Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with psychotherapist and installation artist Marcela Ot’alora G.
Marcela worked as a co-therapist in MAPS’ very first government regulated MDMA-assisted psychotherapy study in Madrid, Spain. She served as the principal investigator for MAPS’ phase two MDMA-assisted psychotherapy study, and is currently in the MDMA healthy volunteer study and phase three in Boulder, Colorado.
She is also a trainer and supervisor for therapists working on MAPS studies for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.
You can find additional resources from this episode at tim.blog/therapyresources.
Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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INTRODUCTION: I’m so excited about this interview; I know a lot of you are too. Tim Ferriss and Marcela Ot’alora, who is a MAPS person. Tim Ferriss is a supporter of MAPS in the psychedelic research, and shifting the beliefs about psychedelic medicine in our culture. And for that, we are very grateful. He has been called, “A cross between Jack Welch and a Buddhist monk,” by The New York Times. He is one of Fast Company‘s most innovative business people, and an early stage tech investor.
He is the author of five number one New York Times and Wall Street Journal best sellers including The 4-Hour Workweek. The Observer and other media have named him the “Oprah of audio” due to the influence of his podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, which has exceeded 400 million downloads. His latest book is Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World, and he is one of the world’s most popular podcasters. We are so thrilled to have him.
Marcela is a psychotherapist and an installation artist. Her interest and focus on trauma has led her to understand the healing process as an intimate reconnection with one’s essence through love, integrity, acceptance, and honoring of the human spirit. In addition to working with trauma and PTSD, she has dedicated her professional life to teaching and research. She uses art as a vehicle for deepening the relationship to self, others, and the natural world.
Marcela worked as a co-therapist in MAPS’ very first government regulated MDMA-assisted psychotherapy study in Madrid, Spain, and she has served as the principal investigator for MAPS’ phase two MDMA-assisted psychotherapy study in Boulder, Colorado. And, currently in the MDMDA healthy volunteer study and phase three site, also in Colorado.
Additionally, she is a trainer and supervisor for therapists working on MAPS studies for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. I would say one of the things that I think of when I think of Marcela is, if there was one person that would want to put my future training in the hands of, or my psyche or my soul in the hands of, she would certainly be maybe one of the top two people in the world. So I have great respect for the work that she does. On behalf of MAPS, please welcome Tim and Marcela to the stage to discuss Marcela’s work as a psychedelic therapist and MAPS therapist trainer.
Tim Ferriss: Thanks. Thank you. Come on, pooch. Sit. Good day, everyone. Thank you for coming. This is the third participant, Molly, the dog. Not named after any particular molecules. This session we have lots of time for. We have 90 minutes, it is a good stretch. We may not go that long. We will see. We’re going to surf the waves, and I’m thrilled to be here after that intro. Please give me time to disappoint, it’s all downhill after that bio. I’m very good at writing them in third person.
I really just want to jump in. Molly, are you going to sit at sentry duty? Down. A little less thanks for this topic I think is a good idea. Marcela, I think we could just start at the beginning. If you could tell us a little bit about where you’re from, where you grew up. Just to give us a little bit of context.
Marcela Ot’alora: Sure. I was born in Colombia, and I was raised there. I came to the States when I was 20.
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And when you were in your childhood or early teens, you can pick. What did you think you wanted to be when you grew up? Or what you would be?
Marcela Ot’alora: Hm, this is kind of an edgy story, because what I wanted to be was a fire truck.
Tim Ferriss: You wanted to be a fire truck?
Marcela Ot’alora: Yeah. I wanted to be a fire truck.
Tim Ferriss: Wow. That’s incredible! I think we should dig into this. So this was not an enhanced vision of what you wanted to be. This was a decision you came to as a little girl. How did you decide on fire truck? What was the appeal of the fire truck?
Marcela Ot’alora: They were very shiny and red and they had ladders, which I love, and hoses.
Tim Ferriss: All true.
Marcela Ot’alora: Usually dogs were a part of the team, and it was just, you could literally block a road. You had that much power, you could just block a road. What was interesting is that a lot of people, when I told them that, they would say, “You mean a fire person?” I said, “No, a fire truck.” And everybody thought it was either, “Oh, poor thing. Oh, my god.” Or, “I hope somebody tells her,” or something like that.
My mother worked at the mental health hospital, and I used to love going there and playing cards with all the inmates. It was something that I really — where I felt safe, actually. There was this man, his nickname was Fosforito, which means “little match.” He was a pyromaniac. He asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I told him, and he was the first person ever who said, “Wow, do you mean one of those red fire trucks?” It was fabulous.
Tim Ferriss: Fosforito got it. He totally got it. Why did you feel safe in that environment? Why do you feel comfortable in that environment in the hospital? And how old were you roughly?
Marcela Ot’alora: When I decided to be a fire truck?
Tim Ferriss: No. When you were playing cards with Fosforito.
Marcela Ot’alora: Oh. I started maybe when I was around 12, and it’s kind of what I asked for my birthday every year. To go spend time there and play cards and talk to people. I think it was where I felt sane. I grew up in a country where civil war started when I was born, practically. It wasn’t safe. I saw a lot of things happen because of the War on Drugs, and just the danger of the city where I grew up. My family of origin wasn’t safe. There was a lot of abuse. It was like I could be with people who didn’t care about that.
Tim Ferriss: This was a purity in a way.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: An insulation.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: The feeling scene I think will probably be perhaps a theme that carries through the conversation. But, if we flash forward, where did interest in psychedelic therapy or exposure to that begin? How did you end up finding your way to that subject or path?
Marcela Ot’alora: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I ran away from home when I was 17 and ended up in the streets. I was homeless for a while, which was probably one of the hardest experiences. I ended up with the wrong crowd after that and spent a year in a really abusive situation. And then I decided to find a way to escape. So my escape was to come to the United States.
I had been here when I was 12, and I loved it. It was one of those experiences where, you know when you have all these expectations of a place and you think, “Oh, it’s going to look like this,” or “It’s going to be like this,” and it never quite matches? Well, it matched. It was when reading Dick and Jane books. You’re too young for it.
Tim Ferriss: No, I remember Dick and Jane.
Marcela Ot’alora: It was Dick and Jane and Spot.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Marcela Ot’alora: It just made me come to the States. They had back doors where you didn’t have to lock it, and they had cookie jars. It was great. So it just matched the town that I ended up in.
Tim Ferriss: Where were you? Where in the US?
Marcela Ot’alora: I was in Boston.
Tim Ferriss: Boston.
Marcela Ot’alora: For a little while. Outside of Boston. So I really wanted to come back, and I came back. It was really hard, I was alone. I didn’t have money, didn’t have this little scholarship to go to college. I started — I think part of it was that I thought if I left, the traumas would go away. That I somehow would surpass it, and if I could forget about it, it would be gone. So I think that was my thinking.
Of course, that doesn’t happen. I lived six years with a very restricted life. Didn’t really talk to people, I was just really difficult and my world was pretty small. And then, I had never done any kind of drug ever. I had not even smoked pot. I took MDMA recreationally for the first time. What it did was it brought back everything, and I wasn’t ready for that. I thought it was just going to be, “Oh, this is going to be something great. It’s going to feel good, you’re going to feel good.”
