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Confronting COVID-19

Lessons learned from remote learning

Megan Edgelow
Megan Edgelow, an assistant professor in the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, writes about the process of transitioning the course OT852 – Group Theory and Process to a remote learning format with students designing online group sessions. (Supplied photo)  

The following blog is written by Megan Edgelow, an assistant professor in the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, and first published through Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences Richard Reznick’s Dean on Campus blog.

This spring has unfolded in some unexpected ways for first-year students of the MSc in Occupational Therapy (OT) program. Students returned to campus in early March, fresh from their first two-month clinical placements across the province, and the country, ready to dig into a spring term of learning while applying their recently expanded clinical skills. Just one week of face-to-face learning took place before students left campus and courses moved online due to COVID-19, and students once again found themselves scattered across the country when learning resumed online in late-March.

For my teaching, the move online presented some challenges in OT852 – Group Theory and Process. This course traditionally blends group theory and practical group leadership experiences, with teams of OT students designing and leading health-oriented groups for community volunteers in the Clinical Education Centre of the Faculty of Health Sciences. While theory may lend itself to online lectures and textbook readings, the applied learning activities in the course were more difficult to reconceptualize. Thankfully, with some creative thinking, and the flexibility of the OT students, all the learning objectives could be met remotely.

My course team and the students turned our usual face-to-face class times into regular Zoom sessions covering the necessary group theory, and then used the “breakout rooms” feature of Zoom to allow the students to work in teams. These smaller online rooms provided the students with a virtual environment where they could effectively engage in group collaboration, including the designing and planning of OT group sessions, while continuing to receive essential formative feedback from instructors.

To replace the in-person Clinical Education Centre experience, further creativity was needed. This year, the OT students designed “Healthy Aging” groups, creating content to address the physical, emotional, social and spiritual factors that influence the aging process, responding to the performance and engagement issues that the aging process can bring. Teams of students designed online group sessions around a variety of topics, including falls prevention, physical activity, leisure activity, time use and routines, spirituality, and coping skills for use in daily life and with the stress of COVID-19. Students then recruited adults and older adults from their own lives, including parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, and neighbours to volunteer as their group participants.

ORemote learning OT852 – Group Theory and Processver the course of two weeks in May, 10 teams led and recorded three group sessions each, for a total of 30 “Healthy Aging” group sessions, with over 50 community participants.

Feedback from the participants was overwhelmingly positive. They learned new things about staying healthy later in life, as well as ways to cope in daily life and during the global pandemic, and they appreciated the opportunity to connect remotely with the OT students and other participants during a particularly isolated time. Some participants even asked to keep in touch with each other to keep applying their learning and supporting one other.

For myself and my co-instructors, who had the pleasure of watching the recorded group sessions and providing the OT students with feedback on their leadership skills, the learning was clear. Our students designed creative, engaging and supportive sessions for their participants, learning about leadership in a new way during an unprecedented time in health care.

Given the ongoing need for flexibility in health service delivery, and the expanding nature of telehealth and remote health care, this learning experience sows the seeds for these OT students as future action-oriented, responsive and adaptive leaders. This evolving health care environment continues to provide opportunities for Occupational Therapists to lead in health systems adaptations, addressing issues of performance and engagement, and focusing on meaning, purpose and connection with patients and clients as their health journeys unfold in real time.

Educating future frontline health care professionals

Kingston hospital sites will provide unique learning opportunities for health sciences students during COVID-19.

Three health care professionals are seen as they work on a medical procedure.
As of June 1, approximately 200 students from the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Rehabilitation Therapy at Queen’s University will return to local Kingston hospitals to complete clinical placements and clerkships. (Photo by Matthew Manor / KHSC)

Health care professionals, including doctors, nurses, and therapists, are some of the frontline workers being hailed as heroes for their efforts supporting communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. For students entering these professions, the current crisis has posed challenges to course requirements, potentially affecting graduation timelines, in a context where frontline professionals are needed more than ever before.

As of June 1, approximately 200 students from the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Rehabilitation Therapy at Queen’s will return to local Kingston hospitals to complete clinical placements and clerkships that are key to their future frontline work.

