Does Accreditation Make Psychedelic Training Programs More Legitimate?

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As the public interest in psychedelic healing booms, so does the need for qualified practitioners to support people in their transformational journeys.

In the last few years, a flurry of psychedelic training programs has emerged, promising to equip their students with the necessary skills to guide individuals in the preparation, navigation, and integration of psychedelic experiences.

With so many programs on offer, it can be difficult for those seeking to become psychedelic integration coaches or psychedelic-assisted therapists to determine if a program is legitimate and will help them achieve their goals. So it’s no surprise that more and more prospective students are inquiring about accreditation in their program search, especially when it comes to psychedelic certification programs.

The Top 3 Misconceptions of Psychedelic Accreditation

The decision of whether or not to invest in a psychedelic training program that offers third-party accreditation is a deeply personal choice, that will ultimately depend on your long-term goals.

Before we dive into whether or not an accredited psychedelic training program is right for you, it’s important to highlight these common misconceptions:

  1. Accreditation Will Allow You to Legally Administer Psychedelics. Accredited psychedelic training does not give you a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. This is by far the #1 misconception that many prospective students have. With the exception of ketamine, most psychedelics remain illegal almost everywhere. CE credits or third-party coaching accreditation will not confer legal immunity.
  2. Third-Party Coaching Accreditation Means the Program Meets Higher Standards. Unlike psychotherapy or medicine, which are governed by state or national licensing boards, the coaching industry is unregulated. In other words, there are no universally accepted international coaching standards that are established by the coaching industry. This means that any coach certification or accreditation program is only relevant to the organization that has created it, and its perception of quality or marketplace value is only as strong as its brand.
  3. Academic Accreditation Means the Program is of Higher Educational Quality. With psychedelics being illegal in most locales, there is no legally recognized third-party licensing board that governs whether or not psychedelic education is compliant with state or national standards. When it comes to organizations that qualify a program for Continuing Education (CE) credits, there is no third-party review of the content at all. The only criteria that must be met are that the faculty teaching has a Master’s degree or higher from a Western accredited university.

Now let’s take a closer look at what accreditation actually means and whether accreditation is right for you.

What Does Accreditation Mean (And When Would I Need it)?

Some professionals have to fulfill the requirements of overarching professional bodies and boards to practice their craft. For example, attorneys have to pass the bar exam. Licensed Mental Health Counselors must earn a relevant graduate degree, complete clinical supervised experience, and pass the exam required for licensure.

The three main types of accreditation that psychedelic education seekers typically inquire about are:

  • Academic Accreditation. Accreditation within higher education means that a college or university has reviewed the psychedelic program curriculum and is willing to offer educational credits towards a degree from that institution.
  • Continuing Education (CE) Credits. A continuing education unit (CEU) or continuing education credit (CEC) is a measure used in continuing education programs to assist professionals in maintaining their license in their profession.
  • Third-Party Coaching Accreditation.  There are two main types of accreditation for coaches: credentialing and certification.
    • Credentialing. For this, your coaching skills and hours of experience need to be evaluated against criteria set by an established professional coaching organization such as the International Coach Federation (ICF), the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), or the Association for Coaching (AC).
    • Certification. This entails the verification of your completion of a specific coaching training program that adheres to the standards of a professional coaching organization or a third-party accreditation body, such as the International Coach Federation Accredited Coach Training Program (ICF-ACTP) or the European Quality Award (EQA).

Do I Actually Need Academic Accreditation?

This is a deeply personal choice that will most likely depend on your stage of life and whether you wish to get a recognized university degree through your psychedelic training program. For some students, a three-year psychedelic training program that offers the promise of graduating with a psychotherapy degree through the university that is accrediting the program might be an exciting way to feed two birds with one scone.

For others, especially those who have tremendous underground experience, such as guides and facilitators who might have more knowledge than the faculty teaching these programs, it may seem like an onerous investment of time and money, because academic accreditation typically comes at a higher cost.

