altered states · Mind Medicine Australia
Mind Medicine Australia logo Menu

The Ethics and Importance of the Role of Therapists in Working in Non-Ordinary States By Dr Traill Dowie and Nigel Denning


We would like to say something about the ethics and importance of the role of therapists in working in non-ordinary states. Nigel has personally worked in this space for 35 years in various forms including many decades in Holotropic Breathwork. We are often working with patients or clients who carry with them deep personal trauma.

This trauma can manifest in many ways and can express in completely unexpected symptoms. In working with many survivors of complex trauma, including ritual abuse, clergy abuse, intra family abuse, cult abuse, warfare, and other crimes, it is so important that we as therapists and the staff that support therapists, keep a willing and open mind to people’s suffering.

The average report time from first crime to first report for survivors of Institutional sexual abuse, for instance, is 33 years. Often this abuse has been ignored or actively repressed. It is incumbent on us all to hold the importance of the voice of survivors and to give them our belief and support.

Working with non-ordinary states and medicines can raise many deeply buried issues and traumatic experiences can manifest from many different sources, some from biographical memories, others from other symbolic processes. Projection onto therapists in this space during and immediately after sessions is not uncommon. This is one reason why, consistent with world best practice, we recommend 2 therapists always be present during trial and special access sessions, and, when rescheduling occurs, therapy sessions.

It is important that we are making ourselves and our clients safe and maintaining the most ethical and clear containers to allow this work to unfold as we develop greater clinical knowledge and skill.

Therapists who do transgress boundaries and behave in an unethical manner should be appropriately managed under legal and professional codes. Therefore, it is important that anyone working in this field be registered in a professional governance system such as AHPRA or PACFA.

Transgressions against patients in this field, like all others, should not be tolerated or accepted. The only way to create healing is to build trust and safety for all. Working together, openly supporting ethical behaviour and outing all forms of abuse and those who collude with it, it imperative.

Warm regards,

Nigel Denning & Dr. Tra-ill Dowie

Directors, Mind Medicine Training and Education

Nigel Denning

MA, MPsych

Nigel Denning MA, MPsych is a Counselling Psychologist, AHPRA registered supervisor and Managing Director of Integrative Psychology a Psychology/Psychiatry practice in East Melbourne.  He is a former Family Violence Co-ordinator for Relationships Australia and is currently the Former Deputy President of the In Good Faith Foundation, an organisation that supports Institutional Abuse and cult survivors. Nigel is also a registered Neuro-psychotherapy supervisor with IAAN.

Nigel has been involved in Transpersonal Psychology and consciousness studies for over thirty years.  He has studied extensively under Stanislav Grof MD and worked closely with Tav Sparks and Grof Transpersonal Training to develop training approaches to Holotropic breathwork and therapy influenced by this modality. Nigel also conducted one of the few peer reviewed research studies on HB.

Nigel teaches and has presented at numerous national and international conferences on state change technology, including medicine work. Nigel also has an established practice in Tibet Bon Dzogchen meditation under the guidance of Dr Daniel Brown of Harvard Medical School.

Dr Tra-ill Dowie


Dr Tra-ill Dowie is the Head of the Faculty of Psychotherapy at Ikon Institute Australia. Dr Dowie is the Chair of the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) Panel for Trauma Standards & Practice. Dr Dowie is a practising psychotherapist, supervisor and public speaker. Dr Dowie’s academic life and public lectures cover a broad range of interdisciplinary topics that relate to the human condition: psychiatry, psychotherapy, trauma, continental philosophy, philosophy of mind, anthropology, health and wellbeing, and human optimisation. He holds dual PhDs, receiving a PhD in Psychiatry from Monash University and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Melbourne.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Stay in touch with Mind Medicine Australia:

It's time. Make your voice heard. Lodge a submission to the TGA supporting rescheduling of MDMA and Psilocybin. Closes May 27.