Women, Leadership, and Psychedelics - Veronica Pretelt
This article is part of a series of interviews of women and leaders who have had their lives transformed by psychedelics and plant medicine and a collaboration with founder Natasja Pelgrom and Awaken The Medicine Within retreats.
Veronica Pretelt is a London-based psychotherapist. She integrates embodiment, mindfulness and spiritual practices into her work with individuals and groups. More recently, she cofounded InBeing, a workshop, gatherings and retreat space that offers meditation, embodiment and reflective practices and rituals to support women in coming deeply present to their bodies, mind, heart, spirit and their environment. She is currently pursuing certification as a Psychedelic Practitioner with Synthesis Institute in The Netherlands.
WOOP: Can you share a bit about yourself and your background?
Veronica: I was born in Colombia, where I spent a beautiful childhood surrounded by a large, loud and loving family and a group of friends who to this day remain my soul sisters. In my early 20s, I left for the US for graduate school in Counselling Psychology and my path took one of its biggest turns when I met my Italian husband-to-be. We decided to move to London where we’ve built our home, our beautiful family, a community of friends, and professional lives for the past two decades. I’ve been practicing as a Psychotherapist in the non-profit sector for over 20 years mainly with clients who’ve experienced trauma.
I’m currently developing, with my colleague and friend Suncica Getter, InBeing, a space for women to foster an internal environment that will enhance their well-being and allow their true and authentic Self to flourish. Through workshops, retreats and gatherings, we bring meditation, embodiment, and reflective practices and rituals to support women in coming deeply present to their bodies, mind, heart, spirit, and environment.
In community, we explore the true meaning of loving awareness and nurture the power of feminine leadership and vulnerability to engage with the flow of life in a way that feels authentic and true. We share our personal journey and the things we have learned along the way that have supported us in coming back to the space of connection with ourselves and the world around us.
WOOP: What motivated you to seek psychedelic healing?
Veronica: This is where my life becomes really juicy! Psychedelics came into my life in a moment of great confluence. I was on one hand feeling frustrated with work and the limitations I was finding with traditional talk therapy. Complex trauma and its wounds are difficult to heal. I knew I needed to change the way I worked into a more holistic approach. I began introducing mindfulness and some somatic practices in my work. It’s been a slow process as current psychotherapeutic settings allow little space for creativity and a holistic approach.
My sense of spirituality revolved around a desire to serve and connect with other humans but I had no connection to a Higher Source. I had meditated for many years on and off but always within a secular model. At a personal level, I was feeling trapped inside the different roles that had for so long given me safety in life, the mother, the wife, the therapist, the good friend, family member, etc. I had allowed these roles to define me and cut out any space for anything that did not belong in those boxes.
The sensation was that of being locked inside a hard shell, but I had the intuitive feeling that something needed to come out. Fear had slowly begun taking over my life, I was feeling suffocated and frozen. Many years of growing up in a violent social context in Colombia where bombs, murder, and kidnapping were part of my reality, had also left me with a sensitized nervous system, always on the lookout for possible danger. I had been living my life within a limiting comfort zone for too long.
One day on a beach in Italy whilst looking at my son swimming in the sea, I began feeling a calling in the middle of my chest to connect with something greater but didn’t yet know what it was. It was like something inside of me was being invited to step out of the shell.
Around this time, my brother called me and told me he was planning to go on a psychedelic retreat. All my alarm bells went off. I thought he had gone crazy! I was part of a generation of therapists who never heard about past psychedelic research during our training and also was very much convinced that psychedelics were dangerous drugs. Thankfully, Michael Pollan’s book had just come out and my brother gave me the book and told me “that I needed to inform myself a bit better about what was actually happening in my field of work” and so…. I began reading.
My mind was blown away. I decided I needed to understand these medicines and learn as much as I could. So for the past three years, I’ve been studying and reading about Psychedelics pretty much non-stop. Something extraordinary happened in this process. Psychedelics (just learning about them) opened a beautiful rabbit hole of inquiry that unfurled an awaiting deep spiritual awakening. I didn’t even need to try them…this is how powerful I think they are, but that’s a whole other story.
