Integration of psychedelics, is part one of a three part series on integration in psychedelic therapy and coaching.
Three part series:
One: The why and what of the integration of psychedelics – modelling what works
Two: Psychedelic integration techniques – doing what works
Three: What psychedelic therapy teaches us – living what works
Introduction: Knowledge is power. Knowledge about oneself is self-empowering. And psychedelics are one way people are seeking this empowerment. In this three-part series I will give you a comprehensive understanding of the integration of psychedelics and psychedelic experiences. With this knowledge you will be able to make intelligent decisions around psychedelics and psychedelic integration.
This page, part one: The why and what of the integration of psychedelics – modelling what works. I give you a thorough understanding of what integration is (and isn’t), how set and setting fit in to it. And introduce some of the existing models of psychedelic integration in use today.
Next in part two: Psychedelic integration techniques – doing what works. I will introduce a deeper understanding of some of the keys to successful integration and some proven techniques that you can use.
Lastly in part three: What psychedelic therapy teaches us – living what works. I look at what psychedelics and psychedelic therapy have taught us. And use that to see the process from a new perspective that you can apply every day.
The why and what of the integration of psychedelics – Modelling what works
Without integration, psychedelics are just another recreational drug. A drug that becomes a type of spiritual bypassing where the experience replaces the work. But understand the art of psychedelic integration., and your life will change. Spiritual bypassing is way too common. By which I mean that people tend to hide behind a spiritual practice instead of facing the unresolved parts of themselves. Psychedelics can be used as a tool to stop this avoidance of personal issues. What psychedelics are not., is a replacement for the courage and persistence it takes to evolve as a human.
One of the guest speakers at a recent psychedelic integration event hosted by researcher Dr Rosalind Watts, was Bruce Parry. Bruce has had many first-hand experiences living with isolated tribes removed from modern civilization. Many of these have been made into TV series’ like the BBC series called ‘tribe’. One of his main insights was the way people in the communities were ‘held’ by the whole community if they needed integration or support in any way. And the way these communities treated all as having equal value. Not equally skilled or knowledgeable, but equal value regardless. Something our ‘modern’ societies could learn a lot from.
What is Psychedelic Integration
Psychedelic integration involves incorporating lessons and insight from a psychedelic experience into your life. This may be things you would like to start doing or things you would like to stop doing. The aim of psychedelic integration is to create wholeness from individual parts of our personality and experience. Often these are parts that may have been suppressed or in conflict with each other. Like not speaking your truth or learning from mistakes. And this integration may include setting new ways of being with others and the world. Or indeed new ways of being with yourself.
How psychedelic therapy has returned to science
Until recently, the integration of psychedelics has been thought of as separate from the experience itself. And the importance of it has been missed way too often. Therapeutic psychedelics are in science and medical news journals today more than ever. And people are considering using psychedelics for personal development as a shrortcut to personal growth also. This is encouraged by the popularisation of psychedelic therapy and the loosening of regulations around their use. Used intelligently, psychedelics seem to increase psychological flexibility. This leads to people feeling more open and less avoidant of situations in life by activating mindfulness, acceptance and behaviour changes. Slowly but surely, psychedelic therapy is making a return to medical and scientific study. And the results are very promising.
What is the process of psychedelic unfolding
The unravelling of insights about the self and how you relate to others can happen for weeks, months or even years after the experience. And this is why psychedelic integration is often stopped too soon or overlooked completely. In psychology, this unravelling over time is called the unfolding process. Like the layers of an onion, psychedelic unfolding is an ongoing process. It’s a mistake to think that you can have one experience and all your problems will be solved. It must be made clear here too, that you do not need to ingest a psychoactive substance to have a psychedelic experience. There are other ways to get benefit from unique altered and non ordinary states of consciousness. Including a drug free psychedelic light experience with the product featured on this website. More on other methods in volume two of this series of articles on psychedelic integration techniques.
There is an important reason why I am going to be quite thorough in this series. And that will become evident in the third instalment on lessons from psychedelic therapy. The more you know, the more you will REALLY get the message that so many miss!
