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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.