tripsitting buddha

As psychedelics continue to gain popularity, there are more and more people beginning to offer their services as a tripsitter. At this point in history we are in a transitional phase where lots of people are using psychedelics, but there aren’t really any established structures and training programmes around to support safe use. 

As it stands, fully licensed, legally practising trip sitters are extremely rare. Outside of clinical research, on the whole, psychedelics are still illegal in most parts of the world. In the few cases where they are legal, there are no licences or recognised authorities to hand out qualifications in the country.

This means that almost anyone working as a tripsitter is unlicensed, and if they are not operating in a country or state where it is legal, underground. I have previously worked underground, and now fall into the category of an unlicensed tripsitter, though my tripsitting work takes place in the Netherlands, so it is legal. There are many people working in this same category of unlicensed but legal, and organisations like The Guild Of Guides are working to take care of this area. However, they will still not cover underground guides. 

Underground Guides

I know there are people currently practising underground who probably will continue to do so for a good few years to come. I have made my share of mistakes on my learning curve as a guide and I would like to share what I’ve found to be best practices. This article will cover some practices that I think all practising tripsitters should follow, but I especially hope that they will be of use to underground sitters. I believe this area of practice to be a larger cause for concern at this point in time due to the inherent isolation and secrecy of their work, which tends to result in a lack of accountability and open channels for feedback and critique.

Recommendations for Best Practices

Acquire Knowledge & Experience

The first thing is to learn, and gain both knowledge and experience, on two levels: firstly, personal experience, secondly, as a tripsitter.

Knowledge may come through reading books, taking courses, or finding a coach. Be studious. Do your research. Personal experience may come in many forms: organising sessions with friends, going on a retreat, working with a professional facilitator or psychedelic coach.

This is really about developing your own practice and learning about how to use psychedelics through first hand experience. Imagine you were seeking a ski instructor, if they didn’t have any knowledge and experience of skiing themselves, would you want them as your guide?

When it comes to tripsitting, again seek knowledge where you can. Read books (see recommendations at the bottom of this post) and become well versed in practices in different traditions and cultures of using psychedelics. You then might start by facilitating sessions for friends and family members. After that, you might volunteer at a retreat centre. 

The path I have followed has been along these lines. I had my own journeys, and began reading books on the topic, whilst slowly incorporating what I was reading into my practice. Along the way I organised sessions with friends, which developed into tripsitting people close to me, before reaching out and working at Myco Meditations in Jamaica. I first went there as a volunteer, eager to gain experience, and in due course I was offered a paid position. I continued to organise sessions with friends, and this expanded to tripsitting people in my community, before I decided to set up New Moon Psychedelic Retreats and took on a role as a lead facilitator. This dual approach of seeking knowledge and experience, exploring and experimenting, and steadily evolving my practice is the approach that I still use to this day. Most recently, pre-corona, I worked as a tripsitter on a Truffles Therapy retreat in late 2019, and in 2020 I underwent a course of psilocybin therapy as part of a replica of a study at Johns Hopkins.

Screen

A basic level of screening is the first step to sitting someone. Information that you should gather before moving forward includes: 

  • personal past or present mental health conditions (including depression, anxiety, psychosis, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, behavioural addictions, eating disorders and PTSD)
  • personal or family history of schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar disorder, or any other psychotic disorder.
  • current medications 
  • the person’s history and experience with psychedelics and other psychoactive drugs.

Personal and family histories of mental health issues should be carefully considered when deciding who to tripsit for. Those with psychotic disorders are at an increased risk of a psychotic break triggered by psychedelics so do your research on this. In terms of medication, one must make sure there are no contraindications between their medication and the substance that the journeyer will be taking. Understanding a person’s personal history with substances will help to assess their readiness and calibrate dosage.

Acknowledge Your Limitations

When it comes to deciding who you will tripsit for and who you won’t, it is important to understand the limits of your training, experience and knowledge. For example, if you are not a medical professional, do not recommend someone to taper off their medication. They should consult with the doctor about this and make their plans clear.

Acknowledge your limitations and refer out as appropriate. 

If you are truly passionate about your path as a facilitator, then you should consider what knowledge, experience and qualifications you need to move forward and be able to competently tripsit for those people you want to, but aren’t yet fully equipped to do so. Professional qualifications are emerging fast within the psychedelic space, so there are plenty of opportunities for learning and improving your skills.