Following the outbreak of the coronavirus in March, leaders from Queen’s, in consultation with Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) and Providence Care, made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend student placements as part of the ramping down of services and to preserve resources. Now, because of several factors, including a particularly low prevalence of the virus in the Kingston region, local teaching hospitals and centres are now able to slowly reintroduce students from Queen’s into the clinical environment.

“We have been keen to have students in the Faculty of Health Sciences return to their clinical placements,” says Richard Reznick, Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences. “Not only do they play an important role in the delivery of health care at our hospitals, they will be re-entering in a very unique context that presents incredible learning opportunities.”

The university worked closely with the regional hospitals and KFL&A Public Health to ensure that the students will be reintroduced to the system in a way that prioritizes safety.

“We are working with our partners in education and have developed safety measures to make sure students are phased into the hospital setting in a way that will keep them, our patients, and our staff as safe as possible,” says Michael Fitzpatrick, Chief of Staff at KHSC.

All students who are returning to complete their clinical placements and clerkships are required to self-quarantine in Kingston for two weeks prior to starting at the teaching hospitals. While they are on-site at KHSC and Providence Care, students will follow staff safety policies and procedures, including completing training on current COVID-19-related protocol, adhering to the staff screening process, and conserving personal protective equipment.

Additionally, students will be required to self-monitor for symptoms throughout their programs. They must be symptom-free for two weeks in order to participate in any in-person activities.

“As an academic health sciences centre, students play a vital role in the care of our patients, clients and residents. We’re looking forward to welcoming them back to our hospital and community programs safely,” says Allison Philpot, Director of Medical Administration at Providence Care. 

Once-in-a-Lifetime Learning Opportunity

While it may not be business-as-usual, the clinical environment will offer a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for students, many of whom are close to graduating and in search of permanent employment.

"Having the opportunity to complete my clinical placement means that I can work towards graduating on time, allowing me to use the nursing skills I've learned at Queen's to compassionately care for patients and families,” notes Bayley Morgan, School of Nursing, Class of 2020. “I am eager to join our heroic nurses and health care workers in supporting those affected by illness and injury, and in contributing to a safe and respectful practice environment."

The students look forward to returning to their clinical settings and credit university and hospital administration for developing creative solutions to allow them to meet their educational goals, while keeping their safe return to clinical duties at the forefront of efforts.

"The Class of Meds 2021 is eager to return to help serve the health care needs of Kingstonians and is confident that the reintegration into the clinical learning environment will go smoothly,” says Josh Gnanasegaram and Rae Woodhouse, Class of 2021 Co-Presidents, School of Medicine. “We see these coming months as a pivotal time in the re-shaping of health care systems as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are excited to be actively involved in that process.”

The reintroduction of students to clinical placements is part of a gradual and evolving re-opening of in-person activities that is being led by Queen’s University administration.

Ventilators co-designed by a Canadian team led by Queen’s Nobel Laureate ready to go

Ottawa orders 10,000 ventilators developed by team led by Art McDonald and global collaborators in fight against COVID-19.

MVM Ventilator
An MVM ventilator shown during development.

An international ventilator design team, led in part by Queen’s Nobel Laureate Art McDonald, reached a new milestone today, with the Government of Canada announcing an agreement with global manufacturing firm Vexos to produce 10,000 Mechanical Ventilator Milano (MVM) units that will help assist the country’s efforts to confront COVID-19.

"Throughout this period of crisis, we continue to see Canadian companies across the country making tremendous contributions to fight COVID-19,” says Navdeep Bains, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry. “The story of Dr. Art McDonald, his team, and Vexos is one of true innovation. These new, easy to build ventilators are a great example of Canadian innovation at work and will be a key resource for our hospitals to save lives."

Minister Bains shared news of the order in a tweet yesterday.

The MVM device is an innovative, simple but powerful ventilator designed to address the specific needs of patients severely affected by COVID-19. Through collaboration between Italian, American, and Canadian physicists, engineers, and companies, the device was conceived, developed, and secured FDA authorization in the U.S. inside of six weeks. Health Canada review for the Canadian units will occur soon and delivery of the units is expected to commence in July 2020.

