Psychedelic Sanity: The Importance of Integrating Psychedelic Experiences

While psychedelics are in the midst of their second pass at mainstream legitimacy, the public perception of psychedelic advocates hasn’t changed much since the 1960s. From Woodstock and the Grateful Dead, to mandalas and tie dye, to a refusal to work or bathe, many characteristics of the psychedelic advocate are evoked during public discussions, rarely painting them in a positive light. Opponents to legalized psychedelic substances and psychotherapy, as well as passive onlookers, often worry that these forces will once again be unleashed, in the wake of any legalization.

With scientific psychedelic organizations likes MAPS and MAPS Canada leading the way in this emerging sphere, responsibility is at the forefront of all discussions of psychedelic legalization. There is no more talk about LSD in the water supply, or secretly dosing generals to inspire world peace. Instead, one of the most important conversations going on is about the concept of integration.

For most, a psychedelic experience or psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy session can be characterized as, among many other things, revelatory. One of the reasons for this is because of how sharply this experience can contrast with our everyday experience of the world. Insights about life become more common from the mind’s new vantage point. However, since we must return to our everyday lives and mindsets after the experience, there is a vital need to synthesize new sacred knowledge with our routines, our jobs, our social circles, our attitudes, and our existing perspectives.

Integration consists of seizing the opportunities for change that we are gifted after a psychedelic experience. It is the figurative suit and tie that must be put on once an experience is over, because the work really begins once you come down. These are the responsibilities that can shift public perception on psychedelics and their advocates, so they must be taken seriously, despite the fact that they can often be monotonous. This attitude is reflected in one of Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield’s book titles, ‘After The Ecstasy, The Laundry[2].’

Integration, like so many things in the beautifully fickle psychedelic space, often laughs in our faces when we try to define it, or god forbid, standardize it. There is no step-by-step instruction manual that everyone can follow, as proper integration varies not only for every individual, but also for every individual psychedelic experience. Due to this, many people fail to integrate the insights uncovered during their psychedelic experience, which in turn leads to a waste of most of the experience’s value, or worse, a destabilization of their inner world.

At its core, integration is about recognizing, and making the effort to alter, any antagonistic  patterns in your life that are routinely laid bare during a psychedelic experience. These patterns are usually buried from view, either intentionally or unintentionally, during everyday experience. However, they rise to the surface under the influence of psychedelic substances, and are available for examination without the pain or anxiety normally associated with them. This peaceful interaction allows for the insights into these patterns to be carried out of the psychedelic experience. From here, work can begin on unraveling bad habits, neuroses, and even more insidious forms of psychological and behavioral patterns.

While the specifics of an integration practice vary greatly, there are a couple that seem to be valuable for everyone:

  • Integration Circles: These are popping up in more and more cities, and create a safe space for people to openly share their experiences with psychedelic substances. Talking through incredibly unusual experiences is a great way to begin to make sense of them, and to help normalize what can otherwise be frightening or isolating.
  • Personal Spirituality Practice: Whether you’re interested in meditation, yoga, breathwork, or any other spiritual discipline, committing to a regular personal practice allows you to carve out time each day to centre yourself, and reflect on what you’re doing, and how you’re feeling. 

The main purpose of integration is to capitalize on the possibilities for personal growth brought forth in a psychedelic experience, by incorporating changes into your routines, habits, and thought patterns. However, on a psychological level, it is also important to come to terms with the reality of a psychedelic experience itself, because left unconsidered, they can easily do more harm than good. Internalizing the incredibly foreign nature of what is experienced during a psychedelic experience can exacerbate psychological issues, which is why making some kind of peace with your experience is also a key component of the integration process.

Psychedelic experiences often force us to confront extremely difficult subject matter, especially in therapeutic contexts. In the ongoing MAPS study using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to treat PTSD, integration is woven into the treatment process[3]. Confronting trauma can itself be traumatic if the feelings aren’t worked through, and the experience isn’t integrated. This is why integration is front and center throughout, and integral for the future of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.

Author: Kyle Fillo

Image: JR Jorpa

Sources

  1. Rick Doblin: Hippie of the Year. (2014, September 26). Retrieved January 17, 2019, from http://realitysandwich.com/223460/rick-doblin-hippie-of-the-year/
  2. Kornfield, J. (2008). After The Ecstasy, the Laundry. London: Ebury Digital.
  3. Mithoefer, M. C., Wagner, M. T., Mithoefer, A. T., Jerome, L., Martin, S. F., Yazar-Klosinski, B., Doblin, R. (2012). Durability of improvement in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and absence of harmful effects or drug dependency after 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy: A prospective long-term follow-up study. Journal of Psychopharmacology,27(1), 28-39. doi:10.1177/0269881112456611

2 thoughts on “Psychedelic Sanity: The Importance of Integrating Psychedelic Experiences”

  1. Jonathan Dickinson

    I hate how MAPS Canada continually disparages previous generations of psychedelic activists, literally here presenting them, for some reason, as people who don’t bathe. I’ve never heard so much contempt for the roots of the movement in recent years as from MAPS Canada leadership. It’s so disappointing, and seems to worship the status quo, apparently not really understanding or having any capacity to understand or integrate the trippers that have come before us. It’s so disappointing…

    1. Agreed. The article is meant to focus on psychedelic integration, and I would hope on how its importance, techniques, are used in context of MAPS assisted psychotherapy: Not social imaging of the Nixon himself. It’s extraneous to the title. I’ve know too many “hippies” to not see any true reflection at all toward not bathing, working, or musical affiliation being negative. 3 Days of Peace Love & Art are a good thing. Perpetuating ideas that are better left forgotten.

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