Training in therapy with psychedelics at the California Institute for Integral Studies (CIIS)


Over the years, the CIIS in San Francisco became a leading institution in the field of consciousness research, particularly with research into exceptional states of consciousness. The CIIS has had an excellent reputation for 50 years of university education that brings together consciousness studies, Far Eastern and Western psychology and psychedelic studies. The well-known psychedelic expert and psychotherapist Ralph Metzner was a professor and dean at CIIS for decades.

In order to meet the need for specifically trained psychotherapists in experimental and therapeutic studies with psychedelics, the CIIS founded a "Center for Psychedelic Therapies and Research" in 2015. The center is run by the clinical psychologist Janis Phelps (CIIS), and it cooperates with MAPS and the Heffter Research Institute.

In light of current phase 3 studies, the expanded access programs for psilocybin and MDMA-supported psychotherapy, as well as their future broader application, there is a foreseeable need for kind of training for therapists offered by the center. Professor Phelps points out that the focus on evidence-based results in methodologically high-quality studies has led to a lack of discussion and research on the core competencies of therapists. The goal of the training offered by CIIS is to train licensed psychotherapists and physicians in psychedelic therapy and therapy research in the USA and abroad.

The format of the teaching and curriculum was developed by Prof. Phelps in collaboration with clinicians and researchers in the field of psychedelics. Leading psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists from Johns Hopkins University, New York University, UCLA, UC Berkeley and other institutions teach in the program.

The program aims to develop the following core competencies:

  • Knowledge of the physical and psychological effects of psychedelics

  • Knowledge of complementary techniques

  • Permanent empathetic presence

  • Confidence building

  • Spiritual Intelligence

  • Ethical integrity of the therapist

The training program receives no public funding, and trainees must pay tuition. Some scholarships are available. The program lasts eight months with a summer break. Training consists of four weekend workshops and a one-week retreat with a learning program. The training includes 180 lessons, including 60 hours of online video lessons, volunteering and mentoring. The didactic methods consist of lectures, discussions in small groups, experience-based learning (e. g. role playing, guided pictures, expressive art) and applied work in therapeutic environments. An experiential weekend enables experiences with holotropic breathing.

The training of the CIIS is recognized by the state of California. This means that therapists certified by the CIIS can be employed at research institutions in the USA. Graduates will be able to work with psychiatrists in the near future as part of the upcoming expanded access programs for psychedelic therapies. By 2019, 220 people had completed the training program.

In 2019, the program received a donation from the Threshold Foundation to support an application for approval of the training program at the FDA. Should this be approved, the training candidates will be able to self-administer MDMA and psilocybin in sessions with an experienced therapist.