Updated: Jan 13, 2021
Joyfully launching Amplify, our new interview section on the Women On Psychedelics platform, we are going to share the amazing work being done by women all over the world in the psychedelic world.
Our series starts with Jennifer Pereira, a healer leading women’s self-worth work and psychedelic guided ceremonies. Jennifer left a successful corporate career and mainstream convention to become a modern-day curandera living her soul’s purpose: leading the psychedelic revolution in calling for diversity, harm reduction, and the right for women to choose their medicines.
We catch up with her to find out more about her personal and professional relationship with psychedelics, and how these therapeutic experiences translate for modern-day life.
Note: This interview was conducted and transcribed by Jessika Lagarde and it has been edited and condensed for clarity.
WOOP: Can you share a little bit about your background and what led you to this kind of work?
Jennifer: I was a go-getter, type A, bright and bubbly overachiever. A health crisis and my battle with crippling anxiety forced me to face my mortality and reassess my entire life.
I had a wonderful corporate career in IT Project Management, working on massive legacy software updates and policy changes on behalf of our Provincial government. As I climbed the ladder in a male-dominated industry, my 10-year marriage and personal life simultaneously began to fall apart. The stark imbalance in my environments and not having skills in resilience meant stress levels became unmanageable.
Being heavily focused on goals and consistently high performing for many years led to a massive crash. Seemingly overnight, I became extremely sick and had to be hospitalized. My anxiety was debilitating, and I was unable to function normally in daily life. Depressive symptoms soon followed.
With anti-anxiety medication causing even more damage to my depleted adrenal glands and a taxed endocrine system, I was cycled through antidepressants to calm my overworked nervous system down. Nothing helped.
I knew that I needed a massive change in my lifestyle. After trying everything the western medical system had to offer, I found myself increasingly curious about folk healing, plant and herbal medicines, and the ways of my ancestors. I saw a naturopathic doctor in addition to my own family doctor and started seeing healers. I changed my diet completely and developed a practice in mindfulness, yoga, and meditation. As a result, memories, and traumas I had repressed since childhood began to release, and I started to listen deeply to my inner voice.
I had never taken any kind of drugs before. People are surprised to learn that I only tried my first marijuana joint at 34. However, the research surrounding psilocybin treatment with magic mushrooms was too compelling to ignore. I spent a long time finding a healer and guide I felt comfortable with and did what was previously impossible for me - I surrendered ‘control’ and undertook a major hero’s journey.
In just a day, my life was changed forever. I walked away completely free from anxiety and depression. The next day, I called my doctor to work out a safe and slow release to stop all medications. I have been prescription free ever since.
I later met a Métis indigenous woman whose sessions were handled with such care and mindfulness that my healing took a turn. Visions and repressed memories relating to my lineage revealed themselves, showing me that my ancestors, from the tiny Atlantic island in the Azores of Portugal, also have a history of working with plants and herbal medicines.
When I was finally physically, mentally, and spiritually ready, I felt the Universe redirecting me to serve others in this way. To this day, I still bring in much of my Azorean Portuguese healing knowledge to client sessions.
WOOP: Why do you choose to follow the Healer’s path instead of working as a therapist?
Jennifer: I have made the conscious and very intentional decision to serve as a Healer. The way magic mushrooms have guided me to serve is to meet people where they are at and help them self-heal in the way that is best for them.
I have come to understand the plant is consuming the individual as the individual consumes the plant. It is a co-creation when the human comes together with the natural world this way. No one comes to sit with the plants by accident.
From my years of lived experience and deep relationship with mushroom medicine, I am unable to ethically and morally advise that clinical settings and medical institutions are the only or most supportive way to undertake these experiences.
Therefore, I have deliberately chosen not to complete education credits as a therapist, and have turned my focus to education in the personal development world, trauma, somatics, and respecting cultural lineages. If I were to register as a therapist, I would be bound to a professional body and its code of ethics. This would prevent guided sacred ceremonies, telling my clients I love them, hugging them, spiritual and ineffable possibilities, and walking with them in the way they wish.
WOOP: You also work as a Diversity Lead for MAPS Canada. Can you share a bit more about that?
Jennifer: As my work is based on research and academic best practices, I had been paying attention to MAPS Canada and all psychedelic research organizations for quite a few years. MAPS is the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies and founded in the USA. Canada has a smaller branch advocating for legalization at the federal level and lobbying Health Canada.
