What is psychedelic integration therapy and why is it important?

10 Minute Read
Maybe you’re here because you just watched How To Change Your Mind on Netflix. Or maybe you’re here because your friend came back from an ayahuasca retreat in Peru claiming they experienced years worth of healing in a week. People learn about the power of psychedelics and non-ordinary states of consciousness through many different avenues, but often come to the same question: How can psychedelics help improve my mental health?

If you’re asking that question, you’re in the right place! I offer clients the opportunity to explore possible answers to questions including:
“Are psychedelics considered safe?”
“How does ketamine help people feel less depressed?”
“How should I mentally prepare for taking a psychedelic?”
“Can you help me make sense of my psychedelic trip?”

Psychedelic integration therapy, within a safe and trusting environment, provides personalized support tailored to your individual needs, and has been scientifically demonstrated to have positive effects on your emotional wellbeing. Here, you’ll learn how these essential components are put into practice, and what you can expect from the process.

What is psychedelic integration?

Psychedelics have been used for thousands of years to promote spiritual growth, healing, and community building. During the past century, psychedelics entered the mainstream in U.S. culture and have remained here ever since. Even more recently, there has been a boom in academic and clinical research demonstrating the numerous benefits of psychedelics for mental and physical wellness.

More and more people are seeking out psychedelic experiences to heal from mental health disorders and existential distress through clinical research studies, in therapy with qualified providers, and in religious and shamanic settings.

Psychedelic-assisted therapy involves using mind-altering substances such as ketamine, psilocybin, and MDMA to induce non-ordinary states of consciousness during sessions with a trained professional. Psychedelic integration focuses on what happens before and after the experience to make meaning, deepen understanding, and apply new insights to daily life. Psychedelic integration therapy is highly beneficial even without your integration therapist being present for your journey. What does this mean exactly?

Many individuals experience a wide range of complex thoughts, emotions, and even memories. All thoughts, feelings, and memories that come up during a psychedelic experience can be a meaningful part of your healing process. Integration work can help you make sense of their meaning , not just during the experience itself, but also in the days and months to come. Without integrating your journey, insights may slip away like sand through your fingers, making it harder to evolve any new awareness into long-lasting change. I often hear from people that their psychedelic experience “feels like a dream” – integration can help transfer those dreamlike memories into new perspectives and insights that positively impact your everyday reality. Psychedelic integration therapy is a safe, confidential space to navigate these insights and create real transformation in your life.

small brown mushrooms on green grass
During the past century, psychedelics entered the mainstream in U.S. culture and have remained here ever since.

How does psychedelic integration work?

The specific course of psychedelic integration therapy depends on your unique needs and goals. Most people who work with me participate in the following sequence:

  1. Preparation
    1. Typically, the first step is to explore what you’re hoping to get out of a psychedelic experience. If applicable, we will discuss any past use of psychedelics or other instances of achieving non-ordinary states of consciousness (ie., meditation).
    2. Then, you and your clinician will discuss your medical and mental health history as it relates to the psychedelic medicine you are interested in working with. At this point, a referral to a psychiatrist will be made, if no significant risk factors are identified.
    3. Now you’re ready to establish intentions, explore and manage expectations for your psychedelic journey, and ensure you are setting yourself up for success – by examining your daily routines, environment, social interactions, and more. At this stage we may also build up your coping skills through exercises like breathwork and body relaxation techniques.
  2. Journey completed outside of therapy sessions
    (Reminder: Psychedelic integration therapy does not include the administration of any substances, or guiding through any substance-induced experiences.)

    There are many different avenues people may select for embarking on their psychedelic journey. Some people may choose to:

    1. Receive infusions at a ketamine clinic
    2. Travel to a country where indigenous healers offer medicine ceremonies
    3. Join a church that uses psychedelics as a sacrament
    4. Work with a healer that offers alternative methods for attaining altered states of consciousness, such as through holotropic breathwork
  3. Integration
    This is the time for us to make sense of and unpack your experience in the here in and now, which is meant to help promote new perspectives, insights, and even transformative behavior change.
    1. I begin the integration process in a very open-ended way so that I am not interfering in your meaning-making process. I’ll support you by exploring key points, images, and themes you noticed on your journey.
    2. Then, we’ll ensure you’re engaging in self-care practices that allow you to honor the still vulnerable or “raw” psychological state you may find yourself in.
    3. Once you’ve identified the most significant aspects of your journey, we’ll connect them back to your therapeutic goals and intentions.
    4. When you feel ready, we will integrate the lessons and knowledge gained from your psychedelic experience into new behaviors and thought patterns for you to try in your daily life.

Remember, as with most forms of psychotherapy, this process is not linear – especially in the integration stage. Clients often discover new insights over a period of time, which then may shift the focus of change they are trying to make in their life. For example, someone might gradually come to terms with the loss of a loved one through periods of first honoring their grief, then embodying self-forgiveness, and eventually, exploring a newfound spiritual understanding. Some individuals also benefit from more time and support from the therapist than others when attempting behavioral change.

Psychedelic integration therapy can help promote profound new perspectives, insights, and even transformative behavior change.
financial infidelity

What can I expect from the therapist during a psychedelic integration therapy session?

