Shamans, healers and medicine people who are in service to their communities have been part of global culture for millennia. It's a powerful role, but it's been mythologized in the West because of the absence of that archetype: we killed all our medicine people over 500 years ago, the witches, the warlocks, the herbalists, the people that had a connection to the planet and the healing herbs, the ones who commune with spirits. So, we had a disconnect from the planet and from these spiritual dimensions. And we had a disconnect from the role of practitioner, facilitator, shaman, psychedelic therapist, whatever you want to call it in the modern era.
In the Peruvian traditions I’ve trained in, the role of the curandero (from the Spanish “to heal”) or as we would call them, shamans, was originally hereditary. The elder practitioner could see that there was a capability in the family line and that there was maybe an energetic transmission as well. Or, there was an initiatory sickness, a “healing crisis” that brought the healer to be closer to the spirit world, and something shifted.
The role of shaman or healer is getting a lot of attention nowadays with the resurgence of medical psychedelics. And yet it’s the therapists, doctors and western medical establishment that are gatekeeping medical psychedelics, and their version of health and healing is different to the indigenous perspective. So is the skill base needed, to some degree.
As a new generation of psychedelic therapists are on-boarded, the top-end demands of capitalism are creating an environment where healing is often removed from the role of healer, and put back onto the substances themselves, pattern-matching psychedelics with pharmaceutical drugs.
So, what makes a healer?
Is it a weekend, week long, or even year-long training course? It takes a certain energy and understanding to be responsible for, and in service to the community, and that's what it's really about, working with these psychedelic substances. But to bring it back to the role of the practitioner, my shorthand is, if in the old days a village used to have one medicine person, man or woman for maybe 100 people, and now we have almost eight billion people, well on that 1 to 100 ratio, we need something like 80 million medicine people, right? Or do we?
The Supply and Demand of Psychedelic Healing
Every individual possesses the medicine within themselves to heal what ails them. They just need to tap into it, but that power isn’t really acknowledged by the Western medical system. It relies on experts, doctors, technology, all things outside of oneself to outsource healing, externalities that are expensive, even out of reach for those without insurance or access to Western medicine.
It can be similar in the way the West is approaching plant and earth medicines and psychedelics. As facilitators, practitioners, shamans, or healers of the world, more and more people are responding to the call to be of service because they have experienced the transformative power of these psychedelic medicines and understand the responsibility that comes with it.
However, answering the call doesn't necessarily mean one should immediately take on the role of a “healer.” I respect those who feel compelled to act, but it is crucial to approach this path with care. Training and support, as well as integration, is vital. But above all, it requires coming from the heart, being of service, and trusting the process.
Psychedelic Healing – For Those That Can Afford It
The psychedelic industry has become highly commercialized and is being integrated into the mainstream capitalist system. While this may be necessary in some ways, it has led to discussions about the pros and cons and various issues surrounding the commodification of psychedelics, including dosages, set and setting, cost, training, and more. Recent headlines from an Oregon, USA legal psychedelic healing center suggest one session with psilocybin would cost US $3500, for instance.
Mainstream organizations, primarily in America and some in Australia now, are working to train facilitators in psychedelic therapy. There are ongoing discussions about whether people should have their own psychedelic experiences to understand the space and engage in these conversations. However, very few people address the idea of the healers themselves, or recognize that even the term "healer" can be triggering.
What is a Healer?
Words like shaman, facilitator, practitioner, therapist, and other labels attempt to describe the role, but fundamentally, it is about being present and having the capacity to assist in the healing of others. You need empathy and compassion – all the mechanics can be taught. Some people also believe in energy healing, like reiki, and doing something that assists in the healing of others. But in psychedelic medicine circles it’s more care and compassion and “holding space”, a very different energetic from the shamanic societies that do learn and practice how to directly alter consciousness and affect energy.
In the West, healing has become a recognized profession, often practiced underground but with emerging pathways that have their own checks and balances, potentially following a therapeutic model. These checks and balances include considerations of client outreach, behavior, permissibility, and boundaries. Such discussions primarily focus on incidents when things go wrong, or when client boundaries are violated.
However, it is important to recognize that this work is a profession with its own mechanics and challenges. While some may perceive it as a spiritual paradigm, there is a practical side to it. Yet few people acknowledge the day-to-day, week in, week out, year after year dynamics of the profession. Healers themselves burn out when the cup runs dry.
Trickle Down “Healing-nomics”
Some individuals aim to target "higher value clients" in this context. In the 1950s, Aldous Huxley proposed the idea of influencing the intelligentsia and powerful individuals in society with psychedelics, with the hope that it would eventually reach the general population. If influential people have the ability to make a significant impact, should we prioritize serving them?
While it is possible to administer psychedelics to a corporate CEO, such as the head of Google, and potentially witness a profound transformation, my personal experience has shown that the anticipated spiritual growth and positive changes in the behavior of wealthy elite individuals are rarely what you expect. Any ego-driven expectation of serving someone influential and expecting them to utilize their influence in a certain way is often unfounded.
Instead, I believe that true change happens on a grassroots level, within our own communities. Creating an environment for healing and allowing it to radiate through these communities can have a more significant impact than celebrities or Hollywood embracing psychedelics for the purpose of self-aggrandizement (although celebrity endorsement of psychedelic healing does promote them to millions more of their followers).
It’s about touching hearts and minds, facilitating healing within our immediate surroundings, and recognizing the transformative potential that lies within our own communities.
Safe and Sacred Containers for the Work
When working with people, each individual who seeks our assistance deserves our best effort and the utmost compassion. In our ceremonial and therapeutic practices, we establish the necessary conditions to provide a safe and sacred container for their journey.
As practitioners, our greatest gift to clients is creating a space of unconditional love without attachment or expectation of reward. Whether it is through therapy, psychedelic experiences, or shamanic practices, the essence of the work is to reach a revelation within ourselves of where healing is needed, what the blocks or lessons are to facilitate that, and then integrate the lesson into our daily lives. We heal ourselves, by and large.
Healing is a verb, and we continue the healing process every day setting safe boundaries and patterns.
It is through embodying this healing awareness and sharing it with others, and extending a helping hand that we realize the interconnectedness of all beings—that there are no "others."
To heal is to be healed. To love is to be loved.