lives, including our own. Here at Soltara we are consistently balancing accessibility for those who authentically do not have the means to be able to pay for their services while also running a center with 30+ staff members. This is why we have decided to give back to our community by opening up a scholarship program for those who genuinely do not have the means to participate in a retreat but need the healing. Having dedicated scholarship spots allows us to make medicine a bit more accessible while remaining in good financial health and sustainability to continue to share this medicine with others; If you are interested in donating to the scholarship program to facilitate a retreat for someone please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Soltara has received some inquiries about finances and questions about our costs and since our mantra is transparency with our community we decided to write this blog post breaking down our operations and costs with you! Soltara has been open for two years, and when we first started there we delved into educating ourselves about procedures, costs and business customs of Costa Rica, which are quite different than in Peru. During this learning phase, we’ve had to raise our prices to accommodate for increasing service levels and the quality and number of staff, along with staff health insurance. As our second fiscal year and post-six-figure losses come to a close we have had to revisit our pricing structure and change prices to a level that not only supports our growing costs for operations but also reflects the value of the services that we’re delivering!
Now that we have intimate knowledge of our operational expenses with two years of learning, experimentation, and experience, we now know the limits of our optimal guest capacity and how much revenue we need to generate with that capacity in order to keep our heads above water. We’d like to break down our pricing system so that interested parties can understand where their money goes and how our expenses are broken down. In the interest of doing this, we have broken our pricing into two parts; the professional and medicine services, plus the typical hotel services.
The hotel services are your typical check-in, housekeeping, concierge services and a price per room which reflects comparably what other beachfront hotels at a similar tier of quality in the area, or really in any developed country, are charging. We charge market value for the style and quality of accommodations, and that price is apart from our professional and medicine services. Our price per hotel room is $500 per night, shared between the number of occupants similarly to other hotels (i.e. for our double shared suites, each person would pay $250 per night).
In addition to the $500 per night hotel fee, we charge a flat rate of $2000 per person (for the 5 and 7 night retreats; $3750 for the 12 night retreat) for our professional and medicine services that come in addition to the hotel services. Those professional and medicine services include:
The communication department which performs all guest communication and spends a large amount of time answering questions, coaching, and processing concerns.
The intake process which requires individual analysis of each guest intake questionnaire and passing them on to psychological and medical professionals in the event of any potential conflicts or contraindications.
Our integration and aftercare program which supports guests after their retreat, including a free individual integration session per person as well as resources and monthly virtual integration circles
The sourcing and preparation of all meals for guests, crafted specifically for working with ayahuasca, including the costs of organic, locally sourced food services – we always purchase from local farmers before thinking about purchasing from chain stores.
The logistical coordination which goes into helping guests plan their process, including the preparatory information which has been carefully created to help guests prepare adequately for the process.
Logistics of getting medicine from the Amazon to our center
Logistics of getting staff and healers from the Amazon to our center
Some of the highest wages in the field of ayahuasca retreat centers for our on-site staff as we wish to have the most professional, talented and experienced staff available, whose time and work we appreciate and value so we compensate them accordingly. We have approximately 15 staff who are responsible for some part of the medicine process not including hotel services.
15 local staff to support our programming including their health insurance, holiday pay, and vacation pay
The cost of medicine.
Professional advisory board which supports and guides our programming, mission, ethos, and contributions to the global movement of holistic healing taking place
Various conferences and sponsorships that are important to the field each year.
Our advertising and promotion budgets, social media management, donations, executive staff salaries.
Four on-site vehicles with repairs and fuel.
Legal fees, taxes, and bank fees.
Professional guest transportation to and from the center
We hope this breakdown helps you to understand our costs to sustain Soltara Healing Center, while also understanding our high degree of care and attention to detail, done by professional and experienced people! None of us here at Soltara are bringing in six-figure salaries that you may see in corporate America. All of us are here because we deeply and unquestionably believe in the healing that this medicine has brought to our lives, the lives of those we care about, and whom we have met along the way. Although many of us live hundreds of miles away from our family and take a significant pay reduction compared to what could be made working for large corporate businesses, we all do this work because we love it, and we put our hearts first! This is our small business and we work diligently to not only sustain our center and our employees, but also the community in which we live.
