AN INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHO-SPIRITUAL COUNSELLING, COACHING, AND HEALING

Image by Inaki Aires

Interview with Ana-Alicia Montano, Psycho-spiritual Counselor and Psychedelic Integration Coach


Tell us about yourself and your journey to becoming a psycho-spiritual counsellor & psycho-spiritual coach.

My journey to becoming a psycho-spiritual counsellor & coach has been in the making for a long time, haha. It’s been a process of following the breadcrumbs and answering that which really beckons to my soul.

I was born and raised in the twin island republic of Trinidad & Tobago. My father is a mixed Trini and my mother is Algerian. My ancestry spans from many lands, some of which being South America (Upper Amazon), North Africa, Canada & Europe, so I carry within me the blood of both the colonized and the colonizer. There are things that I carry in my ancestry that I feel has also been an invisible guiding thread.

While I feel that my journey is one of soul, I think the catalyst for my journey was when one of my older brothers died in a car accident. I was 9 when this happened and from there, I struggled with depression, was bullied in school, and was an avid cutter….in short, I really didn’t know how to be with and express the intense emotions. This became a long, winding road to healing (that I believe is still unfolding). At the age of 16, I had a massive breakdown. To backtrack a little, I’ve had a long connection with dolphins. It’s long to explain here, but they’ve been with me since birth, and I feel even before. When I had my breakdown, my mother and I went to Hawaii to swim with wild dolphins – bless her heart for following her intuition that this was something I needed, as all the therapists I had seen before never alleviated the pain I was holding, and quite honestly, they frustrated me even further. This experience was a turning point. Something about that experience was incredibly therapeutic and numinous, and it was the beginning of opening my heart. Shortly after that, I had my first experience with Ecstacy, which felt like it built on my experience with the dolphins and my heart – both the dolphins and Ecstacy brought me into contact with my heart.

Bit by bit, more entheogens emerged in my life. With that said, I’ve been utterly fascinated with them since I had access to the internet! I was always “hunting” for them in hopes of exploring things with them but they never made themselves available to me. This was a really potent lesson for me as it taught me that things have a way of finding you when the timing is right, so for me, it’s important to trust that.

At the age of 19, while in the UK doing my first undergrad, I came across the name “Ayahuasca”. This opened the floodgates for me – as a little girl, my mom used to talk about a “tea from the Amazon that you drink in the forest that allows you to commune with Spirit”. When I came across Ayahuasca, I literally freaked out (in the best way) because something clicked. I spent years researching it, reading everything I possibly can, watching every single documentary available to me on the internet, attending seminars, watching talks – you name it, I was taking it in. But judging from my previous experience with entheogens and not being able to find them when I was actively looking for them, I trusted that when it was right, the opportunity would present itself. I was also reading a lot about dishonest shamans, sexual abuse in ceremony, witchcraft etc., so as a young female who would travel alone, I also wanted to be careful.

I came back to Trinidad in 2013 and enrolled in the University of the West Indies to begin pursuing Psychology. Psychology felt as though it was a route I needed to undertake; I was passionate about the human psyche, consciousness etc., and felt this will lead me somewhere.

In 2016, nearing the end of this degree and wondering what my next steps would be, I sat with Ayahuasca for the first time. So many things opened up while I was in the Amazon and this really catapulted me into my journey as a psycho-spiritual counsellor and coach. Within a few days of my return home, I stumbled upon the website of the California Institute of Integral Studies and their program in East-West Psychology. This resonated deeply! It was as if I found a program that I would have created by myself for myself, so my excitement was real. I called the university, scheduled a meeting to find out what was needed for the application process and one thing led to another – a literal domino effect. I was accepted and started my masters in East-West Psychology in 2018. All the while, I continued to frequent the Amazon to deepen my work and relationship with Ayahuasca. Between my personal experiences with entheogens, my training during my masters, along with additional courses & training I’ve done on the side, this is how I became a psycho-spiritual counsellor and coach.

It’s been such an enriching experience of learning, both academically and experientially and marrying the two when working with others. I’m deeply passionate about my work and entheogens and this feels right in my heart & soul. It’s a journey that is still unfolding as I’m 31 now but I’m forever learning and integrating what I learn so that I can be in better service to others 

How did you come to explore transpersonal states of consciousness, specifically through the use of entheogenic medicines?