Until then, don’t accept dubious cases. If you aren’t sure, err on the side of caution. If you want to help that person move forward on their path, you can recommend them to work towards a state of readiness in the meantime. This could be directing them towards trying breathwork, attending a meditation retreat or course of meditation, partaking in a vision quest, or attending some other kind of spiritual or wellness retreat. Otherwise, you might refer them on to a more experienced practitioner.

Consent, Confidentiality, Follow Up

These are the three pillars for clinicians in the field, and due to the psychologically dismantling effects of psychedelics and the sensitivity of the human mind in these states, are just as important in informal practice.

Consent

The journeyer must understand and know that anything that happens within the session will be 100% consensual. This creates a safe space and enables them to engage more fully with the experience. Conversations and agreements about what happens in the session, the type and level of interaction between the sitter and tripper should be covered in the preparation stage. 

Confidentiality

Confidentiality is important to create a safe space for the session. Allowing the person to feel safe will mean that they are more able to let go during the experience and allow whatever needs to come up to come up. This is then going to enable them to have a more beneficial experience. 

This is something that is very easy to forget as an amateur practitioner. For this reason, it is very important to state to the person you are tripsitting that everything that they tell you and what happens within the session, as well as the preparation and follow up meetings, remains strictly confidential. Do not make exceptions to this rule. This should be stated explicitly at the first preparation meeting. Such a clear declaration will help to reinforce this to yourself too.

Even with friends or more casual acquaintances, I think confidentiality is an important principle to follow, and is a basic sign of respect for those you are serving. 

Follow Up

Because of the potential of psychedelics to dismantle psychological boundaries, they can be destabilizing and also increase the emotional sensitivity of participants in the days and weeks, and potentially even months afterwards. For this reason, checking in with people after their experience is important. Some people may require extra support, and again, may need referring to specialists in some cases. The MAPS list and psychedelic.support are two options for finding an integration provider.

If the person is a healthy functioning individual, the need for personalised follow-up may be reduced by making sure that the person has sufficient support in the event of some kind of emerging personal crisis. This should also be checked in the preparation phase. A useful question to ask someone is: if you had an emergency who would you go to help for? If you had to show up on someone’s doorstep in the middle of the night, who would that be?

A check should also be made about which other people know the person is undertaking the psychedelic trip. If you are the only person who knows, then it’s very possible that you are the only person that they feel comfortable speaking to about their experience and what is coming up afterwards. Ideally, they should already have a therapist, friends or community of people that know what they are doing. A psychedelic-friendly therapist is a great person for them to speak to and have the designated time and space to talk about and process their experience. Where this is not the case, an assessment should be made as to how much useful support they will be able to receive from their own network. With this in mind, you should consider what you will provide yourself.

Final Thoughts

When sitting for others the focus should be on care. This comes naturally when sitting for close friends or family members. It is essential, however, to maintain the same attitude if deciding to move into paid work. For this reason, I would recommend you to develop your practice slowly by moving outwards from self, to family, friends, community, and finally, paying journeyers. 

If deciding to pursue tripsitting as a professional vocation, one should avoid the tension between the legitimate need to earn a living, and the duty of care. For more on this see the talk linked at the end of the article.

For me it comes back to respecting the substances for the power that they hold. I believe a patient and grounded approach is the wisest course of action when it comes to working with psychedelics, both as a practitioner and a tripsitter. Move forward with caution and care.

Best wishes on your journey.

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Recommended Books For the Aspiring Tripsitter:

Psychedelic Psychotherapy – R. Coleman | Goodreads
The Secret Chief Revealed – Myron Stolaroff | Goodreads
The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide – Jim Fadiman | Goodreads

Recommended Talk:
Charging Money For Ceremony – Jerónimo Mazarrasa | Beyond Psychedelics 2018

 

Read more on Maps of the Mind:

My approach as a psychedelic facilitator really depends on the person I am working with and our relationship.

I don’t have any kind of preset formula in terms of what I will do or how I will interact with the journeyer. What each person needs is different and totally depends on their circumstance and where they are at on their journey. I try to meet everyone where they are, and in this way, every session or ceremony is a co-creation between myself and the person I am with.

At a tripsitting workshop I went to a few years ago, I got introduced to the concept of Maai from martial art aikido, which is maintaining the correct distance from your opponent, and also called the ‘engagement distance’. This is something which is very relevant when tripsitting; with some people I will be very close, and with others I will leave a lot of space. My actions are based on what I feel that person needs.

It may be that it is called for me to hold someone whilst they cry, hold their hand, or maintain their gaze for a time during the session. During one session, I held the journeyers’ hand throughout the entire journey (they even asked me to accompany them to the bathroom — I respectfully averted my eyes, of course).