How psychedelic integration is a model for ALL successful change
What I hope you’ll realise by the end of these articles, is that integration is part of ALL successful therapy. And you will have ways to integrate you or your clients experiences in a way that make positive changes last. These articles focus on psychedelic integration. However, the models and methods outlined here apply to integrating ANY significant experience. Psychedelic experiences will often bring up many memories, thoughts and emotions. Like new threads of experience and information not before conscious. Some of those may be unprocessed parts of ourselves that we have disowned or suppressed. For some, integration feels better in a group. Other people get more value from one to one coaching or therapy. Either way, the value of integration is in weaving this new thread into your tapestry of life.
Get help with the Integration of psychedelics
Sometimes the life changes needed as part of integrating a psychedelic experience are obvious. Maybe you need to stop doing something or start doing something. Often however, the message is not that clear and emotions and confusion can run high. Which is why this next statement is probably the most valuable one to make. There are people who have had the same type of experience as you that are willing to help you. You do not have to process psychedelic integration alone. There are therapists, coaches and integration circles that you can take advantage of. Or in the least, talk to your friends who may be willing to support you.
There’s an important distinction that needs to be made on the subject of integration. Without this knowledge, many mistakes are made that lead to integration being much harder than it needs to be. And this is the subject of set and setting…
Is psychedelic set and setting part of the psychedelic integration process
Much more focus has been put on the idea of set and setting for psychedelic use. That being, the right preparation and environment. The integration of psychedelics starts before the drug does. And the right application of set and setting will have a big impact on how effective integration is after the experience. Research suggests that non-pharmacological effects are responsible for a big part, if not the majority, of therapeutic drug benefits. In other words, the placebo effect is more responsible than the drug! IE: A therapeutic placebo effect. And if you really get the implications of that statement, you’ll come to a profound realisation which I will explain later. This explains why there has been so much variation in the results of drug therapy results. And highlights the importance of standard methods and procedures.
The ‘space’ creates the experience
In fact many psychedelic therapists would say that the container IS the medicine. Psychedelic set and setting are a big part of what separates recreational use from therapeutic use. The space you have your experience in will flavour the experience. I’m not going to expand too much on the subjects of set and setting. But some points are worth clarification. Psychedelics tend to intensify mental processes and amplify their significance. Thoughts and emotions are presented as being larger and more dramatic than they would have been. Therefore, set and setting can have a dramatic effect on the overall experience and need for integration.
Does set and setting influence ALL substance use
Psychologists and scientists have long known that set and setting have an effect on how much and how often a drug is used. In lab studies, rats in a dull boring environment will drink copious quantities of cocaine. Those same rats put into a stimulating interesting environment, will drink water instead. And even when the cocaine solution is made as appealing as possible by sweetening it. This matches the general observation that people in impoverished environments tend to have higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse. So set and setting is by no means isolated only to psychedelics. Alcohol being a classic example of something that in the wrong environment and with the wrong people, can have disastrous consequences.
What is Psychedelic set and setting – re-defined
So, before we dive into the models of psychedelic integration., what is the definition of a psychedelic set and setting? Set and setting have a history dating back to the 19th century. The setting for a psychedelic experience is self-explanatory with an important addition. Setting is the environment. But it is slightly more than that. It includes the cultural and social environment in which the experience takes place. Therefore, included in the setting environment are the guides, teachers, facilitators and/or sitters. IE: The people whom you trust to be experts to help you through the experience. What is their experience? What methods do they use and what do they believe and what are their expectations? This will all influence your experience, especially if you have challenges while under the influence of the drug. The role of the sitter and/or therapist in this process cannot be understated. Research on rapport and trust between the therapist and the client, shows a strong correlation to successful outcomes.
What is Psychedelic set
To clarify what set is.., it’s useful to rename ‘set’ as ‘mindset’.
What mindset (mental and emotional state) are you going into the experience with? Set, includes current thought processes, beliefs, expectations and states of mental health. Personality, preparation and intention are all part of the set. Expectation and placebo effects are powerful. Going into a psychedelic experience overwhelmed by fear or mentally unstable, may lead to a ‘bad trip’. Equally, going into a psychedelic experience with expectations based on what you’ve heard about or read about, can lead to disappointment. And either of these will make psychedelic integration more challenging. Mindset (as ‘set’) also includes how you currently process challenge. Do you easily use challenge as an opportunity for growth? Or do you tend to get stuck with a ‘nothing changes for me’ attitude?
