Dr Rosalind Watts is a clinical psychologist working with psychedelics as a tool to treat depression. Dr Watts builds tools and structures to foster connectedness after psychedelic experiences, the most recent of which is the community she’s created – ACER Integration, which supports collective healing and connection to nature. In this second part of our interview with her, she tells us about her vision for the future role of Psilocybin in our world and the year-long integration process she has created, based on the twelve trees of the Celtic Tree Calendar.
Dr Watts, do you see psilocybin becoming more accepted in the medical world?
I feel that psilocybin and other psychedelics do not fit well into the medical model, and although I am sure they will be adopted into this system, with varying success, I am most hopeful about the potential of psychedelics to alter the systems of care that we create in our communities.
Mental health is about belonging, connectedness and stewardship of the things we value. I don’t think these things will come through medical clinics, although medicalised psychedelic care, when done well, is probably part of that picture.
There will always be a place for psychiatry. Some people need medication and individualised medical care and support, and I am not suggesting that these should be replaced. It’s more that we need to bring new levels of support in to supplement the existing medicalised framework.
So many people could benefit from really good individual therapy, alongside being part of an integration community of some sort, and there is such a shortage of both.
We need to think up new ways to offer each other the support we all need in this difficult time of global crisis. I hope that medical psychedelics will be one part of a new chapter in which we recognise that the answers do not lie in the substances themselves, but in the empowered, welcoming and grounded community containers in which they, and many other therapeutic tools, are offered.
Dr Watts, with your 12-month ACER Integration Process, you work with the Celtic trees, each one having a unique teaching. Can you tell us why you chose the Celtic calendar as the mandala to work with? Why trees as a metaphor?
Trees have deep roots in the earth and their branches touch the sky. The roots and branches are connected by the trunk- the body of the tree. They are perfect metaphors for the process of connecting to ourselves on many levels. Using the body as the place where the suffering at our roots can become the connection to meaning at our branches.
The ACER Integration Community uses breathwork and visualisation tools to enable a journey of connection that takes place in this embodied way.
Trees are connected at the level of mycelium too. Deep in the earth underneath the forest floor, all the tree roots are connected and share resources and information so the whole forest can thrive together, in a connected way. That is what I want the ACER community to be for people, a place where each person can connect to themselves and each other so that we grow together over time.
The Celtic Tree Calendar provided the original inspiration. It was very exciting to learn that there was such a fascinating framework. It spoke to me immediately because of how much I have learned from nature, from amazing old wise trees which stand so rooted and anchored and keep growing even after surviving lightning strikes and storms.
Nature has been the biggest healer in my own life, much more powerful and important than any psychedelic experience: remembering that I too have seasons of winter and summer within me and that that is ok, and that I too sometimes lose all my leaves and have to wait patiently for the emptiness to shift as the new buds form.
This is how growth happens; it is a circle, not a straight line. These metaphors, and many more, have been so helpful for me and others in the ACER community.
You say you felt the need for guidance from ‘the ‘elders’, cut off as we are in our culture from a medicine healing tradition we may have once had. How do you find those elders and do you feel you are now becoming one of them?
I have been enjoying engaging with some of the elders of our own lands, who teach about coming back into interconnectedness with each other, and away from the age of individualism which has had such catastrophic consequences for ourselves, our communities and our natural ecosystems. This is a time for restoring ourselves to the rhythms and patterns of nature, slowing down, and taking time to explore the deeper layers of ourselves. Coming off the treadmill of a fast-paced consumer life that does not serve us well. Connecting with who we are, and why we are here.
This is a time for discovering who we are at our deepest edges, deep in that muddy earth, and exploring whether we might also have a spiritual connection, Can we experience something larger than ourselves, something sacred?
I have enjoyed working with Philip Carr-Gomm, who is one of the leaders of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I have hugely appreciated the work of Joanna Macy (The Work that Reconnects) and Patrisse Cullors (The Abolitionist’s Handbook). Mick Collins’ book The Restorative Spirit is hugely important. I think Bruce Parry’s film Tawai is also crucial viewing. So many more books I could recommend.
At the moment I feel able to be a connector – helping to guide people towards the wisdom of the elders that have helped me so much, but I am absolutely not an elder myself. When the ACER Integration community has been going for ten years, perhaps some of us might be edging towards having something to say ourselves. Until then we are focused on connecting people to each other, to the voices that can guide us through this difficult time and towards a different way of living that prioritises connectedness to our deeper selves, community, and the land.
How do you see your work developing in the next few years?
The ACER Integration community is now my sole focus. In the next few years, I hope to see graduates of the 12 tree cycle become facilitators in the online community and form local community groups. This is the element I find most important.
The idea that this concept, which is so rooted in community and collective healing, can grow in an organic way that is slow and purposeful, and reach as many people as possible, is really exciting.
Psilocybin for Depression: The ACE Model Manual by Dr Rosalind Watts, including visualisation scripts and diagrams, can be accessed for free by anyone here Be sure to check out Dr Watts’ website and follow her on Instagram & Twitter
Sign up to the Acer Integration Community here