April 26th, 2022
OF THE PSYCHEDELIC LEADERSHIP PODCAST
Applying Acceptance & Commitment Therapy To Create A Powerful Model (ACER) for Preparation & Integration For Psychedelic Leaders with Dr. Rosalind Watts
Dr. Rosalind Watts shares her powerful model for psychedelic preparation and integration called the ACER Model, which stands for Accept, Connect, Embody and Restore. She built this model drawing upon Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a framework that can be easily applied to leadership development.
About This Episode:
How can we learn to effectively navigate our thoughts, emotions, and the difficult circumstances that we encounter in life so we can take action that is in alignment with what we value and what we care about?
Combining ancient mindfulness practices and philosophies, and the most modern psychological research, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) provides a model for growth, wellness, and a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.
My guest today Dr. Rosalind Watts is a clinical psychologist and the founder of ACER Integration, which goes beyond simply focusing on psychedelic integration, but provides an insightful model for understanding humanity. As the former clinical lead on the Psilocybin for Depression trial at Imperial College London, Dr. Watts led a clinical team that facilitated over a hundred psilocybin treatment sessions. Having recognised that safe and effective use of psychedelics requires substantial integration support, Rosalind co-founded the UK’s first psychedelic integration group, and is now launching a global online integration community, ‘Accept, Connect, Embody, Restore’ (ACER) where members will follow a 12-month process together, in community.
Her contributions to the field of psychedelic therapy are numerous and include the development of the Watts Connectedness Scale, which is a psychometric tool for measuring outcomes of psychedelic therapy.
The end of this episode explores Dr. Watt’s ACER Model through the lens of leadership and dives into the importance of female leadership in the psychedelic space.
Connect with Her at her website: drrosalindwatts.com
Explored in this episode:
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Episode #50 Full Transcript: Applying Acceptance & Commitment Therapy To Create A Powerful Model (ACER) for Preparation & Integration For Psychedelic Leaders with Dr. Rosalind Watts Psychedelic Leadership Podcast.
My name is Laura Dawn, and you’re listening to episode #50 of the psychedelic leadership podcast, featuring a very special conversation with clinical psychologist and the founder of ACER Integration, and a woman whose work I deeply admire, Dr. Rosalind Watts.
It feels so good to be celebrating this milestone of the podcast, officially halfway to 100 episodes, and I can’t believe I’m about to say this but I’m just about to hit 100,000 thousand downloads on the show, SO I want to open this episode by saying thank you, thank you for tuning in, and supporting the show, it’s been incredible to watch it grow, and to also witness my own growth in the process as well.
And what a better way to celebrate than to feature a woman who’s really been at the forefront of psychedelic research, and whose work has really inspired my path and the work I’m doing around psychedelics, creativity and leadership.
Dr Rosalind Watts was the clinical lead on the Psilocybin for Depression trial at Imperial College London, and she led a team which facilitated over a hundred psilocybin treatment sessions. And the outcomes of this research has played such an influential role in the field.
And through that work Dr. Rosalind Watts recognized that safe and effective use of psychedelics requires substantial integration support, which led her to co-found the UK’s first psychedelic integration group, and she’s now launching a global online integration community built on her ACER model which stands for ‘Accept, Connect, Embody, Restore’ (ACER) where members follow a 12 month process that has a strong emphasis on our connection to nature and I love that her model draws upon the Celtic Calendar where each month is designed around the inherent lessons we can learn from 12 different trees, and Dr. Watts runs through each of these trees in this episode and I just love how lit up she gets when she talks about it.
And her ACER integration program is launching soon, and they are doing a live event on May 6th, and I’ll include a link to that in the show notes if you want to attend.
And as per usual there are quite a lot of resources mentioned through this episode, and like we do for every episode, we accumulate all the links and resources shared and put them all in one place for you to easily access so for this episode you can go to lauradawn.co/50 so it’s always really easy for you to remember. And I created a free integration guide that you can also download on that page, that’s a great complimentary resource for this particular episode.
And for those of you who have been tuning in regularly to this show, you know that I often like to share long intros, and I really put a lot of time into these intros with the sole intention of offering a more in-depth context so that you can really get the most out of each episode. And of course, if you don’t want listen to the intro, just skip ahead.
So I’m going to connect some dots here to really set the stage for this conversation.
So this concept of psychological flexibility is a central theme and really a core component of this conversation. And Psychological flexibility is different than cognitive flexibility and it refers to an individual’s ability to cope with, accept, and adjust to difficult situations. Psychological flexibility can also be described as an essential set of processes that help people manage stressors and engage in adaptive behaviors that promote values-driven action.
And you can’t get very far researching psychological flexibility without immediately stumbling upon a framework called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy because it’s really built around this core concept of psychological flexibility.
Now for the past couple of years in graduate school, I’ve been studying the overlap and intersection between psychedelics, creativity and leadership, specifically change leadership, how we effectively adapt in the face of change.
And psychological flexibility is actually one of quite a few sort of nexus points that bridges the gap mental pathology and mental health. And so in a way, I’ve been making a case that the same reasons psychedelics help to alleviate depression might be very similar reasons as to why psychedelics can support creativity, even though there’s very minimal research done specifically on psychedelics and creativity. But we can actually connect some of these dots.
between psychedelics and creativity, and in many ways we can say that creativity and creative thinking is a function of mental health and wellbeing.
And there’s been research showing that psychological flexibility plays a mediating role in how effective psychedelics are in helping to reduce the symptoms of depression and we also know that increased psychological flexibility is related to high levels of idea generation and creative achievement.
And because I’m also looking at this within the context of leadership development, when I starting really diving into Acceptance and Commitment therapy about a year and a half ago, I found it to be an incredibly effective model that we can draw upon for integration for supporting leaders because it’s a model that essentially helps support people manage stressors and engage in adaptive behaviors that promote values-driven action – which is central to leadership development. And this is how I came across my of Dr. Watts work, and the research she’s doing, and although she’s be using this model within the context of depression, it’s remarkably applicable for effectively training leaders for a new era.
And that’s why I was so excited to have Dr. Rosalind Watts on the Show.
And towards the end of this conversation, I share with her some of the work I’ve been doing, and we put a leadership lens on this model she’s developed, which has inspired my own model and the work that I’m doing in the leadership development space.
And we also talk about female leadership, and explored what it means to be a female leading in this space and the importance of women contributing their voices and their work to this field.
And I just loved this episode, all the way until the very end.
And I’m also so thrilled to be featuring music by Leah song and her sister chloe otherwise known as Rising Appalachia. I’m featuring their song Stand like Oak, it’s the perfect song to compliment this episode. They have a new album called the Lost Mystic of Being in the Know, you got to check that out as well.,
I’m so thrilled to be the headlining speaker at ARISE music festival at the end of May in Boon Colorado. I’ve been working really hard these past few months and I am ready to go let loose. So if you want to join me, I’ll add a link to get your tickets in the shownotes, with a special code to get an extra 15% off your ticket price.
Alright friends, I’m so stoked for you to listen to this episode, without any further ado, here is my very special conversation, celebrating episode #50 with Dr. Rosalind Watts.
Watts Connectedness Scale, which is a psychometric tool for measuring outcomes of psychedelic therapy. Dr Watts is the clinical track lead on the Synthesis Institute’s psychedelic practitioner training and sits on the clinical advisory board of the Usona Institute. Her website is drrosalindwatts.com
Laura Dawn: Hi, Dr. Rosalind Watts. It is so nice to be able to drop in with you in real time. I’ve been such a fan of your work for so long. So thank you so much for taking the time to drop in with me here today. You it’s lovely to be. So I thought we would just dive right in. I love that your work really draws upon this whole modality of acceptance and commitment therapy.
And we’re looking at the ways that, uh, this, this concept of psychological flexibility is such an influential role in the mediation of depression and psychedelic experiences. And as we’ll maybe touch on at the end, how that actually plays a role in enhancing creative thinking and creative problem solving as well.
So I was thinking we could just start by defining for people listening, who don’t know about acceptance and commitment therapy and why this is such an integral role in developing your models for preparation and integration. Um, well, acceptance and commitment therapy was something that I came across when I was doing my clinical psychology training and the core kind of, um, I guess for me the core concept or the concept that I first arrived at, the one that really influenced me so much was the hex of flex.
So the hex of flex is a, um, it’s a, it’s a hexagon has six points and each one of those is a different aspect of this thing that in its entirety becomes psychological flexibility. So I can, I can kind of talk around that the six points, if that’s, if that’s helpful. I remember seeing this, um, this diagram and thinking how it was, it was interesting to me because it was a model both of, um, I guess deficit because a lot of clinical psychology, which was the way I was trained, looking at deficits or pathologies, all the things that are wrong and symptoms of disorders, that’s the kind of language that is used in that, in that model, that, that way of looking at human beings.
But what I love about the hex of flex is that each of the six points of corresponds to it can either be, it can be something that is either in deficit or it can be in fullness. So it gives us something to work towards. It’s not just the model of, um, of mental illness, but it’s a model of humanity with, with, with, it gives us a map for how to actually it gives us a map and a direction in which to travel, rather than just saying, you’ve got these symptoms, this is wrong with you.