Before moving on from set and setting, it’s important to point out the following.
There is not one correct type of setting, and other incorrect types of setting. Instead, set and setting factors need to be taken into consideration and how they will effect the integration of psychedelics.
Is psychedelic integration where the power lies
The third and often undervalued part of psychedelic therapy and psychedelic personal development, is integration. Although psychedelic integration is discussed, it is rarely done adequately. Because of time restraints, most integration of psychedelics is left to the individual to do themselves. Attending a ceremony or weekend event can be life transforming. Even a recreational night out can change your life for the better. And this is because of what the psychoactive substance does in the brain. It’s like a reset button that allows the participant to let go of old choices and make new ones. But that is also the problem. Life transformation rarely happens as easy as that. Habits of thought and action are habits because they have neurological pathways established in our brain. And the risk of random unplanned psychedelic use, is that you can make the issue worse. You could reinforce existing patterns or add a ‘bad trip’ fear experience to the problems you face.
Why does successful therapy require effort by the client
Why does traditional therapy sometimes fail to work? Because the client ALWAYS has the ability and choice to stay the same or go backwards. And the same applies to the integration of psychedelics. Unless the person is fully engaged in the process of change, you as a therapist are wasting your time. But surely EVERY client that willingly comes to you as a therapist is wanting to change right!? Yes, but in most cases, they want you to ‘do it to them’. IE: They come to you in a passive mindset hoping that you have the skills to change them. And maybe you will. But what usually happens, is that a situation later arises that gives them evidence that they haven’t changed. And all your good work is undone.
This is one of the major failings of unstructured or uneducated therapy with or without psychedelics. And highlights the importance of psychedelic integration. The first failing is that the therapist doesn’t engage the client in their own change. And the second is that there is no planned response to one inevitable fact. And that is., life will show you examples of what you don’t want even after positive change work.
Does proof of change require feedback
Proof of change is not that you no longer see or experience what you don’t want. The truth is that proof of change is that you respond differently to the same situation. Or that you at least notice your old response repeating, brush it off, and re-centre yourself with your new choice. And in time, this WILL result in you no longer seeing what you don’t want. But there is a lag time for change.
This leads to the most common failing. Your client responds in the same way as before. And they have no way to deal with that., so they give up. They consider the work they did with you unsuccessful. And they stop therapy.
Psychedelic therapy has some advantages over traditional therapy here with its speed. But the result will be the same without thinking past the therapeutic session. Integration of psychedelics requires being ok with things appearing at first to be the same.
Are psychedelic experiences a non-ordinary state of consciousness
Psychedelics produce what is commonly called a non-ordinary state of consciousness (NOSC). And by definition, a NOSC in not ordinary. That should be obvious right!? But that means that ordinary therapeutic or coaching models may not work or may need modifying. However, as I indicated earlier, there are common elements to ANY successful integration method. And the irony, is that NOSC may not be ordinary., but they are common. Re-framing psychedelics as a NOSC, leads to several ways to achieve the same or similar state. Which in turn gives multiple ways of using these other methods to help with psychedelic integration. During a psychedelic NOSC, there are some common elements.
How integration of psychedelics has many sources of information
Usually there are vivid visual experiences full of potential meaning. A picture as they say, is worth a thousand words. And so, it makes sense that an integration process should encourage free flowing visual aspects. Understanding psychedelic experiences as a NOSC, changes how you deal with them and integrate them. These ways will be covered in part two. A loss of Ego or sense of self, abstract imagery, sounds and feelings, and experiences unique and meaningful only to the person having them is the rule rather than the exception. And much like dreams, interpretation needs to be a personal one guided but not influenced by the coach or therapist.
Expanding awareness through modality shifts
It’s true that there will often be a mix of sights, sounds and feelings in a psychedelic experience. Usually, one will be dominant, and this varies from person to person. People tend to have a preferred modality of sensing the world. The three main modalities being visual (sight), auditory (sound), and kinaesthetic (feeling). People most easily learn and notice things in their preferred modality. However, they also tend to miss things outside of that. So, it’s important to make use of ALL the available information to integrate psychedelic experiences if you can. And the easiest way to do that is to start with their preferred modality and use that to shift from one to the other. For example., “As you more clearly see what you saw back then, notice how seeing that makes you feel”. That sentence being an example of shifting from visual to kinaesthetic.
