Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Psychedelic Perspectives: The Zendo Project’s Sarah Gael on the Psychedelic Movement’s “Vast Potential” — and its Limits
Category:
Healing

Sarah Gael is a harm reduction officer at Zendo Project, a program sponsored by MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). She started working with MAPS in 2012, coordinating peer-to-peer psychedelic harm reduction services at festivals and events worldwide with Zendo Project before serving as director of harm reduction at MAPS from 2017 to 2020. Sarah is a therapist for MAPS’ clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD in Boulder and she also maintains a private practice as a psychotherapist specializing in trauma, integration, non-ordinary states of consciousness, and ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. 

Gael joined Voices of Esalen’s Sam Stern recently to talk about her work in peer-to-peer psychedelic therapy, recent developments in the decriminalization movement, and more. Read on for some high notes from their conversation, and then tune in to Voices of Esalen this Friday, April 16, 2021, to listen to the full episode on Spotify, Stitcher, Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.


“We're in the middle of this huge psychedelic Renaissance,” Gael began, before going on to paint a compelling picture of the bright future that could be just around the corner for therapeutic psychedelics: “Every day there's more and more information coming out around the potential benefits of psychedelics and therapy and healing, and also a widespread decriminalization movement here in the U.S. really starting to change the landscape of psychedelic substances.”

And the shift goes far beyond the recreational — Gael thinks the increasing acceptance of psychedelics has “vast potential” to affect many aspects of modern life.

1. Potential to revolutionize psychotherapy.

“One of the things that we see in therapy that can be so challenging is the unconscious resistance to looking at [difficult] things, because it's understandable: We experienced traumatic events in our lives, it's painful to go back and feel those emotions and have those memories, and so it's understandable that we disconnect or try to push those things away. One of the things that psychedelics have the potential to do in the right setting is to really help people move past that — to be able to access some of these repressed feelings, thoughts, and memories, and to be able to start to learn from their past and be able to integrate those experiences into their lives so that they're no longer operating from a trauma standpoint... but are able to integrate their past experiences so that they can move forward.”

2. Establish a model of peer-to-peer support to fill in the gaps of mental healthcare.

“I really see that the work that we've been doing with the Zendo project has always been about being able to take what we've learned at festivals [like Burning Man] and take it out into society....

COVID has amplified so many things in our society that need healing. It's amplified inequity, it's amplified societal issues, the failures of our medical system, of our mental health system, of our political system. And we're starting to see through the veil of all of these different systems that are really built upon paradigms that are crumbling right now: Old paradigms of colonialist, patriarchal frameworks that are now really just coming apart at the seams. One of those systems is the mental health system, and we’re seeing its failures. I think it's going to be really important for alternative models of emotional support, like peer support, to be able to be available to people.

There are situations in times where what people need is therapy and professional therapy support, and then I think there's a huge gap where people could just use some emotional support from their peers. I think that we'll start to see peer support really step in to fill that role in the coming years.”

3. An aid to social justice reform.

“One of the things that people can at times become aware of when they're in a psychedelic state is our interconnection and the awareness that there's this thread that connects us all. And I think that if you just stop there and don't actually do the work to integrate those realizations into actual on-the-ground work to dismantle systems of oppression, systems of racism — it's lazy. And it is ineffective. And it's important for us to recognize that these systems of oppression they have influenced, they have been embedded within the framework of the psychedelic movement, just as they're embedded within the framework of all aspects of society right now.

I think what people are waking up to and starting to become aware of within the psychedelic movement is that it has been very white. It has been very disproportionately focused on white people. And we — especially because MAPS focuses on trauma and the healing of trauma and treating trauma, and we know that trauma affects communities of color at a disproportionate level — we can't ethically treat trauma without also ensuring that we are making sure that we are focused on accessibility and making sure that we are getting this care and this treatment out to everyone.”

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?


Intrigued by what you’re reading? Tune into the Voices of Esalen podcast to hear the full conversation with Gael, and subscribe to the podcast to hear more conversations like these!

