Meet Christopher Brown, a Veteran Marine who found a new career path as a licensed therapist. Chris opens up about his entry into the Marine Corps, the traumatic experiences he endured, and the challenges he faced reintegrating into society after his deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.
He shares his personal counselling journey, shedding light on how it not only helped him overcome PTSD but also inspired him to become a therapist. We also explore on EMDR, a therapeutic technique for trauma healing, and the potential of psychedelic therapy, focusing on the preparation, integration, and the promising outcomes it offers.
While Chris is a seasoned therapist, it's vital to note that this episode isn't a therapy session. Also, be aware that the use of psychedelic substances is illegal in many parts of North America. Join us for this insightful discussion with Chris Brown.
First Session exists to help you find the right therapist for you so you can get help now. We deeply believe that the fit between you and your therapist is the most important factor for a positive outcome. First Session is committed to making your search for a therapist user friendly, transparent, and trustworthy.
Rob Pintwala (00:02.379)
Hey Chris, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate you taking the time to chat and I'm super excited to get started here.
Christopher Brown (00:09.707)
Likewise, thanks for having me.
Rob Pintwala (00:12.475)
So you have a super interesting story and I'd love to start with just your upbringing. I know you were in the Marines, but I wanted to start with what was your upbringing that kind of guided you to join the Marines and what sort of parts of your past contributed to that.
Christopher Brown (00:32.078)
Mm-hmm. Yeah, well, you know, I think a lot of people join for a few common reasons. Some might be like family history of military service. Some of the folks that I interacted with in service joined to kind of get out of, you know, rough upbringing, rough neighborhood, rough...
rough place that they lived. Others joined for college benefits and others kind of joined just wanting to test their metal. And I feel like for me, it was a little bit of each of those. You know, I didn't have any, I didn't come from a super rough neighborhood, but I also didn't see a whole lot of opportunity if I stuck around. And being a first generation college student.
I didn't really know what my options were as far as pursuing higher education. I knew that if I joined the military there would be options later on, so I thought, okay, well that makes sense for me. But this was a couple years after 9-11, 2004 is when I went in, and 9-11 happened in 2001. So it's still pretty early in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And, you know, I knew that I was probably going to be going to a war zone, choosing the Marine Corps. And in my 17, 18 year old logic, it made sense to me that rather than depending on, you know, a machine to keep me safe, I needed to learn everything I could to keep myself safe. So I joined the infantry, which is like.
Rob Pintwala (02:27.161)
Christopher Brown (02:29.142)
so backwards thinking about it now. But that was part of my rationale for the kind of job I chose, knowing that I'd probably be going into a war zone. I didn't realize that it meant I would definitely be going into the front lines of the war zone. But the recruiters don't tell you all that. So yeah, I mean, there was, yeah.
Rob Pintwala (02:40.059)
Wow. Yeah. When you say first generation college student, do you mean the first in your family to go to college?
Christopher Brown (03:07.55)
Yeah, so my wife, you know, she, her parents went to college, both of them. And when I got out, she was finishing up her undergrad and. She walked me through all of it. You know, this is what grants look like. Those are student loans. You know, I didn't, fortunately I didn't have to take student loans because of the GI bill, but I was like a lost puppy trying to go into, into college and you know because my parents didn't go they didn't have a frame of reference they didn't know i don't think they even knew that grants were a thing and i certainly didn't so yeah i mean college wasn't even really a consideration before i joined the military it wasn't until after that i realized you know there's a lot of opportunity that can come from going to school
Rob Pintwala (04:02.331)
Yeah, yeah. So what is it, how long was the training and where were you first deployed? What happened in that? Did you feel prepared for what you were about to step into?
Christopher Brown (04:13.111)
Christopher Brown (04:16.526)
Uh, I mean, not really. I don't think anyone can fully be prepared for that kind of thing till they just do it. But the training was pretty good. Uh, as far as Marine Corps training goes, I was stationed out in 29 Palms, California, which is a big Marine training base. And so we had a lot of training opportunities.
You know, some of the, some of the ranges that Marines will do once a year before they deploy, like it's a requirement for deployment to go through some of these training evolutions. We were doing them pretty regularly, for better or worse. I mean, it was a lot, but I do feel like it helped, at least physically and tactically, but psychologically going into a war zone, like,
That's a hard thing to prepare for. And particularly, you know, like the reality of being on the ground in another country where there's an enemy trying to hurt you, but they're not wearing, you know, a uniform. Like that's some tricky stuff to navigate, especially for someone in their late teens, early 20s.
Rob Pintwala (05:42.091)
Yeah, I bet. Wow. And just, just a, I'm curious for those who don't know that the differences, including myself here, the Marines, how did the Marines stack up to other, you know, options that you faced in terms of joining the military, the, the service, where did the Marines lie in the whole picture?
Christopher Brown (06:02.722)
Christopher Brown (06:07.022)
So the Marines are a department of the Navy. So they're part of the Navy, but they operate as their own branch of the military. And the analogy is like, they're the soldiers of the Navy. So historically, wherever the country has needed to do war-like business,
Marines on Navy ships end up going into whatever land-based place there is that needs to be within the nation's interests. So that's kind of the history of the Marine Corps, is being fundamentally tied to the Navy like that. They developed a pretty strong reputation for warfighting.
