Healing Cannabis and Ketamine-Assisted Therapy
In this episode, licensed psychotherapist, Aviva Bannerman and founder of Zaya, Nadeya Hassan, discuss ketamine- and cannabis-assisted psychotherapy and how these medicines are being used to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. Aviva also discusses harm reduction and the different organizations striving towards improving the safety of psychedelic medicine.
Guest Contact Info
Say Hello to Aviva
Aviva is a licensed psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado, offering somatic psychotherapy, ketamine- and cannabis-assisted psychotherapy, and psychedelic integration sessions. She graduated from Naropa University with a Master’s Degree in Somatic Counseling Psychology and a concentration in Body Psychotherapy. Passionate about the responsible use of psychedelics, she has volunteered with Zendo and other organizations offering emotional support for festival attendees who have ingested large amounts of substances. She works as a Night Attendant for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), where she provides supportive companionship for study participants after their MDMA sessions. She has worked with a wide variety of clients, including low-income adults, homeless women, teen girls, and high-trauma populations. Aviva is excited about the healing potential of entheogens and feels grateful to have the opportunity to incorporate them legally into her work with clients.
Healing with Cannabis and Ketamine-Assisted Therapy
people, ketamine, body, trauma, festivals, cannabis, therapist, oftentimes, MDMA, session, hear, healing, clients, feel, dissociation, substances, psychedelics, modality, psychotherapy, projection
Aviva Bannerman, Nadeya Hassan
Nadeya Hassan 06:55
Today I have with me, the incredible Aviva Bannerman who is a licensed psychotherapist practising in Boulder, Colorado. So today we're going to be talking about healing with cannabis and ketamine assisted therapy. So, Aviva, would you like to just start by introducing yourself and letting us know who you are and how you got into this?
Aviva Bannerman 07:19
I'd love to! As you said, I work currently in Boulder Colorado at a clinic called Innate Path that's in Lakewood, Colorado. And I have a private practice in Boulder as well. How did I get into this? It feels kind of like a lifelong story. I feel like I've lived and breathed psychology my whole life. I have always been intrigued and interested in people's communication with each other and their connection with each other and becoming the best version of myself that I could be. When I went to undergrad grad at Middlebury College in Vermont, I majored in psychology. Then I ended up travelling for a couple of years after that. And when I travelled, I was introduced to a whole new way of life and new people, people who didn't go the traditional school route. You know, I was introduced to hippies and people who meditated, and people who did bodywork. That was an incredibly formative period of my life because, for the first time, I was introduced to the idea that the mind and the body are just completely connected. And they're connected in their healing process too. So I had only been thinking about thoughts in the mind my whole life, and suddenly I had these intense bodywork experiences that made me realize that I couldn't do psychology without the body. So after a few years, I decided to go back to grad school and went to Naropa University, which is a Buddhist-based University here in Boulder. I studied somatic psychotherapy, so the interconnection of mind and body, and it was there that I was exposed to this idea that psychedelics could be incredibly healing for people. So, MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies that has spearheaded the MDMA trials for PTSD, we have a site here and I'm pretty close with the people there. You know, I started to become exposed to a lot of the different psychedelic work that was going on here. And I feel incredibly lucky because I didn't know if I was going to stay in Boulder, and I got an email that a friend had passed along that his teacher had sent. It was a very nondescript email saying that she was starting a ketamine and cannabis assisted psychotherapy clinic and I was like: Oh my god! I had never heard that ketamine was being used for psychotherapy, even though I was pretty immersed in the world of psychotherapy and psychedelics. So, I immediately emailed her and I went to the info session and that was the beginning of everything. And I've been with Jen Pfizer, who is the clinical director of an Innate Path. I've been with Innate Path since they opened their doors, which was a little over two and a half years ago, practicing their body-based model using psychedelics, cannabis and ketamine, which are legal here.
Nadeya Hassan 10:34
Yeah. Wow. So, did you have any personal experience prior to working with Innate Path with ketamine and cannabis, and using it in a self-therapeutic sort of way?
Aviva Bannerman 10:48
I think I was exposed to a lot of people who were using it and experimenting, I realized that these things had incredible potential for healing. I did have some of my own healing experiences, I think, being in the festival world, there's a lot of substances that go around. And there's a lot of different ways that people use them. I think that oftentimes people go into them thinking, this is, a cool recreational thing and come out of them thinking, wow, that's an amazing healing experience, this needs to be harnessed in that way so that people can go in with that intention and do it in a really safe way, and a really intentional way.
Nadeya Hassan 11:39
Yeah. Maybe just starting for some of the people who are not really familiar with these medicines. I'd love if you can kind of just explain the history of how ketamine and cannabis have started to get used in therapeutic settings, they both have really incredible histories. At least cannabis has a very, very long history.
