Making Psychedelic Education Accessible with David Drapkin from Psychedelics Today
David is the Director of Education & Training at Psychedelics Today. David is also a father, husband, and seasoned mental health and addiction practitioner. He has worked on the front line of healthcare for over 15 years. David envisions a future where psychedelics play a central role in redefining true wellness.
We spoke with him about scaling Psychedelics Today, making psychedelic education more accessible, and how to holistically approach psychedelic education.
The Diversity Fund for Vital
Psychedelics Today (PT) has given over $210k in scholarships to students participating in their courses. The money has allowed those with the right experience but without the financial bandwidth to participate and thrive. Instead of replicating the inequalities of our societies, PT wants to make this gap smaller.
Floris: Why did PT set up the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Tuition Scholarship Access Fund (Diversity Fund) for Vital?
David: The Diversity Fund came out of a need we identified over the last six years of educating students. We heard from many students that want and need training but need more financial resources to make it happen.
These students have everything else they need. They have experience, motivation, and a clear direction in life. We already offer payment plans, but this is still not workable for some. It wasn't fair that many people couldn't join, so we started giving out scholarships as much as we were able over the past few years.
In the last year, we formalised this when we launched the first cohort of Vital. We partnered with a non-profit to fiscal sponsor our Diversity Fund, which allows donors to make tax-deductible contributions. In two months, the first 120 students from Vital will graduate and return to their communities, with about 40% having received a scholarship to make their educational journey possible.
By having a diverse and inclusive cohort of students, we're maximising the global impact of our training. Our students will return to BIPOC communities, work with fellow veterans, or help people with disabilities. Others come from developing countries where fewer health services are available. They will bring back an amplified set of skills and combine them with their previous knowledge to have maximum impact.
Floris: Can you make this concrete for the reader? Who are some of the scholarship students that will graduate this April?
David: An example of a student who couldn't afford the program despite their success as a psychologist with a private practice and a family is a BIPOC woman working in an underserved community. The Diversity Fund allowed her to participate and serve her community better, without taking on more loans or credit card debt.
Another student faced financial challenges due to a job loss after losing her job because of microdosing. We have many students from lower-income countries such as Brazil, Lebanon, and Mexico, as well as several Ukrainian scholarship students with families severely impacted by the war.
Despite their difficult circumstances, Vital wanted them to have the opportunity to participate in the course and did not want their financial situation to be a barrier.Donate to the VITAL Access Fund
Why Offer Psychedelic Education Already?
The legality of psychedelic-assisted treatments varies around the world and between States in America. On the one hand, some people say we need to wait until MDMA and psilocybin are FDA-approved soon and until we have national training requirements agreed upon. On the other hand, the skills around psychedelic-assisted therapy can be applied widely outside of FDA-approved treatments.
Ketamine is now being used widely in clinical settings and through telehealth providers at home. People are using psychedelics even more than in the 1960s and we have a moral obligation from a harm reduction perspective to give psychedelic-informed practitioners the skills, competency and scope of practice to safely and responsibly support ‘healthy normal’ people that use psychedelics.
David convincingly makes a case for the latter. He envisions a world where healing occurs in a broader community setting, and education is urgently needed.
Floris: What skills do the students take back home after Vital?
David: The rules and laws regarding psychedelics and the scope of practice for practitioners vary significantly by country and state. Our student body reflects this diversity, with a mix of professionals from various backgrounds and personal experiences.
Our students include CEOs of psychedelic companies, journalists, coaches, therapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, veterans, nurses, PA’s, yoga teachers, meditation teachers, massage therapists, and clergy.
These students will take what they learn and apply it to their existing practices or use it to start new businesses, clinics, or retreat centres. The course offers scientific and evidence-based knowledge and cultural, sociological, spiritual, and transpersonal elements, including indigenous traditions. All our students graduate from Vital with a clearer sense of their personal and professional mission and tangible next steps for continuing their transformation.
The students are encouraged to personalise their learning and do inner work, including participating in healing retreats. These retreats have been deeply transformative, fostering a strong community and allowing students to practice what they have learned.
Vital Psychedelic Training Course
Vital is a 12-month professional certificate training program covering the elements of psychedelic therapy and integration, beginning again in April 2023.Discover Vital
Floris: Let's rewind the clock several years. What was the initial spark for starting the Psychedelic Education Center?
David: A great question, to which the answer is 'questions'. Joe and Kyle [the founders of PT] started receiving many questions about psychedelics through email, social media, and podcast comments.
These questions were complex and nuanced, so they created a training program to provide formal education and training on the topic. The goal was to make the information accessible and to provide a more accurate, inclusive, holistic, integrative, and multidisciplinary understanding of psychedelics.
We felt that there was a moral, civic duty to step into a vacuum where there was insufficient training or awareness about how to safely use psychedelics for personal growth, spiritual exploration, and mental health, trauma or addiction.
We started with one course, and over time this has now grown to 13 courses, with several more in the works for 2013!
Floris: I'm getting a picture of the training PT offers and how it's much broader than only training for psychedelic therapy or coaching. Why does PT offer the courses it does?
David: This weekend, how many people are going to go for a drink in the US? I estimate tens of millions, maybe over 100 million. Though the numbers for psychedelics and cannabis aren't as high, I think it's still in the tens of millions each week.
Now is the time to educate people about drugs, including alcohol and tobacco. Psychedelics are under investigation in clinical trials for treating opioid addictions, alcoholism, and smoking. MDMA-assisted therapy is right around the corner for PTSD.
