Psychedelic Therapist Scott Ross’ Insights on Integration Therapy

If there’s someone who echoes the sentiments of Socrates “the unexamined life is not worth living”, it’s Scott Ross, Psychedelic Integration Therapist in Seattle Washington at Salish Sea Counseling and Co-founder of Telos Transformational Therapeutics.  Salish Sea Counseling offers a wide range of therapeutic techniques including but not limited to Transpersonal Psychotherapy, Jungian Psychology, Psychedelic Integration Therapy, and Ketamine-Assisted Therapy to aid in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and trauma. Scott sees that underlying most symptoms a thirst for wholeness, and hopes to facilitate what Abraham Maslow called self-actualization, a fulfilling and meaningful life. Frshminds got an opportunity to ask Scott more about his opinions on psychedelic integration therapy and the future of psychedelic healthcare. 

What got you interested in providing psychedelic integration to your patients?

I have long been interested in mystical and altered state experiences, particularly in how the profound impact they can have on people’s lives. In college, I studied near-death experiences and work by pioneers in psychology like William James and Abraham Maslow, who took such extraordinary experiences seriously in a way that was not only de-pathologizing but also open to the possibility that these experiences may have things to teach us about life and how to live it more fully and authentically.

What makes your practice special?

I am someone who is both highly skeptical and highly open-minded. I thoroughly enjoy exploring what lies outside societal norms- the sorts of things people don’t bring up in conversation for fear of sounding crazy. Putting words to our phenomenological experience and examining this with openness and curiosity is a valid pursuit, and something I affirm with my clients. Something I learned from the psychonaut Terence McKenna is that just because you put words to your experience doesn’t mean you have to commit yourself to it in some definitive and ultimate way. What I’ve found in creating this environment of open inquiry where critical thinking is still expected and valued is that the territory I often find myself in with clients is exploring things that are incredibly important, but quite difficult to explain coherently. With chronic pain, complex trauma, and psychedelic experiences- a willingness, and even enthusiasm to explore without resorting to ready-made explanations are vital to coming to a deeper and clearer understanding of our lives, and I really try to create such an environment in my practice.

How do you see psychedelic and ketamine assisted-psychotherapy evolving in the future?

The bad faith players in the pharmaceutical and other big-money institutions will try to patent and package these medicines into small doses taken indefinitely at a premium cost not seen clearly by the consumer because it will be covered by insurance. These entities know exactly what they’re doing in the sense that their intentions are to exploit those who are vulnerable and desperately need effective treatment, the sorts of people who are so at the end of their rope that they are often contemplating violent treatments like ECT in which a doctor induces a “therapeutic” seizure. We already see this exploitation from companies like Johnson & Johnson who charge over $600 a dose for Spravado, which offers no advantage over generic racemic ketamine, which our clinic is able to offer at under $5 a dose. These entities are at odds with the ethical practice of medicine. 

But I’m not fully pessimistic about the future of psychedelic medicine. I think these malignant organizations will burn themselves out because they have no damn clue what psychedelic medicines are truly about. Psychedelic medicines are about dissolving oppressive structures on all levels, from the intrapsychic to the familial to society at large. We saw this in the 60s with the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, and the anti-war movement protesting the Vietnam War. It’s no coincidence that these movements came at a time when barbiturates were giving way to LSD, cannabis, and other psychedelics like mescaline. One form of medicine lends itself to a society staffed by the functioning unwell, while the lends itself to both individual and societal transformation. Maybe you’re not happy at your job because it is dehumanizing, not because there’s something wrong with you.

But one of the things I think went wrong in the 60s was that our society was still pretty immature overall in its engagement with substances. We are an indulgent and cavalier society when it comes to these things, and lack the ceremonial structures and eldership to contain these transformative experiences. Dosing the world with LSD won’t bring ultimate harmony, it will just freak people out for a while before they go back to life as they knew it. What we see in more mature cultures is the role of genuine elders who provide grounded, wise, compassionate guidance so that those who undergo transformative journeys can effectively reintegrate within the culture. Not only reintegrate, but become transformative figures within their culture. I’m obviously biased, but I think the discipline of psychotherapy lends itself particularly well to building this culture of eldership into our society.

Psychotherapists undergo years of education, and post-education have extensive professional mentorship and consultation built into the profession. I foresee ways of expanding this beyond the domain of psychotherapy (i.e. nurse practitioners, clergy, bodyworkers, chemical dependency counseling), but in each of these cases, there are built-in structures to help the practitioner to mature in their craft. If psychedelic medicines are integrated through these avenues I think the outlook is pretty good.

What’s the one piece of advice you would offer to patients considering psychedelic integration to help them manage their mental health?

Psychedelic medicines aren’t just about waking up, and they’re not just about seeing beauty. They’re also about facing our demons, journeying to hell, and facing the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to see with excruciating and prolonged clarity. To use Ken Wilbur’s framework- psychedelics are also about showing up, growing up, and cleaning up. Don’t be afraid to face your shadow, don’t be afraid to sit with your fear and discomfort. These practices take courage and are profoundly rewarding to go through. Psychedelics are indescribably well suited for healing but go in with a degree of sobriety and reverence every time, even with cannabis. 

What are the most remarkable changes you have seen in patients who have leveraged psychedelic integration to manage their mental wellness?Freedom from an intense fear of death, feeling human love and connection for the first time at 50 years of age. Not only no longer being suicidal, but having difficulty remembering what it was like to be suicidal. A “conversion” out of religious fundamentalism, and healing from the harms of being in these cultures. A “conversion” out of atheistic fundamentalism/dogmatism and an openness to the mystery and wonder of life.

What challenges do you see for further integration of psychedelic-based therapies into more mainstream health care?

I mostly addressed this in a previous question, but the pharmaceutical companies and healthcare/insurance fields are all based on maximizing profits for their shareholders. This is antagonistic to promoting individual and societal wellbeing and it’s a current disease of our society. You can’t have it both ways- you can’t simultaneously prioritize the patient’s wellbeing and the maximum profit you can pull from them. We have to be able to call “bullshit” when we see players acting in bad faith. Particularly when we are talking about the most vulnerable members of society.

You can learn more about the work of Scott Ross and Salish Sea Counselling on his website.

Dive deeper into the relationship between psychedelics and mental health with our Ultimate Psychedelics and Mental Wellness Guide!

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About the Author

Passionate about studying the psychedelic/mystical experience from a neuropsychological lens, Emily is a member of MAPS Canada Research Committee and graduated with an Honours BSc in Cognitive Neuropsychology from York University.  She currently leads a team of RAS with a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial investigating microdosing psilocybin for persistent depressive disorder.

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