Two understated Australian psychedelic researchers are suggesting for a radical protocol for how psychotherapy in virtual reality is carried out.
A novel protocol that the duo has created for integrating virtual reality into the still-experimental technique of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is expected to revolutionise the way we think about therapy.
The concept of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is still quite experimental.
While late-stage clinical studies for MDMA-therapy for PTSD are nearing completion, FDA approval is still some time away for more traditional psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD.
Enosis Therapeutics was established by Agnieszka Sekula and Prash Puspanathan to investigate how virtual reality may be incorporated into psychedelic therapy.
The idea that virtual reality technology might help individuals connect more closely with the sensory aspect of a psychedelic experience is at the heart of the duo’s thinking behind Enosis.
According to Prash, the psychedelic experience is a lived & emotional one.
But modern psychotherapy models frequently operate under cognitive therapy guidelines.
Enosis is attempting to fill the gap between the ineffable quality of a psychedelic experience and the practical, logical framework of talk therapy.
Prash told that it would be extremely helpful to maintain those insights if “we can do anything to bring things back to be more emotional, more embodied, or attached to the fundamental elements of that [psychedelic] experience.”
The majority of current psychedelic psychotherapy follows a basic format that includes a few preparatory therapy sessions, one and more active drug sessions, and a small number of therapy sessions to assist patients integrate their psychedelic knowledge and experience.
An entire program for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy can take 8 to 12 weeks to complete.
Enosis’ protocol is clear and radical at the same time.
As a kind of addition to psychedelic therapy, Agnieszka and Prash imagine virtual reality being used at all levels to help patients maintain contact with those highly resonant altered state experiences as the weeks & months go by.
The method we use is to strategically insert VR into various therapeutic sessions, according to Agnieszka.
“We are using it during the complete process, from dosage preparation to integration, and, if possible, in each session.”
“In a means that maintains the coherence of the therapy process and creates a setting to which you continually return to ease the transition between therapeutic environments.”
Enosis provides a variety of VR situations that can be used at various stages of the therapy process.
Preparatory sessions are offered early on, prior to any drug experiences, in order to familiarise patients with the VR environment and set expectations for the upcoming psychedelic sessions.
The “SurrenderVR” scenario, a type of meditation that lasts for 15 to 20 minutes, is one of the most conventional portions of the Enosis VR protocol.
It is meant to be used on the dose day, right after a patient has taken their psychedelic.
The purpose of this VR experience is to lessen a patient’s anxiety as they wait for the medication to start working.
Agnieszka and Prash both want to make it clear that no VR technology is used at all during the actual psychedelic drug experience.
Because this is not about experiencing a psychedelic experience in a virtual reality setting, the initial dose-day scenario is brief and ends just as one is probably about to start.
The Enosis protocol’s more intriguing section begins at the conclusion of the psychedelic trip.
Four to five hours after taking the medication, another VR simulation is initiated.
With this technique, known as “AnchoringVR,” the patient is put into a calm beachfront VR environment.
The patient is shown a collection of jewels that are floating.
The patient is asked to share an insight they gained from the last psychedelic experience as they hold each jewel.
Then, the jewels are adorned with recordings of their own words.
In this virtual beach scene, the patients are free to record as many insights as they see fit, each one linking to a different shape.
In the days and weeks following the psychedelic drug encounter, the patient returns to see their therapist, and they re-enter the beach VR scene.
They hear their own voice describing how they felt just after the hallucinogenic experience each time a jewel-connected insight is contacted.
These discoveries start to interact with one another in the VR scenario over the course of several follow-up therapy sessions, forming a sort of three-dimensional visual map with connected concepts.
These concepts can appear as seeds that are placed on the sand and grow larger from session to session, or they can combine with other insights to produce larger clouds of realisation.
In its relationship with a group of psychedelic substances that are itself known for smashing preconceived notions, this VR-driven style of therapy feels unconventional, futuristic, but also weirdly apt.
It’s undoubtedly an amusing, unique, and fun way to frame a psychotherapy session, but does it really aid with therapeutic outcomes or is it just a catchy tech gimmick?
It will be difficult to determine the therapeutic effectiveness of this type of VR-assisted program because psychedelic therapy is still at the preclinical phases.
Nevertheless, Agnieszka and Prash are making every effort, and clinical trials are underway.
The technology recently underwent its first real-world testing in the Netherlands.
Within that preliminary study, two key variables were examined: whether pre-session anxiety could be decreased utilising the early VR situations, and whether the post-session bonding scenarios may improve recollection of psychedelic insights the next day.
Although the results have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, Agnieszka and Prash found that these preliminary tests were satisfactory.
During the subsequent integrative session with the VR situations, the emotional state of the psychedelic experience can be measurably rekindled both qualitatively and quantitatively.
A participant in this preliminary study stated, “There were more recollections than I imagined. I originally didn’t think I needed to start recording this, but I ended up saying more than I remembered.”
Based on those results, Enosis intends to start more thorough clinical research the following year.
The VR psychedelic therapy protocol will then face off against a more conventional psychedelic therapy protocol.
The trial, which will be carried out on healthy volunteers and use the conventional framework for psychedelic therapy as a control, will compare the effects of VR on lowering pre-session anxiety and more precisely assess how well VR anchors the psychedelic experience and aids subjects in reconnecting with those insights in the succeeding therapy sessions.
In the end, Agnieszka and Prash are putting out a fairly radical rethinking of how psychedelics can be used in psychotherapy in the twenty-first century.
In the event that, as researcher Rick Doblin predicts, there are thousands of psychedelic therapy clinics worldwide within the next ten years, Enosis sees no reason why VR can not be one new tool out of many created to maximise the therapeutic effects of this approach.
All of the discussion surrounding VR and psychedelic therapy is based on the hypothesis that perhaps psychedelics are not the best fit for our present medical models.
Therefore, adopting VR as a psychedelic therapy adjunct primarily aims to get closer to a clinical framework that is more suited to the inherent effects of psychedelics.
Prash is very front when he says that trying to jam psychedelics into clinics with white walls is probably not the best idea.
He argues that consuming these things in more natural outdoor settings would be a far better example.
Prash stated, “While that would be ideal, that’s not scalable. We are aware that fitting this into the medical model will serve as a major setback to getting it accepted by the general public, but we also know that this isn’t the best model.”
“What can we do, therefore, to approximate the regrettable need of the model that we must fit into into something which is perhaps more nearly linked to what will be an ideal model? These are some of the resources we can use to speed up our progress.”
While the first edition of psychedelic psychotherapy has not yet been made available in clinics that treat the general public, researchers like Agnieszka and Prash are already considering improvements that could be made.
It resembles psychedelic therapy 2.0 in some ways.