Elements of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy

The lynchpin of the psychedelic renaissance is effective psychotherapy.

Download our full report.

In recent years, rigorously-designed research studies have demonstrated substantial potential for certain compounds to treat a wide range of mental health and substance use disorders (MH/SUDs), but the psychedelic compound itself is only one part of the equation.

Many experts believe that it is the combination of psychotherapeutic support and psychedelic medication that allows patients to heal or experience reduced symptomatology. If certain psychedelics become available as medications through the FDA approval process, BrainFutures anticipates that a large demand for psychedelic-assisted therapy services will follow.

A great deal of media attention, research, and capital investment have focused on psychedelic compounds themselves and the race to reach FDA approval for currently-illegal drugs such as MDMA and psilocybin. In An Expert-Informed Introduction to the Elements of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy, BrainFutures draws attention to the critical role that therapists play in the psychedelic-assisted therapy process.

BrainFutures conducted interviews with 17 leaders and experts in the field of psychedelic-assisted therapy and consulted with several others to understand the fundamentals of this new treatment modality. An Expert-Informed Introduction to the Elements of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy presents the results of this research.

Core Elements of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy

Read our two-page summary of psychedelic-assisted therapy here.

Psychedelic-assisted therapy is distinct from other types of psychotherapy in large part due to the intense experiential effects of psychedelic compounds and often abrupt, life-changing outcomes of this treatment. As such, psychedelic-assisted therapy requires intensive, highly-skilled therapeutic support.

There is an emerging consensus in the field about the core elements of psychedelic-assisted therapy and how they should be practiced. In this report, BrainFutures discusses each of the following elements in depth:

Screening & Assessment1Determination of whether a patient is a good candidate for treatment and assessment of mental health status.
Preparation2A series of psychotherapy sessions to prepare patients for the psychedelic medication.
Set & Setting3The patient’s mindset (set) as well as the social and physical environment (setting).
Medication Session4A multi-hour appointment when psychedelic medications are administered.
Integration5A series of psychotherapy sessions which can help patients assimilate the insights of the psychedelic experience into their daily lives and gain longer-term mental health benefits.

The Future of the Field

Read our mini-brief on the future of psychedelic-assisted therapy.

The model of psychedelic-assisted therapy as described in our report shows great promise for treating mental health and substance use disorders. However, it is also labor-intensive, time-intensive (for both patients and providers), and costly.

BrainFutures recognizes that the psychedelic-assisted therapy is a developing field. Throughout the report and in our mini-brief, we suggest areas where future innovation and research could reduce costs, expand access, bolster patient safety, and allow providers to customize every patient’s treatment plan.