Ecological Awakening and Psychedelics: An Interview with Dr. Brian Stafford, Part I of II

“Psychedelics and Depth Psychology: Treatment and Transformation in an Animated Cosmos” is a Graduate Certificate in Psychedelics and Depth Psychology that will be offered online by Pacifica Extension and International Studies over 13 weeks, with Brian Stafford being one of the instructors. The course will introduce essential topics in the current medical/psychiatric model of treatment and research as well as a deep dive into the indigenous history of these medicines, their cultural significance, and original worldview of the cosmos that challenges current Western societal perspectives. It will be held June 5, 2024 – August 28th, 2024. Register now! 

Angela Borda: You will be starting off the certificate with your lecture, “An Orienting Introduction to Psychedelics, and Similar Consciousness-shifting Medicines: History, Terminology, Perspectives, and The Current Moment.” That seems like it could be a book in and of itself. So let’s start with history. For most of us alive in the present day, we either became aware of psychedelics during the 60s or are aware of psychedelics through that initial lens of our parents’ or grandparents’ experiences. Do we need to distance ourselves from the notion of psychedelics as anti-establishment substances in order to move toward the potential uses of these substances in a therapeutic setting?

Brian Stafford: In the 60s, psychedelics went from a clinical research paradigm, widely used across North America and Europe, to being used by the CIA in an unfortunate, unethical, and illegal manner. And from there, they left the lab into American culture. Sometimes, when you take these substances they will help you break through some barriers in your psychology, your world view. These consciousness expanding experiences combined with what was happening in Vietnam led to a cultural revolution and then a strong reaction from the Federal government.

Most often these sacred medicines are very safe, except when they’re not. I think people need to know about that, what leads to an optimal experience of individual and cultural transformation. That’s the purpose of the certificate, to start at the beginning of when western consciousness came into contact with these substances. Should we be worried about this if it will lead to cultural evolution? I think we need cultural revolution, especially in terms of our relationship to nature and sparking an ecological awakening.

The species is ripe for a new understanding of our place in our world, and more understanding of the depths of ourselves and how to live from that place, which is Pacifica’s forte. So in this certificate, we’re taking everyone on that journey.

Angela: Your professional life began as a psychiatrist and pediatrician, but you have moved toward eco-depth psychotherapy, Nature-Based Soul Initiation, and psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. That’s quite a character arc, as they say in fiction-writing class! But I think this would put you in a good position to teach not only about the medical aspect of taking these substances but the psychological benefits and healing that can come from them. How do you balance those two things?

Brian: It’s part of the rift of modern psychiatry that psyche has been left out of it. Modern psychiatry is often focused on symptoms of a damaged ego. There is an opportunity now  that a lot of psychiatrists and academics are realizing that psychiatry has had a partial view of what it means to be human. They are waking up to this crisis and realizing that what we’ve been doing isn’t working. These sacred medicines can heal conditions that psychiatry has had trouble treating, like treatment-resistant depression, especially psilocybin mushrooms that provide a shift of consciousness that can make depression decrease in combination with therapy. MDMA is also a breakthrough treatment for PTSD, which has been quite difficult to treat, especially developmental traumas, or moral injury in those who have come back from war. It’s quite stunning, the amount of healing that can occur in the midst of a session with MDMA, and the effects of these experiences continue beyond the session itself.

“Psychedelics and Depth Psychology: Treatment and Transformation in an Animated Cosmos” is a Graduate Certificate in Psychedelics and Depth Psychology that will be taught June 5, 2024 – August 28th, 2024. Register now! 


Angela Borda is a writer for Pacifica Graduate Institute, as well as the editor of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal. Her work has been published in Food & Home, Peregrine, Hurricanes & Swan Songs, Delirium Corridor, Still Arts Quarterly, Danse Macabre, and is forthcoming in The Tertiary Lodger and Running Wild Anthology of Stories, Vol. 5.


Dr. Brian Stafford is a licensed pediatrician, adult, adolescent, child, infant, cultural, and perinatal psychiatrist, having trained at the Tulane School of Medicine and School of Public Health, the University of Kentucky Triple Board Program, the University of Cape Town, and the Tulane Infant Institute. He practiced as an academic psychiatrist for 20 years at the Tulane School of Medicine and at Children’s Hospital Colorado where he was active in clinical work, research, education, and building systems of care. He was endowed as the inaugural Anschutz Family Chair in Early Childhood Psychiatry in 2011. Soon thereafter, he heeded what Joseph Campbell names “the call to adventure” and wandered away from academic psychiatry and retrained in Eco-depth psychotherapy and Nature-Based Soul Initiation Guiding at the Animas Valley Institute where he is now a Senior Guide, Trainer, Board Member, and Director of the Wild Mind and Eco-Awakening Training Program, a wholistic eco-depth psychotherapy training program. He completed his psychedelic training at the California Institute of Integral Studies / Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies joint Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy and Research Program. Brian resides in Ojai, California and teaches human development, psychopharmacology, and psychedelics at Pacifica Graduate Institute. He also guides vision fasts and other nature-based and soul-oriented programs around the world with the Animas Valley Institute, and facilitates psychedelic preparation, individual and ceremonial group journeying, and integration. He is also a writer of poetry, creative nonfiction, and essays, as well as over 50 academic articles, essays, and chapters on human development, eco-therapy, and psychedelic topics. He is completing his first book on eco-mystical experiences.