April 12, 2016 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

By Moe Kablawi, Intern, Communications & Media Relations 

Paula Rayo, a 5th year Honors Specialization in Psychology student at King’s, has presented her findings from an experiential learning trip in Peru. Rayo conducted her thesis research on traditional ayahuasca ceremonies and its effect on human’s existential meaning. Ayahuasca ceremonies are led by a Shaman who guides participants through a spiritual journey initiated by the effects of drinking an herbal tea.

Rayo was given the opportunity to travel to Peru by Dr. Imants Baruss, where these ayahuasca ceremonies are common, to conduct her research. A combination of influences inspired her research including Dr.  Baruss’ “Altered States of Consciousness” class in Psychology at King’s and a practicum she obtained through Cathy Chovaz’s class, also offered at King’s. Through her work in suicide prevention via logotherapy (used to help people find existential meaning), Rayo considered combining the ayahuasca shamanism with the idea of logotherapy.

She presented her findings during the Psychology Honors Thesis Poster Day on March 28, 2016. Rayo studied the effects of the ayahuasca on 29 individuals in the Peruvian Amazon. To feel the full effect of herbal tea, the participants must surrender their will to the tea and the visions. Rayo explains that this is the most important part of her findings; surrendering proved to be the greatest predictor for existential meaning for the participant.

“Prayer is an act of surrendering to a higher power; meditation is an act of surrendering thoughts, rituals, [and] sacraments as a form of surrendering the self to a higher power. In Christianity we are told to surrender to God's will, in Taoism we are told to surrender to the natural flow of life (wu-wei), in Islam the literal translation for Islam is surrender. However, it hasn't really been explored in the psychological literature, which means we may have just opened up the door to a whole new world of understanding existential realities,” says Rayo.

Rayo claims her opportunity to conduct such powerful research has helped her kick-start her professional career. She is now a research associate for an independent research organization called 7D Health in London. At work she has the opportunity to continue her research in spiritual health, consciousness studies and its implications on overall health.

Rayo is a candidate to graduate in June 2016. While at King’s she also enjoyed being a work study student in the department of Communications. She decided to take a 5th year at King’s so that she could spend extra time on her research and travel to Peru.  She credits her success to the small classroom sizes at King’s where she says she had more opportunity to discuss topics with her professors and peers on a one-to-one basis.

“I couldn't imagine having such a rich educational experience anywhere else.”

To learn more about the Ayahuasca Ceremonies visit www.nihuerao.com.