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tips advice psychedelic integration providers

If you are a psychedelic integration coach, provider or just interested in becoming one, this piece is to highlight 5 key points when providing services and helping others with their integration process. 

If integration is a new term to you, start here:

Here are the contents, I’ll expand on each point below.

  1. Understand What You Are Practicing
  2. Manage Expectations
  3. Don’t Be The Arbiter Of Truth
  4. Don’t Assume (You’ve Had The Same Experience)
  5. Seek Continued Development

Credits

Before beginning, I’d like to acknowledge that this piece is pulled from my notes from workshops, webinars and presentations on the topic. Primarily, from an excellent webinar on integration hosted by MAPS last summer which featured two people I consider leaders in the field: Marc Aixalà, and Ingmar Gorman. Some is also taken from a workshop with Ingmar at Insight Conference in Berlin last year. You can find out more about them at the bottom of this post.

Alright, let’s get into it!

1. Understand What You Are Practicing

Integration is a broad term and will look very different depending on a person’s needs. One factor in determining a person’s needs is when you see them in relation to their psychedelic experience.

ingmar psychedelic integration scale

In this scale from Ingmar, we see that there is the post acute psychedelic effect on the left end, and long term psychotherapy on the right.

The post acute psychedelic effect on the far left would be the hours and days directly following an experience, sometimes known as the ‘afterglow’ period, where as on the far right it would be a long term and ongoing therapeutic relationship. 

Working on a psychedelic retreat where you are with people directly after their experience, for example, will be on the far left of the scale. If you are conducting a follow up call two weeks later, you will be closer to the middle. If you are working with someone in an ongoing process over many months and years, you will be on the right side. 

Another factor to consider is how a person is doing following the experience: did it bring difficulties or benefits?

marc psychedelic integration scale

On this scale from Marc, we see the different ideas of what could constitute integration, from dealing with undesired effects (e.g. emergence of repressed traumatic memories) to maximising benefits (e.g. greater sense of peace, connectedness, more mental clarity).

Working on the left end of the scale requires more specialisation and looks more like a clinical practice, whereas further to the right could look more like coaching.

Knowing where you are practicing on these scales should inform your approach and help you to know what you are capable of doing. For example, for a therapist, empathy alone is not sufficient; a capacity to recognise what is happening with transference and countertransference and how to respond to that, is also necessary.

Although they can be combined, integration and psychotherapy could be very different processes, so be clear about which you are doing. Acknowledge your level of expertise and limitations, and be ready to refer when helping someone effectively is outside of your scope.

2. Manage Expectations

Psychedelics are getting hyped. Retreats are the new trend. Trips are the latest ‘cure all’. Stories of seemingly overnight change in the media are backed by incredible results from clinical studies.

A desire for fast change is fed by our cultural leanings to quick fixes and instant gratification and the idea of a ‘magic bullet’ is very appealing and draws many people to psychedelics.

Coming back to reality after a ceremony or retreat, and the realistic pace of change, can bring a surprising realisation that there is continued work to be done. 

The non-linear rate of improvement after an experience can fall short of people’s expectations, and this can lead to disappointment and frustration.

non linear progress integration

Falling back into old ways, as often happens on a path of growth, can also bring a sense of failure.

Handling these challenges can be handled well by managing expectations and bringing them to a realistic level.

Of course, hope is an important factor in the process.

So how does one manage expectations whilst maintaining a sense of hope?

It is very useful to first try to understand, what is their expectation of the outcome?

If expectations are high, then balance bringing them to a more realistic level with keeping a sense of optimism and hope.

10 Years of Therapy Insight

It’s often heard that psychedelic sessions are ‘like 10 years of therapy’ or ’10 years of transformation’. Sat next to me at Ingmar’s workshop in Berlin, Marlene Rupp of the excellent Sapiensoup put it perfectly in more real terms: ’10 years of insight’.

