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Ketamine Assisted Therapy Vs. Traditional Talk Therapy: Know the Difference

Psychotherapy has greatly evolved from the practice of psychoanalysis initially developed by Sigmund Freud. Over the years, it has grown into a multi-modality approach leveraging different techniques to help those struggling with a variety of issues. From mental illness and emotional support to career and relationship counseling, talk therapy remains an effective tool for everyone. Recent studies and FDA research has innovated traditional talk therapy by combining it with the hallucinogenic effect of ketamine that can lead to powerful insights in a fraction of the time.

In this article, we will discuss the similarities and differences between talk therapy and ketamine-assisted psychotherapy.

Traditional Talk Therapy 

Traditional talk therapy, often called counseling, is the most common form of psychotherapy. It aims to engage patients in deep conversation to explore emotions, behaviors, thoughts, and past experiences.

These conversations promote self-reflection, allowing patients to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and figure out ways to overcome challenges and effect positive change.

What is Ketamine-Assisted Therapy   

Ketamine-assisted therapy is a newer approach that combines the use of ketamine with therapeutic support to build a unique environment that delves deeper into the patient’s psyche and creates meaningful change.

Ketamine is a powerful hallucinogen and anesthetic that can significantly relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, addiction, and PTSD.

While both types of therapy have shown promising results, they differ in methodology and effect on individuals.

Understanding Traditional Talk Therapy

Traditional talk therapy (TTT) includes a range of therapeutic approaches, each with unique theoretical foundations. Here are the most common techniques used.

  • CBT: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) operates on the premise that our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions are interlinked. It helps individuals identify disruptive patterns contributing to emotional distress and reframe them in a positive and life-affirming context to improve mental well-being.
  • DBT: Dialectic behavioral therapy uses the techniques of CBT while helping patients develop emotional regulation, interpersonal skills, and self-acceptance. This approach is highly effective in treating personality disorders.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy: This therapy focuses on unconscious thought processes, unresolved conflict, and past traumas and how they affect current emotions and behavior. By making issues conscious, individuals can engage in self-discovery, growth, and healing.
  • Humanistic Therapy: Humanistic therapy focuses on an individual’s capacity for growth and self-actualization. The aim is to provide a supportive, non-judgmental environment for individuals to explore their potential rather than focus on curing diseases and disorders.
  • Family Systems Therapy: This form of therapy approaches problem-solving through the lens of relationships and dynamics within family units. It examines patterns of interaction and identifies how they contribute to individual and relational difficulties.

What Does Traditional Talk Therapy Look Like?

A traditional talk therapy session typically occurs in the therapist’s office or online over video.

The therapist and client engage in discussions that develop trust and collaboration so the client eventually feels safe enough to openly discuss their thoughts, emotions, and experiences.

During these sessions, the therapist provides support and helps the client explore challenges and behaviors they struggle with. The therapist helps the client understand their psychological makeup and make necessary changes with the help of various therapeutic techniques.

Over many sessions, the client fosters self-awareness and personal growth and learns effective coping strategies that promote lasting change.

Understanding Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy

Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP) involves the use of ketamine along with traditional techniques to alleviate negative symptoms and improve mental health.

This treatment works because ketamine affects the brain in specific ways that aid in psychotherapy.

For starters, it triggers the release of glutamate, which stimulates the growth and connectivity of brain cells and promotes neuroplasticity. This mechanism is also responsible for the anti-depressant effects of ketamine that tend to last long after treatment.

The neuroplastic effects of ketamine combined with psychotherapeutic techniques allow patients to make more permanent and lasting changes.

To initiate these changes, ketamine puts patients in a dissociative state where they experience a sense of detachment from their bodies and identities.

This state lets individuals take a non-judgemental view of themselves, allowing for a deeper exploration of emotions, behaviors, and repressed traumatic experiences. These insights allow a patient to effect real change without the fear and anxiety that usually comes with confronting these aspects of the psyche.

What A KAP Session Looks Like

KAP sessions usually take place in a medical facility under the supervision of experts who specialize in this form of treatment.

Before the session, patients undergo an assessment to determine whether they are suitable and to figure out the appropriate dosage. They must also establish their therapeutic goals and expectations during the session.

The therapist administers the dose through intravenous infusion, intramuscular injection, or nasal spray, and monitors the patient’s heart rate and pressure throughout the session.

Once the drug is administered, the patient enters a heightened consciousness characterized by deep relaxation and introspection. These sessions are conducted in the presence of a trained therapist who uses prompts to urge the exploration and provides grounding and emotional support when required.

These sessions often last between forty-five and ninety minutes, with some patients experiencing the effects of ketamine for up to three hours.

Clients must engage in multiple sessions to effect real, sustainable change in their lives. And these sessions are followed by regular therapy, where the patient must integrate the insights and lessons during the KAT session into their conscious experience.

