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What is Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy?

What is Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy?

In recent years, there’s been growing interest in alternative approaches to treating anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mood disorders—particularly for cases that are treatment-resistant.

One modality gaining attention is ketamine-assisted psychotherapy—a unique fusion of the dissociative anesthetic, ketamine, with therapeutic practices.

If you’re considering embarking on a healing journey with a psychedelic-certified psychotherapist, read on! Ketamine is a fascinating drug that has helped many people make huge strides in treating their mental health.

What is ketamine?

Synthesized in 1962 and approved as an anesthetic in 1970, ketamine is primarily used as a dissociative anesthetic for both humans and animals. Because it’s been in use as an anesthetic for so long, its effects are well-known and well-understood by researchers and medical professionals. Ketamine has gained attention in recent years for its potential therapeutic effects on mental health, particularly in the context of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy.

While the FDA approved ketamine long ago for anesthetic purposes, it is now often prescribed “off-label” for the treatment of certain mental health conditions. Over time, the medical community noticed that ketamine rapidly alleviated depression and suicidal thoughts and, in 2006, around 20% of ketamine prescriptions were for off-label use to treat depression and other mental disorders.

Ketamine belongs to the class of drugs known as arylcyclohexylamines. Its exact mechanism of action is unknown, but it primarily works on the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the brain which ultimately affects the glutamate system in the brain. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation and the promotion of synaptic plasticity, learning, and memory.

By acting as an antagonist at the NMDA receptors, ketamine leads to increased levels of glutamate. This effect on the glutamate pathway is believed to contribute to increased neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new synaptic connections), leading to improved moods and openness to the development of new perspectives and insights.

How ketamine works with psychotherapy

Ketamine-assisted psychotherapy gives you the opportunity to unlock access to creating new neural pathways and heal trauma, with the guidance of a psychedelic-trained therapist.

Ketamine can cause dissociation and dream-like states. These experiences can help you become introspective and lower your defenses so that you are able to more readily process your subconscious thoughts and feelings and address painful emotions or memories.

While the therapist is present with their patient throughout their “trip,” much of the therapeutic work is done in integration sessions, typically 24-48 hours after the ketamine session, in which the therapist helps the patient to process and make sense of the insights gained and how they might be integrated into their daily lives. Ultimately, ketamine-assisted psychotherapy can lead to lasting positive changes in mental health.

Here are some questions we often get from our clients about ketamine-assisted psychotherapy:

Is ketamine legal?

Yes–ketamine has been legally used as an anesthetic since 1970; however, it is a controlled substance and recreational use of it is illegal.

Is ketamine safe?

Yes. Ketamine has an excellent safety profile—even at much higher doses than what is used for ketamine-assisted psychotherapy when used for surgical anesthesia. When ketamine is used in conjunction with psychotherapeutic treatment, you and your therapist will follow a low-dose ketamine protocol that has been proven to be safe as long as you go through a comprehensive medical assessment and get clearance to embark on this treatment plan.

Does ketamine-assisted psychotherapy require a medical screening?

Before undergoing ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, you’ll undergo a screening process to assess both your physical and mental health and surface any considerations that would disqualify your use of ketamine. Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history, current medications, and any existing health conditions. This is a crucial step to ensure that ketamine is safe and suitable for you.

How do I find a qualified therapist who’s a good match?

You’ll want to get matched with a psychotherapist who is qualified to offer ketamine-assisted psychotherapy and is also someone you feel you can trust. It may be necessary to meet with several mental health providers before you meet someone who feels like a comfortable match for you.

What type of information do I need prior to giving consent for treatment?

Prior to any medical procedure, it’s paramount to get all the information you need prior to giving your consent. You should learn from your mental health provider about the potential benefits, risks, and side effects of using ketamine in this way. You should also be prepared with a clear sense of what your experience might be like and what type of support your therapist will provide. Take the time to ask questions and seek clarification on any aspects of the treatment that may be unclear.

Where should I do my ketamine session?

Some people choose to do their ketamine experience at home while others feel more comfortable going into their therapist’s office. Whichever you decide, your environment should be controlled and carefully curated to help you feel as comfortable as possible.

With a high level of comfort, you have a better chance for a healing therapeutic experience. Make sure you feel comfortable, safe, and prepared for introspection and self-discovery.

How intense will this experience be emotionally?

Ketamine can induce a range of effects, including dissociation, visuals, heightened emotions, physical sensations, and changes in perception. At lower doses, you will likely feel relaxed, calm, and peaceful while maintaining your conscious awareness and ability to talk and/or communicate with others. You may also have an emotional experience and feel joy, grief, love, or overwhelming love and gratitude. You may laugh or cry during your ketamine experience.

It is essential to be aware that ketamine can cause emotional dysregulation and resurfacing of past traumas—so, having an established relationship with a therapist is helpful. Discussing these possibilities with your healthcare provider and therapist can help you prepare mentally and emotionally ahead of time.

How do I set clear treatment goals with my provider?

Whether you’re seeking relief from depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other mental health challenges, establishing clear objectives can guide the therapeutic process. Regularly revisit and reassess these goals with your provider to ensure that the treatment aligns with your evolving needs.

How much does ketamine treatment cost?

It’s important to consider the financial aspect of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. Unlike traditional therapies, it’s not always covered by insurance–and costs can vary widely. Discuss the financial implications with your provider and explore potential options for managing the costs so you’re not surprised when you receive the bill.

What type of follow-up care is typically included?

Of course, your journey doesn’t end with your ketamine sessions—follow-up care is essential. Discuss with your provider how they approach post-treatment support and follow-up sessions. Ongoing care is crucial for monitoring your progress, addressing any lingering concerns, and ensuring that positive changes are being integrated into your life.

Do you have additional questions about that weren’t addressed here? Check out our FAQs on our ketamine-assisted psychotherapy page.

At Synergy Integrative Health & Wellness, we can help you with:

  • The physical and mental health screening required for starting treatment
  • Answering your questions about the process, side effects, benefits, and anything else you need to know
  • Connecting you to a psychedelic-qualified therapist in your area

Check out our ketamine-assisted psychotherapy page for information on our services and many testimonials. We believe strongly in the therapeutic power of ketamine and have seen many clients go through life-changing positive changes.

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