It was the opposite. It was really challenging, and I was not in a safe environment. I wasn’t with people who could really hold that, who could understand it. And it was more like fear, “Oh, no, what is happening to his person?” I knew that. I knew that it wasn’t safe, so it made it worse, and I ended up in the hospital. A friend —
Tim Ferriss: Ended up in the hospital because the people around you thought you were having a panic attack —
Marcela Ot’alora: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: — or you self administered?
Marcela Ot’alora: Yes. Then a mutual friend of Rick’s and I asked Rick if he would do MDMA with me. I think what it was too, was that even though it was a really traumatic experience, I also knew that there was something really powerful about the fact that I couldn’t lie anymore.
Tim Ferriss: It had unlocked all of that.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yeah. So I did MDMA with Rick, and a couple of other people. They held the container and it was like I saw myself for the first time.
Tim Ferriss: The self that you had lost.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: What did Rick or other people involved, and it doesn’t have to be exact phrasing, but say to you or do to make you feel comfortable going back into that experience? What was the lead-up, I suppose, to the session? What did that look like?
Marcela Ot’alora: It was about totally being okay with whatever came up. I couldn’t do it wrong. And you said that to me in the green room, you were like, “You can’t do this wrong.” It was just so helpful of “It’s okay to be you.” Right? “It’s okay to be what you are.” So I felt that.
It was like, “Wow, there’s this person that has rights.” I felt like all my rights had been taken away. So I had rights for the first time in my life. I had an inkling of it, that I had rights. And that I mattered, and that there was somebody in there that actually didn’t have trauma. Somewhere in there.
Tim Ferriss: So you have this experience. What happens in the days and weeks after that experience?
Marcela Ot’alora: Mm-hmm (affirmative), that’s a good question. I think I did it three times, maybe two within the course of a month or two. I was very fortunate, because I was able to stay in Rick’s house. It was sort of a secluded place for me to be before I had to return to my life. I wrote a lot and I read, and I tried to capture what had happened. Sort of this idea of a lack of self consciousness that had happened. I think up to that point, my self consciousness was all about fear and not belonging.
And here there was this lack of self consciousness. It’s okay. It’s okay if you cry, it’s okay if you laugh, it’s okay. I think that Rick provided that too. I could be alone, I could dance around, I could eat, I could not eat, I could just be. It allowed me to just begin a process of understanding what was going on. And I think some of what was going on was that, for the first time I could look at it, I wasn’t looking at trying to make sense of the trauma.
I was, my symptoms were completely appropriate for what had happened in my life. It wasn’t crazy. It was completely appropriate, and it gave me freedom. It gave me freedom to explore some other things and to think, “Wow, maybe I do have a say in how I live my life.” I started trying little things of testing that while I was in those days afterwards. So I started a day without learning. I wanted a whole day without learning anything, could I do that? And a day where I said no to everything.
Testing this ability to have some say about my life. That’s what it was like in the days after that.
Tim Ferriss: What did the space look like, or the journey I suppose, from that personal experience to wanting to be more involved as a facilitator or a therapist?
Marcela Ot’alora: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think because of my own suffering and had quite a bit of therapy before then, I did have therapy before that experience. It just didn’t work that much. It wasn’t very helpful. I had a diagnosis of schizophrenia. That was the first diagnosis I had. I think that I realized that so many people could not understand the symptoms of trauma.
I thought, “Wow, it actually saved my life.” I felt like it was something that was giving me this opportunity. I was an art teacher at the time, and I just thought, “I really want to do this. I want to do this for other people. I want to be able to help other people.” Rick started MAPS a couple of years after that. So he and I did our work a year before MDMA was criminalized, 1984. I was 25, 26.
I thought, “We’re really far away from that.” I couldn’t imagine that it would ever happen that there was a potential of being a psychedelic psychotherapist. But I was determined that I wanted to work towards that. It took me a few years. I went to graduate school for art, and taught some more. Then went back to school so that I could become a psychotherapist and be ready.
Tim Ferriss: You were paddling for the wave early. You’ve done so much good work, and helped so many people. Who are some of the influences outside, or what are some of the influences outside of Rick who have shaped how you’ve approached becoming the therapist you are today?
Marcela Ot’alora: Claudio Naranjo, who died recently. He was definitely, I resonated a lot with the way he did the work. So he was one of my heroes. I tend to look for books and writings not through psychotherapy so much. I read those sometimes but they feel like work. So I think a lot of the inspiration comes from Arhuaco Indians in the mountains of Colombia, the way that they approach life through psychedelics, and their healing. The way they heal. Their stories are very powerful to me. I lived very close to them for a year before I came to the States.
I read a lot about artists. There’s different artists that have written about how to be an artist. I think what it is is that they’re very genuine. They talk about themselves in a way of, “This is where I come from, this is the struggles that I’ve had as an artist, this is where I go.” So it’s so informative to do this work, I think. Agnes Martin is one of my favorite artists, and she wrote extensively about how she came to her work. She was very private, an introvert. I tend to be the same way. So there was a lot of things that resonated with me about her.
She had this idea about perfection that was really beautiful. She said, “Perfection doesn’t exist in the world. But the reason why we’re so attached to it is because we can imagine it.” Those kinds of information are really great for when you work with somebody with trauma. I would say that that has influenced me the most.
Tim Ferriss: And for those people who are here or listening who don’t recognize Claudio’s name, there is a fantastic book, it’s either The Healing Journey or A Healing Journey, about much of his work, which is very well written. The introduction alone is worth the price of admission with the book. I had never thought of it quite this way before, but as you were talking about art, it really made me think. I’ve been taking art classes for the last few months.
Marcela Ot’alora: All right, what kind?
Tim Ferriss: Mostly drawing, charcoal, working with pastels. Different types of tools with the ultimate goal of getting to, at least as the next step, painting and working with color. But the point that was made to me over and over again by my teacher is, in effect, you’re not learning to draw. You’re learning to see. You have to learn to see first —
Marcela Ot’alora: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: — and you need to draw what you see, and not what you know.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Because you might look at a chair, and then look down at your paper and draw your concept of a chair, but you’ve stopped seeing. I can see how that could apply to listening and hearing, and really translate to a lot of the work that you do. If we look at your beginnings, there really wasn’t an established path to become what you wanted to become, or at least I would imagine not. There were resources, but very scattered, and certainly, scattered resources also exist today. But things have changed quite a lot and things are developing very quickly.
For people who are listening, and this has been a challenge for me to decipher as well, because I have many in my audience. Many friends who come to me and ask the question of how to become a psychedelic therapist. And I don’t have a really straightforward answer for them. I know it’s sort of a process that is evolving, but as it stands right now, if someone listening is interested in becoming a — I was going to say a psychotherapist, a psychedelic therapist of some type — how would you suggest they think about it?
I suppose there are at least two buckets. You have people who are starting from scratch in the sense that they don’t have any of the credentials or academic qualifications that might help. And then you have the folks who maybe are already on second base and just have to round the corner. If someone were starting from scratch, because we’re looking forward, we’re recording this in late 2019. Hopefully in the next few years, at least MDMA, hopefully also psilocybin will have completed successful phase three trials and been reclassified. Meaning, the legal status will have changed to enable some degree of prescription. For people who want to start preparing for that, where do they start? What do they need to know?
Marcela Ot’alora: I think the first part is: do your work. Do your own work. Really understand who you are, how your experiences have shaped you. How comfortable you feel with your own suffering. When I do trainings I tell people, “The only way to not be afraid of someone’s suffering is if you’re not afraid of your own.” To do that, we have to know and have done our own work. I would say that that would be a really important one, because psychedelic work is not easy. We do experience a lot of trauma in the room that comes out in various ways.
