VIU psychedelic-assisted therapy program to launch this fall

Left to right: Dr. Pamela Kryskow, VIU adjunct professor, Geraldine Manson, VIU elder-in-residence and Dr. Shannon Dames, VIU nursing professor. || Photo Credit: Vancouver Island University
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As growing research continues to demonstrate that psychedelic-assisted therapies show promise for treating mental health conditions, a new program is set to launch in September at Vancouver Island University (VIU).

The Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy program is a graduate level certificate program offered through the Faculty of Health and Human Services. Designed to train health-care professionals to deliver psychedelic-assisted therapies, it is the first program of its kind to include both theory and supervised practice from an accredited university in Canada.

The program was developed by Dr. Shannon Dames, nursing professor and Dr. Pamela Kryskow, adjunct professor, who is the medical lead of two psychedelic-assisted therapy programs. For several years, Dames and Kryskow have been developing and training others to deliver resilience programming that uses ketamine as the psychedelic agent with a multi-disciplinary team of health professionals.

“Psychedelic-assisted therapy will be an integral part of mental wellness therapeutic models in the very near future,” said Kryskow. “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.”

The program coordinators are also collaborating with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to develop a dual certificate program that would allow people who complete the program to also satisfy the requirements of the MAPS MDMA Therapy Training Program.

The evidence-informed group therapy program aims to enhance mindfulness and self-compassion to reduce stress and has resulted in significant positive impacts on the mental well-being of participants. For the past two years, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy has been integrated into the program as a tool to address treatment-resistant conditions such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, addiction and disordered eating with success rates in 80 per cent range.

“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,” said Dames. “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.”

The curriculum is delivered in collaboration with VIU Elder-in-Residence Geraldine Manson, Indigenous professionals and cultural safety experts, which “supports the program’s overarching vision to actively engage in decolonization and reconciliation for all,” said Dames.

“Co-creating a healing community, referred to as Roots to Thrive, where everyone is welcome and where patients and providers see eye to eye, has transformed how I practice medicine,” said Kryskow. “This format recognizes that health care and therapeutic professionals are in need of the same wellness programs as our patients and clients.”

The 15-credit, part-time program will run from September through August and is designed for working professionals. It includes theory courses, which are provided virtually for three hours each week, enabling participants from across Canada to participate.

Program applicants can register for the program between now and March 31 and should have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in training or education.

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