Couples That Heal Together, Trip Together

Why couples are turning to psychedelics as a form of relationship therapy

by Julie Nguyen

As a trauma-informed relationship coach and dating & sex writer, I don’t believe in assigning value judgments to relationships. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Forever or regret. Those black-and-white terms diminish what relationships offer and all of its beautiful yet mysterious healing properties. Meaning if we look at love thoughtfully, we can see it for what it can truly be: a profound emotional container to examine ourselves in the eyes of our beloved. 

Of course, being in love is about more than just being a mirror to illuminate needed areas of growth and healing in your partner. Loving someone is also a creative collaboration. It takes work to navigate the ups and downs that can occur during the lifetime of a relationship. 

Sometimes, this means getting help from an external source. The choice used to be limited to friends, family, and potentially a therapist. Now, more and more couples are reaching out for the help of psychedelics to achieve deeper, more meaningful connections. 

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In recent years, research into psychedelics has disclosed promising results for mental health and substance disorders outside of pharmaceutical intervention. Ketamine-assisted therapies have shown prolonged significant reduction in anxiety and depression and new research shows we can combine MDMA with talk therapy to effectively treat those suffering with PTSD. Although dozens of academic papers and studies have been released noting psilocybin’s positive significant changes in increasing connection, research for psychedelic individual and couples therapy is still scarce. 

A quick trip through time: After Albert Hoffman discovered LSD in the 1950s, it rapidly grew in popularity within the academic and the beat generation crowd. Many universities, including the Harvard Medical School, ran experiments to test the usage of the medicine for psychiatric use. In parallel, the youth movement used psychedelics for consciousness expansion. With all of its breakthroughs, mushrooms and LSD were hailed as wonder drugs to combat addiction and cure existential anxiety. 

In 1970, the age of government-sanctioned psychedelic research swiftly came to an end when President Nixon introduced the Controlled Substance Act and classified psychedelics as Schedule I federally prohibited drugs. And the rest is history. Despite the therapeutic benefits, out of the five psychedelics (DMT, LSD, MDMA, psilocybin mushrooms, and ketamine), only ketamine has been approved by US regulators so far.  

Despite the current legality, the early research remains a powerful draw for therapists and couples who are willing to try alternative approaches to fortify romantic partnerships. Couples want to simultaneously bridge a connection between the self and the other. To love and to heal in raw vulnerability. Ordinarily, that would be a tall order that could take months or even years. Psychedelic medicine has the potential to usher in transformative change overnight or in just a few short sessions. 

I’ve personally experienced the powerful effects of psychedelics with my boyfriend. On our third date, we decided to take psilocybin mushrooms. Magic mushrooms are famously known for disrupting old, but potentially unhelpful, thought patterns due to its brain neuron connectivity. Mushrooms synergize different parts of the brain to communicate together, leading to freeing thoughts and breakthrough realizations. On top of resetting the brain, it can promote clarity, lift inhibitions, and change the way we perceive reality.

When we started to trip, we shared our thoughts about love transparently. We knew we liked each other but the mushrooms facilitated a different, euphoric dimension to the interaction. This time, I couldn’t see my fears about being in a relationship. All I could see was how much we fit together, so cosmically and so perfectly that it made me laugh the entire journey. I didn’t want to get in my own way anymore. I stepped into his light.

But before the trip, I didn’t even know my emotional availability was a problem. I stumbled into the experience looking for fun and walked away unexpectedly healing my traumas around dating. Even though we followed the right protocol for set and setting, I couldn’t help imagining how much more impactful my session would have been if it was guided by a trained psychedelic coach too.

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A disclaimer though: Psychedelics are not a magical shortcut. It requires more elegance than simply ingesting the drug, letting the medicine work its way through your system, and bringing up some stuff you want to get off your chest. Jayne Gumpel, LCSW and founder of Relationship Resources, one of the country’s first large-scale ketamine couple retreats, explains that psychedelics may bring you to the answer but it takes more than that to steward a couple to their desired outcome and have tangible effects. 

Gumpel directs her sessions with a warm yet optimal touch, mostly cratering out a safe space for the process to sweetly and softly unfold. “I know that each person has an inner intelligence that can be tapped and resourced. It is quite beautiful to witness. Once a human gets to a place in consciousness where the light is and love can show up, there is not much else to do,” Gumpel says. “When a demon shows up, I may suggest that leaning into it may be OK–-to see it for what it is.”

With the use of ketamine, she’s seen notable change in her clients stuck in the same negative patterns and old stories that prevent growth. It’s so transformative, Gumpel believes it can help heal marriages and work with those on the brink of divorce–to know if separation isn’t the right decision or if it’s best to walk away. “Many of the couples I sit with will tell you that this is a heart-opening experience. I am learning that this medicine reduces the defenses and opens blocked channels of communication.” 

Hillary Lin, MD and co-founder of Curio, which offers virtual ketamine-assisted coaching and therapy, notes that some of their members report similar experiences. “We have couples who find a retreat in the psychedelic experience to move closer emotionally, even while surrounded by the demands of hectic lifestyles and constant stressful news in the world.” 

Psychedelic therapy can help facilitate an environment where participants feels empowered to demonstrate how much they love their partner, and in the same vein, communicate relationship difficulties without fear of judgment. The medicines bathe the couple and their conversation in radiant compassion, allowing them to authentically meet each other and work through any issues.

Kayla Knopp, licensed psychologist at Relationship Resources, adds ketamine can increase neuroplasticity which is the brain’s ability to create new neural pathways. “For example, couples who feel stuck in a particular pattern of emotional reactivity, like criticism and defensiveness, might experience an increased ability to respond to one another differently – with more vulnerability instead of criticism perhaps, or more openness instead of defensiveness,” she says. 

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“With couples, there is a lot of potential for there to be continued benefit long after the ketamine treatment has ended due to enduring changes in their interactions and closeness,” Knopp adds. “Research on ketamine therapy for couples in its infancy. So far, there are no published studies of ketamine-assisted therapy for couples. We are excited for future research to investigate this potential.” 

Although the psychedelics can facilitate an ardent closeness between couples, like a dream, the intimacy can quickly fade away. The sparkly afterglow only lasts for so long before couples are swept back into the busyness of their everyday lives. Love is about more than just confessing your childhood stories and innermost thoughts to understand each other. 

Absorbing the lessons and using them as relationship guideposts for integration is needed afterwards. Although psychedelics can profoundly bring you closer to your partner, it’s not a crutch or a magic pill. It merely serves as an amplifier. The real magic is in your sober ability to dedicate yourself to work with your partner’s nuances and connect with them everyday. 

Dr. Lin agrees and points out the importance of integration. She adds that this can be done on one’s own, or with the guidance of a coach or therapist so the trip doesn’t become a distant memory. “Integration sessions with a third party who is trained and experienced with psychedelic interventions can help you apply your learnings to real actions in the relationship.”

Relationships are composed of a mysterious alchemy with many parts working together to create an enduring connection. The right chemistry, the right timing, the right therapeutic support, and perhaps the right psychedelic medicine may be the path to better understand the relationship you have with yourself and your partner.

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