March 22nd, 2022
OF THE PSYCHEDELIC LEADERSHIP PODCAST
Psychedelics & Sexual Abuse: What You Need to Know & How Not to Cause It With
Laura Mae Northrup
In this episode, Laura Dawn drops in with somatic psychotherapist Laura Mae Northrup about the importance of being trauma-informed as a psychedelic practitioner, why we need to understand the power dynamic, what we need to be aware of when it comes to sexual harm, and how not to cause it.
“People who are survivors of sexual trauma, are more likely to be abused by the practitioners they go to for healing.” “Sexual harm is anything where the power dynamic makes consent impossible…and it’s anything where consent was not received.”
Laura Mae Northrup
About This Episode:
This episode is a must for ANYONE holding space and facilitating the psychedelic journey for others.
As leaders of this community, we need to learn how to not cause any kind of harm to those we are entrusted to heal, this is why training and being trauma informed is so crucial for anyone holding space.
In this episode Laura Dawn drops in with somatic psychotherapist Laura Mae Northrup about the importance of understanding the power dynamic, consent, what we need to be aware of when it comes to sexual harm, and how not to cause it. Tragically, survivors of sexual trauma are more likely to be sexually abused by the practitioners they go to for healing.
Tune in and you’ll get practical guidance you can apply immediately, powerful resources to become more trauma-informed, a more informed perspective about the importance of psychedelic preparation, and get to the heart of understanding trauma so that we can co-create a safer future for everyone.
- Absolutely everyone involved in facilitating a container for another’s psychedelic journey should become trauma informed and take training.
- As a community we MUST have difficult conversations with each other, and hold each other accountable for upholding the safety of all.
- Power dynamics exist that we may not be aware of, and we have to be diligent in getting feedback from our peers if we are unclear about crossing a line.
- What training is best for people just entering into psychedelic facilitation.
- How healing practitioners can unconsciously cross lines.
- Sexual Abuse in Patient/Clinician relationships.
Explored in this episode:
Episode #47: Laura Mae Northrup on The Psychedelic Leadership Podcast.
Laura Dawn: Your keynote at Horizons was a highlight for me. You literally could hear a pin drop. You received a standing ovation. I was super moved by everything that you shared. Right now, with the psychedelic movement, there’s a lot of hype and we feel this sort of frenzy of so many people coming into the psychedelic space and people are pretty much claiming that psychedelics can cure anything under the sun these days. So, it’s like very amazing to see the way that it’s in such a positive light, and there are shadow aspects to this. You spoke about harm and hype and bias and failure in psychedelic therapy at Horizons. So, I just wanted to give you the opportunity to share a little background of, little about yourself and how you came to offer such a riveting speech at Horizons.
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. Thanks. Thank you for your kind words. Let’s see. A little bit of background. So, I’m a psychotherapist and I specialize in working with sexual trauma. I have a very special interest in the healing of sexual trauma. I think as a politicized person, we can’t really think about sexual trauma and supporting survivors only from this tiny lens of like, okay, harm happened and now how do you heal? When we are really invested in healing around sexual trauma, we have to be invested in the larger community. So, I’ve done a lot of political work around this. I was involved in a collective called, The Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective for a while that is trying to build community-based responses to sexual violence. Then also I have my podcast, Inside Eyes, which is all about people who are using psychedelics and entheogens to heal sexual trauma.
So, I’m very invested in healing, sexual trauma, but while I was making my podcast, I was also one of those people who was like, hey, guess what everybody? You can do all this incredible healing work with psychedelics. They’re amazing. I was kind of like, I can’t really wholeheartedly, put this series out there without acknowledging… This is very specific that people who are survivors of sexual trauma are more likely to be sexually abused by the practitioners they go to for healing. So, this kind of all started with me making an episode about that and just really getting into the psychology of it. There’s a lot that I have to say about it from the clinician perspective of why that happens, and some things that happen in therapy that can be really confusing for clinicians that then make an opening for some kind of abuse to happen.
Of course, clinicians, choose to cause abuse. It’s not that they sort of are just invited to do it and then sort of happen to do it. So, I made this whole episode about that. I actually spoke at Horizons. I want to say it was before the pandemic, maybe 2019. I spoke not on the main stage and in a smaller setting that was like a one day on dealing with sexual violence in the community. So obviously, there’s been so many big, high-profile cases that have come out in the last few months around sexual violence from practitioners toward the people who they’re working with in psychedelic spaces. The people who run Horizons just felt like it was really time just to have it on the main stage. Of course, Horizons has their own history with sexual abuse, not necessarily practitioners abusing clients, but the previous MC for years was called out for being sexually predatory with a lot of young women who would go to the conference and just in general in the community.
So that’s kind of how I ended up there. The only other thing I’ll say about it is, I think that the feeling that people had when they were listening to me, give my talk, part of what was in that was also a lot of rawness of, you know I am a survivor and I said that in my talk and it’s a lot to go and speak that publicly and really be calling out slash calling in your colleagues and yourself. I mean, anybody can cause harm in a therapeutic context. So, it was a very powerful thing for me to give and then I think it was also really powerful for other people to hear.
Laura Dawn: It’s so interesting, and again, it’s such a nuanced topic here because we’re talking about people coming to the medicine to heal from trauma, yet they’re also like why is that, that they’re then more vulnerable to either — or people who have been sexually abused? Why is there more likelihood of that happening again in that container?
Laura Mae Northrup: Well, one thing I’ll say is, I mean, if we’re going to get real about what’s going on in the world, we have so much trauma. I mean, even people who have lived lives that are very, very privileged where they don’t feel like they have that much trauma. If you are existing in this world, you have probably been shamed for your sexuality. You probably have a lot of shadow stuff around how you feel about your sexuality, even if you’ve not known sort of “trauma”. We’re living at a time where we have inherited generations and generations of abuse, genocide, colonialism, so much violence, capitalism. So, I think one thing I’ll say is just none of us have actually been spared of harm and we live in a world that really normalizes harmful behavior. So that’s like a baseline. I think there can be an idea that like a therapist or a healing practitioner of any kind doesn’t cause harm. That is not true. We are normal ass people.
We do all kinds of things that are not necessarily acting in the highest integrity. So, say I think that’s one of the first sort of like demystifying things about why harm happens in healing spaces. Then the piece about it’s very specifically happening to of sexual trauma. One thing is I think people who have a predatory part of them, that that is looking for someone to abuse. I think that people who have that kind of streak in them can really see a lot of vulnerability and a lot of potential to harm someone who’s already really traumatized. So, somebody who has less trauma oftentimes is going to have a little bit more of an intact sense of boundaries and an intact sense of like how they deserve to be treated. Somebody who is really traumatized and really vulnerable and seeking healing may be more likely to be in a place where they’re so in need of healing that they’re willing to do whatever the healing practitioner or says is okay.
Also, people with sexual trauma oftentimes communicate in a very unconscious way about their trauma and they do that because they don’t necessarily have the words yet. Part of what happens in trauma is that a lot of things become very unconscious. So, when you’re in a healing space with someone who a lot of unconscious material that is really evocative and they’re bringing it in, in a very unconscious way. When I say that, what I mean is like, for example, in the field if somebody misses a session and doesn’t tell you that they’re not coming, somebody who’s not a clinician might be like, oh, they just forgot the session. As a clinician, you’re thinking, I wonder what was going on unconsciously, that they forgot the session. What are they communicating? They might be communicating something as simple as I am afraid to go to therapy, or I didn’t like something you said in the last session or whatever.
