healing relationship psychedelics

For today’s closing post of this year’s PSYJuly, I would like to share my thoughts on an aspect of long-term psychedelic integration. That is, how we relate to psychedelics.

I think improving our relationship with psychedelics is a key but mostly unrecognised piece of long-term integration. This piece is more relevant for the long term practitioner because you don’t need to have a good relationship with a one night stand partner. For something longer term, you do. 

If you are someone who has some kind of ongoing practice of working with psychedelics, how do you relate to them? What do you think about them? When you talk about them with others, how do you feel?

Healing and Understanding

Many users of psychedelics have feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment tied into their use. This is usually due to social stigma, cultural perceptions and drug laws, and many people remain closeted about their use.

Whilst opening up to friends and family members can be healing in some cases, it isn’t always the best option. Keeping the psychedelic part of ourselves hidden from others may often be the most pragmatic course of action. 

To enjoy a really healthy relationship with psychedelics, however, it’s important to resolve any feelings of embarrassment and shame that we have around them.

Exploring the roots of these feelings can be done by journaling. Writing answers to some simple questions, such as ‘Why am I embarrassed? What do I feel ashamed of? Why am I keeping this hidden?’ can begin to bring more clarity, understanding and healing to the relationship.

Trust

Did you ever come out of a session feeling disappointed? Maybe you felt like it was a little bit of a letdown? I certainly have many times, and trust is something I have had to learn over time.

Trusting in psychedelics, the experiences they provide, and the insights they reveal, will bring about a more fruitful journey with them. Can you let go of the seeds of doubt in your mind? 

‘You don’t always get what you want, but you get what you need”
– Psychedelics

This can also mean trusting in the process. Maybe you didn’t get what you were hoping for from a session. You still have the option to trust that on some level it was what you needed at this point in your journey, and that it will make sense within the larger context of your journey. Leaning into trust will ultimately benefit you and your relationship with psychedelics.

Patience

Through engaging with psychedelics continuously over a number of years, one of the most valuable but also hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that of patience. This is intertwined with trusting that I am being given what I need when I need it, and that ultimately, where I am is where I need to be, not at some point further along where I think I’m supposed to be. This means being patient in allowing the unfolding of my own journey, letting it unravel in its own perfect time, without trying to push it.

psychedelic integration journey progress graph

Patience helps us allow ourselves to be where we are

An example of practicing patience would be in the integration process. Rather than trying to fix everything at once and improve all areas of your life simultaneously, realise that you are a human and have limits. It’s wisest to choose one or two key areas to focus on. As for all the other things, be patient, they will come in time. 

Respect

Psychedelics are incredibly powerful. They can can sit us on our ass, reducing us to babbling babies, and they can propel us to the far reaches of the universe to spaces we never even knew could exist. They can transform ourselves and the realities that we exist in, both inside and outside sessions. Psychedelics deserve y/our respect.

Gratitude

Practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful things we can do. I find it hard to express in words how much I love psychedelics. But beneath that, how grateful I am that they exist at all, and how incredibly fortunate I am to be in a position where I have access to them. Many people who would like to use them simply do not have the means, ability or access. There are people suffering from heavy depression, and others suffering with terminal cancer who are seeking access and are unable to receive it. I know because I’m contacted by these people and I do find the current reality around their access to be both upsetting and hard to accept. In those moments it’s again a chance to practice patience, and also gratitude for the privileged position that I find myself in.

Final thoughts

These are all overarching principles and lessons that I have received from psychedelics and I believe it’s a fitting response to reflect them back to the wonders which have bestowed these gifts upon me. 

I believe anyone wishing to work with psychedelics over the long term can benefit from establishing a relationship with psychedelics founded upon these core elements.