As such, KAT sessions are conducted with a treatment plan tailored to an individual’s needs and therapeutic goals.

Comparing Therapeutic Approaches

ParametersKetamine-Assisted Therapy (KAT)Traditional Talk Therapy
MethodologyUses ketamine along with therapeutic support to alleviate negative symptoms and foster profound psychological insightsInvolves verbal communication of thoughts, emotions, and experiences, and uses the information to help induce change
Time FrameUsually lasts between 60 and 90 minutes but effects can extend beyond this time frameUsually lasts between 45 and 60 minutes
Patient ExperienceTakes ketamine in a controlled setting
Enters a dissociative state
Experiences deep relaxation and introspection  
May experience intense emotions
Engages with therapist or mental health professional for support
Follows the session with integration and reflection  
Engages in meaningful conversation with a therapist
Explores behaviors, emotions, thoughts, and past experiences   Gains insights that foster introspection and personal growth  
Establishes a collaborative and trusting relationship with the therapist

Let’s look at where each form of therapy is most applicable.


While KAP can be used by almost anyone to gain insights into the psyche, it works wonderfully on these specific issues.

  • Anxiety Disorders – Symptoms of generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and PTSD are minimized through KAT.
  • Suicidal Ideation – KAP significantly reduces and even eliminates suicidal tendencies in certain individuals.
  • Addiction – Ketamine can promote lasting relief from addiction due to its neuroplastic effects.

Traditional Talk Therapy

This approach has its place in the therapeutic landscape and has been shown to treat various issues.

  • Depression – Depression and its symptoms can be effectively treated through the exploration of underlying thoughts, beliefs, and emotions.
  • Anxiety Disorders – Certain anxieties can be effectively alleviated through techniques used in CBT and DBT.
  • Personality Disorders – Talk therapy like DBT (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy) can effectively treat personality issues like borderline personality and narcissistic personality disorder.
  • Trauma and PTSD – Certain techniques like EMDR therapy can help individuals process and overcome traumatic experiences.

It’s crucial to note that the effectiveness of each treatment will vary based on the individual. While KAP is effective in treating issues that may be hard to manage with traditional therapy, it is not a magic solution and requires work from the individual undergoing treatment.

Which is Better: KAP or Talk Therapy?

Comparing success rates between KAP and traditional talk therapy is tricky as individuals respond differently to each treatment.

KAP shows a high success rate with individuals struggling with treatment-resistant depression, anxiety disorders, and suicidal ideation. Studies show that people with debilitating depression experience a reduction in symptoms after KAP, persisting months after the treatment.

KAP has also been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of PTSD and relieve suicidal tendencies, providing instant relief in acute and severe cases.

Different forms of talk therapy have also been used to treat a host of psychological issues. Its focus on self-awareness, coping strategies, and personal growth tend to remain long after the sessions, leading to improved mental well-being and a better quality of life.

The Main Difference: Rapidity Of Change

The most notable difference between KAP and TTT is the speed at which results are observed.

KAP shows a rapid effect in alleviating symptoms and promoting change, often just hours or days after the initial session, often allowing individuals to progress with deeper therapeutic work. It is important to note that integration therapy is required in order to process the experience and receive the full benefits of KAP.

On the other other hand, the benefits of talk therapy are realized over a longer period of time. This therapeutic approach focuses on building insights, developing coping skills, and facilitating personal growth, which is a gradual process, and it takes commitment to achieve sustainable results.

Furthermore, the relationship between the therapist and the individual plays a key role in affecting long-term outcomes.

Long-Term Implications

KAP is a promising therapeutic modality that has shown tremendous results in those suffering from more severe mental health diagnoses. And while these changes can often last for months, the long-term effectiveness requires further study.

KAP is most safe and successful when the sessions are conducted in the presence of a trained professional.

Traditional talk therapy is a very established technique proven to make long-term changes by providing insights and fostering personal growth over time. However, it works best when the client finds the right therapist and commits to exploring their psyche and making a lasting change. 

The long-term implications and benefits of each method depend heavily on individual factors, including the condition being treated, the individual’s psychological makeup, and the goals of treatment.


In conclusion, KAT and TTT are distinct approaches, each with a unique set of benefits and drawbacks.

KAP has been proven to rapidly alleviate symptoms that are difficult to overcome with traditional techniques, making it a valuable addition to the therapeutic landscape. On the other hand, talk therapy has been proven to make lasting change, and is still the most popular form of psychotherapy.

While both techniques have proved their efficacy, it’s crucial to deepen our understanding of each approach and refine its application.

Additionally, there must be an increase in the acceptance of KAP as a regular therapeutic modality.

To learn more about ketamine-assisted therapy in Los Angeles for both individuals or in ketamine-assisted group sessions, give the Psychedeica Collective a call today.