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Transformative Therapies: Exploring the Intersection of Psychedelics and Neuroplasticity

In this comprehensive episode of the Palm Harbor Local Podcast, we spoke with Melena Postolowski of Reconnected, LLC. in a deep exploration of counseling and psychedelic therapy. Starting with an overview of how these therapies are revolutionizing healing, we delve into the connections between therapy, relationships, and trauma, and the role of psychedelics in neuroplasticity and confidence-building.

The discussion progresses to the use of psychedelic-assisted therapy in treating trauma and enhancing brain plasticity, offering a professional perspective from a licensed therapist.

We conclude by examining the broad spectrum of potential benefits of psychedelic therapy, its future, and its role in mental health treatment. This episode is a must-listen for anyone interested in the cutting-edge intersection of psychology, therapy, and psychedelic research.

Listen to the podcast episode here!

On this week’s episode, my guest is Melena Postolowski. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with 13 years of experience and owner of Reconnected in Downtown Safety Harbor. In this episode talk about why Molina became a counselor whom therapy is good for. And we dive into how psychedelic-assisted therapy is helping people overcome past traumas and move on with their lives. Do me a favor and hit the subscribe button now.

So you can catch another episode. Let’s jump into it. Welcome back to the show or welcome to the show. Not back to the show. This is your first time on the on the podcast. I’m excited to kind of chat with you and learn more about your business and kind of your expertise. So welcome. 

Thank you for having me.

So why don’t we start with you why you became a counselor? Sure. Where did that journey start? 

I think most people get into the healing profession because they’ve been healers most of their lives. So thinking about being the moderator or the mediator and family of origin or being the caretaker of friends I think it starts pretty early for all of us. 

But wanting to help people grow heal and change believing in the power of mental wellness. That was the initial catalyst that got me into counseling. And that’s always been something that you’ve is always been something that you’ve wanted to do or pictured yourself doing? So I was a psychology major and undergrad and went to grad school and I’ve been a counselor for 13 years.

Crazy. That’s awesome. I know a lot of people myself my wife is on the other on your spectrum and it’s because she knew early on this is what I want to do. So it’s pretty cool to experience that. So I guess let’s talk about about your business and your practice. Your private practice is now reconnected and tell us a little bit about what you do there.

So Reconnected is located in downtown Safety Harbor. So I’m one block from Main Street’m actually in the back of Mojo Massage. So we have a whole healing suite available to the public. So she does massageacupunctureReiki sound bowls and then I’m kind of in the back of private space doing traditional talk therapy. 

So I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist I’m qualified to see individuals couples and families. So I have a mix in my client base I would say the majority of my clients are currently couples. And then individuals that come to see me are usually coming to talk about relationship issues. So that’s how people get in my door. 

So I do traditional talk therapy. But in the last year, I’ve added psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and I’m seeing a lot of clients benefit from that. So that’s why I’m excited. I’m excited to continue to grow and expand in my practice now. 

And we’ll touch on that in a little bit to dive more into the psychedelic stuff because that’s a new piece. But how did you get into families and couples and that sort of stuff? Has that always been the focus?

So when I went to grad school you could choose different tracks and I just gravitated towards the couple and family tracks. Some people do more of the diagnosis of mental health component some people do more of the school counseling.

And I think for I to know how much we’re affected either positively or negatively by the relationships we have in our life. And so I’ve always been drawn to that. There are a lot of therapists who don’t work with couples because there can be a lot of energy in the room and a lot going on. 

But I appreciate how multi-dimensional it is. Or oftentimes sometimes individual clients can be challenging for me because my partner was We could just ask them what they think about that or what they meant when they said that sort of thing.

So all of the moving parts and the different parts of the system are in the room. And I think it’s just a different way of getting at things that you might not be able to if it’s just the individual kind of with their siloed perspective.

So that’s cool. When you’re when someone is looking for a therapist what are some things to kind of look for do people come to you? And I guess they kind of interview you to make sure that you’re a good fit for them. And vice versa? How does that work?