See Marlene’s talk at Beyond Psychedelics here:
How To Start A Psychedelic Integration Circle

Insight isn’t worth much until it is realised and actualised in the world; when it is integrated. There is a big difference between understanding a profound truth and embodying it. We could all read a quote from a text or book, but getting to the place of living in accordance with that wisdom is something else. This takes time and effort, something useful to recall in managing expectations.

A useful way of putting it that Marc shared is:

You will have an experience.
That experience can be very useful,
if you do something with it.”

3. Don’t Be The Arbiter Of Truth

It can be the case that a repressed or traumatic memory is recovered during a psychedelic session. For example, abuse from a family member.

In this scenario, the person who has experienced or re-experienced the memory may ask you if it is true, if it really happened.

Even if they don’t say it in words, they may in one way or another be fishing for a confirmation on the validity of their memory.

When it comes to recovered memories, the advice is simple: if you are in any way asked about their validity, do not confirm one way or the other.

The only correct answer you can give is ‘I don’t know’. A false confirmation one way or the other can have seriously negative consequences.

Worth mentioning here is Elizabeth Loftus and her groundbreaking work on false memories, including recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse – very interesting stuff for those inclined.

 

In general, be very careful when interpreting others’ experiences. This leads us nicely on to…

4. Don’t Assume (You’ve Had The Same Experience)

Someone comes to you who has recently had deep and powerful mushroom trip. Perfect, you’ve had many deep and powerful mushroom trips so you know exactly what they’re going through.

Not so fast.

Just because you’ve consumed the same substance as someone else, be it ayahuasca, truffles, acid or any other, it doesn’t mean that you’ve had the same experience. It doesn’t mean they were even remotely similar.

No matter how many similarities there may be, you can’t assume you’ve had the same experience. The width and variety of psychedelic (and life) experience should never be underestimated.

four agreements don miguel ruiz assumptions

That Don Miguel was on to something

Now of course, there can be similarities (and if so, great, because then your experience and learnings will be more easily translated to the other person). But if there are, then try to uncover them with non-directive questioning and patient listening, rather than assuming them from the start and then reaching them skewed by confirmation bias.

When it comes to asking questions, I personally try to take the approach of a non-judgemental exploration characterised by curiosity – seeing the interaction as a means to explore the person’s inner world alongside them. Rather than knowing and leading, trying to go deeper and uncover more.

As an integration coach, it isn’t necessary to share about your own personal psychedelic experiences. After all, this isn’t about you. What is more important is that you let them know that you understand the challenges they are facing.

Be A Good Listener

On this point I think it’s useful to emphasize the importance of being a good listener. 

“There are three things you can do to help someone. The first is to listen. The second is to listen. The third is to listen some more.”

When you find yourself talking, WAIT.
That is, remember the acronym:
W. A. I. T.
Why Am I Talking?

wait acronym psychedelic therapy ingmar integration workshop

From Ingmar’s workshop at Insight Conference 2019

5. Seek Continued Development

Continued and sustained effort is fundamental to becoming great at anything. As Goenka would say; diligence, patience, and persistence.

dhamma dipa vipassana

As I’ve mentioned before, I believe the best way to learn comes from a combination of both study and practice, so read plenty, and seek practice where you can.

However, this final point is a more tricky one. As psychedelic integration is a nascent field, there aren’t really any obvious ways to go about further development. By contrast, if you want to become a psychotherapist, for example, there are some pretty clear roadmaps to do so. How to become an integration provider on the other hand, isn’t so clear.

Globally, our only long standing traditions around using psychedelics have survived through indigenous cultures – e.g. Native American Indians, Amazonian tribes – where practice has never been totally discontinued and knowledge around practices has been passed down through ancestral lineage.

Because of the preservation of practices in those cultures, experiences are naturally integrated in to their communities. For this reason, they don’t really have models for integration that are applicable to us in the West. Here, psychedelics have only recently begun to emerge as a tool for awareness, growth and therapeutic application, and as such are not integrated in our society.

Though we currently lack these systems, they are on the way. In the meantime, seek education and practice where you can; go to workshops, start a circle, learn in related areas e.g. breathwork, mindfulness, support group and community building. Marc gave a couple hints: become a good listener, and become a good therapist in whatever school you’re comfortable in.