My readings on Psychedelics led me to Ram Dass and his world, and this is when my heart truly opened. It felt like I had been struck by lightning. Suddenly, I KNEW. I was spontaneously experiencing everything I was reading Psychedelics did for people. A sense of true belonging, feeling interconnected with everything, and having an open heart. I was able to experience love as a force, a field that is in and around us. I began chanting, meditating every day, working with wonderful teachers and mentors, immersing myself in nature, music, books, poetry, and podcasts, and engaging in different embodiment practices like Qigong, 5Rhythms, and Non-Linear Movement Method.
COVID lockdown seemed to be the ideal container for me to do this. A portal into a mystical sacred world had opened. Where had I been all this time?! I decided I wanted to share these practices with others so I trained as a Non-Linear Movement Method teacher, joined Jack Kornfield’s Mindfulness Teacher Certification Programme and took a course in Reiki.
This spiritual path started breaking down the hard shell I had around me and I found the keys to some of the invisible cages I had built for myself. I found different entry points to the space in me that is Loving Awareness. The space in me where I connect with the sacred in and around me. An overwhelming amount of synchronicities began occurring showing me something bigger than myself was at play. How could these plants open these doors for me without even trying them?
Despite all that was happening, I knew however, that my journey with these plant medicines was just beginning. There was an apprenticeship to be had, for my sake and for the people I hope to one day serve and support in their healing with these plants.
As part of my continued research in Psychedelics, I joined Synthesis Institute on their Psychedelic Practitioner 18-month Training Program. This is where I met Natasja Pelgrom and where I more deeply grew in my understanding of these medicines not just from a scientific clinical perspective but from a rich wisdom tradition that has been around for millennia. My training in Synthesis has brought me full circle to wanting to reignite my connection with my own Latin American roots which carry so much wisdom and tradition in this field.
All this to say, for three years, Psychedelics have walked along my path but we had not truly met until I attended Natasja’s Awaken the Medicine Within Psilocybin Retreat. I was ready to dive deep into my unconscious and other spiritual realms and surrender to the plant medicine.
WOOP: Could you share with us a bit about your experience at the retreat?
Veronica: Natasja has created a powerful sacred container for healing in Awaken the Medicine Within. She has put together a wonderful team of healers and rituals that help participants become deeply connected with themselves and the world around them. A gentle but profound layering of experiences enabled me to dive deep into my soul through a process of “intense cleansing” and transformation.
Every detail from beginning to end was beautifully curated to ensure a safe and nurturing experience. From the moment I got there the fireplace was roaring, there were cozy corners with blankets to wrap ourselves with, beautiful nature all around, the smell of delicious food being prepared, and mostly I had a sense of being with people I could trust.
From two weeks before the retreat, she and Lorraine started us on a very rigorous diet to cleanse and open us up… so by the time I arrived I was very sensitive and ready to receive. The whole experience was imbued in ritual and ceremony, and each facilitator brought their own magic healing at just the right time. We danced, sang, meditated, ate, walked, and used plant medicine throughout.
Natasja was the orchestra director of this amazing Symphony giving out her healing in every one of the experiences we had. I received Icaros and what was to me wonderous shamanic healing from Lorraine. Beautiful singing and deep reflections for inquiry from John. Alexander held us in safety and brought me inward with his guided meditations. Mela connected me with love for myself and the planet.
The retreat introduced me to the power of plant medicine in its many forms. Psilocybin brought forth my shadow and enabled me to better integrate it into my life. Plant baths soothed me in the evenings. Tobacco cleansed me and helped me release deep-rooted trauma held in my body. Cacao opened my heart and I got to experience true unconditional love for myself.
Natasja’s role as a bridge-builder between wisdom traditions and the modern psychedelic paradigm resonates deeply with me. The entire retreat experience was for me a portal into the Soul space. It felt like the whole group was residing in a place of love, light, truth, and peace, we had the experience of seeing ourselves in each other.
WOOP: How has plant medicine/psychedelics impacted your life since?
Veronica: It took me a long time to try Psychedelics as I was scared. Too many remnants of the war on drugs misinformation propaganda on psychedelics. I however knew that these medicines would give me what I needed, which was intense somatic healing and release, something I had not been able to do in all my years of therapeutic work but which I had already begun through Non-Linear Movement and Qigong.
