Psychedelic Integration: How to Make the Most of Your Experience
Disclaimer: We are not doctors or mental healthcare professionals. We do not encourage or condone the use of illegal substances. We do, however, accept that illicit drug use occurs and believe that offering responsible harm reduction information is extremely important.
By Lauren McKown
Psychedelic experiences are often taking center-stage in the media. The heightening of the senses. The kaleidoscope visuals. The earth-shattering breakthroughs. But what's often disregarded in the news these days the most integral part of the journey.
What is Psychedelic Integration?
Psychedelic integration is the process of revisiting your experience and examining it more closely, paying mind to any insights you may have had and then integrating those insights into your daily life. Each individual’s experience is completely unique to them, and integration can be approached in different ways.
For example, recent clinical trials have leveraged psychotherapy, or talk therapy, in clinical settings in order to effectively integrate insights and breakthroughs occurring during psychedelic journeys. This is called psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy and it has been woven into psychedelic research which has recently made a significant comeback after having been forced to cease many years ago. There is a reason why these trials have been designed with integration; however, despite being a recognized part of the process, its emphasis and the research specific to integration on its own is lacking.
Psychedelic Integration in Research
While current psychedelic research and clinical trials have some integration woven in to assist participants in overcoming challenges and integrating insight from the experience, there is not yet enough focus on this integral aspect.Some research organizations such as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a non-profit education and research organization that seeks to raise awareness and understanding of psychedelics and cannabis, have helped devise a treatment plan that includes the implementation of integration work alongside the use of psychedelic medicines. This has set precedence for other clinical research and continues to serve as a template for maximizing the efficacy of psychedelic substances for the treatment of mental health disorders and improving the well-being of those involved. There are many other institutions such as New York University who have followed suit with these studies, producing great leaders in this space who have gone on to better psychedelic research, and have also cross collaborated with great organizations like MAPS. MAPS, and researchers like Dr. Gorman will hopefully continue to emphasize the importance of psychedelic integration. In the meantime, education and awareness will be key.
So, Why Is Psychedelic Integration Integral Upon Having a Psychedelic Experience?
Have you ever crammed in studying for an exam the night before? If you have, you probably recall only remembering what you studied for a short time afterward (hopefully enough time to score a decent grade). Psychedelic experiences are similar in the sense that the insights you receive during the experience should be revisited before they become too fuzzy.
Reflection and contemplation of your experience are essential to personal growth and general wellness. In general, self-reflection is a form of mindfulness in that it gives yourself a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and allows you to focus your attention on organizing and observing yourself. You wouldn’t let your room get to the point where you can’t see your floor, so why let your mind get cluttered? The more you are able to reflect on your experience and your current state of being, the more likely you are to not only retain it, but to consider multiple interpretations, create meaning, and eventually devise an action plan.
So… where do you start?
Before getting into some great tools and resources you can use, here are a handful of great integration questions you can ask yourself or start thinking about…
- How did you feel inside your body and what emotions and/or sensations did you feel?
- During the experience, what did you think about? Did any memories arise? Did you recognize any patterns about yourself and/or your behavior?
- Did anything else happen that feels noteworthy or intriguing (even if it may seem trivial)?
- Did you come to any realization(s) or have any insight(s) during the experience?
- What did you take away that you feel you need to work on most? What can you integrate in your day-to-day life?
- How do your intentions compare regarding going into the experience (prior) versus actuality? Do you have any overlap or insight from that?
- How might you express and articulate this unique experience? What forms of expression could you use (i.e. journaling, creating art, vocalization or discussion)?
- What would you say if someone asked you about it (and you felt comfortable sharing)?
Psychedelic Integration Workbooks, Integration Apps and Other Tools
If this is your first time preparing for a journey or you have already experienced non-ordinary states of consciousness and want to integrate your insight, there are a handful of resources and tools to help guide you. Also, if you are seeking an integration specialist (which will be covered next) these tools can be used supplementally, and can even be leveraged prior to your engagement with them in order to bring about discussion.