In other situations, it may be that what is called for is simply a stable and steady presence in the room and to give the journeyer space. I have been a facilitator in group ceremonies where I’ve had basically zero interaction, not even looking at the group. In this situation I am there to hold space. During what can be at times a wild, crazy, and frightening experience, a strong, still presence can offer a sense of reassurance and, on a subtle level, an understanding that everything is under control. A still and grounded presence can be of great support and a lot can be said for a calm presence.

Of course, it is not one way or the other. Close, intimate interaction can change throughout the session and can give way to distance and space when needed. Sometimes I will simply sit beside someone. Sometimes I might place a hand on their shoulder to reassure them or to help bring them back to a somatic experience of their body.

At times, it may be that I speak with the journeyer for varying purposes. It may be to reassure them and help them feel safe, or it may be using the interaction as a means to explore their world with them. This could be by asking questions to help direct their attention in certain ways to help them go deeper into their experience, or to offer a different angle.

Though sessions can look very different, one thing that is consistent and that I do every time is to meditate on loving kindness. This helps me to stay connected to those feelings and for my actions to come from that place.

The session itself and the relationship between myself and the journeyer is a continually evolving and living thing. I will always speak with the journeyer beforehand about our interaction and the level of touch they are comfortable with, but I also make it clear that this is not fixed. In therapy, often the biggest part of the healing process is that of the relationship between the therapist and the patient, and likewise this can be said of that between the journeyer and the guide.

During the session, if someone then feels like they actually would like a hand to hold or a hug, then of course I am there. Conversely, they may feel like they would prefer to be left alone and would like some space. I will always honor them and their needs. This type of ongoing communication is a key aspect, and requires me to stay malleable and open to whatever may arise. Indeed, someone asking for help and receiving it, or setting a boundary and having it respected, can be a very empowering and healing thing itself within the session.

Intuition plays such a large role in tripsitting and effective facilitation is truly an art. Though certain knowledge is useful, it is not something that could be written up as a set of rules like: sit quietly and still, hold a hand if they start breathing heavily, hug them if they start crying.

I try to assess the needs of the session by feeling and intuiting on a moment-to-moment basis. Presence is important in this aspect and this is why a key part of my ongoing development as a facilitator is my meditation practice. As well as a training to develop my presence, another part of my meditation practice is to go into feelings. I find that this part helps to evolve how I tap into intuition. In other words, to get out of my own way and out of my head. There may be times when the voice of the ego or doubt comes up and this is where discernment is needed, to see what is needed to be done rather than what I want to do. This is certainly not something I have mastered by any means; I am a continuing student in this process. Indeed, the more that I learn, the more I realise there is to learn.

Working with people as a facilitator is an honour and of all the things that I do, it requires the most of me. A session or ceremony for me is like a cup final. I feel that I need to be as close as I can to my A game and in the best condition I can be. Nothing else I do requires the same level of care or presence. It is humbling to have such trust placed in me and of all my work, sitting is the thing I take most seriously. It is the moments that I have the most direct impact on people’s lives.

Tripsitting friends can be complicated. When you have a specialist tripsitter or psychedelic guide that you pay for, much like with a therapist, the relationship is clear. There will probably be clear agreements in place about how your relationship is and how your interaction will be.

However, having a friend to tripsit can have the upside of being easier to organise, it already being someone that you trust, and also being a cheaper option. I think it can be a good option, but it can be murky, seeing as the relationship already has personal history, and you should proceed with caution if you and a friend are going to go this way.

Before a couple of years ago most of my own therapeutic style psychedelic sessions were either solo or with a professional. Since then I have tripsit dozens of times for friends and have also had friends sit for me. During this time I really feel that I’ve learned more about the complex dynamic of at home DIY sessions with friends and have come to some guidelines for when sitting for a friend:

1. Treat it as if its your own trip

Don’t underestimate your responsibility as a tripsitter, even if its ‘just’ a friend. Something I always remind myself before sitting anyone is that I need to be prepared to hold them crying in my arms that day. You should be ready for that.

So treat the session with the respect that you would as if it was your own session. Make sure to arrive well rested. I really emphasise this point. If you are tired, it will hinder your ability to be really present and receptive to your friend. Being even a little tired can make us cranky and a worse version of ourselves, and needless to say we should be aiming to be at our very best, not for us, but for them.

Be sure to have cleared your schedule, and I’d recommend putting your phone on airplane mode for the duration of the session.