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Thank you for reading, and have a wonderful day!

groups psychedelic integration processes

Hello and welcome to day 29 PSYJuly 🙂 Can you believe it? We’re almost at a close!
Today we have a post from my friend and fellow Berlin based psychedelic enthusiast David Heuer. I first met Dave at Beyond Psychedelics in 2018, when we both showed up for pre-conference psychedelic facilitation workshop with Bill Richards, and since then Dave has guided many group integration processes with the MIND foundation, and I am happy to share some of his insights today…

Insights on The Power of Groups in Psychedelic Integration

Psychedelic experiences are a naturally occurring and potentially awe-inspiring part on the spectrum of human experiencing (and beyond). Due to the increased interest in psychedelics, and the challenges that come with new attempts on trying to embed and legitimize their usage in (post)modern societies, the concept of psychedelic integration has become a prominent buzzword in different groups within the psychedelic field. A range of varyingly specialized providers are offering psychedelic integration coaching and therapy, handbooks, workbooks, and courses on the topic, as well as many different ideas on what it should entail.

Instead of trying to give a concise definition of what psychedelic integration might be, I want to share with you some insights coming from four years of developing and facilitating various psychedelic integration formats. At MIND Foundation we are currently offering a 5-day group intensive, and a 6-week online course. The main goal is to support all participants in developing a beneficial stance towards their psychedelic experiences. I want to focus on a core aspect, which both formats share, that I’d like to explore a little deeper with you here. It is the social aspect of psychedelic integration, namely, coming together in a group of like-minded people.

Psychedelic Integration and the Need to Connect

Psychedelic experiences can be very intense, also accounting for the deep sense of unity and connection that we might be blessed to feel for the time being. Were you ever taken by such a deep sense of connection? Or any other experiential quality that addressed your whole being tremendously? In which way could you express this feeling at the time?

While it is often the case, that we are having the experiences mostly internally (depending on the setting of course), the urge to connect with others through our experiences is very common.

What I am experiencing in my work as a psychedelic integration facilitator, really as a human being in general, is that we all want to be seen, be heard, be witnessed and provide that for others, too. The idea of coming together in a circle is probably at least as old as human beings. And the main reason for that is the sheer power of shared presence and connection.

How Can We Connect in Deeper Ways?

When we enter the port together as fellow psychonauts, who sailed the same ocean but on different routes and different vessels, we are still sharing a certain way of experiencing. Why is the tavern such a highly frequented place? Because finally, the sailor can share all the stories of monsters conquered and tides survived.

The (partial) ineffability of psychedelic experiences is partly due to the lack of context, we can normally give. What we can “say” about a psychedelic experience can feel like faint glimpses of the density and intensity of the actual experience. However, finding ways to express these experiences (also going beyond words!) can still have a range of positive effects.

In a sense, psychedelic integration boils down to learning from psychedelic experiences (and applying the lessons). While this is something we have to do individually, the social dimension of psychedelic integration is not to be underestimated. Integration circles are a basic and powerful format to connect with our experiences and others to achieve a greater sense of wholeness.

Beyond the idea of coming together and sharing, structuring such a process can help to fully harness the power of group dynamics and personal exploration. In BEYOND EXPERIENCE and Footsteps, we are combining personal exploration through various means with a multitude of interaction methods to create a rhythm and space, where ‘missing pieces’ can be found and assembled to an (ever-evolving) personal integration puzzle.

How Being in Groups May Facilitate Deeper Integration Processes

Here are a few factors, why semi-structured group processes can help with psychedelic integration:

✔ Time to get to know each other deeper, in a structured way, providing a bigger context from which we can be understood in more width and depth.

     → Guiding questions for showing ourselves and being seen could be: What were significant biographical incidents in my life? How extensive is my experience with altered states? Do I engage in any spiritual practice? What are my core values? Etc.

✔ Deep listening processes / mirroring.

     → Practicing our capacity to listen deeply to another’s sharing and being mindful about any sensations and thoughts that come up without being reactive can help us attending to our own experiential content in the same way (compassion as encompassing).

✔ Combining integration mediators, e.g. creative expression (painting etc.) can mediate integration processes by allowing non-verbalized content to emerge.

     → Doing this in a group is adding even more layers to this. Sharing about a creative expression, group members can (consensually) share their perspective and felt resonances. Often what we can’t see ourselves is most apparent to others.

✔ Normalization of psychedelic experiences.

