The Good, The Bad And The Beautiful: Psychedelic Dynamics

The Good, The Bad And The Beautiful: Psychedelic Dynamics
This piece was co-created with the Synthesis Institute, exploring approaches to the Medical Model Of Psychedelics and The Psychedelic Model Of Medicine.


What Is “Good” Psychedelic Care?

This question sits at the core of ethical approaches to emerging paradigms in care. Whether we seek to create the right “set and setting” for ourselves or others, we have to consider what it means to be in “right” relationship with ourselves, each-other and the environment. While we often associate ethics with binary notions of what’s “good” and “bad” – our dynamic and ever-evolving web of considerations emphasises the importance of remaining open and curious, rather than rigid and closed. This can help us to move from judgment to compassion, by embracing contradictory truths that see the hurt behind the harm within human nature.

A psychedelic model of care, as opposed to a medical model of psychedelics, seeks to support the emotional and existential pain points that are underserved by the current paradigm, fuelled by contributing factors such as extractive neoliberal attitudes and embedded institutional biases. If “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members” then putting the healing back into heal-th by addressing the relational power dynamics inherent to these issues operates on individual, community, and systemic levels – requiring introspection, a sense of connection, and cultural competency.


Minding Matter Vs. The Matter Of Mind

Modern paradigms focused on the tangible, measurable and repeatable (which constitute the consensually factual) have enabled exponential rates of progress that have come at a cost – as we are increasingly disconnected from the intangible factors that give greater meaning to life. This rate of development is also unsustainable, being divorced from the naturally interconnected, balanced, and cyclical timelines of the wider environment.

Synthesis Faculty members Dr. Rosalind Watts and Daan Keiman have highlighted that psychedelic medicines are often described as non-specific amplifiers, historically rooted in ethical lineages and apprenticeships that are absent from many of today’s commercialised containers. Psychedelics, when likened to a knife, are seen as neutral tools that can heal in the hands of a surgeon, yet in the wrong hands can intentionally cause harm. 

However in some animistic belief systems, plant medicines also have an agenda of their own. Social Change Advocate Camille Barton reminds us of the need to make space for multiple perspectives and worldviews that stem from a diverse array of living heritages and experiences. Building an inclusive community that can hold this level of complexity rests on a strong sense of self-understanding that avoids imposing its own discomfort onto others.


Introspective And Individualistic

An introspective approach is not the same as an individualistic approach. Knowing ourselves, our needs, limitations, and boundaries, allows us to shed light on, question and re-frame our motives and goals. Focusing on ourselves helps us to avoid falling into the trap of thinking we know what’s best for others, only to find that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Psychedelic practitioners in and of themselves do not offer healing but they can create spaces conducive to the unfolding of these processes.

In contrast, today’s culture of outrage which is built on being “cancelled” in the name of tolerance, alongside shaming and stigmatisation, ultimately impacts us all – as we impede accountability and learning through being able to share our most intimate vulnerabilities and mistakes. At institutional levels, this becomes reflected in our academic literature, where there are fewer incentives to report negative outcomes, and in many ceremonial settings there is an under-reporting of adverse events. This missing data is key to a greater systemic integration that would better appreciate contextual nuance, facilitating the recognition of positive aspects within negative experiences across various scales and timelines. 


Non-Binary Nuance

Paradoxically therefore, ethical long-term change requires sustainable systemic change that moves from binary to grey. Non-directive models empower unheard voices by rooting them in a place of acceptance, allowing something new to grow collaboratively, rather than being made to fit a cultural standard that has already been identified as problematic.

This intersection between individual and collective, mechanistic and holistic, personal and professional, and intuition and information, holds a heightened complexity that demands increased responsibility and integrity. Creating space for somatic interventions that heal emotional and existential wounds rests on a strong internal compass fuelled by empathy and experience, not just empirical evidence.

Client-centred, somatically-informed, clinically, and spiritually sensitive models of care address internal and external power relations in a way that integrates nature with nurture – addressing the biases, prejudices and prevailing understandings that have become embedded in conscious and unconscious structures and patterns. While cultural alignment may be key to communicating set standards and expectations, a care ethic that is accessible and offers a relational vision of the future is built on finding a sense of safety, and even inspiration, along the spectrum of our differences.


Healing is the result of love. It is a function of love. Wherever there is love there is healing. And wherever there is no love there is precious little – if any – healing.” – M. Scott Peck