The Lab

A New Approach to Psychedelic Support: Peer Cognitive Behavioral Coaching


This article reports on preliminary results of Third Wave’s first Coaching Certification Program cohort and its relevance to Oregon’s upcoming legalization of psychedelic guiding services. Many Americans interested in experiencing psychedelic modalities may end up doing so with the help of professional guides who teach mindfulness techniques and support general life improvement outcomes. ‘Peer Cognitive Behavioral Coaching’ is a promising, scalable approach to providing such psychedelic services.

While most media coverage around legal, guided psychedelic experiences has focused on licensed psychotherapy through government-sanctioned clinical trials, this may change in the future as the opportunity to work with non-traditional health professionals opens up.

Next year in Oregon, people interested in exploring psilocybin for general self-improvement or spiritual pursuits will be able to do so legally by working with certified psychedelic guides who have different training than traditional psychiatrists.

To understand what type of training may be required for these guides, we looked at Third Wave’s Coaching Certification Program. The intensive six-month program features curriculum-based education, facilitated integration sessions, guest speaker workshops, and a three-month practicum designed to help students hone their psychedelic coaching skills to grow their businesses by creating transformational results for clients.

Although it will take some time before we know how the first cohort of graduates is performing, some initial promising results reveal the benefits of this training and can help to inform the rollout of Oregon’s psychedelic training requirements.

Some preliminary results

Let’s start with the business outcomes of the Coaching Certification Program graduates. Third Wave conducted in-depth interviews with nine graduates and asked them how the course would impact the income they receive from coaching. Of those nine, only one had no intention of using the training in their coaching practice. All the others believed they would recoup the costs of the course through increased business. One graduate reported completely recouping the cost of the course from a single new client.

Graduates also reported that their prospective clients appreciate their formal training in psychedelic modalities, especially microdosing. As a result, they have increased demand for their services.

Beyond the business outcomes, we were also curious about how coaches are serving clients, so we took a look at that aspect of the program as well. As part of the Certification, each student must participate in a practicum designed to assess their skills and understanding of the subject matter. For the first cohort of graduates, this practicum included the submission of recorded coaching sessions, which frequently took the form of ‘peer cognitive behavioral coaching.’

Cognitive behavioral coaching is similar to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of mindfulness that teaches patients to embrace uncomfortable emotions, become somatically aware of emotions in the body, and reframe negativity into more productive thoughts.

Cognitive behavioral coaching is like therapy but applied to non-medical situations, such as workplace stress or tuning into one’s spirituality.

This is particularly important for those microdosing psychedelics, since the classical substances—LSD and psilocybin—tend to exacerbate emotions.

Perhaps more importantly, coaches are largely using techniques that they themselves use along their own journeys. This allows them to draw on both their personal and professional experience when working with clients.

Interestingly, this approach overlaps with a trend emerging in non-psychedelic-based mental health counseling, which increasingly relies on peer counselors to work with patients.

Psychedelics and peer counseling

The timing couldn’t be more apt. In President Biden’s first State of the Union address for 2022, he acknowledged “an unprecedented mental health crisis among people of all ages”, alongside a massive shortage in licensed mental health providers. As a solution, the White House posits a growing reliance on peer counselors: individuals who, based on their own experience and ability to resolve personal problems, are trained to become certified professional counselors.

Although counselors cannot prescribe medication like a psychiatrist, research shows that trained peer counselors can be just as effective, and sometimes even more helpful than traditional therapists.

These concepts are highly relevant to the kind of psychedelic coaching we offer at Third Wave. Just like peer counselors, our psychedelic coaches combine their personal experience and the rigorous training of the six-month Coaching Certification Program to become adept at somatic introspection and emotional management.

The advantage of psychedelic coaching over peer counseling, is, as their titles imply, the psychedelic component. Talk therapy is limited because it’s a top-down approach that teaches you to use your rational mind to contain and control your emotional mind. On the opposite end of the spectrum, psychedelics offer a bottom-up approach by fundamentally rewiring brain circuitry, which can lead to lasting change. After a high-dose experience, these changes are supported through the act of integration with a psychedelic coach.

With states like Oregon pioneering legal access to psychedelic facilitation, we expect to see massive growth in this area in the future. The initial guidelines from the committee in charge of implementation recommend that psychedelic facilitator training consist of as little as 72 hours of instruction, which is the equivalent of about two weeks of part-time school. This makes certified facilitators tantamount to peer counselors; that is, they’re people who have experience using psychedelics to resolve their own issues and have also received some training.

This might sound a little unnerving to folks with no psychedelic experience. Are you really willing to trust your psyche to someone who hasn’t gone through years of schooling? Well, the fact is, this kind of facilitation has been happening successfully for decades.

As an added advantage, this type of psychedelic coaching is estimated to be far less expensive than traditional mental health services. A single six-hour session in combination with several counseling sessions can provide lasting relief for over a year. The total cost of such a program would likely be drastically less than a daily antidepressant and regular talk therapy with a licensed provider.

Of course, it’s necessary to note that psychedelic coaches and peer counselors are not a substitute for licensed professionals when an individual is experiencing an acute mental health issue. Still, the fact is that many people are not experiencing debilitating psychological problems, but rather more subtle ones, such as bouts of anxiety, burnout, or depression that simply makes their lives feel more difficult or unsatisfying.

As we gather more data on the outcomes of Third Wave’s Coaching Certification Program, we’ll be sharing it publicly. But, the preliminary results reveal how peer cognitive behavioral coaching can be a scalable and effective way to guide the public through psychedelic experiences as they become legal at the state level.

Gregory Frederick Ferenstein

Director of Research

Gregory Frederick Ferenstein, M.Sc., has been writing on innovation and psychology for over a decade. His peer-reviewed research was published in the leading journal of its field, and his work appears in top media outlets, including New York Times, The Washington Post, and the BBC.

After designing large-scale economic reform in Congress, he conducted field research in Silicon ValIey and become convinced that mental health must be a national priority.

He is now dedicated to advancing world-class, personalized mental healthcare. He holds a Master’s in Mathematical Behavior Sciences, taught statistics for journalism at the University of Texas, and resides in Austin.

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