I started by quietly attending volunteer meetings. There, I noticed a lack of dialogue around important subjects such as cultural appropriation and reparation, a lack of diversity in the volunteer base itself, their research studies, and that panels and topics were predominately white-male dominated and operating within traditionally oppressive systems.
So, I put my hand up in inquiry of a diversity committee and represented myself as a healer leading this work. Things are still in progress, but MAPS Canada has officially recognized the need for diversity. Several diversity initiatives within the organization have failed to launch as the work is slow, intentional, and difficult to measure, but our team is prepared to continually push forward.
The position I take as a volunteer inside the organization is as an “ally in opposition”.
WOOP: Your work as a plant medicine guide is focused on women’s self-worth & spiritual self-care. Tell us what led you to that focus.
Jennifer: A lack of self-worth is the plague of our times, worse than any other disease. I focus on this as I believe we must address mental health issues at their roots.
Through transpersonal psychology, I have learned the need for deep self-love is truly the core of the journey every individual is on. Whether you’ve experienced severe trauma or not, all people experience sensations of guilt, shame, resentment, abandonment, rejection, and other emotions that contribute to unwellness. The mounting neurological effect of these negative emotions in the brain is at the root of all the issues with self-worth.
“I’m not good enough” is the repetitive narrative for all humans. We spend our lives formulating and crafting an image of who we think we are, or should be, but underneath our multiple masks is our original inner child and true self that does not feel good enough, heard, seen, or truly loved.
Most of these issues naturally stem from childhood, but also come from beyond. In addition to our own lived traumas and confusion, we also carry in our DNA the pain of our lineage passed down through ancestral generations.
Many women try to share their problems, but they are not received or heard in the ways that they deserve. Many are facing some form of anxiety, depression, and living lives that are not true to themselves or their fullest potential.
As a guide, I am their witness and advocate for their highest self. What many women have in common is a lack of an empathic witness in their lives. Scientifically, we attribute part of the transformation that occurs in a ceremony to “the observer effect”. I am witnessing the whole person, and their energy and experience, without trying to fix or change a single thing. I stand in total unflinching allowance, acceptance, and loving of whatever they have experienced or believe is their truth. From this place, healing begins.
WOOP: What are psychedelics for you?
Jennifer: Psychedelics are medicine. Using these medicines is a return to our ancestral ways, and to the community. The original medicine was sitting in togetherness and dealing with issues in a sacred, safe, and supported way with elders. There was nothing wrong or needing to be fixed, only the human experience to witness. Psychedelics are part of our natural evolution, a renaissance, the past shaping the future in a simultaneous “now”.
WOOP: Share with us your most transformative or life-changing journey. What changed for you after that?
Jennifer: My most significant journey was 8 grams of golden teacher psilocybin mushrooms with a very experienced guide. Because I was on heavy antidepressants at the time, it took an unusually high dose for me to actually transcend. I do not recommend it, but now that I’ve done that, I feel like I can do anything.
It was the most intense experience. I was taken directly into felt sensations of my family line, and into the deep recesses of the universe. I could actually feel and see what had happened to my parents and grandparents, understand their trauma and ways of thinking and being, and why I was the way I was. I saw the place and organization of every living thing inside the universal construct.
During the experience, I created amazing pieces of art and writing that I still cherish to this day. I had a significant opening of my sensory gifts, including medical intuition, and the ability to channel as an Oracle. Light Language and the Akashic Record began to reveal themselves to me.
I do not advise or endorse for anyone who is on medication to take high doses of psychedelics or any psychedelics at all. It is important to discuss medical and prescription contraindications with your practitioners well ahead of time.
WOOP: What are your thoughts on the ways the current retreats and ceremonies are organized across the world? Any trends that excite or worry you?
Jennifer: Spiritual tourism and the eco-footprint left behind, immersion without integration, people continually journeying without a focused direction - I don’t feel like any of these are sustainable or safe. I also see many individuals continually spiritually seeking without truly accepting themselves, and find that troubling.
Spiritual tourism is concerning on multiple levels. There may be a lack of preparation and assessment as to whether or not the person undertaking the journey has solid ground to return to after the experience, or is even suited to undertake the experience at all.
It is recommended for one to enter an experience like this with a well-planned integration phase and after-care support because the real work begins every day after the ceremony. Without that, it could be harmful as the body and psyche might not feel safe on some level. Not all retreat leaders or cultural space-holders have the ability to provide integration.
