In creating and delivering the course, we sought to incorporate principles of adult learning. We used the strategies below to promote active engagement with both the material and other learners.
Pre-reading and Media
The bulk of the course material was contained in a selection of academic papers and book chapters that presented scientifically rigorous and peer-reviewed information from a diversity of sources (full syllabus can be found online at ). To not overwhelm participants, we designated only 2–3 readings per week as “required” and provided additional “suggested readings” for those interested in learning more. We also incorporated popular media, which provided engaging visual, audio, and narrative materials depicting different perspectives on the field. For example, mainstream news clips provided a view of what the lay public is presented about psychedelics. In contrast, the fictional story We Will Call it PALA was used to imagine the promise and perils of the future expansion of psychedelic therapy . All of the course content was housed on a website we created.
Given the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we held the course over Zoom video conference. This platform was largely effective for our purpose, as it allowed us to present and interact with the entire class or divide into randomly assigned small groups for discussion. Granted, important aspects of connecting with one another were lost by not meeting in-person, including the often-fruitful spontaneous conversations which occur before and after class. However, hosting sessions virtually enabled participants from across the country to join which enhanced the diversity of perspectives.
In this course, we sought to limit the time dedicated to lecture. However, we also saw value in the course facilitators providing context, perspective, and a narrative thread between sessions. To balance these two goals, we began each session with a brief 15-minute introductory lecture from one of the two course facilitators.
Music is widely considered to be a central component of “setting” in psychedelic therapy and has even been called “the hidden therapist” in this context . To explore this aspect of the field experientially, we paused for 2–5 minutes after each introductory lecture for a mindful listening exercise. During this time, we listened to music selections relevant to psychedelic medicine and culture, including an Amazonian Icaro (a medicine song sung by healers/shamans in ayahuasca ceremonies), psychedelic rock songs, and various pieces used in psychedelic dosing sessions at both Johns Hopkins and Yale.
Every session centered around discussions, which took place in both small and large groups. Small group discussions allowed learners to share their perspective and interact with different participants each class, while large group discussions permitted ideas to be shared across the entire class. After the mindful listening exercise, we divided the class randomly into small groups of 6–8 participants who met in separate breakout rooms. To help direct the discussion towards the most salient issues, the course facilitators provided a short list of questions to consider based on that week’s readings. After about 20 minutes, all learners returned to the large group and a speaker from each small group briefly presented their group’s main takeaways. We then transitioned into a discussion with the entire class that ran for the remainder of the session. The course facilitators attempted to focus the discussion without hindering the natural flow of ideas that arose spontaneously.