Psychedelic technologies and music therapy: An interview with Mendel Kaelen
Interview by Andreea Prisecaru
“Psychedelic therapy is a form of music therapy: music is not just a background sound, it has an active therapeutic role”
Mendel Kaelen is a neuroscientist and founder of Wavepaths, an international platform that provides personalised music for therapeutic purposes. Their music app uses artificial intelligence to mix a stream of generative music that can be adjusted live by the therapist to fit the needs of patients during therapy sessions. Currently, Wavepaths is supporting more than 150 psychedelic therapy patients every month in its beta phase. After reaching its crowdfunding target of over £320.000, as a top-up of a larger multimillion fundraise, the project has a waiting list of over 16.000 clients. The reason for this success, as Mendel describes it, ‘‘lies in the music’s power to act as a thermostat for your emotional being. Beyond psychedelic therapy, Wavepaths empowers people to fulfil their emotional needs with music: from self-reflection to journaling, yoga, creative thinking or even work” Although originally conceived as a tool for psychedelic therapy, Wavepaths is evolving towards a multi-functional product that users can adapt to many different purposes. “For example, one of our clients is a teacher using music to chill down school kids in a classroom. For therapists, we will soon have the full circle of using music in psychedelic therapy, from the preparation phase before therapy until the final integration stage.’’
In this interview, Mendel Kaelen elaborates on the future and ongoing projects he is undertaking with Wavepaths. His upcoming workshop hosted by ICPR focuses on music’s powerful role in the psychedelic experience. ‘’This workshop is addressed to those that are interested in how to work with music in psychedelic therapy in a person-centred way.’’
How does Wavepaths help psychedelic-assisted therapy?
We have a list of exciting features which will be soon released for therapists and clinics. The music is currently tailored to the medicine, either a psychedelic substance or none (for example, yoga, therapists, coaches or holotropic breathwork classes). We are first looking into the differences between ketamine, MDMA and psilocybin so that the music is adapted to the pharmacodynamics of the drugs, such as the peak stage when the experience is the most intense. The second part is adaptation to individual traits. We are defining a personality domain that is providing information into what music the individual is most likely to respond to. Lastly, we want to understand the state of the individual, what they are experiencing and what their therapeutic needs are.
Music plays a prominent role in psychedelic therapy, as patients usually lie down with headphones on and a mask covering the eyes. Music is almost the only stimulus the patient is exposed to. When I realised this, I made the argument that if we want to understand psychedelic therapy, we need to understand how psychedelics and music work together in synergy. Psychedelic therapy is a form of music therapy: music is not just a background sound, it has an active therapeutic role. This is what fascinated and motivated me to support therapists by founding Wavepaths. When the psychedelic community is growing so quickly, we need to make sure we have the right understanding and the right tools to support both the therapists and the patients.
What is your inspiration for providing therapists with the right music?
Music has a huge influence on the acute experience and therapy outcomes, and can either be a source of healing, or the opposite. This cannot be emphasised enough. One same song may facilitate a powerful therapeutic breakthrough for some, and frightening and possibly counter-therapeutic experiences for others. Understanding the many variables at hand in order to provide person-centred music is complex. We are committed to remove this complexity for therapists, and make the person-centred use of music more evidence-based, more effective, as well as more responsible.
Do you draw inspiration from traditional, more shamanic approaches?
I believe that the Western psychedelic models can teach and also learn a lot form the shamanic approach to psychedelics. I personally lived in the Amazonian jungle for 6 months and worked with an ayahuasca shaman, as I wanted to dig deeply into the Amazonian model of working with psychedelics. I later integrated what I learnt as I completed my studies, but this experience made me want to harmonise the psychedelic traditions with the current scientific and western psychotherapeutic approaches.
When it comes to shamanism, I believe that one of the main lessons that the Western world can borrow, and that we at Wavepaths have, is understanding the importance of rituals. Shamans have a whole toolkit, from instruments like drums to herbal perfumes. They have various ways to influence the experience and the emotional atmosphere. When it comes to music, shamans link particular songs to particular spirits, they use songs for healing the patient. In their view, certain songs should only belong to that ritualistic context, and this is something that Wavepaths is currently doing. All the music we are creating is completely novel and it remains inside the platform. One problem with using songs from online streaming services is that you may have already heard them from advertisements or movies, and those associations may not be welcomed for the therapy experience. At Wavepaths, we are creating a ritualised space where music happens and where music can be co-created by therapists and artists. The patients will have a unique song that accompanies their journey and will be gifted that song afterwards, for integration purposes.
What are the main intentions of Wavepaths?
Our main intention is to find ways to enhance the experience for both the therapist and the patient. This is also the biggest challenge for the upcoming generations of therapists, learning how to work with altered states of consciousness. We are offering a new kind of tool – I sometimes call this a psychedelic technology in the same way that surgeons have medical technologies to open and heal the body. The new generation of therapists will need to have a toolkit of psychedelic technologies to open the soul and heal it. When I say soul I don’t refer to a supernatural phenonemon, but to acknowledge the depths of the psychedelic experience, the deep subconscious and transpersonal content that psychedelics unlock.
We have built a fully generative musical environment that allows smooth adaptation with radical immediacy, while maintaining a warm human character, as we are working with very talented musicians. The final thing to say is that we are not only creating the technologies, but also the educational materials for this new generation of therapists. Wavepaths has built an educational platform where all therapists using Wavepaths can gather as a community and learn together how to work with music in a person-centred way. What defines Wavepaths is the combination of community, education and evidence-based technology that we are providing.