You have this disorder, it’s like a heart. This is a map. It gives us direction. So the sixth and in a way, I also like it because it’s cross diagnostic so different. It takes away the stigma of the different disorders and the different names and the DSM criteria, all the things that are wrong. And instead, it’s something that we can all relate to.
We can all consider where we are on these spectrums of psychological flexibility. So the first is diffusion. And so that’s the first one of the six points and diffusion. Um, you, you know, what about this, but, and so your please time in as well with your, with your kind of additions to, um, so diffusion really is, is so important for psychedelic therapy as well, because it’s about diffusing from the.
In a way, the kind of the ego voice there, the constant rumination that we can get stuck on. So just the mental chatter, it’s, it’s being able to recognize that that is there and know that it’s not the truth. It know that it’s not everything. It is. It is a kind of radio station that your mind is playing based on old stories.
And to be able to hear it as that. And I think in our modern world, now there’s so much more literacy and awareness around this, around, um, around the ego and around the mental chatter that we all get so bombarded with by ourselves and being able to detach from it. So, yeah, diffusion, um, is the first one.
To be fusing from, from negative, constant thinking. And then the next one is present moment focus. And that one is really in a way, what kind of happens when you can diffuse from that constant mental chatter from the ego, which is giving you this bombardment of things, not to do things to avoid, to keep you safe.
And it’s what, what we can come into when we’re, when we dive underneath that. And it’s being in our senses, being in the now then after present moment focus. And the wonderful thing about the hex of flex is it works in all different directions. You don’t start at one point and then somewhere else, it’s not linear.
It’s a very, um, flexible model. Um, so, but for me after present moment focus, I think of willingness to feel. So that is coming out, diving out of your head and into your body, into your emotions. And I think what is so wonderful about act acceptance and commitment therapy compared to, um, cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, Is the CBT cognitive behavioral therapy focuses a lot on the content of your thoughts and trying to argue with them or challenge them, or look at alternatives and act in a way of saying, yeah, yeah.
Just notice the mind doing its thing. It’s going to do its thing, but what are you feeling? What are you feeling and how can you open that up? How can you make that bigger? And rather than avoiding it running away from it, trying to shut it down, let’s really give that feeling room to breathe and befriend it and say yes to it.
So that’s willingness to feel. And then the next one is, uh, the observer self or self as context. And that one I struggled to understand at first, but the other thing about act is that they have amazing metaphors and analogies for everything. So the way I understood, um, self as context or the observer self is it’s the sky, not the way.
The larger self, the self encompasses everything else. Um, and then there is values. So knowing what your values are, knowing what direction you want your life to go in. And often when you have acceptance and commitment therapy sessions, the therapist will start with values and say, okay, right. We know you’re suffering.
What do you want your life to be about? Let’s go there and we’ll deal with the other stuff on the way. So if valleys is often a good place to start, and then the final one is committed action. So doing things in service of those values and not when I hear you say, you know, present moment awareness and that it’s the sky and not the weather.
I mean, this is almost word for word analogies that come from lineages of Buddhism. And I’m curious how much you’ve connected those dots. And if that’s a, uh, just a modality or, or a framework that you also hold simultaneously alongside AC. So actually the, so Steve Hayes who develops developed example and commitment therapy developed it from his practice in Buddhism, I believe.
So. It really was, it was born out of that tradition and it’s not something I have practiced myself. Um, yeah, it’s one of the, I mean, I’m, it’s pretty fascinating, but yeah, I’ve never studied it or gone in depth, but many of the participants actually that I’ve worked with have after psychedelic experiences, they’ve looked into to Buddhism.
As a framework for emerging spirituality that they might feel after a psychedelic experience. So, um, and I I’ve heard you apply this model to preparation specifically that you walk people through a sort of visualization process before they go into a silicide bin journey and you use this powerful metaphor of the Pearl.
And I was wondering if you could share that process, how this maps over to preparation specifically. Yeah, absolutely. So each one of those six hex of flex points, um, actually in the audio that in the order, they said them, um, correlates to this visualization of this Pell dive. So, um, the day before set aside one session, we would encourage the participant to lay back on the beds.
Um, but the music on in the background, the lights would be nice and Dem they’d really be relaxed and have one guide on either side. So in a way, kind of a run through for how the session would go. And we would say, you know, um, one way of thinking about a psilocybin experience is that it can be a bit like a diving for pals.
So we’re going to use this analogy of a pole dive as a way of you kind of practicing. So when you take the psilocybin capsules tomorrow, it’s going to be a bit like imagining that you’re diving down beneath the surface of the sea. And if people consented to doing that visualization, then we would lead them through a screen.
Where someone imagines it imagines being on a beach. And then they imagine a boat coming towards the shore and they get on the boat and they take them right out to the middle of the ocean. And then there’s that anticipation of an anxiousness and nerves of like, oh goodness, what am I going to do?
Because people often felt so much of that. And then they’re at the top of their, their special seat for them at the top of the bow. And the sun is shining and the sea is beautiful. So try and get that sense of you might feel nervous, but this is a really sacred, special thing that you’ve chosen to do. And then the moment that they will take the psilocybin capsules, we liken it to them climbing down the stairs or the latter on the side of the boat and dive into they’ve got the scuba scuba gear on diving down into the surface of the.
So that diffusion thing that I mentioned, um, coming out of these, these thoughts that was like, imagine that the waves are kind of coming back against them. So they’re swimming against the waves at first and there’s wave after wave after wave of thought, thought thinking, and that’s the ego mind when you first take the psilocybin saying, I’m going to hold on a minute.
You can’t deactivate me. I’m still here. And so it gives you these strong waves of thinking, thinking, and you swim against them. And then you decide to just drop down and you let go. You surrender though down beneath the surface of those thoughts. And then you come into the present moment, focus of that sensory awareness of your body.
So as people dive down, we would often to imagine doing a body scan from their fingertips to their toes as they’re diving down and just really feel into their body and feel into any tensions or feelings. And then of course, this wasn’t actually with the psilocybin. This was the preparation day. So. They wouldn’t be feeling psychedelic effects.
They would be feeling sensory effects, somatic facts, anything in their body that was, that they could feel into. Then we would go down to the bottom of the surface of the CNS, the third principle that’s willingness to feel. And we would ask them to imagine that they were swimming at the very, very bottom, and it was kind of silty and dark.
And that there are lots of oyster shells and that they could kind of choose to swim away from the oyster shells and swim towards the pretty fish and the pretty colors and the blue, the blue, the blue water, where the sun is shining. But we would say no, go right down to the bottom and go to the darkest corners.
And if you see spiky oyster shells, open them up. And that’s an analogy for those kinds of spiky feelings that protect our vulnerability and our shame and opening ourselves up to them and allowing us to really sit with those feelings. And then. If people can sit with it for a while and really allow the lessons to be to unfold and not run away or try and repress or numb, but really stay with those kind of slimy oysters.
Then sometimes you find a Pearl and that Pell was in a way, the kind of insights, the lessons that you get from sitting with your feelings and not just in psychedelic experiences, but in life. And people would then being coached to swim up to the surface of the sea. And then they get to the next part, which is the self with context, which is bursting up through the surface of the sea and looking at everything with this new insight that they’ve got from this lesson.
So now that you have this Pearl, now that you felt this thing you’ve been through this experience, what does the world look like to you and that expansive feeling of the sky around you? And then after that they would reflect on, you know, the values, um, that this experience had brought them and, and make some intentions for committed actions for what to do.
So that’s the six, the six processes. Um, but I guess the important thing, the important aspect of it is the actual process of it is that when it actually required quite as, quite as sophisticated practice and, and everybody, um, well, nearly all people actually kind of took to it quite quickly, which in a way surprise me, but the practices around using the metaphor of, of opening up the oyster shells, but in the body.
So what we would say to people is, you know, dive down and look at the oyster shells. Do you see any oyster shells? And if so, we would ask them to imagine what the feeling was of this oyster shell. What was the emotion? Was it shame, anger, fear, and to feel into where it was in their body. And to imagine that as an actual oyster shell in their body and imagining it opening.
So, so that was the process and it, it led people to. Um, quite profound insights often, even without psychedelics, just in the prep session, around what was living in their bodies and what needed to be opened up and express themselves. Hmm. That is so powerful and such a central component of acceptance and commitment therapy really revolves around this concept of psychological flexibility.
And so I’m wondering if you can define that for our listeners and then also go into how that understanding correlates with the outcomes of the psychedelic experience in terms of how it helps reduce depression and anxiety and PTSD and addiction. For example, how that plays out, plays a mediating. Yeah, sure.
Well, for me through this work, I mean, there are various different definitions of psychological flexibility it’s sometimes referred to with kind of the culmination of those six different processes. Um, but the way I came to see it from my qualitative research with psilocybin was that psychological flexibility had two Hobbs.
There was the first half, which was the diving bet. And that’s the acceptance half that’s coming out of your, your ego, chatter and rumination and, you know, focus on, on thought and being able to come out of that long enough to be able to feel your feelings and your body. So that’s the acceptance. It’s not avoiding difficult feelings, but really feeling those feelings.
In an embodied way. So that’s the kind of the acceptance path, psychological flexibility and that psychological flexibility. It’s it’s about coming out of our rigid ways of coping with life. And often for us, um, being very heady, being intellectualizing things, trying to rationalize everything is our way of coping with things that are out of our control and scary.
