Scholarship Fund Aims to Improve Diversity, Inclusion in Psychedelic Medicine Training

David Drapkin, director of operations and strategic growth at Psychedelics Today, discussed the new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Training Fund for clinicians and practitioners in psychedelic medicine.

Aislinn Antrim: Hi, I'm Aislinn Antrim with Pharmacy Times. Today I'm speaking with David Drapkin, director of operations and strategic growth at Psychedelics Today, about the new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Training Fund for clinicians and practitioners in psychedelic medicine. And so, you recently launched this fund, can you just give a brief overview of kind of what this is for?

David Drapkin: The fund was recently launched in conjunction with a new 12-month certificate training course, that we launched about psychedelic therapy integration. And in the past, in other courses that we've done through psychedelics today, we gave scholarships and discounts in a structured way and as much as we could, but having this diversity now gives us a lot more ability to give. In this example, 20% of all students have scholarships. So, it really expands how many scholarships that we can give and really get more recognition to the donors that want to contribute to it.

Aislinn Antrim: Yeah, that's really exciting. And the fund is addressing, kind of, several important needs in the work around psychedelic medicine. So first, can you discuss the importance of having marginalized and underserved groups and researchers working in this space?

David Drapkin: Yeah, the main thing that occurs to me is, in psychotherapy, it's usually one on one or sometimes two on one in psychedelic therapy. But especially if a client is having a psychedelic medicine during a therapy session, it's so important to feel safe, in that moment, to feel understood, to feel accepted, to know they can be themselves, and that these other parts of who they are can also evolve and emerge in that therapeutic setting. And so, diversity inclusion is really key for a therapist to know about that. So that they're able to use the skills to enable the client to really feel safe and supported. And it's also really, really important that the therapists in those rooms doing the work, that they're reflective of the clients, the patients that are also in that room. So, we need to have therapists that reflect the real life of the client. So that's why we need to be representative of BIPOC folks and LGBTQ folks and people that are coming from marginalized communities, as well. So, it's really important that that diversity is reflected in the therapist community, and right now it's not so much. So, by being able to make this training program more affordable, accessible, it really should make the therapist community more diverse and reflective of the community.

Aislinn Antrim: Yeah, absolutely. Training programs for clinicians in psychedelic medicine have kind of been relatively few and far between, considering how quickly this field is growing. Can you discuss the need for training programs in general?

David Drapkin: Yeah, the training in psychedelic therapy has a huge bottleneck. And there's probably 100,000 therapists that will need to be trained within the next, I'd say 6 years from what I've heard. So right now, you know, we've really only got a few thousand. So, it's going to be a massive upscaling of that. At the same time, we've got a mental health epidemic, which has been worsened by COVID and addiction epidemic. And so, the need for therapists right now is huge. And we're going to be having psychedelic medicine mainstream approved by the FDA, and in hospitals and health centers, within a year. And so, we really have to provide the therapist with this very specific training. It's not just that the training is needed for a therapist to work with a client that's using psychedelics for their healing. It's totally different to any other cognitive behavioral therapy training, that a normal therapist or clinician would get a college or in postgraduate education. So, it's very, very unique skills. And that's why it's important that we're stepping to the plate to offer it because another reason why we're doing our particular training is most of the trainings that exists so far are only for licensed health care practitioners, doctors, nurses, psychologists, and clinicians. So, ours is obviously open to those folks, but it's also open to unlicensed practitioners. So, they may be massage therapists, yoga workers, they might be doing kind of legacy work already with people that are using drugs, using psychedelic substances already, by giving them these skills with basic harm reduction, so they're going to be more able to support clients going through psychedelic experiences or dealing with what came up afterwards.

Aislinn Antrim: It's very interesting. In the program that this fund is kind of working with, what topics are covered and kind of how does it work?

David Drapkin: You might be surprised, but it was hard to fit everything into a 12 month curriculum, it really was. There's a lot to cover. And so, we split the curriculum into 5 core modules. The subjects we want to cover in those 5 modules span the philosophical and historical, cultural and social looking back at what are psychedelics, where do they come from. Over thousands of years, humans have used them around the world in every single country apart from Antarctica, literally. So, we need to cover the history, the cultural, political, and philosophical side to understand psychedelics. And then we're going to go into more of the medical, clinical, granular details of, you know, how to assess the patient prior to a session, what kinds of screening protocols to use, any contraindications—that might be psychiatric conditions, family conditions. And then we talk about ethics quite a lot, both as a code of conduct in the scope of practice, as well as inner ethics. So, one's own kind of personal relationship with self and transference, countertransference.

And then we really start to get a bit more deep into what might come up for a person that uses psychedelics, and it's very unpredictable. It's impossible to know what exactly will come up. And that's why therapists need so much training, to be able to kind of react or sometimes not react, to know when they don't need to react so much, because we often want to fix things. In our in our world, we feel we should say something or do something stop things from happening. But, actually, what the field of psychedelic healing shows is the challenge that a client may experience when using a psychedelic and therapy session, the more challenging it is, the more lasting and meaningful the outcome, the outcomes and the benefit, the positive change is as well. So how does the therapist know? You know, when that challenge is too much, and what to do and how to find out, so a lot of skills to get there.

