December 21, 2015 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Paula Rayo, a 5th year King’s student is embarking on the academic trip of a lifetime. Rayo is an Honors Specialization in Psychology student completing her thesis this term at a retreat centre in Peru known as the Nihue Rao Centro Espiritual.

Paula finds this research location interesting, not only because of her home-ties to Colombia but also because of her connection to Canadian culture as well. The Retreat Centre is home to a distinguished Colombian-North American doctor who is involved in integrated medicine, primarily focusing on integrating ancient and modern medicine together as one. “I am Colombian and I want to be practicing medicine and psychology throughout my career. I am also Canadian and an artist, just like this doctor, so it all just spoke to me. I felt like it was meant to be to do my thesis research at this Centre,” says Rayo.

Rayo’s research is devoted to the study of Ayahuasca, a medicinal drug used to treat and improve the existential meaning of life in people all over the world. The main component of the medicine is Spirit Vine and Chachruna leaves, which together make DMT, an illegal drug in North America. Because the Peruvian culture has been practicing this medicine for thousands of years, the right to continue the usage is acceptable and integral to their country. The Centre’s ceremonies seek to address three aspects of one’s life: healing (physical, mental, spiritual, etc.), learning, and personal growth.

Her project, The Role of Existential Meaning in Traditional Ayahuasca Ceremonies, first came to life after her Altered States of Consciousness class with King’s Professor, Dr. Imants Baruss. “That class changed my whole view on life, psychology, and reality; it was so great. And now, I really want to research what all this means and how we can integrate these medicines into our culture,” explains Rayo.

The ceremonies that individuals partake in at Nihue Rao Centro Espiritual take place throughout entire nights, and last a full week in the Peruvian jungle with a traditional Shaman, a type of psychologist in the Peruvian culture. As the Shaman leads the group through the course of the spiritual world, individuals begin to have feelings of ego disintegration where one reviews their traumas in life and experience euphoria, says Rayo.

Rayo’s objective is to look at how these ceremonies can instill more meaning in one’s life. During her 20 days of research, she will conduct a number of interviews and distribute questionnaires to those participating in the ceremonies. Questionnaires will be distributed before the first ceremony and following the final ceremony. Throughout the week, Rayo will also be performing interviews with each of the participants to engage with the first-hand experiences and thoughts on the Shaman-led series for individuals. “I am not encouraging people to go out and do this, if you want to then go ahead. But I know that Ayahuasca is not the solution to all problems, it is just one aspect of healing that I am studying in a much broader subject area,” explains Rayo.

Rayo would like to tell others students considering an abroad-thesis research study to, “push your limits and try to challenge yourself, because anyone can do research but if you want to stand out, you have to be creative and go outside of the box.”

Rayo will return to Canada on December 28th. We look forward to reading her results.

For more information, email Paula at