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How To Choose The Right Psychedelic Retreat

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in this article
  • Introduction
  • Clarify Your Intentions and Preferences
  • Evaluating Facilitators and the Retreat Team
  • Ratio of Facilitators to Retreat Participants
  • Assessing Safety and Support
  • Participant Reviews and Testimonials
  • Red Flags and Green Flags to Watch Out For
  • Conclusion

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 Chemical Collective or any associated parties.

Introduction

Going on a psychedelic retreat can be an excellent way to experience psychedelics for newcomers and experienced explorers alike. Good retreats provide support from experienced staff, a structured environment, and built-in preparation and integration. These factors all help to set the stage for a meaningful and transformative experience.

However, not all retreats are created equal. Some have questionable practices, inexperienced facilitators, or lack key safety features. These can all have a negative impact on your experience and its outcomes. So if you are looking to go on a psychedelic retreat, it is important to choose wisely.

But how to choose a psychedelic retreat? What makes a good one? And what should you be looking out for? 

In today’s article, I am going to be answering these questions and exploring not only what makes a good psychedelic retreat, but one that is suitable for you. I will offer some points for consideration along the way, and wrap up with red and green flags to look out for. Over the last 10 years I have been on a dozen retreats around the world in the roles of participant, facilitator and organiser, and today I will be drawing upon my experience to guide you through considerations to take on board when choosing a psychedelic retreat.

Clarify Your Intentions and Preferences

A crucial first step when considering psychedelic retreat options is clarifying your intentions. 

Different retreats will have also different approaches, philosophies and facilitators which will cater to different intentions. Some will be focused on the spiritual side of things. Others may be more focused on therapeutic outcomes. Others may incorporate a shamanic approach. Many will not be exclusive to one and may have a mix. 

What makes a retreat suitable may depend on your personal preferences, desires, and needs.

Before beginning your search for a psychedelic retreat, it will be useful to reflect on your personal reasons for wanting to attend one.

Is it for healing? Mental health? Spiritual growth? Creativity? Or something else?

Whatever your intentions, it would be wise to align your choice of retreat with your personal reasons and preferences. These will help you to choose a retreat that is good for you.

Once you have a clearer idea of your intentions and preferences you can start to look at the other factors that make up a retreat. These will include the length of the retreat, group size, cost, ratio of facilitators to retreat participants, number of ceremonies or sessions, the geographical location, the doses and how they are determined, the psychedelic substance used, the setting and music.

Evaluating Facilitators and the Retreat Team

The quality, expertise and experience of facilitators and the retreat team play a huge role in what makes up a psychedelic retreat. You want to take into account their credentials and experience, approach and philosophy, and how comfortable you feel with them.

Credentials and Experience

Ideally you want to be attending a retreat that has facilitators with experience in psychedelic therapy and harm reduction. Try to find out about facilitator’s experience, qualifications, and years of practice. A reputable retreat will have facilitators who are well-versed in psychedelic experiences and with a background of providing support.

Depending on your intentions, you may wish to attend a retreat led by individuals with formal training in relevant fields such as psychology, psychotherapy, or traditional shamanic practices.

Facilitators should have experience not only with psychedelics but also in guiding others through transformative experiences.

It is useful to bear in mind that a good facilitator is not just knowledgeable about the substances used but can also create a safe, supportive environment for participants. They should be able to handle a wide range of emotional and psychological responses and able to provide the care and attentions that participants need.

Questions for Consideration

  • What are the facilitators’ backgrounds and qualifications?
  • How many years of experience do they have in facilitating experiences and/or running psychedelic retreats?
  • Do they have formal training or certifications in therapy, counselling, or psychedelic facilitation?

Facilitator Philosophy and Approach

Beyond a facilitator’s credentials, the approach and philosophy of the facilitators can have a significant influence on your retreat experience. You want to find a retreat whose values align with your own.

Some may adopt a more clinical, therapeutic approach whilst others will emphasise spiritual growth and shamanic traditions.

Some will take on the role of a non-intrusive spaceholder, whilst others take on the role of a more involved guide or shaman.

Take time to read about the retreat’s methodologies and see if they resonate with you. A good retreat will have facilitators who are skilled, transparent about their methods, and willing to discuss their approach in detail.

Questions for Consideration

  • What is the underlying philosophy or approach?
  • Do they focus on therapy, spirituality, personal growth, or a combination of these?
  • How do they integrate different traditions and practices into the retreat experience?

Comfort and Connection With Facilitators

Beyond their experience and approach, how comfortable and safe you feel is a key factor in your retreat experience.

With this in mind, it is important to look beyond someone’s credentials and experience. It is all very well if facilitators are technically highly qualified, but if you do not feel comfortable with them, have no rapport, or just feel uneasy for whatever reason, it is unlikely to be a good fit.

It is crucial that you feel safe and comfortable as this will help you to relax and open into the experience. If that is not the case, then it is probably wise to look elsewhere.

The very first psychedelic retreat I attended was a 10-day retreat in 2013 in southern Spain. Our shaman was a highly experienced shaman who had done multiple dietas in the Amazon, had many years of ceremony experience, and had even published books on the use of psychedelics. On paper, he seemed to be a great fit.

My experience was different. Although none of his behaviour was physically dangerous, the way he handled the group was not the most supportive or beneficial. He came across as brash, insensitive, and impatient. Personally, I would have benefited from a more gentle approach. I had inclinations about his character from our email exchanges before the retreat, but against my better judgement, I dismissed it and thought he must be good since he had so much experience. For me this was a lesson in looking beyond someone’s credentials, and looking at their character and how I feel around them.