And again, like in my early teens sort of mindset, it's like, well, these people have a pretty good reputation for knowing how to fight war. If I'm going to go to war, I should probably learn from them. And Marines, they have pretty high esteem for themselves. And that's certainly true of the recruiters as well.
Rob Pintwala (07:19.244)
Christopher Brown (07:30.134)
But, I mean, all things said, I do feel like I was around a group of people who, like, if I were to be in a war zone, they're who I would want to be with. Like, I did feel a certain level of trust that the people to my left and right would be able to, you know, look out for me too, just as I was for them.
Rob Pintwala (07:56.854)
Yeah. It's funny how you kind of laugh at your teenage way of thinking, but like, I totally get it. You know, I totally get kind of just going all in on being hardcore. If you're going to do it, might as well go all the way. Um, I get that mindset. And I don't think that's
Christopher Brown (08:11.727)
Yeah. I mean, the Marine Corps is not like special forces. You know, the Navy has the seals for that. The Army, in terms of training level, I've heard the Marine Corps compared most to Army Ranger kind of status. Similar infantry focus, similar emphasis on leadership.
You know, the way the Army does things is a little different than the way the Marine Corps does things, but I think that's probably the closest comparison that we have within our branches of US or armed forces.
Rob Pintwala (08:56.081)
Yeah. So regarding leading up to your first appointment, how much time was that in training and what did it feel like? Yeah, like only a few months. Like what did it feel like when you were on your way out?
Christopher Brown (09:10.398)
Oh, that was a few months.
Christopher Brown (09:16.682)
Yeah, well in the Marines we had a school of infantry which was I think three months. And then once you finish that school you go to your unit. And I trained with my unit for another I think three to six months I want to say. And then we went on our first deployment. The senior Marines there they had deployed the year prior.
kind of one of the first groups after the invasion in Iraq. And they were all pretty jaded. They didn't have a whole, like, I think a lot of those guys had enlisted before 9-11. So they had, like, I don't think they really expected all this and they were, you know, pretty low motivation and wanted to leave as soon as they could. And so this was kind of the group that we showed up with. And you know, they did their best to train us up to, you know, survive that kind of environment. Um, but it wasn't until we got back and we're, and got our own kind of junior Marines and we were now like the more senior in our platoon that I started taking leadership more seriously and training more seriously. And fortunately we had a lot of really great training before.
that second deployment because that second deployment ended up being the hardest of the three that I went on. That was where I got, I was wounded. There were just a lot of gunfights and a lot of threats at the time. And that was during 2007, they call it the troop surge. There was just a lot of stuff happening over there at the time. So I did, you know, in four years.
I did three deployments. The third one was to Afghanistan. And between me getting wounded on my second one and several of my close friends also being wounded in our battalion, which is a battalion would be close to like several hundred people, a few hundred people in a battalion.
Christopher Brown (11:43.946)
In our battalion we had 41 Marines who were killed on my three deployments. And so I was like, you know, it's... I'm not going to re-enlist. I need to go find something else to do because I'm just burned out on this stuff. And when I got home, I realized pretty quickly, like, I had changed. And I got... I ended up, fortunately, getting into counseling really soon.
Rob Pintwala (11:49.851)
Christopher Brown (12:12.83)
in the first couple of months of getting out. And I did individual and group counseling for a good year and a half, two years, while I was starting to kind of get into school and use the GI Bill. And during that process, I made the decision, because I had started school on like taking classes in computer information systems. I was kind of planning to pursue IT field, but through my own counseling,
In a psychology class I took, I realized like, I should probably focus on this type of career instead. And I'm really glad I made that decision because it's opened up a lot of doors and given me a chance to help a lot of people along the way. So yeah, that was that looking back on that period of my life, it's kind of hard to imagine that was even me at this point.
Rob Pintwala (13:12.154)
Christopher Brown (13:13.102)
because there's been a lot that's happened since too. But yeah, like just thinking of being in a war zone with 50 to 100 pounds of gear on my back, walking for miles, kind of waiting to get shot at. It's like, that's hard to believe I did that. But I did, I know I did. I've got scars to prove it.
Rob Pintwala (13:45.129)
And so, so yeah, so you're now, you've been a therapist for many years now, a psychotherapist, but before we dive into that, a little bit more, like when, I'd love to hear, like was your real education in this space of, I guess, mental, emotional, psychological health,
Christopher Brown (13:52.823)
Rob Pintwala (14:07.031)
Was that when you went to counseling after you exited the The Marines like completely exited When did you sort of like start to think about your mental health
Christopher Brown (14:16.328)
Christopher Brown (14:25.466)
It was right after. And I put a lot of thought into this early on, kind of like, why didn't it seem like I had issues while I was still in? And I think it's because we had all been through the same kind of situations. We were all kind of, you know, dealing with it in a similar way. We had each other there. It just didn't feel like a problem. You know, being in the barracks with a bunch of other Marines who you just got home from war with, like, it was kind of a celebratory, you know, environment. And it felt normal, but you know, the second you're separated from that environment and now you're around people who don't know what you've been through, have never experienced what you've gone through, can't really relate. And you start to notice all these little things about yourself that you didn't notice before that's when it kind of started to kick in and you know, I was in those first, in that first few months of getting out, I was also
Like I was, what they call a partial deployer. So I came home early from my deployment because my end of enlistment date was during the deployment. And so within, within a few weeks, I was in Afghanistan one day, a few weeks later I'm home for good and most of my unit is still over there and there was some survivor's guilt and like some, some strong.
feelings associated with that too. So that certainly played into probably my, like, the intensity of the observations that I was making at that time.
