When attempting to write about Camille Barton, it might be easier to begin by listing what they don’t do, as opposed to what they do. Camille’s involvement in a huge array of projects and organizations makes for a somewhat paradoxical challenge in the interview: With so many projects, where does the interviewer begin?

Fortunately, Camille has a way of communicating their vast experience and broad perspective with remarkable clarity. Throughout this interview, they lucidly share their viewpoint on drawbacks to prevailing models of psychedelic therapy, shadow elements of psychedelic use related to extremism, and the myriad ways that dance can connect people with their ancestry and heal trauma through deepening connection with the body.

And that’s a core feature of Camille’s work: the body. As stated on their website, “The harms that come from racism, sexism, ableism, and other forms of discrimination, are carried in our bodies, often manifesting as physical pain, anxiety, hypervigilance, and other symptoms.”

In their work as a somatic educator and embodiment researcher, Camille helps people reconnect with the forgotten wisdom of their bodies. In this interview, Camille explains in rich detail how embodied healing is necessary for dismantling the effects of systems of oppression that continue harming people every day, and the role that psychedelics can play in that transformation.

Sean Lawlor: You do so many different things. What are you most occupied with at this moment?

Camille Barton: I’m developing a master’s program at Sandberg Instituut, an art university in Amsterdam. The course is called Ecologies of Transformation. It’s researching how art making and embodiment practices can be used to facilitate social change. It’s a very dreamy research area for me because I’ve always felt that using symbols and beauty are powerful ways to create change and to connect with people.

Being involved in different kinds of activism throughout my life, I’ve found that there’s often a lack of attention on weaving in things that might be humorous, pleasurable, or beautiful. I think there’s a lot of scope to develop processes that, in the words of Toni Cade Bambara, “make the revolution irresistible.” That program is going to begin in September of this year, and it’s a two-year program. Applications are open until April 1st.

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I will also be running a grief retreat in June of this year, which is called Weaving Grief, the Body, and Transformative Justice. That’s in collaboration with an environmental non-profit called Global Environments Network. The aim is to hold space to explore embodied grief practices and rituals that can support communities to work more cohesively with each other, given the ongoing need to address coloniality and racism within environmental organizing.

Beyond learning about theory in history, we need space to grieve, and we need space to be able to support others in their grief and the multifaceted ways we are holding onto different kinds of pain. That is a deep, deep area of interest of mine.

This year, I will also be leading a training with Embodied Yoga on somatic practices for psychedelic-assisted therapies—exploring the importance of having a regulated nervous system when holding space as a therapist or provider during a psychedelic-assisted therapy session.  The training will also incorporate content about embodied social justice and the importance of understanding how our bodies reproduce systems of power in our nonverbal, daily interactions with others.

SL: I hear a theme of embodiment in your work. We can intellectually have these discourses all we want, but to make space for the body to process grief and trauma is often missed. Can you talk about the how the body carries forth systems of oppression and intergenerational trauma, and how embodiment practice can help us heal?

CB: I think the first thing to say about the body is that it’s really quite recent in the Western context to have the separation of mind and body, and this rise of Cartesian dualism, or mind over matter rationalism, that’s taken place in the last few centuries in the West. In many parts of the world, before that revolution of ideas, the body was really seen as a site of wisdom, a space of knowledge, where we are in relationship to our ancestors, to embodied forms of knowing in relation to the land and our ecology

As much as embodiment is trending and might seem quite new to people in a Western context, I think that what’s happening is actually a remembering, a returning to ways of being that were much more commonplace throughout different parts of the world in human history.

As much as embodiment is trending and might seem quite new to people in a Western context, I think that what’s happening is actually a remembering, a returning to ways of being that were much more commonplace throughout different parts of the world in human history. With that space of remembering, I’m excited to see people expand the conversations around things like racism and power—not just intellectualizing these issues, but being able to understand that systems of oppression—racism, ableism, transphobia—may take root in our thoughts, but are also enacted through our bodies.

A lot of this is non-verbal. Our bodies are always giving signals about who we see as safe, who we see as dangerous, who’s welcome, who’s not welcome. Because our economic system has created a collective situation where we’re so disembodied, and mostly valued on what we produce, we are often disconnected from noticing the subtle body language and cues we’re giving off at all times.

