Ketamine-assisted psychotherapy combines the use of low-dose ketamine to enhance and deepen the psychotherapy experience. With the addition of ketamine to traditional psychotherapy, patients may experience accelerated growth and change due to ketamine’s ability to alter their mental state ever so slightly. Ketamine slightly softens the brains’ psychological defenses, allowing for deeper self-reflection, greater honesty, and cognitive processing.
How does ketamine work in psychotherapy?
Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that produces a dissociative state in patients when given at very low therapeutic doses. This shift in consciousness can lead to an expanded state of awareness, new perspectives on situations or issues, and a reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms.
Many patients describe a feeling of interconnectedness or spirituality while under the influence of low-dose ketamine. Some say the process feels slightly hypnotic or dreamlike. All of these can enhance the psychotherapy experience by decreasing the conscious mind’s resistance, leading to enhanced growth and progress during psychotherapy.
Conditions that may respond well to ketamine-assisted psychotherapy include:
- Unresolved childhood trauma
- Grief and loss
- Chronic pain
How ketamine works in the brain
Though the exact way that ketamine works in the brain still needs more study, scientists believe that ketamine helps the brain heal in a number of ways. It increases the activity of the neurotransmitter glutamate, which can enhance mood, decrease anxiety, and is even known to lessen the cravings found in addiction. It may also help the brain grow new pathways, which can help the patient find novel approaches to long-lasting problems and form new, healthy habits.
History of ketamine
Ketamine was first used as a battlefield anesthetic during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Soldiers who were given ketamine as an anesthetic during surgery described feeling like they were floating in space, disconnected from their bodies and physical pain.
These psychedelic effects later made ketamine a popular party drug that was commonly found at raves in the 1990s and early 2000s. It should be noted that psychedelic effects such as these only occur at high doses. The dosage used for ketamine-assisted psychotherapy is much, much lower and only produces a faint essence of these effects.
Ketamine is gaining popularity as a treatment for depression
Ketamine has been used off-label to treat mental health conditions for 20 years, including depression. For people with treatment-resistant depression, trying one medication and then another looking for relief can take years, as most depression medications take weeks or even months to fully go into effect.
Ketamine for depression, however, works right away. Several studies show that patients with treatment-resistant depression experience a significant decrease in their depression symptoms in as little as 24 hours after their first dose of intravenous ketamine.
This means that ketamine-assisted psychotherapy can be a particularly attractive option for depression sufferers. The combination of ketamine treatment with traditional psychotherapy has the potential to fast-track their progress toward managing their depression and creating a better, happier existence.
What happens in a ketamine-assisted psychotherapy session?
Ketamine assisted psychotherapy sessions typically last longer than a traditional therapy session. Typically, a session of this type lasts about two hours.
In our office, the first step is for the patient to be led into the ketamine treatment room, which is dimly lit to encourage relaxation. The patient is attached to a monitor so the medical staff can keep track of the patient’s blood pressure and vital signs during the session.
The nurse inserts a tiny needle, which is far smaller than the needle that is used for medical shots and administers the ketamine. The needle is so small that the stick is barely perceptible. Even patients with a fear of needles report being very comfortable with ketamine infusion.
After the ketamine is injected, the patient usually feels a sensation of calm relaxation and wellness. At the low doses used in ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, the more intense effects of ketamine such as hallucinations and disassociating from the body are not experienced.
The patient will be asked to sit and relax for a few minutes before their actual therapy session begins. The talk therapy part of the session is like any other, with communication between the therapist and the patient. The effects of the ketamine injection begin about 15 minutes after the shot, peak at approximately 40 minutes, and begin to wear off after 2 hours.
Are there any side effects of ketamine-assisted psychotherapy?
Side effects from ketamine-assisted psychotherapy are rare. Low dose ketamine administered in a medical setting is very well tolerated by most people. A recent study in the Journal of Affected disorders revealed that the most common side effect of intravenous ketamine was feeling slightly “loopy” “woozy.” These side effects disappeared within a few hours of the ketamine injection.
Ready to try ketamine-assisted psychotherapy?
Dr. Jeff Ditzell’s New York City psychiatry office provides ketamine-assisted psychotherapy that’s safe, medically monitored, and effective. Schedule your appointment online today, or give us a call 646-751-7908.