Also to pay attention to therapies or modalities that honor the person as the expert of who they are. Because, no matter what — you can be poor, you can be uneducated — you’re still the expert of your experiences and who you are. So no matter who you are, and I say that just because so many people take away those rights of people who are marginalized.
So to really be able to study and be around and read about honoring the human being, as they know more about their healing than anybody does. Can we respect that and approach that? One of the principles for our training is that we believe in their capacity for self-direction, and for their own development. And that we also believe that they have a healing intelligence that will show up, and that we can work with that and we can honor that.
It’s not this hierarchical model, it’s more like, “Can we meet somebody at this level together and collaborate and create trust and empower them to be able to understand and to know where their path is?” And to really respect that path. And to feel that our own experience of ourself, that there is room. Our reality makes room for the reality of another human being. That there is room to accept that reality.
I would say that you can start there. There’s some therapies that are good. Humanistic therapies, and client-centered therapies that you could study. But also, that there’s a lot of work that you can do on your own.
Tim Ferriss: It seems like we could almost separate the preparation and development into skill set on one hand, which is sometimes then overlapping with qualifications to be a legal psychedelic therapist. So let’s talk more about the skill set for a bit, because I think that’s what we’re talking about. There are certain modalities, and I’ve had the good fortune to sit through some trainings through MAPS. Even though I am effectively auditing, I’m not currently preparing to be a psychotherapist, but I really wanted to get a better understanding of the training that exists. Because one of the big questions for me is: How do we ensure an acceptable level of quality as the number of therapists is scaled through different training approaches? And it’s time sensitive, right?
So I sat in in the training, and just to underscore a few things that you said, the protocol seems to really take as a base assumption that there is a lot of self-directed healing. That there is some type of inner healing intelligence. I remember sitting in the training, and in this case it was with Michael and Annie Mithoefer. Michael said, “It’s always challenging to do these trainings because we’re showing you video clips of the interventions, or when we interact. But the vast majority of the time we are doing nothing. We’re present, paying attention, but the patient is doing their work.”
I took a lot of notes in the process of sitting through multiple days of learning, and I remember one thing that stuck out, which was, from the founder of IFS. I always mispronounce. Is it Internal Family Systems?
Tim Ferriss: I can’t remember the gentleman’s name but, there’s this —
Marcela Ot’alora: Dick Schwartz.
Tim Ferriss: What was his name?
Marcela Ot’alora: Dick Schwartz.
Tim Ferriss: It seems to be a really valuable framework for some therapists, and people can look into this on their own. But he had an acronym, “WAIT” for therapists to remember. And it stands for “Why am I talking?” which I thought was just genius. Are there any other modalities that you think are particularly helpful and translate well into the MDMA psychotherapy? Of course not just the session, there’s the pre and the post. But for instance, Hakomi is one that comes up quite a lot.
Marcela Ot’alora: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tim Ferriss: Could you describe that, and your thoughts on Hakomi?
Marcela Ot’alora: Yeah. I’m not a Hakomi therapist. I think when I have seen people who have studied Hakomi, they are following. They are tracking what is it that is coming from the participant, what is it that they are needing? And how do I trust them to really give me the information to be able to support them? So I think Hakomi is one of them. Internal Family Systems is too.
Mostly because I see it every single every time, especially in MDMA sessions, that parts come out. It happens really naturally. I think we all have parts, and people always say, “Where does that come from?” But, we all have parts. People always say, “A part of me wants to go to that party, and a part of me doesn’t want to go.” That’s a part.
Not necessarily that you need to study Internal Family Systems, but to have knowledge of multiplicity of parts show up, the inner healer is a part. When do they show up and how are really present with that? Maybe the part that shows up is five years old. And if it’s five years old, we don’t want to talk to them like they’re 40. We want to be able to be sensitive to the fact that this is a five-year-old part. What do I need to do to connect to this part? So I think parts work. It’s really important.
Familiarity with non-ordinary states. It’s hard for me to think of being able to do this work without having had some experience yourself of a non-ordinary state to really — because it’s hard to explain, right? It’s hard to explain what it does.
Tim Ferriss: Very difficult to explain. Are there certain tools that you’ve found helpful? Of course, we could talk about the things that are gray area or not so gray area in terms of molecules that can help with this. And just for people who are wondering on spelling, Hakomi is H-A-K-O-M-I, if you want to look it up.
Are there any tools that you have found particularly helpful? Whether that’s holotropic breathwork or other breathwork, or other legal means to induce non-ordinary states of consciousness for people who recognize and agree that it would be important to have the first person experience, before presuming to know how to handle someone else going through that experience.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yeah. I wanted to say a couple things about that. We do have a study currently called MT-1, which Rick mentioned briefly this morning. Was that this morning? Yes. He talked a little bit about MT-1. MT-1 is a study designed for the therapist themselves to have the experience of MDMA. It’s a five-day process. They come for a preparatory session, then they have a treatment session, and integrative session, a treatment session, and integrative session. And one of those two treatment sessions is a placebo. And the other one is full MDMA.
So the therapists get the experience. Some of them have had MDMA before in a different context. Sometimes even recreationally. But this feels different because it’s exactly the setting that they’re going to be in. There’s two therapists, there’s music that goes on the whole day. There’s times for them to go inside, and times for them to connect and relate. So many of them have said, “This has really solidified my training. Now I really do feel ready to go and do it.”
So, that’s great. And the other part of that, MT-2, which is what we want to continue when we do trainings with people to give them. It’s in the FDA right now, it’s in negotiations with the FDA for that study. I think that is great, and I hope we are able to continue that work. But holotropic breathwork is one way to really get into a non-ordinary state in a way that is legal. Ketamine is another way. Ketamine work does create that. I think meditation does that sometimes, certain yoga does that as well.
It’s really being able to say, “What does this actually feel like when my ego is not the most important part?” When I’m starting to connect to — I study transpersonal, so this idea that we are in relationship to our non-ordinary states, that it is beyond the ego, and how can we go there. So to have that experience, I think it’s really, really important. And participants ask, they always say, “Have you done this?” There’s just a sense of calm for them when you say, “Yes, I have.”
Tim Ferriss: What are the, as things stand right now, legal checkbox or qualification check boxes needed if one wants to be a psychedelic therapist a few years from now, or five years from now? I don’t know the answer, to be perfectly honest with you. That’s part of the reason I was so excited about having this conversation, is to satisfy the demand safely and adeptly that the reclassification of some of these compounds will bring. There needs to be quite a large funnel of people who are interested in understanding at least what the road map might look like.
We’ll talk about other maybe realities that people should be aware of before they sign up, we’ll get to that. But first, what does the training process look like? Is there an educational requirement? Do you have to have gone to college? Are there things you can do in two years? What does the path look like?
Marcela Ot’alora: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Some of that is in negotiation right now with the FDA in terms of who our therapy pairs can be. One thought is that any one of them needs to be a PhD, which I’m totally opposed to because I don’t have a PhD, and I still want to be able to do this work. I think it’s really based on psychotherapy experience. Not necessarily if you’re a PhD, an MD, or not.
So, hopefully that won’t be the case. Right now we have it that one clinician is licensed, and the other one doesn’t have to be licensed, but they still need to have done at least three years of work in a mental health profession. It could be a nurse, it could be an MD, it could be a psychiatrist, it could be a chaplain. There was a question about chaplaincy early on, and that could be another one. And then psychotherapists and different clinicians, but they don’t have to be licensed. And so, they —
Tim Ferriss: Just for clarity, what type of license are we talking about?