What are the models of psychedelic integration
Psychedelic integration practices and groups are growing. And not just with psychedelic assisted therapy done by medical professionals. The integration of psychedelics is of course post experience. No substance needs to be offered or recommended to help someone integrate. Therefore, this opens the door to all users to get help with integration from a skilled therapist or coach without judgement. And this is a good point to make. People are going to try psychoactive drugs whether they are legal and approved or not. There’s no point shaming them or making it hard to get help. The goal of psychedelic integration is to merge the experience with daily living in a way that results in a more expansive and less stressful life.
Expanded awareness can result from integration of psychedelics
What you will notice with these models covered here is that there is overlap. Particularly with how active the process is and how expansive and inclusive they are. And this makes sense because if a psychedelic experience does one thing well., it is in expanding your awareness to include more of what life has to offer. If you fail to use that expanded awareness as part of your integration of psychedelics however, it will go away in favour of old habits. Becoming conscious of habits, is the opportunity to change them.
Does integration of Psychedelics require letting go of the addiction model
The addiction model for psychedelics is slowly changing. Because psychedelics very rarely create dependence or addiction. In fact, most people seeking help with addictive qualities on psychedelics, got there via a problem with a more recognised drug like cocaine or alcohol. The exception to the non-addictive nature of psychedelics, is a desire to attend more and more ceremonies. This could be viewed as a type of addictive behaviour. Or at least a failure to see that if it hasn’t worked yet., it probably won’t. And this is the basis of spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypassing is the attempt to avoid or prematurely ignore basic human needs, feelings, and development by using activities intended for self-healing or exploration. And this includes using psychedelics, meditation practices or seeking mystical experiences.
Psychedelics are just one step
Spiritual guide Alan Watt’s has said about psychedelics that, “When you’ve got the message., hang up the phone.”
In a way, psychedelics should be seen as a beginner’s step and not the end goal. Unfortunately, many people still see psychoactive substances as being the one stop cure without needing to take responsibility for the journey. And it is in these cases that psychedelic therapy does not last. If you need or want to try psychedelics again, integrate what you have done first.
What is the psychedelic harm reduction and integration model (PHRI)
Unfortunately, the prevailing view of most professionals toward psychedelic users, is still the addiction model. Psychedelic harm reduction and integration (PHRI) is about creating a framework that is effective and safe. And this is both for the individual and for the industry. Lawmakers tend to seek reasons to keep or make something illegal that they don’t understand. And education is therefore just as important here as with the people using the drug. The PHRI model seeks to educate people assisting past and present drug users. The model itself has been modified from aspects of many other models of therapy and psychology to reflect the growing need for effective integration of psychedelics. And the result is a thorough and useful summary of what works for psychedelic integration or integration of any drug use. All other models relate to this in several ways so I will be a bit more thorough on the points in this model.
How experience sometimes beats qualifications
Psychedelic harm reduction and integration is a clinical diagnostic and theoretical model. It incorporates aspects of psychotherapy including harm reduction, psychedelic assisted therapy and mindfulness practices. No psychedelic experience is provided as part of this therapy. Therefore, the ideas are not limited to certified therapists. And this is an important point to make. Because in many cases, a non medically trained individual may have far more experience in psychedelic use and integration.
Psychedelic users are not addicts or diseased
The first step is a non-judgemental approach to treating people as not being addicts or diseased. The addiction model views people as weak and lacking self-control. And the disease model of involuntary use due to brain changes, does not fit with psychedelic integration either.
The psychedelic harm reduction model is based on compassion toward the patient. It focuses on reducing the harm caused by using psychedelics. PHRI respects the persons rights, values and preferences. And works to help them expand their options, make decisions and set goals. Unlike the addiction or disease models, abstinence of the drug is not required to receive help. Although abstinence may still be advised.
Should we accept psychedelics as beneficial
The next step in the PHRI model is creating a work plan. Skill building, action plans and moving forward even if still taking the drug are discussed and supported.