Rob Pintwala (16:16.633)
Yeah. And, was it your choice to start counseling at that time? Was it put right in front of you as an option or like
Was there any sort of, like a big kind of event or anything that kind of made you start that?
Christopher Brown (16:26.559)
Christopher Brown (16:31.274)
Yeah, it's kind of embarrassing to talk about, but there was an incident. My wife and I were staying at my parents' house in preparation to move back and finish up her last year in school. And we were like, all of our stuff was packed. We were going to move. I think it was like the day before we moved to where we were going. I had a friend, we had a friend of mine over.
a long childhood friend and we were drinking and I ended up having this sort of blackout switch that happened and I beat him up pretty badly. It was a pretty embarrassing night. But that next week, like yeah, because we moved, so we moved up the day after that happened and then my dad came over a few days later.
And he had a conversation with me about when he was in the Navy, and an incident where he got into a fight with a friend of his. And he had made this comment, like, I went and talked to somebody about my anger. And that was his way of saying, like, I saw a counselor and they helped me. And so then he, and so he followed it up with like, you know, I want to encourage you to do that too.
And so then, like within a couple of days, I did some research and found out there was a VA clinic, like 10 minutes from me, that specializes in PTSD therapy. And I was like, you know, I called him and I was like, you know, I think I might have PTSD. I don't know. I should probably talk to someone though. And the guy, God bless him, he met me, I think it was on Veterans Day, like the office would normally have been closed. But he...
Rob Pintwala (18:00.186)
Rob Pintwala (18:28.952)
Christopher Brown (18:29.686)
He decided to go in and meet me. And I ended up working with him for a good year and a half, two years. And, you know, an interesting story. We might get to it later, but I also ended up working with him as a therapist, you know, a few years after that, more like peers, as a colleague. So it was really kind of neat being able to, you know, have that strong history there. But the office I was in, I don't know if this is getting too far ahead of things, but there was a strong emphasis in the culture at the time of that part of the VA around peer support. This counselor was a veteran too, and all of the counseling staff were veterans there, did my healing and did my schooling. They were excited to hire me as a veteran who's kind of been down that road too and could help other people find that healing as well. So it was really awesome, just a safe place and kind of just what I needed at that stage in my life.
Rob Pintwala (19:46.285)
Yeah, that sounds great. It also strikes me that still was all on you to kind of seek that out. And I mean, it's great that you knew where to look, right? I'm curious about part of your healing process, like, we don't have to get too much into the details if you don't want to, but I'm curious, like, you know, they say that healing is not often linear and, you know, a year and a half you were there. And I'm curious, like, what that looked like, if that was just, you know, slowly learning what you'd been through or if there was a certain, like, approach or...
Christopher Brown (20:34.42)
Rob Pintwala (20:35.651)
something that really worked for you or like, was there any kind of epiphanies or anything like that? Yeah, I'm curious.
Christopher Brown (20:39.639)
Christopher Brown (20:43.39)
Well, this therapist did EMDR and I did a lot of EMDR with him. And I think the one thing that sticks out now as being really profound, kind of like driving home the point that this is the path I need to be on. I was in that first year or two, I was having panic attacks at school when I was in college and they all seem to be in the same classroom. And I remember one day, like it was, I had like a literal flashback of a fireball and it, for a brief second, it looked like the whole classroom was being consumed by a fireball. And my nervous system just went into this.
panic state and I had to leave, I went home, I had to lay on the couch for the rest of the day. And that next week, or at my next session, we did EMDR on the suicide bombing that I was in. And the therapist, while doing EMDR, kind of left and right eye movement, really bringing up vivid parts of the memory, asked me to kind of slow down time on just the moments right after the blast. And in that moment, I had this feeling like I noticed that change of air pressure that happens in an explosion. And I, and I, it just clicked instantly. Like this is the same shift in air pressure that happens in that classroom at school whenever the AC unit turns on.
And this, like, I realized, I put it together and I realized like the AC unit was triggering this, these symptoms that I was dealing with. And, you know, we kept going with processing that event and kind of cleared that event enough to, and so it was more manageable. And I, like, I've still had some minor panic attacks since, but I've never, I've never experienced another legit flashback like that.
