NOW SERVING Psychedelic Culture

Psychedelic Integration Guide: Coaches, Circles, & Therapists

psychedelic integration
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Many are changed by psychedelics. Not only do people widely report using such substances for personal development, but scientific research has also confirmed that a single psychedelic experience can result in lasting personality change [1]. For many, however, altered states are readily dismissed as “crazy drug experiences” that are of no significance to their daily lives. With the renaissance in psychedelic research showing great potential for psychedelics to heal and change people for the better, many are turning to psychedelic integration to get the maximum benefit from an entheogenic voyage of self-discovery.

There’s more to the use of psychedelics than the trip itself. Considering harm reduction before is crucial to ensure things go in the most positive direction during the experience. Equally important is the time after the experience. Psychedelic states can produce peak experiences and profound insights, but you’ll need to focus on integration after the experience for these to result in transformative change.

What is Psychedelic Integration?

Psychedelic integration refers to any activity that a person undertakes following a psychedelic experience with the intention of incorporating the insights from the experience into everyday life. 

Activities performed as psychedelic integration include meditation, yoga, spending time in nature, setting boundaries, focusing more on certain relationships and anything else that promotes positive change in line with the experience. 

A whole range of beneficial insights and experiences can happen in altered states and their specific nature will inform the kind of integration that’s appropriate. Someone might get in touch with memories that they typically avoid thinking about, reevaluate a relationship in their life or connect with the present moment in a way that they had never done before.

The experiences that come up in the psychedelic state reflect something about yourself, whether it’s a repressed memory, an unhealthy behavior pattern or untapped potential. Once you’ve seen the terrain of your mind, you have a choice. You can try to continue avoiding certain parts of yourself or you can face them and learn from them. 

If you choose to learn from them and take steps to ensure there will be lasting change, you are performing psychedelic integration – you are integrating the insights, lessons, and experiences into your everyday life.

Psychedelic Integration Therapy vs. Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy

Our minds evolved to keep us alive and safe, and they typically try to keep us from changing. To the evolved brain, whatever you’ve done so far has kept you alive, so it’s best to stick with that, even at the expense of your happiness. 

Such quirks of our psychology make it tricky to pull off perfect integration by ourselves. Following the experience, we may know exactly what we need to do and we may have every intention of meditating for two hours a day, going vegan and calling our family every night. But putting these plans into practice is another matter. This is where help from others can be of great use.

There are therapists who specialize in assisting people with the integration process following psychedelic experiences. These therapists have no role whatsoever in providing or facilitating psychedelic experiences themselves but can offer help in the crucial period after the experience, where the real change can happen. 

Psychedelic states can put people in touch with significant traumas and can act as a catalyst for profound psychological healing. For people trying to integrate psychological material of this kind, as opposed to just trying to live more healthily, for example, psychedelic integration therapy with a trained therapist may be the best option. 

Psychedelic-assisted therapy differs from psychedelic integration therapy. It is an end-to-end process that takes someone through a preparation period with one or two therapists, provides the experience in a therapeutic context, and assists the participating individual through the subsequent integration stage. 

As of 2020, psychedelic-assisted therapy has yet to become widely available due to legal hurdles that are yet to be cleared, but psychedelic integration therapy faces no such issues and is currently available through standard directories for therapists.

Is Experience Integration Necessary? 

Behavior change is hard. Without conscious, intentional planning of how to change for the better, we typically slip back into old behavior patterns. When this is the case, the experience becomes just a memory, an incredible experience that had the potential to be life-changing but wasn’t. With appropriate integration, however, people can experience truly transformative change for the better.

When Does Integration Begin?

Psychedelic integration begins immediately after the experience has ended. In practice, however, the next days and weeks are where a lot of the action happens. In the hours following the experience, it’s good advice to go easy on yourself and give yourself a chance to recover. There is no need to roll out the yoga mat right away if that’s your particular integration resolution. 

The key thing to be sensitive to in the immediate aftermath of the experience is unhealthy patterns that you might want to change come into view. If you realized your alcohol consumption is a problem, don’t zone out in front of the TV with a beer. Take the time to let the experience sink in, in a healthy way.

The day after the experience is the prime time to strike when it comes to integration. While the experience is still fresh you may want to journal and write down your reflections from the trip. Many people find drawing is useful here too, even if they don’t typically draw, as it helps convey feelings that can’t be put into words.