And then there's also the subject of integration. And that's about after the session ends where the person has psilocybin mushrooms or MDMA, whatever it might be. What happens next? You know, how do they make that into a meaningful experience that has a lasting impact? How do they integrate it into their life? And what support do they need to move forward? So that's a really huge part of the curriculum as well. And we've got weekly lectures, we've got weekly small groups, study tutorial sessions, we've got monthly webinars. And then we've also built an online community platform where our students will form an organic, closed group of 100 students to learn and grow for a year of the course. And then another year afterwards have been given free access to that.

Aislinn Antrim: That's so interesting, I can see how that's a lot to fit into a year. With so much developing quickly in the field of psychedelic medicine, how can training programs or individuals keep up with all of this research as it's developing? It feels like monthly at this point, there's something new.

David Drapkin: Yeah, you know, I have given up trying to keep up because there's so much happening in the world of psychedelic research. And also, in, you know, in the business side of it there's new things happening on the FDA side of things, but also mergers and acquisitions and new protocols and intellectual property. So, there's a lot happening. I think, once we have, probably 3 years ahead, so say in 2025, there will be accreditation boards, by then there'll be licensing board, you know, these will be FDA approved interventions. And so, there'll be a lot more of an infrastructure built around it, that enables training providers to patch in and to kind of build into those existing systems. Whereas right now, those systems don't exist nationally or internationally.

So, what we're doing is, there are definitely some really key principles and concepts that are universally recognized as being crucial in psychedelic therapy. And there are also some screening tools and evaluation, tools and assessments that are being used universally. So those will be included as well. But there's also a really huge amount of flexibility to go in different directions around ways that the therapy might look in different settings. So, clinical work will happen in a doctor's office or a clinic. Whereas what we're seeing in Oregon, coming probably in the next 9 to 12 months, that may well be in multiple settings, including nature, more like a nature retreat center and using group work and having a religious aspect to it as well. And there are retreat centers all over the world where a lot of people are going now for healing. I just had a phone call with a company that has a retreat in Mexico doing Ibogaine work, and 90 something percent of their clients who go to Mexico for Ibogaine for opioid addiction are coming from America, Europe, and Canada. So, there's huge need and people flying around the world, basically, to save their lives and to be well again. And so, there's a huge amount of an infrastructure that we also need to build over the next 5 to 10 years.

Aislinn Antrim: Absolutely. And how do the fund and the related educational program aim to work specifically around fair access to psychedelic medicines?

David Drapkin: This is going to be really complicated to develop in America, particularly because of the way the health care system has been developed over here. So, it may well be easier in other countries—Canada and Europe. Perhaps because Canada just has this special access program for psychedelic therapy and medicine. So that's a really key point. But access to care for psychedelics, you know, ultimately, we're trying to do it differently to general mental health treatment, that’s very expensive. A lot of therapists and treatment is not covered. It's out of network. And what happens to people that don't have insurance? So, there are different groups and companies coming up with different solutions. One of those solutions is to have a group setting. Rather than one to one, have a group of people going through the treatment together. And virtual care can also be used. And then when it comes to making it affordable, there's value-based contracts as well. And some organizations are looking at how to negotiate with insurance companies.

This psychedelic therapy may well be more expensive than an antidepressant or seeing a therapist once a week. But when you measure the cost benefit over that person's life, it's far superior. And MAPS, for MDMA for PTSD protocols, did a cost-benefit analysis. And if I had to guess, I think it was 3 to 4 years, around that point, that the extra cost of that protocol started to be, you know, was it was neutralized, so it was cost negative. But yeah, to be honest, this is a real big question, that we're not sure how it's going to work. And there's a lot of nonprofits working in this space to ensure there's access to underserved communities as well. So, probably partnerships between nonprofits and for-profits, I think we'll see a lot moving forwards. And, you know, our nonprofit is tax deductible donations that that people can make. And those dollars will then go to train therapists to work in their communities. So yeah, lots of good things happening. We just have to be patient, I think.

Aislinn Antrim: Definitely, it'll be interesting to see. And finally, do you have any information for people who are hearing about the fund and just might be interested in learning more or applying or getting involved?

Yeah, so the fund is, the website is holosfound.org, so if you want to check it out, if you want to make a donation, a couple of bucks, whatever it might be, $100, $1000, you know, there's no limit to what people can donate there. And all the money goes for those therapists who are going through this current program, but also in future years as well. This is now a permanent fund that we're going to be using to scholarship those students. And yeah, feel free to check us out at Psychedelics Today, our podcast, and our courses on our website.

Aislinn Antrim: Wonderful, thank you so much for telling me about all of this.

David Drapkin: Thanks, Aislinn. Yeah, lovely to talk with you today. Thanks a lot.