After a psychedelic experience, you may feel a sense of being in flow, often referred to as afterglow. Colors may seem brighter, your mood elevated, your energy increased, your creativity inspired. It’s possibly related to a period of increased neuroplasticity following psychedelic use. You may feel happier, more open, and more mindful. What is the best way to take advantage of this period and create lasting change in your everyday life? The next step is integration.
To “integrate” means to “blend into a functioning or unified whole.” Psychedelic integration is the process of drawing insight from an often enigmatic experience. It’s a practice of working with a professional to inform personal growth. The process of integration can even help make a “difficult” experience, a really valuable one.
If one attempts to return to their modus operandi too quickly after a psychedelic experience, he/she can experience a kind of whiplash. This may cause confusion, disappointment, or dissociation. Psychedelic integration acts as an incremental way of adjusting back to a new normal.
Whom Should You Speak To?
It’s important that you only engage in psychedelic integration with trained specialists. This may be a therapist, a coach, a shaman, or an experienced practitioner.
Ideally, your integration guide is the same as the practitioner who administered the medicine. Make sure they are a trusted individual who makes you feel secure and understood. Mystical experiences can be “ineffable” as William James says, referring to the difficulty of finding the words to describe the psychedelic journey and the feelings it elicits.
The type of support you look for will dictate what type of integration specialist you seek. If you are working through past trauma or difficult emotions, you may want to consult a psychedelic therapist who is trained in more traditional therapeutic methods.
What is Integration Like?
Actual integration therapy may vary between institutions. But in clinical trials, there is a general process that takes place.
- Before the experience, participants go through a preparation session to talk about their goals for the dose day.
- This is followed by dosing where participants are encouraged to focus on their inner healing. They are encouraged to be fully present in the experience rather than try to make sense of it right away.
- The dosing session is followed by several integration sessions which can resemble therapy sessions. The participant is encouraged to recount their experience, to describe their feelings during and after, and come up with ways to apply the insights gleaned to their day to day lives.
When Should You Integrate?
The question of “when” is subjective. For clinical trials studying MDMA, the participant is asked to journal their thoughts in the days following the session. In some studies, the first 90-minute integration session occurs the following day. Several more integration sessions occur over the month that follows. Participants are encouraged to integrate within the first week of the experience for maximal impact.
One thing that’s important to note is “it’s never too late to integrate a psychedelic experience.” If a psychedelic experience wasn’t integrated properly you should seek a way to do so, even if it’s decades later. In some ways, integration is a process that lasts a lifetime.
Types of Integration
One type of integration is ongoing individual therapy. What this involves depends on your therapist and your diagnoses. Psychedelics are believed to be effective with a range of approaches, because they can increase your receptivity to the approach, whatever it may be.
Individual integration therapy could include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing unhelpful thinking patterns and behaviors.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which involves learning how to confront and accept emotions.
- Internal Family Systems (IFS) model which follows the belief that the mind is made up of sub-personalities.
- Traditional psychoanalysis which focuses on the effects of past experiences.
No matter the approach, your therapist will help you to process your experiences and achieve permanent change.
Group therapy is another possibility. Psychedelics have a long history of being used in group settings. From indigenous cultures going back thousands of years as well as in the clinical context. More recent studies have supported the effectiveness of this kind of therapeutic container as well.
The feeling of connectedness that a group can elicit may help to address one of the underlying factors in many mental health conditions: disconnection. Furthermore, when it comes to psychedelic therapy, a group context can be a great place to discuss your experience with others who can relate to you.
A valuable resource for people undergoing ketamine-assisted therapy is Roots to Thrive. They offer what can be considered the gold-standard for group cohorts, meeting weekly for 12 weeks, building resilience and fostering community.
Ways to Continue Integration After Psychedelic Treatment
As psychotherapist Jane Garnett says, “Integration takes real time and is likely to be bumpy.” Below are some common methods that can help you integrate your psychedelic experience on your own post-treatment.
Keeping a journal can be a great way to remember the insights you uncovered during your journey. It is encouraged to begin journaling soon after your experience as memories may only become foggier with time. Focus on the experience, and begin writing whatever comes to mind.
Writing in the first person and in the present tense will increase your recall. It will reduce the temptation to engage in third-person meaning-making. Analyzing what your experiences might mean can come later.
Don’t censor yourself, and don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Your journal is for you, so leave all judgment behind.
Journaling as a daily habit will help you make sense of your experience. It will provide you with a record of your therapeutic journey that you can refer to later for insight. If you’re not sure what to write, consider purchasing an integration workbook.
Meditation and psychedelics may have a therapeutic effect greater than the sum of its parts. Practicing mindfulness or “moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness”, begins with sitting still and noticing your breath.
When your mind begins to wander to other thoughts, accept them before returning your attention to your breathing. Start by meditating for a few minutes at first. As you become more comfortable, and this practice becomes a habit, you can try increasing the length of your sessions.
Artists and musicians have long used psychedelics as a source of inspiration. But whether you’re an artist or not, art can be an invaluable tool for integrating your experiences.
Psychiatrist Emily Williams recommends the “mandala practice”. Take the time after using psychedelics, to fill a page with whatever symbols and colors come to mind. Over the next few days, look at what you’ve drawn and try to relate it back to your experience.
Psychedelic therapist Alison McQueen, suggests contemplating your journey and thinking about what parts meant the most to you as you draw. This method will inspire further contemplation. Singing, dancing and writing poetry can also be helpful.
Why is Integration Important?
Psychedelic use without integration is like auditing a class instead of taking it. Aside from the risk of disappointment or dissociation, proceeding without integration can increase the difficulty of implementing any real change into your life.
In some rare, upsetting cases, psychedelic experiences left unintegrated can cause lingering PTSD-like symptoms. The memory of psychedelic journeys can fade like a dream, but trained support and a structured, proven method of integrating your experience can help you apply these lessons in your life.
Resources to find psychedelic integration specialists can be found through MAPS. More information on integration training can be found through Fluence.
Disclaimer: Nushama only offers legal ketamine services and many of the substances mentioned are in various states of legalization, decriminalization, and scientific study.