As with other therapy services I offer, I use concepts from Internal Family Systems (IFS), mindfulness, and psychodynamic therapies to facilitate holistic, comprehensive care. We will explore somatic practices, contemplative techniques, and parts work to prepare and integrate your experience. This means we may look at how your experiences, thoughts, and feelings are felt in your body. You may be asked to journal between sessions or engage in various forms of meditation. You might practice deep breathing or visualization techniques to help you manage challenging moments during therapy.

Additionally, in alignment with MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) protocol for their clinical research studies, I place strong emphasis on the client’s ‘inner healing intelligence’. This person-centered concept suggests that you already have what you need inside of you to reach your goals. You may have struggled to access this innate healer before, but once you are in touch with it, it will be a powerful force that moves you towards healing and wholeness.

Psychedelic integration therapy may be right for you if:

  • You are curious about the safe use of psychedelics as a tool for personal growth
  • You want to use psychedelics to help improve mental health concerns
  • You had a psychedelic experience that left you feeling confused, and feel that you cannot make sense of it on your own
  • You are in need of professional support after a traumatic experience with psychedelics

What are the possible risks associated with psychedelic integration therapy?

Psychedelics aren’t right for everyone, nor are they a cure-all for all problems. Also, like any other substance, there is the potential for abuse (although research indicates that the risk for abuse is lower with traditional psychedelics than the drugs that commonly lead to substance use disorders).

Psychedelic substances have potential interactions with medications as well as physical and mental health conditions. Substances not carefully controlled in a clinical setting pose the risk of being adulterated with other ingredients that can be harmful. Being under the influence of any drug can increase physical safety risks as intoxication can lead to loss of coordination and falling.

I am not in a position to provide medical advice. My services are not a substitute for proper medical care or consultation with a qualified health provider. When we’re exploring whether or not psychedelics are a good option for you, I will redirect you to your primary care provider to first address any medical concerns.

spring cleaning grounding
Psychedelic integration therapy may be right for you’re curious about exploring psychedelics to help improve certain mental health concerns.

Frequently asked questions about psychedelic integration therapy

Q: Is psychedelic integration therapy safe?

A : Different substances elicit profoundly different effects, with many factors playing a role: dosage, the environment you are in, who is with you, your mental health status, any medications you are taking, and more.
If proper attention isn’t given to these factors, the risk of harm can increase. I’ve witnessed a mystical experience or otherwise inducing a non-ordinary state of consciousness even become traumatic without the proper preparation and support. For this reason, supporting your safety is of utmost importance to me. My goal is to help you explore all options so that you can make an informed decision that feels aligned with your needs and preferences. Thanks to this intentional approach, we’re able to significantly reduce the risk of a harmful experience.
As with all of my therapeutic approaches, I also incorporate trauma-informed care, if it could be beneficial for your treatment. This allows us to better understand how your past trauma may play a role in any non-ordinary states of consciousness, including managing and processing memories that can surface.

Q: Is psychedelic integration therapy only started after a psychedelic journey?

A: No, psychedelic integration can also include a preparation phase before you take any medicine. I will help you create intentions, manage expectations, and if needed, establish grounding practices for any periods of anxiety that may come up during your journey. I always recommend and help my clients create a comprehensive preparation plan before taking a mind-altering substance.

Q: Do I have to see a psychiatrist to do psychedelic integration therapy?

A: No, however for some people I will recommend a referral to a psychiatrist before you attempt to experience altered states of consciousness. Certain physical health conditions, mental health conditions, and medications will affect the risk level of taking a psychedelic medicine, or even doing intense breathwork.

For example, it can be dangerous for individuals with uncontrolled high blood pressure to take ketamine. In this situation, a trained therapist will direct the client to consult with a psychedelic-friendly psychiatrist about medication to manage their blood pressure as part of the preparation process.

Q: Is it safe for me to talk about my use of psychedelics with a therapist?

A: Like traditional talk therapy, information about your psychedelic use is kept confidential, and cannot be disclosed to other people without your consent. However, it is important to remember that not all therapists are trained in psychedelic integration, and some may have their own biases about the choice to heal using psychedelics. This is why it is so important to find a therapist that understands your needs, goals, and has the appropriate clinical expertise to understand and work with non-ordinary states of consciousness.

Q: Is psychedelic integration therapy helpful if I am receiving ketamine infusions?

A: Absolutely! While ketamine is not a classic psychedelic, it does have powerful therapeutic benefits and can facilitate an intense non-ordinary state of consciousness. Integration therapy will help you get the most out of your infusions.

Q: Can I integrate a psychedelic experience from years ago?

A: Yes, it is never too late to integrate! I also believe that the process of integration continues throughout your life – insight can come when you least expect it, and perpetually unfold into deeper awareness and utilization for where you are in your life.

Q: Can I integrate an experience with non-ordinary states of consciousness that did not occur from psychedelics?

A: Yes. People have “peak” or “mystical experiences” through breathwork, meditation, and other forms of expanding consciousness. These methods are just as valid, valuable, and worthy of integrating into your daily life.

Q: I think this could be right for me and would like to learn more about psychedelic integration services at Clarity, what's the first step in the process?

A: Email Nicole at [email protected], or schedule a free 30-minute consultation call to talk more about working with her for your psychedelic integration needs!

Nicole Maselli

Nicole is a licensed psychotherapist at Clarity Therapy who is certified in Psychedelic Integration Therapy and Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART). She works with clients to heal from trauma, anxiety, and other barriers to living a life of authentic fulfillment.
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