Aviva Bannerman 12:03
Yeah! You know, I was doing some research and cannabis goes back to like 1500 BC. And it's all over the world. It's in India, it's in Africa. It's in Asia. People have been using it for thousands of years. Medicinally, it's used in Chinese herbs, and also ceremoniously to help people connect to each other, and to connect to the spirit world. It's been used in shamanism. It just has this huge background. Ketamine came into the picture around the 1960s. With ketamine, they were looking for an anaesthetic and they actually have PCP being used as an anaesthetic. But PCP has a side effect of creating delirium in people, which is why they were looking for something that would be dissociative. So, that in analgesics people wouldn't have to feel the pain, but also didn't have the delirium side effect. So they created an analogue called ketamine. Ketamine has been used in both people and animals because it's an incredibly safe drug. So, they've been using it there. Then the way it got into psychotherapy, is that people started to realize that it was having an amazing antidepressant effect on those patients who have had treatment-resistant depression for potentially decades. They started looking at that and started doing studies on depression. The way that it came into psychotherapy, the way that I came into my psychotherapy is at Innate Path, we use a body-based modality that's called trauma dynamics. Trauma dynamics has a pretty tight-knit group of practitioners. It is a way of working directly with the nervous system through the body. These practitioners were finding that they were teaching their clients the modality. And it's a very specific modality where oftentimes their body goes through what we call waves, which is kind of ways to let out the energy. Sometimes it looks like shaking, sometimes big movements. I can explain a little bit more about this later. But what they were finding was that people were learning how to do these things. Then they were going home and smoking cannabis because that's what they were doing to help reduce their symptoms. And actually instead of reducing their symptoms, now they were waiving. Their symptoms were coming up to be processed. So, they told their therapist like this is what's happening. And their therapist said, Oh, that's interesting, why don't you come in and actually try it intentionally here. So, that's what they started to do. It was a similar thing with ketamine because we have these ketamine clinics that are for pain reduction, that are for depression. And they were finding that they go to the ketamine clinics, they started waving. So, the therapists also were like, "Alright, let's try that in here". That's how we started using psychedelics in our work because we just found that it was like this amazing opener to the type of processing that we're doing.
Nadeya Hassan 15:39
Wow, I'd love to talk about that a little bit later. What are some of the conditions some of the common conditions that people have when they decide to see you and also what are some of the conditions that both ketamine and cannabis have been known to treat when being integrated with psychotherapy?
Aviva Bannerman 16:02
Well, most of the people who come to us have PTSD symptoms. They have depression, anxiety, sometimes OCD symptoms, sometimes a lot of dissociative symptoms, and a lot of the people who call us are the ones who have tried everything. You know, they've gone to talk therapy for 10 years, they've tried a whole smattering of other things. And this oftentimes feels like their last hope or the last option. So we get a lot of pretty severe trauma histories of people. At the same time that we also get people who come in, and they say, No, I don't really have big things that happened in my past and I don't know if I'm supposed to be here. And I tell them, I think everybody has, you know, bits of trauma in their past. Oftentimes, we call them big t traumas versus little t traumas. And you know, big t trauma is something that nobody would ever try to defend away as not being a trauma, like a car accident or a sexual assault or something like that. But the little t traumas are all the different ways that we've been neglected maybe throughout our childhood or the little things that accumulate and actually really affect us. You know, trauma, it's not just a real threat even if it's not an actual threat it's a perceived threat. So if you're in a situation that's not actually like a life and death situation, but it feels like one, that's a trauma right there. And so we get people from all different walks of life with all different levels of trauma. And what was the second part of your question? Oh, what are these things been used for? So traditionally, ketamine has been used as helping reduce pain, and for depression, treatment-resistant depression. And cannabis has been used in tons of different ways. But especially in helping reduce symptoms like real symptom reduction. And I have clients who use cannabis who have intense PTSD symptoms and use cannabis all the time to help just to help them go through life. And in the type of psychotherapy that we're doing at Innate Path, we're using these in a different way. Instead of in a symptom reduction way we're using them in a symptom resolution way. They help us kind of get our minds out of the way so that we can go back to those traumas, and it is a little safer to feel what we were feeling before. And so, we take them so that instead of reducing your symptoms or symptoms increase so that they're present, they're available to us, and then we can help process them through our bodies so that they no longer control our lives.
Nadeya Hassan 19:05
Body psychotherapy can really help give that sort of support rather than talk therapy, for example. With the other therapies, at least what I've heard is that with talk therapy, or with CBT, for example, it can re-traumatize or re-trigger a person, but body psychotherapy can really support a person as they go through processing these emotions and working through those really deep, subtle layers of trauma.
Aviva Bannerman 19:35
Yeah, well, what we say is that, talk therapy, and I just want to say I, I am partially a talk therapist, I think that talk therapy is incredibly useful. And if you think of an iceberg, you can only talk about what you know. And so the tip of the iceberg is like what's in our conscious awareness, and thats kind of like the top 10%. So you can go to talk therapy, talk about what you know. And then there are different ways to get a little deeper to really bring some things out in the subconscious. But because I'm a body centred psychotherapist, I'm a somatic psychotherapist, I use the body because the body is really where all that stuff is held, you know, the body is the bottom 90% of the iceberg that's not in our subconscious and not in our conscious awareness. So what we do with this body-based modality is that we go through the body. So instead of a top-down modality where you talk about things and that helps you have insight, but it doesn't always lead to lasting change. This is a bottom-up modality, where we go in and we see what the nervous system is holding, we see what the charge is there and then as the nervous system frees itself and frees some of the charges we end up getting insights from the subconscious. So it's another way of getting at it that we find is really effective for trauma because trauma lives in the body.
