Imagine yourself being away from the daily responsibilities of life and immersed in the woods in a small modern Scandinavian styled cabin, amongst others on their own healing journeys. You had a ketamine medicine session earlier in the morning and sit, just listening to the birds and sip on a hot cup of herbal tea, processing the shifts and new neuronal connections your brain is making. This model is probably not the image you expect when you hear the word "psychiatry". This is the future of mental health care.
Ketamine, a known anesthetic with increasingly known psychedelic effects, is the only current legal psychedelic in the United States. It is available by prescription and traditionally, under the supervision of a physician in a typical medical office setting. Ketamine has been shown to be particularly helpful for people with treatment resistant depression and suicidal thinking.
In my current practice as a psychiatrist at Driftless Integrative Psychiatry and amongst conversations with my colleagues, it is well known that ketamine also serves as a catalyst for beneficial changes in people's lives beyond treatment resistant depression. People describe having less rigid thoughts and a newfound ability to understand and see different parts of themselves - or see familiar parts of themselves in new ways. It has immense potential as a healing tool for people going through big life transitions such as a terminal cancer diagnosis, a divorce, or navigating relationship conflict.
Ketamine retreats, facilitated by licensed psychiatrists and therapists, are a safe and helpful option for people to unplug for a week and invest in their healing. So what do ketamine retreats of the future look like?
One on One Ketamine Personal Retreats
One option for those looking for a more private experience is a personal ketamine intensive, where you would work one on one with a psychiatrist and/or therapist team. These options are more costly but unlike group retreats, you will have more time with the psychiatrist/therapist to process and reflect with directly.
Outside of the ketamine sessions, which usually last less than 3 hours, and integration sessions afterwards, there is time to explore your intensive location on your own. In group retreat settings, it's easy for us, as social beings, to spend all of our waking hours in the company of each other. The problem with this is that people benefit from time alone to process the shifts they experience with ketamine, whether that be slow walks in the woods, meditating, or doing yoga.
Ketamine intensives are most suited for peaceful, rural locations throughout the United States. Additional offerings to enhance the ketamine sessions would be available to participants, such as infrared sauna or float tank experiences, guided meditation, and massage or craniosacral therapy. Light and audio brain wave therapies could also be loaned out to participants, as a tool to help with getting the brain in a parasympethetic, or relaxed state, before the ketamine session. Since food is such an important part of wellbeing, nourishing food options such as catered local foods or prepared meals delivered by mail, such as Provenance Meals would be available.
Before you go:
Do your homework before you book your personal ketamine intensive. Request a brief phone call with the provider/therapist and its a good idea to ask the medical provider if they have personal experience with ketamine - and if they have formal training in helping people with their mental health. Current options to consider include a 3 day, 3 ketamine session intensive in Boulder, Colorado with Craig Solerno Counseling. Driftless Integrative Psychiatry, in rural Iowa next to the Mississippi River, offers a 5 day, 2 ketamine session intensive and a 3 day option as well.
Group Ketamine Retreats
Attending a ketamine retreat in a group setting is a cost effective way to get introduced to the transformative capabilities of ketamine. In group settings, ketamine has a beautiful way of connecting members of the group from a place of authenticity. Most group retreats will have interested participants complete a medical screening or have a psychiatric evaluation completed by an outside provider to ensure that an individual does not have any mental or physical health issue that precludes them from participating in group work or with ketamine itself. Group retreats need to have a medical professional (ideally a psychiatrist) present to administer and dose ketamine appropriately.
Many group ketamine retreats are also held in scenic, rural settings around the United States. Most of the retreats are held in places known to be more open to alternative healing, such as outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico or in the Bay Area. Some ketamine retreat options take place outside of the United States in more tropical locations such as Costa Rica. This isn't necessary since it is legal in our country but is a good option if you're looking to combine a beach vacation with ketamine therapy.
Ketamine retreats of the future will continue to expand offerings throughout the country. They will be a more accessible way for people to experience psychedelic medicine in a decidedly unmedicalized setting. There will be options for people to continue to meet virtually for online group integration on a monthly basis. The food served will be nourishing and will facilitate healing. They will be customized with activities that enhance the effects of ketamine such as float tank or sensory deprivation experiences, silent group nature walks, and sauna sessions.
Before you go:
Before you book a group ketamine retreat, i's a good idea to find out how many participants will be there, what the itinerary is, and if you'll be sharing a room. Ask if the group facilitators have personal experience with ketamine and if you have a history of trauma, find out if there are therapists with expertise in trauma therapy who will be present.
It's best to keep group sizes under 20 people for a more intimate, personal experience. While having some activities planned, such as a group bonfire and a sound bath session, its a good idea to find a group ketamine retreat that has enough space and time in the schedule to just be. It's essential that you can take off on your own for a hike, a journaling session, or time on your yoga mat by yourself.
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