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The Importance of Integration in the Psychedelic Experience

CC Background
Table of Contents
Introduction
What is Integration?
Historical/Spiritual Context
Modern/Scientific Context
Applying Integration to Your Own Experiences
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

As interest in the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics continues to grow around the world, it is essential to provide education on how to reduce harm and maximise the benefits associated with their use. The term “Psychedelic Integration” plays an important role in this, and it is important to understand its meaning.

Psychotherapists and clinicians have long recognised the ability of psychedelic drugs to evoke new ways of thinking and bring repressed memories, thoughts, and feelings to the surface. This is the reason why psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond coined the term: Psychedelic, derived from the Greek, meaning mind-manifesting.

While recent research on psychedelics, such as psilocybin, has demonstrated promising therapeutic benefits for conditions like treatment-resistant depression, it is important to approach them from a realistic perspective. While many users have reported transformative experiences, it is important to note that psychedelics alone cannot solve all of your problems. Instead, they should be viewed as a tool to be used in conjunction with other forms of self-improvement, such as therapy and self-reflection, to bring about lasting change. Without putting in the necessary work, relying solely on psychedelic substances themselves and expecting lasting change may lead an individual to quickly revert back to old patterns of thinking and behaviour.

What is Integration?

Although there may be variations in understanding among psychedelic users, researchers, and therapists, a general definition of Psychedelic Integration can be summed up as:

The process of understanding and implementing the insights gained from a psychedelic experience into daily life.

This can span from a few days to several years. This includes both comprehending the experience itself and utilising the newfound insight and understanding to improve your overall well-being and day to day functioning.

With the process of integration, individuals can begin to make sense of their psychedelic experiences, assimilate any realisations, and transform difficulties into valuable opportunities for self-growth. Scientists suggest that following a psychedelic experience, there is a period of mental flexibility, sometimes called the Psychedelic Aftergflow in which the brain is more open to change. By taking advantage of this window, integration can also help improve everyday life by dropping negative habits and adopting new, healthier ones.

The methods used to process and make sense of a psychedelic experience can vary greatly between individuals and even between different experiences. Despite this, there are some overarching goals that many people strive for when integrating a psychedelic experience. These include:

✦ Gaining insight into your past, present, and future ✦

✦ Exploring the visual, physical, and psychological aspects of the experience ✦

✦ Using the lessons learned to make positive changes in daily life ✦

✦ Processing any shifts in perspectives on reality or self ✦

✦ Managing difficult or traumatic experiences ✦

✦ Making sense of any confusing aspects of the experience ✦

By aiding the discovery of your own psyche, psychedelics can have powerful therapeutic benefits. However, these radical changes in perspective and glimpses into hidden corners of the mind also pose challenges – the surfacing of traumas and the confusion about the sense of reality are examples of those challenges.

Integration can take many forms, such as self-directed methods or seeking support from an integration therapist or coach. The duration and frequency of integration sessions can also vary, with some people feeling satisfied after one or two sessions while others may continue the process throughout their lifetime. As each psychedelic experience is unique, the way of integrating these experiences also differs from person to person.

By understanding the different integration practices and support options available, individuals can tailor their integration based on their personal needs and experiences. Making sure that they are equipped with the right knowledge and support to make sense of the psychedelic experience is crucial. Western cultures may be less well-equipped for this process due to their lack of a cultural framework around the usage of psychedelics, both spiritually and culturally.

Historical/Spiritual Context

The integration of a psychedelic experience has a long history within spiritual traditions. Many indigenous cultures have used psychedelics for religious and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. For example, the use of peyote by Native Americans, which is still practised today by the Native American Church, and the use of Ayahuasca by indigenous people of the Amazon. These cultures have a holistic perspective on integration. Indigenous healing practices are typically based on the assumptions of interconnectedness and balance, and rely on communal, spiritual, and shamanic approaches. This shared cultural experience and understanding of the effects of the substances themselves, on body and mind, as well as how to best apply these effects on an individual and societal level, places their usage in an entirely different context.