So basically, when there’s a lot of unconscious communication, some of that unconscious communication can look like invitations for any kind of like boundary crossing. For example, in some of these cases, people who are, the practitioners will say, well, the client invited me into a sexual relationship, but when a client does something like that as the clinician, we say no to that. So that’s communicating something, it’s communicating, are you safe? Will you cross my boundaries? Is my sexual trauma something that can destroy your boundaries? I mean, there’s a lot of really complex communication in that that gets missed when somebody is like, well, I’m not really going to be in my clinician role anymore, and I’m just going to go for this. Of course, there’s something very unconscious happening in the clinician as well. If they’re sort of seeing that as an actual opportunity for sexual contact, as opposed to very much a clinical issue. I hope that all makes sense. I know it’s kind of complicated.
Laura Dawn: I mean, it is super complex. So, I’m curious, do you have a standard definition of trauma? I feel like it’s amazing that trauma is like really boiling to the surface in our culture right now, but then people are like, I crossed the road and something happens, it was very traumatic versus actual real trauma. So, how do you distinguish? Is there a distinguishing factor in what actually makes something a trauma?
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. Well, and I hear what you’re saying. Sometimes people use the term trauma just to mean that they’re upset, which is, being upset is a totally valid experience. I think that there’s so many ways people define this, but I think probably how I would define it is that your body, your organism, your nervous system experiences, something that I want to say that feels potentially life threatening. Or like, I want to say like, maybe isn’t quite to the point of like I could die, but I’m suddenly like confronted with extreme vulnerability, which I think in the end is related to death anxiety. So, like extreme vulnerability and then for some people, people can experience trauma just by witnessing someone else be traumatized. I think a lot of it has to do too with just what ends up like what your symptoms are. So sometimes people experience something, for example emotional abuse. You might not be feeling with emotional abuse, like I am at risk of death, but you may be being made to feel powerless and being made to feel an extreme level of vulnerability. I think what determines whether that’s traumatic or not is what that person’s lasting symptoms are. So sometimes we experience abuse and we don’t end up with trauma, and other times we experience something that might feel more mild than what we would call abuse and we have trauma, and that has a lot to do with — I could go on and on about all the different aspects of why something ends up being traumatic, but I’ll leave it there.
Laura Dawn: What do you think we need to understand as a community and especially people who are stepping into hold space with psychedelic medicines about holding the power dynamic and understanding that?
Laura Mae Northrup: I mean, I would say one, one really big piece of that is that people just really underestimate the power dynamic.
Laura Dawn: Maybe you could explain what the power dynamic is for some people listening.
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. Well, depending on the kind of work you’re doing, the power dynamic could be, different in different context, because obviously there’s a lot of ways to be a practitioner in a psychedelic space. Oftentimes when you’re a practitioner, you know a lot more about your client than they know about you. You know a lot about their psychology, you know a lot about their wounding. They do not know as much about you. You are inviting them into one of the possibly most profound experiences they’re going to have in their life and you are in some way associated with that being possible. I say it like that, because I think the medicine is really kind of the collaborator in that space that is more — I don’t want to make practitioners sound godlike, but practitioners are doing incredible work. It’s very powerful to be holding space for somebody who’s dropping into that and when practitioners underestimate the power dynamic.
What they’re not seeing is that there could be so many ways that the client or the journeyer, the seeker is experiencing the practitioner that they might not even be aware of or they might not give voice to. So, for example, they might not really actually feel very safe saying, no, they might be very trusting in a circumstance where, maybe that that practitioner doesn’t actually deserve that trust, but they can be very trusting. They also can sometimes feel things like, oh, if I had a sexual relationship with this person that would maybe heal me, like maybe if I was partnered with somebody who was a therapist or partnered with somebody who was a medicine guide that would be a really healthy relationship. So, there can be just a lot of idealizing. Oftentimes when these circumstances happen where for example, I talked about this at Horizons; it seems like a consensual relationship between a practitioner and their client.
In retrospect, the clients often feel like it was traumatic and sometimes they even exhibit symptoms of incest survivors. If you think about it, there’s this person who has a lot of power over you. This person knows a lot more about you than you know about them, and you’ve entered into some kind of sexual relationship with a huge power dynamic. Then when that ends, if you look at that in some ways it does mirror, some of what happens with incest survivors. Oftentimes with incest, the person who is the abuser has a lot more power over the person who is being abused. So, I think even if a clinician doesn’t fully understand the power dynamic, which you should question your ability to practice, if you can’t ever. I think people really need to get to that point, but I think in the process of getting to that point, it’s just important to understand there is a huge power dynamic and it is never okay to have sex with your clients.
Laura Dawn: Okay, this is such a huge conversation right now because like, I actually know a lot of people who hold space, they’ll hold ceremonies, and then they’re also single. They’re like, well, is it okay if like six months after the ceremony that I hold that I’m in communication with that person and what if something develops? So, it’s such a gray area to know around what is appropriate and what’s not appropriate and actually remember that moment that you said that at Horizons and it was like, bingo. Even if it’s consensual, there’s a power dynamic at play. As a person in that power position, it’s actually not okay. Even if that person is consenting, but like at what point, you know because we’re all humans, some people are like, oh, I might meet my life partner doing this work. So, where do you draw the line?
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. So, I think this is really complicated and when I spoke at Horizons, I was really specific to talk about psychedelic therapy; because I do feel comfortable saying it is never okay to have sex with your client in a therapeutic context. There’s also a lot of really complex ways that people access medicine work. I’m not going to say that one way — I understand it’s like maybe you meet somebody and two years later you meet them again, and you did one journey with them once in a huge group setting, or maybe they assisted at a ceremony or something. I understand that it’s very different than having an ongoing therapeutic relationship. I was talking to my friend, Leia Friedwoman about this before I gave my talk. I was like, I don’t know, what should I say this? People always ask me this question. She was like, Laura people just need to learn how to not cause sexual harm.
That’s what people need to learn. It really just kind of cut through it all. So, what I would say is definitely psychotherapists or people who are practicing in a therapeutic context like coaches and whatnot that do ongoing work or if it’s one on one, where there’s psychedelic work happening should not have sex with their clients. Beyond that, what I will say in terms of things that look a lot more like a community is that, if you are a clinician, you really need to educate yourself on what sexual harm is and how to not cause it. That will mean that there are many people that you will meet in your community. Maybe even people that you never worked with that you should not be having a sexual relationship with because of the power dynamic. I’ll leave it there, but yeah, people need to educate themselves.
Laura Dawn: Okay. Can we talk about that? Yeah. Let’s talk about that.
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah, sure.
Laura Dawn: Defining sexual harm and how we educate ourselves on not causing it.
Laura Mae Northrup: Sexual harm, I think is anything where the power dynamic makes consent impossible and it’s anything where consent was not received. So, for example, we’ve got abuse. That’s just like no consent was asked for or consent was asked for, and the person said no, and the sexual contact happened anyways or it doesn’t have to be physical contact. It could also be like sexual harassment or something that’s less physical. Obviously all those, I think that’s what we normally think of is like, okay, somebody said no, or they didn’t consent and the person moved forward with it anyway. That’s non-consensual, that is a form of sexual violence. I think the part that we’re sort of talking about, that’s more confusing is when people are in a position that they don’t actually feel very aware of the fact that they don’t feel a total right to consent.