PHRI allows for the possibility that psychedelic experiences may be helpful, growth enhancing, and healing. No wonder that the term plant medicine is often used to describe some psychedlics. And this is very different than the typical drug therapy model. This part of the PHRI psychedelic therapy model introduces the idea I talked about above. That being the non-ordinary state of consciousness (NOSC). By viewing psychedelics as a NOSC, ways to integrate the experience become more obvious and effective. One of those being the purposeful use of mindfulness practices.
Integration of psychedelics and the Ego
Traditional psychotherapy considers a healthy strong ego (sense of self), as the central goal of successful therapy. And a breakdown of the Ego to be unhealthy and dysfunctional. In NOSC experiences, the sense of self/Ego is often lost or dissolved during the experience. And this loss of sense of self, brings with it the opportunity to evolve and transform. Psychedelic integration therapy therefore differs from traditional psychotherapy in this way also. And the relationship with ‘self’ is fundamental to integrating a psychedelic experience. How a person relates to the world and themselves becomes an ongoing evolution based on non-critical thought.
What is the role of psychedelic Inquiry
Part of integrating a NOSC experience is a free-flowing improvised type of inquiry. This is a non-directive approach. IE: The guide or therapist consistently redirects the patient/client to their own experience. The conversation centres around what they have tried and what they think and feel about the situation. And the person intuitively creates their own potential solutions. Insights are encouraged, developed, and integrated. The assumption here that has proven useful, is that there is an intelligence to inner healing. And our physical bodies have this inner intelligence, so why not our mental and spiritual qualities as well. No-one can give you a feeling or a new habit. Because they already exist within you to be explored and integrated. By definition, integrating psychedelic experiences is a very personal journey. Guides are just that., guides.
How to overcome homeostasis in the Integration of psychedelics
One of the challenges of sudden insight and life changes resulting from a psychedelic experience is how it affects family or social dynamics. Homeostasis in the context of a person, is the tendency of the person to stay the same. And almost like a thermostat, if something goes too low the heating kicks in and brings it back to balance. And part of homeostasis is a person’s family and social environment. Some family and friends will not understand and therefore resist someone they have influence over from changing. Few people are truly resilient to change and would rather things and people stay the same. And in some cases, even if the change is positive!
An important part of psychedelic integration therefore is talking through potential life changes and how that will affect current relationships and activities.
What is the Ayavolve psychedelic Integration Model
The Ayavolve psychedelic Integration Model is a five-step process put forth by Dr Roan Kaufman and Martha McCamy of the Ayavolve institute. Among other offerings, they offer coaching and an integration workbook of exercises. And the focus is on flexible techniques and idea’s unique to each individual. The exercises/processes offer a mix of the two main avenues of psychedelic integration. And those are, mindfulness & acceptance processes., and commitment & behaviour change processes. In a somewhat simplified way, here are the five steps. The workbook itself will guide you through embodying exercises to incorporate these steps. It covers from preparation to integration.
- Work with the plant medicine/psychedelic. Receive what was offered without judgement.
- Insights and processing of ceremony experiences. Create the space to contemplate and be introspective.
- Digest the healing and learning. What do you need to stop doing or let go of? What do you need to start doing and adopt?
- Take actions. Bring the insights into actionable steps to implement.
- The self evolves. Reinforce new beliefs and habits consistently. Routines and accountability.
What is the Holistic integration model
Consciousness guide Françoise Bourzat, teaches the Holistic model for a balanced life. This is a useful way to think about any type of integration or therapeutic work. The five aspects of life according to her model are:
Body, mind, spirit, community, and environment.
The idea is to be aware of how a change or message received in one aspect effects the others. And as a result, whole embodied psychedelic integration can take place while minimising unexpected consequences. In indigenous cultures there is little need for formal integration as they are already integrated with all that surrounds them. With the popularity of weekend retreats however, formal integration needs to be openly discussed and actioned.
How to use the experience as a guide in the Integration of psychedelics
Ana as Francoise says., “One of the key aims of integration, is to carry the beneficial aspects of the psychedelic journey into everyday life.” “If someone had a beautiful experience of nature, and in the journey they experienced beautiful birds and a meadow, then I would say you actually need to do that in your life. And you need to cultivate that experience and maintain that goodness that you connected with in the journey.”
