Psychedelic integration

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a simple introduction

If you’ve heard of ‘psychedelic integration’, it’s important to have an idea of 'integration of what, from what into what?'. Typically, it means 'integration of ideas, insights, visions and discovered memories from my recent psychedelic experiences into my pre-existing sense of self, my identity, my autobiography and my conception of reality'. 

Psychedelic experiences can disrupt your sense of self, your sense of what matters, what is real or a dream, and what is a memory or an invention. This could be distressing, or it could be just something you’re curious about. Perhaps there is some unrealised potential that you wish to investigate or a question that won't let you go. Getting to grips with these things is broadly what we mean by psychedelic integration.

I say the same of psychedelic integration as I do of psychedelic experiences: don’t do it alone. As a psychotherapist, I'm biased, but I believe that meanings emerge in dialogue. That could simply mean sharing something about your experience with a trusted friend over a cup of tea. Beyond that, organised and facilitated groups can be a cost-effective way of accessing peers to explore and make sense of your experiences in a supportive space. There are a growing number of groups specific to psychedelic integration.

If you can’t locate a suitable group or want something more individual, then 1-1 therapy with a supportive psychotherapist or counsellor is worth considering. Therapy is for everyone, at any time. You don’t have to be in a crisis. Therapy is, in many configurations, a non-medical, non-stigmatising, everyday conversation. The conversation is about you and your life, and you do it every week. So, it’s nothing scary or far beyond the familiar. If you try it and don’t like it, there’s no obligation to continue.

Without contradicting what I say above, there is substantial work you can do on your own toward making sense of your psychedelic experiences. One form of dialogue, of course, is with yourself. The cornerstone of that is journalling. If you didn't already, start now. By journalling I mean jotting down something of your experience in whatever format you prefer, which could be writing on your laptop, writing on paper, doodling and diagramming in a notebook or perhaps writing a song. This activity isn't just documenting your experience; it is beginning to process it. Journalling also helps consolidate ideas that you may want to pick up with others.

Many people find particular tools and systems useful in their efforts toward integration. These include models and narratives of, for example, chakras, the Shamanic Medicine Wheel, Assagioli’s egg, the Hero’s Journey, and Grof’s models of perinatal matrices. Psychedelic experiences may also be understood through the lens of mystical and religious models including Kabbalah, Christianity, Islam, Paganism, witchcraft, Hinduism and Buddhism. This may be for you if you have previous experience with such beliefs, symbols, metaphors and practices. I don’t recommend any single one of these models for every person in every situation. You will find what works for you with some research.

Beyond these broadly mind-based approaches, you may also find things helpful that are less about thinking. You might try a lomi lomi massage, a park run or nature walk, reiki, acupuncture, dance such as 5Rhythms, yoga (Yin and Kundalini are worth exploring) or wild swimming. Anything that helps you connect with yourself and deepen your experience and awareness. Cultivate your practice, or reconnect with something that you’ve found grounding in the past.

All of this implies the main takeaway message that it is worth investing serious time and energy in your integration. We often don't allow ourselves the space, time, light and peace to settle with a pencil and notepad, or sit quietly and reflect on what happened or discuss our experience meaningfully with a friend. These are all good places to start, and integration takes time.

I wish you well on your journey of integration and discovery.

This piece was first written for PsyCare, the harm reduction and festival welfare charity.

August 2019