In retrospect, I could have had a better sense of how I felt about him if I had requested a call beforehand. That would have helped me to make a more informed choice and in this case, find a more suitable retreat.

Speaking with Staff or Facilitators Beforehand

I would highly recommend having some kind of contact with a facilitator or staff member of any retreat that you intend to attend. Many retreats offer a discovery call or an online event you can join to get a sense of them and what they are about. If they do not, I recommend emailing them and requesting a call before making any booking.

The call will give you a chance to get to know them and ask any questions you may have. You can enquire about things like their approach, how they handle certain situations, safety protocols, and their experience.

Ratio of Facilitators to Retreat Participants

Another thing to look out for is the ratio of facilitators to retreat participants. Generally speaking, a higher number means a higher level of support and I would be cautious of a retreat offering high doses with less than one for every four participants. 

That said, more facilitators does not necessarily equal a better retreat. Other factors may have been taken into account, such as the background of the participants and anticipated level of support needed. If the ratio seems low, I would enquire about their approach and ask whether they have encountered any issues with this ratio. Overall, you will want to strike a balance between sufficient support and a group that feels too big or a room that feels overcrowded.

Assessing Safety and Support

A measure of a reputable retreat is their safety and support measures. A retreat doing their due diligence will have a screening process as part of their intake for safety and some type of follow up or support option for integration.

Safety Through Screening and Intake

When choosing a retreat, check if there is a screening process to assess participants’ mental and physical health. Proper screening will help mitigate potential risks and a good retreat will have some kind of intake to assess medical and psychological safety. In doing so, they will have an understanding of each participant; their psychological well-being, any medication they are on and any potential medical contraindications. Be very wary of any retreat which does not have any kind of intake or screening process.

Integration Support

Integration is usually necessary to maximise the benefits of a psychedelic experience. So in your search for a retreat, you will want to consider the type and level of support that is offered after everyone has gone home. 

The level of post-retreat support will vary. Some will offer follow-ups, check-ins, and coaching sessions over a time span of months, whilst others may offer a single call. Whilst some follow-up is important, there may be various reasons for the level of support offered. For example, some retreats may only take on people who are relatively healthy and will likely require less support. In this case, limiting the level of post-retreat support will help them keep the costs down and make a retreat package more affordable.

However, all good retreats will offer some kind of follow-up to check in with participants. This is important to check up on participants in case of any adverse effects, and a single call a week or two afterwards may be sufficient.

Participant Reviews and Testimonials

Checking reviews and testimonials from previous participants can be a useful way to gauge a retreat’s reputation. If you can find reviews on independent websites and directories, these can be informative.

It can also be useful to engage in online forums, discussion boards and communities to ask about various retreats or speak with people who have had experience with them. This might bring some recommendations and can help to bring additional information to help inform your decision.

Red Flags and Green Flags to Watch Out For

Now you have an idea of what to look for when choosing your retreat, I would like to finish by summarising important red and green flags to keep an eye out for.

Red Flags

Lack of Transparency

Be wary of retreats that lack transparency about their practices, staff, or safety measures. Research organisations thoroughly before committing and look for detailed information on their methods and credentials. Vague or evasive details may indicate a lack of professionalism or questionable practices.

Unqualified Facilitators or Reports of Misconduct

When considering a retreat, use caution and evaluate the retreat leaders’ qualifications, background, and reputation. Retreats led by individuals with little relevant training, expertise, or experience can pose risks and may not deliver the intended benefits. Be sure to keep an eye out for any reports of misconduct or abusive behaviour.

Hyping the Benefits and Questionable Sales Tactics

Some retreats use exaggerated claims about the benefits of psychedelics. This should arouse your suspicion. Psychedelics are not magic pills, so be questioning of anyone who tries to tell you that they are. Other red flags to look out for include high-pressure sales pitches or aggressive marketing. Be cautious of retreats that employ these tactics. 

Poor Safety Protocols

Retreats without clear safety protocols or medical support pose risks. Without proper safeguards, participants can be vulnerable. Find out about the retreat’s safety measures, emergency plans, and staff qualifications before attending.

Green Flags to Look For

Transparency and Communication

Openness and information sharing cultivate trust which supports deeper personal reflections and a more transformative experience.

Clear communication and detailed information from organisers help create a successful retreat. They help set expectations, address concerns, and empower participants. Information included should include an overview of the retreat’s purpose, schedule, activities, and logistics. Clear channels for ongoing dialogue are also a good sign, as they enable attendees to voice needs and address issues.

Qualified and Compassionate Staff

Skilled facilitators are invaluable. They use their expertise to navigate challenges and steer discussions and situations productively. Look for emotional intelligence, knowledge, and experience. A combination of interpersonal skills and expertise supports transformative psychedelic experiences. 

Integration Support

While the level of support offered will vary, good retreats will offer some type of support before and after. Preparation and post-retreat guidance can help minimise adverse effects and maximise the experience’s positive long-term impact, so look for an organisation that includes this as part of their service.

Conclusion

A well-chosen psychedelic retreat can offer deep insights, positive transformation, and lasting benefits.

Choosing the right retreat for you is a personal choice and a key step in maximising your potential for a safe, transformative, and meaningful experience. By considering the various factors touched upon here—your intentions, the type of retreat, the facilitators, safety protocols, and participant feedback—you can make an informed decision that aligns with your personal goals and values.

Keep an eye out for those red and green flags, do your due diligence in research, and choose wisely.

Safe travels on your journey to healing and transformation.

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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