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Dr. Albert Mehrabian, who did a lot of research on nonverbal communication in the 1970s, found that over 55% of the way humans communicate is body language alone. 38% is tone of voice, and 7% is the words we actually say. So much is being communicated through the body regardless of the words we say, so it’s worth taking a more holistic approach to social change that goes beyond whether we’re reading the right books, newspapers or voting for a progressive political party. It’s more about: How are we showing up in our bodies? How are we treating other bodies? Are we dominating others or are we giving space? Are our actions rooted in care?

Questions around interrelatedness become a lot clearer when we bring in the body. When it’s theoretical, I don’t think it helps us parse out how we need to practically act in order to create new ways of being that move us beyond systems of oppression and allow us to heal and exist in our full humanity and honor the life force within all beings, including the Earth. 

SL: Dance is a big part of your life. Can you speak about dance in the context of embodied healing practice?

CB: Dance is one of the great joys in my life. It has been a bridge towards bringing me out of dissociation, because I have experienced a lot of dissociation in my life. It was a bridge to feeling more, to sensing more, to being able to link my emotions to sensations and make sense of them.

In mainstream culture, I rarely see people exploring how we can move emotions through the body as a means to relieve grief and tension. Dance was the catalyst for me to start exploring this and finding pathways to cultivate wellbeing in my body-mind. Before I knew what somatics was, dance was a space in which I could create ritual containers—starting in the context of raves when I was a teenager—and listen to the language of my body, to move what needed to move.

As I’ve researched more about dance as a ritual tool, it’s been a catalyst to learning about my ancestors. I have mixed heritage, and my mother was born in Nigeria—so, it was wonderful to find out that my Indigenous, Yoruba ancestors used dance and music in a ritual context to connect with spirit, community, celebrate, and grieve.  My connection to dance has made more sense the more I’ve learned about the role of dance in the context of my ancestry, because I think it is a remembering that is happening in my body; a returning to ways of being commonplace to my people not so long ago.

There’s a book called Dancing Wisdom by Yvonne Daniel that was another gateway into the role of dance in many Afro diaspora communities, and how ritual dance practices were preserved during the human trafficking that took place during the transatlantic slave trade. Today, there are still many religions such as Candomble in Brazil, or Vodou in Haiti or Cuban Yoruba, where dance is still an important ritual tool. I am so grateful for the medicine of dance in my life.

SL: Do you see dance as having any possible role in this psychedelic therapy movement?

CB: Definitely. Sometimes when I’m dreaming with friends, we talk about the current protocols, particularly in MDMA. Granted, it will likely change after Expanded Access and approval, but right now, I don’t think that the current protocol will be as effective as it could be for bodies who have an epigenetic legacy or intergenerational memory of healing alongside dance. I have a strong sense that many African heritage folks, for example, would benefit from being given permission to move their bodies and express using dance during psychedelic therapy sessions, which is currently not possible with the MDMA protocol. 

It is an important practice of cultural humility to understand that what may work in one context for certain communities may not be what’s most beneficial for all communities. I hope that as psychedelic-assisted therapies develop, there is more space to weave in dance and different movement practices, and not to medicalize and sanitize all approaches to the point that we’re just using a Western psychotherapeutic model where someone has to lie still and be quiet, processing thoughts and emotions without necessarily locating those emotions and moving them through the body. As these therapies are legalized, I hope there’s room for a multiplicity of approaches. I sense that dance will have a crucial role in the future.

SL: I hadn’t fully considered that this structured, lying-still approach to psychedelic therapy normalizes healing into that context and occludes so many healing practices. I’ve seen a theme in your work of pointing out trends of white supremacy and colonialism that perpetuate in these easy-to-miss ways into the psychedelic renaissance.

CB: Expecting things to be universal and normalizing one pathway is definitely a legacy of colonization. In the European context, this was really condensed in the Roman Empire. Before, there were many different kinds of Indigenous communities in Europe with different processes and rituals. With the arrival of Christianity and its implementation through Rome, there was a real move toward seeing universalism as good and something to strive for.

