Last month marked a milestone for research into a new treatment to combat depression. The FDA in an 14-2 decision approved a new nasal spray called Esketamine, marking a shift in how researchers understand the use of off-label Ketamine and its derivatives. While the science behind why Ketamine works in lifting depression is still being fleshed out, results from recent research is showing extraordinary outcomes in the use of Ketamine in conjunction with psychotherapy.
Over the last 10-15 years, the off-label and legal use of Ketamine has grown to over 300 clinics in the United States. Most offer Ketamine through intravenous infusion (IV) treatments for patients to come in for weekly or monthly visits. While this method of administration is highly effective, patients have found a need to regularly return to the clinics for booster dosages. Current findings have started to explore pairing Ketamine with deep psychological and therapeutic work, showing a cumulative effect over time when paired with therapy.
A recently published study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs demonstrates the positive outcomes of pairing Ketamine with psychotherapy. With over 235 KAP patients in the study, over a 6 year period, results showed clinically significant reductions in multiple psychological disorders including depression, trauma, PTSD and ADHD. As mentioned in the paper "The psychedelic, or dissociative, effects are an integral part of KAP, not to be feared or avoided, but instead that offer benefit to our patients when supported and integrated in a psychotherapeutic context." Pairing Ketamine with psychotherapy explores a very different approach to bringing together two paradigms that are often at odds with one other, psychiatry and psychology. This integration is bringing new hope to many who are no longer finding relief from SSRI`s or traditional talk therapy alone.
While there are many different protocols available, Ketamine assisted psychotherapy sessions often begin with patients taking a low dosage ketamine lozenge or rapid dissolving tablet. Before that, there is an opportunity for clients to set session intentions, creating a safe container and establishing a good connection with their therapist. The sessions are also an opportunity to see how the patient will respond to the medication, while also exploring any psychological, biographical and/or other material that wants to emerge. Insights from these sessions can allow for patients to have an expanded window into their inner-self, allowing for a wider more expansive perspective to take hold. While the biochemical effects are taking place, there seems to be a window that opens for enhanced mental plasticity in these states, allowing for a person to better understand themselves and their place in the world.
If there are good results in the low dose sessions, patients can then move on to do a high dose inter-muscular (IM) session. These high dose sessions often thrust clients into what is called a deep psychedelic experience, sometimes entering into an egoless states. These states can engender powerful insights about one's Self, the cosmos and a person's connection to something greater then their suffering.
In both low and high dose sessions, clients enter into what researcher Stanislav Grof calls Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness. According to Grof's experience, when our normal intellectual minds are allowed to rest, take a break and move into the background, material is allowed to float up from our unconscious minds, emerging experiences, memories, feelings and other psychic material. In these states, as described by KAP pioneer Phil Wolfson, therapists “serve as refuge makers, guides, interlocutors, who support new mind and the contextualizing of new ways of being; the therapist’s presence supports the here-and-now freedom to refresh, renew, release, and start again, and in the best of conditions and circumstances, a kind of rebooting of the mind, heart, and spirit.”
Having a safe environment and caring individuals to support whatever arises can help complete unfinished business in the mind, allowing for a grounding and integration into everyday life. With more time and future studies we will better understand the mechanisms of action within Ketamine`s rapid resolution of depression. Until then we must trust the accounts of those finding relief and transformation from this novel approach while also being aware of its limitations.
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Wired Article On Ketamine
Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/citedby/10.1080/02791072.2019.1587556?scroll=top&needAccess=true