If you have any further questions, please let us know!
The world is standing up in cities across the globe to say “No More!” It’s time for action on the climate crisis and ongoing global ecocide. On the heels of raging fires in the Amazon and around the world, the recent Global Climate Strike is building momentum to pressure our governments for action and the systemic change needed to tackle these crises before it’s too late … which is arguably now.
The Amazon rainforest and ecosystem is an essential and inextricable part of the Earth’s natural life support systems, and one of the most effective and important climate anchors we have. If the Amazon goes, we all go. We are standing in unity with our global family to call for an end to the destruction being advanced right now by capitalistic industrial forces for exploitation of minerals and lumber, and for the development of agricultural land, supported by corrupt governments and industrial lobbyists.
Beyond this global call to action, Soltara’s ties to the Amazon run deep and personal – from the master plant teachers that have healed and transformed us all, to the Shipibo communities we have worked alongside for years, who have opened their hearts and shared their wisdom and medicine with us – we stand in solidarity to continue the fight to protect this sacred land, its peoples, and its medicine.
Amazon Watch and Amazon Rainforest Conservancy are two nonprofit organizations who Soltara has partnered with in order to help them raise money to continue the work they tirelessly do to help protect the Amazon.
Amazon Watch works with indigenous groups to help protect their native lands and lobby governments for indigenous rights, while Amazon Rainforest Conservancy purchases and manages large tracts of virgin rainforest in the Tambopata region of Peru in order to protect it from the highly destructive practice of illegal gold mining, which razes the forest and pollutes the rivers to such a degree that the local fish have become inedible. They are tackling the same problem from different angles. And bravo to them.
Soltara will be matching up to $5000 in donations from our community. We all benefit from this ecosystem, and now we have been called to stand up and help protect her. Please join us in the fight and contribute to this campaign. If you can’t contribute, then please help the cause by sharing in your networks.
From the team and all involved,
Full Interview With Jana Bell
As part of a Soltara fundraising campaign for the Amazon rainforest, CEO and co-founder Daniel Cleland hosts an interview with Jana Bell, founder and president of Amazon Rainforest Conservancy, a Canadian nonprofit organization working to protect large tracts of rainforest in the Peruvian Tambopata region from the highly destructive activities of illegal gold mining.
Full Interview With Leila Salazar-Lopez
As part of the Soltara Amazon Fundraising Campaign, Leila Salazar-Lopez, Executive Director of Amazon Watch, a nonprofit working to protect indigenous land rights and justice, sits down with Daniel Cleland, CEO and co-founder of Soltara, to discuss the situation on the ground in the Amazon and what Amazon Watch is doing to help.
Soltara’s Research Collaboration with Imperial College London & the University of Georgia
Written by Brandon Weiss
It is our sincere pleasure to announce Soltara’s emerging partnership with two distinguished psychological research teams from Imperial College London and the University of Georgia, who will soon begin inviting Soltara’s pasajeros to reflect on their experiences with ayahuasca in ceremonial context and any associated positive psychological effects. The University of Georgia team, led by principle investigator and psychologist, Dr. Keith Campbell, and clinical psychology doctoral candidate, Brandon Weiss, will be examining changes in Five-factor model personality (FFM; i.e., Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness); and the psychological mechanisms that may underlie these changes. These researchers conceptualize psychedelic use as leading to a cascade of psychological and neurobiological processes in which acute changes such as mystical experience, ayahuasca-specific qualia, and re-experiencing of trauma, as well as known perturbations in neural functioning lead to long-standing effects on basic personality traits, emotional/affective traits, and psychological resilience.