So the first part of psychological flexibility is really being able to feel your feelings acceptance. And then the second half is about the connection. So connection to meaning connection, to purpose, connects to values, connection to yourself as larger than your, your, your ego, your, your worries, but actually this larger self that’s the sky, not the weather.
So. The acceptance half, which is the water, the dive into the murky depths, and then the connection half, which is coming out into the sky and connecting to meaning in a way it’s like the sunlight really, it’s the kind of, what is my life about why am I here? And again, it’s coming up. There’s rigid patterns that we find ourselves in when we’re kind of stuck in a rotten.
We go about our lives in a more mechanistic, repetitive way when we’re just focusing on the minutiae of our lives and what we have to do, and our worries and our kind of ego consciousness, really of all the things we have to do and, and coming into something that’s much more about feeling and connecting.
Um, and how does that play a role in the outcomes of a psychedelic journey? For example, how does psychedelics influence psychological flexible. So we, I mean, we, we found we’ve, we’ve done measures of experiential avoidance, which is one of the kind of aspects of experience. Experiential avoidance is kind of the opposite of psychological flexibility is the opposite of the, of the acceptance part.
So we use, um, questionnaires looking at experiential avoidance, and we found that, um, after psychedelic experiences, people’s experiential avoidance went down. So that was one way of looking at psychological flexibility, kind of in terms of quantitative measures. But I also did qualitative research with people and ask them about their psilocybin experiences.
People with depression, who’d been accessing this as a treatment for depression and ask them about how did these experiences impact them. And th the main themes that came out were. Um, they went from avoidance of, um, emotion to acceptance of emotion and that they went from feeling disconnected from themselves, others, and the way the world to connections.
So qualitatively people, really, those were the two main themes around what psilocybin was doing, the acceptance and the connection where, well, what happened. And I guess examples of that are, um, offers that it’s, I haven’t experienced, there’s often this kind of window, there’s this, uh, like some people think of it as an off the glow, but there’s this period of spaciousness where it’s so much easier.
Especially people with depression who have been stuck in the prison of their minds with this constant rumination, like a washing machine going round and round. And it’s almost like there’s just this pause where they describe so frequently in different ways, the spaciousness, the freedom, the open, the opening up.
Easefulness so, um, yeah, I think that’s the thing that people felt most the kind of being able to come out of that, that kind of washing machine, that the diffusion from those, those patterns of thought, um, they felt the most. , I’m curious if you happen to know off the top of your head, if those are the same measures that were used, I could go back and re uh I’ll and I’ll include this link in the show notes.
It was, um, study that I pulled up this quote from, from Davis Barrett and Griffiths that says increases in psychological flexibility, fully mediated, the effect of mystical and insightful experiences on decreases in depression and anxiety, following a psychedelic experience. Do you know if they use those same measures that you just.
We’ll have been. Yeah, because there aren’t very many measures from acceptance and commitment therapy and that I think, yes. Would it be the same one? I imagine. Yeah. It’s so interesting. And how can we, so I think a lot of people often confuse psychological flexibility with cognitive flexibility and they seem to be sort of somewhat overlapping, but they are also distinctly different.
Can you delineate that difference? Yeah, so cognitive flexibility is not so much something I’ve I’ve yeah, I hasn’t, it kind of interested me so much. It’s, it’s more of a neuroscience, um, domain, but it’s yeah. Psychological flight. I mean, the main difference between cognitive flexibility and, um, psychological flexibility is, um, psychological flexibility is about emotionality.
It’s about feelings. Whereas cognitive flexibility is about, yeah, it’s a kind of neuroscience set of skills being able to shift, um, between tasks, that kind of thing. So I think psychological flexibility is in a much fuller, fuller description and more relevant to, well cognitive flexibility. Does it also seem to improve after psilocybin and psychedelics, but psychological flexibility is more what people might be noticing in terms of opening up.
Um, Is to deep deposit themselves. I’m curious, just based on all the research you’ve done, just from a personal perspective, why do you feel that psychedelics allow us to go down to the depths of the bottom of the ocean and really into our subconscious realms? Why do you think that that happens? How do they facilitate that?
I know that’s such a huge question, but just kind of curious your perspective on that. Well, I feel like, um, we’ve the ego self that we develop as little children. It’s, it’s a defense mechanism against the, it’s a way of, it’s a way of kind of keeping us safe and keeping us alive. So we develop this inner kind of like an inner police person really from, from when we’re little, we internalize it from our caregivers and them telling us not to do things.
And we internalize this, this way of. The hugeness of the weld and all the different layers and all the different, um, inputs we get from the, from the, the web of life that we exist in is so complex and huge. And in a way, overwhelming that we developed these ego structures and some, for some they’re more rigid than others, as a way of just finding a little narrow path through that complexity and hugeness and psychedelic seem to, to deactivate those, those structures that narrow focuses is, is broken down.
And so we can, we can. We can experience something much, much bigger and more full and more. Yeah. It’s almost like a kind of vibrational things on high for people. It’s this kind of, thrumming vibrating, huge hole. It’s quite overwhelming sometimes, but yeah. It encompasses, not just ourselves or history that we might have.
Um, our deep complex emotions from childhood that we have also had to repress as a way of getting through life and focusing on the tasks of the day. So it includes that autobiographical element of the painful things as we’ve experienced in childbirth and psychedelic, the model of psychedelics is, is helping us understand that the trauma of birth, which traditional psychology had really kind of avoided or not really understood properly.
Through the work of Stanislav Grof and others we’re really understanding through our own experiences, what it’s like to be in the womb and then to be, to be born. And that, that can be incredibly overwhelming and traumatic. So all that stuff gets repressed and then early life with these tiny little vulnerable creatures going about our lives, you know, as babies, we have all these feelings and pains and all these needs that don’t get perfectly met.
And then we have childhood and school and it’s a gauntlet that we run through life, all of us. And we’re, we, we, we bear all these traces of all these traumatic experiences, but they don’t, we don’t live in a society where that they’re not where that can be expressed or held. So we push it down and then psychedelics say, actually, let’s get all of that stuff out.
So yeah, that what it feels like. Um, so gross idea is that we have this, um, homeostatic mechanism, this in a heal, intelligent in a healer that with. And the same way that the body is a self organizing system and that nature is, is it sorry, a self healing system. And so is nature. If you cut yourself, your body will heal it naturally that if you, if you do break down those structures as ego structures that we’ve built to, to kind of keep ourselves safe and to repress pain pain, once you do break those down, then this kind of there’s this influx of energy, which will kind of go to wherever you need it to go.
So whether it’s healing on the autobiographical level or whether it’s healing on the level of, um, experiencing yourself to be part of the, all the is whatever level that needs healing, um, the idea is that your system will we’ll go there. Um, do you think that that’s in part mediated by a sort of quieting of the default mode network for just long enough that the inner critic just steps aside or just quiets down for a moment?
Absolutely. Absolutely. Because yeah. What, what stops us from being able to feel these feelings and engage with them often there there’s so many layers of shame as well. What stops us from able to feel them is the ego, the inner critic saying like, oh no, no, no, no, you’re not going there. So yeah, the silencing of that allows us to, to sit with our soupy mess of shame and pain and all those things long enough to feel it enough for it to be processed and understood.
And maybe also an opening of the thalamus where there’s just more information available to our perceptual centers. Exactly. It’s like this kind of is, it’s a beautiful, it’s a beautiful mix and the interconnectedness of the parts of the brain and all the different parts speaking to each other. And yeah, what happens there when you get that beautiful complexity, we come out of simplicity into complexity.
All right. I’d love to bridge this gap and look at now your Acer model for integration, which is just such a beautiful model. I’ve heard you speak to it a few times before. Um, and maybe we could just cover that and dive into that for people who haven’t. Before I’d love to, and it is born from the same, um, ideas around psychological flexibility.
But, um, it came out of realizing that after psychedelic experiences, often there is one or two integration sessions. And the, in my experience that is, is, you know, we need so, so much more either for, for kind of safety reasons or just for, because it’s such a missed opportunity. Otherwise there’s so much at the time of this psychological flexibility, there’s so much we can do to keep that flexibility strong and keep it going and open it up even more with what we do in the integration process.
And often that’s an opportunity that’s missed. I think so. So I wanted to create something that was, um, For the rest of your life practice, um, rather than one or two sessions. So it’s, um, it’s a framework, um, initially it’s a 12 month cycle, but then after you’ve been through the first 12 months, it’s something that I hope people would have continued to do and to do.
And certainly we’ve found that with the first group of people that have been through the cycle, they’ve been through their first 12 months and they’re continuing to go around. So each month has a particular tree and that tree is, has a lesson and all the lessons corresponds to different aspects of psychological flexibility.
So it’s based on the Celtic tree calendar, which is this ancient way of understanding. Um, yeah, the lessons of, of the ancient K2, uh, the, the native trees native to the British Isles, which, um, yeah, w we seem to have these kinds of superpowers for what they could teach us about the, yeah. About. Connection really connection to ourselves, each other and the wider world.
