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psychedelic psychotherapy book tripsitting guidelines

Good day, welcome to 4th PSYJuly! Today we have a post coming from my good friend Ekaterine Kobaladze. Me and Kat first met at a meditation circle a few years now and I’m pleased to share her piece on a topic which a couple of readers have recently told me that they’d like to learn more about: tripsitting. Here’s Kat…

Chapter Summary from Psychedelic Psychotherapy by R. Coleman

As a psychology student and an aspiring sitter, I found the book Psychedelic Psychotherapy by R. Coleman to be extremely informative and helpful. The book is packed with lots of practical advice for those who would like to offer tripsitting or have a psychedelic experience of their own.

In this post, I will be focusing on the specific chapter which offers important guidelines for prospective sitters. Below are the notes I have collected and organised from Chapter 6. 

Chapter 6: Guidelines for The Sitter

psychedelic psychotherapy book tripsitting guidelines

Keeping it safe

Your most important role as a sitter is to make sure the journeyer doesn’t hurt himself or damage anything within the setting. Be prepared to encounter possible anger release, for which you might need to provide props such as pillows or even a punching bag. In some cases, you may notice suicidal or injury-producing behavior such as hitting oneself or pulling one’s hair. You can prevent further self-harm by compassionately commenting something like, “you’ve been hurt already. Please don’t hurt yourself.” Reminding them to breathe deeply is always a good idea. 

Sexual boundaries

NEVER ALLOW ANYTHING SEXUAL TO HAPPEN BETWEEN THE JOURNEYER AND THE SITTER. 

It could be that the journeyer starts to act out their past sexual trauma. They might try to seduce you into participating in their sexual healing, however, make sure you don’t engage and gently remind them about the rule against any sexual interaction. You can point out their best qualities such as intelligence and courage in order to assure them that they are valued beyond their sexuality. You may say, “I admire these traits in you and hope you will come to see how valuable you are because of them.” 

On the other hand, appropriate and non-sexual touch such as holding a hand or hugging can be really beneficial to the journeyer. Make sure to always ask their permission before proceeding with any physical contact. In addition, beware that the initiated physical touch does not stem from your own needs. You must agree in advance that if the touch no longer feels comfortable to the journeyer you will stop it or modify it.  

Despite the strict sexual boundaries between you, the journeyer should feel safe exploring their own sexuality in a non-shaming and confidential setting. It should be welcomed to openly talk about sex and express one’s fantasies, even if they’re shameful. Getting naked, feeling one’s own genitals, and even masturbation should be accepted, as long as the latter falls within mutually agreed-upon boundaries. If you prefer, you may offer them a blanket to cover themselves, leave the room, or simply turn your back. It is also important for you to distinguish when the journeyer is masturbating in order to heal and not trying to avoid difficult feelings. In addition, refrain from expressing your own sexual beliefs or judgments. 

Presence

You will need to give your undivided attention and emotional support to the journeyer whose feelings and thoughts were neglected in childhood. You also need to be authentic and genuine, as the journeyer can notice false comments and dishonest behavior right away. Honor the times when the journeyer asks for privacy and space until they need you back. 

Focusing Coach

As a sitter, you need to be on the lookout to direct the journeyer away from intellectualizing, spacing out, or avoiding uncomfortable feelings. Beginner journeyers might need to be frequently reminded to let go of their intellectual need to know. They need to keep in mind that analyzing can be done after the journey has ended. Remind them that feeling, not thinking is the true guide on the journey. 

If the journeyer has a hard time surrendering to the experience and becomes fearful, you may offer them reassuring words such as “It’s okay, you’re safe. I’m here holding your hand.” Difficult parts of the journey will require you to remind the journeyer to breathe fully either by verbal reminders or by breathing out loud yourself. If you notice that the journeyer is spacing out, you can try to ground them by a form of physical contact such as a massage or bodywork. If the journeyer isn’t ready for physical touch, you can coach them to stretch, rub their hands and feet, or make any other movement that encourages the feeling of being in their body. If the journeyer starts to shake, thrash about, or spasm during a difficult part, you might want to reassure them that they are releasing negative stuff from their bodies. When guiding the journeyer, make sure you communicate with reminders and suggestions rather than commands.

Re-Parenting

The journeyers who were emotionally or physically neglected in childhood by their parents may spontaneously age-regress. Your embrace such as gentle back/belly rubs, hugs, and a foot massage can be very healing. However, remember to always ask the journeyer permission before initiating any of these forms of contact. In addition, having props such as a teddy bear, baby bottle, or a pacifier on hand might also be helpful in soothing such states. Offering reassuring comments such as “That must’ve really hurt.” “I’m so sad that happened to you. You didn’t deserve that” can also be very helpful.