Nadeya Hassan 21:15
I'd love it if you could walk me through a session. Maybe a session that you've had with a patient, for example. It would be really cool to just kind of hear what happens.
Aviva Bannerman 21:28
I'd love to do that. And I want to give a little bit more background about what our modality is based on so that you can fully understand what we're doing in the session.
Nadeya Hassan 21:38
Go for it!
Aviva Bannerman 21:38
Okay, great! So the background is about trauma. Trauma can be defined in a lot of different ways and in the modality that we use, we talked about how it's when your nervous system gets overwhelmed, it's when you realize there might not actually be a way out of the situation. So I'd love to give an example using animals in the wild because they share our mammalian nervous system, and they're not socialized out of listening to their bodies the way that we are. So, you know, if I go through an example, we can imagine a herd of zebras that are, you know, just grazing in the wild. When they're grazing, they're relaxed. They're in what we call state zero in our nervous system map. But if they hear a rustling, all of a sudden, they're in state one. They're no longer totally relaxed. They're interested to see what might be there. They might have a little bit of fear, they might have some other emotions and it's because there could be a predator in there. And if there's a predator who's going to attack soon, they need to not be completely relaxed and lazy they need to be at attention. It's actually a biological way to keep themselves alive. So that's state one. Now let's say there's a there's a lion in there and the lion decides to attack, all of a sudden the lion attacks and the zebras immediately go into stage two, which is what people know as fight or flight. And fight or flight is this amazing mechanism that we have that literally gives us all of the resources that are available to us in our bodies, gives us the adrenaline, blood pumping increases, breathing increases, everything that we have so that we can get out of that situation. So, the lion attacks, the zebra immediately tries to run if the lion catches it. They try to fight, flight or fight. As they're fighting with the lion, the zebra will hit what we call the overwhelm point. The overwhelm point is where stress becomes trauma whereas before there was the potential of getting out of that situation because you've had all those resources of fight or flight. And now you're starting to realize that the zebra might not get out of that situation, and hopelessness starts to come in, depression starts to come in. And then let's say the lion bites off the zebra's leg, and all of a sudden, the zebra knows, there's no getting out of here. And that's what we call stage four, which is complete overwhelm of the nervous system, and total dissociation. So the dissociation that happens in stage four is actually this kind of biological mechanism that we have, that will make it so that if the zebras getting eaten by a lion, the zebra is not going to feel all of those horrific things that are happening. Actually, our body produces opioids that come out so that we can't feel it. And the experience is oftentimes, like floating above yourself, you know, you'll hear people in near-death experiences and when they come back, they say, "Yeah, I was floating above myself, and I was watching it". Or you won't be able to feel your body at all or you'll go completely numb. Humans go through this too, the difference between humans and animals is that if by some chance the lion gets distracted and the zebra gets away, the zebra's nervous system shakes it all out. You'll see videos. Peter Levine, who started Somatic Experiencing has a lot of videos like this, of animals shaking out that excess energy. And then the zebras good after that, you don't get zebras with PTSD in the wild. But humans, we don't shake it out. We've been socialized out of shaking it out. And so what we do in our work with this body based trauma modality, is we help clients get back in touch with a natural healing mechanism of their nervous system so that they can shake it out.
So that's the background I wanted to give you. And, I have to be careful here in terms of not really using one client's example. So I might give you a few different examples. It looks very different based on the amount of trauma people have based on when the trauma happened developmentally. And based on what state they were in, was it a state 2 where there was a ton of excess energy because of fight or flight or was it state 4 where they were convinced that they were going to die and they were literally floating above themselves. That's a different type of energy that's inside of your body. So if you have somebody who comes in for, let's say they're trying to process one adult trauma event, let's say it was some sort of assault, then what it will look like, potentially, it could look like taking the medicine. And the point is that I'm not the expert, but actually they, they're the expert and their body is the expert. So my job is to really point my clients towards their bodies towards our nervous systems and help them create enough safety so that they allow their nervous system to do what it's going to do. So it might look like their body is getting into a position of defence. Maybe their attacker came at them from this side, and the defence might kind of look like that. And it might be a position that they had been in during the trauma, but it's not a position that they're actively getting into. I'm not saying "Okay, get into this position now!" I'm literally saying focus in on your body. Let's watch what it wants to do and the body oftentimes gets into this position. Then it might do things like shake, I might put a little bit of pressure on it to help it reinforce through and follow through. And that's the excess energy coming out from that event. That's the stuck charge that was going on during fight or flight. Now there also may be some dissociation in that event, right? If the person was overpowered, and then things were done to them without their consent, then then they might have dissociated. And if that happens, then there's going to be dissociation in their system, which oftentimes feels great to clients because you're not feeling anything. You're not feeling the horror of the stuff that happened to you. Instead of you're floating off in space, or you just have no feeling. You don't really have strong opinions about anything. And so the way that we help process that through is we call it associating to the dissociation. Dissociation, you can get lost in it completely lost floating out in the ethers looking at the stars. I always make sure that my clients are in continuous contact with me when they're dissociating. So that they're associating to the dissociation rather than getting lost in it. So I have them describe what's happening. I have them tell me what it feels like to have no body. Oftentimes, there are parts of your body that are dissociated. Maybe your legs disappeared, and I'll ask, "Where can you feel up until? What's it like to have no legs? What's it like to have legs that feel really distorted or really tiny?" As they notice this dissociation, it starts to move. Now the thing is, the dissociation is there for a reason it showed up at the worst part of your trauma. It showed up at the part where your body decided we can't be here anymore. So as dissociation starts to process, then the experience excruciating pain of what you didn't want to feel comes back up in your body. Then it becomes a very different session where they start to really feel what was happening. But the great thing about these sessions is that when you go over a wave, we call them waves. Oftentimes, there are only one to two minutes of a really intense experience. And then you get this amazing release. And you get to relax for a little bit. And you get this freedom that you potentially never really felt in your system before. So it can be pretty intense. And scary. It's not this quick fix that sometimes people feel like psychedelic therapy is like, great, I can go push a button, check that off my list and I'm healed. It's actually a really intense healing journey, that that you need a lot of courage to go through. And I admire every single one of my clients who is willing to come back and to face the things that they've pushed away out of their consciousness. But then after you go through it is like this immense amount of freedom from the charge that's been in your nervous system for potentially decades.