So yeah, we have these 12 trees and we will be, so the community is launching, uh, next month we’re starting, we’re launching it and then we’ll be taking applications and the process will begin in October, but then it’ll be something that’s a rolling process of people can join any time. And it’s really for anyone that’s had, not even just psychedelic experiences, but any experiences that have been deep and that they feel that they would like to spend the next 12 months really learning from an integrating and really building that flexibility in a community of other people who are also focused on the same thing.
And I guess so much of our healthcare systems or mental health care systems in the past that focused on numbing pain or, um, trying to fix things and trying to kind of make ourselves function better. And the whole point of Acer is to create a community where we can all together acknowledge. But we have pain that we have vulnerabilities and that we, um, it’s that willingness to feel thing willingness to really accept those things and connect to the meaning, connect to the lessons.
So in the same way that with the Pell dive, um, it was about kind of going into those oyster shells and finding the pearls. I’ve moved to the analogy of a tree because I wanted something collective and the trees are all connected together in the forest. And the idea is that there’s the roots of the tree, everything that’s in the darkness, everything that’s in the mud what’s happened to us, ancestral patterning the trees and our family line that stood in that same ground that we now stand in.
Everything that is hidden, everything that’s in shadow. Traumatic experiences that have happened, like the Rocky earth on which we stand, that’s all the acceptance stuff, the roots. And then the branches is the connection. So what happens when we transmute that the kind of the muddy stuff at the roots into the tree sucks up that, that muddy water and through its body, through its trunk, it turns it into SAP sugary syrup that then powers the, the growth of the leaves and the buds and the flowers.
And that sort about turning your suffering, turning the mud at your roots into growth and choosing what direction you want your branches to grow into. And so the, a stands for. And acceptance and then C is connect. So except connect and embody restore. So the AA is the kind of the mud, the roots, the a, the C is the branches.
So connecting to what you want, your direction, you want your branches to grow. And then the E and body is the trunk of the tree. And this is the most, I think the most important part, because this is where, um, if to our bodies, that we do this work of transformation and it’s to our bodies, through breathing through present moment, focus through processing things that have happened, that we hold in our bodies.
It’s through that process that we actually can turn the suffering integrate. So part of the community is breath work. We have regular breathwork sessions for the community together to, to do that constant processing of. Integrating our experience into our bodies. So, so that’s the, so the, except is the roots that connect is the branches, the ear, the embody is the trunk of the tree.
And then the R is restore. And that’s about restoring our individual tree. So ourselves with our acceptance and our connection and our embodiment, um, to the rhythms and cycles and patterns of nature. And the pattern of nature is interconnectedness. So the trees of the forest are connected by their roots.
So we’re connected via our pain connected by these dark places that we all share and our vulnerabilities. But the trees and the forest also connected at their branches because, you know, the, that were tree will have berries and then a bird will come and eat those berries and fly away. And then its droppings will let another tree will spring up.
So we’re not just connected by our roots, but we’re connected by our fruits too. And that’s about co-creation coming together with other people, with seminar dreams and visions and passions and care and seeing what can happen when you put those people together and say, right, let’s you know, what can we dream up together?
But that’s the kind of interconnectedness. Um, but the other two, the two parts of the restoration process is about the pace of nature, which is about slowing down because we are all living these very busy, very over burdened technology, heavy shut down lives. So it’s about. Coming back into nature, taking time to feel the earth beneath your feet.
And then the final one is restoring yourself to the cycles of nature. And that’s about realizing that we have seasons within us. We have winter Springs, summers Autumns. We all have their seasons at different times. And I think we’ve been courts that we should be always in summer and we try ourselves always in summer.
And actually there’s something so nice that the loveliest thing about piloting this process for a year, which I did at synthesis Institute with this group of people, we all kind of came together for this year long process and just really sharing authentically our own times of like, well, you know, I was facilitating it, but like, if it touched me very deeply to feel people sharing.
You know, some, somebody will be in winter, somebody will be coming into spring. Somebody will be kind of coming into also in terms of their own psychological, in a weld and sharing that with each other gives so much hope that these were in a process of change, that we’re not just stuck in one state forever.
And also to share about the times when we were in winter and not just feel that we need to pretend that everything’s okay. It’s so empowering to be able to share that with each other. Um, it’s almost like speaking to this notion of sort of toxic positivity, where it’s like put a smile on it, just be happy, be happy, and is actually really not psychologically healthy.
And so with psychedelics and the kind of psychedelic community, there is a lot of that kind of thing and affirmations and manifesting. And that’s a wonderful, but if it’s not balanced, if it’s branches of that, all that light, aren’t balanced by the roots, then you know the pain, then it becomes. Shallow.
And I think confusing for people because then they feel that they’re just, if something’s going wrong in their life or they’re going through suffering or pain, it’s because they didn’t do enough positive thinking. Um, yeah. And they feel responsibility for having created. I want to put a leadership lens on this for just a moment for people listening.
I have done a deep dive in acceptance and commitment therapy in the past year and a half because it actually works so well as a tool for leadership development. And when you overlap lap that with the work you’re doing with psychedelics, I mean actually fits together really, really well because so much of leadership is an especially how I define psychedelic leadership is how do we inspire people to take values driven action heart-centered action.
And so I want to come to the connect part and the, the branches, you mentioned the direction that you want your branches to go. So what are some tools under that, that help people get more clarity around what their values are and to take action in alignment with those values? Well, there are some tools from acceptance and commitment therapy.
Um, that said there’s an amazing book, which is called act made simple. I don’t know if you’ve seen that one, but it’s a wonderful book. And in that there is a, um, there are various different tools and exercises for helping people work out what their values are. One of those is kind of like, um, one of these is like imagining your own, um, uh, bitchery or matching your own funeral and what you’d want people to say about you, which is always quite a powerful one, but there’s another tool, which I don’t think is in that book, but you can get online and it’s called the values card sorts.
You can just get it for free print out a paper. You get these little, or you can do an online version as well, but I like doing it with paper, print out, all these things. Pieces of paper into little squares and they each have a value on them. And then what you do is you sort through those little squares and you put them in piles from the least important to the most important.
And the most important pile has got like sex. So often people don’t know what their values are and when you, and there’s no shame in that, you know, we, we live in a society that doesn’t place so much emphasis on why individual personal callings are we more fit into this, the system kind of a loss at our, so doing that card.
So it can be so powerful for people. They often spend a long time shuffling the cards around and then they get their sex at the end. And then it’s like, okay, here are your six values. They might change. But right now, what can you do to bring those values into your life? And it can be tiny things and it can also be huge.
Yeah. Hmm. I love that I’m leading at 12 weeks psychedelic leadership mastermind for women. I have about 40 women in my cohort. We’re on week eight as of the time of this recording. And I do that card sort with them actually is the first thing we do in week one. And it’s been so amazing actually, to witness people’s reflection on the importance of doing that rate at the beginning and how much people really aren’t actually aware of what their core values are, which is okay, like you said, but the power of actually taking a moment and getting clarity around what those values are actually really have a big impact in how we choose to step out how we carry ourselves in the space, how we choose to lead and contribute, especially in the psychedelic space and really having that, that values driven action as a core central component of how we choose to lead.
Absolutely, absolutely. And so, so important in, in, because I think there’s something about the psychedelic field where it’s quite an amplified field and there’s a lot of. I think at this moment in time, there’s a lot of focus on psychedelic fields, because it holds this promise for healing or collective level.
So there’s this, there’s this real focus on it. And there’s kind of a lot of money being invested now. And it’s also quite kind of glamorous. There’s a kind of cool factor as well, that it feels like lots of ways of, , the kind of Venn diagram overlap in the middle of all of that is something quite potent.
Having a real sense of values is so crucial because when people work in this field and become more involved, it’s sometimes feels to me. You know, in Lord of the rings, it’s when you put the ring on, it’s like the power kind of alter people’s actions, people can go in with strong sense of ethics and then they can fall incredibly short of those.
So the thing about really nailing ourselves to our values and having others remind us of what our values are that I think is so crucial for anyone going into these very, very kind of boring, but very treacherous waters of psychedelic work it’s so interesting. Uh, the other day I was watching a YouTube video of a talk that Dr.
Robin carte Harris did, who you’ve worked alongside for many years at this point. And I just found it so interesting. Cause I just released an episode about ego inflation and how the psychedelic space is sort of the perfect storm as my last guest Giuliana Mulligan spoke to that it’s unregulated. And you know, there’s a lot of factors that actually come together to make this a perfect storm for more like sociopathic tendencies to come.
And they’re on the pedestal and everyone projects these things onto them because you’re the person holding space for this like incredibly profound transformational experience. And then I watched, um, this talk with Dr. Robin carte Harris and he said there was actually a bell-curve. There was like 50% of people had this experience of ego reduction.
And then the other 50 actually had ego inflation. And I thought, whoa, that’s really interesting. Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s it’s, you often see it in a sense of kind of, so in that afterglow period of time, when there’s less kind of rumination and, um, the ego has kind of deactivated from, so, so working with people with depression for a long time, I never saw that because it felt to me like that the kind of the rumination and the negative thinking and the negative self-talk was so intense and so extreme that the psychedelic experience, when it kind of dissolve that, that it left them with a state of either neutrality or moments of joy and moments of self-love, there was such relief in comparison to the kind of rumination, but I’ve also seen in kind of other populations, maybe not people with depression where they didn’t have that kind of negative rumination, the first place.
