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The essential role of psychedelic integration for lasting transformation
June 28, 2022
6 min read
Many of us enter into relationships with psychedelics to foster transformation and healing, with reasonable evidence of their effectiveness. However, it is also clear that much of the transformative and healing potential of psychedelic medicine use in the modern West can be lost due to a lack of integration of these experiences and, sometimes, even causing harm.
So why is psychedelic integration essential for transformation?
What is transformation?
When I say transformation, I mean long-term trait shifts, not simply a temporary state change. Traits are stable, long-term changes in thinking, feeling, and behavior; states are temporary short-term changes.
It is valuable to shift our states of consciousness to open doorways to experience more adaptive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. When we experience psychedelics, it can be like we’re stretching our elastic band to new and previously unseen possibilities. However, temporary peak-state changes will not create lasting effects in your life unless rigorously integrated. It’s common for folks to leave psychedelic experiences with treasure troves of insights only to see them fleeting away as soon as they get back home.
The chase for healing is real, and so is our appetite for quick fixes. As the psychedelic space expands and we hear more mainstream stories like Will Smith doing ayahuasca, the need to educate folks on the importance of integration will become a central element of meaningful and sustainable healing in ourselves and the world.
Helping us tap into our full potential is what the medicines are here to help us with, but there is no shortcut when it comes to healing. Psychedelics require a dedication to integration.
What is integration?
When I say integration, I refer to Dan Siegel’s (2017) definition from Interpersonal Neurobiology:
‘The linkage of differentiated aspects of a system in the process of moving towards wholeness.’
In the case of a psychedelic trip, the aspects we are linking and integrating into ourselves are the new ways of sensing, feeling, thinking, and acting. Patterns that emerge during the experience that we then translate into our familiar, everyday environment. These patterns are often characterized by our old patterns of sensing, feeling, thinking, and acting, leading to healthier ways of being.
Learn more about psychedelic integration and what it means in our expert panel exploring the basics.
What happens if I don’t have an integration plan?
Failing to integrate the expanded state of consciousness experiences psychedelics offer is both neglectful and potentially dangerous psychologically and does not lead to lasting transformation. You might get some big pieces out of the experience. Still, there’s usually new wisdom to gain over many months after when supported by a holistic integration plan and support system. The potency of psychedelics and the deep inner work they can help spark to life ask us to honor them with an equally meaningful and dedicated integration process.
Some fortunate people will have sufficient resources to integrate their journeys organically through engagement with some of the many practices that can be used for integration, going to therapy, or connecting with a supportive social network. Others may be less fortunate and harm their lives due to a lack of inner and outer resources required to hold the content experienced on their journey. Perhaps they are taking medicines too frequently for their nervous system to handle. Many others may lose the precious gems of wisdom from the psychedelic experience due to the amnesia that the demands modern culture administers, soon leaving them wanting to go back for another journey.
This addiction to continue engaging in peak experiences to get more and more healing is unfortunately common in some psychedelic communities.
I refer to psychedelic journeys, therapies, and events as potentially transformative experiences. They stay potentially transformative until they are rigorously integrated and have led to a lasting change in how one thinks, feels, and acts regularly. Without adequate integration, psychedelic use can become simply entertainment.
The support gap
There appears to be a post-experience integration abyss present in most modern western psychedelic offerings that undermine the transformation that the offerings promise. Perhaps a participant will only be offered a 2-hour group closing integration circle after a ceremony or a single follow-up integration session, which is generally inadequate.
This gap in support is a multi-faceted issue in the psychedelic space. The main one is a lack of education and awareness on why preparation and integration are critical and how to do it well. In the case of retreats, the support gap is often operational. Setting up a preparation and integration program is challenging for retreats and practitioners when they already have heavy lifting to facilitate the psychedelic experience.
Thankfully, there is some change happening on these fronts. More and more people and retreats dedicate additional time and resources to supporting people along their journey. As the psychedelic renaissance is in full bloom, we are all learning together to create safer spaces for sustainable healing and empowerment to happen.
It’s a beautiful journey of growth for all of us.
Consider joining our psychedelic wellness community and receive loads of support, information, and resources to help you make meaning out of your psychedelic experiences.