When I first started using psychedelics, I used to always make sure that I had a pen and paper handy during my sessions. I did this so I could make notes during the experience, as there would nearly always be thoughts that popped up that seemed crucially important to write down and remember.
Since I started doing more formal, psychedelic therapy style sessions, however, I’ve made it something of a rule to not write anything down during the trip itself. I may take some notes after the peak, but generally the session day is for experience, not for journaling. That day is for me to be in the experience, not to analyse or take notes on it. In terms insights, I’ve found that the most important stuff sticks, and I’ll revisit and capture the next day.
Journaling on integration day
Thought I don’t write during the session day, I journal a lot after the experience.
The day after I will put on the playlist that I used and listen to it again from start to finish. Getting as close to the session format as possible, I will also wear my eye mask and headphones again, with the mask slid above my eyes. Listening to the music helps to bring back memories from the trip. The other details also help to recreate the context of the experience which helps to retrieve the memories in as much detail as possible.
I will then sit or lie down with pen and paper. As I listen to the music, I journal freely about the experience. I follow a directive I found in one of the research studies on psilocybin done at Johns Hopkins, to write up an ‘open-ended narrative of the experience’. The write up might include feelings, thoughts, or realizations. Whatever comes back up, I journal about it.
Psychedelic explorer Christopher Bache has written about how he did this the day after each of his sessions too. His integration process was so meticulous that he would listen to each track on the playlist on repeat, until he felt he had captured the essence of what he experienced during that piece. Admittedly, I don’t quite go that far. Once through the entire playlist is already 5 hours journaling, and I spread this over the course of a day, breaking it up with walks outside and meals.
Whilst journaling, I also identify key themes from the experience. These keywords may look like: health, gratitude, listening, providing. Though those may look obvious or trite, each word will be infused with my own personal meaning from the session, and having them neatly identified in keywords can help to quickly touch base with the essence of the experience. I’ve found this is useful for longer term integration, or setting integration intentions.
Journaling as preparation
Journaling can also act as a useful preparation exercise. An empty page is a good and private place to dump thoughts and feelings and can be a good way to explore what’s on your mind. Writing thoughts and feelings can help to have some kind of detachment from them and having them on a piece of paper in front of you helps to externalize them. This can help to bring about new perspectives.
Journaling on lower doses
This could be thought of as something like crossing journaling with a psycholytic approach. Here the pad acts as the therapist. This is something I use with the non classic psychedelics MDMA and ketamine. With these I always journal any personal things that come up, invariably at the beginning of the session. This might be about some tension or a problem I’m experiencing in a relationship. I will journal, going with the flow of what arises. This may take the form of simply writing thoughts or feelings down, or it may take the form of writing a letter to someone, writing down things that I would like to say to them.
In my review after the session, I will decide if it’s actually something that I should send or say to them, or if its something that I need to look more into myself before taking any action. Sometimes getting clarity through writing is enough.
Another way of doing journaling is audio journaling. You can open a voice memo app or use some other audio recording device and freely speak out loud. Here, the audio device is the therapist. This can also be a great way to give voice and expression to your inner world with tone and texture.
If you are experiencing frustration or anger with someone you might press record on the voice memo app and just dump all your stuff as if you were speaking to the person. This can help to really tap into your feelings and to allow them expression in a way where no one has to be on the receiving end. It can provide some relief and also help to clarify your truest feelings that you may have been afraid to actually express.
If you would like written notes on your vocalisations, you can also get a digital tool to transcribe for you. I often talk directly into google docs and have the little google robot wizard type up what I’m saying as I go. I even wrote the first draft of this article by talking into my phone 😉
To sum up, journaling can be a great accomplice to psychedelic work, at all stages: before, during and after. For preparation, navigation, and integration. I encourage you to give it a go and find what works for you.