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I think this is pointing back to this normalized assumption that universalism is inherently good, that it inherently leads to social cohesion. Really, there may be an argument to suggest that celebrating and honoring humans in our different ways of doing things, our different ways of honoring our dead or being in ritual or working with entheogens, actually will create a lot more compassion, care, and understanding

Some people say, “We shouldn’t talk about difference too much, because these divisions just make everything worse.” I think this is pointing back to this normalized assumption that universalism is inherently good, that it inherently leads to social cohesion. Really, there may be an argument to suggest that celebrating and honoring humans in our different ways of doing things, our different ways of honoring our dead or being in ritual or working with entheogens, actually will create a lot more compassion, care, and understanding, instead of needing a dogmatic, one-size-fits-all approach that will not serve everyone and generally excludes and harms some communities.

In terms of healing from this dogmatic approach, I wonder what it would look like to build a psychedelic therapy space that allows for culturally-informed approaches that support different communities to incorporate their ancestral or pleasure-based practices? 

In order to imagine that within the medical model, a lot of trust building and repair is needed. I think this process would have to begin with truth and reconciliation processes to name and account for the colonial harms embedded in and perpetuated by the medical system and scientific research. An example text that references some of these atrocities against Black bodies is “Medical Apartheid” by Harriet Washington. “Neurotribes” by Steve Silberman documents the history of autism including an overview of the deep violence against neurodivergent and disabled people due to the eugenics movement that was dominant within the sciences. We need to collectively acknowledge and repair what the medical-industrial complex has done, and

continues to do, to disabled bodies, Black bodies, queer and trans bodies, and Indigenous bodies. To women’s bodies. I don’t think we can have inclusive, accessible health care until this traumatic history is addressed and repaired.

One of the ways we can pivot from these past harms is to understand that one group of people is unlikely to know what is right for everyone. With our platforms, with our power, it’s beneficial for the collective to share, redistribute, and allow things to iterate and evolve that are led by the communities they are intended to serve. Particularly in regards to those who have been harmed by these same systems, now setting the parameters for how psychedelic-assisted therapies will be designed and rolled out. Within the movement, one of the ways we could pivot from centuries of dominance and universalism is to advocate for the right for different approaches, led by the communities they are intended to benefit.

SL: That gets me wondering about the decriminalization movement. I’m curious if you see that movement as opening things in that direction of more possible expressions in the space of psychedelic healing, or if it perpetuates the same trends of colonialism in a different form.

CB: I have complex feelings about that. On the one hand, I was really excited to see what happened in Oregon with the election. At the same time, I have concerns that Decrim has arrived in Oregon, which has ongoing, deep issues with racism and police brutality, and I wonder whether or not we’re gonna see continued forms of harm against Black, Indigenous, and people of color while the mainstream turns away and says, “Oh, that doesn’t exist anymore, because we’ve decriminalized.”

I think we’re already seeing this happen in a number of different situations, especially in the context of women of color who are pregnant. Many are going for doctors’ appointments and check-ups in a state where cannabis is decriminalized or legalized, but when marijuana is showing up in their bodies, these women or pregnant people are sometimes having to deal with child protective services due to using a substance that is legal or decriminalized in their state. We have to work to ensure that public health catches up with Decrim and legalization so these grey areas are not used to harm the same communities that have been targeted by the War on Drugs.

As a movement, we have to be much more nuanced in understanding what decriminalization means and how it helps, or doesn’t fully benefit, different groups of people. We have to be in solidarity with those who are still being oppressed as a result of drugs, even if decriminalization makes the situation look slightly different than it did before. We have to look at these things that still need to be changed if decriminalization is really going to be equitable and mean the same thing for everyone, to look at the domino effect of what this means in terms of public health, employment, education, immigration status, and what it affects outside the narrow view of drug policy and entheogenic use.

What do these policies mean for people if they start to use these substances thinking they’re safe in all areas of life? What does it mean for undocumented folks? I think these are the questions we have to ask, because it is already affecting people negatively, and they are the same people who have been most harmed by the War on Drugs and state violence.