They believe personality change occasioned by ayahuasca in ceremonial context is important for at least three reasons. First, and most importantly, examining ayahuasca in ceremonial context permits investigation into the circumstances and mechanisms under which certain personality traits are subject to change. Personality describes “how individuals differ from each other in their persistent patterns of emotion, motivation, cognition, and behavior” (DeYoung, 2015). Personality is associated with the goals we select (e.g., Mount, Barrick, Scullen, & Rounds, 2005), the values we hold (Parks & Guay, 2009), our ability to achieve goals (Barrick & Mount, 1991), and, ultimately, the quality of the lives we lead (Ozer & Benet-Martinez, 2006; e.g., spirituality, well-being, physical health, longevity). Recent empirical findings indicate that the structure of basic personality such as the well-validated and widely used FFM model of personality (FFM; Costa & Widiger, 2002) underlies the structure of mental illness, such that clinical and personality disorders are conceptualized as maladaptive variants of basic personality dimensions (e.g., Kotov et al., 2017). Indeed, inasmuch as individuals are able to change their personalities, they can meaningfully improve the quality of their lives.
Second, although their study was designed to principally examine basic personality, given strong relations between personality and mental illness, their results have strong implications for the effect of psychedelic experience on clinical and mental disorders. Anecdotal reports suggest that ceremonial use of ayahuasca may hold unique efficacy for remediating certain clinical disorders relative to other serotonergic psychedelics. To be sure, the ceremonial use of ayahuasca is distinguished from the administration of serotonergic psychedelics in notable ways including the environmental setting, communal experience, and physically painful and purgative aspects of ayahuasca-ingestion, which each may interact with the psychedelic experience to produce unique psychological outcomes.
Third, as organizations like the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the Heffter Research Institute, the Beckley Foundation, and others progress in revealing the psychiatric and psychological benefits of psychedelics under controlled laboratory conditions, many in the West are beginning to formulate protocols for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapeutic treatment and are duly considering the place that psychedelic treatments will have within the biomedical model of mental healthcare. They believe there is great utility in examining elements of ancient ceremonial practice that may have evolved intelligently to potentiate healing outcomes. The ayahuasca ceremony is one that combines multiple elements which may inform future protocols: a communal/group setting, guiding elements (e.g., chanting of song over the course of the ceremony), and personal engagement with the ceremony leader (e.g., personal icaro song delivered by the healer).
The University of Georgia’s study prospectively examines ceremonial use of ayahuasca through the recruitment of a large sample of 200 participants using self- and informant-reported facet-level measures of personality across three timepoints (i.e., pre-experience, immediately post-experience, 3-month follow-up). A large sample permits an examination of moderation-based effects of individual characteristics including ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, prior use of psychedelics or ayahuasca, previous trauma, and baseline personality. For example, the University of Georgia researchers will be able to examine whether someone’s starting personality influences the type of psychedelic experiences they have and the extent of change they undergo.
Due to growing respect from the scientific community for the ceremonial use of psychedelics like ayahuasca used in ceremonial context, the University of Georgia study and Brandon Weiss have recently been honored with an award and grant from the Source Research Foundation (https://sourceresearchfoundation.org/), an organization led by numerous distinguished scholars and practitioners working within the field of psychedelic science and therapy. As such, we are grateful to the Source Research Foundation for their sponsorship of this important work.
 For example, MAPS supports research on the effectiveness of ayahuasca-assisted treatment for drug addiction and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and in recent years, organizations like Heroic Hearts (HHP) have begun connecting military veterans struggling with PTSD to ayahuasca therapy retreats.
Barrick, M. R., & Mount, M. K. (1991). The Big Five personality dimensions and job performance: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 44, 1–26
Costa, P. T., & Widiger, T. A. (2002). Personality disorders and the five-factor model of personality. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
DeYoung, C. G. (2015). Cybernetic Big Five Theory. Journal of Research in Personality, 56, 33-58.