I mean, this is so complicated. I think, if you’re a clinician and you are thinking about having a sexual relationship with someone, you should definitely talk to your colleagues. I think anytime that you want to make something secretive, that’s a sign that — and especially again, like a lot of people who are being abused by practitioners are people who already have preexisting histories of sexual violence and for a lot of people that can be childhood sexual abuse that oftentimes includes a lot of secrecy. So, anything that looks like secrecy, you don’t want to tell people, you feel like other people wouldn’t understand what you’re choosing to do. That is a sign that there’s something wrong. I think it’s really important if you are considering any type of relationship where you have any question that you don’t just go act on the relationship and that you also don’t just go to your peers and colleagues that are the people who are kind of just going to be like, yeah, totally.
Go seek out somebody who can actually give you an honest opinion about that. I mean, I think even paying to consult with a clinician that is more experienced than you, or has a pretty strong trauma lens would be a great idea. Yeah. Then from there, I think also as clinicians, we really need to work on understanding our role in the world and how people actually view us. So, when you’re a clinician and you’re around people who know that, and even if they’re not your clients, that they are possibly imbuing you with and idealizing you in a way that makes you seem like you don’t have faults. I think that’s really common with clinicians and practitioners. They may be viewing you as someone who, like I said, like a relationship with you would be somehow beneficial to them because you are, “healer”.
When we get a lot more in contact with how people actually feel towards us, I think that allows us to see more of like, oh, idealization, that’s not a sign of a healthy dynamic to create a relationship out of. That’s a sign that there’s something happening, there’s wounding that’s emerging here between us. It probably feels good in that moment. It can feel really good to be idealized, but the flip side of idealization is devaluation and it’s not going to feel good when the coin flips. Idealization produces a lot of potential for abuse. I think trying to date people who are peer to you is a big one. If somebody is 22 years old and is not a clinician of any kind and you meet them. I mean, I think this is some of the stuff that was happening with Neil Goldsmith at Horizons, and you are like the MC at an event, or you’re a revered clinician.
There is a power dynamic and you can’t ignore that even if you don’t want it to be the case. The final thing I’ll say on this about how people can, cannot cause sexual harm and can really be navigating this is you need to be doing your own personal work. If you’re a clinician that has… I mean, we all need to be doing our personal work, but if you have your own trauma, you need to be working that. It’s not like I work that and now I’m over it when you’re a clinician, because you’re interacting with other people’s psychic material and spiritual material for your entire career, you need to be doing healing work your entire career. We just do healing work that is way beyond the average person would ever want to do and that’s part of our job.
Laura Dawn: Yeah. I hear you saying the word clinician a lot, and I would say probably like actual clinicians listen to this podcast, it would be interesting actually, I’d be curious to know like how many people are in the actual therapy camp, because there’s a lot of people going for it right now, stepping into guide practitioner, facilitator roles. So maybe from that angle, I mean, there are people stepping into this space by the droves at this point. What would you say is like some of the most necessary training to become trauma informed? Like as a baseline?
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. Two people who are doing that, I mean, if I had a dollar for every person who took mushrooms and then was like, Laura, I had a calling, I’m going to start guiding next week. With love, I just say, please don’t do that please don’t. If you want to sit for a friend and you’re not commenting at all on their journey and all you’re doing is kind of getting them water and blankets, like fine, but when you get into the part where you are holding space for people to do trauma work, you are engaging with them in their journey or engaging with them around their journey, doing integration work. This is not work to be done without training. I cannot underscore that enough. There are many people who think that that’s not the case, who think, oh, I can just intuit. No, you really, really need training. What I’ve said to people, when they’re like, what training should I take? I’m like, I don’t even care if it’s a psychedelic training, go get a trauma training. I’m trained in sensorimotor psychotherapy. I think for people who are really interested in doing psychedelic work, getting a somatic training is actually incredibly helpful because a huge part of what’s happen in psychedelic work is somatic work. So, getting trained in something like somatic experiencing, sensorimotor I know Hakomi has kind of a… there’s a critique going on a bit–
Laura Dawn: There’s a lot going on around Hakomi, unfortunately right now.
Laura Mae Northrup: Hakomi, the basic understanding is very similar to sensorimotor and somatic experiencing getting an IFS training is another big training that people I know in the MDMA world love. A lot of people counter that with like, well, it’s really expensive and it takes a long time.
Laura Dawn: Right, and the other thing, actually, I don’t know if you know this, but like both IFS and somatic experiencing have really long wait lists. It’s like years out to be able to actually get on the freaking list, which is crazy.
Laura Mae Northrup: They do. They’re very popular right now. Well, another thing I’ll say just like a giant shout out to Janina Fisher, who I was trained by. She trained me in sensorimotor, but she does her own trainings that are separate from sensorimotor as well. For anyone listening, read her books, take a training with her. She’s so intelligent. She’s not going to be talking to you about psychedelics. That’s not what she’s going to be doing, but she will help you understand trauma.
Laura Dawn: What’s her name? Repeat her name.
Laura Mae Northrup: Janina Fisher. She’s amazing. Truly. She’s really, really intelligent and very, very bright and has a massive history. I mean, she’s a very senior clinician and she’s trained in IFS and sensorimotor and psychodynamic thinking. So, I would say definitely take a trauma training. I would take a trauma training, even if you are not planning on working psychologically with people. Part of why I say that is because you need to know enough about trauma to know what not to do.
Laura Dawn: Exactly.
Laura Mae Northrup: Even if you’re never going to work psychologically with someone, you need to understand what psychological work is so that you don’t get into it. I say that like, it’s easy for us to do amateur therapy by all the things that we’ve heard or read in pop psychology outlets. It’s really important to know when to not say something. If you don’t have it, the sort of skills to back up a conversation, I would not even start the conversation and instead just, hold back and say, look, I think you should really see a therapist, if you were in the role where you’re just doing the guide work. Yeah. Then the other really big thing I would say, and again, people are like, I don’t know, it’s really expensive. I don’t want to do it. I’m like go to your own therapy, truly. I see this also, there’s so many people who go to medicine work and do incredible healing.
Then there’s a lot of people who go to medicine work and they do healing, but it kind of doesn’t stick. One of the biggest things I notice is the people where they’re doing the healing work and it’s really sticking and a lot of transformations happening are often doing some kind of therapy or coaching that is weekly ongoing, that’s really supporting them to actually grow and take that medicine work into the next level in their life. So that’s the other thing I would say. I know people are like, it takes too long, it’s too expensive. This is a part of the job. We don’t do this where if you aren’t willing to sort of take your being and your instrument truly in this work and hone it and craft it, and it takes years and years to be skilled, then you probably shouldn’t be stepping into this career.
Laura Dawn: Right. I totally agree. Yeah. I was going to say, especially with somatic experiencing, like I’ve done some really amazing courses of Peter Levine’s through, for example sounds true. So, you’re not necessarily going certification route because those are really, really long wait lists. Some of those programs are really long, but you can even do like a 12-week program where it’s like an evergreen course and read Peter Levine’s work and be able to dive in and get the tools. So, I think that that’s even baseline. So as someone though, like what are some of the signs that we can highlight here and illuminate for people to pay attention, to, to say, oh, that’s a red flag that I might need to actually refer this person to someone else. Sometimes people come, they’ll do even medical intakes and in the medical intake or the client intake, sometimes people have zero awareness of what trauma they’re actually dealing with. So, you can’t even like flag for that, but you said, actually a lot of trauma is related to somatic experiencing and somatic awareness. So, what are some of the things that we could pay attention to?