Some people do a consultation call ahead of time to get a good feel. And that’s fine. I’m happy to do that other people are just ready to jump in or they read my bio or something about my website vibed with them they’ll find me that way as well. But  I think in general people find me because they want to work on relationship issues. And then through that might start going deeper and realize okay there is some trauma to process here or some other things going on. But in general, I’m kind of the relationship person and then we figure out what’s behind that what’s causing those concerns those issues that sort of thing.

Is there typically always something beyond just the relationship something deeper that that’s going on with each person?

Oftentimes, yes. So if we’re leaning into Western medicine, the most common diagnosis my clients have is complex which is more relational PTSD. So if you think about people growing up in a dysfunctional household maybe they’ve experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect that sort of thing. There’s a correlation between that and people having issues in relationships later in life.

So you don’t have to have complex trauma to have concerns in relationships. But oftentimes the more trauma there is the more difficult it’s going to be to have healthy relationships later in life. So there’s that correlation, not the necessity there.  

That makes sense. I guess what I want to ask you is who should seek therapy. At what point do you say? Or do you think everyone should be in some sort of therapy or a therapist or refer to that sort of thing? 

I think therapy is great for just about anybody myself included, I go to therapy regularly. I think that’s important. Oftentimes find that people come to therapy a little too late. So the relationship or example has been on the rocks for years and therapy ends up being the final can we fix it sort of thing.

And we realized you had just come in a year or two earlier things were starting to feel off and might have a much different result. Or it might be a lot easier to put the pieces back together. So I think my encouragement would be if you’re not sure maybe you feel you need additional support. That’s probably the time rather than let me wait until 

I’m dysregulated or my relationship is totally on the rocks. And then we need to fix it real quick. Because it’s a lot of work for both the client and the therapist. And you want to be able to get that repair in if you can before it’s too late.

That makes sense. Have you seen a trend and people being more accepting and open to therapy versus when you first started?

I think it’s generational as well. So our generation is a lot more open to mental wellness and there is a shame that’s moving away from getting mental health treatment. I think in older generations it’s been a lot quieter behind closed doors something’s wrong with you if you go to therapy I think more and more people are just realizing it’s another outlet for support.

It’s different than talking to a family member or a friend family and friends are great but maybe not the best resource for an objective standpoint or an unbiased opinion on what’s going on in your life or your relationship sort of thing. 

Because they may have family and friends who may have their struggles and battles and dealing with you.   And a lot of people come from families that aren’t the safest place to talk about emotions or maybe that’s where some of the trauma came from. And so those aren’t going to be the people to process that way. 

That makes sense. You mentioned something in one of the questions I asked you before coming on the show about confidence early on building building your business. And I think I was something confidence has been a challenge. I think there are a lot of other people that struggle with that as well.

So my question is how do you build confidence? How did you build confidence? 

For me, a lot of it has been moving away from perfectionism. So when I was younger I was very confused about what it means to be a professional here are my rigid boundaries. I can’t speak unless I know exactly all the bullet points I’m going to say and that sort of thing.

And just learning to meet myself with grace and compassion and realize I don’t have to be perfect to still be good at this. And I deserve a seat at the table regardless of age or experience in one particular area or that sort of thing.

Transformative Therapies: Exploring the Intersection of Psychedelics and Neuroplasticity

Is that a lot of trial and error?  How did you how did you How was that journey to get to that point?

Sure, I would say trial and error. I also think working on my healing as well. So wherever my negative internal criticism came from kind of combated that through my therapy example. So it’s been a process over time I don’t know if there was a definitive line in the sand.

I also think it comes with age and experience who I was out of grad school is different than who I am now  13 years into a counseling career.

So, I think for me it’s just been it’s kind of that same thing getting over nothing has to be not everything is gonna be perfect. Just doing it showing up. And I think you build confidence in showing up and trying things and failing learning that it’s okay to fail. And then you can get back and keep doing what you’re doing. 

I think the other thing I would add to is authenticity. So kind of moving away from that performative I have to show up as what I think other people are expecting and realizing especially in counseling but I think in your profession as well people that they and so it’s we either vibe and relate to each other or we don’t and if we don’t that’s okay maybe I’m just not the clinician for you.

So moving away from I have to be the best for everybody and more into the clients that are for me will find me and it’s nothing personal if it’s not the fit as is true for a lot of business interaction which is such a great space to be at as a business owner if you can be comfortable with that and calm.