You can find some useful and related resources in this post:

I’ll revisit this topic in the future so if you’d like to be kept up to date on future posts, follow me on facebook or twitter, (I am working on fixing the mailing list!).

If you have any further tips, resources, or ideas, feel free to get in contact, either by leaving a comment below or contacting me directly.

Thanks for reading and have a great day.

.

Resources & Credit:

As promised above, here is more information on Marc and Ingmar. I’ve been lucky enough to attend in person workshops with both, a tripsitting workshop in 2017 by Marc in Copenhagen and an integration one with Ingmar last year in my home city of Berlin. They both have a lot of experience in the field and I’d recommend both as good sources of information. 

Marc Aixalà is an engineer, psychologist, psychotherapist and certified Holotropic Breathwork facilitator, specialized in supporting people who face challenging situations after experiencing non-ordinary states of consciousness. He coordinates support and integration services at ICEERS. You can find out more about ICEERS here.

Ingmar Gorman is a psychologist who specializes in assisting populations who have had experiences with psychedelics and other psychoactive compounds. He is director of the Psychedelic Education and Continuing Care Program, and co-founder of Fluence.

dennis mckenna conference

Last year I was lucky enough to meet the legendary Dennis McKenna at the World Ayahuasca Conference. As a huge and long time fan of his, it was truly a great moment in my journey in the psychedelic world.

So, in the presence of one of the most influential figures in the psychedelic world, what question did I ask?

Well, Dennis said it was a good question (yeah!) and didn’t disappoint with his answer.

You can hear my question and Dennis’ answer in the video below.

Video credit: Kate Kifa.

Thanks to ICEERS for organising such a great conference and granting me access to the media room.

P.S.
If you are looking for a great psychedelic book, check out The Brotherhood Of The Screaming Abyss. Absolutely one of my favourite psychedelic books, it is Dennis’ account of an incredible story. He honestly shares mistakes he’s made on his journey and tells tales with refreshing humour. It includes great chapters on Eliade and Jung, and is notably interesting in its documentation of how the psychedelic movement has developed in the West since the 60s.
Go, read!

ozora festival

Rausch is a documentary series by photographer Robert Funke which chronicles the present day use of psychoactive substances in society. Through Rausch, German for intoxication, Robert explores the myriad uses and settings of drug ingestion, including scientific, spiritual, therapeutic and recreational, and a wide range of substances, from LSD and other psychedelics to alcohol, heroin and cocaine.

imperial college london lsd psychedelic

Redecorated hospital room used in LSD studies at Imperial College London.

Rob has been collecting these photos over the last few years and I find the series provides great insight in to the relationship humanity has with drugs and altered states of consciousness. Drug use is as old as civilisation itself and this series explores the topic widely, offering a broad perspective of what can be considered ‘drug use’. Rausch also gives us an opportunity to visually visit some striking and surprising, lesser known settings.

I first met Robert online, and through an unwinding course of events, we are now flatmates and good friends. It brings me great pleasure to be able to present his work here on Maps Of The Mind.

In this post I present a just a few of my favourites. You can find the full collection on his website.

Enjoy the exploration.

santo daime ceremony ayahuasca

Santo Daime church ceremony in Germany’s Harz region. The sacrament of this syncretic religious community is Ayahuasca, a brew made out of psychoactive rainforest plants. The potion is used during fixed rituals for divine experiences, to heal and to strengthen the community.​​​​​​​

ozora festival

Goa-Festivals, like the OZORA in Hungary, are comparable to huge trance-rituals. Music and decoration imitate the neurologic effects of LSD. After hours of dancing to monotonous rhythm in combination with psychedelic substances, people get into a trance-like state.

