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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.[1] 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.

[1] 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.

References

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

Introducing: Dr. Clancy Cavnar, Soltara Integration Support

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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.

Introducing: Dr. Sharon Rafferty, Soltara Integration Support

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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.