My mother has a huge part to play in this – she exposed me to very “different” things growing up (one of which being Ayahuasca) and really encouraged meditation, exploring and connecting with different realms and ways of being.
Another crucial moment in my life was the death of my brother. I was sent to therapists, which only upset me further, but where I found solace, a way of processing, being with my grief and my own healing journey was through dolphins and entheogenic medicines.
They’ve helped me process difficult emotions, taught me how to be with those emotions; welcome them, they taught me about myself; allowing me to get in touch with myself, be with myself in all my seasons and begin the journey home to myself. Each experience is so different but there’s always something to learn, whether it's about myself, my (and our) connection to the whole, the nature of reality, exploring different realms, communing with entities and beings….it’s really endless! Which is so exciting! I’m incredibly fascinated by the transpersonal realm – we’re told we have 5 senses to experience the whole universe? Really?! Hahaha, I like to say that I’m an avid explorer of multiple realms and entheogens are one of the tools and allies that I call upon to assist in my ventures.

What does psycho-spiritual counselling, coaching and healing entail?

Psycho-Spiritual counselling, coaching and healing is a blended approach that interweaves different modalities. I’m a reiki master and kambo practitioner so in some circumstances, a bit of body work is included, this way we can have the mind, body and spirit connected.

I view my clients as whole, encompassing everything they need within, but perhaps needing some guidance in tuning in and connecting to themselves, their inner resources and awakening their inner healer. The same way that the body innately knows how to heal itself, I believe our psyches do too – it just needs the right conditions, support, and container. And I do this in a myriad of ways.

I take my clients on a deep dive into themselves, where they can uncover and process their life events, although we don’t stay there too long – we check in to see what is arising and look for the nuggets of gold that can be brought forth in order to move forward.

I draw a lot from the work of Carl Jung; working with archetypes and archetypal themes, the shadow (becoming aware of it and integrating it), dream interpretation. Basically working with unconscious material and excavating it so that it can be brought into the conscious mind and integrated.

What is a death doula/transition guide?

A Death Doula/Transition guide is an ally during the transitioning phase to the family and the person undergoing the transition. They provide support and assistance to those who are dying and their families to help them navigate the process; have much-needed albeit difficult conversations, assist in putting affairs in order, creating legacy projects, emotional & psycho-spiritual support. They support people in welcoming and working with grief – something the western/modern culture seems to be really averse towards.

You specialize in shadow work and inner child work as well, how do you integrate entheogenic medicines with these methods?

Entheogenic medicines are incredible for this type of work! They naturally bring forth into consciousness shadow elements and different parts of ourselves, one of which being the inner child. Entheogens can allow the barriers within the psyche to soften so that this material can come into the conscious mind to be processed and integrated. With regards to how I integrate entheogenic medicines with these methods, it really depends as the process can be different for each person but I trust and follow the lead of their psyches.
When looking at an entheogenic experience, there can be elements of shadow or inner child material arising, sometimes, the experience can be a full-fledged shadow and/or inner child experience. 

How do you recommend someone new to a psychedelic guided experience vet the right healer? What sort of questions should be asked of the retreat center and/or facilitator?

It’s important to talk with people and get to know them – their history, what’s calling them, their intentions etc. In doing so, I can get a better idea and feel the sense of healers, therapists, or retreat centers I can recommend. With this psychedelic renaissance, I see it as a “all hands on deck” kind of scene; everyone has something unique to bring to the table and possess their own innate gifts.

As for questions, they’ll differ slightly from asking a facilitator or guide and retreat center but some important general ones could be:

  • What is your personal experience with entheogens? (Does the individual have any experience at all?)
  • How long have you been doing this?
  • Who was your teacher and/or what lineage were you taught through? Or What is your training in this field?
  • Where do you source your medicine from?
  • What are the ethics behind the sourcing of the medicine?
  • How do you conduct the session or ceremony?
  • What is the protocol leading up to the journey?
  • What is the substance I will be taking?
  • If possible, what is the dose?
  • How do you determine the dose?
  • How do you recommend I prepare for the experience?
  • Will I have access to preparation and integration support?
  • Can I contact you if I have questions or need support regarding my experience?
  • What do you do in case of an emergency?
  • What do you do to ensure safety for myself (other participants, if there are any) and the environment?

Integration is just as important as the psychedelic experience itself - this process starts with preparation before. Can you provide a brief overview of how to best prepare for a psychedelic healing experience.

Yes, I believe integration actually starts with preparation. Through preparation, we begin paving the way for our integration.
Preparation can differ depending on the experience one is to have, for example, are they doing it on their own or going to a retreat? In general, preparation involves making room for change and being open to what will arise, commitment, learning tools for the entheogenic journey, knowledge and in some cases, a diet protocol.
With preparation, it’s great to have a toolbox of things you can draw upon during the experience but I believe that these need to be practiced and implemented beforehand.
It’s good to have clarity on what one’s intention is, but this is different from expectation. I think having an expectation can be limiting as you can hitch yourself to a particular outcome or way in which you want something to happen and may miss nuances of how things are showing up and being transmitted. Intentions on the other hand are like a guiding principle but much more open, receptive, and flexible – it allows more wiggle room for the experience.

