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Group Psychedelic Experiences: Advantages and Drawbacks

in this article
  • Introduction
  • Group Experiences
  • Advantages of a Group Experience
  • Drawbacks of a Group Experience
  • Final Thoughts

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Chemical Collective or any associated parties.

Introduction

As the world of psychedelics continues to grow, so do the options for someone seeking a guided or supported experience.

Whilst many people like to go solo, or in self-organised sessions with friends, some people want dedicated and professional support for their psychedelic experience. This may be the case for people searching for a first-time experience. It may also be someone who has tried psychedelics before but would like the additional support for a more intentional, curated, and/or high-dose experience.

For those seeking support from a facilitator, there are, broadly speaking, two different options: group sessions and 1-1 experiences. With both, there are both advantages and drawbacks.

In this article, I’ll be looking at the first of those: group experiences.

(A follow-up looking at 1-1 experiences will be arriving on the blog soon)

Today I’ll explain what a group experience is and look at the advantages and drawbacks of this as compared to a 1-1 experience so that by the end you’ll have a clearer idea of the pros and cons.

My intention is to help you make more informed decisions about your psychedelic use, and offer information to help decide if a group experience may be for you.

Let’s dive in…

Group Experiences

Group experiences are where more than one person takes a dose and are supported by one or more facilitators.

This is different from 1-1 experiences where a single person takes a dose and is supported through their experience by one facilitator.

The defining aspect of group experiences is that you go through the process alongside others. 

Even though in most group formats there is no talking during the experience, you still journey alongside each other, and you are there with each other before and afterward.

Group experiences are usually offered in the format of a group retreat, with the psychedelic experience as the retreat’s centerpiece. Most retreats will usually include some other activities for the group, such as icebreakers and sharing circles, and maybe some other supplemental activities, like yoga, meditation, or breathwork.

Group experiences vary in length, from 1 day (with not much more than the session), to 3 days (arrival day, psychedelic experience day, integration day), to longer retreats with more time for dedicated preparation, integration, and sometimes more than one psychedelic experience.

Advantages of a Group Experience

Shared Experience: We’re in This Together

Have you ever had the experience of being nervous or uneasy about doing something, and have turned to a friend and said “I’ll do it if you will!”?

The sense of a shared experience can reinforce the notion that ‘you are not alone’.

This can help to ease anxiety and bring a sense of comfort. This helps us to be more open and relaxed, which is ideal for cultivating our inner state before a journey. This in turn can help to set up a deeper and more rewarding psychedelic experience

Deeper Connections

Group experiences also make the psychedelic journey something of a social event, and this offers an opportunity to connect with others.

During moments of vulnerability, knowing others are navigating similar challenges fosters a sense of camaraderie. This shared openness can help to dissolve social barriers and also cultivate empathy for the common threads that unite us beneath surface differences. Deep connections naturally form within this collective environment.

The communal openness and vulnerability can lead to deep connections and lasting friendships, lessening feelings of separation, and instead bringing a revitalised sense of human connection.

The relationships made during a psychedelic retreat may extend beyond its conclusion, offering a sustained source of healing.

The knowledge that newfound friends share and comprehend your perspective can add to the therapeutic value.

Collective Insights and Varied Perspectives

Beyond individual support, group psychedelic retreats provide the invaluable benefit of collective wisdom. The diversity among participants creates a space for rich discussions and reflections.

Conversations and activities within the group can elicit a range of perspectives, breakthroughs, and knowledge that surpass what a single person could realise alone.

Facilitators may also play a role in synthesising key insights from the entire group, offering a holistic view of overarching themes. This collective knowledge generation is a unique feature not able to be replicated in solo or private sessions and the richness of diverse voices coming together enhances the learning experience.

Opportunity for Diverse Expertise and Multifaceted Support

Group retreats are often facilitated by a team rather than a single guide. This brings the opportunity to expose participants to a range of modalities and practitioner expertise and guidance. 

Unlike the solitary guide, a team of facilitators can offer a range of techniques and frameworks. Participants can engage through the varied lenses of meditation, yoga, breathwork, music, or art therapy, each resonating differently based on individual differences.

This array of lenses caters to diverse participant needs and preferences.

Delegating logistics, such as meals and lodging, to retreat staff also frees participants to fully engage in the immersive experience and focus on their own process. Free from practical distractions, they can explore the depths of their psyche, with the potential to uncover facets of themselves previously unknown.

Drawbacks of a Group Experience

While communal support and shared wisdom undoubtedly facilitate profound healing for many, it’s important to recognize that the group experience has potential drawbacks.

Lack of Privacy During the Experience: A Potentially Limited Space for Personal Expression

A notable drawback of group retreats lies in the scarcity of privacy during the psychedelic experience. 