Laura Mae Northrup: Absolutely. Yeah. I’ll just also one more thing I want to say about this that actually kind of relates to this piece as well. Therapists have a tradition where when we don’t know what’s going on in a case, or we aren’t skilled enough to work with a case that we actually go get consultation. I think because a lot of this work is illegal and also that doesn’t necessarily have a full tradition of it. There can be a way that people are kind of out there on their own, like they’re just sort of doing their mushroom journeys or their guided journeys and they’re not necessarily making weekly time to go talk to other clinicians and talk about what happened in a way where they’re examining. Here’s where I feel like I went wrong or here’s where I need some guidance or some eyes on my work. So, I’ll also say that if you’re at all worried that you’re going to be causing any kind of harm or you’re newly practicing, starting a group with other clinicians who do similar work and talking it over weekly is a great way for you to learn and also to make sure that someone else has eyes on what you’re doing.
Laura Dawn: Which that’s actually really lacking. So, like there’s peer to peer support, and some of my closest friends who do guide work, I mean, they’ve been doing it for years and they still go to weekly therapy sessions. They’re still doing that. They’re really dedicated to their own work, which I really, really appreciate. It’s unfortunate because I feel the apprenticeship model and the mentorship model, there’s like peer-to-peer support, but then also, these other apprenticeship models that are more sort of prevalent in Shamanic cultures, but not so prevalent here for a variety of reasons.
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. Oh, gosh, I love that you mentioned that too, because, I’m obviously coming from a very Western context when I’m like go consultation or, do this X, Y, and Z. There can be this way that people are trying to practice in a way that feels like it’s a more traditional way of practicing and so they’re rejecting things like consultation or rejecting therapy. The fact is if you’re living in the U.S. you’re probably living in some level of culture, that’s really fragmented. So, it’s not the case that you are living in a small, like 300-person community where you’re in regular conversation with all the people and if somebody causes harm, it’s on the whole community to engage in it. We live in a really fragmented isolated society where we can’t live out this idealized version of a tribe or these ways people talk about like their community might be if we weren’t suffering from the deep isolation that’s inherent in capitalism and colonialism.
So, yes to everything you just said. Okay. So back to this piece, you asked me about kind of like the signs that somebody is experiencing a level of trauma where you probably shouldn’t work with them. I would say this is something where it’s very, very personal to the clinician or the practitioner. Each of us have limits of what we can work with. A lot of times those limits have to do with our own personal wounding. I don’t think it’s the case, that some people are too traumatized to do psychedelic work. I think it’s the case that some clinicians aren’t necessarily ready to hold space for somebody with severe trauma. It’s true, many people come into healing work and they are either really disassociated or they’re really private or they’re really ashamed and they don’t necessarily state what their trauma is. So, this isn’t something you’re going to kind of find on an intake form.
What I will say, I know people do this all very differently and some people just show up and they do the work with someone and they haven’t actually had a conversation with that person or that person can just sign up to come to their ceremony and that’s just all chill. I think if you’re working with people and you want to really do right by them and be trauma-informed, you should be having a conversation with everybody who’s entering your community or entering your ceremony space or anybody who you’re going to be doing this work with. I know this probably isn’t a really satisfying answer, but I actually think it’s a really good idea to get some sessions in, with someone who’s more experienced.
Also, possibly somebody who understands a lot of your psychology as the clinician who can help you start to sort out who are the people that you end up becoming, not your best self with. Who are the people where your own trauma starts to get ignited and you may be step into a place where you want to help them more than you should be. You step into a place where you don’t want to help them. You step into a place where you don’t want to hold what’s coming up for them. I can say, as a clinician, like that has been a very, very painful, long process for me to kind of discern like, oh, here are the nuances of what I have to look for in another person when they come to me. Not because they don’t deserve healing, but because I am not going to be a good therapist to them. That stuff is like, it’s where I get, like I get fragmented and funky and I don’t do my best work.
Laura Dawn: That requires like an enormous amount of self-awareness.
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah.
Laura Dawn: Like, wow, this client who’s paying me right now is triggering me.
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. I mean, we got to get to the point where we know that stuff about ourselves. If you’re really early on and you’re confused, like another thing is you don’t have to do this work by yourself. You could also be like; I’m going to run retreats with a second person. Somebody else who I can be talking through all of this with. So, I think there’s a lot of ways to safeguard against it. I mean, we just do end up causing harm. There’s also a piece to this. That’s like having compassion for yourself. I think the most important thing is that we’re really, really actively trying not to cause harm. Then of course, if we do cause some harm taking it very, very seriously.
Even if that harm is just something like someone came to one of your ceremonies and you were so triggered by them that you ignored them and they were left alone and they needed your support. Again, I’d get consultation on this, but I think there’s a way to take accountability for that and to do some really strong work around getting that person — helping them find a healing practitioner who can actually hold what’s going on for them. Then for ourselves, whenever something like that comes up, for us, going into our own, our own personal work and what came up for me that I ignored that person. What came up for me that I just like couldn’t face what was happening for them, or I couldn’t have clear boundaries with them.
Laura Dawn: I love that you bring this aspect of just like realness of ownership that we’re all human and everyone’s working with their own shit. So, no one is exempt and how much can we actually own that in a degree that we acknowledge it is actually the pathway towards doing better.
Laura Mae Northrup: Absolutely. I mean, it’s like this conversation just gets into this really specific aspect. I think of the global culture we live in, but especially I think really specific dominant culture narrative in the U.S. which is just like an inability to tolerate shame. It’s interesting because there’s all this conversation at the moment and for the past, probably say at least year where people are really sort of publicly obsessed with the idea of the narcissist. There’s like am I a narcissist? What’s a narcissist, how do you identify a narcissist? One of the things I think is sort of ironic about this is we live in an extremely narcissistic culture. One of the hallmarks of narcissism is an inability to process shame, which then the person who is having the narcissistic defense is projecting the shame out onto other people. If you are a clinician, you have to try your hardest not to harm anyone and do the personal work not to, but also when we do harm or when we are not our best to be able to tolerate the shame enough to actually really confront that in ourselves so that we have that self-awareness not to do it in the future.
Laura Dawn: To go deeper into that question that I asked earlier, like one layer deeper into physical cues. Can you point to anything of like dissociation or hyperarousal or hypoarousal, that’s like, whoa, that is clear. I said the thing, and then the person sitting across from me, like crunched down their shoulders and turned away and clearly withdrew. There was not even anything specific that happened. Are there other real markers that we could be more aware of?
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. This is one of the reasons I think somatic training is useful, because you can actually really train yourself to be able to see a lot of this. For anybody who wants to start practicing, even just paying attention to someone’s breathing pattern is a really important part of how you can track if somebody is not breathing, if somebody seems very still like to the point where they’re too still to be… most people are having a little tiny micro movements in their body all the time. Extremes still illness is usually a sign of dissociation. If you, the clinician or the practitioner are feeling kind of foggy in your own mind, that’s probably a sign that either you are disassociating or you’re tuned into your client or the journeyer being dissociated.