Rob Pintwala (22:46.786)
Christopher Brown (23:08.106)
ever since doing that EMDR session. And so for me, like that's the one example from EMDR that really sticks out. But I did EMDR on several different things. And talking about how therapy is not necessarily linear, it wasn't until probably like three years after I finished therapy and I was kind of just. I was doing my own thing with the nonprofit that I had started. And one night, I was kind of in that state between wakefulness and sleep. And I had this really vivid flash in my memory of like, after that explosion, there was a big gunfight that had happened. And there was part of it that I had just sort of blacked out from like, that memory was just blank in my mind but it came back like three years after. And I wasn't in therapy at the time, but it was the moment that I was shot through the leg. And it's like my brain maybe knew I wasn't ready for that until this time three years after therapy even. And so by then I had enough kind of skills and resources to be able to… deal with that in a healthy way. But it was, that was, I think, a good example of how this healing, it just, it's a lifelong thing. I mean, there's still things to this day that I have to kind of pause and reflect on and work through on my own. And that'll probably be the case until I die. And I'm okay with that. Like I know how now, right? I teach that.
One of the things I was saying early on when I was becoming a therapist is like, I teach the things every day that I need to remember the most, right? And I, I wish I could claim that as my own original thought, but I actually heard that from a sponsor one, one time that was in one of our groups, our therapy groups. Um, but it resonated so much that I've, I've used it ever since.
Rob Pintwala (25:31.454)
I love that.
Christopher Brown (25:32.261)
I feel like I got on a tangent there. What was the original question?
Rob Pintwala (25:34.559)
No, no, that was, no, that was, thank you for sharing that. I'd love to provide a little bit more context for those listening. And I know you, I know you practice this now, but EMDR and that being a modality for how you treat or help people reframe trauma and PTSD and I'd love to hear
Christopher Brown (25:45.41)
Rob Pintwala (26:01.135)
Uh, you've obviously had the patient client experience and now you're the practitioner on the other side. So, uh, I know EMDR has gotten a lot more popular over the last little while too. So I'd love to hear you maybe explain what it does.
Christopher Brown (26:06.318)
Christopher Brown (26:16.662)
Yeah, of course. So EMDR, it's an acronym, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. And this has been around since 89, 90, early 1990s is when they started kind of developing this. And it's been pretty heavily researched since then proven to be effective in one of the top tier kinds of treatment modalities especially for PTSD, but a lot of therapists have adapted the original protocol for other kinds of niche mental health areas. But what the research that I've looked at has shown is there's two things happening in the brain at the same time when we have this left and right, they call it bilateral stimulation. So eye movements left and right. There are certain EMDR tools where we can have paddles in your hands that go left to right or beepers, you know, headphones that'll beep left and right. When I, you know, when I was seeing clients in person, I had a machine that did all three at the same time, just like really optimize that bilateral left and right, but what's happening in the brain with this bilateral stimulation is two things. So.
First is it activates the hippocampus, which is where we have our memory. And so we're able to see more vivid memories that we're focused on. And at the same time, there's kind of a slight, not entirely, but like a slight suppression of the amygdala, which is our fight or flight response. And so like you can look real close at a difficult memory without being completely overwhelmed by it.
And as you can imagine, that sets the stage for a brain state that's really ripe for healing. A common analogy that people use is REM, like rapid eye movement, stage of sleep. And so the assumption or the theory was when the eyes are moving like this, the brain is able to efficiently process information.
Christopher Brown (28:45.134)
And, you know, if you think about it, like REM sleep, it kind of helps us sort of defrag, clear out and optimize for the next day kind of a thing. Like that's what's going on when we're sleeping. Um, and so similarly, like when we have, uh, when we're focused on a target memory with, with eye movement, with EMDR, we can efficiently process information. And that includes like physical sensations that are associated with trauma, emotions that are associated with trauma, kind of all the above really. But it is a very efficient tool. And like the reason I picked it, besides the fact that I benefited so much from it, is out of the other tools that exist, specifically for PTSD and trauma, it requires the least amount of homework.
for the client. And from my experience, the least amount of homework tends to lead to the highest amount of like retention, like continuing through to the end of therapy. Because a lot of times clients will just get burned out on homework and it's like, re-triggering all sorts of stuff and it can be very problematic.
So it was a natural fit for me and my style and the way that I think about therapy and how it should go. And so I, yeah, I use, oh, go ahead.
Rob Pintwala (30:19.423)
Yeah, yeah. That sounds, it just sounds incredible. I mean, I have friends that I've, I've never done EMDR. I think I've done brain spotting myself, which I know may have some similar principles, um, but I have some friends that have really benefited from EMDR. Um, I did want to ask more about it. In my experience, uh, running my company for a session and speaking with many, many people seeking therapy for some trauma related.
Christopher Brown (30:30.403)
Rob Pintwala (30:49.955)
issues, challenges. I think a big part of, and these might not be severe PTSD cases, but for people who know that something in their past is traumatic, a big reason for people not to seek out the help is because they think they need to kind of re-face it, right? It's really painful to relive.
Right? And I think what you were saying about the act of EMDR, making that a little bit more accessible, but I was also curious about, you know, when people seek out EMDR, it's like, oh, I'm just gonna go and like kind of get right into that like trauma spot and you know, boom, look a few directions and it'll be done. Like, you know, to me, that's maybe how it can be framed and sold, but like, I'm curious what your experience is like around the comfort level of opening up, like if people...