     → To be able to speak openly about your experiences with like-minded people can be liberating in itself.

✔ Diversity of phenomenology, often shared values.

     → Coming in contact with a wide range of different psychedelic experiences, puts our own story in perspective. At the same time, connecting with all the similarities and differences we have, can assure us of being okay the way we are. Harmony doesn’t mean smoothing out the edges

✔ Being seen in a more holistic way.

     → Making changes and ‘doing something’ with our experiences is only one aspect of psychedelic integration. It is at least equally important to simply take time for our integration processes and not be focused on any outcome. Even in times where we are apparently not doing anything, nothing is left undone.

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About David
David A. Heuer is MIND Foundation’s integration program manager, project leader, and a key contributor to the BEYOND EXPERIENCE workshop. With a deep interest in the complex processes involved in integrating psychedelic experiences, he is co-developing the Integration & Augmented Psychotherapy Training and creating other multi-modal formats like the Footsteps webinar.

In 2020, he graduated from the University of Hildesheim with a Master of Arts in intercultural philosophy and arts. With a master’s thesis focusing on the notion of “experience” and its implications for understanding psychedelic integration, his main research interest lies in bridging theoretical and practical aspects of psychedelic integration work. David is a psychedelic integration counselor, intercultural philosopher, gestalt practitioner, author, and workshop facilitator.

With his work in MIND, he wishes to contribute to a culture of psychedelic integration that advances the creation of diverse beneficial contexts for a well-informed, skilled, and supported engagement with psychedelic experiences.

mushrooms how often should i trip psilocybin

‘How often should I take psychedelics?’

This is a question I am often asked. And of course, there is no single right answer. So instead of trying to give one, I’ll share my thoughts on the topic.

What is the right amount?

You can’t really put a number such as ‘x times per year or month’ and say ‘that’s the right amount’, because it totally depends on the person and their circumstances. It’s like asking ‘what’s the right dose?’. It can’t simply be answered in any meaningful way. It depends.

It depends on you, your intentions, and your current circumstances. Why are you taking psychedelics? Where are you at in your journey, and where do you want to go next?

If using psychedelics for recreation or leisure, it’s like asking ‘how often should I watch a movie?’. With the intention of using psychedelics for healing or growth, there still isn’t a set answer. For many people, it seems like once or twice a year is enough to gain valuable insights and allow time in between to integrate the lessons. For others, a more frequent pattern may be most beneficial. I’ve also heard of people saying that once in their lifetime was enough.

Frequency varies depending on culture

There is a variety of frequencies in different cultures and types of use around the world. This ranges from modern clinical use to more traditional shamanistic use.

Within the field of modern research and clinical trials, there is variation. In a study with people who suffered treatment resistant depression at Imperial College London, participants received two doses a week apart. From just two doses, most participants saw statistically significant improvement in their wellbeing. That said, many patients saw depressive symptoms beginning to return after six months, so it seems they could’ve benefitted from another session or two around this mark.

In various smoking cessation studies at Johns Hopkins University there have been between one and three doses given. People have successfully quit with one session, whilst others had three. It is noteable that quit rates were higher for people who had more than one than one session.

With shaman of various Amazonian traditions, people drink ayahuasca on multiple consecutive nights, or on alternating nights. So it might be three or four nights of drinking ayahuasca in a row, or six nights of drinking over twelve nights total. There are also variations between. In some religious communities or churches that use psychedelic plants, groups drink monthly or weekly.

Philosophy professor Christopher Bache did 73 high dose sessions over 20 years, and as far as I know, no one in the psychedelic community has said it’s too much. In fact, he is seen by many as a courageous explorer and his work an incredible contribution to the field. He is a special case and was extremely conscientious in his use, I should add.

This variety shows that there is not really any standard which could be said ‘this is the right way’.

Can you take psychedelics too often?

When I would say taking psychedelics is too much is, the same as any other activity, when it starts interfering with one’s life in a negative way. When the downsides outweigh the upsides.

Gabor Mate’s view of an addiction can be useful here:

A behaviour which provides temporary pleasure or relief in the short term but has negative outcomes in the long term.