For a psychedelic training program to qualify for academic accreditation, it would need to partner with a university that would be willing to offer educational credits towards one of its degree programs.

In order to do so, the curriculum must be structured in such a way as to qualify as a university course, starting with the credentials of the faculty members teaching the curriculum. Faculty typically must possess a Master’s degree or higher to be a university professor.

This will skew instruction offered by accredited psychedelic training programs towards faculty with more academic credentials than practical experience in psychedelic facilitation and integration support. For aspiring psychedelic and plant medicine practitioners who desire to learn from teachers with hands-on experience working with clients, a training program that emphasizes academic credentials may not be conducive to their goals.

Do I Actually Need Continuing Education (CE) Credits?

Many professionals entering the psychedelic space are looking to gain continuing education (CE) credits as part of their training. The primary benefit of CE credits is for practitioners, such as medical professionals and therapists, to maintain a state-issued license or professional certification. For example, one organization that is offering CE credits to practitioners is Spiritual Competency Academy.

When The Plant Spirit School inquired about qualifying our plant medicine integration coach training program for CE credits, we discovered that:

  • The only modules that would qualify for CE credits would be those taught by a faculty member possessing graduate degrees from recognized Western universities in a related field.
  • Training sessions taught by expert facilitators who had spent years learning and apprenticing with indigenous wisdom keepers, with hands-on experience supporting clients integrating entheogenic states would not be eligible for CE credits, and thus be devalued within this accreditation model. 
  • Faculty who possessed degrees in psychotherapy or science would be elevated, even if the individual had never facilitated a ceremony or supported clients in integration, and their primary experience was authoring research papers or teaching in university.

As an educational institution that specialized in psychotherapy, there was no way they could evaluate the quality of the course content on the “Shipibo Science of Integral Healing”, or whether a faculty member who possessed a Ph.D. in Veterinary Science who had spent over a decade apprenticing with indigenous wisdom keepers in Peru was indeed qualified to each about Andean Cosmology.

For this reason, many argue that the emphasis on the training approaches of these third-party credentialing organizations as the “gold standard” in psychedelic practitioners is damaging towards other, alternative methods – which are often just as or more appropriate for their given discipline.

This is the case for many plant medicine and/or psychedelic practitioners, who will often employ ancestral practices that originate from indigenous cultures, and don’t fit within the Westernized accreditation standards.

What’s more, medical professionals and therapists looking to gain continuing education (CE) credits will be hard-pressed to get CE credits from trainings related to ancestral indigenous practices. This is because many indigenous wisdom keepers do not have a university education, let alone graduate degrees.

Do I Actually Need Third-Party Coaching Accreditation?

Many aspiring coaches in other fields have considered increasing their gravitas by getting coach credentialing or certification through globally recognized institutions such as the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the Association for Coaching (AC). A common perception that drives this motivation is the belief that accreditation through a recognized third-party coaching association will confer higher professional legitimacy. This belief is based on the idea that you will be trained to meet an international standard in coaching best practices and ethics.

It’s important to understand that coaching is an unregulated profession and there are no universally accepted international standards of coaching best practices. This is because coaching is a very broad discipline that employs a vast array of tools, methods, frameworks, and paradigms. Psychedelic coaching is a field of its own, that draws from wide-ranging disciplines from ancestral wisdom to pharmacology and neuroscience.

Because the coaching industry is unregulated, anyone can be a coach, and anyone can offer a coach training program. Many schools have created certification programs to establish their own qualification standards, but such certifications are not universally recognized. Through partnerships with third-party coaching associations, some coach certification programs will offer concurrent accreditations as additional benefits for investing in their program.

For example, if you get a certification as a practitioner of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), you might also get a certification in Hypnotherapy offered by the NLP training company’s partner hypnotherapy organization.

How Third-Party Coaching Accreditation Works

It’s important to understand how third-party coaching accreditation works to determine whether these add-on certifications are of any benefit to you.