Marcela Ot’alora: Having a license to be a psychotherapist. To be able to say that you’re a psychotherapist. And different states have different requirements for that. That’s what we’ve done, and what we hope to continue doing. To do their own work, to have experience with working with trauma with adults. It’s a really important one. And then also, if they’re affiliated with an existing site, then there’s more probability.
Because the sites, when people apply, they apply as a site. So there’s at least two therapists, and two clinicians who are going to sit. You do need to have an MD to hold a Schedule I license, and then a facility. A facility where you can actually do this safely. Set and setting is so important, right? So a place that really feels comfortable where they can be, and everybody can feel safe, and the participants can feel safe.
So, those are some of the requirements that we have. We’ve trained about 500 therapists so far, and about 150 of them have gone through the whole certificate program. Our program is a five-part. So the first part, part A, is online. It’s an online course. Then part B is a one-week, in-person course, which is the one that you did. Right?
Tim Ferriss: I did the online as well. So I did the part one and part two.
Marcela Ot’alora: Okay, great. So a lot of people have done those. The people that have trained have done those two parts. Then a part C is when they either do a training that they think would be really valuable to do this work. Somatic is something that I did mention. Somatic work is really important because trauma is definitely held in the body, and MDMA is very somatic. Sometimes people do those kinds of trainings, and that fulfills that part C.
And another, the way that we want to do it is through this MT-1 or MT-2, that the therapists can come and take MDMA in a safe place in the same way they’re going to do it where they maybe can sit for another person doing it as well with one of us. Then you get this really nice experience. It’s right hands-on.
Then the next part is within their sites, they do roleplays that they can then let us know. They have to write about them and we give them supervision based one what happened in the roleplays. And the roleplays are based on real-life experiences. Questions come up and things like, “Oh, I didn’t know how to do this,” or they just get more and more help because they’re doing this roleplaying.
Then we would also supervise their first participant that they work with. So one of our supervisors would be watching their videos and really extensively — it’s part of our training. We’ve done that where we looked at their videos and given them feedback. We’re talking about eight-hour session videos.
Tim Ferriss: For people who are listening who do not have academic or medical credentials currently, but they want to explore the first few steps of putting themselves into a position where they could perhaps sit in the room with someone else who is licensed. If you want to become a licensed psychotherapist, you can figure that out on your own. But let’s assume that that is not in the cards for people who are listening, but they want to be that second person.
Or, put themselves in a position where the odds are increased that they’ll be able to do it. What are some first steps that you might suggest to them aside from the firsthand experiential pieces, but the actual prerequisites for moving in that direction?
Marcela Ot’alora: I hope I understand your question correctly. In order for them to get to that place of being able to really sit, then they need to have had these things that I’ve mentioned. They need to have some experience working with trauma, and that they’re working towards either licensure or they’re in the process. They’re registered or, that they’re in the process of it.
Tim Ferriss: We can make it specific, that was a terribly worded question that I gave you, and a very long one. It was like a paragraph of —
Marcela Ot’alora: You can ask it in Spanish.
Tim Ferriss: — brain vomit. [Spanish]
Marcela Ot’alora: He speaks Spanish really well.
Tim Ferriss: I could, I could. I think it would be more confusing, but we’ll see how well my caffeine kicks in. [Spanish] We should do it in English. Now my brain’s running off on this completely other tangent, but I’ll try to reel in the marlin here for a second. Back, Tim, thread, MAPS, training, oh, yes.
If someone were listening and sitting in Chicago and they have an undergrad degree, but no advanced degree, would you suggest they go to the MAPS website first to gain the experience that you’re talking about? What are some of the less intimidating experiences that people could test for a week or two or three? Are there any particular suggestions that you might have?
Marcela Ot’alora: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I see what you’re saying. We don’t have any of the scheduled trainings for next year yet. But we will by the end of this year. I would suggest, and I’ll put some at the end of the session, I will have the websites up to apply for the newsletter and then to get information and to keep getting updates about when the trainings are and what is required, and what are the changes that have happened.
There’s also a space where there’s other people from different parts of the country and the world that really want to get a site together, or are really interested in this work too. So we’ve had people that, even though we don’t know when it’s going to get approved, we don’t know those things yet, people still want the training and they want to connect with each other.
So they get together and I’ve heard people meeting once a month and then they go through the protocol, and they go through the treatment manual, and they start talking with each other and saying, “What would it take for me to do this and feel comfortable? I’m going to do preliminary work until I can get into a training, or until it becomes something I can do in the future.”
There’s a lot of things to do in the meantime in community, in connection with other people who are wanting the same thing. Since we have those things online, we have our protocols online, we have our treatment manual online. So they can do a lot of work to begin with, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, you can effectively simulate the first part of the training, of course there are going to be major gaps, but by becoming very familiar with the treatment manual and so on. Maps.org. Everybody here probably knows that URL, but people listening might not.
The conversation brings up some memories that I have of gathering some firsthand experience of my own, by volunteering with Zendo. I bring this up because Liana, who’s part of the team here at MAPS, had mentioned to me that perhaps one question people should ask themselves before asking, “Do I want to be a psychedelic therapist,” is, “Do I want to be a therapist?” And that psychedelics have this very sexy sheen. It puts a very nice paint job on that Corvette of a therapy job that you might not have taken otherwise.
But, volunteering at Zendo for people who don’t know, and I know the tagline has changed so forgive me if I screw this up, but it’s peer-based harm reduction, in effect. What that means is people go through trainings at a place where it is likely that some attendees to say, a festival, or Burning Man, will have what they would consider a bad trip. You’re then trained to hold space and sit with that person.
I recommend this to anyone in part because it highlights just how unsexy it can be. If that makes sense. Right? Because people think like, “Yeah, I’m going to sit there and I’m going to walk them through their trauma and heal their soul, and demons be gone. I’m going to be this awesome shaman, it’s going to be great.” And then you’re like, no, actually there’s vomit on your pants and you need to go get some napkins because they snotted all over the back of your hand. And then they’re asleep, and you’re just sitting there for six hours because they’re asleep. That’s also the job.
I remember sitting there at Zendo, it was kind of hilarious. I was sitting there — I did a lot of shifts. Basically, the only reason I went to these festivals was to do as many shifts as possible, so unlike me. I remember this guy next to me, he pulled out his contraband laminated page that he had with all of his secret techniques that he was going to use in his session. Completely outside of the protocol. And then this person was just like, “I don’t want to listen to your words,” and went to sleep. This guy was like, “But my art, my art!” I was like, “Oh, this doesn’t bode very well for this guy.”
What are some other realities that people should be aware of if they think they want to commit to doing this?
Marcela Ot’alora: I’m so glad you mentioned Zendo, because from some people that we’ve trained, I’ve heard, “This is where I got my best training.” Because it’s in the moment, and you need to be present for that. You don’t know what they took, so the safety piece is not the same as if you know this is MDMA, you took it an hour and a half ago in this setting. It really amps that up. I think it’s the best training because then you are not roleplaying. You’re training with somebody right there, live. And you’re doing that work.
