- Ketamine-assisted therapy has been shown in some studies to help in the treatment of depression.
- Now it is used in couples therapy, and some find it saves their relationships.
- Here’s a look at the modality from a therapist who practices it and couples who have tried it.
As a couples therapist, I encourage clients to seek help when frustrations are fresh and have not yet turned into resentment – or even worse, numbness. But many have struggled to seek help for relationship issues during the pandemic, with the shift to virtual appointments with doctors and a lack of privacy and limited space at home. The cumulative stress of managing life during this time, coupled with the ongoing challenges of everyday life, has left many couples hanging by a thread.
Due to the additional stressors people face, they also need extra help. Enter ketamine-assisted couples therapy, an alternative approach combining small doses of ketamine with couples therapy.
So what is ketamine and how can it work for couples?
An anesthetic developed in 1961, ketamine was found to have antidepressant qualities when given to people with severe depression, often bringing them out of a suicidal state within hours. It is the only psychedelic that has been approved by the FDA to treat depression. But it’s not a silver bullet; people can have variable responses and often require multiple treatments.
Ketamine-assisted psychotherapy is a promising way for couples to explore the benefits of this drug. Clinicians offering this treatment must undergo advanced training and learn to work in an undirected approach. Psychotherapists partner with a prescribing physician to have their patients evaluated for ketamine therapy.
Ketamine therapy lasts three hours and clients are not allowed to drive after a session due to the relaxing effects of the drug. It is usually taken via a lozenge, although other routes of administration include IV, intranasal, and intramuscular injections. Results vary by individual and positive effects may diminish over time. A complete treatment can take between five and 20 sessions.
During a session, both partners receive a low dose of ketamine and enter an altered state of consciousness. For the next hour, they experience a relaxed and more vulnerable state and are able to share and receive feedback more openly. In the days following their ketamine session, they also benefit from increased neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to create new connections and pathways – making it easier to form new relationship habits. Additionally, the anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects of the drug often last for weeks or months.
“We were able to fix some things that we hadn’t done in over a decade”
Victor G. and his wife, Maggie W., decided to try ketamine-assisted couples therapy after they both noticed positive changes in Victor’s ability to tolerate stress when he tried it for pregnancy. depression. “I was blasting my kids, especially at homework time, and felt terrible afterwards,” Victor said. “After the first session it really stopped and went away, and I noticed a marked difference in anxiety and depression. It gave me a little more space.” Victor continued the treatments intermittently for eight months to maintain the change in mood.
He’s not the only one noticing this change. In studies using ketamine for treatment-resistant depression, more than 70% of people with suicidal ideation received treatment and 30% reported remission of depression for some time. If it works for individuals, it seemed logical that it could also work for couples.
Maggie described their first session. “My intention was to have a deeper connection with Victor,” she said. “The first session was about as deep as it gets. You kind of go to where you need to go, even if you don’t know you need to go. We were able to work on some things that we didn’t. hadn’t in more than a decade and surpassed them.”
They both noticed a significant change after their first couple ketamine session and continued to do six spaced sessions over the next 18 months. Victor thinks it saved their marriage. “It allowed us to experience things that were too painful to experience, but without pain and without judgment. It took us away from the abyss and gave us something to work towards and look forward to. We felt safer to do the heavy lifting and the hard work that needed to be done,” he said.
Maggie agreed. “It was almost like opening up a part of ourselves that we never show anyone, where we’ve somehow let go of all those defenses,” she said.
Ketamine gives couples a vision of what a better relationship can look like, but there’s still work to be done
Ketamine has dissociative qualities and can provide a break in couples’ reactive communication. Jayne Gumpel, a New York-based therapist, offers ketamine-assisted retreats for couples in a highly structured, medically supervised setting in the Catskill Mountains through her company, Relationship Resources. She combines ketamine with elements of mindfulness in a retreat setting supervised by doctors and psychotherapists. Couples have two ketamine-assisted trips, as well as group sharing, during the retreat weekend and participate in activities such as intimacy workshops and bonfires.
“A relational low dose of ketamine helps create distance from our usual instinctive response,” Gumpel said. “Partners become more willing to engage in difficult conversations because they feel better about themselves and have access to more empathy.”
She tells Insider that when facilitating ketamine-assisted therapy in her private practice, she sees her clients soften their defenses and connect with each other with more compassion. “I see partners reconnect with the feelings they had when they fell in love,” she said.
“After taking a doctor-prescribed ketamine lozenge, sharing hurts and upsets becomes easier,” Gumpel said. “Your normal, often reactive, reaction when hurt can be to withdraw or explode. With ketamine, you have increased access to joy, compassion for each other, and your relationship. “
With the new perspective in mind and heart, Gumpel leads partners to create a shared vision for a more fulfilling relationship in the future through a common values identification exercise.
Randy and Allison J. attended one of Gumpel’s retreats. “We’ve tried therapy over the years and felt stuck,” Randy said. “I did some research and found ketamine-assisted couples therapy and we thought it would be good to try and see if we could get something different out of it.”
Ketamine-assisted couples therapy is most effective when done over a period of six to eight months, with sessions mixed in with traditional couples therapy. Ketamine sessions can help couples uncover the root causes of discord and show a kind of trailer for what a better relationship might look like, but they have to keep doing the work or they’ll fall back into the old ones. diagrams.
“We noticed that we were more relaxed and understanding in the first two weeks,” Randy said. “It was an incredibly positive experience. It’s not like taking Advil where you don’t really notice it, except for less pain. There are things that you experience in the moment and also afterwards. You definitely still have to do the job. It gave us a better foundation and a clearer picture of how to do it. It gave us a fresh start. He and Allison now periodically engage in ketamine-assisted couples therapy to overcome the hard times.
Drugs like ketamine offer innovative ways to fix old problems, but they’re not a panacea. For some couples, however, ketamine provides a much-needed reset after years of unprecedented stress.