I’ll find my people. So it makes it more fun too. So let’s talk about some of the psychedelic stuff and you mentioned neuroplasticity as well.  I guess   When did I guess the beginning of psychedelics when did it start to become studied? And where are they at now in that in that process?

It’s been on and off. And that’s been a lot to do with politics and regulation. But they started to do a lot of clinical exploration of psychedelics back in the 70sand things were halted.

But ketamine which is what we’ll get into today has been used for decades now as an anesthetic in hospitals. What they were finding as people would come out of anesthesia having these mental health breakthroughs are these emotional reactions.

That led to the curiosity of whether we use ketamine at a smaller dose of it be used for mental health treatment. And the answer is yes. So ketamine has been around for a long time just being used for something different.

All of the psychedelics have been around for a long time but are being used behind closed doors not in a clinical setting. And so it’s only really now that the movement is going forward as far as all this being brought to the public in clinical settings through clinical trials, a lot of research that sort of thing.

So how does it help with a breakthrough?  As you mentioned before it’s not just the the drug itself that is going to help that individual.

It’s a combination of therapy plus, well if you think about a typical psychotropic medication an antidepressant or an anti-anxiety medication that’s solely for symptom management so you’re getting a pill to help with a symptom that’s been negative in your life or reverse and you get on with your day go about your business.

Great. But in that instance that’s more of a bandaid rather than truly getting at the root cause of an issue with psychedelics and they all work a little bit differently. So we can have a whole talk on the mechanisms of action but we won’t get into that today. But all of the psychedelics help with neuroplasticity is regrowing or rewiring your brain.

So if you think about when we’re younger, we’re learning so much at such a rapid rate our brains are firing very quickly. We’re absorbing a lot. As we get older just naturally that goes away. And the more stress and more trauma we experience the more rigid our thinking becomes.

So our dendrites shrink. And we’re not able to think differently view things differently experience the world.  So if you’re thinking about somebody with traumawho’s had a lot of experiences that have led them to realize the world is not a safe place, people aren’t safe you get to this place where you’re unable to see anything different.

So you’re looking for the lack of safety and all interactions whether or not it’s there. With the help of a psychedelic that helps with the neuroplasticity that helps with growing the brain, you’re able to start to view things differently.

A lot of the psychedelics help you process trauma in a way that’s not overwhelming. So oftentimes people try to talk about something traumatizing in a talk therapy session. Our bodies shut down. So we’ve got our fight or flight it’s too scary to think about too scary to talk about. So we’re just not able to talk about it with the psychedelics can experience it and experience the feeling without being overwhelmed by it.

So it almost opens the door to a conversation that we wouldn’t be able to have without the assistance of the medication. So it helps with getting at the root cause helping grow the brain and get it to a more robust place that’s pre-tasable all the stress that you’ve experienced in adulthood. And then with the use of a clinician doing talk therapy both before and after a session, you’re able to integrate that contentuse it for something therapeutic.

Otherwise, just go in you have this aha and you’re  I don’t know what that means. I don’t know what to do with that.  But you have a trusted clinician to say Hey that maybe has something to do with your mother. So

How does the drug affect the neural plasticity of the brain?

And is our brain our brain is  I don’t know how to the correct way to say this. But it’s it able to grow throughout our life?  it’s not just  I remember I think growing up the traditional thought was    1821 or whatever.  your brain kind of stops growing. You can’t learn new habits or anything but that’s not the case.

And so I’ll give the disclaimer that I can give a moderate explanation. And we would need the psychiatrists that I work with here to give the full brain-based explanation. But MDMA and psilocybin are two psychedelics that work with serotonin receptors, so making serotonin more available in the brain and so helps with mood that helps with sleep processing that sort of thing. Ketamine is a little different in that. It works with glutamate receptors and so making other things more available in the brain.

But that’s my kind of basic level of the master’s level clinician. And that’s what I can tell you about what happens in the brain. But there’s a lot of research a lot of cool brain scans that they do that you could watch where you see new neurons growing and firing and all of that. So there’s plenty of information out on the internet for that.

That’s pretty crazy that that can happen. So what is the the process for someone who’s going in for psychedelic-assisted therapy? What is what is that?