So yeah, extreme stillness, like a sense of the conversation just dropped off and the person is not really speaking, not really engaging kind of looks like they’re not really looking at anything. Like they’re not focusing on anything, those are all signs of dissociation. When we talk about the other side of dissociation, so dissociation is a hypoaroused state where the nervous system is downregulating. When we talk about the other side of that, that’s a hyperaroused state where the nervous system is upregulating. That would look like being extremely anxious talking so fast that the person you can’t really get a word in edgewise repeating the same stories over and over again. A lot of movement, a lot of like maybe even like jittering around fidgeting with things.
Laura Mae Northrup: Sometimes people can get a really intense, like what looks like their eyes are… What is it called? It’s like laser focus, like contraction in the neck and head where somebody’s not moving their head around freely. They’re just kind of like laser focused in staring. I’ll also add just a really useful thing to do in that situation is to invite somebody to move a little bit, to kind of come out of it. So those are some of the things that I think are signs that somebody is really triggered. Again, there’s much training available on starting to tune your own body into being able to assess what’s going on and feel it.
Laura Dawn: Yeah. Which I think medicines help us do that in a way. They allow us to become more aware to the subtle dimensions of energy and what’s happening and the tone of what’s transpiring. I’m curious, are you familiar with The Strozzi Institute?
Laura Mae Northrup: Mm-hmm.
Laura Dawn: Yeah. I’ve done their training as well, they touch on trauma, but it’s more oriented around like embodied leadership, which is, there’s aspects of weaving that it but I was kind of just curious if you’d heard of them.
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah, I have. I haven’t trained with them, I’m more oriented towards like the trauma and stuff than I am towards that stuff, but I know people really appreciate the work that they do and that they’re pretty connected to generative somatics as well, which is an organization that has also led by Staci Haines and is very interested in the healing of sexual trauma and addressing that in a political way.
Laura Dawn: Yeah. They wove in but the program I did with them was like more oriented towards like what it means to embody leadership in the space. Which was sort of an angle that I was kind of really curious to experience. Okay. I’m just kind of curious, as a community, what are we doing well around calling in or calling out transgressions and what are we really not doing well, as a community right now?
Laura Mae Northrup: Well, I think one of the things that we’re doing well at the moment is that we’re talking about it. I think that’s really important. I think it’s, we’ve up leveled that a lot in the last year. I would say one of the things that we’re not doing as well, or it’s like a job interview where I could see room for improvement. I think we need a more clear agreement. I think more people need to be on board that this isn’t okay. I think a lot of people actually don’t actually think this is really that damaging to do somebody who they’re working with. So, I think we just generally collectively need to be more taking it more seriously. Then the other thing I would say is we need to understand that even if we’re not the person causing the harm, we’re a part of the community that lets it happen. So, there’s the person who’s been harmed and then there’s the person who causes the harm.
Then there’s all the people who are the bystanders to that. There are all the people who, you get a choice, whether you’re going to believe it or not, whether you’re going to respond or not, whether you’re going to say something. You get a choice about whether or not you’re going to challenge your peer that maybe you know has done something like this. That’s an arena where I think it can be really easy to kind of be like, okay, well I’m not doing this and it hasn’t been done to me. So, it’s not really my issue, but actually like we just really need to create a community that doesn’t accept up this level of harm. When I say doesn’t accept it like actively saying no. This needs to be talked about in every training. This needs to be talked about very regularly. I think you probably may remember from my talk at Horizons, in non-psychedelic spaces, we don’t have research on psychedelic spaces, but in non-psychedelic spaces, seven to 12 percent of clinicians, mental health clinicians in the U.S. self-report that they’ve crossed a sexual boundary with someone who they work with.
Laura Dawn: That’s Wild.
Laura Mae Northrup: It’s just a really, really big number. It’s a number that’s so big, that’s really shocking that there’s not more conversation about it in non-psychedelic mental health spaces, there’s not more conversation. I have a feeling it’s a really similar number or more in psychedelic spaces. So we have to really ask ourselves, why do we have all these trainings where no one talks about this? This should be embedded, and I don’t just mean like, oh, there’s a module on it. It should just be embedded in it, when we’re talking about doing touch in psychedelic work. We should be talking about how to not harm when we’re talking about working with trauma. All layers we could be talking about it. I think that’s an arena that we just need to do a much better job.
Laura Dawn: You just mentioned touch and my mind was also going there and like, okay, we heal through relation and touch actually is big part of that. So how do we navigate that space where someone’s in an altered state of consciousness and it can actually be very healing to have hands on.
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. If you want to touch people who you work with, you should be trained in touch is basically my answer to that. I think again, people are like, I don’t want to get the training.
Laura Dawn: I don’t even hear that though. I don’t hear a lot of people being like, I don’t want to get the training. I’m actually going to be doing a psychedelic summit highlighting a bunch of the different facilitator trainings, because right now it’s like such a big question, but I feel like more people that come to me anyways are like, which trainings and like, should I invest in this one or that one? There’s a huge race right now for companies that are like launching trainings and that they’re actually hard to get into, like the MAPS training is like a wait list. It’s not easy for people to just dive into trainings besides, and people who don’t want to go for like a three-year master’s degree, for example.
Laura Mae Northrup: Yes. That’s awesome. I am also hearing the, I don’t want to do another training, but that’s great that people want to get the training. Again, I’ll also say like, I think you can get a really amazing training in touch and consent that’s not psychedelic in nature and get psychedelic training and merge those. So, if there’s a touch training that’s specific to psychedelic work, that’s awesome. If you can’t get in, it’s also a great idea just to do any kind of touch training.
Laura Dawn: Any recommendations, do you know any?
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. I love Britta Love’s work and one thing when I spoke at Horizon’s the first time Britta did an awesome section about the wheel of consent which is Betty Martin’s work. I think that’s an amazing training. I think anybody who’s going to be working with people who are intoxicated on a substance and doing healing work. It’s a great idea to get some deep training on consent and how consent works and how do we get consent and what are your feelings on consent. So that’s one that I would definitely recommend.
Laura Dawn: Okay, great. What do you think about people, practitioners who are working with people who do have trauma and actually just having another person present in the room, if there’s going to be hands-on touch?
Laura Mae Northrup: That’s a great idea.
Laura Dawn: Yeah. It also makes sense that in an altered state of consciousness the person receiving this healing might also distort storylines. Then, how do you navigate things like that? Where there’s like a practitioner who’s like, no, I genuinely, was holding good space. Have you seen any of that sort of dynamic of like, no, this is actually you and your storylines are being distorted because you’re in an altered state.
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. I have heard about an experience where somebody was in an altered state and did sort of accuse the clinician of doing something, and the clinician luckily had another assistant in the room who was able to verify like that didn’t happen. I don’t want to get too into like stories where people make things up. I like to be kind of careful about talking about it because so much of the time it’s really not being made up. I’ll also say there’s all these sort of ways that we want to safeguard against this. We’re like, what if there’s a licensing board, and what if there’s a place you can go to, to tell people this happened? We really want to imagine that there’s a way to completely prevent sexual violence. One of the cases that I always go back to that I think is so indicative of how hard it is to prevent sexual violence. Is this situation with Richard Yensen, Donna Dreyer, where there’s two people in the room. One of them is licensed. It’s in a freaking like trial for MDMA. This is lots and lots of people involved in this and still sexual violence happened. I don’t say that to say, we should all be hopeless, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge that we’re just living in a global epidemic of sexual violence and it’s so much bigger than a regulation or a checklist that we check off and say, okay, I did everything now, there’s no violence that’s going to happen.
