Tabata de Aquino Gerk is a Brazilian mentor and researcher in consciousness expansion, specializing in entheogens for mental health. In her approach, she merges her knowledge in Psychology, from graduation and Masters at the University of Brasília, with her path as an apprentice of ancestral medicines, such as Ayahuasca, Cacao and Psilocybe Cubensis. She integrates contemporary science with ancestral knowledge in an authorial method called Psique Ancestral, offering therapies, retreats, and courses. Check out our interview with Tabta on bridging Western knowledge and ancestral healing.
WOOP: Can you share with us your personal journey of transitioning from treating people with complex mental health crises in institutional settings to incorporating ancient healing knowledge of plant medicine into your work?
Tabata: My journey merging the realms of modern psychology with the ancient wisdom of plant medicine has been a personal alchemy. Transitioning from treating people as a traditional psychologist to conducting experiences as a medicine woman has opened up new dimensions of healing and holistic well-being for both myself and those I serve.
My path as a healer started with a graduation and a master’s degree in Psychology, with a field of work and research including institutional settings, such as prisons, hospitals and mental hospitals. In complex contexts like these, I could see the potentials and limitations in the traditional treatments I learned from Psychology. I yearned for a holistic understanding of the human psyche and a more integrative approach to healing.
Recognizing this longing, I embarked on a personal quest to explore alternative healing modalities and ancient wisdom traditions. This exploration led me to the world of plant medicine, where I discovered its profound healing power. Through intensive study and personal experiences, I delved into the teachings of ancient cultures, learning about the therapeutic properties of various plants and their ability to facilitate healing on physical, emotional and spiritual levels. As much as I dove into these ancient technologies, I started building up my own interpretations of psychology, shamanism, health, diseases, and healing.
After that, I could no longer be “just” a psychologist. I was able to understand people and their demands in many other layers besides what I learned to be “validated”. So, I had to make a choice and honor my truth.
As psychedelic therapy is taking baby steps in Brazil and traditional psychology still sees ancestral knowledge as pseudoscience, I found myself at a crossroads in my career. I then decided to assume myself as a medicine woman, and because of that I could no longer, legally, be seen as a psychologist. But, only after this hard decision, I was able to rebuild my work following the path of integration between ancient and contemporary wisdom. Nowadays, to continue serving therapy and psychedelic integration, I work as a holistic therapist besides my labor as a medicine woman.
WOOP: How did your experience with Ayahuasca and reconnecting with spirituality influence your understanding of psychology and healing practices?
Tabata: I had my first experience with Ayahuasca the year I graduated as a psychologist. I distinctly remember feeling, “All of this I accessed saved me a lot of therapy! How come I never heard about this at University?” After that first time, there was no turning back. I couldn't ignore all the healing potency I saw happening and also received it with that sacred medicine.
So, I went to research why traditional psychology didn’t mention ancient healing methods, at least as a historical part of the sociocultural construction of what we have as healers today. So, I came across and understood the link between some important historical marks: the Holy Inquisition and the extermination of many medicine women; the advent of medicine that was only allowed to white man, all the colonization of indigenous territories and the suppression and disrespect of their means of healing, and also the whole game of power and money from western mental health industries.
Then, I understood why I, in an academic healing course in this Brazilian land full of ancient culture and knowledge, had never heard about plant medicine or anything similar. Therefore, I went on my own journey, following my intuition and my spirituality. It took me a lot of decolonization from what I had learned was “true healing”. I feel that this movement is a long process of deconstruction for us who were raised in completely colonized and patriarchal societies.
I went to experience in my skin the learning of some ancestral religions, shamanism, matriarchal religions. I also went through different holistic and energetic healing techniques as a patient to understand where they come from and how they work. To sum up, I’ve set up myself as my own experiment to really know the power of ancient healing.
I know that I haven't finished this process, because I always place myself as an active learner in search of renewal within these learnings. But today I can say that I am an alchemy of everything I learned and received from all of this healing. Besides, I continue to seek knowledge both in psychology and in ancient knowledge for my work.
WOOP: In what ways do you integrate the principles of ancient healing knowledge into your current work? Could you provide us with some examples?
Tabata: My basic start for every move on my work is all about natural cycles. Moon phases, weather seasons, menstruation… All the cycles that are oriented by mother nature’s plan, in and out of our bodies. With this measure of health, sustainable and fluid rhythm I organize all my work, from my personal weekly schedule to the client's treatment plan. I also organize my retreats with plant medicine based on these cycles, as well as my mentorships and courses for therapists.
In addition, I incorporate the four elements - earth, air, fire, and water - as symbolic representations of different aspects of human experience. I explore with my clients how these elements relate to different emotions, personality traits, and life situations. By understanding and balancing these elements within themselves, clients can gain a deeper understanding of their inner landscapes and cultivate a personal sense of harmony and equilibrium, not based on external expectations, but on inner needs and flows.
These pillars open the way for another ancient practice I incorporate: the holistic health approach. I explore the physical, emotional, social and spiritual dimensions of illness and well-being with clients, recognizing that imbalances in one area can impact others. By addressing the underlying root causes and considering the whole person, we can work towards healing and balance on multiple levels.