Nadeya Hassan 31:11
How many sessions does it typically take for someone to really start feeling the process of healing?
Aviva Bannerman 31:18
It's a question I get all the time and I never have a satisfactory answer for anybody. It's because everybody's so different. If you have one event where your childhood is just a very healthy childhood, you have a healthy attachment to safe people in a safety net, then it's going to be a much shorter healing time than it would be for somebody who had a really rough childhood, who went through a lot of abuse and neglect, and whose personality has kind of been created around needing to have defences for an unsafe world. So it looks different for a lot of people. I have some people who come in, and within one session, they already feel some relief. I'm not gonna say that they're, quote-unquote, healed, but already they feel a difference. Then we have some people who come in. And a lot of their issues were pushed away from or they've been pushing them away for survival. And the first few months are actually really hard. Because we bring those issues back into awareness as we're processing through the dissociation, the issues are coming closer and closer to us, and we're actually feeling it, and life might get a lot of a lot harder for them for a little bit. And then they'll reap the rewards a little bit later. Oftentimes, what I say is that people like to come in chunks, like let's work through this chunk, and then maybe after a few months, it's time to take a break. Feeling good. I'm going to reap the benefits of this and feel what it's like to have freedom from whatever we were working on. Then maybe a few months later, they'll want to come back because we'll see new stuff coming up. But I kind of see it as, as an ongoing process for whatever you want to work on. And in stages, you do see relief, and you do see how your life is changing, how you're able to step into your power a lot more than maybe you were able to before. How you're noticing that some of your PTSD symptoms have led up. Maybe you got into a car crash and you weren't able to be in a car. And then after we've processed through a chunk of it, now you're able to be in a car, you're not able to drive yet until we process through another chunk. But there are these incremental things that oftentimes people don't really notice. When they're small changes, you forget that you weren't able to go into a grocery store last week. Now it just feels really normal. So part of my job is actually pointing out how different you are week to week and some of the ways that you're changing and evolving through this work.
Nadeya Hassan 34:08
What is the difference when compared to a cannabis session versus a ketamine session?
Aviva Bannerman 34:17
They look really similar from the outside. They're different on the inside and the medicines work really differently and people are oftentimes asked, you know, which one should I use? And I also really don't have an answer to that because it's such a specific decision and an individual decision for you. What I've heard some people say is that - because ketamine is a dissociative, oftentimes it can feel a little bit kinder to people because it's a dissociative it puts some space between you in the processing. So even though you're feeling it, you have a little bit of a buffer. I've heard people describe it as a little kinder to them. But then also because it's a dissociative, sometimes it's easy to get lost and dissociation and you really have to work at not having that happen. So I have had some clients who felt like there was so much dissociation in their system that it would be better to work with cannabis because cannabis tends to be a little bit more of a straight shot without the dissociation. But I've also heard people say that it feels like a slap in the face because it's so intense. I've had a few clients who've started with cannabis and then went over to ketamine, and said, this is definitely the medicine for me. And it was interesting for me because I didn't see any difference in their processing session. But internally, their session was so different for them. But then I also have clients that have started with ketamine and are interested in cannabis and then go for that. So, I think it's just two different ways to get at something. And depending on the way that it interacts with your system, you know, people have preferences.
Nadeya Hassan 36:19
Yeah. I think one thing that a lot of people always hear is that some people, whenever they ingest, or whenever they inhale cannabis, they tend to experience anxiety or paranoia. Why exactly does that happen? And does that ever happen during your sessions? And how do you kind of work through that with your patients?