Laura Dawn: Right.
Laura Mae Northrup: There’s just so much about doing that deep personal work.
Laura Dawn: He came out publicly, right?
Laura Mae Northrup: Richard Yensen?
Laura Dawn: Yeah.
Laura Mae Northrup: I mean, he acknowledges that he did do what he did, but he does not think it was wrong, is my understanding. I haven’t spoken to him.
Can you share a little bit more about what happened? Do you know what happened? What did he admit to?
Laura Mae Northrup: He admitted to having a sexual relationship with a person, who was a participant in a MAPS trial, that he was one of the co-therapist for.
Laura Dawn: Okay. So, in situations where someone publicly acknowledges and maybe even publicly apologizes, do you think that there’s space for people to learn and grow and do better and keep practicing?
Laura Mae Northrup: Oh, man, this is a hard question. I think it’s a hard question, because there’s so many kinds of abuse that can happen. I do not think that people who cause any kind of harm need to just throw their careers away, but I will say if you have sexually abused somebody who you are working with; I would suggest pausing on your work for a long time. I mean, I think that is crossing a line as a clinician and a practitioner. I would not trust that person to just continue on practicing with all their other clients or other people and say to themself, it’s okay, I just did it this once. It needs to be taken very, very seriously. Yeah. I would never personally refer to anyone.
Part of where I draw the line is, would I ever refer to you? No, I wouldn’t. Okay. I also think that if somebody has caused sexual harm at that point something very big has happened and a big part of their life path is now going to be grappling with the fact that they caused the sexual harm. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing where you’re just like, okay, I made that mistake, sorry, I’m going to go back to practicing. Maybe it’s some point that person goes back to practicing and they’re practicing with other people who have caused sexual harm. At that point, that becomes a part of your journey and your story and it needs to be integrated in some kind of way that makes sense. I just do not think that it makes sense to just like kind of blip over it, say I’m sorry and move on.
Laura Dawn: I love having this conversation with you because, especially you also have a podcast and so do I clearly, and I feel a lot of responsibility in like the messages that get communicated. I have this conversation all the time. I actually know someone who serves medicine. He is a white male and I’ve seen this pattern of predatory behavior, young women, past history of trauma. I’m like, what do I do? Who do I tell? Or what do I say? Where do I go? Do I like fucking publicly announce this? Then there’s been people in like the Bufo space where major, major things have happened. Then, it’s come up in group discussions, if it’s very polarizing, some people are like, yeah, you should speak your truth about your experience with that person and other people who are like, that’s totally inappropriate to speak that publicly. So, what do we do here?
Laura Mae Northrup: I want to make an analogy. Okay, all of us are like poisoned with this really toxic world around sex and sexuality. So sexual violence is so normalized and we are like, okay, well, it’s kind of okay or it’s not that bad. It’s so normalized it’s really hard for us to understand what’s going on. So for example, let’s say there was a healing practitioner and once, twice, maybe ten times in their career, they brought a gun to their work and they didn’t shoot the person they were working with and kill them. They just shoot them and harm them enough, they have to go to the ER and that person maybe is doing physical therapy for a year or two. It’s really dramatically affecting this person, but the person didn’t die. I would be like, even if a thousand people are going to come to you and you don’t shoot them and you shoot a thousand, than one person like, no. I mean, it sounds like kind of an extreme analogy, but I think people really need to understand, we’re talking about people who are abusing the people who they’re working with. It’s not like, oh, well you do good work with most people. No, when you’re a healing practitioner, that’s a very sacred role. You only get to step into that role if you are actively committed to not harming the people you work with. If you’re causing harm, even if it’s totally unconscious and you have no idea why you’re doing it and you just wake up in the middle of it and you’re like, whoa, I’m in this situation again, you should not be practicing.
Laura Dawn: Right.
Laura Mae Northrup: At least not that way.
Laura Dawn: Most people don’t even know. They’re just totally unaware. It’s like total shadow.
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. With that, I would say, yeah, then I go back to, I mentioned this at the in my Horizons talk, there are going to be the people who are just in complete denial. The community needs to be strong enough to react to that. As of right now, I think the community is too traumatized to do anything about it. I mean, we are trying, there are many people who are building up systems and really trying to think critically about, how are we going to hold people accountable, especially in a space where people are doing things that are criminalized, like medicine work. So, it’s not actually always safe to be like, oh, hey, I’m going to just publicly announce this on like the internet, because you’re also putting a bunch of people at a criminal risk related to drugs being illegal. The community needs to keep building ourselves, building our own capacity to respond to this because there are going to be the people who are just so far gone. They’re not going to listen.
Laura Dawn: Okay. So, for people who are listening, who might be on either side of the equation here. I heard you say something on someone else’s show about like the necessity for people who work with trauma, who have past experience in trauma. You go to a psychedelic journey. There’s really a lot that you have to like be skilled at navigating through. I think regardless, as you’re saying, no one’s unscathed here. So, everyone, whether you’re a practitioner or a facilitator or a guide, or just someone who’s like starting on the path and doing your own work, we all sort of need to equip ourselves with the skill sets of like, wow, this is really freaking tough in this moment to like face shadow parts of ourselves or face the unconscious or face the trauma. So, it is amazing to see, like over the past five years, like the amount of people talking about integration now it’s more and more, even though some people for sure are paying lip service to it, but the content and the curriculum around integration is developing and less so I would say around preparation. So, I’m curious, I mean, even just like, as good life skills, to be able to like navigate through emotional difficulty and really challenging terrain, like what are some of those aspects of preparation and can guides actually work with people for a year, for example, before even touching medicine on like building up those skill sets?
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. Such a great question. I know a lot of people say that they see preparation as kind of a part of integration, but I feel like we need to delineate because I think it’s almost not more important than integration, but it’s really essential. So, yeah, when we talk about going into a medicine space and we talk about healing trauma and there’re people who have a lot of trauma tend to have pretty hard journeys. I feel like so much of the art of healing with a psychedelic is being able to completely surrender to it, to surrender all the way to the experience. In that surrendering, I think of it almost like it’s a dance, like it’s a collaboration between the medicine and your own psyche. If you’re in there kind of being rigid about it, you’re doing a rigid dance. It’s not necessarily going to be so smooth. It’s understandable that it’s hard to surrender because the medicine might be inviting you to physically move in ways that frighten you, it might be inviting you to feel something that is excruciating. It might be showing you something or telling you something about yourself that you feel really ashamed of, or there’s a ton of grief that can come up. So, I think of it kind of like if you’re peeling back layers of an onion, if you just go in to a journey and you didn’t peel any layers, like you’re going to be doing all the layer peeling in the journey.
Laura Dawn: Yeah.
Laura Mae Northrup: So, one thing I’ll say about that is if there’s like a hundred layers to get down to the deep, deep trauma like in terms of expectation management, people go into these journeys and if they aren’t doing any healing work outside of the journey and they’re like, I’m going to heal my trauma. It’s like probably what you’re going to do first is just peel one layer back. It may take a long time actually to get in and be doing the trauma work. It just does take a really long time, right? All this sort of obsession with like, I’m going to do this, one night I’ll be totally healed. That’s just not how it works with trauma, especially not severe trauma. So, what I would say to that is that we can be building a much deeper relationship to ourself before we go into journey work. I think that looks like meditation. I think it looks like therapy. I think it looks like breath work. I think it looks like having like an ongoing journaling practice.