"I have enjoyed working with such a skilled and dedicated team of scientists and engineers, including our Canadian manufacturing partners, in this humanitarian effort,” says Dr. McDonald, who has been leading a Canadian team, including TRIUMF Laboratory, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, SNOLAB, and the McDonald Institute. “Everyone is strongly motivated to make a difference in this difficult situation for Canada and the rest of the world."

The project gained public attention in early April after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted the project as one of the key examples of how Canadian researchers were working together to provide effective and creative solutions to supply shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. The teams also caught the attention of major philanthropists from across Canada who stepped up to support the effort’s progress.

Learn more about the project on the Research at Queen’s website.

Rapid Response funding awarded to help confront COVID-19

The Vice-Principal (Research) announces first round of internal funding for projects supporting medical and social coronavirus related solutions.

In late March, the Queen’s University Vice-Principal (Research) launched the Rapid Response competition to fund and support research projects that will contribute to the development, testing, and implementation of medical or social countermeasures to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19. Thirteen applicants have received funding in the first round. 

The successful projects range from the development of a biosensor tool to psychotherapy programs for addressing mental health issues. Queen’s researchers are also examining the government response on household finances and planning for more effective physical distancing measures. 

Congratulations to the first round of Rapid Response funding recipients, says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). These are outstanding projects that span the key research areas important to both managing the virus itself and understanding its social and economic impacts. I will follow these projects with great interest.” 

The successful projects include: 

  • Stephen Archer (Medicine)  Synthesis and preclinical testing of novel small molecule therapies for COVID-19. 

  • Aristides Docoslis (Chemical Engineering)  Developing, validating, and implementing a portable diagnostic prototype (COVID-19 Scanner) for rapid, point-of-care detection of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) from nasopharyngeal swabs. 

  • Nazanin Alavi (Psychiatry)  Online delivery of psychotherapy, tailored to patients' suffering from mental health problems due to COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • Xiaolong Yang (Pathology and Molecular Medicine)  Developing of a biosensor tool using an ultra-bright bioluminescent enzyme purified from glowing deep-sea shrimp to "visualize" and quantify the interaction between viruses and cells. 

  • Amy Wu (Mechanical and Materials Engineering)  Designing, testing, and evaluating low-cost, medical grade face shields that can be easily produced by the rapid prototyping resources within our community. 

  • Tom Hollenstein (Psychology) – Examining the use of digital technology to inform universities, clinicians, and policymakers as they make recommendations for coping with the emotional fall-out of social distancing. 

  • Nicole Myers (Sociology) – The project will use official data, review government policy and legal decisions, observe virtual courts and conduct interviews to understand the changes in bail practices and discretionary release decision making in response to the pandemic. 

  • Setareh Ghahari (Rehabilitation Therapy)  Identifying the challenges that Kingston refugee youth are likely to face when attempting to reorient themselves to online learning during this unprecedented time. The goal is to provide solutions/recommendations that could help mitigate those challenges and improve the students’ online learning experience. 

  • Robert Clark (Economics)  Providing policymakers with the information necessary to adopt new measures, or to fine tune existing ones, in order to minimize COVID-19’s detrimental effects on the financial situation of Canadian households and to limit the risks to the stability of the financial sector. 

  • John Meligrana (Geography and Planning)  Developing a set of comprehensive physical distancing guidelines tailored to the gradual reopening of our cities, communities and country as well as more being more sensitive to the impacts on vulnerable communities. 

  • Warren Mabee (Policy Studies)  Creating an integrated policy response to facilitate Canadian recovery from COVID-19. 

  • Imaan Bayoumi (Family Medicine)  Exploring the hidden social, emotional and mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and public health countermeasures on residents of Kingston and area, with a focus on marginalized groups such as those using substances, living in poverty, single parents, children or people suffering from mental health conditions, chronic health conditions and family conflict. 

  • Oded Haklai (Political Studies) Tracking and comparing the measures taken by governments around the world, examining check-and-balances on executive power that remain, and assessing the extent to which democracy can be resumed in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

For more information on the Rapid Response competition, visit the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research). 

Queen’s University opens limited outdoor facilities

The university has opened two fields and a tennis court on main campus for limited use.

Effective Friday May 22, Queen’s University will re-open the following outdoor facilities for casual, informal use. Physical distancing requirements remain in effect.

