A convening of minds around the ­future of American democracy – Aspen Daily News

It seemed fitting that the Aspen Ideas Festival 2021 wrapped up the Thursday heading into the Fourth of July weekend — the programming this year was themed “American Futures.” The four-day stretch at the Aspen Institute campus hosted speakers ranging from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and the conversations that comprised the full lineup delved into everything from national security to the evolving role of the CEO to getting students back in classrooms.

The ‘shroom boom’

Here, the Aspen Daily News gives a brief recap of two presentations particularly relevant. Discussing the research and clinical merits of psychedelics in psychotherapy may give one a moment of pause, wondering why that conversation is considered particularly relevant in this moment — until one remembers that the Aspen City Council as recently as May discussed the concept during a work session, and Denver became the first city to decriminalize the use of psilocybin mushrooms in 2019. In the last few months alone, three psychedelic drug developers had initial public offerings.

On Thursday, Rachel Yehuda and Gita Vaid, moderated by Axios Managing Editor Alison Snyder, discussed their excitement about what psychedelics can mean for psychotherapy. Yehuda’s resume includes the director of the Center for the Study of Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma and director of the Traumatic Stress Studies Division and professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Vaid is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and co-founder of the Center for Natural Intelligence.

Yehuda: “We do have treatments for trauma related-disorders like PTSD or depression or anxiety, but most people who go to therapy feel that they have to continue with therapy that they’re not getting over a really important hurdle that is allowing them to kind of reclaim their lives or reach ultimate healing and wellness. The history of psychedelics is very well known. In the ’50s and ’60s, psychedelics were used by mental health providers to help open patients up so that they could discuss very intimate and difficult to talk about topics — then these substances were banned. I think what you’re seeing now is a resurgence because a few very brave people decided that these tools were too important to keep scheduled and began an initiative to really test these compounds.

“Right now, MDMA assisted psychotherapy has received break-through status from the FDA. psilocybin has also received FDA break-through status for depression. I think that is when academia takes notice — when the FDA gives break-through status to a treatment, it’s very hard to dismiss it.”

Vaid: “Psychedelics I think actually offer a whole different approach in mental health and healing, and we need to develop different approaches and have better practices and delivery systems. I think more radical and further-reaching is it allows for a much different process and deeper healing. Using the therapeutic relationship to cultivate knowledge for a person to prepare to go into the experience as well as the after-effects to absorb and process, so it’s a very different approach.

“I would say most people are suitable for this approach … there are other practices … such as meditation or breath work. Psychedelics are a very good approach but are not actually useful for everyone. There are certain people that may have medical problems or psychological problems that make them either high risk and require a lot of preparation or perhaps it’s not the ideal treatment.”

The takeaway: Both Yehuda and Vaid have first-hand experiences in seeing the benefits of psychedelics in treating trauma. Yehuda describes an eight-hour session, in which a patient is given MDMA and in a very structured, guided context overseen by two therapists explores past traumas. After the drug is out of the patient’s system at the end of the eight hours, the patient and therapists “have the events really be interpreted and integrated into a person.”

Vaid, too, has seen the benefits with her patients. She told of one rape victim who, using ketamine therapy, visualized her life as a fabric, in which her rape events manifested as a stain. She also saw “there are so many stitches in her fabric that encompasses her life story and life experiences she had,” Vaid said. “After her experience, she had a very different, sustained perspective on her identity and her life story.”

Local media and its importance to community

The Roaring Fork Valley and its media landscape is an increasing rarity, Colorado Public Radio President and CEO Stewart Vanderbilt observed during a discussion he had alongside Mita Kalita, CEO and publisher of Epicenter-NYC and CEO and co-founder of URL Media on June 28: There are two newspapers in Aspen and four radio stations in the valley.

It’s a welcome change from the news deserts that scatter the rest of the country. Kalita — whose career mostly was spent in national mainstream media such as CNN before publishing an online newsletter that now boasts a few thousand followers and is celebrating its first advertiser — touted the relationships real, local news organizations have with community and how critical those relationships are in rebuilding lost trust between media consumers and media producers. Vanderwilt and Kalita both see the future as one of “radical collaboration” between smaller community entities in order to pool resources without sacrificing quality of content.

Kalita: “There’s an on-the-ground reality, there’s what government agencies tell you is happening, and those two things do not meet in our coverage. The way that national news reporting works is you call the agency, you take their word for it, and that’s what’s reported as fact. So you can understand why people on the receiving end of that injustice … start to not believe what’s being said.

“We are so much better as journalists … if we’re actually doing it for the people who government is supposed to be serving. I worry that the national news report … there isn’t necessarily a rootedness and a care for the community to actually get out of the predicament.”

Vanderwilt: “When we acquired Denverite, we didn’t just collapse it into CPR. We said we want you to do what you’re doing, and we’re going to put the infrastructure around you so the managing editor for Denverite isn’t also updating people’s credit card numbers because it was such a small operation. And we kind of see that as the future. Taking what we know how to do really well and applying it to new platforms and services.

“I think there’s an opportunity for what I call radical collaboration. Cooperation is an agreement. I think there’s an opportunity with stations around the state, around the country, with limited resources — take those resources and just hyperfocus them on what that community needs, and through cooperation, build out your service with content from other cooperative partners.”

The takeaway: Like every industry, the pandemic especially changed the news industry — but it was already changing before the discovery of COVID-19. Advertising models are changing; algorithms determine the fate of which news stories make a Google search and which don’t; as independent retail is replaced by corporate retail, the local newspaper doesn’t usually get the new advertising contract and Craigslist long ago made classified ads less important.

But local news is more important than ever — it holds government officials accountable, celebrates a community’s wins and mourns its losses. “The stakes are so high,” Kalita said of a diminishing independent news sector.

Megan Tackett is the editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.