The use of psychedelics to treat mental health conditions and to promote human flourishing is on the rise. Although psychedelic drugs have been used by indigenous populations for millennia, they only entered the western medical mindset in 1943, when Albert Hoffman, a Swiss chemist, discovered LSD. In the 1960’s the counterculture embraced psychedelics and although there were thousands of studies reporting the therapeutic benefits of these medicines, the subsequent War on Drugs effectively ground research to a halt.
Thanks to research conducted over the last thirty years, however, the therapeutic promise of psilocybin, ayahuasca, MDMA, ketamine, LSD, and other plants medicines, has become apparent. But it is not only the time spent in an altered state of consciousness that contributes to the healing power of these medicines, it is the time spent in preparation and integration.
Integration is the process of making whole, of reflecting on and understanding one’s psychedelic experiences and merging them with daily life. Mindful exploration of the cognitive insights, emotional breakthroughs, and mystical experiences you had during your psychedelic session is a way to honor your experience and will ensure long-lasting benefits.
The days and weeks following a psychedelic experience is an optimal time to make changes, as the brain is in a more malleable state. This is an especially rich time to set down new patterns of thinking and behavior. Remember, impatience is the enemy of integration. It will take time to sit with the images and insights that come to you.
Please note that all psychedelics can bring up intense experiences related to existing traumas, repressed memories, and other latent aspects of the self. If you at any time feel overwhelmed, you don’t have to go it alone. Please reach out to a psychedelic integration specialist for support.
Tools to promote integration:
Journaling about your experience
Noting dreams, insights, “aha” moments that surface
Bodywork (yoga, breathwork, ecstatic dance, tai chi)
Connecting with like-minded individuals who have experienced non-ordinary states of consciousness.
Important questions to consider:
What benefits have you received from psychedelic experience so far?
What impact has your psychedelic experience had on your important relationships?
Do you feel you have an adequate support system? (Family, friends, therapy?)
Do you feel you have adequate coping strategies (Meditation, exercise, journaling, creative expression, breathwork?)
Have your sleeping habits or appetite changed?
What are your concerns?
What would it look like if integration were successful?
Challenges to integration:
Quick-fix mentality (“I thought psychedelics would fix everything!”)
Disappointment and self-judgment (“Not even psychedelics worked.”)
Emergence of repressed traumatic memories
Resurgence of addictions to cope with emerging traumatic memories
Chasing the high: wanting to re-engage with the medicine too quickly after your session.
List the cognitive insights you had during the session.
Ex. “I need to be more emotionally present with my partner.”
Now, list actions you can take to operationalize this insight.
Ex. “We need to schedule time together to engage in conversation, without distraction.”
List the emotional breakthroughs you had during the session.
Ex. “I realized I have not spent any time with my inner child.”
List actions you can take to deepen this breakthrough.
Ex. Schedule time every day to check in with your inner child. Find a picture of yourself as a child and spend some time sending him/her lovingkindness.
List the mystical experiences you had during your session.
Ex. “I felt connected to something greater than myself. I felt part of a larger Universe.”
List any actions you can take to deepen this mystical connection.
Ex. Spend more time in nature; begin or deepen your meditation practice; download a meditation app; read mystical poetry, etc.
Write a no-send letter of forgiveness to a loved one who harmed you.
What did you let go of and put behind you forever?
What is a surprising thing you learned about yourself or someone else?
Engage in automatic writing with your non-dominant hand.
Write a message to yourself for encouragement, inspiration, and motivation in times when you face struggles after your session.
Describe the new lifestyle, behavior, and inner world of the person you felt in touch with during your session.
What are some of the symbols that emerged in your journey? (Ex. A dragon, a lion.) What are some characteristics of these symbols? What qualities or archetypal meanings do these possess? In what parts of your life do you embody these qualities? Are these qualities hidden and wanting to emerge?
If you listened to music during your journey, meditate with the same music. It will bring you back to a similar embodied state as your trip.
Spend more time in nature.
Spend less time watching or listening to the news, engage less in social media, reduce time with people who may drain your energy.
Honor your experience. There may be a tendency to diminish what you experienced during your session (“That was just my brain on drugs.”) This is a fearful part of yourself—your ego—that does not want you to engage in change. If you experienced or visualized something during your session, it was meaningful and should be taken seriously.
Don’t expect to wrap your experience up in a tidy bow. Some psychedelic journeys take months or years to fully integrate. Stick with it. Be curious. Be compassionate with yourself.
Remember, this medicine wants you to evolve and heal. The mindful integration of your trip is a way to honor that experience. This may take time, but it is eminently worthwhile!