To address the demand for trained psychotherapists to work in the expanding field of psychedelic studies, CIIS created the Center for Psychedelic Therapy and Research (the Center) in 2015. The Center is directed by Dr. Janis Phelps, also a professor in the East-West Psychology program.
The Center offers a series of evening lectures, weekend workshops, webinars, and films, shown at CIIS and online, as part of a public service campaign to teach a variety of topics related to psychedelic research. The goal of the Center's Certificate of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies and Research is to invite cohorts of licensed psychotherapists and medical professionals to become psychedelic researchers and practitioners in legal clinical studies.
In the 2015–2016 academic year, the Center hosted its first cohort in the Certificate of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies and Research program. The goal of the Certificate Program is to teach licensed psychotherapists to become psychedelic researchers.
Throughout its history, CIIS has been a leader in consciousness research, including research into non-ordinary states of consciousness. In 1997, nearly three decades after the enactment of the Controlled Substances Act made psychedelic drugs illegal, CIIS began offering the Robert Joseph and Wilhelmina Kranzke Endowed Scholarships, a gift of Robert Barnhart in memory of his parents. The endowment supports two to four annual scholarships of $5,000 each for students who are conducting approved psychotropic research. CIIS Trustee Meihong Xu and her husband, Bill Melton, are now continuing in this tradition by generously offering to match all gifts and grants to the Center, up to $300,000, doubling the value of any donation made to support psychedelic studies at CIIS.
Creation of the Center means that CIIS gains a critical opportunity to build strong partnerships with other universities, medical centers, researchers, and research groups. More than a dozen top psychedelic researchers —including Bill Richards, from Johns Hopkins University; Charles Grob, from the University of California, Los Angeles; and Michael and Annie Mithoefer, lead researchers for the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)—have agreed to partner with the Center to teach in the certificate program. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and California Pacific Medical Center have agreed to join the Center’s council of advisors.
Professor Phelps is excited by the Center’s creation and the success of the first Certificate Program. “Not only will we be working with some of the top psychedelic researchers in the country, but also we’re preparing our graduates to make important advances in the fields of psychedelic research.”
By bringing together these top researchers, the Center is opening an avenue for collaboration between MAPS and the Heffter Research Institute (Heffter), two of the most renowned research groups for psychedelic studies. The certificate program is the largest collaborative program focusing on psychedelic studies within a non-medical graduate university. Licensed therapists who earn a certificate in psychedelic research and therapy from CIIS will be specially trained as researchers and will be eligible to be hired at current research centers across the United States. In expanded access programs, graduates of the certificate program at CIIS would be eligible to work as psychedelic researchers, under the supervision of a psychiatrist who would prescribe and administer the medication.
“One of our primary goals is to build a cohort of licensed therapists with CIIS certificates,” says Phelps. “We want to see our CIIS graduates working across the country as trained psychedelic researchers.” Another goal is to continue to build partnerships and to raise funds so that CIIS can eventually run a psychedelic-assisted therapy research study here at CIIS in San Francisco. One thing is certain: With the creation of the Center for Psychedelic Therapy and Research, CIIS has placed itself in the center of the cutting-edge field of psychedelic studies.
From the Center for Psychedelic Therapy and Research's Director, Dr. Janis Phelps
Research since the 1950's has shown that psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy has had significant positive effects in reductions of specific clinical symptoms and increases in quality of life as measured on a variety of indices. The intensity of focus on evidence-based outcomes, however, has resulted in a paucity of active discussions and research on the core competencies of the therapists themselves. With current discussions of phase 3 and expanded access research programs for psilocybin-assisted and MDMA-assisted psychotherapies, there will be a great need for competent therapists trained in this clinical specialty. This is particularly the case if less restricted, legal medical use is approved within the next six to ten years. The Center for Psychedelic Therapy and Research's Certificate Program was created to focus on building the following core psychedelic therapist competencies:
- empathetic abiding presence
- trust enhancement
- spiritual intelligence
- knowledge of the physical and psychological effects of psychedelics
- therapist self-awareness and ethical integrity
- proficiency in complementary techniques
This development is particularly timely if expanded access and compassionate use programs are approved by the FDA in the near future. As current legal restrictions evolve, aspects of these training guidelines will be developed. CIIS is proud to be a key university leading those discussions.
--Janis Phelps, PhD