A Fitting Place to Consider the Future of Psychiatry

February 21, 2017

I’m excited about Elevate, Psych Congress’ newest conference offering, which will be happening just a few weeks from now in my hometown of San Francisco. I’m excited that I get to share my beautiful, wacky town with you all, a place that one of my patients once said was “surrounded on three sides by water and one side by reality.”

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San Francisco is the perfect place to think about the future of psychiatry, and to nurture the generation of new clinicians who will be leading it. San Francisco has often nudged the culture in the direction of the future, even when it may not be quite ready for the changes that are coming. It was from this little peninsula sticking into the Pacific that the nations of the world gathered after the horrors of World War II to form the United Nations. From this little peninsula arose a counterculture in the 1960s that changed the country as we knew it.

Part of the ethos of that counterculture was the use of psychedelics, a topic that has returned to prominence in psychiatry in recent years. When Timothy Leary urged the youth of the time to “tune in, turn on, and drop out” at the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park in 1967, he probably didn’t realize he was unleashing a tsunami of careless use of these incredibly powerful substances that proved to be so threatening to the status quo that they were swept into a category of unrelated and far more dangerous drugs, such as heroin and methamphetamine, not to be taken seriously by psychiatry for another 30 years. And even after that, the studies that were completed faced a steep hill of regulatory resistance.

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As a result of the dogged persistence of many researchers and sponsors of that research, we can now begin to talk seriously about the careful use of psychedelics in psychiatry again. I am excited, along with my colleague, Charles Raison, MD, to present to the Elevate audience not only a primer on the emerging research on psilocybin and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, but also to share with you a case of a patient of mine who sought out a clinical trial and received deeply healing therapy for her PTSD using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. Her story is as poetic as it is powerful, and I have no doubt that it will be one of the things that you will remember about your time at Elevate.

I look forward to seeing you in San Francisco.