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How Some Women Use Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy to Treat Postpartum Depression

For Sam’s first trip, she took a ketamine lozenge, put a mask over her eyes, and was instructed to relax and be open to whatever came up – images, memories, feelings. Unlike a traditional therapy session, she did not talk about her struggles. Instead, she was invited to observe whatever emerged during her journey.

“My therapist said I would leave my conscious mind and enter a transformational space of… ‘non-ordinary consciousness,'” Sam explains. “I was a little nervous, but I trusted him.”

When the ketamine kicked in, Sam says her body felt heavy and she slipped into what she describes as a “dream state”. She felt a little disoriented at first, until she remembered the words offered by her therapist and was able to settle deeper into the experience. She then remembers being greeted by a feeling she had never experienced: compassion for herself. On her journey, she also saw herself as a baby and connected to her own sense of innocence. “I remember saying I was lucky because I could mother myself.”

Similar insights can emerge in talk therapy, but it can take a long time because the human mind is trained to avoid thoughts and feelings that cause discomfort. With ketamine therapy, however, there can be an “ego dissolving” that allows those pent up feelings and memories to come to the surface without the mind getting stuck in reactivity, rumination, or judgement.

Sam’s self-critical thoughts paused during her journey, allowing her to create a new narrative about her motherly experience. “It showed me a new way of thinking about myself,” she says. “Instead of turning [in worry], I could listen to my intuition. I can’t even explain the freedom this change has given me.”

Some experts call this new perspective “new mind,” and it can be one of the immediate benefits of KAP. The idea is that when mothers take a break from their worries, obsessions and spirals of shame, they can see that it’s possible to think and feel differently.

How do I know if KAP is right for me?

When treating PPD, talk therapy, medication, and group support are always first-line treatments, as many studies show they are successful. However, for women with severe or recurrent PPD, ketamine is another medical tool, says Dr. Schultz.

And while plenty of research suggests that antidepressants can alleviate maternal depression, Dr. Schultz says they’re not right for everyone. Adverse side effects like drowsiness and weight gain can be difficult to tolerate. “The burden of side effects from ketamine is minimal and when it works, it tends to work quickly,” adds the psychiatrist. For this reason, it may be helpful for depressed mothers who have not found relief with therapy or medication alone.

Birth or childhood trauma often underlies maternal suffering. In these cases, KAP can help a new mother deal with her trauma by providing the space and distance needed to stop reliving frightening triggers.

Since ketamine is a Schedule III substance, mothers may understandably worry about becoming addicted to the drug. However, any psychotherapy work with ketamine is closely monitored by a prescribing physician or nurse practitioner. That said, KAP’s ability to treat PPD is still very new, so all mothers should consult their obstetrician or a mental health provider before making a decision.

How can I find a supplier?

If you’re considering KAP, it’s important to know that it requires specialized training and is only legally offered by mental health professionals who work alongside a doctor.

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