Listen in

About

Esalen Team

Psychedelic Perspectives: The Zendo Project’s Sarah Gael on the Psychedelic Movement’s “Vast Potential” — and its Limits

About

Esalen Team

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Category:
Healing

Sarah Gael is a harm reduction officer at Zendo Project, a program sponsored by MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). She started working with MAPS in 2012, coordinating peer-to-peer psychedelic harm reduction services at festivals and events worldwide with Zendo Project before serving as director of harm reduction at MAPS from 2017 to 2020. Sarah is a therapist for MAPS’ clinical trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD in Boulder and she also maintains a private practice as a psychotherapist specializing in trauma, integration, non-ordinary states of consciousness, and ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. 

Gael joined Voices of Esalen’s Sam Stern recently to talk about her work in peer-to-peer psychedelic therapy, recent developments in the decriminalization movement, and more. Read on for some high notes from their conversation, and then tune in to Voices of Esalen this Friday, April 16, 2021, to listen to the full episode on Spotify, Stitcher, Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.


“We're in the middle of this huge psychedelic Renaissance,” Gael began, before going on to paint a compelling picture of the bright future that could be just around the corner for therapeutic psychedelics: “Every day there's more and more information coming out around the potential benefits of psychedelics and therapy and healing, and also a widespread decriminalization movement here in the U.S. really starting to change the landscape of psychedelic substances.”

And the shift goes far beyond the recreational — Gael thinks the increasing acceptance of psychedelics has “vast potential” to affect many aspects of modern life.

1. Potential to revolutionize psychotherapy.

“One of the things that we see in therapy that can be so challenging is the unconscious resistance to looking at [difficult] things, because it's understandable: We experienced traumatic events in our lives, it's painful to go back and feel those emotions and have those memories, and so it's understandable that we disconnect or try to push those things away. One of the things that psychedelics have the potential to do in the right setting is to really help people move past that — to be able to access some of these repressed feelings, thoughts, and memories, and to be able to start to learn from their past and be able to integrate those experiences into their lives so that they're no longer operating from a trauma standpoint... but are able to integrate their past experiences so that they can move forward.”

2. Establish a model of peer-to-peer support to fill in the gaps of mental healthcare.

“I really see that the work that we've been doing with the Zendo project has always been about being able to take what we've learned at festivals [like Burning Man] and take it out into society....

COVID has amplified so many things in our society that need healing. It's amplified inequity, it's amplified societal issues, the failures of our medical system, of our mental health system, of our political system. And we're starting to see through the veil of all of these different systems that are really built upon paradigms that are crumbling right now: Old paradigms of colonialist, patriarchal frameworks that are now really just coming apart at the seams. One of those systems is the mental health system, and we’re seeing its failures. I think it's going to be really important for alternative models of emotional support, like peer support, to be able to be available to people.

There are situations in times where what people need is therapy and professional therapy support, and then I think there's a huge gap where people could just use some emotional support from their peers. I think that we'll start to see peer support really step in to fill that role in the coming years.”

3. An aid to social justice reform.

“One of the things that people can at times become aware of when they're in a psychedelic state is our interconnection and the awareness that there's this thread that connects us all. And I think that if you just stop there and don't actually do the work to integrate those realizations into actual on-the-ground work to dismantle systems of oppression, systems of racism — it's lazy. And it is ineffective. And it's important for us to recognize that these systems of oppression they have influenced, they have been embedded within the framework of the psychedelic movement, just as they're embedded within the framework of all aspects of society right now.

I think what people are waking up to and starting to become aware of within the psychedelic movement is that it has been very white. It has been very disproportionately focused on white people. And we — especially because MAPS focuses on trauma and the healing of trauma and treating trauma, and we know that trauma affects communities of color at a disproportionate level — we can't ethically treat trauma without also ensuring that we are making sure that we are focused on accessibility and making sure that we are getting this care and this treatment out to everyone.”

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?


Intrigued by what you’re reading? Tune into the Voices of Esalen podcast to hear the full conversation with Gael, and subscribe to the podcast to hear more conversations like these!

Listen in

About

Esalen Team

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Psychedelic Perspectives: The Zendo Project’s Sarah Gael on the Psychedelic Movement’s “Vast Potential” — and its Limits
Category:
Healing
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