I see the tripsitter’s role as going on the journey with the journeyer, even if they are not taking any psychedelic substance. We are are still going with them, alongside them. If we follow the analogy of the guide being ground control in the airport tower, would you want your ground control to be distracted or answering a text message whilst you fly high? Doing appropriate clearing beforehand will allow you to be present.

Trip-sitting itself can be psychedelic and this should be borne in mind.

2. Be the most allowing version of yourself as the friend

That might sound strange but let me explain. Relationships with friends can hugely diverse in terms of the ways we treat each other and the roles we play. The relationship can change hugely depending on the mood and the day. Sometimes we might tease and make fun of each other, others peaceful and chill. We might also enjoy having heated discussions and debates, each trying to prove our point.

When it comes to sitting, I recommend treating your friend as if they’d just received some awful news, had a really tough day, or are going through a really tough time.

Be openhearted and listen to them.

“There are three things you can do to heal someone. The first is to listen, the second is to listen, and the third is to listen.”

Listen to them. Really be a good listener. Hear what they have to say. Don’t start debates or discussions. Allow them space to speak, and when they don’t speak, don’t try to fill the space, allow it. Space is often where the magic happens, let it be.

If they say something which triggers you or you find yourself wanting to respond to ‘correct’ them. Just WAIT.

Some Do Nots:

  • Don’t challenge what they are saying or disagree with them
  • Don’t tell them they are wrong or correct them
  • Don’t try to convince them of your philosophy, or espouse yours to them

If you don’t understand their viewpoint, be patient, and take a moment to try to try to understand before any response. Approach with a genuine curiosity and as if they know something that you don’t. Use questions to help yourself reach their viewpoint, rather than using questions to get them to reach yours. 

What they need will come from within them, not from you telling them conclusions that you’ve already come to.

Being open, gentle and loving doesn’t mean being serious or inauthentically lovey dovey. It means being patient and sensitive to the depths and dimensions of them. You can still smile and be light.

I would recommend these guidelines regardless of how they are behaving and how fine they might seem. Even if they are joking or smiling, that doesn’t mean they aren’t still in a vulnerable and sensitive state. Some people joke around to hide their pain. Words or gestures, even a subtle tone of voice or body language, can have an bg impact and be received like thrown weapons. Be mindful and sensitive.

If they are full of energy and joy and flying high, you don’t need to bring them back to earth. They will come back down on their own time.

3. Don’t skip to the end

Sitting requires a lot of patience and after sitting quietly for hours, it can be tempting to hurry back to your more usual way of relating as friends, including teasing, challenging etc. However, in the hours and days following a session there can still be subtle shifts ongoing. We can still very opened up, vulnerable and open to change. As research has shown, there is an increased neuroplasticity during the two weeks following an experience and this is a crucial phase of the integration process.

So try to follow 2. and continue being the most allowing version of yourself as a friend even after the effects of the drug have worn off. Doing that for a whole two weeks might seem a lot, so maybe try at least for the rest of the day and the day after.

The best thing you can do as a tripsitter, and as a friend, is to be accepting of whatever arises

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I have some more concrete practices to follow for friends organising to tripsit for each other but am out of time for today. If you’d like to see them, share this post and if I see some interest I’ll cover them in another one soon. Good day!

buddha statue forest

What makes a good tripsitter? Is it being caring and kind? Or is it more important for a psychedelic guide to be knowledgable and trustworthy? Today I will introduce and look at others’ work on the topic, drawing from 6 resources, and finish with a few thoughts of my own. This will be a broad overview rather than an in depth exploration, and I hope that you’ll be stimulated and inspired to learn more.

John Hopkins Psilocybin Study

Two tripsitters and a journeyer in a research setting at Johns Hopkins.

The resources featured in this post:

1. Six Competencies Of A Psychedelic Therapist – Janis Phelps
2. Suggestions For The Guide – The Guild Of Guides
3. The Psychedelic Experience – Leary, Metzner, Alpert
4. Manual For Psychedelic Guides – Mark Haden
5. LSD Psychotherapy – Stanislav Grof
6. Tripsitting Workshop – Marc Aixala

Use Of Terms | Guide Vs. Facilitator Vs. Therapist
A small clarification before I begin. The title of this post uses the word guide and this term is often used interchangeably with facilitator, space holder, tripsitter and even therapist. With the field of psychedelic therapy growing, the word therapist is being used increasingly and there is dispute about how and when it can or should be used. While the role of a psychedelic facilitator can be very different to that of a clinical therapist, I’m not going to explore that difference today – that’s another post for another day. This piece is to stimulate ideas and develop discussion.

