The certification programs are open to anyone with a high school diploma who has passed a background check. Licensing is limited to Oregon residents through 2025. But the Fluence program largely chose applicants with prior mental health experience: social workers, hospice nurses, and psychiatrists.
The curriculum placed heavy emphasis on non-therapeutic issues, including indigenous traditions involving hallucinogens, the negative social effects of US drug policies, and the impact of systemic racism on marginalized populations.
While psilocybin is generally considered safe and serious side effects are rare, the practical aspects of the course were designed to prepare counselors for potentially difficult moments, including sexual arousal or intense emotional outbursts, especially in people with suppressed trauma.
Nathan Howard, the chief operating officer of InnerTrek, another state-licensed training company, said the company was particularly interested in applicants with a quality known as equanimity, or the ability to remain calm in difficult situations. “You sit down with people who are going through perhaps one of the most intimate, intense experiences of their lives,” he said. “You don’t want to direct the experience — you’re there to observe — but you may also need to hold their hand at certain times.”
The first day of the Fluence course was largely devoted to self-reflection, with many students expressing frustration with the limitations of psychotropic drugs like Xanax or Zoloft used to treat the symptoms of mental illness, not the underlying causes. Others spoke reverently about their own experiences with psychedelics.
At one point, an instructor asked students to close their eyes, meditate, and think about what brought them to the hotel conference room. Later, they split into groups to share personal stories about times in their lives when they felt oppressed or marginalized. They also spoke about the lack of diversity within their ranks, sparking a round of self-examination about their role in promoting a therapy that will likely only be available to a privileged few for now.
But above all, there was elation that the long-awaited moment of legalized psychedelics had finally arrived. Mr. Wright, the hospital’s psychiatric nurse, said he had personally experienced the healing power of psychedelics and wanted his patients to experience those benefits as well.
The prevailing model of psychiatric care, he said, focused on calming patients who show up to the emergency room in the throes of a psychotic or manic episode. The drugs, Mr Wright said, were effective in stabilizing patients, but many of them simply returned because the underlying trauma or depression went untreated. “I’m happy to be here,” he told the group, “so I can stop pushing ineffective drugs to my patients.”