Christopher Brown (31:17.795)
Rob Pintwala (31:46.851)
are afraid to relive that trauma. What does it look like from the start of seeking therapy to actually maybe starting the EMDR? And in your experience, it sounded like as more memories and more sensations would come up, you would address them with the EMDR. It sounds like over a period of time, right?
Christopher Brown (32:09.642)
Yeah, so that's a great question. And there's a lot that I want to address there. But just to kind of paint a picture of ideally a new client getting through EMDR, kind of what that looks like, what it ought to look like.
First thing is to develop stabilization. And that would include like grounding techniques, coping strategies, like assessing like, what are the things that you do that you know can help you manage distress. And making sure that like, you know, I often am teaching clients several different tools that they can experiment with and find the ones that work for them.
and allow some time to play out for them to develop a sense of confidence or competency in their ability to use tools when they're feeling distressed. Because EMDR can be, you know, it can bring up distressing feelings. And before we do that, you know, I think it's, I think it's ethical that before we do that, we know that you can manage that distress beforehand. And so like that...
That's a big part of the beginning stages of EMDR therapy is the preparation before you actually do the EMDR. And then once it's kind of starting to look like, you know, the client is feeling confident in their ability to use these techniques, then the next part of the preparation is to develop a list of potential traumas. You know, things like the most five to ten, like...
five to 10 most significant things that have happened to you in your life that may have led to this sort of nervous system adaptation that trauma can create. And then once we have that list, we kind of rate each thing on that list, zero to 10, where zero is no big deal, 10 is the worst thing you could imagine, to kind of get a baseline sense of like, how is this person's story and these memories? And like, how is it affecting them when they think about it?
Christopher Brown (34:26.166)
And once we have that list, then we kind of get strategic about, you know, where would we want to start? And sometimes there is an obvious theme that pops up. Like, you know, maybe, maybe there's like a theme around abuse or neglect or safety, uh, or theme around like responsibility. Like I did something wrong that I'm feeling guilty about related to trauma. Um, you know, if it was, if it was like,
When I was at the VA, there was usually military stuff and then childhood stuff. And those were kind of clearly two different themes, but you know, the trauma, there were some, some links between the two. And so we would kind of get clear on the themes and then we would, we, you know, depending on the client and their comfort level, you know, the, the conventional wisdom of EMDR is if you go to the first or the worst, you're going to have the biggest. You know, bang for the buck, like the most positive outcomes as a result of that. However, you know, this is kind of a weird thing that we ask people to do and often feels uncomfortable just thinking about. So a way to sort of ease into that might be let's sort of just pick something that's in the middle, like a five or six. It's not the worst thing, but it's still on the list. It's significant. So we'll start there so you can have some experience kind of taking that crawl, walk, run approach. And because it's on the list, like the EMDR works, you'll notice like there's been some positive shifting in how you're holding onto that memory. And that tends to lead to some more kind of confidence in the process and doing the harder work after. And so, you know, you had observed, you know, it kind of seems like you might do EMDR for a while as stuff comes up because
And that's true because sometimes what somebody's like eight, nine or 10 is today, if you clear that out, that might make room for something else to kind of fill its place. And you know, they say like in nature, whenever there's a vacuum created, something always will come in and fill its place. And for some clients, it can kind of feel like whack-a-mole for a little while. It's like, you know, this memory that I've had suppressed for so long.
Christopher Brown (36:51.682)
Come up now, okay, I'm gonna deal with that. So like that can be, and that's definitely more common with really complex trauma situations where they've just got multiple traumas over the course of their life. For single incident traumas, you might only need to do EMDR a handful of times, like maybe even once, more likely probably at least two or three, and you might be you might be fine, you might be good to go, but I think most people have more trauma than that, at least the people that I end up seeing. So that was also long-winded, but I hope that answered the question.
Rob Pintwala (37:30.851)
Yeah. No, it was great. I think what I can pick up from just that explanation is that the way that you approach it is a way that will ideally get the therapy seeker comfortable with you as their practitioner. And
opening up in front of you and like, you're not judging any of these experiences. Maybe you don't even need them to vocalize them, right? Like they could just be happening in their own minds, which is interesting. And I also wanted to just point out and ask you the question. So, you know, you're a therapist who practices EMDR and I want to talk about the other stuff that you practice next.
Christopher Brown (38:02.478)
Rob Pintwala (38:18.439)
And you have been to three deployments in war zones. You've been in many gunfights and you got shot in the leg. At least that's what I know. I'm sure there's more, right? I think a lot of people think that if they don't have something like that, then it's not worth it, like they don't have drama. If.
Christopher Brown (38:29.134)
Christopher Brown (38:43.138)
Rob Pintwala (38:45.135)
Chris's trauma is pretty intense. I don't have anything like that. So EMDR is probably not for me because What do you think about that? You know the way of thinking?
Christopher Brown (38:48.334)
Christopher Brown (38:56.126)
Yeah, well I hear this sentiment all the time. And my response is always the same. You're not doing yourself any favors by comparing your experience to someone else's. Because even though I've been through stuff, I still have my legs. I've got friends that are missing legs. I can compare myself to other people too and use that as justification not to take care of myself. But I'm not doing myself any favors if I do that. And the same is true for anyone else. And so like this idea that like I have to be equal to or worse than that other person before I do anything to help myself, it's kind of like an avoidance trick that we do to ourselves. It's like rather than facing the hard thing, and like really doing the work that I need to do to heal, I'm just gonna tell myself I don't need it because they have it worse. And that's not helpful, ultimately.