Western users of psychedelic substances may lack these cultural references to understand the symbolic and abstract content that often arises with the usage of psychedelics, which may require therapeutic support throughout the process, especially during the integration stage. There are also concerns about the impact of Western interest in Indigenous ceremonies such as ayahuasca shamanism in Indigenous communities. This is because of the extractive nature of capitalist consumerism and the negative economic, social, cultural, health, and environmental impact caused by the uninformed or exploitative. Fortunately, in recent years there has been an increasing focus on justice and reciprocity regarding Indigenous knowledge, as opposed to extractive practices that harm Indigenous peoples.

Therefore, it is important to note that the integration of psychedelic experiences may look very different for Indigenous peoples than for Westerners. For Indigenous cultures that have a tradition with psychedelics, the integration process is already an integral part of their culture through the usage of symbols, rituals, and communal support. These practices may take place before, during, or after the psychedelic experience and may help in addressing imbalances, confusion, and difficult emotional responses. This supports the realignment of self and promotes physiological, spiritual, and social experiences. While Western cultures may treat integration as a separate phase of the psychedelic experience, Indigenous cultures may view it as a lifelong, ongoing process toward balance and continuous integration.

Western interest in Indigenous practices also raises ethical concerns about the impact of psychedelic tourism on Indigenous communities. It is crucial for Westerners to acknowledge the importance of cultural sensitivity and respect for Indigenous knowledge rather than an exploitative approach that harms Indigenous peoples. Furthermore, understanding the historical and cultural context of Indigenous use of psychedelics may provide valuable insight into the integration of psychedelic experiences and promote cultural exchange and mutual understanding between Western and Indigenous cultures. A wholesale appropriation of a culture in which an individual is not embedded not only negatively impacts and disrespects that culture but also likely ignore important cultural differences between the integration processes and lessens the potential effectiveness of the substances ingested.

Modern/Scientific Context

There has been a growing body of scientific research on the importance of integrating a psychedelic experience. One area of research has focused on the long-term therapeutic benefits of psilocybin-assisted therapy for depression and addiction treatment.

An analysis published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2016 found that a single dose of psilocybin, combined with supportive therapy, led to significant reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer. Follow-up assessments at 6 and 12 months found that the therapeutic benefits persisted, with over 80% of participants reporting sustained improvements in their mental health. The study concluded that psilocybin-assisted therapy is a promising treatment for patients with cancer-related psychological distress.

A more recent study published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology suggests that personal development and self-insight act as an intermediary between post-psychedelic integration practices and optimal well-being in both clinical and non-clinical settings. The lead author of the study, Nicole Amada, a PhD candidate at City University of New York, stated that she wanted to “attempt to design and test a unified model of the potential relationship between psychedelic experience and well-being.”

The study analysed data from 748 English-speaking adults from 46 different countries who had used LSD and/or psilocybin in the past. Participants reported their integration practices during and following their psychedelic experiences. Participants also reported on the degree to which they felt their use of LSD and/or psilocybin had contributed to personal growth and self-awareness. After controlling for the frequency and duration of psychedelic use, the researchers found that the process of integrating the experiences from psychedelic use is positively correlated with an overall improvement in the participants’ daily well-being. This correlation is mediated by the enhancement of personal development and self-insight.

This provides further evidence that LSD and Psilocybin are beneficial not only for individuals with mental health conditions but also in non-clinical settings. This agrees with previous research on the therapeutic potential of these substances and highlights the increased benefits of combining their usage with supportive psychotherapy.  The results of this study point towards the potential benefits of post-psychedelic integration practices and suggest that such practices may be an important aspect of realising the therapeutic potential of these substances. It also suggests that these practices could be beneficial for a wide range of individuals, regardless of whether or not they have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. These findings demonstrate the importance of continued research on the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and their use in combination with post-psychedelic integration practices.

Multiple other studies in the past several years have also concluded, similarly, that individuals who report higher levels of integration after a psychedelic experience also report greater improvements in mental health and well-being than those who did not. Also, individuals who took part in organised programs of psychedelic therapy that included preparation prior to the psychedelic experience and integration sessions afterwards reported higher reductions in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. This suggests that while psychedelic experiences in and of themselves can have a positive impact on mental health and well-being, integration sessions play an essential role in understanding and working through these experiences, which can lead to far more pronounced and long-term mental health benefits.

