What Does a "Successful" Psychedelic Therapy Outcome Look Like?
Psychedelic therapy is an investment. It’s an investment of time, attention, energy, finances, resources, and more. Ultimately, It’s an investment in yourself. And as with any serious investment, you’d like to receive positive outcomes from the work that you’ve put in.
But in the context of psychedelic therapy, individual healing, and personal growth what is a “successful outcome?” How do you define them, how do you measure them, and most importantly, how do you know if you’re moving in the right direction?
Everyone’s experience is unique, and your personal experience throughout this healing journey will be no different. This makes it hard to make direct comparisons, and in fact directly comparing your experience to others can be counterproductive. The act of trying to fit your journey onto someone else’s path can lead to demotivation, distraction, and unnecessary suffering.
This piece will explore some helpful frameworks and metrics that you can use when defining what your own version of progress and success looks like in the context of your healing journey.
Defining Successful Outcomes
If you’ve found yourself moving through a psychedelic therapy program, there’s likely a level of personal healing or a sense of wholeness that you don’t currently feel. Something is missing. This is a helpful place to start when creating the “North Star,” your primary aim, for your healing journey.
As psychedelic therapy has become synonymous with treating mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression, your healing journey aim may be to alleviate or eliminate those symptoms. It may also be tied to your intentions around self-improvement, self-satisfaction, or a more growth-related aim.
If anything, your psychedelic therapy programs and protocols should help you become more of yourself, help you accept and embrace all of yourself, and move closer and closer towards a sense of wholeness and completeness within yourself.
Now the experiences, the specific healings, and the resolutions that are required to help you move in this direction will be unique to you — but if we are to define any level of successful outcome to aim at, an increasing level of health and wholeness within yourself is a good place to start.
Subjective/Objective Progress Markers
Immediately after aiming at this end goal of increased wholeness, you are tasked with determining how to measure this. How do you know that you’re making progress towards this aim?
Therapeutic experiences and psychedelic therapy in particular largely deal with your lived experience —the subjective experience of what it’s like to be you. Given the beauty and complexity of being human, this is inherently difficult to put into simple metrics or measurements. You can assist this process by looking through an objective measurement sense, and a subjective experiential sense.
Objective progress markers
When you begin working with a new therapist, psychologist, or with a psychedelic therapy clinician, you will often be asked to complete a series of mental health surveys or questionnaires. These surveys are scored on a point-based system, measuring the levels of anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, etc. that you experience on a daily basis.
This is one way to measure progress or outcomes along your journey. By actively reducing the overall scores for anxiety or depression through these programs, you can mark your own progress in healing from these conditions, moving closer and closer towards wholeness and deep acceptance of yourself and your unique life circumstances.
This is one of the ways that your care team will work alongside you to help measure your progress: through regular check-ins against these scorecards. If you want to help yourself and your care team in this process, it’s very important to complete these surveys as they arise throughout your psychedelic therapy programs.
There are also secondary (downstream) physiological markers that you can measure against.
These are not always directly related, but can help to ground your journey in some quantifiable metrics. Measurements such as resting heart rate or blood pressure can be useful in this process.
For example, many highly anxious people can have higher blood pressure or resting heart rates, and in resolving some of the latent anxiety, you can start to see lower HR/BP readings. Of course, this is a secondary marker, and you may see lowered readings without an associated reduction in anxiety symptoms. However, in attempting to translate the highly subjective in the objective, these physiological markers can be another tool you use alongside your care team to track progress.
Subjective progress markers
There are also a number of subjective progress markers or check-ins that you can use throughout your program to track and measure progress.
During your integration periods, you can help track this yourself by taking the time to reflect or journal on questions such as:
- Am I as reactive as I used to be?
- Am I more or less present in the moment?
- Do I automatically assume the worst in new situations?
- Am I still experiencing physical pain/discomfort like headaches, pain intensity, tension, or similar?
- Do I feel as anxious/depressed as I normally do?
- Is there more space between my thoughts and my actions?
- Do I feel like I have more control over my emotional state?
- What is my average mood now?
These guiding questions can help you check-in with yourself along the way, and highlight some areas that are going very well, and others that may need some additional time or attention to keep working on. This is also helpful because if you identify any areas that aren’t making much progress, these can become your intentions for the subsequent dosing sessions.
Overall, the best results will be when you combine the objective and subjective progress markers together. And remember, healing is not a linear path, there are some times where you may make exceptional progress very quickly, and other times when the process takes longer to complete and you may have periods where you feel stagnant or stuck. This is okay, use these as opportunities for care and compassion, and recommit to the process, setting up your space, setting your intentions clearly, using the resources and support you have available to you.
Outcomes vs. Intentions
The journey towards healing and wholeness is an ongoing, perpetual progress. Each time you heal and take more ownership of yourself and your experience, new depths are revealed which bring up new material for future sessions. As a result, it’s hard to draw a firm line in the sand somewhere that says, “Now I am healed!”
Indeed, one of the things that you may need to address on this journey is the very state of mind that seeks for such clear-cut simple answers to highly complex and evolving situations and scenarios.
Similarly, just because your mood has increased throughout treatment does not guarantee that it will stay there forever. This is where integration work and ongoing self-care practices become incredibly important. It’s important to stay with your practice and your intentions to maintain the benefits that you do realize throughout your healing journey.
