In today’s episode transcript of the Psychedelic Passage podcast, co-founders Nick Levich and Jimmy Nguyen outline the most important considerations that should be accounted for when choosing a psychedelic facilitator that’s right for you. What qualifies a facilitator to practice in this line of work and what makes the service and value of a psychedelic guide different from that of a psychedelic therapist or facilitator?
Episode 1: Choosing the Right Psychedelic Guide
Jimmy Nguyen: Welcome to the Psychedelic Passage podcast. My name is Jimmy Nguyen and I am one of the co-founders here at Psychedelic Passage. I’m joined here by Nick Levich, my fellow co-founder and business partner here at Psychedelic Passage.
Thanks for joining us this week. This week we’re going to talk about how to choose the right psychedelic facilitator for you. And before we jump into this topic, we should talk a little bit about what qualifies us to random strangers, to talk about this subject.
Nick and I over the past three years have been working at Psychedelic Passage where our primary focus is to connect individuals who are seeking an intentional psychedelic experience to the facilitator or psychedelic service that’s right for you. So over that period of time we’ve been able to support hundreds of people on their own intentional healing journey with the use and benefit of psychedelics.
And we hope that we bring you all of the knowledge, information, tips, tricks and anything that might help to support you on your journey. So let’s dive right in.
Nick, I know that we run into a lot of people who are interested in psychedelics, maybe they’ve read Michael Pollan’s book, maybe they’ve watched Fantastic Fungi and then they realize, ‘okay, now I’m ready for a psychedelic experience’.
And then the main question is, well how do I go about doing that? So obviously one of those key points is how do I find the right support around me? So what are your thoughts on that?
What is the importance of a facilitator? Why even go about doing this? What does that mean for the average person who’s looking for a psychedelic experience?
The Importance of a Psychedelic Guide
Nicholas Levich: Yeah, it’s a great question. I think the best way to start is just with the importance of a guide. Like why are we even finding this person? Why are we seeking them out?
And I think the best way to answer this is with an analogy. So if you wanted to go raft a river and you’ve never rafted the river before, would you just go solo with no planning or would you hire a guide that’s navigated the terrain before?
And so this analogy applies to psychedelics in the sense that we’re taking an inherent plunge into the unknown. Anytime we choose to sit with a psychedelic medicine of any kind, we’re taking this leap into the unknown because there’s no possible way that you know what you’re going to encounter in that experience.
And so the best insurance policy or safeguard that we have is working with someone who’s navigated that terrain before and ultimately allowing them to help give you the tools that you need to traverse that unknown terrain with a bit more grace than you would have diving in blind.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, I also tell people that even though everyone has a right on how they go about their psychedelic experience, most of the folks that we run into at Psychedelic Passage are first timers. Or sometimes it’s folks who have maybe experimented recreationally 10, 15, 20 years ago and then now they’re circling back to psychedelics.
And I always tell people that you can only have your first time once and so there’s a little bit of benefit to finding somebody who can hold it down for you and keep your safety in mind and to essentially just allow you to just focus on your experience without having to then also manage your needs and your expectations.
I found that a lot of folks realize that they need a facilitator, but then they don’t have a way of going about qualifying them.
What Qualifies a Psychedelic Guide?
Jimmy Nguyen: And one of the things that Nick, I love that you say, is you for sure need to first and foremost find somebody who has had direct first-hand experience with the psychedelic itself. I think you use this analogy about if you were learning to fly a plane, then you should be taught by a pilot who’s flown a plane before.
Nicholas Levich: Yes 100%, and this goes back to navigating that terrain. Right. So the other thing is that it’s really important for the guide to have direct experience. It’s really important for the guide to have actually navigated another person before, ie. professional sitting experience.
And then it’s also really important that the guide has some sort of formal training, apprenticeship, certification. The idea being that there needs to be a framework for them to be able to use and employ when engaging with you as a journeyer. And so really it’s about understanding what that framework is and ensuring that it’s aligned for you as a client.
Some people are going to approach this from more of a spiritual perspective, some people are going to approach it from a scientific perspective. And it’s not about right and wrong, it’s about finding someone that aligns with the type of language and approach that you as a journeyer are seeking.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, that’s so important. I feel like with a lot of folks who are thinking about some type of intentional psychedelic experience, they don’t recognize how much choice they have and they don’t recognize how much agency they have in not only the substance that they use, how they go about it, but the support and care that they get.
And so there is always this inherent power dynamic anytime you’re looking for professional services and support, meaning like, ‘oh, that person is the expert, they have all the answers, so I should just submit to them and XYZ’.
And I think one thing that you’re bringing up is that the suitability of the facilitator depends on your needs. And so if you’re looking purely from a neurological support standpoint, maybe somebody who has a shamanic background might not be the right person for you.
Nicholas Levich: Vice versa too 100%, so I really think that the first thing to do is identify your needs as a journeyer. What is it that you’re actually seeking, what level of support? Right, so like when we work with clients, we take them from preparation and intention setting all the way through the ceremony itself and then continuing beyond the ceremony into integration.
And not everyone is set up that way. So I think it’s really important for you as a journeyer to figure out what level of support you need, what that looks like, and what makes you feel most comfortable.
And one of the things that I run into a lot is folks who are seeking a guide, they want to know how to choose one and they’re using their mental abilities or cognition to hit these check boxes, which is good up to a point, but ultimately someone can hit all the marks and in your gut you don’t feel good about working with them.
And so there’s a part of this decision making process that’s inherently intuitive because it’s really important that you feel comfortable in that person’s presence. And the other thing I’ll say is you may meet with someone and you can’t even articulate why you don’t feel good about it, but that’s your intuition telling you don’t move forward. And so we see this all the time with someone like a therapist.