At your finger-tips whenever you need it: Fireside Project
- Fireside Project (Psychedelic Peer Support Line App) *only available in US, but don’t worry, it’s coming very soon to Canada*
Books that can shed some light and offer some guidance
- Consciousness Medicine by Françoise Bourzat with Kristina Hunter
- The Psychedelic Explorers Guide by James Fadiman, PhD
- The Psychedelics Integration Handbook by Dr. Ryan Westrum
- Psychedelic Psychotherapy: A User Friendly Guide to Psychedelic Drug-Assisted Psychotherapy by R. Coleman
- Therapy with Substance: Psycholytic psychotherapy in the twenty first century (Muswell Hill Press) by Dr Friederike Meckel Fisher
A podcast channel worth lending an ear to:
- The Psychedelic Integration Podcast by Mystical Heart Collective
For logic as well as your curiosity:
- Here are some free research papers on some of the most significant studies done to date, including the most recent FDA approved MDMA trial that took the world by storm (and yes, they incorporated a LOT of integration).
...and when you're ready to document your journey…
Wakeful Travel’s Psychedelic Integration Journal
Let’s take a second to touch on this absolutely essential integration journal. Not only does this journal have literally everything you need for reflection and integration, but it also has so many valuable elements that other journals simply do not.
The journal features:
- Planning and preparation sections that not only helps turn your experience into a map and a story, but it also provides lists such as pre-journey prep and other organization tactics built into the pages allowing you peace-of-mind. This will help to ensure that your experience goes smoothly (afterall, set and setting are key). Additionally, there are pages devoted to doing your own research on dosage, different centers, safety protocols, the lineage of the medicine, and even the facilitators’ experience serving or administering the medicine.
- Creativity and expression pages that give you the opportunity to draw your experience, or let your imagination run freely with empty space and some beautiful, otherworldly ‘color-me-in’ illustrations.
- A little love shared with the rest of the planet; Wakeful Travel donates 3% of all sales from the journal to MAPS Canada (the awesome organization mentioned previously), the Amazon Conservation Fund and the Chacruna Institute, who not only supports psychedelic research, but also the preservation of the plants and indigenous roots!
- An affordable price tag <$50 USD … no, we’re not kidding
You can pre-order a journal on Kickstarter, or, to learn more, be sure to check out 7 Reason Why You Need an Integration Journal, and Psychedelic Integration Workbook, Your Next Journey Must-Have.
And If You Still Want to Find An Integration Specialist, We’ve Got You Covered ...
As mentioned before, there is no one single way to go about integration, and you can choose to do so on your own if that works best for you, however, psychedelic integration therapy can be a great resource, especially if you have experienced a ‘bad trip,’ or a challenging experience that has left you in a cloud of ambiguity.
To find an aligned integration specialist, the first step is to ask around to people you trust. Who knows, maybe they can give you a trusted referral. The next step is to do a little research. The best place to start is by checking out MAPS’ Psychedelic Integration List or Third Wave’s therapists listed in their Psychedelic Directory. This comprehensive list of mental health support practitioners contains a wide array of certified professionals and can further be filtered by location; some even offer remote sessions in case you are not within close proximity.
When researching through these lists, or others like it, be sure to thoroughly read each of the practitioners bios you are considering to ensure alignment with your individual goals and needs. Some practitioners specialize in different types of healing modalities ranging from psychotherapy to somatic experiencing, to breathwork. Even more granular, some further specialize in specific psychedelic drugs and medicines such as LSD, MDMA, DMT, ayahuasca, psilocybin and ketamine (ketamine-assisted psychotherapy is legal to practice in many areas).
During your search you may feel a bit overwhelmed since there are a variety of professionals that have trained in integration services, yet have different experiences, education and accreditations. Oftentimes they will hold multiple certifications so it’s not uncommon to see a handful of these acronyms under one name. Additionally, depending on the location, some titles may be recognized slightly differently due to different accreditations and institutions in different countries. With all of that in mind, in order to provide you with a little context to ease your search, some of the more common titles you may come across can be found here:
- MD (Medical Doctor) and/or clinicians
- LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker)
- Psy D (Doctor of Psychology)
- LMFT/MFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist or Marriage and Family Therapist)
- LPC/LPCC (Licensed Professional Counselor or Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor)
- MSW (Master of Social Work)
- RSW (Registered Social Worker)
- RP (Registered Psychotherapist)
- Psychedelic Harm Reduction Specialist
Regardless of the route you choose to pursue, make sure the process is backed by research and what we currently know in psychedelic science. If any therapist or coach cannot provide you with a valid explanation as to why they are approaching your unique situation the way that they are, you should run the other way (thankfully there are a lot of amazing, knowledgeable people in this field).
Psychedelics are still illegal substances, and in some countries and regions, the use of psychedelics have been known to have some ambiguity in areas in which they are legal, so regardless, be mindful of this.
We hope you have a wakeful integration journey.