It’s automatic. It’s like a kind of continuum. You start off with a depressive thinking and it can bring you to neutrality, or if you start off and you try to take, it can take you to like Messiah complex and, um, so much self-love and so much connection to meaning and so much sense of like, whoa, I am actually, you know, God’s people fail and in a way we all, we, you know, we, we do experience that with psychedelics there’s interconnected energy, that we are part of the web of life, but, um, sometimes it goes into something really unhealthy and self obsessed, any suggestions for buffering that,
I mean, Think think community integration. Like I think that, that when we have, when we have that kind of accountability of a community of people that rent won’t really kind of take that nonsense in the sense of, if you’re someone that’s had psychedelic experiences and you’re in your peer group, it’s not, it’s either not common and people don’t really do it.
You don’t really have that point of reference. You don’t really have that accountability group, but also if you’re doing it with people that everyone there’s a kind of norm around, self-improvement, there’s sometimes everybody that you, your baseline shifts. So where everybody is kind of, I guess maybe narcissism becomes a bit more kind of normalized.
So I think, and also, you know, I think that, yeah, so, so I think by having a community of people that’s really diverse where we are with people that aren’t just our friends, that aren’t just people that we take psychedelics with. Um, That we can bring in that sense of a community with real diversity of ages, backgrounds, and.
We can be a bit more reflective and a bit more just, I think the diversity is essential. Bringing us out of our little pockets and our little bubbles and our, um, what’s the word when it like echo chamber is exactly what I was thinking yet.
I would love to circle back around. Yes. Thank you for emphasizing the importance of community. I think we’re really, a lot of people are really emphasizing that more and more as such an essential component of this experience. And I also want to circle back around to just how much emphasis you put on nature and the importance of nature.
And I love that you use 12 different trees and that you’re really drawing upon Celtic wisdom. That’s a big part of my own ancestry, and I love that we’re just bringing in these other modalities and not necessarily, you know, continuing to, um, adapt modalities from south America or from central America, but we’re also bringing in these other models.
And so I just want to preface that like, yes, thank you for doing that. And actually, are you open to walking us through w w one or two trees and just how they’re different and name the trees and just bringing in a little bit of, of education around that. I would love to, and you’ll have to stop me because once I start, I’ll find it impossible, but I’ll be doing all 12.
Dr. Rosalind Watts: So, um, let me, so I’ll start at the beginning of the Kelsey tree calendar cycle is November. Um, so we have, and I’ve adapted it. So I’ve, I’ve changed some of the trees around. So in November we have the huge tree and that’s a really ancient tree and it grows incredibly slowly. Some of them are thousands of years old.
And if you see an ancient uteri, you just want to crawl into the center of it and just sit there. It’s like a cradle and it’s this amazing atmosphere. It smells amazing. Lots of creatures live inside and the yew tree is all about slowing down and resting because I think most of us just need to really. A lot more than we do.
So it’s about, you know, kind of like napping in the day. Like I think of, I have like little uteri naps where I will just take 20 minutes and have a little sleep and imagine I’m in the center of a huge tree and I’m just kind of visualize that. So yeah, November is the year and December is the elder tree and that’s the treat.
It brings elder flowers and also elder berries. And it goes through this cycle, it looks very kind of boney kind of crone like in winter. And then it develops these beautiful blooms of the fragrant blossoms and then these berries, and then it goes back to the kind of boniness again. And the elder tree is all about, um, recognizing the patterns that we have inherited from our own ancestors.
Often negative patterns, but also the gifts and the strengths too. And also thinking about the kind of elders that we want to become, the kind of legacy we want to lead. And, and it’s very much around the kind of, you know, the Sage and the crone as well, like the Boonie elder tree, because we look at the elder tree in December.
So it’s a time when it is kind of bony. And we think about like aging and the attitudes we have for aging and how we’re quite resistant to it. And actually really starting to appreciate the wisdom of older people that have lived through these rich complex lives. Shall I say, do a few more. So, yes, I love it.
I love hearing. I could listen. We can go through all of them if you want. I mean, I love it. Um, thank you. So then, so then in January, it’s the silver Birch and that’s all about coming into the present moment. So self Birch it’s January, it’s like the new kind of all calendar. It’s like the new year, but it’s about coming into the present moment.
This is the piece of that, but also the white bark of the silver batch. It’s like parchment, it’s like empty paper and thinking about the old stories that we’ve been telling ourselves and starting with this clean slate and the new story we want to write. So it’s a bit like new year’s resolutions in a way, but with this focus on, um, the peacefulness of the present moment and yeah, like new beginnings, new stories, then there’s the February tree, which is my favorite.
It’s the Rowan tree. And it has these beautiful orange berries in winter. And it’s in a way, sometimes in some landscapes, the orange berries or the Rowan is the only color you can see in snowy, snowy landscapes. But we have the Rowan tree in February, and that is the time when the berries fall off. So it’s all about what do we do?
And we’re in the darkest hour when there’s no light anywhere. And how can we keep that, that fire in our hearts glowing, even when it’s really cold and really dark. So that’s the Rowan’s lesson, keeping the fire heart burning. Um, and then, um, March is the March is the Redwood tree. So it’s not from the Celtic tree calendar, but I just, I mean, redwoods, majestic.
I just, couldn’t not have the red words in there. So the redwoods are about how even the biggest strongest trees still have the sapling that they once were at the center. So if you think about that cross section of a tree trunk, and you have these circles, there’s rings of the tree at one ring for every year of life.
And if you look at a Redwood, you see, not only that, it still has that sapling ring of the baby tree. It was hundreds of years ago, but you also see that the year there was a forest fire, there’s a black Childline the year that it might’ve lost the limb of branch. There’s a scar. And it’s really reminding us how, no matter how big and strong we are, we hold in our bodies.
We hold the memories of, of traumas. We hold, those tend to places, and it’s about really bringing soothing and understanding to those raw spots within ourselves and also other people. Um, it’s like, you’re going through. Um, April is the older tree and they grow on riverbanks and they’re the only tree who’s would get stronger in water.
So the older word is used to meet bridges because they can see bridges over rivers because the bridge can stand in water and not go rotten and break. And the older in, in this process is all about resilience and how times of crisis and challenge a bit like floods can actually galvanize us and galvanize galvanize us and make us stronger.
If we, if we nurture that that practice, um, then may is the Douglas fare and that tree is not native to the UK. Although I think actually, yes, it was actually, um, Uh, Scottish botanist that named it. But, um, they, they grow mainly in Canada and the U S Northwest and they are just such wiggle creatures. And I read the book by Suzanne some-odd called finding the mother tree, which is all about how the, the Douglas fir forests, um, have these systems of care and connection underground.
So through, through my CDL networks, in the root systems, so the, the Douglas fare in, in may is all about our local communities and making connections with our local communities. And. Yeah. Cause sometimes we don’t know the person in the shop or, you know, especially if we’re in cities, we don’t, you know, we don’t know our neighbors.
It’s about little things we can do to just build those mycelial connections with people in our local areas. Then June is the Hawthorne and that’s about forgiveness. So the Hawthorne has these spikes and then suddenly the blossoms come and they cover up the spikes and you kind of can’t see them. And even though those spikes are still there, there’s this beautiful kind of soft cushioning of white flowers.
So it’s about forgiveness is one of those things where we all have people in like locked in our Dungeons that we don’t want to forgive or find it hard to forgive. And sometimes we’re not ready to do that, but it’s about recognizing the spikes that are there and seeing if we can just start to blossom those thorns a little bit and work through that process of letting go of old grudges and forgiving ourselves as well.
Then July is the Oak tree and the Oak is. The Oak tree is an amazing ecosystem. In one tree, there will be hundreds of species of insects, birds, plants. Funghi the all co-exist. So the, the Oak tree is all about the many parts of ourselves. It’s inspired by ifs internal family systems. And it’s all about bringing all the parts of ourselves to the table, to the kind of banqueting table and just appreciating them all and the roles they all play.
Um, so that’s the Oak and July, August is the apple and that’s about so whereas may is the communities, our local communities, and those, my Celio connections, the apple in August is about communities of purpose. So this is maybe relevant to your, your leadership work and values. It’s about working out what our values are.
What is our apple, what is our fruit? What is the gift we’re bringing? And. How can we find other communities of people often online in all corners of the world who share this purpose and their values. And I want to kind of, you know, become an orchard together. So, so yeah, working together then September is the hazelnut tree and that’s about gratitude.
That’s the sweetness of, of gratitude. And obviously this practice is so essential for yeah. And it’s something that often people do feel after psychedelics as well. The sense of like real appreciation and gratitude often for nature, but also for each other and themselves. And then we’re nearly at the end now, um, October, and that is the Ivy and that this is the final one in the cycle.
And the is it represents the patterns that grow in our lives that grow up all of the different trees if we don’t prune them. And they’re the patterns of self-sabotage. So all of those 11 trees I’ve talked about. The Ivy of self-sabotage patterns, the things that we do that get in the way of those things will creep up those trees, unless we learn to prune and keep them at bay.
