In this interview with Joost from the Dutch Psycare Project, we talk about the initiative which provides a safe space and
Psycare: an introduction
We had the privilege and opportunity of meeting up with Joost, organiser of the Psycare intervention. He took some time to talk to us about his project, give some solid advice and a small glimpse into what it’s like to be on the sober side of a festival, making sure party-goers are having a safe trip.
Azarius: Hello Joost, it is very important for us to encourage a culture of responsible drug use, that is why we are interested in talking about your project. Can you start by describing exactly what PsyCare is and how it started?
Joost: Our project starts
A: An idea of a safe space?
J: Exactly, a safe and comfortable place to undergo the experience. We don’t try to stop it, we try to support our guests and facilitate their experience through a physical, psychological, and emotional safe setting in order for our guests to go through the trip and hopefully come out better on the other side.
"If you are faced with a dragon, look the dragon in the eyes and go in and through its mouth, so instead of fleeing, face it."
A: What does the physical space you provide look like?
J: Our set up includes one large teepee that we divide into 10 separate areas for individual guests, then we have an outdoor space for those who don’t feel comfortable being inside, and then we have a yurt, for more difficult cases, when the person is too loud or wild for other people and needs more intense one-on-one support.
A: How is the evening structured?
J: Last time we were forty people in total, doing shifts of six hours. Every eight people shift includes six caregivers and a secretary, who makes sure to have gathered all the information of a guest, what time they came in, the contact of their friends, what they took, or suspected to have taken, what their situation is. The primary objective of the caregivers is to make people feel welcome. Offer them kindness, warmth, a blanket, a cup of tea… that is 50% of the work: to make people feel safe and welcome. When they leave we give them a letter to explain to them what happened, because the next day they might not remember everything: ‘you were at our intervention, if you have any questions or need support, feel free to contact us, etc.’
A: A point of reference for those who are tripping?
J: Even if somebody eventually doesn’t come to visit us, just the knowledge that if things would go wrong, our doors would be open, is a great relief. We are there offering a grounded space and atmosphere, radiating calmness and presence.
A: Do you have any advice for those who want to be a sitter for someone who is tripping?
J: Firstly, you should know what the other person has taken, and if it’s a psychedelic they are most likely physically safe. For those who are tripping, it helps to know that resisting whatever you’re experiencing will probably make the experience more difficult and increase anxiety. You, as the sitter, have to reassure them that they can fully let go, while the sitter minds their physical body, and that they will eventually come back (down). And it is true, you do come back. A common image for these moments of anxiety is: if you are faced with a dragon, look the dragon in the eyes and go in and through its mouth, so instead of fleeing, face it, and then when you face it, that’s when the chances are higher that you will learn from your trip and it will be an enriching experience. I know that saying it is easy and doing it is the hard part. But being able to accept the experience usually results in the anxiety or negativity to diminish.
A: Is this where you see the bridge between psychological and psychedelic care?
J: Well psychedelic is psychological, it’s all about the psyche. The original definition of the word psychedelic in ancient Greek is “manifesting of the psyche”. So whatever is either on someone’s mind or hidden more deeply, can make itself visible. It is important to have an experienced sitter, because the tripper becomes very sensitive to anything external, to the vibes or facial expressions of others, the senses are heightened. So if a sitter becomes anxious, this can trigger a negative spiral, so it's important to be serene, radiate the confidence that it will all work out because it will.
A: What are the main problems that you encounter with your guests?
J: People’s reactions vary a lot. Sometimes people really show what they are experiencing through their movements, become aggressive and wild, other times people are really non-communicative. They can be having a beautiful experience or a challenging one, and from the outside, there is no way of knowing.
A: Well also a “bad” experience, can be something that you needed to face…
J: That’s why we don’t call them bad experiences, but challenging ones. Difficult doesn’t mean bad. Going through a trip
A: What about the quality of drugs here in the festivals? Are we still facing the problem of laced or dirty drugs?
J: Sometimes. In the Netherlands, not so much. But at other festivals, we have sometimes encountered research chemicals. Some people think they took LSD, instead took an NBOMe.
J: It’s a new psychedelic substance, they are derivatives of the 2C group. You know you have 2CB, 2CE, 2CI… These are 25-B-NBOMe, 25-i-NBOMe etcetera. They are novel and very potent and can be harmful if people take them in higher amounts. Usually though, on an average night, we mostly see the classics, such as LSD, mushrooms, MDMA, space cake.
A: Really, space cake?
J: It’s difficult to dose, it takes such a long time for it to take effect, and usually those who use it tend to be a bit inexperienced with drugs. Its potency is generally underestimated and if you don’t expect the effects, you can get paranoid, stressed, etc.
A: Do you feel that for using drugs there are improvements on a social level?
J: It’s a good question, but I'm not sure if I have an answer. Certain festivals have an interest in providing a safe space, sensible information or harm reduction materials, but at the same time the biggest festival in the Netherlands, Lowlands, does not even want an association like Unity there, which just provides safer use information. Festival organizers fear to compromise their image. They say they don’t want drugs at their festival, but how can you prevent this or really enforce this? People manage to get all kinds of drugs into prisons, do you think they cannot get them
A: That is why I find it essential to promote projects like PsyCare, or other groups that within their capacities want to spread, enrich and advocate harm reduction as well as informed and responsible use of drugs. Thank you for sharing your experiences and ideas about this topic that is very precious to us.
Psycare and your feedback
Dear reader do you know about projects and people that are improving the safety of drug use?
Please share in the comments below.