So it’s best to have an established clinician before you choose to go down that path. So it’s not like I meet people on day one. And I’m okay to do ketamine? So there’s a lead-up to it. So it’s a get to know you get to know your history get to know what’s going on for you and what you need to do in the therapeutic process.

And I think what if people want a rigid answer? They’re going to struggle in the area of psychedelics because it’s not always a perfect number of sessions we can standardize and that’s fine. But I’m learning especially with my trauma clients sometimes it takes a little bit more time to feel comfortable and safe with somebody before you’re ready to do something.

Because being in a nonordinary state can be vulnerable. So oftentimes, I introduce ketamine to current clients as an option. If they’ve hit a wall or a plateau they’re feeling stuck in sessions and feel we’re not able to break through something or process something.

Or maybe they’ve told me they’re not interested in psychotropic medication or their antidepressants aren’t working and they don’t know what other options are. So for me, it’s already established clients want something different or something more and then we decide it’s time to introduce something else. I’m also doing a retreat this fall or I’m sorry this spring where it will be a little bit different.

So there will be one session beforehand and one afterward for people who want to participate in the retreat. So that’s a different way of doing it. But now for talking just traditional therapy clients, it’s people I’m already working with and we all decided together that it’s time to get started.

So you have, I guess kind of two options? You can make this retreat. It can be somebody who is not in therapy who goes to the retreat they just want to experience this or whatever it is.

But you’re still getting support from a clinician before and afterward which is a little different than I know there are a lot of infusion clinics that are starting to introduce ketamine which means you’re still getting the molecular benefit. So it’s not nothing.

But without the clinical support, you’re just going in getting the molecular benefit that will wear off after time but you haven’t done any more of that deep dive work with the neuroplasticity that we’re talking about.

So that’s why it’s it’s ideal or really important to have a condition before and after. And it’s an ongoing relationship just this one-off experience.

How did you? How did you come across psychedelics and what kind of changed your approach to it? Or if it’s something you’ve always been interested in?

So it’s last year, I got an email about a continuing education retreat in Costa Rica. The topic was psychedelics and psychotherapy. And at the time I didn’t know a ton about it. So I was  I’m not sure but it was Costa Rica and I needed a vacation.

So I was well, I’m gonna go. Worst case scenario, I get my continuing education certificate. And I’ve been in Costa Rica for a week nothing wrong with that?  Go to this retreat and I’m sitting through the lectures I’m hearing about all of these clients who are completely rid of PTSD as a result of their MDMA treatment or completely rid of depression as a result of their ketamine treatment.

And it was all inspiring and eye-opening. You don’t hear that often. So  I’m on my antidepressant. I’m just managing it or I have PTSD. I’m just managing it that sort of thing. But we’re seeing people with full eradication of the diagnosis.

So obviously I was intrigued. And then while I was in Costa Rica was able to participate in my medicine healing ceremony as well. And so that was run by a local Shan shaman and an LMHC from Florida. And that was one of the most profound personal experiences I’ve ever had. And I also noticed how much it kick-started my healing process after returning as well.

So last year I was working through some of my complex grief, I was going to talk therapy but We weren’t really getting anywhere or we weren’t getting anywhere quickly. After I came back from Costa Rica has had the medicine ceremony, my therapist and I both kind of laughed and agreed it was the first time we were able to have a full conversation about what was going on for me just because I was making connections that I hadn’t made before.

I was feeling safer with her because my anxiety had gone down as a result of it. So it was the professional introduction and then my experience came back and I said Oh my gosh have to get involved in this.

And then shortly thereafter it was just a domino effect. So if anyone’s ever had serendipity in their life things that feel way too easy for it to not be the next thing. So I met this psychiatrist who is opening a ketamine clinic down the street from my office she invited me to do private training on ketamine specifically.

So I’ve been partnering with her now for the last year bringing my clients to her for the medicine and then they’ll come back to my office for the talk therapy piece. So that was the beginning of it. And it’s just snowballed since then.

Is it traditionally just one psychedelic therapy? And then and then that that’s it? Or do they need multiple different rounds?