Rob Pintwala (40:07.457)
Is it also maybe like avoidance, but also feeling that you might not even be worthy of help. Hmm. Um, well, thank you for that. And yeah, so I wanted to dive into the other big part of your
Christopher Brown (40:14.698)
Yeah, I mean that there certainly would be a layer of that too probably if you were to unpack it with somebody
Rob Pintwala (40:31.019)
Practical professional practice and anything you wanted to share personally around your experience using psychedelics and witnessing healing through the assistance of psychedelics in the you know therapeutic context and Yeah, just how did you how did you get so interested in the in this field and We'll just let you go from there
Christopher Brown (40:57.29)
Yeah, so it started back when I was a therapist at the VA, probably five years ago now. I had a couple of clients kind of just throughout the course of a year or so, unbeknownst to me, who had gone and done some form of psychedelic therapy. One of them was MDMA, one of them was psilocybin.
One of them was ayahuasca. And each time I was admittedly pretty skeptical because the traditional assumption, like the war on drugs mentality is like, that's just drug seeking behavior, right? So I was really skeptical, but I entertained it and I...
And I would kind of probe with a similar line of questioning that I would normally ask people after doing a bit of EMDR. And just to kind of see like how are, how are memories being, being felt now? What kind of emotions are there? What's their sort of perception and how are they thinking about things? Cause usually there's a shift that happens once you've done the deeper therapy work. And I was really kind of shocked to hear that.
from these vets who had done these psychedelic experiences, the same type of answers I would have expected from somebody that had done quite a bit of EMDR. And so that really piqued my interest. And I started doing some reading. I read that famous book by Michael Pollan. I think it's called, How to Change Your Mind. He dives into research and history. And I realized like,
Rob Pintwala (42:46.782)
Christopher Brown (42:51.97)
There's a lot, there's been a lot here all along since the early 1900s. And there's kind of this, Michael Pollan called it a renaissance, I think, like a revitalization of research and interest in the therapeutic elements that exist with psychedelics. And so a year or two passed and I saw this opportunity come up.
The Bronx VA had gotten funding and partnered with MAPS, the entity that's been doing all the MDMA assisted therapy research, and they were offering free training for VA and Department of Defense therapists. And I was like, yes, I wanna do that. It was a 100 hour training, a week long, plus a bunch of online stuff.
And I really, like it showed what goes on with the MDMA assisted therapy, but it also had just a ton of really good knowledge around psychedelic therapy in general and the kind of approaches people take. And after that, I was kind of sold and I really wanted to be able to start doing it. But within the VA,
I was kind of looking for signs of, you know, what's the potential there. And I wasn't seeing a lot. And so, you know, that plus multitude of other factors led me to deciding it's time to leave and start my own practice. And while I was starting my own practice, I was doing some research on, you know, like, given that this is a controlled substance, these are controlled substances, unless we're talking about ketamine.
Um, like how are therapists navigating that? And I came across this paper talking about harm reduction and integration therapy, which kind of gives really clear guidelines on what licensed therapists can and can't do regarding psychedelic therapy work. And I, I kind of use that to inform my approach. And so.
Christopher Brown (45:17.802)
When we're talking about psychedelic assisted therapy, there's three phases. There's the preparation phase, so kind of understanding what this drug is, what are these experiences meant to be like, kind of setting some intentions that you might wanna focus on or work on with the assistance of the substance. And then there's the experiential phase, which is where you would actually ingest
the substance and go on some kind of a psychedelic journey and have that therapeutic experience. And then there's the integration phase. And so the experiential phase with the controlled substance, I don't have anything to do with that. My work is focused on the preparation and the integration side through that harm reduction lens, kind of acknowledging that people are gonna...
People are smart enough to see what's going on in the world. They're gonna have their own interests. They're probably gonna pursue this stuff anyway. So at least, be willing to have a conversation about it and encourage healthy, safe, legal options and leverage the impacts toward their therapeutic goals. One of the things I learned in doing the research and taking that course,
the MDMA assisted therapy courses, these, whether it's MDMA or the psilocybin trials, these trials that we're reading about in the news with all these really great outcomes, they're using protocols that include three to five times more therapy, this like traditional therapy sessions than sessions with the drugs themselves. And so like there's this,
Rob Pintwala (47:10.514)
I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to do that. I'm
Christopher Brown (47:12.002)
huge element of just therapy. Like the type of therapy that I do, that most therapists do, they're doing that before, during, and after the actual psychedelic journey days. And so there's a lot of support that therapists can do toward that end without being involved in the controlled substance stuff at all.
And so like for me with the way things are right now, like I'm glad to be able to contribute in that way. And I'm hoping that like, and I'm seeing every week, it seems like there's another state that's introduced something in their house bills to decriminalize or recognize for therapeutic purposes. So like I see that there's probably gonna come a day where the...