I want to say it’s not rocket science. It’s really basic healing work that I think builds our capacity to confront ourselves. That’s a big part of what we do in journey work, except we just do it in a way where you don’t get to press an eject button and leave the journey. All of a sudden, you’re just in there. So, if it’s really hard you need to be able to kind of breathe through it. The last thing I’ll say on that is just that I think having some like core resource, like something really core that you have practiced enough that you can go back to it is very helpful. That could be something like you sing every day and then, if you’re in a sort of a journey space where you’re not necessarily around a bunch of other people who are like, it’s not a group journey, being able to sing a song. If that means you’re doing really intentional breathing and that’s the thing you can come back to.
I mean, I have been in a journey like that where I had to come back to, I’m still alive and that’s all I’ve go and I know that because I’m breathing. So, if you practice, for example, doing a lot of somatic sensing in and letting your body move the way you want it to move. Anything that you can drop into as your kind of final, like, okay, this is my anchor. I think those are great things to prep and this thing you said about, is it okay to like prep for a year? One hundred percent. I mean, I think a lot of people do tons and tons of healing work that they don’t call prep. Then they go into a journey, but that was their prep and that might have been going to therapy for five years and then suddenly being like, oh, I want go do psychedelic work.
Laura Dawn: Do you think that Ketamine could be a good stepping stone for people before going into other more expanded psychedelic experiences. Not that ketamine’s not expanded, but I’m kind of curious your thoughts about that.
Laura Mae Northrup: I do, and I’m a ketamine therapist, and so I definitely see that as like, I think it’s short, you can do a low dose. If you’re really drug naive, I think it’s a great place to go in and just kind of experience like, oh, here’s what it’s like to not have control over my body to be really vulnerable. People really underestimate what that’s like. I mean, people all the time are like, okay, I’m going to go in. I’m like, okay, like you might not be able to control your own body. Like you might be so high that you don’t know who you are anymore. That can be really, really healing, but it’s not casual. People talk about this stuff, like they come out and they’re like, that was amazing, and I’m like, they’re not telling you how bad it is when you’re in it. Well, not bad, but how scary and intense it can be. So, I definitely think ketamine is a nice like kind of dropping in, especially at a low dose to experience that.
Laura Dawn: Right. Which also makes me wonder about having a psychedelic experience that is so scary. I mean, especially, I don’t understand how a dissociative could also heal trauma first of all. What about these experiences that are so full-on for people to experience that that’s actually like traumatic in and of itself?
Laura Mae Northrup: Oh yeah. I mean, and I talk about this in my podcast actually. So having a really, intense experience where you can’t control your own body. You can’t control what’s going on in your mind. You can’t get away from the high. I mean, when I say there’s no eject button–
Laura Dawn: I know that feeling.
Laura Mae Northrup: Is anybody listening—
Laura Dawn: I was like, I remember like flash back to this one experience where I was like 10 hours in. I was like, when is this going to end? I am ready.
Laura Mae Northrup: It’s so funny, it’s like people who don’t do this work, but they’re like, I want to try it. I’m like, okay. Yeah. Take how many hours you’re going to be high. You might be thinking that entire time I want to stop. That’s actually what it can be like. That is potentially reenacts sexual trauma to be like, something is happening to my body. I do not have control over it. I want it to stop and I can’t make it stop. For that reason, I would say, the prep work around, I’m really consenting to this. I’m really going to surrender to this is really important because you can most definitely be retraumatized or accrue new trauma in a psychedelic journey. Then of course with this piece that we’re talking about with guides, it’s complicated because you want to surrender, but also you need to also be sussing out whether that guide is somebody who’s safe to surrender around.
Laura Dawn: Right. Which actually is a big piece around preparation with people is psychological safety, like building a relationship of trust and creating a container that allows for psychological safety as like an actual ingredient for preparation.
Laura Mae Northrup: Absolutely.
Laura Dawn: Yeah. Oh my gosh. There’s so many different aspects that I’m like, oh, I want to go into with you. What about microdosing as a preparation tool? Like what’s your read on the — it’s funny. So, I do a lot of microdosing work with people, and I think that there’s also a misconception that microdosing… because it’s a microdose that it can’t actually retrigger trauma, but that’s also not true or accurate. I think even for people who are like, oh, it’s just such a small amount and like I’m now a microdosing coach that you actually still need to be trauma informed.
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. I think you should be trauma informed if you do any kind of healing work. I don’t know enough about microdosing to really give any kind of strong statement about it. Yeah. It seems like a lot of people really, really love it. I’m a macrodose kind of person. What I will say when I’ve taken a microdose is, I’ve definitely been in circumstances where I’m like, oh, it’s a little microdose and then I’m like, whoa. What? You can still be high on a microdose.
Laura Dawn: Yeah. Totally.
Laura Mae Northrup: Setting still matter on a microdose.
Laura Dawn: Definitely. One more question about Matthew Johnson. He did his keynote at Horizons as well about people not bringing in like dominant faith for example, or weaving in aspects of that. So, I grapple with that because like for me personally, I feel like helpful modality for preparation is Tibetan Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy. There’s like an enormous amount of depth of wisdom of actually learning how to sit in the discomfort of challenging emotions. It’s like 101, training for that, that I actually think is like incredible preparation for psychedelic journeys and integration. I’m kind of curious your thoughts about that. Like weaving in other wisdom traditions that have faith-based practice.
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. I 100 percent agree with you. I think like Buddhism and meditation are extremely valuable on their own and they also are very valuable in combination with psychedelic work. In terms of weaving in someone’s faith, okay, most faith traditions have some type of process of deep presence. I think that in some circumstances that gets really distorted in certain religious practices. I do think that it’s possible to, if somebody is like, here’s my faith to ask them great, like what happens in your faith around accessing deep presence? I would just maybe go with that. We don’t want to like force any kind of spirituality on anyone, but I think there is a way to practice a meditative practice that isn’t necessarily forcing a spirituality. Yeah, I like a 100 percent agree with that. I think it’s really important to be just for people’s journey work to be culturally relevant to them. So, if somebody has a faith, like I’m like roll with it, talk to whoever your G-o-d is or whoever your higher power is.
Laura Dawn: Like practitioners or guides, just being fully transparent around like, hey, this is a preparation tool. This comes from Tibetan Buddhist practices. It’s really helped me, try it out if that could be helpful for you. Like what’s your take on that?
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. One hundred percent. I think that’s totally, yeah. I encourage everyone to meditate, and if you want to go deeper, you could also — because of course there’s meditation and then there all the practices and all the theory and the thinking around it, which I think is really valuable and makes meditation a lot easier if you understand that stuff. So, I think that’s great to bring that piece in. Again, it’s all about consent, if somebody’s like, no, I don’t want anything spiritual going on here, which is an interesting thing to approach medicine work with, definitely people do. Or if they’re averse to a certain spirituality, I just think it’s about like being creative and finding a new way around it, but definitely I think that’s a great tool for prep and making it through the experience.
Laura Dawn: Yeah. I’m kind of curious how, when we are talking about meditation or just like somatic awareness for people who have trauma, who actually don’t want to feel their body, like, is there stepping stones that you can work with people? Actually, a lot of people who have deep seated trauma, like the last thing they want to do is like tune into somatic awareness.