  • Nixon Field
  • Tindall Field
  • Tindall Field Running Track
  • Summerhill Tennis Courts

All other Athletics & Recreation facilities, including ALL fields and buildings at the West Campus remain closed.

Provincial Emergency Measures and City of Kingston bylaws remain in effect. 

Use of any of the University’s opened outdoor spaces remain subject to the following conditions:

  • Provincial Emergency Measures and City By-laws remain in effect
  • Physical distancing restrictions required at all times (minimum of 2 metres apart)
  • Individual activities only
  • No group or organized activity permitted (practices, games, etc.)
  • Maintain safety measures (wash hands, cough into elbow, wear masks, remove litter)
  • Bring hand sanitizer/water; wash hands before/after use of the facility
  • No dogs permitted
  • Use at own risk
  • Follow directions of Queen's Campus Security and Staff

Failure to comply with any of the conditions above may result in individuals being removed from the facilities, and/or closure of the facility.

Group bookings of the facilities listed above cannot be made at this time.

Keep up to date on the University’s COVID-19 safety precautions here

Up to date information on A&R facilities, programs and services can be found here.

Global community responds to need

Smith School of Business community in China sends thousands of masks to Kingston.

Cindy Liang (Comm'23), left, delivers a shipment of masks to Ann van Herpt, director of supply chain services at 3SO.

In these trying times, there are many examples of people helping families, friends, neighbours and strangers. The Smith School of Business community – which spans the globe and encompasses students, staff, faculty, alumni, partners and more – is no different.

As a business school with deep international ties, Smith has long benefited from its relationships around the world. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many in the Smith community have repeatedly demonstrated their eagerness to join together to help those in need.

Over the past few months, there has been a well-documented shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for use by frontline health-care workers facing the threat of COVID-19. As the crisis became more manageable in China, it was only starting in North America, and health professionals in Kingston were in need of PPE. 

By April, several members of the Smith community had begun initiatives to get a supply of protective masks from China to Canada. Global partners, alumni clubs and individual students rallied to get thousands of masks delivered.

“The Smith community was quick to respond to the needs generated by the spread of COVID-19, from alumni and students pivoting their businesses and launching new initiatives to assist frontline workers and those at risk, to faculty, students, staff and local community partners coming together to support impacted businesses,” notes Dean Brenda Brouwer. “The donations of personal protective equipment from our students, alumni and partners in China further emphasize the strength and spirit of the Smith network.”

One donation, of 2,000 masks, came to Kingston from the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University in Beijing. Smith’s partnership with Peking, which began in 2005, was expanded last year to allow for select Commerce students to earn a dual degree from both institutions. In a letter to Smith administration, a Peking official expressed thanks for the support the school received during the early stages of the crisis and offered to send the masks as a sign of gratitude and to provide practical help.

With thousands of business-minded alumni spanning the globe, it is no surprise that by late March, Smith alumni in China were also hard at work on a plan to help out. Members of Smith Business Club China, which represents and connects the growing number of Smith alumni in China, were eager to help out their alma mater from afar. They arranged to deliver 6,400 masks to the Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) in early May.

For Smith Commerce students, international experiences are integral to their time in the program. Whether they have come to Kingston from abroad to earn their degrees or have a broadened perspective from participating in international exchange, students appreciate that they are preparing to enter an increasingly globalized business world.

This knowledge was not lost on first-year Commerce student Cindy Liang, Comm’23, who arranged a third donation of masks after seeing a tweet from KHSC regarding PPE donations. She worked with a group of former peers from her high school (Beijing’s Keystone Academy) who were interested in donating medical supplies to those in need abroad. 

“After they heard my story, they didn’t hesitate to help and generously sent many medical supplies to me, shipping a total of 14 packages to Canada,” Cindy explains.

She worked with university representatives to get the shipment into Canada and delivered 3,650 masks to KHSC.

“Looking back at the process, I have to say I am very appreciative of the help from the Queen’s community because I could not have accomplished this task without them,” says Cindy, who received help from the university’s procurement services to get the masks through customs. 

“I am glad that we could contribute to frontline medical workers in Kingston, and I am also fortunate to be part of the Queen’s community, which is filled with love and support.”

All mask donations were facilitated through 3SO (Shared Support Services Southeastern Ontario), which is responsible for sourcing and distributing PPE for the Kingston region. 

