Psychedelic Support and Harm Reduction

Exploring the PRISM and DanceWize partnership

By Stephanie Tzanetis

Psychedelic assisted-psychotherapy (PAP), as the name indicates, is a therapy session aided by psychedelic compounds. By comparison, psychedelic support, also known as ‘trip sitting’ or even ‘psychedelic midwifery’ is often community-led support where the intention is to let someone have their experience while the sitter manages the risk of harm from misadventure. The professional pathways to practice psychotherapy are well-established. There are also pathways to be a harm reduction worker. Many of these roles are government-funded initiatives within the alcohol and other drug sector (AOD), intended to achieve the goals of the National Drug Strategy and other health targets. But the path for PAP isn’t clear because psychedelics aren’t regulated, meaning there’s limited access to people under the influence of psychedelics, and being familiar with the experience is part of the training necessary to practice PAP.

Harm reduction workers often support people under the influence of drugs. For example, DanceWize (formerly RaveSafe) is harm reduction initiative that started in 1995 and has been administered by Harm Reduction Victoria (HRVic) since 1999. Via this health promotion program, peer support workers offer education and care for people using AOD in music event and festival settings. DanceWize peer workers have lived experience, 1st Aid training, and various other competencies, including psychedelic support teachings. The ‘Trip Sit principles’ articulated well by other psychedelic support services like MAPS’ Zendo Project and Kosmicare are create a safe space, sit don’t guide, talk through not down, and difficult isn’t necessarily bad. For a DanceWIze peer worker who ‘trip sits’ someone there’s no opportunity for intention-setting nor a therapeutic goal. Often people have used a poly drug combo, most-commonly alcohol, and they just need time and basic self-care interventions like water and comfort. Trip sitting is not PAP, but it is an opportunity to bear witness to someone’s psychedelic experience as part of a wide remit of preparations mental health professionals can undertake to be better placed to train for and practice PAP.

DanceWize educational video: How to Ground Yourself – Tips to Manage Overwhelm

In 2013, just 2-years after the org’s establishment and 6-years before PRISM partnered with St Vincent’s Melbourne to execute Australia’s first clinical trial involving psilocybin for end-of-life anxiety, PRISM co-founders and current Directors Dr Williams and Dr Bright recognised the reciprocity between psychedelic harm reduction and PAP. Williams and Bright approached HRVic to offer enhanced neuropharma training for DanceWize and to volunteer their time on the frontline as harm reduction workers at events where psychedelic use was expected to be more frequent. This led to a PRISM and DanceWize partnership, where each year between 2014-19 a PRISM representative was rostered on each shift at a large-scale multi-day music festival that DanceWize was engaged to provide harm reduction services in support of the onsite health provider.

8 PRISM representatives (including 4 current Directors) joined the DanceWize team of about 50 volunteers to support the festival-goer community in the partnership’s inaugural year. Over the years PRISM representatives were able to consult with onsite health crew, safety staff, and event management about AOD risks from novel substances, as well as deliver nuanced harm reduction education for patrons. In 2019, Dr Marg Ross, senior clinical psychologist, and Dr Daniel Hubik, psychiatrist, were included in the PRISM list to join the DanceWize team as harm reduction workers onsite. They both provided support for people having challenging psilocybin-related experiences. Later that year, Marg and Daniel led the clinical trials at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne.

Volunteering provides a unique opportunity for those interested in a career in psychedelic therapy to get hands on experience with individuals in altered states. 

Across Australia the proliferation of clinical trials using psychedelics to support psychotherapy continues. As does DanceWize and other psychedelic support initiatives for festivals, like the Conscious Nest in Queensland. As we come closer to establishing training and a regulatory framework for health professionals who seek to practice PAP, we should remember that psychedelics and the people who use them have knowledge to share that can inform PAP and promote health too.

If you’re interested in volunteering for DanceWize you can apply online at www.dancewize.org.au

 

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The re-emergence of psychedelic research places a crucial emphasis on a holistic approach to mental health from pharmacology, neurobiological process, ecological connection, and therapeutic support.  PRISM supports research and clinical development of therapies where current options provide limited relief.

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