The days and weeks to come will be the key time for putting your grand plans into action. Try your best to hack your behavior to make the changes stick but don’t be hard on yourself, personal growth is usually hard-won.

Best Ways to Integrate a Psychedelic Experience

An authentic psychedelic experience relies not only on the psyche’s journey but also on the psychedelic substance’s therapeutic integration. Integration is more than an abstract or vague concept. An earth-oriented and sacred type of experience, psychedelic integration has profound meaning in the individual’s healing course.

Integration Circles

Integration circles are groups of people who come together to discuss their psychedelic experiences in order to share insights and guidance on the integration process and harm reduction strategies, as well as to offer emotional support.

Therapist/Coach Led

Some circles are led by an individual with specific training in integration. They might be psychotherapists or coaches who can help the group explore how to best integrate their experience into their lives in a structured way. For example, the founder of NANA Heals – Florencia Bollini – is nicknamed the “corporate shaman.” Further, helping leaders break into their psyches to develop successful business strategies that equally serve people, profit, and planetary objectives. 

Community Led

Many circles are organized by a community and may have no particular individual leading the group. Some community integration circles are peer-led. However, in which case an experienced member of the group who is particularly familiar with integration will facilitate the flow of sharing and discussion around the circle.

Psychedelic Integration Coach

Some people feel they would benefit from one-to-one guidance from someone who specializes in psychedelic integration. For people who feel they want to focus on general behavior change rather than the psychological work that is typically the focus of psychedelic integration therapy, a coach might be the best fit. 

A psychedelic integration coach is someone who guides clients through their integration process in order to assist them in maximizing the benefit from their psychedelic experiences. They will typically discuss the material from the experiences with the client and will help them to structure their integration effectively in order to help them achieve their goals.

Integration Techniques 

Psychedelic experiences vary wildly from person to person and, similarly, the appropriate integration approach will depend on the person, the experience, and their goals. Certain themes are common, however, making some integration practices more routine than others.

Spiritual Practice 

For many, psychedelic states can be the first time the individual is confronted with the spiritual. A profound sense of the sacred, blissful recognition of the mystery of being, and a deep sense of connectedness to the rest of the world are all common psychedelic experiences.

By going far beyond one’s usual range of experience, these peak experiences can illuminate the most positive areas of our psychological terrain, and leave individuals with a new sense of what kind of mental state they would like to inhabit day-to-day.

Cultivating a spiritual practice can be a way of navigating back towards these psychological spaces in daily life and could include yoga, meditation, or chanting, as well as many other practices found in the world’s religions and spiritual traditions. Finding a practice that resonates with you can be a satisfying approach to integration.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is perhaps the most widely adopted integration practice in the psychedelic community. This may result from its relevance to fundamental aspects of our minds that are shared by all of us. 

We typically live in a distracted state where we are not present and in control of our minds but are instead thinking about the past or the future. Mindfulness meditation [3] and psychedelics [4] have both been found to suppress activity in the brain’s default mode network, a constellation of brain areas that mediates mind-wandering and one’s sense of being a separate self. Mindfulness can act as a wonderful method for connecting with and integrating insights into the nature of the mind acquired in psychedelic states.

integrating psychedelic experiences infographic

Contributing RS Author: Dr. James Cooke

Dr. James Cooke is a neuroscientist, writer, and speaker, whose work focuses on consciousness, with a particular interest in meditative and psychedelic states. He studied Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience at Oxford University and is passionate about exploring the relationship between science and spirituality, which he does via his writing and his YouTube channel, YouTube.com/DrJamesCooke. He splits his time between London and the mountains of Portugal where he is building a retreat center, The Surrender Homestead, @TheSurrenderHomestead on Instagram. Find him @DrJamesCooke on InstagramTwitter and Facebook, or at DrJamesCooke.com.

References:

[1] Bouso, J. C., dos Santos, R. G., Alcázar-Córcoles, M. Á., & Hallak, J. E. (2018). Serotonergic psychedelics and personality: A systematic review of contemporary research. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 87, 118-132.

[2] Brewer, J. A., Mallik, S., Babuscio, T. A., Nich, C., Johnson, H. E., Deleone, C. M., … & Carroll, K. M. (2011). Mindfulness training for smoking cessation: results from a randomized controlled trial. Drug and alcohol dependence, 119(1-2), 72-80.

[3] Carhart-Harris, R. L., Erritzoe, D., Williams, T., Stone, J. M., Reed, L. J., Colasanti, A., … & Hobden, P. (2012). Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(6), 2138-2143.

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