OK so let’s take a look.

Six Competencies Of A Psychedelic Therapist – Janis Phelps

Janis Phelps Psychedelic Therapist

Janis Phelps is a clinical psychologist and the founder and director of the Center for Psychedelic Therapies and Research at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). In her paper Developing Guidelines and Competencies for the Training of Psychedelic Therapists (Journal Of Humanistic Psychology, 2017), Janis Phelps outlines six competencies:

1: Empathetic Abiding Presence
2: Trust Enhancement
3: Spiritual Intelligence
4: Knowledge of the Physical and Psychological Effects of Psychedelics
5: Therapist Self-Awareness and Ethical Integrity
6: Proficiency in Complementary Techniques

This paper is an excellent resource and must read for any psychedelic therapist in training. You can read the paper online here:
Developing Guidelines and Competencies for the Training of Psychedelic Therapists

Janis Phelps Psychedelic Therapist skills guide

You can also watch her talk on youtube:
Training The Next Generation Of Psychedelic Therapists

Suggestions For The Guide – The Guild Of Guides

Early on in James Fadiman’s classic book, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, there is a section attributed to The Guild Of Guides titled Suggestions For The Guide.

fadiman psychedelic explorers guide cover

It states the essential prerequisites are:

  • Compassion

  • Intuition

  • Loving kindness

In addition to those qualities, it is valuable to have basic knowledge in:

  • the range of possible effects
  • the basic principles of various spiritual traditions
  • a sense of how and when to share useful ideas and concepts

The importance of remaining centered is also highlighted.

Remaining Centered:

“The more centered you are as a guide, the more effective you will be. The more you know about yourself and whomever you are guiding, the more likely you are to be able to stay centered and tranquil throughout the session. When you yourself are more comfortable, it will be easier for the voyager to transition from one state of awareness to another. After reviewing hundreds of sessions in different settings, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) concluded, in most situations, that a voyager became distressed when the guide had become unsettled, uncertain or upset.”

The Psychedelic Experience – Leary, Metzner, Alpert

In their own classic, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based On The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, Leary, Metzner and Alpert have a section on The Psychedelic Guide.Psychedelic Experience Tibetan Manual Leary Alpert Metzner

Here they mention a couple of key factors:

  • Ability to turn off own ego and social games; particularly to muffle his/her own power needs and fears.
  • Considerable experience in psychedelic sessions himself and in guiding others.

They even go on to say that it is unethical and dangerous to administer psychedelics without personal experience.

It is also stated that the guide should be;

  • Relaxed
  • Solid
  • Accepting
  • Secure

“The guide must remain passively sensitive and intuitively relaxed for several hours. maintaining a state of alert quietism in which he is poised with ready flexibility. The guide must never be bored, talkative, intellectualizing. He must remain calm during the long periods of swirling mindlessness.”

A useful analogy is also used, likening the guide to ground control.

ground control tower

“He is the ground control in the airport tower. Always there to receive messages and queries from high-flying aircraft. Always ready to help navigate their course, to help them reach their destination. An airport-tower operator who imposes his own personality, his own games upon the pilot is unheard of. The pilots have their own flight plan, their own goals, and ground control is there, ever waiting to be of service. The pilot is reassured to know that an expert who has guided thousands of flights is down there, available for help. But suppose the flier has reason to suspect that ground control is harboring his own motives and might be manipulating the plane toward selfish goals. The bond of security and confidence would crumble.”

Manual For Psychedelic Guides – Mark Haden

The Manual For Psychedelic Guides is a newer manual and the first draft surfaced online earlier this year. As a newer manual, it’s up to date and looks at important concepts in the field of psychedelic therapy such as inner healing intelligence and the non-directive approach. It references other works that have been mentioned here and is one of the best resources I’ve seen. There is a lot in there so I’ll just include a few things here.

psychedelic treatment guide mark Haden manual draft cover

Presence

“Your full presence is instrumental during preparatory meetings, on the day the participant ingests the medicine, during the integration follow-up meeting, and beyond the study sessions.”

Haden emphasizes the importance of being present and describes it as a skill that can be practiced, developed, and further cultivated. The section Skills Of Being A Psychedelic Guide is included to help the reader grow in their ability to be present through the range of experiences that both the guide and participant may encounter.