The experiential phase will also become a legal option for therapists to participate in. But I also like the way that things are going right now with my practice, like, I don't even know if I wanna do that. Like, I kinda like the type of the model that I have where, you know, I'm seeing clients kinda hourly type sessions, you know, a big consideration with the experiential stuff is.
You know, these are four or five, like eight hour sessions with one client. Uh, so it kind of like for a private practice person, it would fundamentally change the way you do your work. Uh, and I don't, I don't really know if that's something I want to do. And I, cause I know that like, there are a lot of people who are really excited about the experiential stuff anyway.
Rob Pintwala (48:41.111)
Christopher Brown (49:00.866)
So why not just let them do that and I can continue to support clients after they've had that important journey. There's a lot of work to be done after just through therapy. And so that's kind of what I'm focused on.
Rob Pintwala (49:13.934)
Yeah. Oh, it's so, it's, I'm so interested in it myself and, um, thanks for sharing the framework there. And I'm curious for those folks who are already thinking about it, trying this. Um, I know it's illegal in most places in North America, but there's some spots that it's not. Um.
Christopher Brown (49:22.83)
Rob Pintwala (49:38.835)
I'm curious about your, I guess, guidance on the experiential phase. And, you know, for example, what I've learned pretty quickly looking at some of the research is all these trials and like best practices so far are to have like two practitioners, trustworthy, experienced people. So either sitting or guiding for you.
during the psychedelic experience, what would your kind of guidance be if someone was gonna do this regardless of... Got it.
Christopher Brown (50:15.83)
Yeah, so that's a tricky thing is I cannot offer too specific of guidance, but I can kind of just provide education, which is like what I would normally tell people is what you're describing, that kind of two-therapist model, that is most common in the FDA approved research that's been going on.
And so like that would be, and they're doing it because there's a lot of clinical reasons. There's also a lot of ethical reasons. You know, like we're talking about people that are in an altered ego, altered state of mind, altered state of consciousness and really susceptible to influence. And having two people in the room sort of helps check that.
There have been some horror stories that if you do the research you can read about. People who are not licensed are practicing unethically. But there's also this entire group of underground therapists that have been doing this kind of work for decades. And have, you know, their work has been...
Rob Pintwala (51:14.469)
Christopher Brown (51:42.894)
probably largely informed by the approach that's being taken in the research trials and the training, there's training that is coming out. This stuff isn't just coming out of thin air. Like there's been decades of people practicing underground and I don't coordinate or refer clients to any kind of underground therapist because that would be one of those things that kind of gets in the way of.
Rob Pintwala (52:10.628)
Yeah. No, I get, I get that. I get that. So I think that the short, the short of it is if people are curious about this, like definitely do the research. There are organizations like maps and
of ethics for licensure.
Christopher Brown (52:21.922)
Rob Pintwala (52:24.507)
There's several in Canada. There's definitely several in the U S, um, there's like schools in Colorado that teach this kind of stuff. Right. So there's good advice out there.
Christopher Brown (52:27.998)
Yeah. So, but...
Christopher Brown (52:32.53)
Yeah, but there's also groups, there're religious groups in the US that are exempt from these laws. And then there's groups, you know, in other countries where laws are different. And a lot of them, from what I understand, they take sort of like the ceremony type approach. And so it's not it's not really therapy.
Rob Pintwala (52:58.134)
Christopher Brown (53:01.842)
it's a healing ceremony that you're doing that's informed by, you know, generations of Indigenous practice over the eons. And there's therapeutic stuff happening in that context too. So that's why it's like, whenever I'm talking to people about this, it's like, first read, understand what all is going on in this space, understand like...
What are the options? What are the safe, ethical, legal routes that you could consider? And then decide what you're gonna do. What I can focus on with you is, what's the intention that you might wanna have going into that type of experience? Like, how do we take what your stated treatment goal is and leverage that experience if you're gonna pursue it in a way that will allow us to like...
Rob Pintwala (53:39.77)
Christopher Brown (53:58.486)
get to that point once it comes to doing the integration work later on. So like, I'm just a piece in that puzzle and your job is to do your research and make a decision that's right for you.
Rob Pintwala (54:02.458)
Rob Pintwala (54:12.767)
Yeah. Um, yeah, I'd love to, I'd love to just kind of close this conversation out around some of the promise that you see in this. Form of healing and medicine and like, maybe, you know, what can happen if you go in with the, you know, in good set of intentions and the right support and the right integration. Why is this so exciting for you to be a part of?
Christopher Brown (54:23.95)
Christopher Brown (54:41.697)
Well, I think there's a few ways I could go at that question. I mean, as an EMDR therapist, I'm really excited about the kind of marriage between the two. Because with psychedelics, you know, what some of the research has shown is that it creates that window of neuroplasticity in the brain where the brain is going to be more malleable, more able to kind of shift patterns and adjust patterns to be more adaptive and healthy.
