I imagine that at least a few of you who are reading this know who Deion Sanders is. He goes by Coach Prime these days and has taken over the head-coaching position for football at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Sanders was previously known in the press as “Prime Time,” coined for his dramatic, headline-grabbing flair, and tendency to elaborately celebrate his awe inspiring athleticism. There was much for Deion to celebrate; his athletic achievements dominated at the highest levels of football and baseball. Earlier iterations of the myth and legend of Deion Sanders are part of the reason he has such an impact now.
When it was announced that Sanders was to come to CU, his first of what would be many rousing proclamations was a simple promise: “I’m comin’!” The reverberations of this ominous yet gripping message were immediate and powerful: The students of CU lost their collective minds and an entire city underwent a palpable vibe shift. Signs popped up in stores all over, “Welcome Coach Prime!” and it seemed to be all anyone could talk about. The phrase has become a symbol that Deion and his entourage have galvanized. The captivating meme has since transformed into, “We comin’!” His dramatic arrival inspires, among fans and non-fans alike, a genuine desire to be part of change, part of something new, exciting, and fundamentally good. As anticipated by Deion, the Buffs are a marvel to watch and shaking the trees in Boulder.
I was never a big Deion Sanders fan. I found him to be too much of a showboat and did not want any associations with elaborate, in-your-face celebrations; to me, his dancing seemed distasteful, unsportsmanlike, even wrong. Fast forward to now, some 30 years later, Coach Prime coming to Boulder parallels in some meaningful ways, a similar renaissance of spirit, energy, galvanization, and goodness that is happening in our field. Healing potentials have arrived in the world of medicine, psychology and our own psychoanalytic practices. The global mental health landscape is on the cusp of a radical shift due to the explosion of research and empirical support for the judicious use of psychedelic medicines. This is exciting news and like what is happening in Boulder, a phenomenon that has won over fans and non-fans alike.
In the arena of therapeutic psychedelics, the appropriate statement is not “It’s comin’!” but “It’s here!” Signs in our email inboxes keep popping up “Welcome to the latest Psychedelics Conference.” Questions about if these “taboo” medicines are “okay” are naturally are being asked. Is this wrong? Is it safe? In point of fact, strong evidence keeps rolling out for the safety and effectiveness of these medicines. Currently, here are a few reputable research initiatives: at the MAPS Program of NYU, alcohol use disorder, PTSD, personality disorders; at Johns Hopkins, anorexia nervosa, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression, and PTSD; and University of Wisconsin-Madison just released jaw dropping positive findings from the largest single-dose psilocybin study conducted thus far (UW, 2023). And, Bessel van der Kolk’s work with psychedelics has further elucidated his concepts of “complex trauma.”
Clearly, for people suffering many different disorders, psychedelic “dosing” results are shaking the trees of mental health. The therapeutic frame is different from our face-to-face or couch settings; dosing settings involve multi-hours-long, music-filled “journeys” with eyes covered to set the therapeutic stage for non-ordinary states of mind that ultimately alter our brain’s structures. These proven immediate effects persist in the body with longer-term effects, both physiological and emotional through a process referred to as “integration” (Carhart-Harris, 2023; Johns Hopkins, 2023; NYU, MAPS, 2023).
Like some of you reading this who may not have known who Deion Sanders is, I can imagine many of us are not fully aware of the “It’s here!” aspect of psychedelics in our work, in our offices. I say “our work” because our patients are using these medicines with or without us and will increasingly have access to them. I am sure that most of us are not (even though we should be) asking our patients if they are accessing these treatments in underground circles or in faraway places where they enjoy legal status. This list includes: my home state of Colorado, Oregon, and parts of Europe and Central America. On the legislative front in the United States, these medicines will surely be widely legalized within a number of years, if not sooner.
Now to come full-circle. The impulse to look away from this movement is not dissimilar from my initial aversion to watching Deion Sanders dance for the camera: distasteful. It is my firm belief now, having myself lived through some of these changes in the field and faced intense uncertainty about them, that we must have the courage to tolerate the new, the distasteful, even the “wrong” in order to see what shakes out in the end to be vital.
And it must be emphasized that this is a phenomenon that not only has great promise, but also real perils. We need to explore and understand both. As psychoanalysts, it is incumbent upon us to keep abreast of the current culture and happenings in the world at large. Psychoanalysis cannot be practiced well with our heads in the sand regarding this form of treatment. I believe that we all need to have a comfortable understanding of what the tool is, how it is being used, and most importantly, how our patients are potentially engaging with it right now. Because many of them are!
We, as analytically trained practitioners already have uniquely matched skill sets to maximize the effectiveness of psychedelic treatments (Rundel, 2022). The time is now to engage.
Wade Anderson, PhD, is currently on the Supervisory Faculty of WCSPP, newly appointed Director of the Supervisory Training Program and Coordinator of Dialogues In Clinical Moments. He is in full-time private practice working with adults, children and families in Ardsley and Pleasantville, NY. Wade is a 2012 graduate of the Westchester Center’s Analytic and 2016 graduate of the Supervisory programs. He is active in the psychoanalytic community, creating platforms of discourse surrounding psychoanalytic ideas. In concert with other WCSPP analysts, Wade is in the process of staging an in-person and zoom public conversation to take place in December, an exploration of the history, ethics & reemergence of psychedelic use for therapy as well as the common and non common ground with psychoanalysis. Formerly, Wade has held positions as: Clinic Director, MHA of Westchester in Mt. Kisco, Supervising Psychologist and program director at St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Faculty, Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Carhart-Harris, Robin. https://www.imperial.ac.uk/people/r.carhart-harris
Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research
NYU Langone Health, Psychedelic Medicine Research Training Program
Nardou, R., Sawyer, E., Song, Y.J., et al. (2023). Psychedelics reopen the social reward learning critical period, Nature, published online 14 June 2023. https://doi.org/10.1038/ s41586-023-06204-3.
Rundel, M. (2022). Psychedelic Psychoanalysis: Transformations of the Self.
Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 2022, VOL. 32, NO. 5, 469–483 https://doi.org/10.1080/10481885.2022.2106139
van der Kolk, B. (2021). https://www.besselvanderkolk.com/blog/molly-psychedelic-drug-shows-great-promise-as-mental-health-treatment-new-study-finds