Supporting teachers with online education

Faculties of Education and Engineering and Applied Science share teaching resources webpage to help educators across Canada.

A teacher's desk with an apple, books, and letter blocks.
With students and teachers connecting from home, Queen's Faculty of Education has created a webpage to share a wide range of teaching resources. (Unsplash / Element 5) 

When the Government of Ontario made the decision to close elementary and secondary schools across the province to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on March 13, teachers and school boards were tasked with moving their programs online. While the required infrastructure was mostly available, resources to develop a quality online learning experience were in need.

Seeing an opportunity to share its teaching knowledge and expertise, the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University quickly created a teaching resources webpage to support teachers as they made the transition to remote learning.

The webpage has become a valuable resource hub for the teaching community, students, and parents during these unprecedented times.

“Creating a teaching resources page to share the knowledge and expertise in our faculty has been an idea we’ve been thinking about for awhile,” says Rebecca Luce-Kapler, Dean of the Faculty of Education. “When the schools closed and students, teachers, and families were suddenly learning from home, we knew right away that sharing our expertise would be an impactful way for us to support teachers and families.”

Sharing ideas

Dean Luce-Kapler reached out to the Faculty of Education community to share their ideas and immediately received a flood of responses from faculty members, instructors, teacher candidates, alumni, and the experienced online teachers from the Faculty’s Continuing Teacher Education unit.

The webpage is divided into five categories – STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), Arts and Literature, Indigenous, Geography, History and Social Sciences, and General – where teachers  and parents can access a variety of resources including activities, books, games, worksheets, videos, and more.

Teacher candidates pitch in

One particularly rich source of ideas is the Faculty of Education’s teacher candidates, who, as part of their studies, are asked to create lesson plans and resources that can be used when they enter their own classrooms. Highlights include the Art at Home videos by Nelligan Letourneau, and the Phases of the Moon video provided by Craig Harris.

“I am very proud of the efforts by all of those involved with this project,” says Dean Luce-Kapler. “Queen’s Faculty of Education has always supported teachers, through their time here as teacher candidates and as alumni. It is exciting to see this project be so well supported by our community.”

Adding resources

New resources are continually being added, such as the recent contribution from PHd student Hassina Alizai with resources and ideas for learning about Ramadan.

To contribute, contact Becca Carnevale, Director of Operations, Advancement and Communications, Faculty of Education.

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Engineering engagement

The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science’s outreach teams are creating online programs which are giving elementary and high school students at home opportunities to virtually participate in fun STEM activities, and teachers much-needed resources for keeping young minds engaged.

Aboriginal Access to Engineering (AAE) works with Indigenous students and their teachers at Six Nations, Tyendinaga and Akwesasne, as well as with local Indigenous family networks through the Limestone District School Board, providing hands-on outreach to students in all elementary grades.

The team has launched InSTEM@home, an online program that features content they have developed for their partner schools. Running until the end of June, the program lets elementary students participate in weekly design challenges, using common household materials, and to share those creations back with the instructional team for a chance to win weekly prizes. Guest appearances by Indigenous engineers also help relate content to the "real world" of engineering.

Parents can enroll their children even if they aren’t a student at one of AAE’s First Nation partner schools.

Building Connections

Connections provides a wide range of outreach programs, both on and off-campus. Along with the ‘Tech and Tinker’ trailer, a mobile engineering classroom that visits local schools, the Connections team runs a number of programs for students of all ages, including STEM workshops and clubs for girls, and a Summer Engineering Academy. They also provide valuable training for teacher candidates in the Faculty of Education.

In early May, the Connections team reached out to school contacts to offer them support while transitioning their students to online learning. The response was overwhelmingly positive and resources were sent out to 100 teachers in the Kingston area, who have since shared videos of completed student work.

The team will also be delivering workshops for 200 Faculty of Education students in June, and is planning a remote version of their Summer Engineering Academy, designed for students in grades 4 to 11.

Queen’s to host virtual Homecoming 2020

Due to ongoing concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Queen’s University is canceling all in-person activities related to Homecoming 2020, as well as all in-person alumni events for the rest of the calendar year.

