What is ketamine?
Ketamine is a medication that is deemed an essential medicine by the World Health Organization due to its favorable safety profile. It is classified as a dissociative anesthetic. Ketamine was FDA approved for use in humans in 1970 and has been used in surgical settings ever since. It is now being used off-label to treat a variety of conditions such as depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, substance addiction, disorderd eating behaviors, and other psychiatric conditions. When using ketamine to treat mental health symptoms, it is taken in sub-anasthetic doses, which means the patient is still conscious and aware of their direct experience. Ketamine is typically administered into the body by an IV, intramuscular injection, intranasal (or the nose), or sublingual (dissolves under the tongue)..
How does ketamine work?
Ketamine has been shown to help generate new neuronal pathways in the brain, which is one of the reasons why researchers believe it can be helpful to treat certain mental health conditions. New brain connections being formed is what can help lead people to creating new patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that move them in a more positive direction in life. When someone takes ketamine in a therapeutic setting, they tend to have a more “flexible mind” that leads to more creativity, openness, and acceptance of their present moment experience. Their normal “defense mechanisms” that protect them from painful experiences will step away and the person has a greater ability to process and release emotions and energy that are stuck in their body. This leads to a more calm and balanced internal state.
What is Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy?
Ketamine-assisted psychotherapy (KAP) is the process of harnessing the healing effects of ketamine to support the psychotherapy process. Ketamine is used as a catalyst for change that helps to change the way we respond to difficult symptoms we are experiencing. Ketamine can help increase awareness to difficult thoughts and feelings that are keeping us “stuck” in life. Once we bring awareness to these difficult internal experiences we can then intervene to do something to change the way we respond to them, so we can move in a direction in life that aligns with our personal values and goals. During the ketamine experience, the person is able to access and release the underlying memories, body sensations, and feelings that may be driving their present moment symptoms that are making it difficult to function. KAP is done in three phases; preparation sessions, ketamine sessions, and follow-up integration sessions.
What is integration?
Integration is a word that describes the process that occurs after a ketamine or psychedelic experience. Integration is a process of noticing and discovering different shifts in your body, mind, and spirit after having a psychedelic or ketamine experience. An important part of the integration process is taking what you learned from your experience and applying those lessons into your life to create new patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. It is a time to engage in creative activities and self-reflection. Common “integration activities” include journaling, mindful awareness, spending time in nature, intentional reflection on your ketamine or psychedelic experiences, and other practices that help you to connect with your Self. Integration is a lifelong process that never has an ending, it is something we consistently do to increase our health and wellness.
How many sessions will I need?
The amount of ketamine sessions someone does during the course of treatment depends on each individual person. Usually I ask that people commit to a minimum of at least 3-6 ketamine sessions to receive the benefit that can ketamine can bring you. Sometimes people only do one or two sessions, but this is rare. Ketamine has a cumulative effect which is why a series of multiple sessions is most effective for the majority of people. Most people decide to continue with “booster” sessions that are spaced out and help to maintain the positive effects that occur from your initial series of sessions. You will always have a voice in how many sessions you do and this is agreed upon with your therapist and medical provider for ketamine treatment.
What are the side effects of KAP?
The main side effects of ketamine are nausea and headaches. Your medical provider can prescribe medications that help with nausea if this is something you experience. Some people may vomit, but this is rare. Ketamine will also impact your coordination and balance, which is why you will be asked to lie still during the ketamine session unless you need help going to the bathroom. Ketamine can cause “dissociation” from your body, which can often have great therapeutic value. This type of “dissociation” is not the same as a nervous system dissociation that occurs due to a response to a traumatic or stressful experience. The “dissociation” that ketamine causes is different and is used therapeutically to benefit the patient.