So, sometimes people do get, “Wow, this is really hard work.” I always tell people if they get the message when they take a psychedelic that they should be a shaman, it’s a lie.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, and pro tip, if you meet anyone who’s running around calling themselves a shaman, probably also a fair indicator that they’re not anything near being a shaman. That’s a whole separate diatribe. So don’t find your shamans on Craigslist or Facebook. Recommendation number one.
I think one of the, also, valuable things that I took from not just Zendo, but watching for instance a documentary called Trip of Compassion, which I recommend to everyone.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Everyone considering becoming a psychedelic therapist or psychotherapist utilizing MDMA as an assisting molecule should watch Trip of Compassion, because it makes the case, at least for me, very strongly with lots of session footage, that if you’re not willing to sit for someone with what we might consider the classic psychedelics — LSD, psilocybin, et cetera; of course, I’m not recommending doing anything in an illegal setting — but if you’re not willing to do that, you probably shouldn’t guide at a high level or facilitate an MDMA session in the sense that they can be very, very, very difficult.
Like your experience recreationally where all of this trauma was unlocked. To be good in that setting really requires proper training and a high degree of sensitivity. It can be really hard. You can have someone who, let’s say, was abused by their father, and suddenly they project that onto you as the male in the dyad, and you need to have, hopefully, some type of training or experience that enables you to handle that in a way that doesn’t create more damage.
Marcela Ot’alora: I’ve heard it many times when people say, “I want to become MDMA therapist,” I worry about people practicing outside their competency. Because they think, “Oh, the medicine will carry the session.” I’ve seen the harm caused by that many times. I’ve had a lot of referrals into my own private practice where people had a really traumatic experience on a psychedelic because their sitter, somebody who was sitting for them, could not hold that space. It just created more harm.
So to really be aware of that, being in a non-ordinary state, being in a vulnerable state, you’re going to pick up on that and want to know that you are with people that can hold that and that can be there for you. I think that that movie is so great, that we have that access to show what people can do.
Tim Ferriss: It also showcases some very gifted therapists. Some very gifted therapists, Ido and Keren, and other people. Very, very gifted therapists. And it shows you how tough it can be in a way I would even argue that say, in my Zendo experience, this guy came in — fortunately in this one case we knew what he had taken, which was 400 micrograms of LSD.
Marcela Ot’alora: Whoa.
Tim Ferriss: For those who don’t know, is a healthy dose. Or maybe use to a different adjective, it’s a Dose, capital D. He was losing his mind, swinging at people. I ended up with him in the crisis tent for eight hours. It was fine, and it was actually in a way I think, easier, flailing and swinging and trying to hit you aside, than MDMA. Because he was just on a 45-second loop talking about Seinfeld and Chia Pets. He was just like, “Seinfeld, Chia Pet.” And just repeat, whatever, 47 seconds. You’re like, “All right, this guy’s just on rerun, fine.” Sit him down, don’t let him run into anything.
But with the MDMA experience, there really is a trade craft that is, “I don’t think I’ll do justice by trying to emphasize how technical it can be.” Which is one piece of the puzzle. And then there’s that sensitivity that you talked about, and that awareness that really comes from probably some degree of hard wiring, but then spending time in that environment. If the patient senses that you are uneasy, which they will, then it changes the entire dynamic.
What are other things besides people practicing outside of their competency? Bunny slope skiers who are like, “I could do a black diamond.” Besides those people, what other things concern you? What other worries do you have looking forward as things continue to become more popular and more people hope to become involved in some capacity?
Marcela Ot’alora: Our model is our model. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best model.
Tim Ferriss: You mean the MAPS model?
Marcela Ot’alora: Right, the MAPS model. And people might do something else, and it might be fine. I think one thing that concerns me is the cost. So we’re really looking into that and thinking about, “What is this going to be that this can be cost effective? How are we going to treat marginalized people? How are we going to not leave people behind? What is it going to take?”
I think there is room to change the model for that, and how do we do it safely? Do we have some group sessions? Do we have somewhere as practitioners who are training, but they are students, so maybe they don’t cost as much if they’re working under somebody who is trained and has more experience? What are some of the things that can be done without losing the integrity of the whole program?
I think that is a concern, but it’s also a concern if somebody takes that and changes it completely in a way that maybe it’s not safe anymore. There is a concern about what can happen there. For us, I think the concern about how are we going to make this affordable and how are we going to continue training people that want to be ready and want that kind of knowledge in terms of hands-on. Our training shows a lot of videos that are live videos of what happens in sessions. Sometimes it’s very exciting. And like you said that Michael was saying, we’re showing these parts where we’re actually doing something. There’s times when people don’t say anything for eight hours —
Tim Ferriss: For the entire session. And nonetheless — this is so important — nonetheless, if you look at say, I suppose the CAPS-5 is the current —
Marcela Ot’alora: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: — rankings assessment tool for symptoms of PTSD. Nonetheless, you have somebody who goes from extreme symptoms, unable to hold a job, and this isn’t every person, but to asymptomatic. Even though there is no talking, there is no Raphael, Michelangelo-level therapy magic happening.
Marcela Ot’alora: Right.
Tim Ferriss: There was a therapeutic effect in the session with the container, with the prep, and didn’t require talking in the session.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yeah, I think insight’s when people go inside and really are not — and they’re both really important. A lot of trauma caused by another person happened in a relationship, right? We relate to the world through relationship; it’s the way we understand the world. So healing also happens in relationship, and happens through relating instead of in isolation. Those pieces are really important.
It’s also really important when they can go inside. Our motto, we say it’s “inner-directed.” It’s what comes up for them that is here for a reason and for the purpose of healing. Maybe it’s something that they never told you before, and you think it doesn’t have anything to do with their trauma. Or they think it doesn’t have anything to do with their trauma, but it does.
So we treat it as though it does, and that it is important for them to be with it. And if they’re inside, they get these amazing insights. They come out and say, “Wow, I just realized this,” or, “I just thought about this.” We notice that when they go to the bathroom, we call it the bathroom insight, but it’s really when they’re not talking.
Tim Ferriss: It’s like the shower a-ha moment.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Goes to the bathroom insight.
Marcela Ot’alora: They see themselves in the mirror, but they’re also with themselves. They’re not talking and they’re getting powerful information that is about them that is like, “Here we are. Maybe we knew this, but now it’s becoming clearer.”
Tim Ferriss: When you look back at your first X number, I don’t know what number to pick. First few dozen experiences as a facilitator, as a therapist. What were your hardest sessions for you and why? What made them difficult? If you think back to, just say the first few years of your experience.
Marcela Ot’alora: One of the very first sessions that I did was in this study in Spain. That study was working with women from sexual assault, so it was very close to my experience. I was like, “How do I work with this? How am I present? How do I not bring my things in? How do I not disassociate? How do I really honor that I’m here for this person, and my stuff is not spilling out into them?”
So, that was a challenge. And I think hearing their stories was so amazing. When people are in pain, and they’re suffering, they’re so real. They’re not thinking about what their hair looks like, they’re not worried if snot’s coming out of their nose. They’re just so incredibly real in that moment and in that experience. So it’s beautiful in that sense, and it’s also so painful to hold the experiences of people that have suffered greatly, and to really be able to say, “I am here completely for you. This is your day, and it’s about you.”
Tim Ferriss: What does good preparation look like for a session like this or a session in the MAPS protocol? We could certainly talk about it within that context. But in your mind, what are the hallmarks or the characteristics of good preparation for someone who has never used MDMA before who’s going into their first MDMA-assisted psychotherapy session as a patient? How do you work with them to prepare well?