Some people do not feel as free to express themselves during the psychedelic experience if they are in a room with others. 

This is a hindrance because it can often be the case that some kind of release is important to a person’s process and will provide a release, or a letting out or go of repressed emotions. This might be in the form of vocal release (yawning, humming, toning, yelling), emotional release (crying or weeping), physical release (moving the body, shaking, punching pillows) or anything else (laughter, sighing etc.). 

In a group setting, some persons may feel self-conscious about any noises or releases they make. They might be thinking about how they might be viewed by others. They may also worry about disturbing or distracting other people during their experience. This type of inhibition does not help an individual’s process. Balancing the individuals’ needs within a group can be a difficult task and a delicate balance that must be handled by facilitators.

Distraction and Disturbance from Outside

The other side of this lack of privacy is being distracted by other people.

When we talk about set and setting for psychedelic experiences, the ideal setting is usually referred to as a controlled environment.

However, in group sessions with people potentially having the types of releases mentioned above, a setting that includes other people undergoing psychedelic experiences includes other influences in an experience that are not controlled and can’t be predicted.

Some people may find the noises or presence of others to be distracting, disturbing, and potentially even scary.

If someone next to you is thrashing around or making noises, you may well feel very vulnerable and/or pulled out of your own experience. You may be less able to focus on looking inside at what is emerging for you. It may also hinder your ability to feel safe, and let go.

Lack of Privacy: Around The Experience

The lack of privacy as a limiting factor may also extend beyond the psychedelic experience to the entire time shared on retreat.

Open vulnerability, a generally beneficial side process of psychedelic exploration, might be hindered when sharing these states with relative strangers rather than trusted guides or loved ones.

Shared accommodations and communal spaces also restrict privacy as well as the ability to curate one’s set and setting personally.

Depending on how the retreat schedule and space are structured, moments of solitude, which can be crucial for personal processing, may also be harder to come by in the midst of group facilities. While togetherness holds power, the absence of private moments may hinder individual exploration.

Engaging in personal activities like sharing, art therapy or journaling may become more challenging when surrounded by others. This can depend on the depth of trust and connection built between participants, but in some cases, the presence of others can have a negative impact.

Privacy, in this context, acts as a catalyst for maintaining a controlled and focused container.

Structural Constraints: The Rigidity of Group Dynamics

In addition to interpersonal challenges, the structural design of group retreats imposes constraints compared to 1-1 experiences or solo journeys. The fixed schedule and collective activities limit individual flexibility.

Sessions and programming adhere to a predefined timeline to accommodate everyone, leaving less room for personalised adjustments based on individual needs. The activities and flow of the group, while designed to meet collective needs, may not align seamlessly with individual preferences. 

The balance between collective and personal preferences will lean more towards the former, potentially overshadowing individual desires.

So while the group structure may provide a collective experience, it may limit the depth of individual journeys.

Lower Level of Attention and Support

With a 1-1 experience, the person undergoing their psychedelic experience has the dedicated attention and support of a single facilitator.

This in general is not the case with group retreats. And whilst they may exist, I haven’t seen a single retreat where the ratio of facilitators to participants is 1:1.

The division of facilitator attention among multiple participants could result in less attention and support overall. This can be a downside for those who would like or need that higher level of support, both during and around the experience.

It also results in less individualised preparation and integration support compared to a one-on-one setting.

Final Thoughts

In the world of psychedelic exploration, the choice between group ceremonies and individual sessions is a nuanced decision, each option offering unique advantages and drawbacks. Today, we looked at group experiences, where shared journeys unfold in the company of fellow seekers.

Group ceremonies foster a sense of camaraderie, transforming the psychedelic journey into a shared social event. The collective openness nurtures the potential for deep connections and lasting friendships, adding a revitalised sense of human connection. The diversity of perspectives within the group creates a tapestry of insights, surpassing what any individual could achieve alone.

Yet, the communal setting poses challenges. The limited privacy during the psychedelic experience may inhibit personal expression, and external disturbances could divert focus. While group experiences may provide a broader range of insights, the structural constraints may limit individual exploration. The lower level of attention and support compared to 1-1 sessions could be a drawback for those seeking a more personalised approach.

In your journey towards intentional psychedelic use, weighing the advantages and drawbacks of group experiences against your personal needs is crucial.

Stay tuned for our upcoming exploration of 1-1 experiences to offer you a comprehensive understanding.

Remember, the path you choose should align with your intentions, fostering an environment that facilitates healing, growth, and self-discovery.

Stay safe, journey well.

John Robertson | Community Blogger at Chemical Collective | mapsofthemind.com

John is one of our community bloggers here at Chemical Collective. If you’re interested in joining our blogging team and getting paid to write about subjects you’re passionate about, please reach out to David via email at blog@chemical-collective.com

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