SL: You’ve written and spoken about a common perception in psychedelic activism of a kind of “unity consciousness” belief that “we are all one,” and a complementary perspective of, “If people take psychedelics, people will love each other, and problems will be solved!” I wonder if you might touch on that in relation to “spiritual bypassing” in psychedelic conversations.

CB: This is something coming up for me a lot right now, given the insurrection or attempted coup that took place at the Capitol and the images all over the Internet of this “QAnon Shaman,” who goes to Burning Man, takes psychedelics, and was active in wellness communities. He is a prime example that psychedelics do not necessarily make you left wing and cooperative! Despite many, such as Robin Carhart-Harris, suggesting this for a long time in their research.

All the allegations that have come up around sexual abuse and violence in psychedelic spaces is another testament to the fact that you may be someone who can hold space and you may have a lot of wisdom to share around plant medicines, but that doesn’t mean you’re immune from violating others and from causing harm.

It’s not that entheogens can’t create more openness, but I think it’s a dangerous bypass to believe that because someone works with plant medicines, they’re going to be left wing/progressive and won’t have racist views or dominating behavior. All the allegations that have come up around sexual abuse and violence in psychedelic spaces is another testament to the fact that you may be someone who can hold space and you may have a lot of wisdom to share around plant medicines, but that doesn’t mean you’re immune from violating others and from causing harm. As humans, we are all capable of causing harm and I think it’s important to acknowledge that and build in accountability mechanisms into all our movements.

I really hope that we can learn from this moment. I hope that people laugh if they need to laugh, because there was a ridiculousness to what happened at the Capitol; but, once that laughter has been processed, I hope that they actually sit with the severity of what this means and the amount of bypassing that is happening by people dismissing these folks because there was a certain amount of ineptness and foolishness. We have to come back to the realization that these people were still willing to kill because of white supremacist ideals, still willing to harm bodies. Some of them use plant medicine. If anything, hopefully this event can paint a broader picture of the spectrum of views among people who work with plant medicines. 

It’s confronting but necessary for people in the psychedelic movement to have a truth and reconciliation moment, to look back at history and reacquaint themselves with the fact that the Nazi party—and many other far right groups—were users of entheogens. We need to reframe our thinking around what these medicines do, to see them as things that have great healing potential, but in and of themselves are neutral and maybe even have a way of entrenching our existing viewpoints.

It’s confronting but necessary for people in the psychedelic movement to have a truth and reconciliation moment, to look back at history and reacquaint themselves with the fact that the Nazi party—and many other far right groups—were users of entheogens. We need to reframe our thinking around what these medicines do, to see them as things that have great healing potential, but in and of themselves are neutral and maybe even have a way of entrenching our existing viewpoints.

I’ve seen a few people in my circles on social media refer to the QAnon Shaman as someone who had “unintegrated psychedelic experiences.” I’ve responded, “I don’t think these are unintegrated! If anything, I think these are integrated, because psychedelics have further entrenched his views and further expanded his ego and ability to hold that confidence to express, ‘This is who I am.’”

That is something that psychedelics can do. Rather than shy away from that, we need to ask more strategic questions, like, “What would it look like to use psychedelic-assisted therapies in a way that could undo the legacies of colonization, or repattern legacies of rape culture and gender-based violence? There may be other structures, models, or protocols we need to create that facilitate that, because it’s very clear in this moment, and historically, that entheogens alone will not do that. We need to have specific containers for different processes, if social change is an aim. And people may have to think about power dynamics to explore where they are in relation to certain issues.

How do we create architectures of care that sustain life and humanize all people, and how can we do that with psychedelic-assisted therapies? I think that’s something we really need to sit with in this moment and not laugh it off and bypass by saying these are just ridiculous people who are outliers rather than reflective of a trend within the psychedelic community. The ridiculousness is a façade, a way to distract from intent. We need to focus on intent as well as action.

SL: And we need to see someone like that as indicative of the shadow of psychedelics. We’re so willing to instantly say, “Well, that’s just that guy, and that’s not psychedelics.” That perspective bypasses a shadow we’d rather not look at. That’s a whole different conversation I would love to have with you at a future date.

To wrap things around: your earliest psychedelic publication I found was your article for the MAPS bulletin in 2017. Was that your entry point into being a voice in this psychedelic world?