So that’s a bit of kind of, yeah, that’s the final stage, really, really working on that. And then we hope that people will just keep going around the process together with that. Hmm, that is such a beautiful model. I love thinking in terms of models, you even said Venn diagram earlier, and that’s just like totally how my brain works.
And so it’s such a powerful framework for people to move through. I’m really curious to know how much and what your thought process is around siliciden in and of itself being the thing that catalyzes change or how much that’s related to relationship and within the context of the support that people receive and connection to each other, to ourselves to nature.
I mean, and we can’t really pull those threads apart, but I think there is such a, an emphasized focus on psilocybin being sort of the thing. And I’m, I’m just curious your, your own thought process around that. Yeah, absolutely. I think, um, Yeah. So it’s interesting. I’ve worked with a group of people for like five or six years now who were participants in the Imperial siliciden for depression trials, and then went through this 12 week process at synthesis as an integration process without psychedelics.
So I’ve seen the difference of kind of just having psilocybin without the other stuff, and then just having the other stuff without the silicide Ben. And it’s been interesting to watch that. And I think my kind of tentative thoughts about that, all the, the psilocybin experience in the first place really enable people to open up and then engage with this, all this other work and the community and the connection that had they not had that experience.
It might have been more difficult for them because of their really intense depression to engage with other people and connect to nature and all those other things. So I think in some ways it is really important as a catalyst and as an opener. But having said that it really is just a very, very first stage, like opening that door is like, step one.
It’s like the first page of a book. And then everything else that comes is so much more can grow from that deepen and expand. And I think that, yeah, the, the emphasis on the experience itself really misses that. And if you, if you, if people have psilocybin in a very medical setting without any of the community support or the, the container and the ongoing integration work, I think often it is just like, uh, you know, they might feel a bit better for a few weeks.
Their symptoms might reduce for a few weeks, but it’s going to have a very limited impact on their life and the long-term. Um, I’m also really curious to hear your take on just this idea that right now, the primary lens through which we’re looking at psychedelic experiences researching it, studying it is primarily through the lens of the reduction of mental illness.
And how much do you think that actual lens influences how we set up the context, how we prepare people in preparation and integration and all that goes with it to sort of aim for a desired outcome. And if we change the lens, how do we, you know, aim for maybe a different outcome that looks at instead of the reduction of mental illness, the enhancement of health and wellbeing?
Absolutely. So I think this kind of on a continuum as well, Just broadly. I imagine that kind of where we are in psychedelic research is kind of in the middle and then there were kind of two poles. So I think that actually where we are at the moment is actually quite creative in a sense that psychedelic research has been done by quite small teams.
It hasn’t yet been kind of manualized so much and it’s been done by these small teams of people who’ve really opened up often people with spiritual practice or meditative practice, like bill Richards in Johns Hopkins. People have created really beautiful, very person centered models where they’re really looking at the whole person and then not so much navigated by kind of psychiatric criteria and things like that.
So I think there has actually been a lot of creativity around the preparation and integration and these kinds of research teams in the early days on the other end of the continuum, when it gets, um, rolled out, um, in, uh, if we’re not very careful by how we think about what psychedelics are and how they work, if we think of them as drugs and we put them into our medical system, I think that we will get a very, very narrow framing and symptom reduction, and we will get very, very poor outcomes and they might not be effective for most people or at least beyond a very, very kind of like surface level short-term boost.
Um, on the other end of the spectrum, if we go in the other direction, as you mentioned, there is such incredible potential. If we. Really throw out those old books. If we throw out there the old kind of, if we just really start to think about this in a fresh way, and we aren’t constrained by the limits of a, of a reductionist system, we think about people with levels of mind, body, spirit.
We think about our, um, our place in nature, our ecological connection. If we think about ourselves as these multilevel beings, if we can prepare people on all of those levels and provide people with tools and, and communities and ways of working, then. The potential is so much greater than we’re seeing at the moment, because I do think that the framing and the preparation integration has a massive, massive impact.
So if we use a framing around, um, one of the things that concerns me the most is, you know, we’re in the sixth mass extinction event, you know, many, many, um, you know, every day, something else is going extinct, like another animal, another bird, another form of, you know, another planet it’s like, um, if we can, if we can really feel and understand the incredible urgency of that, that I would love to see a whole avenue of, of psychedelic use, where we were quite specifically framing it in.
Um, the biosphere, the ecosystem and, and, and providing, uh, integration for people to actually use the lessons that they’ve had in their experiences, which if you did that framing would likely be around their role in nature and their relationship with, uh, people providing people with the means to go and do volunteering or activism work, or all the different ways that we can engage with this project.
I love that framing so much. And it really is such a big component actually in the work that I’m doing and how I’m framing it as well. And I love to use this analogy as well, is that part of the reasons that psychedelics are efficacious for the treatment of mental illness are actually the same reasons that allow us to think more creatively.
There’s actually so many parallels and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past two and a half years in graduate school. I’ve been, I’m just about to wrap up my master’s in science and creativity studies and change leadership. Bending the last few years, really looking at the existing literature through the lens of creativity.
And there haven’t actually been that many studies on psychedelics and creative thinking and creative problem solving. And so that was one of the key things that I found like I’ll look for key data points and psychological flexibility was a perfect example that it was, uh, pointed out as a mediating factor and the reduction of depression.
And then when I looked at other research in the creativity literature and saw quotes, like research shows that psychological flexibility is associated with high levels of idea, generation engagement with everyday creative activities and publicly recognized creative achievement, that we can actually start drawing parallels and say, okay, that finding a novel, original solution when.
Is experiencing depression. For example, choosing a new thought, opening up to a novel way of looking at it. It’s actually a very similar framework for what it means to support people in thinking more creatively and think in end those creative thinking skills that can support creative problem solving that actually lend itself to finding bigger solutions to the big challenges that we’re facing right now, as we.
You know, the, the challenges in our everyday lives, but also training leaders. And so it’s been looking at actually, I’ve been developing new models for set and setting that really leveraged the systems change model for creativity and how we can apply that to a greater context for preparation and integration, leveraging those same windows of mental flexibility to teach people.
These are actually cognitive tools to think more creatively that are beneficial in your life, but also, Hey, let’s think within the context of what you’re saying, Dr. Ross, about our connection to nature and how do we actually bring that connection into finding solutions to the greatest challenges that we collectively face.
And so I, I just, your work has actually been such a big inspiration for me and the work that I’ve done. So I just want to deep heartfelt gratitude for your path has really influenced my path in a huge way. You so lovely to hear. Thank you for, for sharing that. And yeah, I’m so happy and it, it sounds wonderful and it feels like what you’re kind of doing is, um, yeah, because in a way, like, there is, there’s such a gift and these opportunities, but really with this kind of like real laser focus of we have work to do here.
So let’s really train, train ourselves how to use these tools to really bring us into that place of yeah. Leadership, flexibility, and accountability. And yeah, it’s, it’s wonderful to see that focus because I think up until now, it has been more of a kind of, I think it’s really time to see that kind of discipline brought in and that kind of focus rather than just the much more, um, yeah, it psychedelics.
If you don’t put them into that kind of, um, framework, they can just be like, they wouldn’t be nice. You can have a lovely time. See these things sometimes they’re painful, but we don’t, um, We’re not using the lessons in a way that we so urgently need to, if we don’t put them in that kind of frame. Um, and there’s so much to bridge there.
I mean, one of my favorite definitions of creativity is by Arthur Koestler that says creativity is the defeat of habit by originality. And we can really say that about the healing of depression is really the defeat of habit by originality. Or when we look at definitions for creativity, like finding a novel solution, that’s useful for solving the problem at hand.
It’s really the same approach we can look at for healing of depression or addiction, but we can also leverage that understanding to not just reduce mental illness, but let’s leverage that to actually enhance creative thinking, which to me is a primary function of, of humanity at its best as creative expression, creative thinking, creative problem solving.
And so actually, yeah, instead of just focusing on that reduction, but like how do we take this bridge it together? Cause there are so many hidden dots that despite lack of research, we can still make a very strong case for why psychedelics help enhance creativity and let’s create frameworks that then train people to cultivate the creative thinking skills that aren’t just necessary for individual every day.
Like I’m going through this challenging moment, but bringing it into the works, the workplace as well as leader. Yeah, I love it. I love it. And actually it comes in, in a way I’m thinking back to the beginning of this conversation, thinking about the hex flex, would those there’s six points that can either be in kind of like deficit or in kind of, uh, in fullness as it were.
So rather than thinking about with them, rather than having a kind of diagnostic framework for psychedelic experiences where you’re looking at people with particular kind of illnesses. If we all think about these six processes and where we are, if we were to rate ourselves from one to 10, we all have room to grow in all of those things and they do, they lead to this flexibility, creativity, and we could all, we can all do practices every day to help us build on all of those processes.
Do you have another way of saying mental illness? I always kind of cringe in that term and I use it to like, oh, what’s a better way. I mean, I think in a way it’s kind of important as a, as a title because it represents the old way of seeing things, you know, it represents, um, because it, you know, it’s very reductionistic in the sense that it’s just about mental, you know, like we, when we exist in all these different levels there and end even illness, but like the struggles we have in not just on the, the level of our thinking or, um, cold cognition.
