Psychedelics can make us highly vulnerable and susceptible to serious harm in the wrong hands. That’s why having ethical and educated facilitators is so important. Atira Tan explains what trauma-informed facilitation looks like, and why it matters.
Atira Tan is a trauma specialist and advocate for ethical plant medicine facilitation. In this interview, available in full below, Atira explains the benefits of trauma-informed facilitation and what everyone can do to help minimize the risks of causing trauma in plant medicine ceremonies.
Content Notice: This article and interview contain descriptions of sexual assault.
In her first ever plant medicine ceremony, Atira was sexually assaulted by her facilitator. The experience made her want to investigate how she could create safer spaces for plant medicine practices, and protect ceremony participants from the kind of assault that happened to her.
In addition to the importance of making sure that participants are protected from abusive facilitators, Atira also wanted to educate facilitators about the ways they could potentially re-traumatize survivors of trauma with a lack of awareness and empathy during ceremonies.
Considering that many ceremony participants suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD or other mental health struggles, it is likely that most are trying to navigate some form of trauma in their lives, and would benefit hugely from facilitators who are aware of this trauma, and of the risks of exacerbating it.
Upon learning more about the plant medicine world, Atira found many ceremonies that were lacking in safety measures, and had no way of supporting traumatized people through transformative experiences. She set about educating facilitators and providers about the duty they had to care for and protect their participants, and why it was important to learn about the impact of trauma.
Atira offers us some advice on what facilitators can do to become more trauma-informed. She recommends that facilitators educate themselves about how trauma affects the body, and how it can change the way we behave when we feel threatened or uncertain.
One simple thing that facilitators can do is to assume that all participants in a ceremony have experienced some form of trauma in their lives, and would benefit from a trauma-informed approach that acknowledges how trauma may influence a psychedelic experience.
Facilitators must work to ensure that their participants all have full autonomy during a ceremony. This means that participants should feel they always have a choice about every aspect of their experience – from dosage to the ceremonial techniques.
A good facilitator recognizes that their participant is an expert in their own body and experiences, and is able to make choices. An overly authoritarian facilitator is a sure-fire way of causing or revisiting trauma. An easy way of making sure your participants feel guided rather than forced is to try to ask questions rather than giving orders.
The potential damage from offering ceremonies without a trauma-informed education is serious. People can be seriously harmed by facilitators crossing participants’ boundaries, and Atira has seen participants leave a ceremony with worse trauma than they came with. In a psychedelic movement propelled by healing, this surely has to be our worst nightmare.
- What Trauma-Informed Facilitation is, why it is vital in plant medicine communities, and what the consequences are of not being trauma-informed
- In what ways being trauma-informed can make a world of difference in trauma resolution
- Three essential principles to being trauma-informed in ceremonies
About Atira Tan
Hailing from Singapore, Atira Tan, now based in Melbourne, Australia, has over 15 years’ experience healing trauma through yoga, mindfulness, art, and counseling. Atira has a Master’s Degree in Art Therapy from Latrobe University, Melbourne, she has appeared on TED X, is the founder of non-profits Art to Healing and the annual international Yogathon event, Yoga for Freedom.
Atira works extensively throughout Asia and Australia in various projects that are centered around healing and empowering women and girls who have been sexually abused and violated through the sex trafficking industry. From 2004 onwards, she has established numerous clinical art therapy and trauma recovery programs and has partnered with international organizations to bring art therapy, somatic therapies, yoga, and mindfulness to the refugee camps of Burma, the war zones of Cambodia, the brothels of Kathmandu, regions devastated by earthquakes in Nepal and to remote Aboriginal communities in Australia.
In addition to her non-profit work, Atira works as a clinician and clinical supervisor in Australia, teaches Transpersonal Art Therapy in the Asia Pacific region, holds retreats and teacher trainings globally, and serves as the head of our integration and yoga teacher at AYA Healing Retreats in Peru.
Where to Find Atira