CB: Yes.

SL: So, that’s several years now, and you’ve been consistently involved in bringing important and nuanced perspectives to the movement since. Could you point to any areas where you have seen shifts in those years, and areas where you have not?

CB: I am very pleased to see that conversations about access and inclusion are now on the table. There’s a lot of work to do, but it’s in the field now, whereas even a year or two ago I would have said that it’s not really a mainstream consideration. At this stage, we have named symptoms but now is the time to start visioning and building what we wish to grow. We need to create new tools and processes. 

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I am excited by Journey Colab and Sage Institute. I’m excited to see new models of what clinics can look like that are based in reciprocity, care, cultural humility and access. I’m excited about the ways that MAPS is incorporating new information, learning and developing as they grow. 

What I would like to see more of is cross-pollination between the psychedelic-assisted therapy space and public health systems more broadly.

What I would like to see more of is cross-pollination between the psychedelic-assisted therapy space and public health systems more broadly. How can we build bridges to support each other and have holistic policies that address multiple issue areas? How can we ensure that Indigenous people have access to land in which to cultivate their medicines? How do we create regenerative business models that invest in and support Black folks and other communities most harmed by the War on Drugs?

And integration. With the mainstreaming of psychedelics, a lot of the information and harm reduction materials available are not culturally relevant for Black communities and others impacted by police violence and the War on Drugs. We’re seeing a particular perspective espoused in documentaries on Netflix, such as Have a Good Trip! that mostly relates to affluent, middle to upper class, Western, white, housing-secure people. This content bypasses the risks of drug use for certain communities due to the War on Drugs or poverty and portrays psychedelics as a magic pill that will guarantee fun or healing. These films do not mention harm reduction practices or the importance of integration.

If you don’t have a support structure to integrate, if you don’t have a community around you who know what you’re doing and can support you through the big shifts psychedelics can catalyze, the fallout may be dangerous for some with less access to support. Brilliant advocates, such as Yarelix Estrada, and organizations such as The Sabina Project, are offering psychedelic integration circles for BIPOC in order to address this need for culturally-relevant support spaces.

Instead of simply thinking about psychedelics as a magic pill and about how people access the medicine, true access involves considering the other components that will allow psychedelic-assisted therapies to be helpful to all people. We have to think about housing, childcare, and public health systems more broadly. How do we build architectures of care that ensure healing is no longer a luxury for the privileged few?

In this vein, I would like to see more cross-pollination between different fields, and less psychedelic exceptionalism. These medicines are powerful, but they’re not the only piece of the puzzle. We need to think about mending the ruptures, and gaps in support that systems of inequity have left, so that more people can benefit from psychedelic-assisted therapies.

SL: Are there any final points that you feel drawn to touch on?

CB: I will talk a little bit about liberation psychology, which was established in the South American context in the 1970s. It is a therapeutic approach that accounts for the ecological conditions of people’s lives, including state violence, systemic oppression, and the impact this has on individuals, as well as the collective. It understands that traditional forms of psychotherapy often isolate an individual’s symptoms from the collective conditions in which they have been shaped by.

I really hope that as psychedelic-assisted therapies develop, we can move away from a hyper-individualized model to thinking more about collective care and collective healing, which is only possible in a sustained way if we repattern systems of harm. An individualized therapy model may not acknowledge that a person’s symptoms have emerged due to the social conditions and context in which they live. If a Black trans woman experiences chronic hypervigilance, and she lives in a heavily policed, heavily surveilled area, being hypervigilant makes sense as a defensive strategy within her body to protect her. However, over time, sustained hypervigilance, without an ability to safely rest and down-regulate, may lead to many other problems in the body-mind. This is simply one example of why it is essential to consider ecological context and acknowledge the lived realities that inform symptoms.

I hope we can weave in lessons from liberation psychology to ensure we also develop strategies to explore collective healing and repair from systemic oppression.


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Wednesday, June 9th, 2021 from 12-1:30pm PST REGISTER FOR THIS EVENT HERE There is growing enthusiasm in Jewish communities about possible ancient use and modern applications of plant medicine in Jewish spiritual development.  Psychedelic Judaism introduce new potential modes of  healing...