And if you can pair that with some really well-thought-out EMDR work, I mean, there's a lot. I'm really excited about that potential, just that alone. But you know, for some people, the psychedelic journey is not pleasant. And there've been occasions where it's like...
in its own right been traumatic. And so EMDR could be used theoretically to help process a traumatic psychedelic experience. That could be part of the integration work that happens. But if there's a good outcome or an insightful or productive outcome from a psychedelic journey that says, it kind of shines a spotlight on an area in your past that you need to address and resolve.
EMDR integration works toward that and can be super powerful and effective. Some people show up and like have no idea what they need to work on, what they need to focus on. And EMDR could be used as sort of an exploratory tool to help identify what's underneath that needs to be addressed. And that might inform how somebody would set their intention before they do some kind of psychedelic experience.
Christopher Brown (56:42.242)
There's a lot of different applications that I'm seeing that could really help like interplay between the two. And as an EMDR therapist kind of first and foremost, that's what I'm most excited about.
Rob Pintwala (56:58.991)
I love that. I'd love to just, you know, add to that question and you know, get, get from you firsthand, like why, why are you still a therapist? You know, what, what sort of, you know, what sort of things are you getting out of this work, regardless of what modality, um, you know.
Christopher Brown (57:19.99)
Mm-hmm. Yeah. Well, yeah, I mean, this question of why, I think it's an important one. And I often don't always have it in the forefront, but whenever I bring it back up, it helps me realign to kind of that North Star. And really, it comes down to just being able to participate.
in healing the suffering that I see all over the place. You know, if I can work on my own suffering and support others to do the same, you know, even if it's just me and one other person that I help, like now there's two people in the world that are trying to do something to address the suffering that exists. But if I can kind of amplify that,
And that's why I'm really trying to bring other therapists into this kind of awareness and the type of work that I'm doing is like I want to optimize that healing potential as much as I can knowing that I'm not here to save the world myself. Like that's impossible. But if I can equip other people with the skills and the tools to help address suffering and to help individuals.
heal, then that gives me hope. Because there's a lot of things, if you look in the news right now, that it's hard to be hopeful for if you just get sucked into that. But every day I'm working with clients, I'm seeing people heal, I'm seeing people make those subtle shifts that they might need to make to change something about their life, to change something about their future.
to make it so they can feel more right with themselves and their relationships. And every time I get to see that, it gives me hope. So like, that's, for me, like that's a huge part of it. I don't know, I don't know where I would be if I didn't have that as something that I could kind of count on.
Rob Pintwala (59:38.059)
Yeah, I love that. I think it's beautiful. And I did want to just add one observation from my perspective to just about this field. And I've kind of worked on the periphery and five for about five years rather. I hear often that people
sometimes say that a lot of therapists have their own struggles or they're suffering from mental illness and that's why they become therapists or you know and to me that's a very like uneducated way of looking at it because hearing your story and just like even just witnessing you we've chatted once before this like the way that your nervous system appears to me to just you appear very regulated like you appear very calm to me
for someone that's been in multiple war zones. And I imagine that's not come without work. And I just think like, in my opinion, the people seeking healing and trying to alleviate their own suffering should work with folks like yourself who have done a shitload of work and really are, yeah, made it a vocation because
Christopher Brown (01:00:25.038)
Christopher Brown (01:00:32.65)
Yeah, a lot of work.
Rob Pintwala (01:00:54.159)
This is what you do and what you're passionate about. And it's like, yeah, you've suffered and yeah.
maybe you've had the PTSD diagnosis and maybe other diagnosis, does that make you not equipped to help others heal? I think that makes you more equipped. And I think that that's just like a misconception that bugs me because I think, you know, until you can see the transformation that happens in this type of work, no matter what it is, I think it's incredible. It's inspiring. And yeah, I just want to say thank you for coming on today.
Christopher Brown (01:01:24.942)
Rob Pintwala (01:01:25.615)
sharing the story and is there any kind of closing words or where can people find you or other practitioners find you and any messages just in general to close this out.
Christopher Brown (01:01:36.298)
Yeah, well, I really appreciate the opportunity. This has been awesome. And I mean, if people want to find me, they can go to my practice website, peak psychotherapy.co. The column was taken. Peak Psychotherapy.co. And there, I've got some resources for therapists also. I can only see clients in Washington state, but I'm able to help therapists throughout the country.
Um, so yeah, that'd be a good place to start. I'm also on LinkedIn, uh, be happy to connect with any, especially any therapists that are interested in this type of work, I'm trying to build a network of therapists that are, you know, exploring using, using psychedelic integration, harm reduction type work in what they already do. Um, cause you know, a lot of people, a lot of therapists don't realize it, but it's, it's not a big stretch.
from what you already do. It's just understanding how to have, you know, conversations around this specific topic. So yeah, that's part of what I'm trying to build is a network of therapists that can kind of support each other while they're exploring that. But yeah, outside of that, I mean, I just really appreciate you having me on. This has been awesome. Thanks.
Rob Pintwala (01:03:00.211)
Awesome, Chris. Yeah, I know it's a super interesting conversation. And I'm sure we'll chat again. And there'll be more content from this podcast about this type of healing and this type of work because it's really exciting and it's hard to ignore. So thanks, Chris. Have a great rest of your day.
Christopher Brown (01:03:12.566)
Yeah, hope so. Yeah, you too. Thanks for reading.
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