Despite evidence that psychedelic therapy can unburden those suffering from trauma-related health symptoms, particular care must be taken with those who have experienced sexual trauma, which Lara Charlotte delves into..
There is enough research and anecdotal evidence to suggest entheogenic/psychotropic medicines such as Ayahuasca, Peyote, Psilocybin, MDMA and so on, can very effectively treat of all kinds of trauma, including sexual trauma.
Paradoxically, the spaces in which these medicines are accessed can often be high-risk for individuals to experience either new sexual traumas or be re-traumatised. When sexual boundaries are crossed in therapeutic spaces or people with a history of trauma are not well supported there is a real risk of lasting psychological, emotional, energetic and physical harm being caused to both participants and facilitators/healers.
What is Trauma?
Dr Gabor Mate, author of best-selling trauma and addiction book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts says that “Trauma is not what happens to us, but what happens inside of us as a result of what happens to us”.
Any time we experience something that is too overwhelming for our nervous system to process, without the capacity to stop or change that experience we may incur lasting trauma that is stored in the system as an incomplete survival response. Think hyper or hypo aroused states such as fight, flight, freeze and fawn.
This trauma can be repeatedly experienced in the mind, body and spirit, creating impacts on our physical health, concentration, moods, mental health, relationships, vitality and capacity to lead whole and healthy lives.
Sexual trauma in particular has a been associated with higher incidents of re-traumatisation for survivors because of the complex social and emotional challenges that may result from the initial experience.
How to stay safe in Psychedelic Spaces
Since the time of the Hippocratic Oath and across many different traditions it’s widely agreed that healers and patients should not engage in sexual activity, physical, verbal or otherwise as this can severely compromise the patients healing and impact the healers competency. It is also my belief that the role between teacher and student should be respected in the same way.
It’s very important to be honest about your own history of trauma and take responsibility for researching and seeking safe spaces if you are engaging in any consciousness altering practices, even yoga! Likewise, anyone working with others should ideally also educate themselves to become trauma informed. There is a fantastic program run by Atira Tan which supports practitioners in this way.
If you have experienced Sexual Trauma in the past, I strongly suggest getting a clear understanding of the way this may impact you, especially when under stress. Stress, isn’t always negative experiences, for example a powerful yet positive feeling psychedelic experience is still highly activating for the system. This can trigger trauma responses that may not appear to feel bad at the time, but could later lead to more challenges.
One example of this may be feeling deeply attracted to or making meaning about a connection with a facilitator or healer. Many psychedelic medicines are also aphrodisiacs that generate a lot of vitality in the body, open the heart and can make us vulnerable if we already have shaky personal boundaries that have been previously impacted by trauma.
Now more than ever, we need reliable and honest contemporary knowledge of psychedelics to be globally accessible. We rely on your support to keep us going; support the dissemination of everything psychedelic with a one-time or recurring contribution and become a Uthymia community member today!
Ask the people or person organizing the ceremony or retreat about their policy on sexual trauma and how they would deal with that should it come up?
Keep in mind that in different cultures, there may not be the same level of clarity around these topics. In that case is there someone present who speaks your language and can act as a mediator for you?
“If your body feels unsafe, do not override that with your mind, it’s important to create a sense of safety for yourself”
Listen to your body, get to know the signs of trauma activation such as shaking, numbness, feeling spaced-out or hyperactive, panicky, sore… there are many possibilities. If your body feels unsafe, do not override that with your mind, it’s important to create a sense of safety for yourself so that you can regulate your nervous system before pushing ahead with any deeper work.
Things that can help with this will differ for each person but here are some suggestions to try. The most important thing is never doing anything that feels unsafe or “too much”.
Some ideas for creating safety:
- Slow breathing with a longer exhale than inhale
- Talking to someone you feel really safe with
- Moving with the sensations in your body
- Having a hot bath or shower
- Wrapping a blanket around the body
- Going for a walk, or practicing yoga
- Noticing and naming your surrounds
- Gentle self-massage
- Having a nap
A Trauma informed world
As the psychedelic renaissance grows in popularity, without the presence of trauma-informed care there is a real risk of individuals suffering further harm when they are seeking care. While legal frameworks are still very diverse and many of the deepest traditions exist in unregulated spaces, it is up to both community and individuals to continue raising awareness, taking responsibility and seeking accountability so we can create safe effective healing spaces that benefit us all.
To read an in depth article about this subject with more details about academic studies and anecdotal evidence from experienced facilitators, therapists and survivors, visit the Safer Ceremony Website.