“We know that this decision will cause great sadness and disappointment to the members of our alumni family,” says Karen Bertrand (Artsci’94), Vice-Principal (Advancement). “We had always hoped that this measure would not be necessary.”

The announcement comes as the university anticipates most undergraduate classes to be held remotely for the duration of the 2020 fall academic term.

“The health and safety of all members of the Queen’s community is our number one priority,” says Vice-Principal Bertrand. “We want to ensure that the same measures we are taking to protect our students are also in place for our alumni.” 

The decision was made as public health guidance continues to emphasize not only good hygiene practices, but also minimizing close contact among groups of people to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus and ease the burden on hospitals and other healthcare providers. Queen’s Homecoming routinely attracts more than 3,000 alumni and their guests from around the world.

“We know that our alumni look forward to reconnecting and reuniting with their former classmates, housemates, teammates, and students and many of them plan their reunion activities months and even years in advance,” Vice-Principal Bertrand says. “Our Homecoming team is actively exploring virtual activities to help keep the spirit of this cherished event alive this October. We look forward to the day when we can all be together again in-person to celebrate our relationships, our memories, and our university.”

For more information on Queen’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit our COVID-19 information website.

 

Disrupting routine thinking

Psychedelics can help reset the brain, shaking it out of old patterns. The coronavirus pandemic could have similar impacts.

An image of a male with a medical mask on.
Leaving predictability and entering into uncertainty is a threshold to transformation. (Fearghal Kelly / Unsplash)

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the widespread disruption of our usual routines. The ambiguity of when it will end, how things will unfold and what will happen in the future has resulted in a collective liminal state, a kind of a waiting area on the threshold of change.

The ConversationCOVID-19 has undermined our usual expectations and assumptions. Evidence from my work on how our brains react to psychedelics tell me the transient anxiety — which occurs when expectations collapse — may yield benefits. To gain the benefits, we must be intentional in the viewing of this era as a transformational opportunity.

I have looked at how medium-to-high doses of psychedelics can help reset the brain, shaking it out of old patterns. I wonder if our current state of uncertainty could have similar impacts on the brain — a metaphorical psychedelic dose — for new insights, values clarification and a collective reset.

The brain is a prediction machine

A recent study shows experiences with psychedelics such as psilocybin (also known as magic mushrooms) can have disruptive impacts on our brains. Neuroimaging of the brain on psychedelics have revealed a state of chaos, or entropy and a loss of synchronization of brain waves.

Entropy is a measure of uncertainty and randomness or disorder. British neuroscientist Karl Friston defines entropy as a measure of uncertainty, the “average surprise.” Low entropy means, on average, that outcomes are relatively predictable.

In Friston’s view, the brain is a prediction machine. We construct the future from the past. We make predictive inferences (conscious and unconscious) to conserve energy and simplify the interpretation of a continuous input of stimuli.

We gain mastery, but at the expense of novelty.

Disrupting the patterns

Poor mental health often revolves around excessive rumination and repetition. Rumination is rigid, repetitive and negative thinking characterized by low entropy.

In 1949, McGill University psychologist Donald Hebb predicted much of what modern neuroscience would go on to prove with neuroimaging technologies. Hebbs’ postulate — that the neurons that fire together, wire together — provides a summary of the way synaptic pathways bond and are reinforced by repetition.

This repetition and rumination robs the mind of flexibility, especially when attached to memories with heightened (positive or negative) emotional resonance. Repetition-habituated brains marinate in a soup of low novelty and lack of surprise, forecasting tomorrow to be much the same as today.

Psychedelics disrupt our repetitive or ruminative ways of thinking and rewire brain communication patterns. The result is often an altered state of consciousness marked by transient confusion, followed by a high probability of novel, meaningful and possibly even mystical experiences.

When the rigid, top-down control of the ego is loosened, the anarchy of the creative unconscious blooms.

Concert goers at a rave
We construct the future from the past. (Unsplash)

How psychedelics can help

Our research group at Queen’s University recently completed a review of existing studies on psilocybin-assisted therapy. From over 2,000 records, we found nine completed clinical trials with a total of 169 participants.