For some, psychedelics might be used as an escape from reality, or to avoid dealing with one’s problems. This can be known as spiritual bypassing. If one is re-entering journey space before or instead of integrating the lessons from the last journey, this could be seen as too soon.

However, I’d say that one’s problems can be shoved back in one’s face on a journey, so it’s not always an easy escape. In fact, for that reason, not taking psychedelics could be seen as an escape.

Is there a minimum frequency?

No one can say that someone should be taking psychedelics at least x amount of times per month or year. Although with medicalisation on the way, perhaps doctors or pharmacists will in fact be prescribing them in this way.

‘Go for three psilocybin journeys per month over the next 12 months and then we’ll meet back and reassess your treatment plan. If you feel you need a recalibration of your dose just give me a call and we’ll set up another consultation.”

I can see it already. But anyway, I digress.

Psychedelics can show us things that we are afraid to see and therefore unconsciously avoiding. Avoidance is no long term tactic to resolution, so for those that psychedelics have shown to be a useful tool for inner exploration and therapeutic shadow work, then there could be cases where it could be argued that someone should take them more often than they currently are.

The best amount and frequency is one that will bring the most healing over the long term. Knowing exactly what that is is difficult. We like to have answers or steady plans we can follow, but in the case of psychedelics, it can’t be pinned down as such. It needs our own continued consideration and adjustment, as well as our honesty. It also depends on the doses we are taking.

When should I pick up the phone again?

You’ve probably heard the Alan Watts quote, ’When you get the message, hang up the phone’. This has been commonly interpreted to mean ‘don’t trip too often’. Once you have some useful information, act on it before seeking more. What I would add to that is, feel free to pick up the phone again to get a reminder of the message.

Oftentimes a psychedelic journey will make absolutely clear an insight to be acted on. Good progress can be made on integrating that insight in the weeks directly after whilst the insight is fresh. As time passes, however, the clarity and raw obviousness of that insight may fade. And though the insight may not have been 100% integrated yet, touching back in with ourselves on a journey can be a refreshing reminder. If meaningful change has been made, space will have been cleared in our psyche for other useful messages, insights, and ideas to pour in. Integration is a life long journey and our lives are imperfect, so aiming to have integration of an experience totally complete before journeying again can be unrealistic.

The common interpretation of Watts’ quote also doesn’t consider the question of what ‘the message’ is, or if there are different levels of understanding the message. Or even, if there are multiple messages to be received.

Final Thoughts

I see the advice that ‘one should not journey too often’ commonly put out there, yet most of the people I know in the psychedelic community have ample experience and have journeyed dozens of times themselves.

In general I think there are many people could stand to benefit from more psychedelics sessions, rather than fewer. This is almost something of a faux-pas to say these days, but it’s what I believe, so I’m saying it. That is why the thoughts I have shared here have leaned towards illustrating this viewpoint, and not going into the dangers of overuse, which of course absolutely do exist. I should also make clear that I am talking about respectful, intentional, and careful use, done with the intention of learning or growth. And also that if insights are revealed, one should invest ample time and energy in to integrating them as best they can.

If we consider psychedelics to be teachers that allow us to access wisdom, what is wrong with visiting that teacher? Sure, you do not want to spend your whole life with that teacher, never stepping out of the classroom to practice your lessons. But likewise, you’d want to attend lessons to make the most of the wisdom they have to offer.

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This post was day 20 of PSYJuly 2021.

3 phases integration

Welcome to day 9 PSYJuly! Today we have a post from Peter Conley on integration…

Psychedelic integration is not buying a fancy new pair of yoga pants after you met “the source” during your trip. It’s not changing your legal name to your spiritual one or constantly talking about how great Ayahuasca is. Psychedelic integration is the emotional work pre and post session. 

There’s a lot to it. For this reason, I founded the organisation Integration Station, where we work specifically on helping people to integrate psychedelic experiences. We aim to deconstruct the process and provide resources to ensure the most fruitful integration possible.

Integration consists of three main phases: 

  1. Preparation
  2. Session
  3. Post Session

Each step has its own nuance to it. 