“When you are fully present, you consciously and compassionately share the present moment with another; and you believe in and affirm this person’s potential for wholeness, wherever they are in those moments.”

buddha statue forest

Qualities Of Guides

In the section Qualities of Guides, adapted from Karen Coopers’ Guide Manual, many qualities and types of knowledge are listed. 

A Knowledgable, Skilled and Wise guide:

  • Knows when not to intervene, and knows when and how to assist the process.
  • Has a full appreciation for being alive, lives a meaningful life, understands that we are all “wounded healers”, knows some of the agonies and ecstasies of human existence.
  • Has an understanding of the pharmacology and expected or possible effects of the medicine.
  • Trusts both the psychedelic medicine and the participant’s internal healer to find the process of healing for the participant.
  • Has the ability to stay relaxed and grounded in the presence of intense anxiety and other emotions that may be expressed emotionally or physically.

Experiential Knowledge:

  • Has appreciation for the mystery of their own being.
  • Has awareness of content beyond the ego.
  • Understands awe/respect toward transcendence.
  • Understands that encounters with transcendence can be meaningful, significant and life-transforming.
  • Maintains the ability to remain objective; uses discernment rather than judgment.
  • Is able to avoid using labels such as “psychosis” or “freaking out”, and is able to respond mindfully to observed behaviours and perceptions.
  • Has an ability to shift between mode of scientist and mode of poet and compassionate presence, drawing on each as appropriate.
  • Appreciates that sessions are like a piece of art created in collaboration with the participant.

The following are also included and have their own short sections:

  • Knowledge of the Human Mind When Seen Through the Lens of Psychedelics
  • Knowledge of the Power and Importance of Human Relationships
  • Appreciation for Human Suffering

An updated version of the manual will be published soon and I will update this post with a link as soon when it is. Until then you can find the draft online here.

LSD Psychotherapy – Stanislav Grof

Czech psychiatrist Stan Grof is one of the most influential figures in psychedelic therapy. In the chapter Critical Variables in LSD Therapy, Grof includes sections on pharmacological effects, the personality of the subject, and set and setting. There is also a section on the personality of the therapist or guide where he lists important factors in successful LSD therapy.

stan grof lsd psychotherapy cover

Important factors of the therapist:

  • Human and professional interest
  • Clinical experience and therapeutic skill
  • Personal security
  • Freedom from anxiety
  • Current physical and mental condition

It is also noted that it is absolutely essential, prior to the administration of LSD, that the therapist:

  • examine his or her own motivation and attitudes toward the subject
  • try to establish a good working relationship
  • clarify the transference / counter-transference situation

Transference / Countertransference

Having an awareness of transference and counter-transference and how to respond to that is a key part of a therapist’s job. You can find a useful introduction to these concepts in a post here:

Transference vs. Countertransference: What’s the big deal? – Therapist Development Center

Other important themes in Grof’s work:

Trust

“Probably the single most important element determining the nature of an LSD experience is the feeling of safety and trust on the part of the experient. This is […] critically dependent on the presence or absence of the guide, his or her personal characteristics, and the nature of the relationship between the subject and this person.”

He continues:

“Trust is essential to the participant letting go of their defenses and surrendering to the psychedelic process. The ability to establish trust is naturally an important attribute for a guide.”

Personal experience [with psychedelics] Is Imperative

lsd tabs acid psychedelic

‘[…] the therapist has to have special training that involves personal experiences with the drug. […] It is impossible for the future LSD therapist to acquire deeper understanding of the process without first hand exposure. Reading about psychedelic experiences, attending seminars and lectures, or even witnessing sessions of other people can only convey a superficial and inadequate knowledge”

Grof explains how personal sessions have another important function:

“… they offer an opportunity to work through one’s own areas of conflict and problems on various levels. Some of the crucial issues that a future LSD therapist has to confront remain essentially untouched in most forms of conventional therapy. Fear of death, total loss of control, and the specter of insanity can be mentioned here as salient examples.”

You can buy the book here.

Tripsitting Workshop – Marc Aixalà

In 2017, I attended a tripsitting workshop by Marc Aixalà, a health psychologist who coordinates support and integration services at ICEERS and who subsequently went on to provide training to the research team at Imperial College London.

As has been mentioned in many of the other guides, Marc emphasized that one’s approach as a caring and supportive human being is more important to the outcome of the experience than any techniques employed. Effective sitting requires:

  • Intuition

  • Compassion

  • Self-awareness

He is another who has highlighted the importance of presence. Marc also shared desirable attributes for a care giver during a session:

marc tripsitting attributes of caregiver

At the workshop, and also echoed in an article on integration on chacruna, Marc underlined the importance of facilitators having worked on their own power, money, and sex issues.