Overall, the trials showed that most subjects safely tolerated these interventions and showed improved mental health. However, some experienced transient distress and post-treatment headaches. The trend suggests positive outcomes in various conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction, depression, psychological distress associated with life-threatening cancers and demoralization among long-term AIDS survivors.

In short, although psychedelics can be accompanied by known adverse experiences, trials seem to indicate that psilocybin is relatively safe (with the right supports and in a supportive setting) and has a marked ability to interrupt psychopathologies.

To ensure safety and support, the majority of psilocybin trials used the PSI model (preparation, session, integration) with multiple moderate-to-high-doses sessions happening in the company of trained therapists.

Participants report experiences of transient anxiety, distress and confusion, states of joy, interconnectedness, catharsis, forgiveness and wisdom experiences. In contrast to talk therapy, psychedelic sessions are experiential, meaning that we experience changed ways of both seeing and being in the world.

Being OK with uncertainty

Mystical experiences have been reported both by clinical trial subjects and by recreational psilocybin users. Mysticism can be thought of as an experience of absorption, a dissolution of separateness and a sense of deep connection. Absorption is the opposite of rumination.

Rumination carries you away on an eddy of self-referential and self-containing thoughts, while when experiencing absorption, you leave behind your narrow sense of self, experiencing something greater that is both inside and outside of you.

The psychedelic experience is a classic hero’s journey. The hero leaves the comforts of home, faces disruption and challenges to their previous way of thinking and being, has profound and transformative experiences, and returns a changed person.

Leaving predictability and entering into uncertainty is a threshold to transformation.

When predictions fail, opportunities are born

In one study, psilocybin trial subjects reported feeling more deeply connected, open and relational as a result of their entropic, and often difficult, psychedelic experiences. In another study, they have been found to hold less authoritarian political views and be more in touch with nature.

Participants in collective psychedelic rituals commonly experience feelings of deep bond, kinship and even telepathy with other participants. I believe we may be in a similar moment during COVID-19.

COVID-19 has disrupted the normative habits of society. It has forced the economic machine to pause. It has forced many to reevaluate practices and priorities. In some cases, I believe it is dissolving our normal sense of human separateness (even though we are physically distanced).

Perhaps, like the liminal psychedelic state, the uncertainty in which we find ourselves in this moment will lead to more visions of what can be.

The future does not have to remain in the past.

Those of us with the luxury of space and time have an opportunity to reset, unbind our minds, quit repeating old patterns, experience anew what life can hold and to do better.The Conversation

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Ron Shore, PhD Student and Teaching Fellow, School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Research@Queen’s: Championing AI for social justice

How Queen’s researchers are using AI to level the legal playing field for Canadians, including those affected by COVID-19 unemployment.

Research at Queen's

Queen's researcher Samuel Dahan is focused on making legal services more equitable, and he knows all about winning and losing disputes in battle, and the importance of a level playing field for combatants. While researching alternative dispute resolution for his PhD in law at the University of Cambridge, this versatile, black-belt competitor won many bouts in the ring as Cambridge taekwondo team captain and a varsity kickboxer. He also earned medals in the French taekwondo nationals, and the French and British kickboxing championships.

Discover Research@Queen’s
Did you know that the university recently launched a new central website for Queen’s research? From in-depth features to the latest information on how our researchers are confronting COVID-19, the site is a destination showcasing the impact of Queen’s research. Discover Research@Queen’s.

“In martial arts competition, you don’t want to fight someone less experienced than you or someone better than you. Fights are arranged so there is a balance of power,” says Dahan, Director of the Conflict Analytics Lab and assistant professor in the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University. “But fighting is the worst scenario for settling disputes in the real world."

Dahan has teamed up with Xiaodan Zhu, assistant professor in the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Queen’s, to develop an AI (artificial intelligence)-powered set of tools to help level the legal playing field for lower- and middle-income Canadians.

In the wake of COVID-19 unemployment, Dahan and collaborators also recently launched MyOpenCourt.org, an open access app to help recently laid off workers.

Continue the story on the Research@Queen’s website.

Samuel Dahan and Xiaodan Zu

Samuel Dahan, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law, teamed up with Xiaodan Zhu, assistant professor in the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, to develop an AI-powered set of tools to help level the legal playing field for lower- and middle-income Canadians. (Photograph was taken before social distancing measures were implemented.)

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