What are the best integration techniques for people to practice at home if they don’t have immediate access to a coach?

I see integration as a process, and one that unfolds over time. Sometimes, it can even take years! And with each journey, integration may look different for the same individual. I believe that part of the integration process is in the preparation so I’d recommend that people really prepare for their experiences so that they have a guiding thread or roadmap to follow for when they’re on the other side.
If someone doesn’t have immediate access to a coach, for immediate integration (starting the day of or day after the experience) this is where self care, nourishing and grounding needs to take place. This of course, will look different for everyone.
Something to keep in mind is that, within the first week to 2 weeks following an entheogenic experience, we have the most neural plasticity so it’s important to use this time with intention and consistency.
People can do things like meditation, breathing and embodiment exercises. I think these are important to continue to connect with the medicine and oneself and be in tune with one’s internal realms. With embodiment exercises, it’s great because you are incorporating the body into the integration work. The body isn’t disconnected and there’s a lot of things happening so I feel that it is important to incorporate it during integration (and in general).
Journaling and art are great tools for multiple reasons; incorporating the left & right brain, help with reflections & insights, seeing a trajectory of where you’ve been and where you want to go, things you may want to let go of, things you want to change etc.
Being mindful of what you’re doing and where you’re spending energy – things like tv, social media, who you surround yourself with etc., it’s important to take some time for yourself so that you can really stick with what’s emerging.
Discernment – for big changes, if something is important now, it will be important in 2 months. Sit with it and really feel it out.
Paying attention to dreams – sometimes the work isn’t fully completed in ceremony and may continue to unfold during dream time.

Not all trips are healing, how do you make sense of a trip that doesn’t seem to have any particular meaning to you at first glance? Is it helpful to revisit trips at a later point?

Yes, I feel that it is really helpful to revisit trips at a later point.
I definitely ascribe to “we don’t get what we want but we get what we need” so trust this.
Also, how do we know that the experience isn’t healing on some sort of level that’s beyond the conscious mind’s comprehension?
As soon as possible following an experience, I’d encourage journaling and some form of art/something creative – as mentioned earlier, the art or creativity component is to engage both the left & right brain. A lot of the time, things may not make sense or click right away but can do so at a later date. I see these as seeds that have been planted in the psyche that will come to the surface when it’s time to do so – perhaps when the psyche is ready for it as it’s moved through other stages, or something else had to take place first in order for another layer to be unlocked.
Having something to reflect on – combined with the spontaneous time one chooses to reflect on it, can perhaps initiate that it may be time to look at some of the things (symbols, emotions etc) that arose during the journey.
In general, I recommend trusting the medicine and the experience you had. It may not appear as healing at first glance but there may be something deeper; something to learn, something to implement, something to let go of etc. And, perhaps, it was something that you needed even if you don’t have the awareness (yet) that you needed it ;) 

What are you most excited about the future potential for psilocybin and psychedelic medicine?

 Oh gosh! So much! I’m excited for the fact that these medicines can really help transform people – their traumas, their ways of relating to the world, each other and with themselves. The West is such a science-based society, and the science is showing the potential these medicines possess and the impact they have on people. It’s truly remarkable and I’m forever in awe of these medicines. I think they’re incredible tools to help individuals, humanity and the Earth. As a species, we’ve had a long-standing relationship with entheogens and the natural world and I have a lot of hope for us reconnecting with them (medicines and nature).

With that said, there’s so much that needs to be looked at, discussed and put in order as we move forward in this terrain. Things such as respect and reciprocity for the holders and carriers of the medicine, ethics, race and ethnic groups – this cannot be a “white thing” – I feel that it needs to be accessible to all.
And like modern/western medicine, everything is not for everyone. People have different biological and psychological make-ups that when combined with entheogens can end up doing more harm than good, so as a community, we really need to be diligent, careful and respectful.
I do have a lot of faith though, there are so many people within the psychedelic community that are trying to bring more awareness to the various issues and difficulties we face with decriminalization, legalization and the accessibility of these medicines. I’m seeing people of all walks of life coming together, bringing their own uniqueness to the entheogenic realm, having interesting and difficult conversations, and contributing in such beautiful ways – it really warms my heart. 

Answers by Ana-Alicia Montano

Questions by YAWN

 

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