Kotov, R., Krueger, R. F., Watson, D., Achenbach, T. M., Althoff, R. R., Bagby, R. M., Brown, T. A., Carpenter, W. T., Caspi, A., Clark, L. A., Eaton, N. R., Forbes, M. K., Forbush, K. T., Goldberg, D., Hasin, D., Hyman, S. E., Ivanova, M. Y., Lynam, D. R., Markon, K., Miller, J. D., Moffitt, T. E., Morey, L. C., Mullins-Sweatt, S. N., Ormel, J., Patrick, C. J., Regier, D. A., Rescorla, L., Ruggero, C. J., Samuel, D. B., Sellbom, M., Simms, L. J., Skodol, A. E., Slade, T., South, S. C., Tackett, J. L., Waldman, I. D., Waszczuk, M. A., Widiger, T. A., Wright, A. G. C., & Zimmerman, M. (2017, March 23). The Hierarchical Taxonomy of Psychopathology (HiTOP): A Dimensional Alternative to Traditional Nosologies. Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
Mount MK, Barrick MR, Scullen SE, Rounds J. (2005). Higher order dimensions of the Big Five personality traits and the Big Six interests. Personnel Psychology, 58, 447–478.
Ozer, D. J., & Benet-Martínez, V. 2006. Personality and the prediction of consequential outcomes. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 401-421.
Parks, L., & Guay, R. P. (2009). Review: Personality, values, and motivation. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 675-684
We are pleased to introduce Dr. Clancy Cavnar, psychotherapist and long-time practitioner of plant medicine, to the Soltara Integration Support team. We sat down with Dr. Cavnar to discuss her background, work with plant medicines, and collaboration with Soltara.
Clancy Cavnar has a doctorate in clinical psychology (Psy.D.) from John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, CA. She currently works in private practice in San Francisco, and is an associate editor at Chacruna.net, a venue for publication of high-quality academic short texts on plant medicines. She is also a research associate of the Interdisciplinary Group for Psychoactive Studies (NEIP). She combines an eclectic array of interests and activities as clinical psychologist, artist, and researcher. She has a master of fine arts in painting from the San Francisco Art Institute, a master’s in counseling from San Francisco State University, and she completed the Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She is author and co-author of articles in several peer-reviewed journals and co-editor, with Beatriz Caiuby Labate, of eight books.
Dr. Cavnar specializes in addiction treatment, psychodynamic, CBT, mindfulness, and transpersonal services offered (e.g. one on one, group sessions, integration circles, addiction recovery programs) for individual therapy, teletherapy, pre- and post ritual counseling. She is excited to offer her therapy services to the Soltara community.
Dr. Cavnar says: “The potential for personal transformation is highly accelerated by compassionate, informed examination. As someone who is familiar with psychedelic experience, as well as being a licensed psychologist with specializations in substance abuse and psychedelic therapy, I can offer a comprehensive assessment and treatment focused on a client’s individual needs in a wide range of areas. In addition to work with adults, I have also years of experience working with children, and from this have gained insight into the profound impact childhood experiences have on our growth as adults. I utilize mindfulness and integrate spiritual concepts that I have found useful in my work. I like to I keep an open format so that any topic is welcome without judgment, and invite exploration of the meanings of all feelings, visions, and dreams, with greater connection, wisdom, and happiness as the ultimate goals.”
While Dr. Cavnar believes in the potential healing benefits of psychedelic medicines, she does not work with any of the medicines directly. In adherence to the laws and regulations of the United States, she does not recommend their use in her practice, nor does she provide them herself, or make referrals to those who do.
We sat down with one of our Integration Support team members, Dr. Sharon Rafferty, Ph.D., to discuss her background, philosophies, and approach to healing and integration.
Hi, my name is Sharon Rafferty. I’m a clinical psychologist licensed in the states of California and New York. I’m also a registered yoga teacher with the Yoga Alliance, a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), and a level II Reiki practitioner, initiated into the Usui Lineage by Reiki Master John Latz, founder of the Institute for Structural Integration (ISI) in Miami, Florida. I received my PhD in clinical psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology in 2002 just after completing a 250-hour yoga teacher training program at Synergy Center for Yoga and the Healing Arts in Miami Beach, Florida. I have been a yoga practitioner for over 20 years, a certified yoga teacher for over 15 years, and have maintained a regular meditation and pranayama, or breathwork, practice for almost a decade. My training in both Western psychotherapy and Eastern somatic practices have deeply enriched my own well being, informed my professional work, and inspired me to bring this integrated approach to those whom I serve. As a “mind-body” therapist, I incorporate these techniques into my psychotherapy practice with clients and I have taught these modalities to the graduate students whom I have supervised and trained. I also lead workshops and retreats with a focus on mindfulness and somatic awareness. In 2017, I brought a group of psychotherapy clients to a rustic retreat center in the mountains of Jamaica, where the stillness of the natural environment and the practices of yoga and meditation allowed them to more deeply explore their inner worlds. Through a practice of compassionate self-acceptance my clients were invited to integrate this experience, and the mind-body material it evoked, into their daily lives when they returned home.
