Integration is key to moving forward on the psychedelic path. Although some shifts may happen organically, a lot of it will need deliberate and intentional work.
As I tweeted a while ago:
Returning to twitter after my recent digital detox, I asked the psychedelic twitter crowd:
What would your #1 integration tip for psychedelic first timers be?
There was a great thread which covered many areas important to integration and included: self care, quality rest, community, selective sharing, facing what came up, avoiding distractions, remembering your why, and setting intentions.
Answers came from knowledgable people around the world, including Psychedelic anchor David Wilder, Canadian author James W. Jesso, and mental health writer Sam Woolfe, so I thought I would share some of my favourites here…
Top Integration Tips From Twitter
Take Time Off
Give yourself plenty of time and space to process the experience. During that period, make self-care your top priority.
Turn your phone off, have 2 days. One day for the experience and one to reflect and rest the day after. Remember to breathe and you’re likely more resilient than you give yourself credit for.
Get Quality Rest
Get a good night’s sleep after the experience, so enough sleep (7-9 hours) and good quality sleep (avoid cannabis, alcohol, and benzodiazepines, as these can interrupt REM/deep sleep, which are both involved in memory consolidation). The more you remember, the better.
Stay with the Experience
Don’t distract yourself for the days after. Instead feel & embody all of the emotions that come up after the experience.
Take time to feel into the emotional impressions left in you by the most significant moments of your journey, really feel into them, and then let yourself wonder about it. Journalling in this context is great, but be mindful to whom and how (and if) you choose to share the story.
Beforehand, glean information from those you really trust about their experiences. Just like you know who to talk to in your circle about music or whatever, so to for the psychedelic journey. Also, integration can take forever so expect decades not weeks.
Find some like-minded people to work with and start a journal or diary for your deepest thoughts. Be prepared to be vulnerable but don’t be afraid of it
Remember Your Why
Remember why you tripped. Beginning to think about what you wanted from the psychedelic can be an important first step towards using the feelings and thoughts that came up in order for you to transform your life.
Don’t be afraid of what the mushrooms are showing you. Listen to your mind & heart and proceed accordingly. Set intention. Everyone has their own journey
You can read the full thread on twitter here. Thanks to all the contributors and commenters.
If you are a psychedelic integration coach, provider or just interested in becoming one, this piece shares five best practices when providing services and helping others with their integration process.
Here are the contents, I’ll expand on each point below.
Understand What You Are Practicing
Don’t Be The Arbiter Of Truth
Don’t Assume (You’ve Had The Same Experience)
Seek Continued Development
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.
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?
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.
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’.
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.
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 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?
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.
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 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:
If you have any further tips, resources, or ideas, feel free to get in contact.
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.
Integration has become a bit of a buzzword in the psychedelic world the last few years and this subfield has been growing rapidly with whole systems, protocols and philosophies being devised and developed by individuals and organisations. The number of integration circles, events and workshops around the world is growing just as fast and you can find whole tracks of talks dedicated to psychedelic integration at international conferences and forums.
This topic is huge and I could write a whole series on integration (I plan to).
But, first, the basics:
What is psychedelic integration, exactly?
What does it mean to integrate psychedelic experiences?
To begin, a definition of what it means to integrate, non-psychedelically.
integrate /ˈɪntɪɡreɪt/ : to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole : unite.
So if to integrate is to make whole by bringing all parts together, psychedelic integration could be seen as unifying the psychedelic and non-psychedelic sides of someone. It is to harmonize how a person is – how they feel, think and act -when they are in a psychedelic state and when they aren’t.
A definition of entheogenic integration, from ERIE (Entheogenic Research Integration & Education):
N.B. Entheogen is another word for psychedelic substance.
If psychedelic experiences offer us opportunities to learn about how to live and what’s truly important, then integration is living in accordance with that wisdom, day to day, and not just thinking or theoretically understanding profound truths.
It’s becoming unified with those moments of deep insight and understanding that can be experienced on or after psychedelic journeys. Depending on your background, culture and worldview, these moments may also be referred to as epic realisations, insights, cosmic downloads, mystical revelations, receiving of divine wisdom, messages from God, ‘aha’ or ‘eureka’ moments.
“Strictly speaking, these drugs do not impart wisdom at all, any more than the microscope alone gives knowledge. They provide the raw materials of wisdom, and are useful to the extent that the individual can integrate what they reveal into the whole pattern of his behaviour and the whole system of his knowledge.” Alan Watts
Ingmar Gorman, speaking on the integration track at Psychedelic Science 2017, described integration with the following:
Happens after an experience
Reflection or understanding of one’s experience
Merging of one’s experience with daily life
Maintaining positive benefits
Assisting with challenging or intrusive thoughts and feelings
It can be very ordinary
He also made the point that it is interdisciplinary (psychology, physical fitness, artistic expression etc.) and multi intentioned (healing, spiritual, personal growth).
Katherine Maclean, also on the integration track at Psychedelic Science referred to James Lore’s definition of integration:
“is a deliberative, active participation, as well as an allowing. Integration is a process of stepping into and trusting that meaning making is an ongoing ordinary human capacity that happens throughout your life.”
This quote hints at how integration is both an organic and deliberate process. Organically, some things may change without effort; thought patterns or behaviours, or maybe something that is harder to identify more than a general feeling of freshness and rejuvenation.
Deliberately is the active participation, and to willingly participate in the integration process, one must first affirm their insights and validate the importance of the experience, and not just brush it off as a ‘trip’ or ‘some drug experience’. This is where integration circles can be beneficial, or finding a community or others who understand and are open to hearing about a psychedelic experience. As well as hearing your story, friends and community can help with support and accountability.
Weaving the mystical with the practical
Insights may be affirmed and a belief that what was experienced or understood has real value beyond the trip. The session has revealed something that is deeply felt needs to be done or changed, but still, it doesn’t all come easy. Some insights can be challenging or uncomfortable, and so require more time, effort and conscious practice to act on and fully realise. This is where planning, structure, effort and support come in. Structured practices, system implementation and habit formation can be huge in this process, and I see this deliberate part of integration as having a large overlap with the fields of personal development and self improvement. I’ll continue on this theme in another post.