While these findings are increasingly widespread, it is important to note that research on psychedelic integration is still an emerging field, and far more studies are needed to fully understand the relationship between post-psychedelic integration practices and well-being. However, the studies that have been conducted thus far provide promising evidence of the benefits of integrating psychedelic experiences in both clinical and non-clinical settings.

Applying Integration to Your Own Experiences

Although access to psychedelic therapy is currently limited due to the legal status of these substances in the majority of the world, individuals who have had, or wish to undertake a psychedelic experience can still seek out specialised therapists and coaches who specialise in psychedelic integration. This process of integrating a psychedelic experience can be done in a variety of ways:

Attending a psychedelic integration group

Attending a psychedelic integration group is one way to talk about the most meaningful or challenging features of your experience, and to hear others’ stories, which can provide further insight into your own experience. However, it is important to note that these groups are not widely available, though you may have some success finding groups online.

Practising meditation

Meditation practices like holotropic breathing, mindfulness meditation and metta (loving-kindness) meditation can also be helpful for integrating your experiences. These techniques are designed to promote more acceptance of yourself, your environment and foster feelings of goodwill towards yourself and others. Holotropic breathing is a technique that involves breathing rapidly in and out to induce non-drug-induced altered states of consciousness. Mindfulness meditation is a gentler alternative, more about simply observing, which can be helpful in promoting self-awareness, acceptance, and reducing stress. Metta (loving-kindness) meditation can also be helpful in promoting feelings of goodwill towards oneself, loved ones, strangers, and difficult people. All of these techniques are helpful in your day-to-day life regardless of your usage of psychedelics, but all promote skills and attitudes which will allow you to better understand, accept and integrate your experiences.

Journaling

The simple act of writing down your experiences can help you to process and better understand them if you wish to do so alone or in conjunction with other integration methods and techniques.

Speaking with family, friends, or others

Talking to friends, loved ones, or even people you don’t know well about your experience can be highly beneficial. This can be helpful in terms of making sense of and gaining further insight into the experience. But it is important to find a person who has a non-judgmental attitude about psychedelics and is willing to listen empathically without forcing their own interpretation or advice.

Conclusion

The concept of psychedelic integration is a crucial aspect of the psychedelic experience. It refers to the process of reflecting on and applying the insights and experiences gained during the psychedelic trip to your daily life. This period of integration is important for individuals to make the most of their experiences and to achieve long-lasting mental health benefits.

The integration process can be challenging and requires a significant amount of effort. It may involve dealing with difficult emotions or disruptions to your daily routine. However, the effort put into integration can lead to lasting positive changes in your life and facilitate personal growth and transformation. The process of integration can also be very different for different people and can take different lengths of time depending on the person’s unique experience and personal circumstances.

It is also important to recognise the cultural and spiritual contexts in which psychedelic experiences have traditionally been integrated. For many indigenous cultures, the use of psychedelics has been closely tied to spiritual practices and rituals, and the integration process has often involved incorporating the insights and experiences gained during the trip. 

Furthermore, the psychedelic experience is only the first step, albeit an important one, in a process of personal transformation and self-exploration that may continue for the rest of your life. The integration process is essential to fully realise the potential of the psychedelic experience and to integrate the insights and lessons learned. It allows you to make sense of your experiences, gain a deeper understanding of yourself and the world around you, and develop new perspectives on your life and on living as a whole.

It is important to seek guidance from a trusted individual during the integration process. You are unlikely to gain as much as can be gained by going it alone. Through spiritual guidance, therapy or counselling, depending on your preference or situation. Support is necessary to truly make sense of these experiences, work through any difficulties, and integrate what you learn into your life in a beneficial and healthy way. By taking the time and effort to engage in a thoughtful and intentional integration process, you can maximise the benefits of the psychedelic experience and bring lasting positive changes to your life.

David Blackbourn | Community Blogger at Chemical Collective

David 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 Matt via email at matt@chemical-collective.com

4 Comments

  1. Article très intéressant.
    J’ai beaucoup de mal justement à capitaliser un certain “savoir” après un trip psychédélique. Je devrais me mettre à écrire mais je n’ose jamais me lancer, ne sachant par ou commencer.
    Et il y a le caractère ineffable de l’expérience, qui complique l’explication avec de simples mots.

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