imperial college london lsd psychedelic study

Another of the redecorated hospital room used in LSD studies at Imperial College London. This is where for the first time computer tomography scans were used to record brain activity while under the influence of LSD, and the impacts of music on therapy were investigated.​​​​​​​

poland therapist 2cb mescaline mdma

In Poland a group meet with the intention of using psychoactive substances therapeutically. Under the supervision of therapists, doctors and experienced attendants, they take Mescaline, MDMA and 2-CB on two consecutive evenings.​​​​​​​

maastricht university brain scan psilocybin

The active compound psilocybin, which occurs naturally in psychedelic mushrooms, is being researched at Maastricht University. Brain scans and cognitive tests are used to find out whether this substance can boost creativity and help change learned behavior patterns.​​​​​​​

You can see the rest of the collection here and more of Robert’s work at robertfunke.com
You can also find him on instagram.

psykedelisk symposium psychedelic symposium copenhagen

psykedelisk symposium psychedelic symposium copenhagen

On a recent mild weekend in Denmark I went to a psychedelic conference in the country’s coastal capital. Held in a sleek and modern building on the city’s metropolitan university campus, it turned out to be a hugely impressive event. Something that struck me early on was how well organised everything was – I guess a part of me was expecting stoned hippies in tie-dye shirts to be running the thing. Though I’m sure that would’ve been fun in its own way, that was absolutely not the case. It was an excellently organised and professional event put on by the psychedelic society of Denmark: clearly a smart and competent group of individuals that understand the value of these stigmatized substances.

psychedelics conference denmark merchandise stand

The atmosphere around the building and in the main hall was of an almost tangible positivity and you could tell everyone was excited to be there. It was awesome to connect with others who share an interest in psychedelics and being around so many like-minded people made me feel that I’m part of something much bigger. A pretty good feeling.

lsd magic mushrooms mescaline dmt flyers

There were workshops on tripsitting and integration on the Friday and the main conference was held over the weekend with two full days of presentations on subjects ranging from neuroscience to psychotherapy to social ecology.

Serious Work Is Being Done

There was a moment I enjoyed on the second morning when an older lady asked me if I was a scientist. I smiled and said “well, I do conduct experiments.” It turns out I’m not the only one. There are like, actual scientists doing (slightly more rigorous) experiments and clinical trials with these substances and writing papers and PHDs on them. And there are a lot of them.

psychedelic plants presentation

Pharmacologist Jordi Riba

Nearly all of the presentations were done by scientists and researchers from  a diverse range of fields and while the research into how psychedelics can be used to treat mental illness is currently getting the most attention, there is plenty more going on. I enjoyed one talk about how the type of hallucinogen present in a culture might influence its prevailing religious beliefs – especially thought-provoking when we consider today’s most popular drugs. There was another interesting one in which pharmacologist Jordi Riba presented his findings that suggest the alkaloids of the plant source of ayahuasca stimulate adult neurogenesis. I should mention that he did also note that aerobic exercise also does this, so if you fancy growing your brain and aren’t quite up for a massive psychedelic trip in the jungle, you can just go for a run. Slightly less intimidating.

Science Is Leading The Movement

Today science is a door to credibility. Open any statement with ‘well, studies have shown that…’ and you’re guaranteed to have your point considered more seriously. As psychedelics gain more attention its clear that many leaders within the movement know this. They don’t want to see mistakes made in the 60’s made again and are very conscious of public perception. Hence the amount of scientists and academics giving presentations. In a panel debate at the end of the first day, neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris used the word ‘hippies’ more than once and its clear that he doesn’t want to be labelled one. He wants the respect that comes with science and he’s not alone in wanting that respect to be extended to psychedelics.

Robin Carhart-Harris psychedelic brain presentation

Robin Carhart-Harris

I do think there should be room for non-science based discussion too though. On looking through the program ahead of the first day I saw a presentation with an intriguing title – ‘Psychedelic Pleasures: An effective understanding of the joys of tripping’. I read it to my friend and he smiled. “That’s more like it. All this science can miss the point.” The talk turned out to be steeped in science and methodology and disappointingly, not very fun at all.