Marcela Ot’alora: What do we do to prepare them?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That’s what I should’ve asked.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yeah. We do three preparatory sessions. During those sessions it’s for them to get to be more comfortable with the therapy team, and for us to also know how do they cope with their experience. What are the things that they have been able to — what got them here in relationship to the fact that they have all this trauma? How is it that they actually got here? And what are their skills? What are they using? So to be really curious about them.
Tim Ferriss: Their skills, like coping mechanisms?
Marcela Ot’alora: Their coping mechanisms. What are their stigmas that follow them that then creates this place of, “I see them as a certain person because they have these stigmas attached to them,” and how do I take that away and really see this person in front of me? What is their vision, even if they don’t know what it is? What do I imagine that their vision is?
It’s really a time to get to know them fully as an individual, as a person. And then, to answer their questions and to try to bring as much comfort as possible, to explain everything that can be explained. This is where you’re going to lay down. You can bring a pillow, you can bring your own stuff. Is it okay if we light a candle? We’re going to have flowers. This is what we can do. These are the options. We listen to music. You can say you don’t want to hear the music, it’s up to you.
These are the things that you don’t have a choice about. People with PTSD were not given choices. Choices were taken away. So it’s really important to give choice as much as we possibly can. And there’s some things that we don’t have choice about because this is research. One of them is, once they take it, they can’t leave the room for eight hours. And how are we going to work with that if you do want to leave the room? Because it’s not about you hiding that, but it’s about us working with that. How can we work together if you feel like you just want to run away? Or, if you want to go outside and hug that tree, and unfortunately we can’t let you go outside and hug that tree.
Tim Ferriss: Just imagining that in the summary table at the end of the research report like, “Number of trees hugged. On average, three and a half. Standard deviation.” Right. Makes it more complicated.
Marcela Ot’alora: I kept thinking we could go out there with a little chainsaw and cut part of the tree and bring it in, but I haven’t done it.
Tim Ferriss: That’s one solution. What would be an example of what you might say to someone who goes, “I can’t do this. I’ve got to get out of here, I really need to be outside.” Do you first remind them of the commitment that they made earlier and the role they agreed to? How do you handle a situation like that where someone just wants to escape? They’re like, “I don’t like this. I’m ready for this to be over, I want to go outside.” How do you handle that?
Marcela Ot’alora: I don’t really remind them of the commitment. At some point maybe you do need to say, “Well, we’re not going to be able to leave. But we’re really here with you in this process of you feeling what you’re feeling. Your legs wanting to move and wanting to run. Can I hold your hand? Can I sit beside you? Can we stay with this experience? It will pass. This experience will pass. What can we do in the meantime?” What are some of their coping strategies? If they really get to a place where they feel like, “Oh, I need to breathe,” can we breathe into that experience and just really be with it and know that it is going to shift? We’re right here with you. So it’s about, “It’s totally okay.” It usually leads to a profound experience of wanting to have run away before. It’s a connection to this piece of, “Oh, it was then that I wanted to run away, not so much now.”
Tim Ferriss: I’m going to keep teasing on this thread because you’re so good at this. The specifics I think really help to paint a picture of what a session might look like. What might you do or say if someone gets very judgmental about themselves? Like, “Oh, I fucking hate when I — this is so stupid, I always fucking –” It becomes very judgmental about themselves as a whole or a part. “I hate that part of myself who is dah, dah, dah.” Something they’ve really shut down and judged. What might you say to someone who’s going through a period of expressing that?
Marcela Ot’alora: One part of our model and the way that we train is to say, “It’s never to get rid of anything.” It’s like alchemy, you don’t get rid of it, you transmute it. It gets transmuted. So it’s not about getting rid of anything at all, even the part of you that is judgmental. I wouldn’t say, “Oh, but you don’t have to judge yourself or anything.” It’s just like, “This is the part that is here now, this judgmental part.” And being really curious about that part and why it’s there. Like, “Wow, this part is existing here right now. How has it helped you survive? How have you worked around it? Let’s explore why it’s here and what it’s bringing up in your body and what it’s making you feel in this very moment.”
Tim Ferriss: This is why you’re so much better at this than I am. So good, you’ve done so much good work.
Marcela Ot’alora: Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: It’s a big deal. It’s a really big deal. So thrilled to have you on stage to have a chance to talk about this. What separates in your mind, if you look back at all the people you’ve worked with, a good psychedelic therapist, let’s focus on MDMA specifically, versus a great psychedelic therapist?
Marcela Ot’alora: Wow.
Tim Ferriss: The good people versus the great? Because I feel like you can check a bunch of boxes and get a passing grade, get somebody out the door safely. And then there’s really good. Then there’s a great therapist. I’m not sure I would even necessarily know how to describe what separates those two, because I don’t have the canvas that you have. You have such a perspective on this.
If you think back on your experiences with different people, are there any examples you could give of what makes someone in your mind great? Or stories that come to mind? Anything?
Marcela Ot’alora: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think the most that we can offer is ourselves. So I think what makes a psychedelic therapist great is if we can enter into their frame of reference. In order to enter into somebody’s frame of reference, I have to leave my interpretations behind. I have to leave my own story behind. I have to leave my own knowledge behind and have it right there and understand that I can use it.
Not letting my knowledge blur my vision. For it not to narrow what is really happening here. So in order to really step into somebody’s experience, it’s more than empathy. Empathy is part of it, but it’s really about, “I am not at all,” I have this disciplined ignorance of, “I’m stepping in, and I’m fully here with you without any judgment.” And who are you in there? How do I begin to know that I can hold that and that it doesn’t mean, “Oh, I know how you feel because I’ve felt that.” It’s not that.
I can have my own feelings of, “I think I know what this feels like because I’ve had it,” but it has nothing to do with what they’re feeling. And to put that aside and to know that that’s my stuff. I think in part it’s that, and the other piece which maybe relates to that is, if I don’t spill over any of my stuff. They see me, and they get me, but they don’t have to take care of me. I can even cry and say, “I’m so moved by this,” and it’s okay.
We had a participant that said to me — he was a little bit worried that some of the things that he would share would be too much for me. He said, “What are you going to do? What are you going to feel? What are you going to think of me if I tell you these really awful things that happened and more? If I tell you these things about myself, what are you going to do? Are you going to be okay? Are you going to be able to just be okay and not be phased by that?”
I thought, “I might have a really strong feeling about that. It might be really challenging and really hard, and I can take care of myself. It’s okay. I can take care of myself, but it might be really, really hard.”
Tim Ferriss: We’re going to talk about post as well, because I don’t want to neglect that. But to dig a little bit deeper on the not making the session about you, having all of these narratives about your own experience spill over, is there a place for sharing pieces of your own experience in a showing of vulnerability in the preparation? Or, is it just, “I am a doctor authority figure,” and need to know basis as far as background? Is there a value in the preparatory sessions of sharing what has brought you there in addition to hearing what brought them there? Is there a value in that, or does that contaminate the process in some fashion?
Marcela Ot’alora: In our phase two study, every time a participant came in — we didn’t have a lot of media at the time. There wasn’t a lot of stories that had been written about MDMA. MAPS was not necessarily known by a lot of people, including some of the participants. They had never even heard of MAPS, they were just referred by somebody else. They would come into the room and they would go, “Wait, you’re Marcela?” They were expecting me to be wearing a white lab coat. It was really interesting, what they were expecting.
