Why Symptoms Worsen After Psychedelic Therapy

From the Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapeutic perspective on the reasons why symptoms can worsen with psychedelic use. According to IFS, our minds are made up of different parts, each with its own thoughts, emotions, and desires. We have protectors, who shield us from pain and vulnerability, managers, who strive to keep things under control, and exiles, who hold the emotions or memories we find too overwhelming to deal with.


Zina Ortiz

11/16/20212 min read

Ketamine therapy for trauma, complex ptsd, anxiety and depression in Denver CO
Ketamine therapy for trauma, complex ptsd, anxiety and depression in Denver CO

When we introduce psychedelics into our system, they can disrupt the delicate balance among these internal parts. Ketamine can open us up to a heightened state of consciousness and altered perception, causing suppressed emotions, memories, or hidden aspects of ourselves to emerge. What may also happen is the reorganization or resolution of these parts. This surfacing of material can lead to a worsening of symptoms.

For instance, let's say someone has a history of trauma and has developed strong protective parts to manage the pain associated with it. When Ketamine is introduced, they can potentially activate the exiled trauma-related emotions or memories. This activation can trigger a range of symptoms, like increased anxiety, flashbacks, or emotional distress, as the protective parts scramble to regain control and shield us from the overwhelming material.

To address this from an IFS perspective, it's crucial to acknowledge and engage with these internal parts during and after a psychedelic experience. The therapist or facilitator plays a vital role in helping us establish a safe and trusting relationship with our protective parts. They do this by recognizing and appreciating their intentions to keep our system functioning in an adaptive way. Approaching these parts with curiosity, compassion, and a willingness to dialogue allows us to understand their roles and motivations.

Through the therapeutic process of IFS, we gradually explore and connect with the exiled or suppressed parts that may have been activated or intensified by the psychedelic experience. With the therapist's guidance, we create a supportive environment where these parts can freely express themselves, knowing they will be witnessed without judgment or criticism.

By integrating the insights gained from the psychedelic journey within the framework of IFS, we can work towards healing and harmony within our internal system. The goal is to cultivate self-leadership, where our core self, often referred to as the "Self" in IFS, becomes a compassionate and centered presence that can hold space for all parts with understanding and acceptance.

To sum it up, from an Internal Family Systems perspective, the worsening of symptoms with psychedelic use can be understood as a result of disrupting the internal system dynamics and activating the protective parts in response to emerging material. In my opinion is a good thing. By embracing these parts with compassion and a spirit of exploration, we can integrate the psychedelic experience and foster healing and self-integration.

It's important to seek ketamine-assisted therapy from qualified professionals experienced in this area. This treatment should be part of a comprehensive plan that includes proper assessment, integration of experiences, and follow-up care. I provide psychedelic assisted therapy using Cannabis and Ketamine, not at the same time, to help in the healing process. Medicine in therapy is only a tool not the main component in this process. The relationship between the therapist and the participant is highly valuable, as it is the therapeutic methods used.