This presents you with another way to view your healing journey: focused on your commitment to your intentions, rather than an ambiguous “final outcome” for your program. To demonstrate this point: if you are focused solely on the final outcome of your program, you may get to that point where you still feel like there is some work to be done, and immediately overlook the incredible progress that you did make throughout the program —still marking it as a failure.
Instead, it can be helpful to frame this as: “One of my intentions was to connect more deeply with my family, and I’ve noticed progress in this area and I’ve done the work to help that —this is a success.”
There may still be other things you wish to work on, and those will be addressed in time. But part of a successful outcome is recognizing the progress you have made, the commitment you have shown, and the desire you have to continue this process.
Refocusing on your intentions and choosing to put your attention on the progress you do make are powerful ways to build positive momentum throughout your therapeutic programs and protocols.
Engaging With the External World
If you want to see the changes unfolding within yourself, the greatest playground to do that is engaging with the external world. It’s difficult to see internal changes when you are only focused on the internal.
Put yourself into the world. Dive back into your work projects, deepen your relationships and have more conversations, push your growth edges and see what happens. Are you as reactive or scared as you were before? Do you have more confidence than before? Are you better able to handle difficult or challenging events now?
One of the easiest ways to measure and see your own progress is to find yourself in similar situations as before, and notice if you react or feel any different.
As always, it’s important to remember that although this is a journey you are taking for yourself, it is not one that must be taken alone. You have resources and support around you: your Guides, Clinicians, friends & family are all able to help you on this path.
It is hard to be objective about yourself and your growth. One of the greatest ways to view your progress and get feedback is to ask those around you!
Ask questions such as:
- Have you noticed any changes in my mood or personality recently?
- I’ve been doing this program, is there anything that you’ve seen come from this?
- What do you think about my energy/mood/attention these days?
This feedback from others who care about you can be invaluable. They may highlight major progress that you have overlooked, present new information that you can work with, or highlight new ideas that you can use in your other dosing sessions to go even deeper into this healing process.
Moving On to More Sessions?
As mentioned at the beginning, everyone’s healing journey is unique. This includes the timing, the level of medicine work required, and the particular feelings or insights that arise throughout the process.
Some individuals may have highly intellectual experience, filled with insights about their past or present circumstances. Others may have highly embodied experiences of strong emotions or trauma release. All of this is okay, and whatever experience you have is also okay. This also means that some of the things you want to work on may simply take more time and energy to work through!
There is always the possibility of continuing your sessions —in coordination with your care team— to give yourself the time and space and experiences to help you work through whatever you need, and continue your journey towards healing and wholeness. If this is something that might feel like it is appropriate for you, you can surface this with your Guides and Clinicians and begin that conversation.
Healing is not a linear part, and it’s not always clear cut. It’s complex, evolving, and at times challenging, while at other times extremely beautiful.
It’s important to welcome all of yourself and this is how you can measure success in your outcomes and your experiences:
- Monitoring objective/subjective progress markers
- Attach success to your intentions, not final outcomes
- Engage with the world and notice any differences
- Work with care team to customize treatment plans
In doing these steps, you will begin to create the exact circumstances and experiences that are needed for your healing, and continue walking your path towards increasing health, wellness, and wholeness. And that is true success: showing up for yourself and the world, doing the beautiful challenge of healing, and enjoying the process along the way.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at +1 (800) 273-8255, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.
Ketamine is not FDA-approved for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Learn more about off-label uses here.
Side effects of ketamine treatment may include: altered sense of time, anxiety, blurred vision, diminished ability to see/hear/feel, dry mouth, elevated blood pressure or heart rate, elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure, excitability, loss of appetite, mental confusion, nausea/vomiting, nystagmus (rapid eye movements), restlessness, slurred speech, synesthesia (a mingling of the senses).
Do not proceed with ketamine treatment if any of the following apply to you:
- Allergic to ketamine
- Symptoms of psychosis or mania
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- CHF or other serious heart problem
- Severe breathing problem
- History of elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure
- History of hyperthyroidism
- Other serious medical illness
- Pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant
Ketamine has been reported to produce issues including, but not limited to, those listed below. However, lasting adverse side-effects are rare when medical protocols are carefully followed.
While ketamine has not been shown to be physically addictive, it has been shown to cause moderate psychological dependency in some recreational users.
- In rare cases, frequent, heavy users have reported increased frequency of urination, urinary incontinence, pain urinating, passing blood in the urine, or reduced bladder size
- Ketamine may worsen problems in people with schizophrenia, severe personality disorders, or other serious mental disorders.
- Users with a personal or family history of psychosis should be cautious using any psychoactive substance, including ketamine, and discuss potential risks with your MindBloom® clinician before proceeding with treatment.
- The dissociative effects of ketamine may increase patient vulnerability and the risk of accidents.
To promote positive outcomes and ensure safety, follow these ketamine treatment guidelines:
- Do not operate a vehicle (e.g., car, motorcycle, bicycle) or heavy machinery following treatment until you’ve had a full night of sleep
- Refrain from taking benzodiazepines or stimulants for 24 hours prior to treatment
- Continue to take antihypertensive medication as prescribed
- Avoid hangovers or alcohol intake
- Refrain from consuming solid foods within 3 hours prior to treatment and liquids within 1 hour prior to treatment
- Ketamine treatment should never be conducted without a monitor present to ensure your safety