Whilst all the scientific research is important to the wider perception of psychedelics, I think it’s important to remember that technical understanding has its limits. Sure, science has granted us incredible advancements in medicine and technology, but alone it doesn’t have all the answers. Technology has isolated people, globalisation has fragmented communities, and if we look at where all this technical, rational understanding has landed us today we see a world with increasing rates of mental illness in the midst of an ecological crisis. I think we can go a little too heavy on the science at times and there should be room for other types of understanding too.

Small Event In A Big Year

2017 has been a big year for the psychedelic movement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration designating MDMA as a breakthrough therapy for PTSD in August, and much larger conferences like Psychedelic Science, Breaking Convention, and The International Transpersonal Conference taking place in California, London and Prague. Whilst the gathering in Copenhagen was a modest affair compared to those events, it still gave me a sense of how big the movement is and how fast its growing.

psychedelic presentation meditation

I appreciated the relatively small size as it meant that I had the opportunity to talk with some of those presenting. It was interesting to hear neuroscientist Mendel Kaelen (who you may be familiar with from this VICE article) talk about how he considers ‘hope’ to be a crucial aspect of music in a session, and speaking to Jordi Riba, I found out why I can drink cup after cup of ayahuasca without any real effect (turns out I’m not a beast of resistance, it’s more likely that my body just metabolizes certain enzymes very quickly). Whilst it’s possible to find out almost anything online, nothing replaces those in person connections.

Overall the conference was equal parts enjoyable and eye-opening and the cornerstone of an inspiring week in Copenhagen. I think I might make this an annual trip. See you at the next one.

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If you enjoyed this you might also wanna check out:
7 Remarkable Things I Learned At Psychedelic Science 2017 – by Aaron at Freedom & Fulfilment

If you’re reading this you’re at least intrigued about psychedelics. I’m sure you’ve already heard enough reasons as to why you shouldn’t take psychedelic substances, so here’s the flipside…

  •  Disclaimer: There are, of course, risks to taking any kind of drug. This piece focuses on the positive effects of psychedelics. Do your own research please.

1. Appreciate Life More

Pretty good reason, right? Following a strong psychedelic experience users may feel a renewed appreciation and lust for life. As with any serious journey or intense experience, a psychedelic experience can change one’s perspective, help to bring a certain level of gratitude and joy to life, and to appreciate the little things. In studies at John Hopkins University with psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, 83% of participants reported increases in well-being or life satisfaction. As well, studies at Imperial College London have found that taking LSD leads to increased optimism and openness.

2. Increase Creativity

The Beatles, Aldous Huxley, Steve Jobs… what do they all have in common? They were all hugely influential creatives who credited psychedelic use with changing how they saw the world.

“It [LSD] opened my eyes. We only use one-tenth of our brain. Just think of what we could accomplish if we could only tap that hidden part!”
Paul McCartney

art draw

The link between psychedelics, music and art is fairly well documented in culture but their creative potential goes beyond that. Psychedelics can be used as tools for thinking and the recent growth in the number of people micro-dosing for creative and productive reasons is a testament to that. Revelations and new ideas are commonly experienced and users are able to take some of these insights back with them, applying them to problems in their life as well as creative and even scientific endeavours.

“The billionaires I know, almost without exception, use hallucinogens on a regular basis. [They’re] trying to be very disruptive and look at the problems in the world … and ask completely new questions.”
Tim Ferris

lsd acid

A problem-solving experiment conducted with 27 professionals from a variety of fields – engineers, engineer-physicists, mathematicians, architects, psychologists, among others- found that psychedelics aided them in finding creative solutions to professional problems they had been struggling with for months. Participants reported enhanced functioning in the following ways; capacity to restructure problem in larger context, enhanced fluency and flexibility of ideation, heightened capacity for visual imagery and fantasy, increased ability to concentrate, heightened motivation to obtain closure, and visualizing the completed solution.