So, um, I think mental illness as a, as a, as a kind of a descriptor really captures of a very, very impoverished way of seeing humans. And I think coming into the more full, complex way of understanding us in a way to, to describe all the full range of kind of suffering and wounding and. Struggle that we have in all the different levels.
I guess I would probably just say like distress in a way, like people suffering from distress because at whatever level we are experiencing on whether it’s about our social connections or our, um, socioeconomic, um, existence in the world, or whether it’s about our connection to spirituality or to our own minds or to our emotions, whatever level that we are experiencing difficulties, what’s really important about that is that it leads us feeling distress and not okay.
And that’s, what’s important because we will have different levels of, of managing those different things that we can deal with and then be able to sit and point it. And so for somebody having a kind of, um, a change in their social situation or a change in their relationship, or in a minor way will lead to so much more distress than somebody else in a way it’s.
That’s the important thing for me, just how much that particular person is struggling and feeling, um, feeling awful, you know? So yeah. What do you think, do you have, what’s your way of kind of understanding? I usually say dis-ease, but I think there’s part of it that it’s like when we’re struggling with depression, it’s really just one form of expression of consciousness and coping mechanism.
And that when we use the word illness, it’s like bad shame, you know, not good. And I just wonder about that, but I, I love, yeah, just your take on that. Um, okay. I had one other. Big question for you. And maybe it’s not a huge question, but I was curious your take on just how much you think and just what your perspective is in general on just the amount of men leading the space and the importance of bringing more female voices into all aspects of the psychedelic space.
And do you actually even see an imbalance there? Is that something that you notice or what’s your take on that? Oh, I have so much, so much to say maybe a whole future conversation at some point, because it’s, and it feels really alive in me right now for so, so important. So I think one of the, I do see a kind of crisis insight in the psychedelic field, which is that it is out of balance and that there are, there are not enough, not just female leaders, but leaders who are embodying feminine principles.
So yeah, we will have the feminine and the masculine and us, but in terms of, um, What was the, I mean, there are so many ways it manifests, but yes, there, there are many, many more male voices and there is really a lack of diversity, but also, um, I guess in the research field, there is, I would say a kind of focus on, I don’t know whether it’s fair to, to say this is a kind of masculine principle, but there is, seems to be a focus on kind of like the goals, the results, the data, the kind of, um, proving something and the drug itself and the kind of the mechanisms, rather than an understanding of the importance of community, the importance of integration, the importance of, um, one way of looking at it is like you’ve got quantitative research and qualitative research.
So state of research looks at, um, people answering a questionnaire and, um, you compare two groups on a particular measure and depending on how many points apart, those two groups are, you can see that there’s a significant difference or not. And in a way it’s a really kind of like, it’s a kind of slightly flawed way of measuring things.
I mean, yes, you get to get a kind of quantitative answer, but these questionnaires are imperfect. Anyway, people’s responses to them that it’s not like a precise science, but it gives the impression of being a precise science because it’s got numbers attached. But then when you look at qualitative research, which is interviewing people and getting their perspectives for me, that’s beautiful because then you get it in their own words, the fullness, all the layers, but, um, Quite a qualitative research and it’s not just in psychedelic science, but across the sciences, it’s not usually recognized or given as much sway or weights.
So I think for me that it’s something about the masculine and the feminine and that we need to bring in more qualitative research and more. Um, because there are so many areas we need to study and it’s through interviewing people and hearing about their own experiences that we learn. And one of the ways that actually, um, what an amazing experience for me was we suddenly doing.
Um, so I, I made a connectedness scale, which has, I’m kind of contradicting myself saying that it’s all about qualitative research, not measures. And I actually did, um, create a measure for measuring connectedness just because I wanted it to be included in connectedness feels like such an important part of psychedelic work and that we don’t have a measure at the moment for measuring connectedness.
So, um, this is like connectedness to self others. Well, uh, everything. So, so I create that measure and we did it at Imperial, um, a team of colleagues, um, validated that measure. And then it’s, it will be published soon. It’s called the Watts connectedness scale. Um, I named it after myself as one of the very few women in an academic team where I really felt the importance actually of, um, yeah.
What can often happen in these kinds of teams where women have to really hold onto their work and find ways of it not becoming attributed to other people. So that was my reason for calling after myself. Um, but. One of the most profound meetings I’ve had around it with different teams that want to use it was with a team of women in New Zealand who are Māori women who want to use it in a study, looking at psilocybin microdosing for people with terminal illness and they using the, uh, connectedness scale as one of the outcomes and the team of women using the scale, ask me if they could adapt the measure for their population, because they said that, that the cohort there, their participants, some would be Māori, some will be non-Māori.
And they said in all of your connectedness measures, you’ve got items. You’ve got connecting to self others, nature, connection to her like spirituality, but there’s two items that you need to put on, which were connection to. Ancestors and connection to the land, spiritual connection to the land that you’re from.
But the key thing that they said, which is like relevant to what you’re asking me about is they asked to take out the numbers. They said, we don’t want to have numbers. We don’t want to have like items one to 18, like just, just take the numbers out. And I think there was something so important about our focus at the moment on the numbers and the hard science and the outcomes it’s really important, but I’m looking forward to a fusion of different ways of telling this story and a focus, not just on scientists and brain scans, but also on the stories of the people that have lived through these experiences themselves and indigenous communities, stories that have been passed down and yeah, diversity of wisdom, rather than this highly prized, quantitative science, which I think, um, creates a false sense of superiority of that story over all the other stuff.
Are you familiar with Brené Brown’s research? I mean, she has revolutionized a very male dominated industry. The leadership industry is so male dominant. She has over 400,000 data points of qualitative research that she’s written so many books from literally rewriting an entire cultural narrative around what it means to lead.
And she’s a woman. And so I was like, yes, you know, it’s this. Totally. Yeah. And I’m, I’m curious, like, what do you think are specific feminine qualities that are really lacking from this space right now that women can really embody and bring to the table and own and say, we actually need this to be at the table right now?
Any qualities or yeah, anything more specific. Yeah, so I think something around, um, so the way I think about it, it’s kind of like, so obviously masculine and feminine, but they both had that kind of healthy and unhealthy sides, but they both have their kind of unhealthy sides. Um, but I think the, the unhealthy masculine is sometimes very, laser-focused very cutting through and like charging ahead, like the kind of the lone hunter and the healthy feminine is more around the, the, the collective, like the round table.
And that comes back to kind of evolutionary biology around like, you know, the, the mine has the, the, the hunter and the women is the kind of collecting berries in a group. So I think it goes back to, yeah, it’s deep within us. And I think that, uh, Something around the kind of like the masculine way of like charging ahead, going very fast and not sharing power and not going, not weaving together.
A really healthy foundation is, is really important for us. I think psychedelic, um, yeah, like psychedelic work in a way raw, we have the kind of the full profit model of companies wanting to, you know, Yeah, like make these medicines into drugs without high price tags that are going to make a very small amount of shareholders.
Very rich. That’s the kind of like lone charging, um, hunter model versus thinking of more collective ways of doing this. So synthesis Institute became steward owned, thinking about other ways of like creating these collectives. And that’s important because of sharing instead of competition, which is, I think another kind of feminine quality like sharing rather than competition, but also, um, sharing power.
So sharing the, kind of like the, the, the guests sharing the outcomes and the kind of, um, the treasures that can come, but also sharing the. And that’s important because, um, given the amplification of it, given this perfect storm that you mentioned before, um, we need accountability structures and like circles of people.
We need circles, people sitting in circles as opposed to kind of loan, um, individuals. And I think what we need is for those circles. To have healthy ways of managing disruptions, managing transgressions and managing communication where rather than cancel culture. And because there are going to be so many things that happened in psychedelic field, there are going to be so many transgressions ruptures, challenging times.
And if we just avoid and like keep them out and don’t bring them into the conversation, then things become very toxic very quickly. Whereas if you, um, keep talking, keep communicating and having those conversations, looking at our own staff, what we bring that level of accountability that you get when you sit in a circle and when you have a radical approach to hearing each other and truth telling.
And that to me is a feminine quality. The circle of, I don’t know, as women, we kind of, we, we talk at those deep levels and, and it feels like, um, That’s what’s missing the circle of shared accountability and shared co-creation as opposed to the pioneering route straight through that we get with the unhealthy masculine.
Hmm. Thank you so much for speaking to all of that. Yeah. Communication skills. And there’s so much up under the surface in the psychedelic space right now. Holy moly. So good systems for being able to put all that and listening and really being able to listen. I’m curious if you’ve had moments, I’m sure you’ve had moments where you’re in a very male dominated room in the psychedelic space and you’re like, Hey guys, actually, I have something to say, can you listen to.
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Many, many, um, I mean, I think something has changed now. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this as well, where there is that recognition of the need for female voices. So there is more of a sense of that, but there were many, many times when I was on mammals, when I was the only woman on them, I call the mantles.
Cause I was like, oh, you on one at south by Southwest with Roland Griffiths and with Tim Ferris. And I was sitting next to my girlfriend being like, I wish they would give more space to Dr. Ross. I have a lot of times when I’m kind of sitting on my hands thinking like I would, yeah, that is a common experience.