Aviva Bannerman 36:39
It definitely happens. My theory for that is that this is all the stuff that's already inside you. And what cannabis is doing is it's taking the filters and the blocks that push it away and allow you to be a functioning human being in society - it takes those away and then it lets all the stuff that's underneath come up. So I look at it as an invitation for processing. Our motto is all trips are good trips. These medicines are bringing up our stuff so that they can be worked and luckily, you know, in the environment that we're in, it's a set and setting where it's it's supposed to come up where we want to work it where Oh, you're having intense anxiety and ruminations and kind of like OCD like thoughts. Great. Let's bring them into the room. Let's feel them let's say them and see actually where they land in your body, and then help that part process.
Nadeya Hassan 37:46
So I guess you've worked with Zendo project, right? What are your thoughts on these medicines kind of being used in a recreational sense being used at festivals and people kind of self prescribing themselves and what are the dangers and the risks to that? Also, what has your experience been like seeing how people are when they take it.
Aviva Bannerman 38:11
First off, just for anybody who doesn't know what Zendo is, I can say it is a wonderful organization for harm reduction. They do a lot of work at festivals where they set up a tent, and they have tons of volunteers who have shifts at that those festivals. They're oftentimes regular festival-goers. Whenever I go to a festival I'll volunteer at Zendo if they're there. And the Zendo tent is a safe space for people who are having a difficult time on substances. And if they're deemed to be medically safe, but you know, just having an emotionally difficult time - maybe they took too much, maybe they mixed some things, maybe they're just having some unexpected things come up - then we'll go there and they'll be paired with one person and you'll work one on one. At Burning Man one year I think I did an eight-hour shift with the same guy, and it was so beautiful watching him come in really really high on something and then watching the evolution as the substance wore down and our connection increased. I love the work that Zendo is doing. And so your other question around different uses of psychedelics. There are so many different uses of psychedelics. Right now the way that I use it is in a healing modality in a controlled environment in a legal way for people who want to process their stuff that's coming up, their traumas. But that's certainly not the only way to use it. And the way that I learned about psychedelics is by being exposed to them. In my travels at festivals. I think that there are a lot of different valid ways to use psychedelics, I think that the current climate that we're in, in this country where most of them are illegal, creates a lot of dangers. I think people are going to use psychedelics no matter what. And how can we make it so that it's going to be safest for them? Because right now, people don't know what they're getting off the streets. I feel so lucky that I get to send my clients to a provider who can prescribe ketamine. We know exactly how much is in there. We know that there's nothing else in there. Now there's been a lot of issues with fentanyl being in ketamine. It's created a lot of deaths. So for me, my mind goes around, how do we make this the safest place for people to do what they're going to do regardless?
Nadeya Hassan 40:49
Yeah, yeah. I was actually reading about a bill that was introduced, I think, in 2003 by Joe Biden where they were saying that some of the groups like Zendo are saying that they encourage the use of illicit drugs. And so now they're kind of prosecuting some of these organizations that are kind of giving the sort of support, which is really unfortunate.
Aviva Bannerman 41:17
I'm just getting the chills hearing you talk about that. That is so upsetting to me. This has been an issue with festivals because a lot of festivals in the United States will not endorse having testing sites on-site, because if they do, if they bring in people who are willing to test drugs, then essentially they're opening it like they're creating liability issue because they're acknowledging that these drugs are being used with their festivals. And that that is the problem. You know, that those people who just want to make it safer for them. Can't Because then it creates all of these liability issues. And you know, I have been at festivals I was at Shambhala, a few years ago, and felt like I was in the alternate universe, because I was standing just by like a bunch of tents. And I didn't even realize it was by the drug testing tent. And all of a sudden, I heard somebody say, everybody would Coke, this line. Everybody with Molly over here
Nadeya Hassan 42:28
be doing that,
Aviva Bannerman 42:29
because it was a testing centre. And they had different tests for different drugs. So it was like, great, you know, like, what jobs do I'll have, let's test them. And it was just like this amazing environment of openness. And like, yeah, we know what people are doing here. We want to make sure you're doing it safely and having a good time. So let's make that happen. And you know, a lot of festivals in the United States, I haven't had that experience. And it's just yeah, it's if I get to Pretty worked up about that, because people are dying, and they don't need to be.
Nadeya Hassan 43:04
Mm-hmm. I also kind of want to go back to what you said about when you're working with certain people at these festivals. What sort of approach do you use to kind of help calm them down when they might be having a bad trip?
Aviva Bannerman 43:18
Yeah. So it's really different than when I'm a therapist because they're two very different roles. As a therapist, I'm trying to help people process and, you know, we have this agreement of you're coming in because we're going to do some therapy, and at Zendo you don't do therapy. That's not your job. Even if you're a therapist, that's not why you're there. You're really just there to support. I worked with a few people at Burning Man last year, and it's just being there. It's like being the safe person. Like, "Oh, you want to hold my hand sure, let's hold hands" or "you need to go to the bathroom great let me walk you to the Porta Potty so that we know that you're safe" or "wow you want to talk about this really difficult thing that's coming up about this girl that you kissed yesterday? Great. Let's talk about that." It's really just being their point person. And allowing their experience to unfold the way it's going to unfold without interfering with it and making sure that they're safe. It's like providing a space for them. I remember a couple of years ago at Burning Man, this doesn't have to do with zendo it has to do with the Rangers, so Burning Man has its own infrastructure of Rangers. And for anybody who doesn't know Burning Man is a very big event that has up to 70 or 80,000 people in the Nevada desert once a year. I'm a longtime burner. I've gone to nine of them and it's just this amazingly open and free and creative space and people go. You buy a ticket you go. It's not a music festival but there is music, it's not an art festival, but there is our that's pretty hard to explain you just have to go it's incredible.
