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 clinical psychologist Dr. Janis Phelps, who is also a professor in the East-West Psychology program.
As part of a public service campaign to teach a variety of topics related to psychedelic research, the Center offers a series of evening lectures, weekend workshops, webinars, and films shown at CIIS and online. The goal of the Center's Certificate in 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.
The goal of the Center's certificate program is to teach licensed psychotherapists and medical professionals and ordained clergy to become psychedelic researchers in the US and abroad. The certificate program trained over 220 licensed and ordained professionals from 2016 to 2019. The next certificate course will be begin in March 2020. Dr. Phelps has spoken at national and international conferences about this innovative, first of its kind postgraduate certification program.
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, have continued this tradition by matching all gifts and grants to the Center up to $300,000, doubling the value of any donation made to support psychedelic studies at CIIS. The Center has received more than $100,000 in scholarship funding from individual and organizational donors including Robert Barnhart, the George Sarlo Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, and the Betsy Gordon Foundation. These scholarships have supported people of color, LGBTQI-identified people, and people who demonstrate financial need to study in the Center's certificate program.
Creation of the Center allows CIIS to build strong partnerships with other universities, medical centers, researchers, and research groups. More than a dozen top psychedelic researchers —including Dr. Bill Richards (Johns Hopkins University), Dr. Charles Grob (University of California, Los Angeles), and Michael and Annie Mithoefer, lead researchers for the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)— have partnered with the Center to teach in the certificate program. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco and California Pacific Medical Center have joined the Center’s council of advisors.
By bringing together these top researchers, the Center has opened an avenue for collaboration between MAPS and the Heffter Research Institute, 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. Professor Phelps reports that "not only are we working with some of the majority of the psychedelic researchers in the country, but also we're preparing our graduates to make important advances in the fields of psychedelic research." Licensed therapists, medical professionals, and ordained clergy who earn a certificate in psychedelic research and therapy from CIIS will be specially trained as researchers and will eventually be eligible to be hired at future research centers across the United States. In expanded access programs, graduates of the certificate program at CIIS will eventually be eligible to work as psychedelic clinical researchers, under the supervision of a psychiatrist who would prescribe and administer the medication.
On March 23, 2018, Dr. Phelps and the certificate team hosted Dr. Bill Richards (Johns Hopkins University), Dr. Tony Bossis (New York University), and author Michael Pollan at the opening reception for the 2018-19 certificate program. The Center is grateful for Pollan's latest New York Times article, "My Adventures With the Trip Doctors," in which he shares his own story and makes the Center's educational programming visible to practitioners and the general public.
In 2019, the training program received a grant from the Threshold Foundation to support our application to the FDA for approval of a training protocol. If approved, our trainees will receive MDMA and psilocybin and practice being facilitators for these sessions under clinical supervision.
“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 the Center can eventually run a psychedelic-assisted therapy research study 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