Let’s start with the preparation phase.

Phase 1: Preparation 

During the preparation phase you’ll set up all you can in order to get the most out of your session. Preparation consists of: 

  • Connecting with your facilitator
  • Cleaning your diet
  • Proper sleep
  • Preparing your set and setting

Connecting with your facilitator

The deeper the bond you have with the facilitator the more likely you’ll have a better session. Deeper bonds lead to more sharing, more breakthroughs, and greater connection with yourself. How do you connect with your facilitator more deeply you may ask? Two words: quality time. The more time you spend with them building an authentic connection the better. Phone calls, in person meetings, etc.  

Cleaning your diet

The healthier you are internally the more resources you’ll have to process the trip. Disclaimer: Please consult with a medical professional before making any radical changes to your nutrition. As a general rule it’s better to eat whole foods over processed foods. Examples of whole foods are fish, poultry, grass-fed beef, vegetables, fruits, nuts, etc. Essentially if your great grandmother would recognize it as food it’s usually healthier for you. Foods to avoid would be like pizza, candy, carbs, sandwiches. 

Proper sleep

Sleep is one of the three main pillars of your health (nutrition and exercise being the other two). The average adult requires 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. Make sure to conduct proper sleep hygiene as well. This consists of practices like no caffeine past noon, reading non-fiction before bed time, reducing exposure to “blue light” at least 90 minutes prior to bed, etc. Here is a great resource for proper sleep hygiene: Sleep Problems? 21 Tips to Get The Best Sleep Ever.

Preparing your set & setting

Setting is the physical location your trip will be in and set is your mindset going into the session. These two factors are two of the most important aspects of the entire psychedelic experience. Pick a location (setting) that will elicit calm and where you know you’ll be safe for the duration of the experience. Prep your mindset to be one of surrender however you can. 

Next I will discuss the integration processes for the actual session. 

Phase 2: The ACE Model

The ACE model comes from Dr. Rosalind Watts at the Imperial College of London. It stands for: accept, connect, and embody. This is the process she uses with clinical patients during a psychedelic session. 

Accept

It all starts with the acceptance of emotions which have been buried inside of you that you have been repressing. You must accept the fact that this is the issue and you’ve been running away from your emotions. 

Connect

After acceptance the next step is to connect with those repressed emotions. You must feel these emotions in order to process & connect with them. 

Embody

After connection comes the embodiment phase. Embodying your psychedelic experience means bringing back what came up. It is the most important part of integration if you ask me. Examples of embodiment: going to therapy after your psychedelic experience resurfaced some trauma, signing up for art classes to express yourself fully, joining an integration circle to connect with a community that understands you better. 

Embodiment requires action. 

Phase 3: Post-Session 

Processing & Editing

It’s imperative you capture what came up during your session. There are many ways to do this and no one right answer; journal, tape recorder, video. Etc. The higher fidelity the capturing device the more data you’ll have to work with. 

Coaching

Ever try to give yourself a haircut? Doesn’t really work does it? Why is that? It’s because of your blind spots. Same thing goes for psychedelic integration. Ensure you’re getting the most out of your experience by hiring a coach. You can visit the coaching page on The Integration Station to find one that’s right for you.

Journaling

Journaling is imperative to this process. You must work through and capture your emotions, thoughts, and feelings in a structured way. You will find that your integration journals can be one of your most prized possessions due to the insights they bring you. 

Pairing Modalities

To increase the impactfulness of your session you can pair your first modality (psychedelics) with another one for a synergistic effect. Need examples? Visit the modalities page on Integration Station. Examples include using EMDR with MDMA therapy, breathwork with psilocybin, and internal family systems with Ayahuasca. 

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About the author
Peter Conley is the founder of Integration Station, a resource for Psychedelic Integration. Integration Station provides protocols, tools, and awareness of modalities to improve your mental health and performance. He is a certified yoga instructor, completed a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat, and advocates for the responsible use of altered states of consciousness as therapeutic modalities.

journal psychedelic

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 itselfI 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.

Audio journaling

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 😉 

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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.

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