The modern history of psychedelic care services can be traced back to the mid-1960s, when young people began to consume mind-altering substances at concerts and events. Emergency medical services were not trained to provide compassionate support for participants in non-ordinary states of consciousness. In an effort to offer more effective and informed care, a number of groups created their own specialised teams to work with those who were having difficult experiences.
Some of the first attempts at providing support for people who ingest psychedelics and other drugs were launched by the Hog Farmers, the CALM volunteers of the Rainbow Family, Rock Med, White Bird, and the innumerable parking lot medics who went on tour with the Grateful Dead. More recently, psychedelic care services have been developed by KosmiCare at Boom Festival in Portugal, the Green Dot Rangers at Burning Man Festival and Dance Safe and the Zendo Project in the United States. These groups are just a sample of the various services that exist around the world today.
Services Available in the UK
Closer to home, PsyCare UK is an organisation and legal charity in the UK which grew out of the original KosmiCare project set up for Boom Festival. Founded by Karin Silenzi de Stagni in 2008 with support from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS),
PsyCare UK (formally Cosmicare UK), used the framework for psychedelic emergency services that MAPS had developed with Diogo Ruivo, chief organiser of the Boom Festival. PsyCare UK is an independent charity that does not have sponsors, depending entirely on donations and voluntary work. Since 2009, PsyCare UK has provided care services at several festivals across England, Wales, and Scotland, including Sunrise Celebration, Eden Festival, Waveform, Boomtown. The project has made good connections with long-established and respected organisations in the United Kingdom festival scene and works closely on-site with event security, medical, and welfare services. Each year PsyCare UK strives to improve operations through increased festival attendance, networking and sharing info with similar groups throughout Europe, and building a pool of experienced volunteers. In 2021 PsyCare UK attended eight festivals in the UK, trained 197 volunteers and helped 696 people through difficult experiences.
While Ireland has not established any formal organisations similar to the above mentioned, some trustees of PsyCare Ireland have been involved in providing once-off services at Irish festivals in the past.
Our Trustee Stephen Galvin, trainee psychiatrist and therapist, first assisted in a Harm Reduction tent at Life Festival in Galway in 2007, which provided an art-based integration space (a "Mandala Yurt") for people undergoing significant experiences or just passing through. Peoples' art was displayed around the tent offering a growing gallery of the people who attended, and to bring home memories of their experiences.
Declan Hammond, homeopath, transpersonal therapist, shamanic practitioner and trustee of PsyCare Ireland has had a long time involvement in Kosmicare in Portugal. In 2015 he recruited a team of volunteers to provide a welfare and harm reduction area at that year's Electric Picnic. Declan also delivered a talk on harm reduction at that year’s event.
Ciara Sherlock, PsyCare Ireland Trustee, Shamanic counselor and founder of the Psychedelic Society of Ireland was involved in a previous attempt to organize these types of services in Ireland. Ciara based on experiences she has with Chill Welfare in the UK and with Kosmicare in Portugal gathered a team of volunteers and created a welfare and harm reduction space at Rather Gather Festival in 2017 and at the Irish Burn Festival in 2017. While each of these services was successful in their own right, the prevailing attitudes at the time towards a harm reduction approach towards drug users was not amicable towards the services being asked back to events.
This current effort to bring this type of service to Ireland and start PsyCare Ireland came through meetings organised by Michael Ledden in 2021. Michael is a PsyCare Ireland Trustee and the Chair. He is a Counselling Service Manager and Accredited Psychotherapist. Michael has 8 years of experience working in harm reduction in the homeless sector and began volunteering with PsyCare UK in 2021 and has made links with the management of the charity there. This project began through informal discussions about why these types of services exist in other countries but not in Ireland.
The Creation of PsyCare Ireland
The discussions began to bear fruit and developed speed as more of the Trustees below became involved. Out of these informal discussions the group were asked by the organizer of Fuinneamh Festival to provide a PsyCare space at the event which was due to take place in September 2021. Although this festival was ultimately cancelled due to Covid-19, the group began to meet more regularly and to plan on how to organize and provide the service every year to Irish Festivals.
Like PsyCare UK, we are using the framework for psychedelic emergency services that MAPS had developed with Diogo Ruivo, chief organiser of the Boom Festival. The decision to form an organization that would be at festivals every year led us to the realization that there was a legal need to register as a Charity. The name PsyCare Ireland was chosen with the consent of PsyCare UK who are actively offering support to our group as we establish and organise the service. This organization comes at a time of a worldwide change of attitude towards substance use and harm reduction.
PsyCare Ireland also arrives at a time of great need in Ireland which lags behind other European counterpart countries in having mental health and harm reduction services at Music events. Especially post pandemic we predict an upsurge in the need for our service with unknown disruption to the drug market bringing potentially dangerous analogue drugs as well as user tolerances lowered by a gap in the occurrence of festivals and nights out.