In addition to these practices, I have also studied and taught the chakra system, a philosophical system of anatomy at the energetic level. By identifying the specific chakras where clients store physical and psychological distress, I am able to offer interventions that specifically address those areas of functioning. This involves bringing increased awareness to what is happening in the body and how it relates to repetitive and maladaptive patterns of the mind.
Also in 2017, I completed a year-long certificate program in psychedelic-assisted therapies and research. As a clinical psychologist, I have had many clients share with me their use of psychedelics for personal healing. A few of them have experimented with micro-dosing, and several asked me if I would consider serving as a guide for them while they experimented with higher doses. While there are still legal restrictions surrounding the use of psychedelics in the US—and therefore, the ways in which I can support my clients in their journeys—I very much understand the benefits of psychedelic medicines because of my own experiences with them. My personal journeys, particularly with ayahuasca, have undoubtedly impacted and positively influenced both my personal life and the use of somatic and spiritually-oriented practices that are such an important part of the work I do.
At this time, there are numerous reputable and FDA-approved clinical trials being conducted with psychedelics for the treatment of mental health issues such as post traumatic stress disorder, major depression, addiction, and severe anxiety related to terminal illnesses such as cancer. While it is not yet legal in the US for me to work directly and independently with the medicines, I am able to support my clients in the integration of material that emerges during their experiences with psychedelics, and in their participation in ceremonies with ayahuasca and other plant medicines. More specifically, the material that comes up when one of my clients has been in an altered state of consciousness is explored, ad hoc, in the same way that dream work and unconscious material is explored in traditional psychodynamic psychotherapy. Oftentimes, I use a narrative approach to help clients integrate material that is seemingly illogical. I also use a yogic, or Eastern philosophical approach, to create and hold a safe space. Perhaps most importantly of all, I believe in the inner wisdom and inner healer within all of my clients, and I support whatever process is necessary to empower them in this way.
It is truly an honor to support the integration program for the ayahuasca ceremonies offered at Soltara, as I believe that integration is a vital component not only to psychotherapy, but also to the ever-increasing use of plant medicines by Westerners. Unlike the indigenous communities in which these practices originated, the use of plant medicines are not an integral part of our cosmology, our identities, or the fabric of our social lives. We, as Westerners, are often lacking in communal support and in our regular access to the natural environment, two important factors that inherently facilitate integration and personal healing. As a psychologist working in the West, it is clear to me that there is a real need for culturally relevant ways of integrating psychedelic experiences into our modern lives.
So, what is integration? By definition, it is the act or process of uniting different elements together. Like the Sanskrit definition of the word “yoga,” “integration” implies union, or the process of combining multiple parts into a harmonious whole. Combining my skills as psychologist and yoga therapist, I help clients unite, or integrate, a deepening awareness of their body with their mind and of their psyche with their spirit. After a journey with ayahuasca, integration includes the assimilation of the everyday sense of one’s self that exists in this realm, something we commonly refer to in psychology as the ego, with the experiences of the self in the more mystical realms, where the ego has seemingly been dissolved.
Integration sessions provide space for participants to talk about their ayahuasca journeys in order to gain personal insights and to incorporate the experience more fully into their daily lives. In some cases, integration sessions will be used to help people maximize the benefits of meaningful insights and “downloads”; in other cases, it will consist of working through symptoms and memories of past traumatic experiences.
Finally, as I teach in my own workshops and mindfulness retreats, the journey begins with a state of being with “what is.” It involves being present to everything that shows up. It involves exploring what shows up in a non-defensive manner, without resistance, and with compassionate acceptance. Most importantly, it involves trusting both in one’s own inner wisdom and the wisdom of the plant medicines.
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