Psychedelics continue to prove their therapeutic value, making them beneficial tools for healing and transformational work. Most likely, if you’re reading this you share this understanding or, at the very least, are open to learning more about it. Consuming psychoactive substances alters our ordinary state of consciousness, allowing us to feel connected to ourselves and that which is greater than we are. For some, it may even cause what has been termed an “ego death.” Throughout history, humans have altered their consciousness with psychedelics to heal both themselves and their communities. That said, these experiences can be so ineffable and beyond the scope of our everyday lives, that we can’t just assume we’ll be able to retain or make meaning of a psychedelic experience without giving it any additional effort or thought afterwards.
One of the key differences between tripping and healing is integration, a key part of using this alternative medicine to process the experience afterwards. Integration is essentially the energy, time and attention we put into understanding what the psychedelic experiences are showing us. Integration is a key to make the transformations and lasting change in our lives after any significant experience. It’s during psychedelic integration that we figure out the steps necessary to implement our newfound teachings into our day to day. In fact, many psychedelic researchers consider integration to be of even greater value than the psychedelic use itself.
Emily Willow, psychedelic psychiatrist and clinical researcher at MAPS, describes this important part of the psychedelic experience:
“The psychedelic state itself can spark an opportunity for powerful growth, but it doesn’t automatically translate to changes in behavior in our daily life. To see lasting change, we need to have the support of what we call integration. Integration is the process of taking insights or teachings from altered states and incorporating them into our lives in ways that benefit us and our communities. It’s the way we translate symbolic material into concrete actions for personal betterment and healing.”
Understanding Psychedelic Integration
Integration is the synthesis of the mind and body following the experience of a non-ordinary state of consciousness prompted by the ingestion of psychedelics. Simply put, psychedelic integration is the tools and strategies that can be applied in order to support altered states of consciousness and make sense of the lessons that come out of these experiences. Psychedelics push us outside of our comfort zones, often dissolving some of what we thought we knew to be undeniable truths. The themes that can present themselves during a psychedelic experience can range from emotional, spiritual, somatic, ecological, to relational and so much more.
Reshaping our lives to adapt to these new insights and outlooks can be overwhelming. Psychedelic integration offers a solution and an intentional set of actions to make sense of our experiences. Though it is an extremely personal process that will vary from person to person, prioritizing integration can help you walk away from a psychedelic journey with a number of new insights that can carry into your everyday life.
4 Methods of Psychedelic Integration
There are a range of integration practices one can choose from, and it’s up to each person to decide what resonates with them personally. Similarly, certain integration methods may be better suited for different themes that present themselves from one journey to the next. The following list is not all encompassing, nor does every method need to resonate with every individual.
An integration journal is a great way to navigate your psychedelic experience, both before, during, and after. Before, you can use the journal as a canvas for outlining what you hope to get out of your journey and setting intentions to act as a guiding force throughout your experience. During, you may feel called to jot down key thoughts that you don’t want to forget. It can also be helpful to ask a trip-sitter or guide to write down what you say during your experience to come back to later. After, typically as soon as possible, writing out a detailed trip log or answering reflection questions can aid in making sense of your newfound insights.
Try jotting down everything you recall: emotional and physical changes you encountered, imagery and symbols that stood out to you, insights that occurred, and even the things that might not make sense to you. Detailed notes of what happened from start to finish can be an extremely helpful reference, as new insights can come into focus long after the journey. It’s common to forget the visceral details of a journey as time goes on, so this time for reflection is very important.
Journal prompts can help to inspire and organize your thoughts. The following are potential questions that may be used to guide your integration practice:
What are three key words to describe your psychedelic experience?
What were the biggest challenges that arose?
What are some changes to your environment that you’d like to make?
Did you feel moments of extreme emotion? Explore the range and describe the feelings.
What are some new questions that came up?
Did you feel yourself let go of any parts of yourself?
What feels most important to you after this experience?
Keep in mind that a psychedelic integration journal is a very personal way to hold yourself accountable, so there is no right or wrong way to write out your experience. The most important part of integration journaling is to find the meaning that is there for you. Once you have an understanding of the themes and insights that presented themselves during your psychedelic experience, you can return to them again and again and begin applying them to your everyday life.
There is strength in community after a psychedelic journey, and an integration circle leverages that understanding. To achieve deep personal transformation can require support, care, and a safe space to process. An integration circle can be a great place to find empowerment through storytelling and empathy. Processing aloud, hearing the experiences of others, and receiving outside perspective can ease the transition back into the day-to-day. Examples of common integration circle types include online integration circles and community in-person circles, often led by credentialed therapists, coaches, and healers. As a starting place, we recommend you check out this growing list of community groups through Psychedelic Support.
If you feel like you could benefit from more extensive support after your experience, you may want to consider integration therapy or integration coaching. Both methods will include one-on-one support from professionals with slightly different approaches.
With integration therapy, a therapist works with you to help make sense of your experience. Because they are licensed professionals, they’re specifically trained in helping with any psychological questions that may arise. An integration therapist can assist you in processing the journey of ego awareness and dissolution and are able to diagnose and help treat mental health conditions.
On the other hand, an integration coach is generally more focused on helping you reach certain goals you may have for your psychedelic experience, whether before or after the journey. In addition, coaches may encourage or leverage use a variety of modalities to help your integration. For example, they might lead you in movement, breathwork, and meditation exercises. It’s important to understand that integration coaches aren’t required to undergo any specific licensing or overarching certification and belong to a somewhat unregulated field. Doing the necessary research beforehand will help ensure that you find a coach that’s right for you.
Embodiment and Movement
There is power in using our body as a tool for healing, especially after psychedelics expand the mind. Through self-awareness, connection, and mindfulness, we can make sense of the messages our bodies are trying to send us. Embodiment and movement practices are a type of somatic healing that can ground, support, and enhance a psychedelic experience. Examples of this type of integration practice are body based meditations, dance, sensory awareness, yoga, and breathwork. With embodiment and movement, somatic psychology implies that major events must and can be processed through our sensory systems.
Whatever method of integration you choose, from this list or others, we invite you to really witness the shifts that come when this process is honored intentionally. While psychedelics may point us in the right direction, we hold the tools inside of us to welcome deep and lasting personal transformations to our lives.
Do you plan to embark on a psychedelic journey? We are currently conducting one of the largest observational research studies of full-dose psilocybin in partnership with Johns Hopkins University. Our goal is to capture data from real-world settings and share these results with the public. We invite you to participate if you are planning to use psilocybin outside a research laboratory in the next 6 months, regardless of the intended purpose.