I think self-disclosure is very valuable, and it also needs to be done with a lot of care so that it doesn’t become about you. And when do you self-disclose, and why are you self-disclosing? Are you doing it in service of you because you’re uncomfortable and you need to do something with this? Or am I doing it in service of my participant to normalize something and to share with them an experience that I’m having?
I’m definitely not this kind of therapist. I don’t know which is better, but I’m just not. I do self-disclose a lot. My clients know that I’m married, my kids. My co-therapist is my husband, and we talk about it sometimes, and we say we’re married. Things come up in the session sometimes like, “Oh, I disagree with you,” and we talk through it. And they go, “This is so great that we’re getting this experience of this reality.”
Tim Ferriss: You mean, you and your husband disagree in the session?
Marcela Ot’alora: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, all right. What are the rules of engagement for that?
Marcela Ot’alora: Well, I’m still his boss.
Tim Ferriss: No elbows, I’m guessing. Gotta box! Clean boxing. How do you? What would be an example of something you might disagree on? This is really interesting to me on so many levels. Levels upon levels of interesting.
Marcela Ot’alora: I don’t remember the specifics, but one time I said something to the participant. I’m trying to think what it was, do you remember? No? I was going in a direction. I didn’t think I was going in that direction, but I was. Even though that’s what I check myself with. It’s like, “Why am I going in this direction? Are they taking me in this direction?” I thought the participant was taking me in this direction. And he thought the participant was taking us in a different direction.
He was able to say, “Well, I see this a little bit differently. I’m seeing this differently.” And actually, the participant went like, “What?” Then we had a conversation about it and he said his peace, and I said, “I don’t know about that.” I wasn’t convinced. We worked with it, and we worked with her. It wasn’t like we got stuck on it. But later on, she was having an interview. Somebody was interviewing her and she talked about it and she said, “That was so great because it was seeing these two people who clearly love each other and respect each other disagree and be okay and continue and still support each other and respect each other is something that I never saw growing up.” It was so valuable for her if it was done in this way that was genuine.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I can definitely see that. What does the post look like? Just to tag to put some hours on it, the three preparatory sessions are how long each?
Marcela Ot’alora: 90 minutes.
Tim Ferriss: 90 minutes, all right. So we got 99, 90, and then how many post or integration sessions are there?
Marcela Ot’alora: Three.
Tim Ferriss: Three, also 90 minutes each?
Marcela Ot’alora: Yep.
Tim Ferriss: Okay, so someone else can add that all up. But I just want to say one thing, which is, if you are not willing to put that type of prep and post into anyone you sit for, you shouldn’t be sitting for anyone. If it’s like, “Oh, that’s so much time, it’s busy. Dah, dah, dah, it’s a school night. Blah, blah.” If you have any excuses around it, you shouldn’t be sitting for anybody. That’s just my perspective.
Marcela Ot’alora: It’s true.
Tim Ferriss: Because that’s a hurdle that I think you should at least be able to clear before even considering this. And that’s putting aside all of the homework and training and certification and so on.
Marcela Ot’alora: And you’re still on call. That night, the evening of their sessions, you’re still on call. You still make phone calls after their session for seven days. They can call you and say, “I need an extra session,” or, “I’m struggling,” and you need to be present and go there. So it’s a lot more than just the scheduled ones sometimes.
Tim Ferriss: Right. That’s the scheduled time.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I think it’s worth pointing out also that if you are knowingly or unknowingly, and it could be unknowingly, working with someone who has a history of trauma and possibly suicidal ideation, you could end up in some very challenging situations. It is not always the case that people have an MDMA-assisted psychotherapy session, and then it’s just smooth sailing for the next week.
Marcela Ot’alora: Most of the time it’s not.
Tim Ferriss: It’s not, right? So could you talk to that? Because, I think this is an aspect of the experience that is not discussed as often as it should.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yeah. I really appreciate stories that go out to the media, those about MDMA. One of the services is that a lot of times they hook on these little words like, “It healed me,” or, “I got what I needed and I got cured.” So then people think it’s really easy, or that MDMA is this magic pill that’s going to really take this trauma away, which is not true. A lot of times during training, trainees will say, “Wow, here’s the integrative session after the treatment, and people are suffering. And people are really struggling.” They can feel a lot of activation, and they can even feel — sometimes their partners say to us, “What are you doing to my partner? What are you doing? She is in so much pain. He is in so much pain.”
If you think about trauma, no matter how much you heal from trauma, if I think about my trauma, it’s going to be painful. It’s not going to be joyous and easy, it’s going to be painful. Bringing up the trauma, really experiencing sometimes even getting I think part of the healing that happens with MDMA is people no longer questioning that it happened, and that it happened as violently as it did. And that they have tried to question that, try to change the story. And all of a sudden the story can be changed. “Here’s your story.” That’s what happened to me that first time. “Here’s your story, actually.”
So then, how could you possibly, if you’re going through all of that, it’s not going to be that the next day you’re, “Oh, I’m fine and it’s great.” It’s that it is a process of really integrating what has happened in the session, of getting to some place where they can begin to hold that experience and be able to hold their feelings. Healing, it’s not about, “I’m never going to be triggered.” Healing is, “I can get triggered, and I can move through it, and maybe it’s going to take me less time. And maybe I’m not going to disassociate, and I can hold all of that experience and still have enough space to live a beautiful life.”
Tim Ferriss: Where can people learn more about the resources that are available, the options that are available for exploring this work? Not necessarily deciding ahead of time that this is what they should do or will do, but to better educate themselves to understand what’s involved, to learn more.
Marcela Ot’alora: MAPS has a good library. Reading a lot of the books there. But also, there’s some great articles that have been written that you can look through, that you can see people’s experiences. People have done beautiful work talking about their own experience and have really shared with others about their process. I know a lot of our participants have done that. It’s such an honor for them to share of themselves in these really, really — from these vulnerable places.
I would say really read. Read about experiences that people have had. Read about researchers writing about it. Educate yourself as much as you possibly can about the treatment that you want to do about being a psychedelic therapist. Even though we don’t have that now, I know CIIS, the California Institute, has a certificate program for research in psychedelics now. And I’m sure that that’s going to grow.
I get a lot of emails of people asking me, “What do I do? Where do I go?” I explore it a little bit with them of what interests them. I think transpersonal psychology is a great way into it. I also say, “Read articles. Find out where the people who wrote those articles are from.” If you really like those articles, if you feel like it’s like-minded people. Where are they? Some of them are professors at universities where I can go and study with them instead of just going to a university where nobody is knowing about it, but yet, you want to be a psychedelic therapist.
So where there’s other people who are already — you don’t have to invent it, you’re not alone. There’s plenty. And there’s a lot of support to learn and to really — there’s a new generation coming on, and I feel like they’re a little bit in a hurry. I keep reminding them, “I’ve done this for 35 years. I’ve waited 35 years; you can wait. It’s okay. You can wait one more year.”
Tim Ferriss: And since you mentioned transpersonal psychology, I’ll just quote Stan Grof, whose advice at one point to people who are like, “What should we do next? What should we do next?” This is recently, he goes, “Don’t fuck it up.”
Marcela Ot’alora: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: It’s fine to move with purpose. It’s generally not a good idea, and certainly not a good idea with these compounds, to rush.
Marcela Ot’alora: No.
