Valentina sits in a garden with lots of greenery around her

Healing the mind with psychedelic-assisted therapy

February 4, 2024

From classroom to career: Valentina Chichiniova

Valentina Chichiniova remembers being fascinated by the concept of the human psyche when she was introduced to it for the first time in a high school philosophy class.

“I wanted to learn more about what makes us human and informs our behaviour and struggles,” she recalls.

Valentina parlayed this curiosity into a career as a clinical counsellor with a specialization in the treatment of trauma and disassociation. A desire to add more options into her practice led her to enroll in VIU’s new Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy program. As one of the first graduates of this program, she shared more about herself and why this program is helping her take the next step in her career.

Tell us a bit about yourself and why you chose your current career path.

I am a clinical counsellor and specialize in the treatment of trauma and dissociation. I also provide psychedelic-assisted therapy services such as preparation, integration and sits (supporting someone with navigating their experience on psychedelics) for clients with exemptions through the federal government’s Special Access Programme. This program allows me to give my clients legal access to psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression and end-of-life distress and MDMA for post-traumatic stress disorder.

I was first exposed to the human psyche concept in my philosophy classes in high school. We learned about Freud and his theory of the self and its parts: the id, ego and superego. At the same time, I also watched the movie Final Analysis, which covers dream analysis and dissociation. I was fascinated! I wanted to learn more about what makes us human and informs our behaviour and struggles. Eventually, I decided to become a therapist and work with trauma and dissociation. Four years ago, I went to Peru and learned about ayahuasca, a South American psychoactive brew used by Indigenous cultures and folk healers in the Amazon and Orinoco basins for spiritual ceremonies, divination and healing a variety of psychosomatic complaints. This experience was so profound that it further changed how I see the psyche, health and healing. It pushed me on the path to learn more about psychedelics and how to use them to help my clients.

What made you decide to enroll in VIU’s psychedelic-assisted therapy program? 

I had taken courses on specific medicines, but I wanted to learn more about all of them and understand the science behind them. I believe we are headed towards some kind of regulation of this field. It just made sense to me that a university program can provide a level of education and credibility that will be favoured by the government if accreditation was to become necessary in the future. I was not disappointed! 

What did you enjoy most about studying at VIU? 

I loved that the program was virtual but there was such an effort made for us all to get to know each other. I also really enjoyed the fact that the program is designed with the mature student in mind. It meant I did not have to sacrifice my income-earning capacity to complete the program. I never felt overwhelmed by the amount of homework or readings. 

I also enjoyed and was inspired about how much Shannon [co-ordinating chair] and Pam [medical chair] cared about us and supported us in whatever way was needed for us to succeed.

Was there anything that surprised you about the program?

I knew that Indigenous perspectives would be covered, but the speakers exceeded my expectations beyond words. The history and Indigenous views of psychedelics was truly honoured. I was very pleased that we went beyond the Western, medicalized way of understanding. 

How did the psychedelic-assisted therapy program help you in what you are doing now? 

I was able to develop multidisciplinary connections and better serve my clients by offering the possibility for access to the Special Access Programme.

Do you have any advice for current or future VIU students who want to take this program?

This is an excellent program! You would not be able to find that wealth and diversity of information in one place like you do in this program. 

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