Once the decision is made to cultivate that psychedelic experience into your everyday life, a question needs to be answered. How will spending more time in nature affect the other aspects of your life? And in this case the likely result would be positive all over. But that may not always be the case.
What is the ACER psychedelic Integration model
Psychedelic researcher and champion of psychedelic integration Rosalind Watts, has spent many years studying how to effectively integrate psychedelic experiences. Just a few days ago I attended an evening of talks and experiences where she introduced an online integration group. And this centred on monthly meetings based around following the seasons of nature. Her view has a strong tie to nature and how aspects of nature mimic psychedelic experiences. And by studying the unique ways nature connects and communicates, lessons can be learnt. For example, trees have families. Trees and plants connect via root systems and vast mycelial networks (fungus/mushroom root systems). And with this structure they can communicate with other plants in unique ways. They can warn each other about disease therefore allowing time for immunity to develop so that only one tree dies. Also, they can provide nutrients to other trees that are deficient. And they can even decide what seedlings grow and what don’t based on how close they are to each other to avoid overcrowding.
Watch ‘intelligent trees‘ to learn about this. It’s really fascinating.
What does the ACER psychedelic integration model stand for
The ACER psychedelic integration model stands for: Accept, Connect, Embody and Restore. Formally known as the ACE model, this is an extension of the psychological flexibility model. Psychological flexibility being a good indicator of the potential ease and success of a person’s psychedelic journey.
This model like most of the others, actively engages the person in their change. So right there your chances of success have gone up. In line with Rosalind’s connection with nature and trees the model can be looked at like a tree.
Accept (Tree roots): Go deep and make peace with the dark side of yourself. Create a meaningful narrative of your experience.
Connect (Tree branches): Reach for a higher purpose. Interpret and analyse the narrative/experience. How it relates to goals in life.
Embody (Tree trunk): Where the pain from the roots can be transformed into growth. Create explicit actionable steps to implement into your life
Restore (Trees relationship to environment): Cultivate your relationship to the environment and other people.
The Watt’s connectedness scale
One of the useful ways of measuring a journey of discovery through psychedelics is to think of how connected or not a person feels. Acceptance and connection are often associated with positive outcomes from psychedelic integration. As such Rosalind has come up with the Watt’s Connectedness Scale (WCS). An interesting set of questions with a sliding scale of answers that give a measure of this connection.
A summary of steps in the Integration of psychedelics
Connectedness, (which includes acceptance and expression) is a good measure of successful psychedelic integration. And therefore, it makes sense that connection with self and others, will be an important part of the integration process. All psychedelic integration models tend to have certain things in common. Although maybe not stated the same way. Obviously psychedelic set and setting is essentially a pre- integration step and should be considered before any experience. However, some people arrive at a place where considering set and setting is too late. Either way the steps or best practices for psychedelic integration could be summarised in the following way:
Sit with the experience: Some sort of meditative process to observe and reflect on what happened to gain insight. This is also connecting with self.
Discuss the experience: Talking about what happened with someone else or in a group can be incredibly valuable. It’s easy to grab hold of one aspect of your experience at the exclusion of others. Discussion will help trigger new insights. And this is also connecting with others.
Express your experience Creatively: Journaling, art and movement can help clarify meaning from overwhelm or confusion. And externalising internal experience also allows you to observe the observer (you).
Create a plan: Use your insights to make life changes. Create new routines and habits to interweave your experience into the fabric of your life. And this is also about planning to foster connection to self and others in the future.
Can social media affect the Integration of psychedelics
One of the things psychedelics can do, is give you a chance to rewire your brain circuits. We are the sum of what we do consistently. And this is governed largely by pleasure and reward circuits in the brain. When we get a hit of dopamine, oxytocin or other neural chemicals of pleasure and reward, those neural circuits become stronger. And we want to do those things more so that we can get another hit. Tech companies are trying their best to take over this habit with apps, social media platforms and advertising. So do yourself a huge favour when you decide to embark on a psychedelic journey and especially during psychedelic integration. Disconnect from your phone and computer. This is YOUR TIME, not theirs. Use it to make new choices and connect in ways that are more meaningful than scrolling through other people’s lives. Coming out of a transformational experience and jumping straight back into a constant feed of the same information that was present before you started., can very quickly cancel the good work you have done.