Tim Ferriss: The movie is not going to end as a romantic comedy, it’s going to end really poorly if people rush. MAPS, people can find at maps.org. Of course —
Marcela Ot’alora: I think — is it up there? Maybe Bryce can put it up.
Tim Ferriss: We’ll also, for those people who are listening to this in audio, put all of the links and many additional resources on the website at tim.blog/podcast. So if you go to tim.blog/podcast, search Marcela, M-A-R-C-E-L-A. Probably easier than the last name. Then it’ll pop right up, and I will gather resources that can act as starting points. Whether that’s on the MAPS website, links to studies for those who want to become more familiar with study design, some of the results. The tools that are used for measurement and so on. There are a lot of very easy ways to get started.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yeah, I think maps.org/training. And even though we don’t have the training set up yet for next year, you can still apply, and we’ll consider those applications. We’ll keep them on file and we consider those applications. And like I said, by the end of this year we’ll have the list for next year and where they’ll be. Our trainings are roughly around 54, 55 trainees at a time. Then people will start knowing a little bit better.
In the meantime, gather your team. Or really look into the MAPS website and see if there’s an existing team that is wanting more people. You don’t want to have five sites in your city, you want to be able to consolidate and be able to say, “Let’s work together if we have a common ground.”
Tim Ferriss: What I’ll work with you and the MAPS team on afterwards is brainstorming options, like you mentioned, possible. Chaplain, A, B. Having experiential options where people can take the boat out on the harbor and like, “I’ll just do a couple of circles,” before they try to cross the Atlantic to make sure that they’re okay with their sea legs, and that it’s actually something that, when it’s unsexy, and when it’s hard —
Marcela Ot’alora: You still want to do it.
Tim Ferriss: — they still want to do it.
Marcela Ot’alora: Kind of like marriage. I mean —
Tim Ferriss: Yes. Molly, yeah I gotcha.
Marcela Ot’alora: I’m still there, even when it’s unsexy.
Tim Ferriss: Molly is still very attentive. She’s in it with us. Are there any books that have had an impact on your thinking in this space? I’m just going to leave it very broad. It could be about anything. It could be art, it could be Claudio Naranjo. We talked about that book a bit earlier, which I personally found very, very interesting.
Marcela Ot’alora: Which one? Oh the —
Tim Ferriss: The Healing Journey.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Looks at some very interesting compounds. Not only the compounds, but the session content, including the dead ends, including challenges, right? It’s not just the highlight reel, which I really appreciate about that book. Are there any books that have really influenced your thinking or your trajectory as it relates to the work?
Marcela Ot’alora: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I have dyslexia, so I’m really bad with names. I don’t know if I’m going to remember, but I know Bruce Tift. He is in Boulder, Colorado, and he wrote a book called Already Free.
Tim Ferriss: Already Free.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Bruce Tift?
Marcela Ot’alora: Uh-huh (affirmative), Tift. And he combines Buddhism and psychotherapy. It’s really a wonderful combination of being able to marry these two being present. How are we present with what’s happening in the moment? I think his book is really, really good. I’m trying to think in terms of — I noticed every time that we do trainings or we do workshops we always put up poetry that really speaks to what we’re trying to say. When we’re talking about the inner healer, we put up poetry that speaks to that.
I think poetry is so important, because it really does actually talk about some of these experiences about being inner directed about your inner healer. About your compassion, about your love, about where to come from that. So I think it’s doing the work. I think Stan Grof’s work is amazing, and his books are very powerful and so helpful that we can really refer to some of his modality and what he’s done in his trajectory of life, I think, is incredible. So people like that. I’m trying to think —
Tim Ferriss: Do you have any favorite poets?
Marcela Ot’alora: I do.
Tim Ferriss: Tell me more about these people!
Marcela Ot’alora: Octavio Paz.
Tim Ferriss: Octavio Paz.
Marcela Ot’alora: He’s a favorite. Pablo Neruda is a favorite. I really like Isabel Allende. She’s a writer but —
Tim Ferriss: What’s her last name?
Marcela Ot’alora: Allende.
Tim Ferriss: Allende.
Marcela Ot’alora: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Tim Ferriss: [Spanish]
Marcela Ot’alora: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Allende, two l’s.
Marcela Ot’alora: A-L-L — uh-huh (affirmative). She’s incredible, and she really is this powerful, powerful woman who can really speak to honoring people’s experience and doing it through — I’m a Colombian, so I really do see things through images and fantasy. Those fantasies are actually true. My husband doesn’t believe me, but some of those things are true even though they sound really fantastic. They’re actually true.
So not just reading about psychology. I just think that’s not my path. I just think that there’s so many other places. Science. I can’t remember who said — It was so helpful for me in doing research because holding research and holding a person, it’s a real balance. This is the research part, this is the part that I need to do, that I need to treat them all the same. And this is the part that is an individual, right? It’s this balance, and I was having a really hard time with that. I didn’t know quite how to manage it.
I read a scientific journal that said, “Science is an organized kind of wonder,” and that made so much sense to marry these two, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That’s a great quote. It’s also very helpful for people who may be on the non-clinical path currently, to at least understand the vocabulary of a scientific study.
Marcela Ot’alora: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: It’s really helpful. There’s a book called Bad Science by Ben Goldacre, which has a number of chapters that are really helpful for becoming scientifically literate in an unintimidating way, and a very practical way. You can use it immediately in reading any newspaper, any article that makes any claims related to health. Peter Attia, MD, A-T-T-I-A, Peter Attia, MD, his website’s the same, peterattiamd.com. He has a series of articles called, I believe it’s Studying the Studies, which teaches you how to read studies. It’s an exceptional series of articles that you can find for free, which helps you to realize if you may have, through your own experience, developed perhaps an anti what you might call Western scientific angle, that science shouldn’t be a set of dogma.
Marcela Ot’alora: Right.
Tim Ferriss: As you said, it’s sort of an organized way to wonder and scratch that itch in a way that can then be replicated and tested so that you know what you know when you know it, if that makes any sense. You have a certainty of knowing, which is very challenging in this space. There are so many possible variables. It really, really matters that you pay attention to the details and follow protocol, but it can be incredibly challenging when you have the science and the art, which in fact do not need to be at odds.
Marcela Ot’alora: It’s important to read about science and the research about psychedelics, but I think science about something else. I’ve learned so much about science through people who have done studies with certain animals or certain species or plants. They’ve done these studies and it’s so fascinating to really incorporate that and to really bring in. It just brings some freshness into it that you can say, “Oh, that makes perfect sense, I’m going to utilize that to understand this psychedelic research.”
Tim Ferriss: What’s so fun about this conversation, and we’re out of time so we’ll wrap up, for me is seeing the micro and macro, and the macro and the micro. In the sense that you’re describing how you developed the skills that you have, which was borrowing liberally and traveling these indirect but highly relevant paths, incorporating different techniques from different areas. In a sense, in a given session you also have to be good at coming at things from different angles and looking at them from different perspectives so you see it in both. You’re incredibly gifted, and more than incredibly gifted at what you do. You’re very well-practiced and deliberate with what you do.
Marcela Ot’alora: Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: And, through your own pain and suffering, have found a way to transmute, as you said, that into something really valuable and powerful for other people who are in pain. And there are a lot of people. I think that’s pretty much everyone who is born a human. You’re putting a real positive dent in the world, so thank you very much. I really appreciate you taking the time on stage with me and Molly.
Marcela Ot’alora: I didn’t throw up on you.
Tim Ferriss: Muchas gracias!
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