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The potential of psychedelics to heal our racial traumas

Clinical psychologist and professor Monnica Williams is on a mission to bring psychedelics to therapists’ offices to help people heal from their racial…



Clinical psychologist and professor Monnica Williams is on a mission to bring psychedelics to therapists’ offices to help people heal from their racial traumas. To do this, she’s jumping over some big hurdles.

Judging from the colourful signs advertising mushrooms that we are seeing on our streets and the presence of psychedelics in pop culture, we are in the middle of a psychedelic renaissance. For example, in the TV program Transplant, a Syrian Canadian doctor experiencing trauma is treated by his psychiatrist with psilocybin therapy.

On a more official front, this month, the Canadian Senate recommended the federal government fast-track a research program into how psychedelics can help veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD covers a range of issues, including racial trauma.

On this week’s episode of Don’t Call Me Resilient, we explore how psychedelics — including psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) and MDMA — can help heal racial trauma. Racial trauma, Williams explains, is not necessarily something that happens through one event. It’s usually ongoing experiences of stress, including “daily insults to your person.”

With racial trauma, therapists are also looking at events beyond an individual’s lifetime. “We’re looking at historical trauma, that may have happened decades or even centuries ago, that is still associated with the person’s cultural group. These could be catastrophes that happened to a whole group of people, like ethnic cleansing or genocide, the Holocaust, or it could be a natural disaster.”

Intergenerational trauma is something Williams has experienced personally. Her parents grew up in the Deep South in the United States during the Jim Crow era. As African Americans, they were subject to segregation and extreme oppression. She says that affected the whole African American community.

People with racial trauma can have symptoms like depression or anxiety or may be despondent or angry.

Research studies show results for psychedelics

Once Williams saw the research studies coming out of MAPS, a multidisciplinary association for psychedelic studies, she was convinced that psychedelics can work: “The medicine does its thing and the brain starts to heal itself.”

But there are some big hurdles before we get there, including the fact that many mental health professionals don’t have any “training or knowledge in working with people across race, ethnicity and culture,” according to Williams.

And we don’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to communities of colour and drugs. There is a long and ugly history of institutions using Black, Indigenous and racialized bodies without consent for medical experimentation, including drug testing. We also can’t forget the racial roots of the war on drugs and the devastating impact it had — and continues to have — on Black and other racialized communities.

All this begs the question: As psychedelics appear to be entering the mainstream, how can we open up their healing properties to people in need in an inclusive way?

To find out more, listen to this week’s podcast with Monnica Williams, clinical psychologist and professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Ottawa, where she is the Canada Research Chair in Mental Health Disparities. She is also the Clinical Director of the Behavioral Wellness Clinic in Connecticut.

People heal through connecting with other people. That’s how we get through traumas. Our society suffers from a mental illness called racism, and we as a society need to heal from this disease where you have one part of the body attacking another part of the body. It’s like an autoimmune disorder, right? Doesn’t make any sense: makes the whole body sick. And we’re on a planet that we all share and we’re all human beings, we’re all connected, even in ways we don’t realize or understand. We could think of it as a single organism and we all need to heal so that we can all function in a way that’s in the best interest of the whole entity. - Monnica T. Williams

Read more in The Conversation

Read more: The real promise of LSD, MDMA and mushrooms for medical science

Read more: Alberta’s new policy on psychedelic drug treatment for mental illness: Will Canada lead the psychedelic renaissance?

Read more: MDMA-assisted couples therapy: How a psychedelic is enhancing intimacy and healing PTSD

Read more: Psychedelic medicine is on its way. But it's not 'doing shrooms with your shrink'. Here's what you need to know


“Psychedelics and Racial Justice” by Monnica T. Williams

Truth be Told Season 5 (American Public Media/Tonya Mosley)

“A New Era of Psychedelics in Oregon” by Mike Baker

“The Need for Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy in the Black Community and the Burdens of Its Provision” by Darron T. Smith, Sonya C. Faber, NiCole T. Buchanan, Dale Foster and Lilith Green

How to Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics by Michael Pollan

“Anger and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder symptoms in Crime Victims: A Longitudinal Analysis”. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. by Orth, U., Cahill, S.P., Foa, E.B., & Maercker, A.

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