Laura Mae Northrup: One hundred percent. Yeah. So, what I always start with is the breath. I start with, you don’t have to feel what’s actually going on in your body. Try taking a bigger, deeper breath or try taking a more soothing breath. I find that that’s a really helpful way to just be like, we’re doing a somatic practice, but you can still be pretty checked out from how it actually feels inside.
Laura Dawn: Do you notice that a lot, like in terms of that correlation with trauma and not wanting to be in the body?
Laura Mae Northrup: Oh, 100 percent. Yes. It’s normal to not want to be in your body when you’ve experienced trauma. It’s so understandable. I mean, when we talk about getting less disassociated, I’m also just like, you can also just choose to be disassociated if you want to. You are not required to feel this terrible feeling. I’ll say though, if you’re a healing practitioner, you are definitely required to heal, but if you’re not in stepping into a healing role, it’s up to you, if you want todo that. We all get to choose how much we want to heal in that regard. It is really hard. I think that’s another, like just piece of why prep work… long time prep work. I mean, whenever I hear somebody be like, I don’t want to do any therapeutic stuff. I just want to go into the journey and get healed. I’m like, okay, this is a recipe for disaster. If you’re not willing to try out like a little bit of breathing or try out some coaching or try out some therapy or a little bit of integration prep work, you definitely shouldn’t just throw yourself into an experience that’s so extreme.
Laura Dawn: That makes sense. Anything that I didn’t ask you that you would love to add to this conversation that we’re diving into all the nuance of this? Yeah. Even like personal, what are some of like the core personal characteristics that you think are really important for people to embody who are stepping into this space to serve and to support and to guide?
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. One thing I would say about that, I think that oftentimes our egos lead us into the work, but actually doing the work requires that we, in a lot of ways, let go of our egos. When I say that, what I mean is when we come into the work and we’re like, I want tobe a healing practitioner of some kind, it can feel like I want to be good at something. I want to make a difference in the world. A lot of, I want to do this, I want to do that, and I relate to that. I mean, obviously there was a point in my life where I was like, I think I want to become a therapist. In more recent years, I think part of the transition that I’ve been making is more like, I am of service and I’m of service in this body, in this lifetime, in this moment, but there’s a much deeper force working through me and I am here to humbly serve that force.
I don’t necessarily think of that through any specific sort of religious denomination, but I say this because I think really, really skilled healing practitioners understand that it’s ultimately not about them. When I say it’s not about you, I don’t mean, you’re not there. You’re not important. We are holding it down. The world we are living in is really, really wounded. We serve this incredibly important role where we are holding it down for healing, but also, the process of doing that. It’s not about soothing our own egos. It’s about doing a really deep level of spiritual work for the world in service of the world and in service of life. So, I think that’s just a really important thing to hold as practitioners.
Laura Dawn: That’s a lot of responsibility, and there’s also this aspect though, of people, especially women. I just want to speak to this aspect of women stepping out to support this space because, I would say probably like 90 percent of the really big decisions that are getting made around the psychedelic movement right now are probably in the hands of white men who are sitting around the table with lots and lots of money involved. I really do want to inspire more women, contribute their voices and we live in this like call out culture, like not good enough. I’m unworthy, who am I to lead. So, there’s like that ego aspect and then I also do see this other side of the equation of who am I to do this? And I have no right doing this. What would you say to those people?
Laura Mae Northrup: Well, I’m excited for when we talk more about my book, because I feel like my whole book is like a love letter to those people. We all have something really important to contribute. I don’t know what it is that each of us is going to contribute, but I know that we each have something important to contribute. It’s very, very normal when you’re living under systems of oppression to feel like you to have low self-esteem and to feel like what you have to offer is not important. I also think it’s really important for us, regardless of your self-esteem to really challenge yourself, to inquire about why you’re offering something and what it is, and sort of look at the ego. So, it’s this really complicated line between examining our shadow stuff, examining our egos, and also valuing ourselves enough to say something, to do something, to be in the world. So, all I have to say to people is like, my love is with you. The other practitioners are out here and we want more community. We want people to speak out. I know for myself; I am grateful every time somebody who has something really important to say says it. I think it can be a really challenging process to love yourself enough to value what you have to say and to do that deep shadow work, to come out with like, here’s how I’m going to enter the space.
Laura Dawn: Right, and actually what it means to tune into authentic truth and leading from center rather than from ego inflation or not good enough, those are both off center.
Laura Mae Northrup: Right. Yeah. Sure
Laura Dawn: How do we really tune in to what is true within the paradigm and the cultural context of so much crazy, so much crazy that is currently like falling apart into like a whole new dimension right now. Then people who feel like, how do I charge money for this? They’re huge questions when money and medicine are changing hands.
Laura Mae Northrup: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, that’s huge topic that I also want to talk more with you about. Yeah. Obviously, I write a lot about that in my book too. We are being put into a situation where there’s no right answer sometimes. There really isn’t. None of us can magically pretend that we’re not in capitalism anymore. Obviously, I mean, for myself, and I think for a lot of healing practitioners, we do not want to continue to cause harm. So how do we walk that path of a system that is harmful, and being in it and trying to cause less harm.
Laura Dawn: Right. Which is an ongoing process of inquiry that’s like the zen koan, really. Yeah. Okay. Well, thank you so much. I so appreciate your time. I love all that you share and speak to. Again, I just thought you did such an amazing job delivering that keynote at Horizons, and it just really impacted me. So, thank you for taking the time to share all of this with my audience. It’s really an honor.
Laura Mae Northrup: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, Laura really, really appreciate being here.
Laura Dawn: Thank you.
Laura Mae Northrup
Laura Mae Northrup is an author, educator, somatic psychotherapist, and podcaster. Her book Radical Healership (Feb 2022) is now available for purchase. She is the host and creator of the podcast Inside Eyes, an audio series about people using entheogens & psychedelics to heal from sexual trauma. Her work focuses on defining sexual violence through a spiritual and politicized lens, mentoring healing practitioners in creating a meaningful path, and supporting the spiritual integrity of our collective humanity. She is a champion of living more fully engaged and responsible lives through the healing use of entheogens, psychedelics, play, and psychotherapy.
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Each time I tune into an episode I get chills all over my body! This podcast is my personal new favourite, I’ve expanded my awareness around these topics so much just tuning into these conversations, from each episode I walk away with a new teaching! Im also deeply appreciative of the way Laura Dawn structures her episodes and interviews.
The psychedelic leadership podcast is blowing my default mode network!!! Episodes include revolutionary science, as well as practical steps we can all take to creatively make change to help heal the planet and ourselves. Laura Dawn is an amazing speaker, and most definitely a thought leader.
Laura Dawn’s experience and service to the healing journey is a recipe for humanity, through modern science, plant medicine and ancient wisdom is amazing. She attracts the best of the best leaders in the space of science, psychedelics and spirituality, I love every one of her podcasts. Thank you LD!
Wow what a powerful lineup of speakers and guests sharing profound experiences and wisdom. So relevant to our times and not just with plant medicines and psychedelics but with just being a human being in these changing, evolving times. May we all grow together. Thank you Laura D 😉 Be-elowan
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About Laura Dawn
Through her signature Mastermind Programs and Plant Medicine Retreats, Laura Dawn weaves together science with ancient wisdom. She teaches business and thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, and creative professionals how to mindfully explore psychedelics and sacred plant medicines as powerful visionary tools for inner transformation, fostering emotional resiliency and unlocking new depths to our creative potential.