What is Ketamine-Assisted Therapy? (KAT)
As you begin to explore the world of ketamine treatment, psychedelic therapy, and new healing modalities – you will likely come across a variety of new and potentially unknown terms.
Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. Ketamine treatment. Intranasal spray. Lozenges. Integration. Programs, protocols, you name it.
One of the terms you are likely to come across uses the acronym KAT/KAP: Ketamine-assisted (Psycho)Therapy. This article explores in detail what ketamine-assisted therapy is, why it’s important, and what the unique benefits of this unique synthesis are.
OVERVIEW OF KETAMINE TREATMENT
We begin with ketamine treatment. Ketamine treatment is often defined as a clinical program that involves one or several ketamine dosing sessions, done within a clinical setting with a trained clinician.
Existing ketamine clinics are a perfect example of this model. You go through a medical screening process, and can then sign up for single or multiple dosing sessions. Once enrolled, usually on a set schedule with a week or two in-between dosing sessions, you show up at the clinic and will receive your ketamine experience.
Ketamine as a mental health medicine is showing remarkable benefits across a variety of treatment conditions. From treatment-resistant cases to anxiety, depression, OCD, and mental health and wellness broadly.
Ketamine treatment as an off-label mental health treatment has been available for several decades, and there is a large and growing body of scientific and clinical research that supports these results.
There are several methods to receive ketamine treatment, known as ROA (route of administration). There are intramuscular (IM) injections, intravenous (IV) infusions, varieties of oral lozenges, and nasal sprays. When someone is receiving ketamine treatment, it may be any of these ROAs.
While ketamine treatment itself is a powerful healing modality, there are times when clients could receive additional support, whether with supplementary learning materials, ongoing support from an experienced guide or facilitator, or having someone to help unpack and explore the experiences that they have while within the medicine experience of ketamine.
OVERVIEW OF PSYCHOTHERAPY
Most readers here will be more familiar with traditional psychotherapy or therapeutic techniques as a form of healing.
This often involves entering into an arrangement with a trained therapist, and usually heading in for a meeting once a week or so to dig into the past, present, and future circumstances of your life.
Traditional therapy is a powerful modality for many because it can open the doors to uncovering hidden beliefs, biases, or blocks within the individual, all while providing the support, guidance, and recommendations to resolve those and move into more aligned, healthier relationships with themselves, with their immediate relationships, and within their culture and society overall.
Having someone who is well-studied and deeply experienced in matters of the heart and mind is an invaluable resource for many who are going through challenging times in their life, or being pulled along by unconscious forces not yet in their immediate awareness. For this and many reasons, psychotherapy and classic therapeutic containers have existed and been utilized by many individuals for a long time.
However, one of the challenging experiences of therapeutic containers is that the client, the individual themselves, needs to be able to safely and effectively bring these forces to the surface. In order to work with something, it first has to be expressed and communicated to the therapist. That isn’t always an easy process. For individuals dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or repressed memories, it can be difficult if not impossible to express those experiences in language. This makes the process very difficult and takes a long time.
Even once it is expressed, it may bring with it such a weight of emotion, including fear or lack of safety, that the individual may close up and become less receptive to the rest of the therapeutic container.
For many reasons, traditional psychotherapy is poised to receive some help from another modality that helps individuals open up, bring unconscious patterns to the surface, and maintain the emotional safety and openness to begin dealing with these.
That is why the emerging healing modalities such as psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and ketamine-assisted therapy are being studied and practiced deeply – it takes the best from both of these and puts them together in an offering that allows the individual to make sustainable, rapid progress in their journey of individual healing.
WHAT DOES KETAMINE “ASSIST” IN THERAPY?
We have covered ketamine treatment itself, and we have covered therapy itself. What, specifically, does ketamine “assist” within ketamine-assisted therapy?
There are several core benefits that ketamine medicine sessions bring to a traditional therapeutic container and experience.
1. SURFACING UNCONSCIOUS EMOTIONS/EXPERIENCES
Ketamine treatment, through the dissociative and psychedelic properties of the experience, is a powerful tool to help bring unconscious or repressed emotions, memories, and experiences up to the surface of conscious awareness.
The reason this is beneficial is that it provides fertile soil and accessible material that the therapist and client can begin to work with directly in the therapy sessions. It cuts directly to the heart of the matter, to the root cause of the ailments or conditions that the individual is working through.
New connections are provided, hidden memories return to the mind, and an opportunity to view something from a new perspective is granted. Ketamine, and the psychedelic experience broadly, is demonstrating efficacy at providing these opportunities, which is a strong foundation on to build the rest of the therapeutic arrangement on top of.
2. POSITIVE MOOD/AFFECT FOR CHALLENGING EXPLORATION
As we mentioned, there are times when bringing unconscious material into awareness is not enough. There are times when this can be a challenge, because if the memory or connection is too emotionally-charged for the individual to handle at the moment, they may shut down, close off, or resist moving towards examining that.