Final Thoughts

It is my belief that anyone aspiring to become a psychedelic guide should first look deeply at their motivations for wanting to do so. After that, I believe that for anyone wishing to carry out this meaningful work, a certain level of dedication to personal and professional development should be employed. When dealing with people in such sensitive and vulnerable states, I think this is work beyond that of a hobbyist or amateur.

Gaining Experience

I hope this post has been useful and has given some ideas for further reading.  In the end, however, knowledge should be coupled with practice and experience. Whilst I do believe that theoretical frameworks and certain specified knowledge provide a good foundation, they should be used as a ground for establishing a practice or course of applied learning. I mention this to say that I don’t believe it is enough to read all the resources here and listen to talks and then believe you can be a psychedelic facilitator. I encourage any hopeful facilitators to seek out development through a personal practice and relevant experience working with others where one can cultivate the qualities and characteristics mentioned in the works here. 

Meditation As A Practice

In my personal experience, I have found a meditation practice to have been a huge help in cultivating presence, calmness, patience and acceptance; attributes that seem to come up again and again as beneficial to have as a facilitator. The ability to remain calm yet attentive is something that has been directly applicable and useful in sitting for psychedelic sessions.

buddha statue shadow meditation

To finish, I’d like to share a relevant quote from psychedelic researcher and Buddhist practitioner Rick Strassman from his chapter in the excellent Zig Zag Zen.

“Supervising sessions is called “sitting,” usually believed to come from “baby-sitting” people in a highly dependent and, at times, confused and vulnerable state. But, in our minds, Buddhist practice is as relevant a source for the term. Our research nurse and I did our best to practice meditation while with our volunteers: watching the breath, being alert, eyes open, ready to respond, keeping a bright attitude, and getting out of the way of the volunteer’s experience. This method is very similar to what Freud called “evenly suspended attention,” performed by a trained psychoanalyst who provided support by a mostly silent but present sitting by one’s side. I experienced this type of listening and watching as similar to Zen meditation.”
Rick Strassman | Psychedelic Researcher | “DMT Dharma” – Zig Zag Zen.

Share Your Thoughts

What do you think makes a good psychedelic facilitator? What practices and experience do you think can help cultivate the qualities that make a good psychedelic guide? How much personal experience with psychedelics is necessary? Do you know of any other good resources on the topic that I missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

personality tripsitting workshop

During my recent visit to Copenhagen I attended a tripsitting workshop as part of a psychedelic conference. I’d never been to anything like this before so I was pretty curious to see what it would be like. And no, we didn’t look after or watch people tripping their nuts off, but it was pretty cool nonetheless. Here’s an overview.

tripsitting workshop copenhagen

The workshop was given in a seminar room at a building of Copenhagen’s Metropolitan University College – fittingly, a university of applied sciences. The workshop was full and there were 40 of us there, a mix of men and women from their 20s to their 60s. From appearances you’d never guess that this was a group of psychedelic enthusiasts.

I ended up sat next to the only other Brit in the room, who turned out to be Rosalind Watts – a clinical psychologist who’s part of the research team at Imperial College London and who worked on their groundbreaking psilocybin for depression study – she was also giving a presentation at the conference the next day. It’s good to know that those involved with research are topping up their knowledge and still seeking development – especially as it seems that the progress of the psychedelic movement will depend largely on the results of clinical trials in research settings.

wide tripsitting workshop

Being in an atmosphere of like-minded people was great – the room was full of people who have an understanding of the potential of psychedelics and want to learn more. As it’s still a fringe movement I don’t often get these real-life interactions where I can freely talk about this kinda stuff so having that sense of community was the perfect backdrop for the workshop.

The workshop was led by Marc Aixalà, a Spanish engineer and psychologist who works as an integrative psychotherapist. Amongst his experience with psychedelics Marc has worked as a coordinator for Kosmicare – a company that provides emergency attention to people going through difficult drug-related experiences at large festivals. Throughout the workshop Marc told us some stories from his work to illustrate points and it was pretty clear that he has considerable experience in this area. I could totally see why he was asked to lead it.

Marc Aixalà psychedelic science

Marc also presented at Psychedelic Science this year

The workshop was basically a presentation and while more interaction might’ve been good, a lot of ground was covered. To give you an idea, topics covered included: the effects of different psychedelic substances and the challenges of a sitter unique to each one; the differences between sitting roles- shaman, sitter, facilitator, guide and therapist; how to screen people for a psychedelic session and how to prepare for it; and how personality can affect reaction to the experience. And loads more, it was packed with useful information.