Witness/Record Keeper

A sitter should try to record anything important that takes place. These include substances, dosages, and times when they are taken. Try to document your observations of significant activities, body movements, words, and anything else that may seem important. This information can help the journeyer make sense of their experience after the journey and draw meaningful insights from it. 

Deejay

Music has the power to encourage relaxation and induce emotions. It is recommended that the music playlist consists of mostly instrumental, ambient, and non-intrusive pieces. It can also include soft chanting, Kirtan, and trance-inducing drumming. It is good to discuss musical options beforehand as it could be that the journeyer prefers silence. 

Outside Contact

It is never a good idea to allow the journeyer to make a call, text, or go see someone in the middle of their journey. Try to talk them out of such behavior until they have reached the end of the experience. However, if there is a private backyard, natural settings, or isolated nature available, they can definitely benefit from exploring them. 

Primitive Behavior

Be prepared for some primitive behavior to come up such as screaming, thrashing, throwing up, unleashing rage, animalistic behavior, etc. The journeyers can easily detect if you’re freaked out and will perceive their behavior as something wrong. Show acceptance if something like that happens. 

Magnified Transference

Journeyer’s repressed memories can sometimes show up as transference hallucinations and be projected onto the sitter. They might believe that the sitter is judgmental, is angry with them, or doesn’t care about them. As a sitter, you should encourage sharing of these feelings and respond kindly. If the transference hallucinations take place, make sure you NEVER play the role of a perpetrator.  

Patience

Being a sitter is fascinating work but it can also be draining or boring. You will have to be present and attentive to the journeyer for 6-8 hours. You will need to listen, be attentive, and responsive. You might have to witness the journeyer’s emotional release, repetitive phrases, or silence. Be sure to remain compassionate and not interfere prematurely to try to induce something in the journeyer’s experience. 

Silence is Golden

As a sitter, you should avoid excessive talking. Your comments should be short and expressed in simple language. Refrain from, analyzing/interpreting or preaching. When in doubt, don’t say anything. 

The Sitter’s Pre-journey Briefing

To avoid unnecessary complications, it’s a good idea for the sitter to discuss rules and guidelines before the experience with the new journeyer. The following is the summary of the author’s sample directive:

  1. Every journey is different and there is no right way to do it. 
  2. Most profound healing happens beyond thoughts and words.
  3. Everyone has a unique healing path and I can not offer the universal treatment plan to you.
  4. It’s important you share it with me when I’m being too talkative, directive, or silent. 
  5. Unaddressed tension between us can really get in the way of a successful journey and it’s crucial you let me know if something I do or say annoys you or makes you feel uncomfortable.
  6. You do not need to report everything to me as talking might remove you from the experience. We can talk about important points after the session.
  7. Breathing plays a big role in the healing process so I will be persistent with returning your attention back to your breath.
  8. I will take care of your comfort needs as long as you let me know if you’re thirsty, too cold, too hot, etc.
  9. If the chosen music isn’t working for you let me know so I can change it or turn it off. 
  10. Boundaries on appropriate behavior:

Touch – I will never initiate a touch without asking first. Feel free to ask if you need to hold my hand. If you feel discomfort with my touch at any moment, let me know.

Sex – dealing with sexual feelings and matter is honorable but nothing sexual will ever be allowed between us. 

Anger – my boundaries include that you are not allowed to harm me or my stuff. Nevertheless, this is a safe space to release anger by screaming, punching a pillow, etc.

11. Sitter’s needs: I will need to eat, use the bathroom, or stretch at some point. I will be with you the entire time unless you need some time alone.

12.Whatever happens and is being said will be confidential.

13. On a high dose of psilocybin, you could sometimes feel like you’re going crazy or dying. Rest assured that this is a safe, transformational, and temporary process.

Conclusion

Holding space as a sitter can be very exciting but also nerve-racking when you’re just starting out. You might feel worried that you’re too incompetent or fear that you can’t manage to keep things under control. These concerns are completely valid and it is natural to feel anxious before offering your very first sitting. However, I believe that studying great books such as Psychedelic Psychotherapy can equip you with necessary practical knowledge for successfully navigating your first experience. Although the notes above can be very helpful, I highly recommend reading the chapter itself (and the entire book, if possible). It can be particularly useful for the sitters who want to learn more about dealing with the journeyers who have a history of trauma and abuse. 

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.

.

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:

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