“What if I had not taken LSD ever; would I have still invented PCR? I don’t know. I doubt it. I seriously doubt it.”
Biochemist Kary Mullis, on his nobel-prize

3. Awesome Experience

Seeking adventure? Exploration doesn’t have to be external, you can go on an awesome journey internally with psychedelics – there’s a reason it’s called ‘tripping’. The feelings, challenges and experience you might expect from an external adventure – wonder, awe, excitement, overcoming adversity, learning through experience – are all there and present in a psychedelic experience too. If you don’t have the time or money for a trek through the rainforest or a Himalayan expedition, you might consider taking an inner journey on the weekend.

shrooms psilocybin

‘Magic’ mushrooms contain the psychedelic compound psilocybin

“If [my daughter] does not try a psychedelic like psilocybin or LSD at least once in her adult life, I will worry that she may have missed one of the most important rites of passage a human being can experience.”
Sam Harris

4. Experience Something Deeper

There is a reason why psychedelics have been used in religious and spiritual rites for thousands of years. Whether it’s ayahuasca in the Amazon, peyote in the North American desert, or Iboga in Central Africa, psychedelic substances are used by humans to alter consciousness in a way that allows them to experience something transcendent or divine. It’s the same reason why spiritual seekers are drawn to these substances today… they are capable of producing mystical or ‘religious’ experiences.

peyote mescaline

Peyote cactus, containing the psychoactive alkaloid mescaline

Can they really facilitate genuinely religious experiences? Science tells us yes.

In 1962, a double blind experiment in Boston found that almost all participants who received psilocybin reported a profound religious experience. In a 25-year follow-up to the experiment, all of the subjects given psilocybin described their experience as having elements of “a genuine mystical nature and characterized it as one of the high points of their spiritual life”.

The study was duplicated in 2002 at John Hopkins University, under more rigourous controls, and after a 14-month follow up over half of the participants rated the experience among the top five most meaningful spiritual experiences in their lives.

5. Your Sanity

Fewer mental health problems? Bet you didn’t expect to see that on the list. Well according to a recent study, people who use psychedelic drugs show fewer mental health problems. Though this might seem counter-intuitive at first it begins to make sense when one considers psychedelics’ ability to improve mindfulness – a tool which can provide a flexible set of skills to manage mental health and support well-being. Psychedelics are now being used to treat anxiety and depression, with early results very promising.

“Psilocybin does in 30 seconds what antidepressants take three to four weeks to do”
David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London

6. Quit Addiction

Did you know that the founder of Alchoholics Anonymous wanted a dose of LSD to be the first step of the program? He stopped pursuing this line when it began to upset other members of AA but he was on to something. Psychedelics are now being used to treat all kinds of addictions with incredible success stories. Ibogaine, a psychedelic from Africa, seems to be the go-to for matters of heroin and opiate addiction, with ayahuasca also used to treat heroin, cocaine and alcohol addictions. Psilocybin and LSD are also now being used to treat addictions to tobacco and alcohol, whilst micro-dosing is helping to wean people off addictive anti-depressants like adderall and ritalin. It seems that whatever the addiction, there’s a psychedelic to help.

In Closing

I feel it’s a shame that so many people don’t ever get the chance to experience the wonder of psychedelics because they are worried they will go crazy, lose their minds or jump off a roof thinking they could fly. But I could hardly blame you if this was your only idea of what psychedelics offer because of the way drugs and in particular psychedelics have been portrayed in our culture, media and schools. We are taught things like ‘just say no’ without any critical thought; pure non-thinking conformity. We aren’t properly educated about them or encouraged to actively engage in the decision with our own critical and cognitive faculties. This is why the underlying assumption of a large chunk of society is that (illegal) drugs are bad and have nothing positive to offer you.

But now the science is coming through from all sides and telling us that this school of substances have much to offer us and an increasing number of people are learning of their incredible potential. With a little research you will find that people all over the world, for thousands of years, have been using psychedelic substances as tools for change, education, growth and inspiration, and are continuing to do so today. There continues to be a growing number of people taking back the reins to their own consciousness and using these tools for growth and empowerment in what seems to be a psychedelic renaissance. Will you be part of it?