It depends on the client and the severity of the diagnosis. For more typical functioning people you can get a lot out of one session and be good for a while or it can be a one-and-done. So I had this transpersonal experience, I addressed grief and loss surrounding the death of my grandmother and I’m good otherwise?

I’m functioning. I’ve got other folks maybe you think more major depression. So not being able to get out of bed and go to work sort of thing that does require recurring treatment might be person-specific. So some people can go a month and be good. I have one client who is going every few weeks because they just really need to that’s what’s keeping them from not being suicidal and being able to go to work and that sort of thing.

So again, it depends on whether is this more of an adjustment thing or kind of a Kickstart to healing without a lot of significant symptoms present day. Or is this someone who’s struggling a lot more and needs some more support?

What about the future of psychedelics?  where do you see that going?

Well, I’ll give a real-time thing related to me and then more of an exciting update. So I am doing my first retreat in February so the first weekend and a co-therapist will be running it. So there are six slots it’s for a small group’s intimate for a reason.

So we’ll be doing two days of in-person. So you’ll meet with either myself or my co-therapist beforehand for kind of an intention-setting in-preparation session the first day in person will be doing a group introduction everyone getting to know each other will do sound bowls to get everybody grounded before treatment then everyone will be having a transformational ketamine journey. You’ll go home that night rest and recoup.

And then the next day we’re going to do yoga, meditation, and more of a group discussion around what everybody’s experience was. And then you’ll have a private individual session with one of us as well. So that’s upcoming in a couple of months which is exciting but more large-scale.

We’re looking at the FDA to approve MDMA for the treatment of PTSD next year. So that’s coming to market soon. I don’t know when or I can’t guarantee that it is but it’s looking that way. And I’ve already completed the training for that.

So I’m one of three clinicians in the entirety of Pinellas County that’s gone through that training.  So just being ready to be one of the first people out of the gate to offer that service hopefully sometime next year.

And that’s what you said before. It’s similar to ketamine but just a different pathway to how it helps.

So ketamine is a dissociative, so you almost lean out of yourself more so you’re able to observe your emotions and reactions without getting absorbed by them if you will. And it’s a very quick treatment. So with ketamine-most people are under or in a nonordinary state for about 45 minutes.

It’s not exact but I think that’s what’s so helpful about ketamine in a clinical setting. You’re in and out you can you can’t drive home but you can go home and have a relatively normal evening for the rest of the night. MDMA is a full eight-hour session.

So you’re with the medicine for an extended period. MDMA almost allows you to lean in so it’s maybe the opposite of ketamine but you feel your feelings as big as you can feel them. But it’s also a way for people can talk about the trauma experienced those feelings without getting flooded by them in a way that they might not be able to in a traditional talk therapy session.

And it’s a very different experience with it. So the model now is a co-therapy model. You have two clinicians in the room. So it’s very intimate. It’s very very extensive. But you see people with PTSD in therapy for years or just on medication and it’s not getting rid of anything this is going to be an intensive treatment.

But the idea is you do it and then you’re done. So they’re similar. They’re both psychedelics they both allow you to experience the emotion without getting flooded by it but they do work differently. One is a very quick model and the other one is a lot more extensive and intimate. But again they have different benefits for different clients for different reasons.

Do you see this becoming more I guess once the FDA approves MDA    that’ll change the landscape of it. But do you see it becoming more accepted and more used in clinical settings?

Absolutely. And I think with the FDA backing that’s going to have a huge effect on things. But already even when I talk about ketamine, there’s this normalized understanding of it for a lot of people. So some people are still learning what it is. But I’m noticing more clients are oh I’ve heard about that.

Or I have a friend who’s doing that that sort of thing. So again, I think people are picking up on this becoming more popular. So I hope that that takes the shame out of utilizing these medicines in controlled supervised settings with a clinician because you can get a lot of benefit out of it if it’s done. 

And the research is there.  We’ve been researching it for a long time now.  

Very cool. So how can people if they’re interested in your retreat are interested in learn more about you? Where can they find you?  

So my website is www.reconnected llc.com. My phone number and email address are both listed there. But there’s also a flyer for the retreat that’s on the back page as well. So anyone can contact me directly. And also through my website you can just go in and make your first appointment. So if you don’t even want to talk you want to meet and start the process. You can just jump on my calendar easily through there as well.



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