The small group size allowed for interaction amongst us and for Marc to stop for questions when people had them. Though there was definitely a level of professionalism from Marc and most attendees were clearly there to learn, the atmosphere was relaxed and there was room for some laughter.

personality tripsitting workshop

It was the first time Marc had given this particular workshop and he’d prepared too much material to fit in to the allotted 4 hours so we ran over by about 40 minutes. I was actually really happy about this as I was learning a lot and had nowhere else to be that afternoon.

Overall it was excellent. It surpassed any expectations I had and I found the whole thing to be very mentally stimulating. It even answered a few questions I didn’t know I had. To finish, I’d like to share a few things that came through from the workshop.

1. Healing Happens Through Intensification

crying emotion

Psychedelics can facilitate healing by intensifying the emotions around whatever difficult issue is being – consciously or subconsciously – avoided. This intensification allows difficult and repressed emotions to be fully experienced and expressed, and in doing so to reach their natural conclusion. This can be understood in the processes by which psychological healing occurs – projection, transference, abreaction, and catharsis. In the context of a therapeutic trip, this means that someone experiencing difficult emotions or sensations should be encouraged to surrender to them, rather than resisting them.

2. People Heal Themselves

Noone can have an experience for anyone else. This is true of healing or perspective shifting experiences too. Each person must go through the process ultimately on their own and reach their own understanding, acceptance and resolution of any troubling issue. As such, a sitting role will usually be passive and supportive. Marc used a nice analogy for this: if you have a cut on your arm, you don’t actively go about healing it. You clean the wound, patch it up, and then allow the healing to take place. Likewise, a sitter’s job is to set and maintain the conditions conducive to the healing process – a safe environment that allows someone to heal themself.

3. Clearly Defined Boundaries Are Helpful

restricted area rules

It is helpful to clearly define the ‘rules of the game’ ahead of a session: the level and type of interaction between the tripper and the sitter, who controls the choice and level of the music, what activities, if any, will be undertaken. Setting these boundaries in advance will encourage feelings of security and reassurance and help to create an emotionally safe space for the session.

4. The Approach Is More Important Than The Actions

A calm, centred, supportive approach is more important than what any guide or sitter can say or do. It’s not enough to remember certain actions or follow a set routine, care giving and support goes beyond this – effective sitting requires intuition, compassion and a level of self-awareness.

5. Qualities That Make A Good Sitter Aren’t Quantifiable

Trip-sitting isn’t a science – it’s a combination of an art and a science. Whilst a level of knowledge can be very helpful in some regards, the character and motivations of a sitter are more important. Marc made this point in a panel debate at the conference, explaining that he would much rather have a caring and honest carpenter looking after him than a fully-qualified psychologist who lacks these qualities.

good attributes tripsitter

This poses a predicament for the psychedelic movement. If we see these substances legalised for health care and therapy, there will be questions over who can, should, or is qualified to administer these substances and oversee sessions. Some professionals in the field have already stated their belief that psychedelics sessions should only be overseen by qualified medical professionals.

But if the most important qualities are unmeasurable, it would be very hard for any regulatory body to award suitable qualifications or grant licenses to administer psychedelics. In a society and culture that doesn’t like to believe in anything that it can’t touch, weigh, measure or quantify – this will be a tricky issue. This is something that should be considered moving forward.

Brain Scan Qualifications?

Final, crazy idea. Could licenses be awarded based on brain scans? There have been studies on monks using fMRI and EEG technology that show links between brain activity and these, as yet, unmeasurable qualities.

fMRI brain scan machine

A qualification could be awarded based on the level of activity in your brain’s left pre-frontal cortex compared to the right – a high level means you have a reduced propensity to negativity. Or perhaps a ‘test’ could be that you are wired up and asked to meditate on compassion. Your level of gamma waves – linked to consciousness and attention – would determine your ‘score’. I expect monks would mostly be coming out with the top qualifications, but who wouldn’t want a wise buddhist sage as their psychedelic guide? I certainly wouldn’t mind.

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If you enjoyed this you might also wanna check out:
6 Steps For Helping A Friend Through A Bad Psychedelic Trip – Zendo Project
What It Really Means To Hold Space – Uplift Connect
What it means to “hold space” for people, plus eight tips on how to do it well
The Sweetness Of Holding Space For Another