But right now, people are dying. I've worked with thousands of people in clinical settings. People I've worked with are dead because we didn't have psychedelic-assisted therapies. And there are people I never met in my clinical work because they had already died by suicide or overdose.
The time is now for psychedelics to be fast-tracked and for people who work with psychedelics to get as many skills as possible to help humanity heal. The world is facing a tough time, and the need for healing is more significant than ever. Antidepressants and psychotherapy have limited efficacy. Combining or replacing them with psychedelic treatments could result in much better effectiveness.
The preliminary results from clinical trials, the clinical use of psychedelics in the 60s, and how indigenous communities have built a relationship with psychedelics all speak to this. Humans have always had a connection to psychedelics, but now the need for healing is greater than ever before. Hence the urgency to find more effective treatment models.
We don't know what the world will look like in ten years. All we know is that it will be completely different from now. At PT, we're early adopters, and it gives us a sense of duty to our community. It’s obvious that humanity is rediscovering psychedelic medicine right now and this creates an urgent need to build the cultural container to keep us all safe.
Education for Federal- and State-Level Approved Psychedelic Therapy or Facilitation
Citizens of Oregon recently legalised psychedelic facilitation following the implementation of Measure 109. Everyone in the psychedelic space expects FDA approval of MDMA-assisted therapy (MDMA-AT) for PTSD in 2024. I talked with David about what role he sees for PT in this part of the psychedelic education ecosystem.
Floris: What qualifications and requirements do you foresee if/when FDA approval for MDMA-AT comes around? Is there a future where PT education becomes one of the ways to become an 'FDA-approved' psychedelic-assisted therapist?
David: I acknowledge that the future of psychedelics is uncertain, but the rules and regulations around their use will be established in the next few years. It's essential that the infrastructure built around psychedelics is inclusive and allows for both licensed healthcare workers and non-licensed wellness practitioners to support people who use psychedelics.
People have different needs and preferences regarding psychedelic use, and collectively we must build the infrastructure to accommodate these diverse needs. Training programs such as Vital have an important role to play in empowering practitioners to build a career that fits them and their clients' real-world choices.
The specific prerequisites required for MDMA-AT will depend on the regulations set by the FDA and DEA. I see there being different levels of training for different types of practitioners working with diverse patient populations and in distinct settings. Triage and assessment will be key, but psychedelic medicine is not just a western medical experience; it is crucial that the western medical community doesn't entirely subsume it into their existing infrastructure.
Floris: How is PT currently engaging with Oregon, where Measure 109 legalised psychedelic facilitation at the start of 2023?
David: PT is in the process of applying to get a license as a training provider in Oregon. If we receive a license there, we then hope to enrol a dedicated group of local students in our first cohort of Vital Oregon. We’ve been advocating for many years around issues of decriminalisation and legal adult use, so it is great to see this happening finally.
Vital Oregon is a 12-month professional certificate training program covering the elements of psychedelic therapy, facilitation, and integration, join the waiting list today.Vital Oregon
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has set requirements for 120 hours of didactic education and 40 hours of practicum training. These are excellent starting points for facilitators, but still, this is only the beginning of their education. They will need further support and supervision, ongoing training and receive their own therapy and self-care after receiving their OHA license.
Two other things stand out from the Oregon regulation. The first is that practitioners only need a high school diploma. They don't need a master's degree or clinical license. That sends a powerful message around the accessibility of psychedelic training. Also, the requirement for students experiencing non-ordinary-states-of-consciousness proves the importance of experiential learning, not just theory.
The second point is that participants don't need a clinical diagnosis to get access. In the past, the medical model owned mental health services because it was based on diagnoses and insurance companies paying out. In Oregon, anyone can access psilocybin facilitation without a diagnosis. We will see people flocking there from around the world simply because they want to legally use psilocybin for whatever reason that resonates with them.
At PT, we are focused on providing training and developing competence and skills in the field of psychedelic studies. We design our courses to meet the regulations in states like Oregon, with other states such as Colorado and California likely to be next in line for legal psychedelic healing.
Our goal is to offer training to people worldwide, and our focus on skills and competence means that our courses will be relevant no matter where someone is located. However, we also recognise the importance of matching people with the right practitioner based on their specific needs and the severity of their situation. The more legal and transparent that using psychedelics becomes, the easier it is for practitioners and clients to determine their suitability for working together.
What is Next for Psychedelics Today?
We end the interview with a look forward. Although we can't know what the future will bring, David shares their plans at PT.
Floris: What is missing in the psychedelic education space? And what is next for PT?
David: Training providers in the psychedelics field often have different teaching approaches. Some focus purely on the science and research behind the subject, while others emphasise inward and spiritual practices. At PT, our courses include all the latest psychedelic research and commentary. Still, we balance this with a more holistic and integrative approach that revolves around real-life experiences and relationships. This is what our students are asking for, so it is how we deliberately designed our courses.
It is important to note that many people use psychedelics not because they have a diagnosis but to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their lesser-known selves. Paraphrasing Professor Carl Hart, psychedelic use is part of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In many cases, it is friends, family, or community members who support and hold space for individuals using psychedelics. To hold space for others, it is essential for those involved in the field to first hold space for themselves. This includes understanding their own motivations for the work, being aware of ethical complications and not getting ahead of the medicine. Comprehensive training programs, such as a one-year training course like Vital, can provide intermediate-level learning that can then evolve and grow over time.
Vital's first cohort of students will graduate soon, with applications NOW open for the second cohort starting in April. Looking ahead, PT hopes to expand its reach globally and partner with other aligned organisations to provide high-quality training in real-world settings.
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