Nadeya Hassan 45:18
People get so angry if you call it a music festival.
Aviva Bannerman 45:20
(Laughter) And it's not its own thing that I hope that everybody gets to experience because you know, there's freedom of expression and radical inclusivity. So I remember I was hanging out at some sort of art installation. It was like a gerbil wheel, but it was human-sized.
Nadeya Hassan 45:48
Aviva Bannerman 45:52
These are the kinds of things at Burning Man and a guy got on it and I could tell pretty quickly that he was on something, and that he really wasn't with it. He was doing okay, but kind of falling all over the dribble wheel. It's hard enough when you're sober and so, somebody said should we take him to zendo. And all of a sudden, there was a voice that piped up from the back, and it was a Burning Man ranger. And he said, don't worry, I've been assigned to him for the night. And the Ranger was just following Him, to let him do whatever was going to happen, but make sure that he was going to be safe and that other people were going to be safe. He wasn't with it enough to be willing to go to Zendo I think, but it was just an amazing way and it was like, "Okay, he's having this experience". He probably didn't even know the Ranger was assigned to him for the night. You know, he was keeping his space but having him in his eyesight, and that's what I see is so beautiful in terms of festival harm reduction, and just allowing what's there to happen in a really safe way.
Nadeya Hassan 47:05
Yeah, I love that. I've seen some crazy things happen at Burning Man as well of people just, you know, going past the trash fence and walking to the sun with their arms wide open, completely naked. Saying "I must go home, I must go home" and it's just like, oh my god, what do you do at that point? So I'm really happy to know that somebody was at least there with that guy.
Aviva Bannerman 47:32
Burning man is such a drug who even knows that those people were on any drugs, you know?
Nadeya Hassan 47:42
So you said that you've worked with maps and you've helped assist and support for some of the MDMA sessions there.
Aviva Bannerman 47:51
So I haven't worked as a therapist there with MDMA sessions. I've worked as a night attendant. They've changed up the protocol a little bit in some sites, but for most of it, they're in their final stage three trials right now before FDA approval. And for most of it, what they did was after an MDMA session, they had a night sitter come and be with the client for the entire night because so much comes up. In my ketamine sessions, they're two hours long, and so much comes up. And MDMA sessions are eight hours long. It's four ketamine sessions in a row.
Nadeya Hassan 48:33
So you're called a night attendant?
Aviva Bannerman 48:36
So I'm a night attendant because I actually sleepover. And it's actually pretty similar to the work with Zendo where I'm there to be there in any way that they need me - if they want me to go pick up their dinner or if they want to talk about the intense session that they had and they need a listening ear. Again, I'm not a therapist there so it's not my job to help them process more, but it is my job to just listen. And to just be there and be another person who gets it and another person who's in this world who understands. And so I've had some really powerful experiences just sharing space with people right after their MDMA sessions because they are so open up. Their chests are wide open, and you can see their hearts beating and it's so beautiful to be with them in a vulnerable state.
Nadeya Hassan 49:32
Wow. What are those sessions like?
Aviva Bannerman 49:35
MDMA sessions? So I haven't worked with MDMA because it's not a legal substance right now. I would love to work with MDMA, I have applied for the MAPS training to be able to work with them and they're close. They're closer to getting legalized. Right now they have a program called compassionate care or expanded access, and that has been approved, but on a pretty small scale, which means that even though it's not technically legal yet, there are, I believe it's out like between five or 10 sites that are going to be able to start using it for a few clients. Everything has been put on hold because of COVID. But I would love to work with MDMA at some point. But what I know about the MDMA trials and what they're doing, it's similar to the way that we're working. I don't know that I actually mentioned this when you asked about a session, but clients generally lay down and they have an eye mask on and that's to help them stay inward. Because it's really easy in these sessions - especially with MDMA. You just want to connect with everybody and everything and just love on people. I think that's why people love doing it at festivals and it's a different set and setting, it's a different intention here. They have them wear an eye mask, and really go in and they have an eight-hour playlist. It's music that's like supposed to be very expressive for helping this stuff come up. And then they have two therapists and that's to generally simulate two parents, two people to be able to project on them because a lot of what's going on here is projection. Most of our childhood wounds are relational wounds, it's when you were crying and your parent wasn't there to help you or you had to cry yourself to sleep or you didn't get your basic needs met. So the way to help heal these relational wounds is to have a new experience - a corrective experience - as you're going through these wounds of somebody who actually is there for you. But when it happens, oftentimes there's a projection onto people. And we actually want that, because that's your old experiences coming up and out onto the therapist. And so as a therapist, it's your job to be able to hold any projection that's given to you, which is hard.
Nadeya Hassan 52:18
I could imagine that being very difficult sometimes.
