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What Is Psychedelic Integration Therapy?

By: Christina Robles l July 16, 2022

An Induction into the World of Psychedelics

Seven years ago in the South Bronx, while at a crossroads struggling to decide what career path I wanted to follow, I was offered the experience of trying psilocybin mushrooms. For those who are unaware, psilocybin has strong psychoactive properties that can elicit feelings of euphoria and sensory distortion common to other hallucinogenic and mind-altering substances. This substance acts on the neural circuits in the brain concerned with serotonin. Little did I know that this experience would forever change the trajectory of my personal and professional life in ways that would leave me feeling isolated from the world around me and seemingly more connected to myself.

At the time, I felt incredibly lost and unsure of my purpose in this world; I only knew that I wanted to create a positive social impact in my community. The reality is, so many of us are struggling to find meaning and a sense of purpose in this world, and at some point, we begin to ask ourselves why am I here and is there any significance to my existence in this world? It’s a question that many of us are plagued with and will need to revisit possibly a few times in our lives. While I struggled to identify the ways in which I wanted to create a greater social impact, I also found myself in a depressive episode that further complicated my existential condition.

After graduating with a BA in Psychology, I resorted to searching for a panacea to my inflicted disease of the soul; this lead me down a rabbit hole into the world of psychedelics. My psychedelic journey began the moment I found YouTube videos of Terence McKenna and Alan Watts speaking on the psychedelic experience as a catalyst for healing and inner transformation. I credit both men to my induction into the psychedelic community as their discussions on the plight of man and human suffering resonated so deeply with me, specifically at a time in which I was so invested in discovering my path to self-actualization.

Coincidentally, I managed to make an acquaintance while meeting with a mutual friend for drinks at a bar one night in Manhattan. I was excited to catch up with my friend and share with her all the details from the research I had gathered on psychedelic medicines. As fate would have it, the person she invited to come out with us was somewhat a psychonaut who had substantial experiences with psychedelic medicines and offered me the opportunity to try psilocybin mushrooms for the first time.

I wasn’t sure what to expect for my first psychedelic journey, but I remember approaching it with courage and curiosity. We had ingested the medicine at my friend’s apartment and were waiting for the medicine to metabolize through our bodies. We decided to walk to a local community park that appeared to be mostly vacant. On our way to the park, I began to feel a lightness in my body, and felt more connected to it in its subtle movements as I walked down the streets. I could also feel the energy and life-force of each person I walked past and had a burning desire to form a connection with people on the street. Even if by offering a smile and saying hello. (New Yorkers are not typically known for being the friendliest).

Arriving at the park, I immediately notice a jungle gym that fills my heart with feelings of excitement and joy over the idea of playing in the park. To my surprise, my psilocybin journey allowed me to revisit aspects of my childhood self that I had long repressed and felt completely disconnected from. I appeared to regress to a childlike state which promoted a sense of wonder, awe, and curiosity in my lived experiences to date. I began to remember what it felt like to be three years old again playing in the park; in my excitement I grabbed my friend by the hand and insisted he push me while I sat on a swing.

How could I have forgotten what it was like to experience joy? More importantly, how am I able to feel what it was like to be three years old again? And why was I reverting to an early childhood developmental phase?

In retrospect, I’ve had a lot of time to process this experience on my own and have since gained valuable insight regarding myself and my psilocybin journey. At the time, I wish I had access to a professional with whom I could process my psilocybin journey within the context of my mental health struggles and develop more personal insight immediately after the experience, particularly focused on themes that appeared to derive from earlier childhood experiences and challenges with family. This is the role of a psychedelic integration therapist.

The Role of a Psychedelic Integration Therapist

Psychedelic Integration Therapists are licensed mental health professionals equipped with the clinical skills and training needed to:

1. Develop clinical rapport and elicit feelings of safety and security in the therapeutic relationship.

2. Provide trauma-informed practice and psychoeducation.

3. Collaborate with the client to identify and process the meaning and significance of key themes, lived experiences, repressed memories, visual imagery, symbols, feelings, sensations, and internal states of being.

It is important to note that psychedelic integration therapists do not administer or provide the medicine to their clients. That is the sole responsibility of a medical professional and is outside the scope of competence for mental health professionals (i.e. LMFT, LCSW, LPCC). However, psychedelic integration therapists can prepare their clients for the psychedelic journey and assist in processing the experience thereafter. The preparation for a psychedelic journey is equally as important as the psychedelic integration in facilitating internal changes in one’s overall sense of self. In the psychedelic community we call this preparation attention to Set and Setting.

Set: Denotes the quality and preparation of a client’s mental and physical state. Prior to treatment, it is important for the psychedelic integration therapist to identify and explore clients’ feelings and expectations prior to the administration of the psychedelic medicine, as one’s expectations can significantly impact the quality of one’s experience. Clients may naturally feel some anxiety before their journey, a perfectly reasonable response for one to have and can be further explored with an integration therapist. An integration therapist is trained to help the client process these feelings and provide them with valuable resources (e.g., mindfulness meditations, somatic embodiment techniques, or breathwork) that may serve to regulate the nervous system, promote feelings of safety, and ease the client into the experience.

Setting: Refers to the physical and social environment in which the client has their experience, either in clinical or recreational settings. In clinical settings, the client has access to a medical staff member who is responsible for the clinical evaluation, preparation, and administration of a psychedelic medicine experience. Ideally, the experience is facilitated in an office space that is aesthetically pleasing and comfortable enough for the client to lay down on a couch or chair, while listening to a therapeutic playlist designed for psychedelic journeys. Recently, therapeutic protocols have been developed allowing medical and mental health professionals the ability to facilitate virtual psychedelic journeys from the comfort of one’s home. The experience is usually conducted in the client’s home; however, the client must also identify a safe person (psychedelic sitter) to be physically present during the journey as additional support.

Pre-Journey Psychedelic Checklist

1. Ask your psychedelic integration therapist to provide your sitter with relevant information on how to best support you throughout the experience.

2. Assure that your space is clean and clear of any clutter or foul odors.

3. Choose an appropriate playlist. There are many playlists on Spotify specifically designed for different psychedelic experiences.

4. Dress in casual comfortable clothes.

5. Eat a well-balanced diet starting three days prior to the experience, including healthy fats, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and protein. Abstain from eating any fast-food or processed food, and if possible refrain from having anything to eat or drink 2-3 hours before a journey.

Post-Journey Psychedelic Checklist

1. Have water and healthy snacks available for after your psychedelic journey.

2. Allow your body to physically rest and mentally recover after the experience.

3. Refrain from watching any scary or anxiety-provoking movies or television shows.

4. It is not ideal to return to work on the day of psychedelic journey and highly advised against as this may potentially elicit feelings of stress and anxiety for the client post-journey.

5. If possible, engage in activities that promote joy, relaxation, and connection with others post-journey.

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