Exploring the Use of Psilocybin Therapy for Existential Distress: A Qualitative Study of Palliative Care Provider Perceptions

This qualitative interview study (n=5) examines the attitudes of palliative care workers towards the use of psilocybin therapy for death anxiety and identified common themes concerning the perceived barriers of treating existential distress and their uncertainty about the risks and benefits of psilocybin.


Introduction: There is a growing body of research suggesting that palliative care patients coping with existential distress may benefit from psilocybin. However, there is a large gap regarding the perceptions of palliative care providers who may provide education, counseling services, recommendations, and/or prescriptions for psilocybin if it is decriminalized, commercialized, and/or federally rescheduled and legalized. The aim of this study was to explore the experiences and perceptions of interdisciplinary palliative care providers regarding existential distress and the use of psilocybin therapy.

Methods: Five (n = 5) health care providers from a hospital-based palliative care team completed a semi-structured interview related to their experiences supporting patients with existential distress and their beliefs and attitudes related to psilocybin as a possible treatment modality.

Results: A qualitative descriptive approach was used to identify key themes which included: 1) multiple barriers to addressing existential distress at the cultural, institutional/organizational, relational, and individual levels, 2) the duality and power of presence, 3) suffering as an intrinsically subjective phenomenon, and 4) uncertainty about the risks and benefits of psilocybin.

Discussion: To inform an inclusive, safe, and holistic approach, more research is needed regarding the possible integration of psilocybin therapy within palliative care for the treatment of existential distress.”

Authors: Coryn E. Mayer, Virginia T. LeBaron & Kimberly D. Acquaviva

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