Aviva Bannerman 52:21
Yeah, so some projections are like, I'm the best therapist in the world. And I'm on this pedestal, and I'm amazing. (Laughter), it feels so good! And, you know, after the session, I have to, like talk to my ego a little bit. But then on the flip side, some of the projection is like, you're taking advantage of me, you're being a predator onto me, you want this out of me. And then it's like, whew, okay, what does that hit in my own stuff? Or you're a bad therapist, right? Especially when I was such a new therapist, if I ever got that projection, it was hard because I was really trying to build up my confidence as a therapist. So the "you're a bad therapist one" I remember has been difficult for me in the past which is why they have two therapists because oftentimes, one is the good one and one is the bad one. So there's a lot of projection and just a lot of going inward it's similar to the way that we do it in the ketamine and cannabis therapy that I do here. It's about going in and processing what is still inside of you.
Nadeya Hassan 53:11
So one question that I've always had was, what are your thoughts on people coming in to have this therapy in this sort of clinical therapeutic setting versus being outside in nature, it doesn't even have to be in nature, but having an interactive experience with the world. Because I think that sometimes you learn so much just from your external environment when you're on some of these medicines.
Aviva Bannerman 54:16
I love that question. I think nature is so healing and at Innate Path, we've thrown around the idea of having some sort of retreat as like a one week or a two week retreat where you get to go and live in a place that's on a farm or something. And maybe do your sessions in a little bungalow, or even outside and that's something that's in our minds. It's certainly something that's certainly something that's on my mind for private practice too, just how to incorporate more of the natural world into healing. And I also think that you know, there are a lot of different avenues toward healing. The methodology that we use is about going inwards. But also like another healing modality is about going outwards. It's about feeling the connection of nature. Wilderness therapy is all about that. I think that there are lots of different things that you can do that get at the same thing from different avenues. It's not like a one size fits all. It's like, for this person, maybe that works really well, and for this person maybe that works really well. But I do really want to connect nature with this work, so I'm glad that you brought it up.
Nadeya Hassan 55:43
Yeah. Wow. Well, it's really good to know that you guys are actually thinking about that. So I guess one question that I like to ask. A lot of the guests that I have on the show is, throughout your experience, your years of experience having all of these patients and hearing some of their stories, the one question that I asked generally is what is the root cause of disease? So on the first show, I spoke with Katie Beecher, and she was a medical and a spiritual, intuitive. And she said that the root cause of disease is lack of self-love, lack of self-appreciation, self recognition, all of that. And then I spoke with Dr. Paul Wang, who is a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine and he started to talk about stress on the body and how that can affect us and spoke about it in the terms of Chinese philosophy. And so I'd love to hear what your thoughts are on that.
Aviva Bannerman 56:49
I think that they're really connected to actually the two answers that you just gave. And you know, this is evolving and who knows, maybe my answer would change in a year or two. But right now I see it as... how do I phrase it? It's the inability to move things through. To trust our natural healing process. I talked about the nervous system and how that zebra will just listen to its body and do that shaking. And we don't listen like that anymore. Some people do. For me, it's been a journey to start listening, because I feel like I was exposed to that a little bit later in life. And the model that I use is based on this idea that the body knows what to do. It has a natural healing mechanism. So when we stop it consciously or unconsciously, because I think for most of us, it's pretty unconscious. When we stop it, that energy gets stuck. And then it creates our issues and our problems. But if we actually let it process through, and it's just like this natural progression of like, okay, things happen, they come in they go out, rather than coming in and getting stuck. So I think it's really, you mentioned Katie Beecher talked about, self-love and self acceptance. I think that's part of it. Where it's like, instead of looking outwardly, "okay, who can heal me?" it's looking inwardly. What am I doing to actually stop the process that my body knows and that I know and that is my innate birthright to be able to have a really beautiful and fulfilling life.
Nadeya Hassan 58:38
What is some advice that you would give?
Aviva Bannerman 58:39
Well, I have two questions. So what is your advice for people who are - because like you said, people are going to continue to use these substances recreationally. So for people who do choose to self-prescribe, what are some of your recommendations to make sure that it's being done safely? I guess advice for that and then I'll ask a second question later. So advice for that is really just trying to do things as safely as you can. So do your research. There are a lot of really great websites that give good and accurate information. One-off the top of my head is Erowid.org. So do your research on whatever substances you want to use and try to source them from a safe place. And that can be pretty hard. Even if it's like, "I trust my friend", well does your friend trust the friend that he got it from, and does he trust the friend that he got it from? There are just inherently dangers because of the illegalization of these substances right now. And then also, you know, doing it in a safe space. Oftentimes, especially the first couple times they don't really know the dosage, they don't know what's gonna happen. And a lot of these substances if you take too much ketamine, or you K hole, and you have no control over your body, so if that happens, you want to be with some safe people in a safe environment. So really just taking the time and the energy to set up a safe environment for you to have the most successful experience that you can.
Nadeya Hassan 1:00:39
I'm going to go back and when you said k hole, can you explain what k hole-ing is?