When you are having a psychedelic experience, the brain and body perceptive shields are down and you are able to explore the subconscious. There is more openness, bringing about a feeling of oneness with everything, but also more access.
Because of this, I personally don’t recommend group ceremonies or retreats for the beginner voyager, and I know my opinion on this is controversial. However, trauma transference and projection is a real thing. Under the influence of these medicines, we have heightened sensitivity and other people around can affect you at that moment.
I believe that the best way to do deep personal work is in a one-on-one guided experience, or in a sisterhood (or brotherhood) of extremely trusted individuals. I also recommend that sitting with an experienced and trusted guide with a deeply resonant understanding of quantum physics and universal laws, transpersonal psychology, and a personal relationship with the plant, is the absolute minimum.
In terms of excitement, I love being a non-white presenting woman in this space and leading the way in wellness. We are at a pivotal time for changes to medical care and I feel hopeful with every single step to removing the stigma around the right to choose. Peak levels of vitality and wellness, as well as consciousness exploration and expansion, are the keys to uplifting the whole of humanity.
WOOP: What would you say is the advantage of seeking a female healer or guide?
Jennifer: Generational and ancestral transmutation of healing can occur without much happening in the presence of open feminine energy. There are a gentleness and a sensitivity that feminine healers are predisposed to. This is not about gender, because there are incredible male healers. But for women who are talented healers, there is a deep understanding of the naturally chaotic internal nature of femininity and the emotional waves and cycles in the inner world of human beings.
Testosterone predisposes and wires individuals to find solutions and take action, by its very nature. The genetic structure of a masculine being will drive them to push forward or strive towards outcomes. Women, or estrogen-dominant biology, on the other hand, can more easily be still with discomfort, with the unknown, with the flow of seemingly uncomfortable emotions without needing to take any immediate action.
I’m making sweeping generalizations here, but feminine healers will be predisposed to nurture inside the experience by simply allowing the experience to happen exactly as you need it to happen. With the presence of a womb, the portal of darkness from which all creation and life come from, an estrogen-based being is maternally wired to nurture and protect what she has created just by ‘being’ who she is, rather than doing any specific thing.
WOOP: What would you advise to women looking to do that kind of inner work for the first time?
Jennifer: Unfortunately, people will often only do this deep work when there is a problem outside themselves they want to ‘fix’, such as their relationships or careers. So my first advice is for women to understand that investing in themselves is extremely worthy because they themselves are extremely worthy. It may take some work to get there. This is the first step.
My second piece of advice is to seek guidance and do preparation and research. Choosing to heal, explore, or joyfully experience consciousness with psychedelics is deep learning, and can be as deep or deeper than years of traditional therapy in a single session.
WOOP: Any exciting projects for the future?
Jennifer: Endless! I’m working on another project called Diversiphy, a media platform to amplify and provide access to underrepresented voices. We want diverse healers and keepers of the medicines to be able to showcase their knowledge from the grassroots level on podcasts, interviews, and conferences where their voices are truly needed around the world.
I also collaborate with a male guide and healer to put together special experiences for couples. It took years for me to find my male counterpart who could complement my work in a professional capacity. I believe our style and approach to this work will help inform an entirely new therapeutic practice.
As a personal project, I have notebooks of clinical style notes from every single journey my clients have undertaken. One day, I want to share their stories with the world in a published book. I believe it is important to give women’s experiences a voice and to have their stories heard.
When you have the opportunity to serve as a guide and keeper of medicines, you truly are privileged to see people’s souls naked on the floor. It’s such a special thing to honor and witness, and I hope to give life to these stories in a different way. Even though the person has healed and moved on, the pain they experienced still remains alive in our collective consciousness and in the space-time continuum. I believe sharing stories, as our ancestors did, can help others.
WOOP: Any final words?
Jennifer: The deepest truth I’ve come to know is that our divinity is in our humanity.
I would like to encourage people to be more open about their inner experiences and share their stories, from a genuine place of humility and vulnerable strength. There is nothing to find but yourself, and nowhere to go but home. Share with your loved ones if possible, so we can normalize healing and learn as a society that there is truly no wrong way to experience being human.
Lastly, sincere thanks for the invitation to be a part of WOOP’s Amplify interview series. Healers in this space are severely underrepresented, and they are the ones who need to speak from witnessing lived experience, from grace, and from compassion.
This was the first powerful woman on our Amplify Interview Sections. Do you know more women doing amazing work that we should showcase at WOOP? Don't hesitate in sending us an e-mail!