Psychedelic assisted psychotherapy interest group for Australian Social Workers

Psychedelic assisted psychotherapy interest group for Australian Social Workers

15 August 2022
Signatures: 465Next goal: 500
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Why this petition matters

Social workers work with Australians in the treatment of complex mental health disorders. A social worker should be well informed on the evidence base on their decisions and be able to present all options of treatment available to service users; this method of practice ensures choice, empowerment, respect and dignity. The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) is the professional representative body of social workers in Australia which has contributed immensely towards the social work profession and other professional multidisciplinary areas that seek to empower individual wellbeing and for social justice. AASW, creates a concrete platform to:

  • Advance a strong identity for the social work profession
  • Foster a well-trained and highly skilled social work profession
  • Be a strong voice for social workers and social justice.

Recently, AASW denied a request to convene a professional, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy interest group that allows social workers to convene and discuss psychedelic science and research.

The AASW has cited concerns that the research base for psychedelics remains preliminary, and therefore any discussions hosted by the AASW could be perceived as endorsing the use of illegal psychedelic drugs. We acknowledge the AASW’s concerns but wholeheartedly put forward the proposition that discourse between professionals on emerging psychedelic science and research does not equate to its endorsement; but rather, contributes to an ecology of professionals thinking critically about the results of clinical trials and the relevance and implications for service-users with whom they engage. Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy interest groups (amongst other professional bodies and associations) are paramount in creating a platform for discussion that:

  • Reviews the scientific efficacy of clinical trials in the treatment of various disorders and mental health.
  • Creates a discourse about key ethical considerations in harm minimisation discussions with service-users using psychedelics in the community. 
  • Ensures social workers are aware of emerging research and able to neutrally present evidence to clients when asked, including key risks and contraindications relevant to that service user. 
  • Where relevant, inform the service user of any legal access pathways to psychedelic medicine and their eligibility for treatment. 
  • Builds awareness and consideration of cultural, spiritual, and religious ritualistic and ceremonial psychedelic use to contribute to an anti-colonial attitude to psychedelic medicine; acknowledging that Indigenous groups globally (historically and currently) use these medicines in the community. 

It is vital that social workers are prepared to engage in harm minimisation discussions with service-users who use psychedelics illegally out in the community. It is equally vital that social workers are aware that within Australia, the use of ketamine and/or esketamine for treatment-resistant depression is legal – that is to say, that social workers have been denied an opportunity for professional discourse on the basis that research is still preliminary despite the fact that a form of psychedelic-assisted therapy (ketamine assisted therapy) is currently in use for one of the most prevalent and pervasive mental illnesses in the country “depression”. According to the Pulse of the Nation survey (published on 10 July 2021), feeling depressed or anxious most/all of the time continues to be a significant health issue encountered day-to-day by 1 in 5 Australians. 

The Australian Association of Psychologists Inc. (AAPi) has already convened a psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy interest group. The AAPi emphasised the importance of a multi-disciplinary input in the transition towards safe, ethical and effective treatment and therapy protocols that will become part of the recognised mental health options for the Australian community. We hope that social workers will be afforded the same opportunity to contribute to this multi-disciplinary discussion on safe and ethical treatment for mental health. 

We draw attention to the following statement made by the AAPi to the AASW: 

Our AAPi interest group is not an endorsement of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. Along with other practitioner member organisations, we are waiting on further research outcomes and are interested to see over 10 Australian trials now underway following on from the international research already commenced or completed. We believe that an interest group is a place for members to build their knowledge and skills in preparation for what is to come and to understand how psychedelic-informed harm minimisation can be helpful in their current work settings.

We call upon: 

  • all professionals who work directly or indirectly in the health sector
  • carers of those suffering from psychological distress
  • students who are studying and stepping into the health sector 
  • members of the psychedelic community 
  • people who have benefited from psychedelic therapy

to consider signing this petition to encourage robust, critical and exploratory discussions among social workers on psychedelic research and science and medicine, to allow us to inform any people engaging with a service where we are employed of their options, eligibility and access pathways for mental health treatment. Where this science is still emerging, we reiterate that we do not endorse any illegal substances, although acknowledge that every individual should have the freedom to be aware of all emerging science, so they remain informed about developments as they arise. 

We bring this call to action forward in the hopes that any Australian who has suffered or continues to suffer, and who is not aware of their treatment options, has the confidence that social workers are informed enough to discuss these options with them. We also hope that this interest group will raise awareness of any emerging and current legal psychedelic-assisted therapies of relevance to the social work profession, so as not to unnecessarily prolong service-users access to treatment. 

If you are in support of a psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy interest group for social workers, please consider signing this petition to show your support for the initiative to the AASW. 

We thank you for taking the time to read our petition and hear our concerns. 


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Signatures: 465Next goal: 500
Support now