Vancouver Island University will be the first post-secondary institution in Canada to train students on how to use psychedelics to treat mental health conditions.
Last week, the Nanaimo-based university announced the new graduate certificate program, set to launch in September 2022.
The one-year program costs $7,725 and requires applicants to hold an undergraduate degree in health or a related field. Priority will be given to applicants with experience in therapy or healthcare.
Courses in the program include an introduction to psychedelic medicine, trauma-informed and inclusive care, psychedelic-assisted therapy in professional practice as well as a practicum component.
The program was developed and will be coordinated by VIU nursing professor Shannon Dames alongside adjunct professor Pamela Kryskow. It’s also supported by Elder-in-Residence Geraldine Manson as well as other Indigenous professionals and cultural safety experts to support the vision of actively engaging in decolonization and reconciliation.
The coordinators have been developing training to deliver “resilience programming,” which uses ketamine to treat certain mental health conditions. Kryskow is the medical lead for two private psychedelic-assisted therapy programs in B.C. called Roots to Thrive and My Community Thrives.
“Psychedelic-assisted therapy will be an integral part of mental wellness therapeutic models in the very near future,” Kryskow said in a statement.
“The demand for skilled and experienced therapists, nurses, doctors and spiritual care specialists is already growing and through this program we are able to ensure that trained and well-vetted professionals are available to meet that demand,” she explained.
Interested applicants can apply between now and March 31.
The university program incorporates learnings from Roots to Thrive‘s ketamine-assisted group therapy program, created by Dames alongside other academics, Indigenous representatives and health professionals.
After starting the ketamine-assisted program two years ago, it’s had a reported 80-per-cent success rate in helping people with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, substance use issues and eating disorders.
That program is administered through VIU, and uses approaches like mindfulness and self-compassion to reduce stress.
“In a psychotherapy realm, we primarily talk to people at the level of the mind, which may or may not impact people at the level of the body, where trauma resides,” Dames explained.
“In psychedelic-assisted therapy, the nervous system moves into the background, enabling people to drop into their bodies. And it’s in this place that the potential to tend to unhealed wounds and re-orient oneself to the world becomes possible.”
Kryskow and Dames are also working with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to develop a dual certificate to allow students completing the graduate program to also meet requirements for MAPS’s MDMA therapy training program.