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Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy: where is the psychotherapy research?

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Abstract

Rationale

Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (PAP) has emerged as a potential treatment for a variety of mental health conditions, including substance use disorders and depression. Current models of PAP emphasize the importance of psychotherapeutic support before, during, and after ingestion of a psychedelic to maximize safety and clinical benefit. Despite this ubiquitous assumption, there has been surprisingly little empirical investigation of the “psychotherapy” in PAP, leaving critical questions about the necessary and sufficient components of PAP unanswered.

Objectives

As clinical trials for psychedelic compounds continue the transition from safety- and feasibility-testing to evaluating efficacy, the role of the accompanying psychotherapy must be better understood to enhance scientific understanding of the mechanisms underlying therapeutic change, optimize clinical outcomes, and inform cost-effectiveness.

Results

The present paper first reviews the current status of psychotherapy in the PAP literature, starting with recent debates regarding “psychotherapy” versus “psychological support” and then overviewing published clinical trial psychotherapy models and putative models informed by theory. We then delineate lessons that PAP researchers can leverage from traditional psychotherapy research regarding standardizing treatments (e.g., publish treatment manuals, establish eligibility criteria for providers), identifying mechanisms of change (e.g., measure established mechanisms in psychotherapy), and optimizing clinical trial designs (e.g., consider dismantling studies, comparative efficacy trials, and cross-lagged panel designs). Throughout this review, the need for increased research into the psychotherapeutic components of treatment in PAP is underscored.

Conclusions

PAP is a distinct, integrative, and transdisciplinary intervention. Future research designs should consider transdisciplinary research methodologies to identify best practices and inform federal guidelines for PAP administration.

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Correspondence to Jacob S. Aday.

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JDW has been a paid consultant for Silo Pharma and Filament Health.

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Aday, J.S., Horton, D., Fernandes-Osterhold, G. et al. Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy: where is the psychotherapy research?. Psychopharmacology (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-024-06620-x

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