Aviva Bannerman 1:00:44
Yeah, so k hole is kind of a street term for taking a lot Ketamine and totally dissociating. People oftentimes ask me what does ketamine feel like or they hear about the K-hole, and then they think that it's not for them. And I describe it as it's kind of like alcohol. If you drink one drink, it's a very different drug than if you drink 10 drinks or 20 drinks, it's going to do something completely different. And that's the same thing with ketamine where you can take smaller amounts of ketamine and still be in your body. It's different than being drunk, but it's kind of like the equivalent of being tipsy. You're still in your body, things have opened up, your perception has changed a little bit. And actually, I don't think I mentioned this but in the body based modality that I use, we use lower dose ketamine, than you'll get at like an IV clinic or an IM clinic - they use much higher doses of ketamine where people do K-hole. They leave their bodies and may have a very different experience often a non-human experience. Whereas with our modality, we want people to stay in their bodies because we want them to be in contact with the trauma that's in their bodies so that they can help release it, rather than being somewhere totally different and having no idea what's going on. So K-holeing is kind of like drinking 10 drinks or 20 drinks, it's just it's a much larger amount of ketamine. And you really don't have control in that respect.
Nadeya Hassan 1:02:29
Hmm. So I guess what are some of the benefits that these other centres or organizations would say are the benefits of k hole-ing?
Aviva Bannerman 1:02:38
They just have a different model. Instead of using the model that we have, their model might be a pain reduction model. It might be an antidepressant model. There are some centres where they give them a large dose of ketamine - People have an experience then when they come back, they integrate it and process it through psychotherapy with a therapist there. So instead of having it be at the same time, it's at a different time. And some of the benefits of that are like being able to have the 30,000-foot view of what's happening in your life, and then coming back and having a new perspective, which could also create change.
Nadeya Hassan 1:03:25
Wow, that's very interesting. I've never heard anybody speak on that before. So thanks for sharing. So we're coming up at the time now. If anybody does have any questions, feel free to throw those in before we wrap this up. And then my second question for you was like what you were saying when you're working with these traumas, and when we're talking about the root cause of disease and how to really to listen to your body, what are some self-care and at-home practices that people can do to kind of work through some of that?
Aviva Bannerman 1:04:08
I love that. Hmm. I would say that for people who are really new to this, just start tuning into your body. And you might even say "Well, what does that mean? What is that?" One way to do it could be around eating. So often we eat on the run, or we eat with other people and we're not really paying attention to when we should stop eating. Or asking ourselves if we are full. So that could even be a practice of actually sitting with your food and paying attention to "am I hungry now? Am I ready to eat? And when am I full? And how do I know that? How do I sense that my body is telling me that I'm full." So that's one exercise that you could do with something that we have to do all the time which is eat in order to survive. And then you can feel into other things like when we make decisions, they're oftentimes pretty body-based even if we don't realize it. Falling in love with somebody - that's so body-based and it's like these feelings that you get inside your body that gives you information and tells you "I think I'm in love with this person." And so pay attention to that rather than to just the fact that you know that you're in love. How do you know that you're in love? Other decisions like "what do I want to wear today?" Well, you know, if I look at this shirt, what happens to my body? Look at that shirt, what happens in my body? So these are ways to create some body awareness so that you can get closer to the process. And then in terms of taking care of yourself, we talk about self care all the time. As a trauma therapist, you need to help have self-care or you're going to be done very, very quickly. Because there's vicarious traumatization where I am watching people's traumas come up in their bodies all day long, and it can really affect you. So self-care of the body is like self-massage, getting a massage, or taking walks. It's paying attention to your body and really caring for it. I think in a world where a lot of us don't, you know, we're very go, go go, I certainly know, I'm very go, go go. So I'm kind of talking to myself here of like, how can I take care of myself and my body here, but self-care is so important. And it's also the way that you're going to be able to process your stuff. I tell my clients that if, if they go into something like really deep and intense processing, and they're not able to come out and have a nourishing day or two, it's going to be hard for them to get very far in the processing because your system has to know that you can come back out and be okay for a little bit. And so we have started emphasizing, I've really started emphasizing self-care for my clients, because sometimes they'll be like, let's do two sessions a week and let's get at this and be done a few months and I'm like, Oh, my God, this is gonna look out of the water. Not everybody. Some people do that, and it really works for them. But what I found is that when there isn't enough time to recover and recoup, then our sessions stall, But when there is enough time, sometimes people have taken a break like a month break and then they come back and they have the most amazing and deep session because they've been so resourced for that month, that they're ready to go back in. So I think in a lot of different walks of life in areas, it's so important to just take care of yourself and your body.
Nadeya Hassan 1:08:02
Beautiful. Beautiful. Well let's end there then this was an incredible talk I'm so happy to have you here on this episode and I'm just looking at the chats and people are just blown away with a lot of the things that you're saying and your analogies are just talk
Aviva Bannerman 1:08:26
we're happy to be here. Thank you so much. I love the mission that you have. And I love that you're doing this podcast and I really enjoyed getting to know you and I would love to hear people's questions. If they ever if they want to reach out to me you're welcome to my website is my name so it's www.avivabannerman.com. And you're welcome to send me any questions, thoughts, concerns, whatever. I love to hear from people in this field.
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