My experience with psilocybin was a really difficult one, but one that left me with a treasure chest of jewels that I have been digging out ever since. I certainly did not have “a heart-expanding, blissful feeling of unity with everything” journey. I spent 8 hours in profound physical discomfort and pain, but I learned more than ever about letting go, trusting my body’s wisdom, and deepening my faith in my inner healer.
My shadow took center stage and I was able to integrate it more fully into my life, continuing my path of finding the “middle way”. I also had lots of questions answered in my journey, not only about my life but about the operating mechanisms of the mushrooms. It was incredible, the way the mushrooms answered some of the big questions I had about the psychedelic experience, I felt like a true apprentice.
I feel that plant medicine, and in this, I include Tobacco and Cacao as well, has helped my body heal from trauma in a way that I could not have envisioned before. My nervous system got to release so much of what it had trapped inside. I feel different as a result. I understood firsthand why people say it’s like 10 years of therapy compressed in a day.
I feel more able to step into areas of discomfort and feel more courageous than ever before. In this journey, I also integrated “knowings” about myself at a somatic level. Psychotherapy and Meditation had given me much understanding and insight into my life. Psilocybin helped me “know it” in my body. I know now for certain that Cacao is another doorway for me to love and connect with my Soul. I have begun having my own ceremonies at home continuing to cultivate my relationship with this plant and I love it.
WOOP: How do you think these healing tools can help women's empowerment, healing, and self-liberation?
Veronica: I do think that plant medicines can be great tools amongst other things for healing, awakening, and freedom. They can remind us that we all Belong and if used in the right and safe context they can empower women to flourish by coming into contact with their true essence in a deeply embodied way.
I, however, don’t believe true healing happens by cultivating many peak experiences. I worry the Psychedelic Renaissance and sensationalist news headlines can send the wrong message to people about these medicines as “one-off wonders”. These wormholes into states of bliss and union can also lead to spiritual bypassing.
Thankfully, a lot is now being said about the importance of integration. I feel this is a field that still has a long way to go. I believe true healing in integration begins during the preparation phase. Preparation is not just to help people skillfully navigate their journeys with a sense of trust and surrender, but to start building the foundations and preparing the soil for what it is that they are trying to change and integrate into their life after a Psychedelic journey.
Too many missed opportunities happen when a long list of wonderful ideas are given to people to do during integration. For many, it feels too much and too foreign. Some have enough of being able to bathe in the afterglow of their journey and that window of opportunity for neuroplasticity that happens right after is missed.
I also look at this from a trauma-informed lens. This incredible renaissance is happening really fast on one hand and on the other not quickly enough to legalize and structure the provision in mental health settings. Many people who could benefit from these medicines embedded in a psychotherapeutic framework are not being able to access them. Many are doing this on their own or are attending retreats that cannot hold the level of need they have. In retreats, the time spent in supported preparation and integration can for many people not be enough. As a result, I have seen people being left in really difficult states.
My hope is that in the future, when properly regulated in the UK, InBeing can become a place for deep preparation and integration of life in general but also Psychedelic journeys as well (without it replacing sometimes necessary psychotherapy). We want to create communities of belonging where we can understand that we are not a part of nature, we ARE nature. We are spiritual beings having a human experience in a body that is social by essence and needs to belong to thrive.
Since 2017, Awaken The Medicine Within supports people with cutting-edge psycho-spiritual approaches in retreats, program & community. The container is set with a virtual preparation and integration program and adding a five-day intimate in-person immersive.
The immersive will unfold with Sound healing, Therapeutic breathwork, Cacao Ceremony, Somatic Practices, Belief work, Personal Coaching, Shamanic Healing, and Sacred Toad 5-MeO-DMT Medicine or Psilocybin ceremonies (see the dates here). In the pristine Dutch, or Portuguese countryside were you will have the ability to heal, align and integrate your new insights in a magical historical boutique setting.
Founder Natasja Pelgrom designed this unique program, that aims to incorporates traditional knowledge, modern research, and therapeutic practices. The team of facilitators have together over 35+ years of experience working with individuals and groups with therapeutic, holistic healing modalities, sacred technology, ancient practices while bridging into modern-day approaches with a sense of playfulness.
Curious to learn more or join? Click here.