But I think women across, you know, in all areas of, in all kinds of different careers and all. Uh, yeah, but, but the time is time to changing and, um, I really have had a sense myself of Ooh, female led organizations, female run. I was just talking to a friend recently, um, who has an organization called and she was telling me that there’s a kind of a linked organization.
Completely female, keep female led. And she was, she was talking to me about it and it just article that was sent to me of like, was so amazing hearing her say that because I haven’t seen that many purely female led organizations and Acer is, is, you know, is going to be female led and female, uh, kind of collective of women.
Right. Yeah, it’s going to be wonderful to see what those female led and female. Yeah. W where these voices plan then B have the space they need. Um, it’s a perfect segue because I wanted to say, congratulations, you’re a month away from launch. And I totally know what a huge endeavor it is to get something like this off the ground.
And so you’ve been transitioning out of synthesis into your own Acer integration platform. And so really just celebrating you what an accomplishment and I want to do everything I can to help support the success of that. And so for people listening, uh, can you say a little bit more about what’s coming in the pipeline and where people can find you and get involved love to, and actually you reminded me as well to, to, to mention.
Um, so when I was at synthesis, um, so Rachel Aiden as the CEO there, and she was like, it was amazing to work in a team with a female CEO and. See, yeah. W w yeah. Great, great to have that experience of like, um, of really empowered women bringing in a vision that is very much more kind of with the complexity and with the wanting to weave and wants integrate the collective.
And she brought in the steward ownership model and all those things. So, yeah, she, um, she was very inspiring women. Um, and so now, yes, they’re transitioning into, to my own, my own thing. And, and really that’s because it’s moving away from being linked to psychedelics. It is just integration of any experiences.
So it doesn’t need to be linked to a psychedelic institution of any kind. Um, we’re having a launch event on may the sixth in London, but it will also be live stream. So if people want to come to that, then the whole event will be set up. So the live stream works well. We’ll have music meditation. Um, my friend John Hopkins, who is a, he’s done some beautiful music for psychedelic therapy.
His recent album is called music psychedelic therapy. Um, He will be there. We’ll have some of his music, we’ll have a tree meditation, a tree journey. We’ll have, uh, one of the participants from there, the piloting of this process, Leoni, Schneider talking about her experiences of having depression, having psilocybin, and then going through the 12 threes and how that, how that was for her and how it still is for her.
And yeah, various other lovely. My colleague, Michelle, Becky Jones will be talking about psychedelic integration communities, which she and I have been doing together for a long time. And, um, yeah, many more things. So yeah, live stream tickets are, um, on my website, you can get, you can sign up to the wait list for that, which is, um, Dr.
Roslyn what’s dot com, but also, um, yeah, I don’t know where else you get tickets. I guess if you just Google Acer Acer launch, Anthony May the sixth, it would come up and you could find it a live stream. Oh, come in. I’ll find that link and I’ll put it in the show notes. I want to end on, I’m curious if you feel yeah, just even from like a vulnerable standpoint, any sort of real core insights that you’ve learned about yourself in a leadership position launching this initiative.
Well, yes, so much. So I’ve, I’ve learned the kind of, I think so much of what I’ve worked towards has been about the importance of connectedness, but so much of my in kind of part in that that’s, um, that ecosystem I think is that I have quite a fiery nature and I tend to, my life has been a bit about kind of like standing up to what I see as the barriers to that kind of connectedness being able to, to grow healthily.
And I think, yeah, leadership is, is hard. It’s hard. And it’s in the set aside and for depression work, I work really hard to kind of work in this team of us. It was mostly women and really create a. And environment where we could work together in a way that wasn’t, um, that allowed offering ourselves that allowed time together, enjoying each other, kind of creating more of a, uh, kind of family than, um, kind of like, for example, like, because we’re mostly women, like when we have our periods, you know, being able to have a bit of having a language for that, like I’m feeling rubbish because I’ve got PMT, like being able to bring in, um, our fullest selves, our humanity into the workplace and, and fit around that.
But, but it’s really difficult to do. And it’s, it’s hard to, um, it’s hard to be, to stand up for things and be a kind of protector and be a, you stand up for your values. And yeah, there were many times where I thought, well, you know, the, the main lesson here is, um, you can fight for what you believe in and you can try and create.
Something that you feel is in a new way, but you need to be resourced and you need to slow down. And that’s, I think where the U tree came from, because it was like, if you don’t have enough time when you’re really not fighting and you’re not protecting, and if you don’t have enough time when you’re just receiving and allowing and letting go, then you can get pretty burned out quite quickly.
And I would say I’ve been pretty close to burnout the quiet last few years. So you treat as my teacher right now, and I’m doing a lot of, um, one of the things that I’ve been really in my own learning curve, around as I’m building my own team and I’ve been hiring help who, um, some of the people on my team are men and some of them are women.
And I find that I. I have had a harder time creating a boundary between just deepening into this like sister connection, because it’s another woman who’s, you know, helping get this big vision off the ground and maintaining a professional boundary there to have you noticed that I can imagine what the whole team of women, like, how has that impacted you where I’ve had to really look back and think, okay, actually, you know, we have to create a certain professional boundary.
Yeah. And that’s the thing isn’t about like, when I think about like kind of old ways of having teams with very boundaried and very much kind of like hierarchical and, you know, in teams I’ve worked in the past and life, you know, you, there are very, very kind of professional in the workplace. You hold some of yourself back versus this new way of kind of like.
Um, yeah, like you say, having those there’s deeper connections with people. Yeah. It’s a difficult thing how to have those boundaries, but I think ultimately supervision is, is the most important thing. And having those spaces for, um, honest conversation. So that’s something in EISA that I’m really, um, working towards is like having those spaces of, um, of, of talking through ruptures, you know, allowing those ruptures to be repaired.
So when there’s a little moment where, because what happens, I think often when you have that kind of, um, You have care when you’re working in a way with people that you care about, like you mentioned the sister connection and you’re building something together. When you have that level of care, you bring your heart in.
And that’s important for teams because having that care and having that heart makes the work. That’s what brings the magic. But when you care so much, it’s easy to have. It’s easy to care a bit too much. The boundaries get a bit messy. You can feel offended by things that hurt hurts come in because it’s not just that kind of like separate work colleague it’s there’s care.
And the only kind of conclusion I can come to is just that in the same way, as like couples can have a conscious relationship where they choose to really talk through the minute details of the relationship and how it’s working is to have that to a certain degree in teams too. So that there is a forum, whether it’s once a month or however often it’s like, we’re going to bring.
The little moments where we felt something where the little ruptures, that little moments that felt, um, that the boundary wasn’t right. Or, and we’re just going to talk them through and like the tree bringing in that mud at the roots feeling in our bodies, giving it space, turning into lessons growth.
What do we learn from these ruptures? What do we learn from these moments of yeah. When things haven’t felt like. Hmm, thank you for sharing that. I mean, full circle moment of just how much these models especially act and the models that you’re building are actually so applicable to leadership development, to team building in the corporate space as well.
And that we can bring these shamonic and psychedelic principles into, especially the psychedelic corporate environment, corporate quote unquote, but the organizations who are really leading in the space. And I’ve been noticing, you know, I don’t want to name any names, but I just know that under the surface right now, we’re going through a major process where so many teams came together very quickly.
We’re going through a huge, huge boom in the psychedelic space. And that there’s a lot of sort of recalibrating going on right now. And I think these models that you’re pointing to, so specifically our. Incredibly effective to draw upon, to bring into how do we do this in a good way, where we have healthy boundaries where we’re speaking our truth, where we’re feeling, what we feel and actually being a template for all other industries.
Yes, exactly. Exactly. And I think the core of it is the idea of, for me, it’s like there is going to be munch. There is going to be mud. There is going to be icky stuff. There’s going to be all the cold muddy stuff at the roots. And if we can just simply allow it to be that the willingness to feel, let it be there and turn that into our growth, our lessons.
That’s the, that’s the way. Perfect. What a great way to end this conversation. Dr. Rosalind Watts, you are just such a joy to drop in with. I love speaking with you and just learning so much even on this call. So thank you so, so much for your time. I really appreciate it. Thank you. And lovely to hear about the work you’re doing and yeah, the, the, the, the amazing women you’re going to, you’re working with to lead us forward into the next chapter.
Thank you to, um, thank you. Awesome. Thank you.
Dr. Rosalind Watts
Dr Rosalind Watts is a clinical psychologist and the founder of ACER Integration. As the former clinical lead on the Psilocybin for Depression trial at Imperial College London, Dr Watts led a clinical team which facilitated over a hundred psilocybin treatment sessions. Having recognised that safe and effective use of psychedelics requires substantial integration support, Rosalind co-founded the UK’s first psychedelic integration group, and is now launching a global online integration community, ‘Accept, Connect, Embody, Restore’ (ACER) where members will follow a 12 month process together.
Her contributions to the field of psychedelic therapy are numerous and include the development of the the ACE model ‘Accept, Connect, Embody’, which has been used in clinical trials of both psilocybin and DMT, as well as the Watts Connectedness Scale, which is a psychometric tool for measuring outcomes of psychedelic therapy. Dr Watts is the clinical track lead on the Synthesis Institute’s psychedelic practitioner training, and sits on the clinical advisory board of the Usona Institute. Her website is drrosalindwatts.com
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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.