What Is Ketamine-Assisted Therapy & How A Doctor Uses It To Treat Depression

mbg Founder & Co-CEO By Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth.
Gita Vlaid on the mindbodygreen Podcast: Ketamine-Assisted Therapy and How it Can Treat Depression

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When you think of treating depression, a psychedelic trip might not immediately come to mind. But board-certified psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Gita Vaid, M.D., uses psychedelic-assisted therapy as a tool when dealing with treatment-resistant depression. 

On this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, we learn about the process of a typical ketamine-assisted therapy session. Ketamine, Vaid notes, has been used in the past as an anesthetic agent, but it's starting to get recognition for its healing properties when done with a medical professional in a controlled environment.

Here's a full breakdown of ketamine-assisted therapy, and how it may help treat depression.

How do you know if you're a candidate?

First and foremost, Vaid likes to talk it out, sans psychedelics. "When I have a new consultation with someone, I like to meet with them, so I can try and understand who they are, what their story is, and why they came to see me," she says. "What their story is, what their childhood was like, what informed who they are. I also try and make an assessment of how they understand themselves." 

In other words, Vaid meets with a patient in a more conventional therapy session in order to discern what type of therapy would work best for them. After she gets to know the patient on a deeper level, she can assess whether introducing ketamine would be effective and beneficial for treatment. 

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What does it feel like?

Wondering what a ketamine session would feel like? Vaid says in some ways, it can feel like having a lucid dream

"For a psychoanalyst, it's extraordinary, because it's like entering into a dream world with your patient," she says. "Except you're in their dream world, and they're awake. And you're with them."

How long does the experience last?

Patients aren't actually on a psychedelic trip the entire time. Ketamine is actually one of the most short-acting experiences. "It's an arc of an experience going into it, with a very deep experience for about 20 minutes, and then coming out of it. So, there are different ways in which it's layered and unfolds," Vaid explains. 

The three-hour window is dedicated to getting comfortable and catching up before the session, the ketamine session itself, and a recovery period to discuss the experience. 

"The recovery period is actually probably where most of the psychotherapy proper happens," Vaid says. "We review the experience, and I'm sharing what I saw when the person's in the experience." 

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What are the risks?

While Vaid discusses the many benefits of ketamine-assisted therapy, she also mentions that people should approach the therapy with caution. 

"I think psychedelics are so exciting, but just as they offer an opportunity for deep healing, there's also a real possibility of deep trauma with someone who is not knowledgeable."

That said, it's always important to remember ketamine-assisted therapy happens with a medical professional in a safe environment

"Even if you have a sense of a person's depression and their history, you never know until you try it. So taking a small dose and seeing how it sits with you is very important," she explains. 

The bottom line of using psychedelics.

Overall, it's not the psychedelic experience that's the goal. Vaid notes that the psychedelic is merely a tool for the patient to learn how to dive deep into their emotions and learn how to process them: "Psychedelics offer a different way to do some deeper repair work, where it's used as an assistant to go even deeper with the internal process."

Psychedelics might be the agent to get you there, but at the end of the day, the goal is to be able to harness that emotional experience and be able to access it yourself. That's where the healing comes in. 

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