Typically, to offer third-party coaching accreditation from a particular organization, a coaching training program would need to be trained in that organization’s coaching modality.

For example, when the Plant Spirit School explored the possibility of offering ICF accreditation, we discovered we would need to:

  • Have coaching faculty who are ICF certified, and specifically certified at the “Trainer” level, which is usually 2 levels up from “Practioner” and “Master Practitioner”. Getting to the “Certified Trainer” level typically requires several years of training, practice, and five figures of investment.
  • The Plant Spirit School program would need considerable time dedicated to teaching ICF’s coaching modality, and most likely have the entire curriculum designed around their framework to deliver it.
  • ICF would need to validate that the faculty are actively maintaining their certification and that the curriculum adequately teaches their coaching framework. 

The process of getting third-party coaching accreditation for a plant medicine integration certification program felt completely counterintuitive, especially if the program is primarily focused on ancestral wisdom traditions, and their healing paradigms and cosmovision.

Western Accreditation of Ancestral Knowledge is a Form of Neo-Colonialism

Many of the psychedelic medicines that are now booming in popularity, such as ayahuasca, iboga, psilocybin mushrooms, and huachuma were shared with us by indigenous peoples. The molecules that are being researched for psychedelic therapies were discovered as a result of their use in indigenous shamanic healing practices. Without this knowledge, which goes back centuries and sometimes even millennia, these medicines would not be available to us.

Psychedelic practitioners who are supporting individuals’ healing experiences with these sacred medicines will often study the plants in traditional contexts and learn shamanic tools and techniques that have been handed down for generations.

In fact, in the plant medicine space, it is generally accepted that if an integration specialist is going to support someone working with an ancestral medicine and partaking in sacred ceremonies, they should have personal experience and knowledge of indigenous medicine traditions.

Accreditation only works to devalue, if not, completely invalidate these ancestral approaches because indigenous wisdom keepers often do not have accredited Western university degrees. The inclination to perceive accreditation as “higher value and more legitimate” is an inherent example of colonialism and covert white supremacy that considers Eurocentric approaches to knowledge and education to be superior. Many of the methods of Westernized accreditation standards are at odds with the holistic and lineage-based approach that indigenous communities give to plant medicine healing.

More widely, the psychedelic space is dominated by the message that to be a legitimate psychedelic therapist, you have to spend years in the academic system learning the clinical approach. This is supported by the CE system, which only allows organizations that are operating within Western academic frameworks to offer CE credits to aspiring psychedelic therapists – despite the value that these professionals may gain from learning about ancestral practices.

Again, this is a blatant example of colonial ideas and gatekeeping around who gets to work with psychedelics and plant medicines, whether in an integration capacity or serving the medicines themselves. Many of these academic psychedelic therapy programs give little to no recognition of the indigenous traditions that, in many ways, laid the foundation for psychedelic healing in the West.

Bringing In Ancestral Practices and Voices

At The Plant Spirit School, we are committed to incorporating indigenous wisdom traditions into our Integration Coach Certification Program.

We reject the notion that only through adopting Western standards can somebody legitimately work in the psychedelic space. We also recognize the necessity of integrating indigenous knowledge and voices for those training to work with these medicines, and commit to the decolonization of the psychedelic space as a whole.

Our training program is designed to equip students with a range of skills that encompass both Western, scientific knowledge as well as indigenous practices and culture, aiming to provide a foundation from which they can build an ethical and valuable coaching practice. To achieve this, we’ve brought in a spectrum of experts to conduct the training: from experienced ceremony leaders, to practicing therapists, to neuroscientists, to shamanic practitioners, and more.

Ultimately, the program you choose will depend greatly on your goals in the psychedelic sector. If you are a medical professional or therapist needing CE credits to progress in your career, an accredited organization may be better suited to your needs. However, if you do not require CE credits, then a program like The Plant Spirit School will help you gain a range of skills that encompass both psychedelic science and ancestral wisdom.

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