Interview with Veronika Gold, Co-Founder & CEO at Polaris Insight Center
Could you give our readers an overview of your professional background, and what led you to the psychedelics space?
I was first trained as a Psychologist at the Charles University in the Czech Republic, and later earned an MA degree in Integral Counseling at California Institute of Integral Studies and became a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I am trained in a number of trauma treatment approaches, including EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, Hakomi, Internal Family Systems, Realization Process, and EFT. In addition, I trained as an MDMA-assisted therapist by MAPS, and now serve as a supervisor in the clinical trials.
Finally, I trained with Kriya Institute and the Ketamine Training Institute to provide Ketamine Assisted Therapy (KAP) and Training. I am a co-founder of Polaris Insight Center in San Francisco, where I provide KAP treatment, training and consultation. Since my teenage years I have been interested in the healing potential of expanded states of consciousness and contemplative traditions, and it was in 2016 when I was able to merge my personal interests and passions with my professional path.
To what extent do you agree that conventional therapies have traditionally been too focused on symptom reduction, rather than on increasing quality of life? Why?
In psychedelic-assisted therapies we are looking, not only for a reduction of symptoms, but for the healing of the underlying psychological issues, for transformation, and for psycho-spiritual growth and development. Our hope is to see overall improvement in the quality of life of our clients. In Western culture we have been overly focused on the optimization of performance and the efficiency of interventions.
With this focus, however, while symptom reduction is sometimes achieved, opportunities for deeper healing and longer-term change are often compromised. People may feel less depressed or anxious, but they continue to be impacted by unresolved, unprocessed experiences. We want clients to feel better, but we ultimately want them to truly heal and gain lasting insight and self-understanding, which often involves a longer process.
You have done some work in the past with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) – could you tell us a little bit about the projects you have collaborated on?
I was invited to the MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy Training Program for treatment of PTSD in 2016. I have since worked on Phase 2 (open label study) and Phase 3 (placebo-controlled double-blind study) clinical trials. In the trials, we provided psychotherapy in co-therapy teams, which is an exciting change for me as a therapist who has worked alone for many years, as well as a wonderful healing possibility for clients.
In 2017 MDMA was granted breakthrough therapy designation by FDA, moving the research closer towards approval as a prescription medication. In 2020, the FDA agreed to an expanded access program for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, which created an increased need for therapists to be trained in the ethical facilitation of this treatment modality. Currently, I serve as an associate supervisor for the MAPS clinical trials in Europe and am preparing for supervision for the Expanded Access Program in the United States. I aspire to become a trainer for MDMA therapists in the future to support accessibility of this treatment when made legally available.
There are some people who believe that ketamine therapy is a replacement for talking therapies, whereas others see ketamine-assisted psychotherapy as an adjunct treatment. What are your thoughts on this?
I believe that psychedelic-assisted therapy needs to be embedded in the talk therapy process – it needs to include preparation and integration sessions. Often, the most significant shifts happen during the integration part of the treatment. At Polaris Insight Center, we provide intensive psychotherapy in the preparatory, experiential, and integrative phases of KAP treatment, but also require clients to work in tandem with an outside therapist to continue the processing of material that emerges in KAP. Many people would like to see psychedelics and psychedelic-assisted therapy as ‘a magic bullet’. While it is true that psychedelic medicines can expedite the healing process and provide breakthroughs and insights, we believe they are even more effective in combination with ongoing psychotherapy.
Can you give our readers a little insight into the differences you’ve seen with patients who have embarked on ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, versus talking therapies alone (e.g. speed of recovery, ability to access memories, etc.)?
We have been using ketamine-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of treatment resistant depression, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. We have observed that clients’ capacities to gain insight into their minds and their inner worlds, and to understand their problems from new perspectives is greatly enhanced by ketamine. This has something to do with having experiences with non-ordinary states of consciousness and emotionally-corrective experiences, and also with the increased brain connectivity, reduction of the activity in the Default Mode Network, and greater access to memories and personal insight. Some of the things that people regularly report is that they feel like their mind is a nice place to be, that their sense of self is vaster than they realized, that they are not their thoughts, their conditioning, their depression, their anxiety.
These kinds of insights typically require much longer time in regular talk therapy because there is not nearly as many opportunities for novelty and flexible ways of thinking in normal, analytic, waking consciousness. Non-ordinary states of consciousness allow greater access to our inner healing intelligence that can serve as a compass in the healing journey. In talk therapy alone, clients can have defenses and strategies that can get in the way of this self-healing process; ketamine-assisted psychotherapy helps access this innate capacity to heal.
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To hear more from Veronika Gold and learn about Psychedelics, check out the GCI Virtual Summit.