The second step that is needed is providing an emotional openness, a warm curiosity, and a sense of grounded mental strength within the individual. Due to the neurobiological effects of ketamine treatment, this positive mood is a natural result of treatment.
If an individual schedules a therapy session a few days after a ketamine treatment session, they are often able to come to their sessions with more emotional openness and resiliency, which allows the client and the therapist to move towards that emotionally charged material and make some real headway when processing and exploring it.
With this, what may have taken several months of slow digging to unpack, can potentially be explored in days or weeks because the client is emotionally secure enough due to the lasting mood effects of ketamine treatment to go to those challenging places faster and with more resiliency.
3. SUSTAINED MOOD & OUTLOOK FOR LIFESTYLE CHANGES
In therapy, knowledge of the challenge isn’t the full picture. You then have to take corrective action, whatever that looks like. Making lifestyle changes, having that difficult conversation, and making time for self-care. There are many real-world steps that come after the therapy sessions that are essential for real change to occur.
With the more open perspective and positive mood improvements that accompany a single ketamine dosing session, the individual is in a better position after their therapy sessions to begin taking the real steps toward their own healing and wholeness.
Tangible lifestyle changes are an essential step of healing, and the period after ketamine dosing sessions helps make these changes easier to enact.
4. NEUROPLASTIC WINDOW FOR DURABLE BENEFITS
A fourth way that ketamine treatment assists traditional therapeutic modalities is the neurobiological effect that it has. For 1-2 weeks following a single ketamine dosing session, individuals have an increased level of neuroplasticity.
This is essential mental flexibility. It becomes easier to change long-standing habits, and it becomes easier for new patterns of behavior to solidify and become well-ingrained habits. You can begin to see how helpful this would be when making major lifestyle changes through therapy. Long-standing self-sabotaging behavior can be more easily moved away from, and new more life-affirming habits and ways of acting can be adopted easier by an individual.
WHY THERAPY HELPS KETAMINE TREATMENT
Of course, the favor is also returned equally by traditional therapy for individuals going through a ketamine treatment program.
There are several benefits that traditional therapy can bring to a ketamine treatment protocol.
1. PROCESSING OUTSTANDING EMOTIONS
Human psychology is ancient and complex. It is not always easy to unpack and navigate the maze of motivations and emotions that can arise throughout our lives.
While ketamine treatment is effective at surfacing unconscious beliefs, emotions, memories, and more – it’s not always obvious what they mean or what an individual should do with them.
Having a trained and experienced therapist on your side throughout this process can be invaluable. They can provide the prompts, reflections, and insights to help you get the most meaning out of your sessions, and a more clear understanding of what it means for you and your life.
2. MAKING SENSE OF KETAMINE EXPERIENCES
The ketamine experience has both dissociative and psychedelic properties. The experiences, the imagery, the emotions and feelings, can at times be alien and other-worlds, paradoxical or downright confusing. They can be steeped in ancient mythology, enormously fractal and labyrinthine, or contain messages or experiences that don’t make sense at first glance.
This is again where traditional therapists can help immensely.
They may not have all the answers, but they can provide the questions, the support, and the motivation to continue exploring these experiences, and together you can begin to unearth the meaning and purpose of your experiences.
3. SUPPORT & ACCOUNTABILITY
Major lifestyle changes are always challenging. They ask a lot of you, emotionally, physically, mentally, and socially, for extended periods of time. But you know that the life waiting for you on the other side of those changes is something beautiful for yourself.
Therapists can provide an ongoing support system, an accountability mechanism, and a sounding board to help you stay motivated, clear, and direct when embarking on your path of change. Within the ketamine and psychedelic experience, they can provide messages, lessons, and insights into how to change your life – but they will not change your life for you.
The real change comes outside and after the dosing sessions themselves, and having a therapist on your side to push you forward, help you navigate challenging moments, and more deeply integrate your experiences is another way that therapy benefits ketamine treatment programs.
Ketamine treatment is moving into the mainstream, and this new attention and awareness bring a host of modalities, programs, offerings, and opportunities for individuals to find healing and wholeness in their lives.
Ketamine-assisted therapy/psychotherapy is one of these modalities that is demonstrating positive results for clients. By combining the power and potential of ketamine treatments with the established efficacy of traditional psychotherapy – these two healing modalities combine to bring out the best of both and help clients make great progress quickly, safely, and with ongoing support.
Both of these modalities benefit the other. Ketamine brings novel insights, emotional resilience, mental flexibility, and ongoing mood elevation to traditional therapeutic containers. While traditional therapy brings insight, support, guidance, and accountability to individuals working with ketamine treatment.
There are already opportunities in the world to explore this for yourself now, and the future where the science, research, and clinical offerings continue to grow is certainly an exciting one.
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