So, besides uniting nature’s healthful flow with a holistic health approach and some other ancient canalisations and practices I then attach scientific and psychological approaches as partners in the whole healing experiences I conduct. By doing this I see as results more autonomy, inner trust and empowering attitude from my clients with their own healing process. They obtain precious knowledge about the living nature within and outside that they will carry for life.
WOOP: What specific benefits do you believe ancient healing knowledge, such as plant medicine, offer to women in the context of mental health and well-being?
Tabata: Overall, ancient healing tools, including plant medicine, offer women a path to reclaiming their original power, reconnecting with their bodies and emotions and finding deep healing and holistic health.
Some of the benefits found by embracing ancient practices are:
Decolonizing bodies: Ancient healing knowledge invites women to reclaim their bodies from societal conditioning and oppressive norms. It encourages us to reconnect with our innate desires and authentic selves, free from external expectations and measures.
Making peace with our internal cycles: Women's menstrual cycles have often been stigmatized and seen as a burden. Ancient wisdom and practices offer a different perspective, encouraging us to look at our cycles as sacred and reframe our relationship with them, so we can cultivate self-care and self-acceptance.
Trusting in the power of alliance between women: By fostering sisterhood, the ancestral way women connected, we can find empathy, validation and better understanding in our life experiences. This sense of alliance helps to counter feelings of isolation and encourages us to tap into our inner strength.
Trusting the Inner Healer: The ancient philosophy of Self encourages women to reconnect with intuition and trust the innate healing capacity within themselves. This process strengthens our sense of agency and enables us to become active participants in our healing journey.
WOOP: What challenges have you encountered in bridging the gap between traditional medical practices and ancient healing knowledge? How do you address skepticism or resistance from mainstream medical communities?
Tabata: Well, building a new paradigm for holistic healing takes a large energetic cost, because there are many people, health professionals, organizations, industries, and politicians that don't want this kind of thought to flourish and become a reality.
The barriers are deeper than I could share in one interview. To name a few, the lack of scientific research merging ancient and contemporary knowledge, the legal regulation for therapeutic use of plant medicine, and professional licensing to conduct psychedelic therapy are important barriers, and we can only fully overcome them with society collaboration and support.
The stigma barrier is an important one too. Many health professionals still are extremely resistant to considering plant medicine as a valid way of treatment. The hegemony of medicalization is super strong, and there’s a whole industry winning loads of money (and paying loads of money to buy this first position). In this scenario, unfortunately, there is lots of prejudice addressed to patients and professionals who are pro-plant medicine. Combined with this, comes a lack of interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration between health professionals.
But well, how do I deal with all of that? Finding people that also believe in the powerful combination between ancient wisdom and science. There are many of us out there, and we are growing like mycelium. Even if we have to take some careful and smaller steps now, we are now building the future of psychedelic therapy and helping maintain ancestral knowledge alive with ethics and reciprocity.
WOOP: How do you see the future of mental health care evolving in Brazil with the inclusion of ancient healing knowledge? Do you envision a more holistic approach becoming more widely accepted and integrated?
Tabata: Brazil still operates in a very colonized way, in different social strata. It is 2023 and the right of indigenous peoples to demarcated lands is still being legally judged. I see that this new psychedelic revolution in mental health will not take that long to arrive in Brazil, there are already anti-prohibitionist drug policies advancing at this moment. However, the inclusion of ancient knowledge in this still happens underground, underpaid, and hidden. We still have a lot to decolonize as a society and as science so that respect, recognition and integration become a possibility. I really hope for that and do my part to make this happen.
WOOP: What advice would you give to women who are interested in exploring the integration of ancient healing knowledge into their own personal or professional lives?
Tabata: Connect with your ancestry first. Understand your family’s history, and rescue the memories of your ancestors as much as you can. Certainly, your desire to unite ancient healing knowledge in your practices does not come from nowhere. It's rescuing your own lineage.
I see that many people start by seeking ancestral knowledge in cultures that are not directly related to their family of origin. The world's ancestral knowledge is beautiful and worth being honored, however, what I’m saying is to also look at your own roots. We still have a lot to heal in our own family history. Decolonizing holistic knowledge is also about that, decolonizing our own history.
How many healers, witches, curanderas, medicine women… Do you have in your family? They are an important integration key for you. From then on, several internal portals open, old memories, and new possibilities. You will understand which paths to follow to continue rescuing ancestry and embracing it into your life and work.
WOOP: Anything else you would like to share?
Tabata: We are all still learning what psychedelic therapy and its branches will become. In a hazy scenario like the current one, where large companies want to patent ancestral medicines and indigenous peoples still suffer from the most varied types of violence, it is important to understand the ethical, political, and social layers this area carries.
There is no beautiful future for this new psychedelic revolution if society plays the colonizer role again. So, even if there’s no ready answer to how to do this ancient-contemporary knowledge integration yet, if we all know how to respect and do our part in this we will walk with virtue in this mysterious and fascinating journey with psychedelics.
If you wish to get in touch with Tabata, find her on: