PHILADELPHIA — Jess Jones, a licensed clinical social worker, treats a number of patients with ketamine-assisted therapy — where clients take ketamine, prescribed by a psychiatrist, in a series of sessions to treat severe depression or other serious mental health issues.
Interest in psychedelic-assisted therapies such as these is growing in the United States, and an emerging body of research suggests that ketamine can successfully treat depression that's resistant to more traditional methods of treatment. Some states are moving toward legalizing psychedelics: Colorado and Oregon have decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms.
In this Q&A, lightly edited for brevity and clarity, Jones walks through her process of ketamine-assisted therapy, and how she counsels patients who need it. (Jones is also working on clinical research trials involving therapy with other psychedelic drugs, but here is speaking only about her personal therapy practice, which isn't the subject of research.)
How do patients find you, and what parameters do you set for treatment?
I have information on my website, and then I have a screening form when people reach out for a consultation. It's a short-term, intensive bit of work, that might last one to three months, roughly, and it's important patients have ongoing care — from a therapist, spiritual counselor, or support group.
I will gather enough baseline medical information to pass it to one to one of my colleagues who is a psychiatrist to see if there are any red flags — for example, if there's no point in their doing an evaluation, because of medication they're on. Then they get a prescription in hand and they come and take the medicine [at my practice].
How do you prepare clients for ketamine-assisted therapy?
My goal is to get to know them as quickly as possible. I ask them to lead me through a series of questions envisioning the future — helping them shift to a place of openness and curiosity.
People come in with different familiarities with non-ordinary states of consciousness. I am primarily a trauma therapist, so I try to help clients feel agency and choice around this decision, to start to tap into things they've been defending against. We talk about the different physical senses — they might lose a sense of their body, some people feel numbness or heat, or a really pleasant sensation. We practice putting eye shades on, practice putting music on, and practice having their needs met during a session — like asking for a hand to hold.
What happens during a session?