Everyone’s got the same credentials, but you may resonate more with one therapist versus another. And so at a certain point, the credentials only get you so far. There’s a point of humanness here that’s really important to identify because you’re going to be sharing space with this person in perhaps one of your most vulnerable six to 8 hours of your life.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, wow, that’s such a good point. I always tell people, what is it worth to have somebody to hold down your soul for you?
Because ultimately with psychedelics, regardless of whether you approach it from neurology, whether you approach it from a spiritual lens, a personal growth lens, a mental health lens, you’re dealing with some very deep personal things that are at the core of who you are.
And so I always say, hey, what is it worth to find that right person to hold down your soul? And the other point that you’re saying is that there’s the mental cognitive due diligence that people should for sure go through, and then there’s also just the gut check kind of component as well.
The Differences Between a Psychedelic Guide, Facilitator, & Therapist
Jimmy Nguyen: So I really hear you there, and then something that you brought up, I think it’s really important to separate what type of services are out there. We hear a lot about trip sitters versus guides versus facilitators versus psychedelic assisted therapy and support. What are your thoughts on that, Nick?
Nicholas Levich: I think a lot of this is semantics because the industry is so new that people don’t actually know what they’re referring to, right? So if I asked a person, what’s the difference between all four of those things tripsitter, guide, facilitator and therapist, most people couldn’t identify the difference. I have an idea of how I see the differences in my mind.
But this is truly about how you define each term and I think there is no truly standardized definition at this point. I mean, most people come to us seeking what they’re referring to as psilocybin-assisted therapy because I tend to think that’s the most common term, and then people will use guide and facilitator or trips that are interchangeably when in reality I think there are subtle differences between some of those terms.
One of the questions that listeners may be wondering about is what percentage of clients or folks that are seeking these services have had an experience before and what percentage are coming in totally new, novice, never been in an altered state of consciousness. What percentage do you think that is, Jim?
Jimmy Nguyen: Well, we tailor our services to first timers or folks who generally may have a little bit of experience with psychedelics in their past years and decades, and then now are coming in about an intentional experience. Here’s what I mostly see.
I mostly see folks who have never done any substance or psychedelic. I also see folks who have only approached psychedelics from a recreational or entertainment standpoint and then they’re like, ‘okay, now I want to work on something more intentional or therapeutic’. And then sometimes we do have folks who I would say are pretty well versed with their own exploration of their consciousness with psychedelics.
And even with those folks I find that they are seeking the benefit of a facilitator because it is not only about harm reduction and safety and all those things, but it’s also about just setting up an environment where you can maximize your potential benefits.
So often, or every so often I’ll get a a potential journey who says ‘I’ve been working with psychedelics for many years, I’ve been doing a lot of solo experiences, but I feel like because I do them solo, that I can’t really fully surrender into the experience or fully allow myself to have the experience go the way they go.’ So even folks who have many experiences under their belt, I find that they could benefit from having a facilitator too.
And I think it’s really interesting what you said before about how there’s no real, clear definition between a trip sitter, a guide, a facilitator or psychedelic assisted therapy. I think it’s worth us just planting our stake in the ground to try to define that for folks at least in our definition. And then if there are folks who maybe disagree or have a different opinion, welcome a dialogue for what you think.
But hear me out for a second and then you can follow up if you think that there’s something that’s missing here in my view. There’s one thing, the difference between psychedelic-assisted therapy versus intentional and therapeutic experiences is the licensure of the individual who’s providing you that service. So, like, Nick and I are not mental health professionals.
We’re not medical professionals. We never claim to be. We work really well in tandem with therapists and psychiatrists and counselors as needed. But if you’re looking for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, there’s kind of two things. One is that it doesn’t technically exist right now.
Nicholas Levich: Outside of Ketamine.
Jimmy Nguyen: Outside of Ketamine, which is a Schedule 3 narcotic, which means that it’s approved for off label use, which means that a doctor can prescribe you ketamine, in which case you might go through a clinical medical model. We could probably do a whole episode on assisted therapy and what to look for there.
And then the Oregon program. The state of Oregon is really trying to establish psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy services, but their programs are not up and running yet. There’s probably quite a long way before they get that going.
Nicholas Levich: And even that’s a little bit of a misnomer because the only requirement to hold space as a facilitator in Measure 109 in Oregon is a high school diploma. So you’re still not guaranteeing the credentials that you may be seeking. And so every once in a while we have someone approach us that’s actually seeking a licensed mental health professional and that’s totally fine.
But what we have to tell them is that if you’re looking for a licensed clinician that’s going to assist you in a psilocybin journey, you’re likely going to have to find someone that’s willing to serve you underground because they risk losing their licensure by doing so.
So that’s much harder to find than a facilitator like what we offer, which we’re not jeopardizing any sort of licensure for because we come into this work through a very different means, which is much more experiential in nature.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, I’m probably oriented more towards coaching as well. And that’s why you see a lot of licensed mental health professionals out there being integration specialists, meaning that they claim to be psychedelic-friendly and they can maybe only support your integration, which is the process post-psychedelic experience of drawing those benefits and insights, and then making that meaningful and lasting change in your life.
And so hard pressed to find a therapist or a mental health professional who can be there for you in person during your experience because of a lot of what Nick was talking about. So that’s a really clear point that I want to put across to anybody listening to this, is that you have a right to choose between a coach or somebody with a certification or somebody who does have a specific mental health licensure.
But the key is that you ask the right questions so that you’re not confusing the conversation that you’re having with whoever that service provider is, thinking that they’re a therapist and then realizing that, oh, they’re not. And I want to dive into the difference in my mind of what a trip sitter, a guide, or a facilitator is. These are very broad terms, but what I find is this delineation.
A trip sitter at its very base is designed to help you stay safe during the experience. So that could be somebody who just literally shows up and holds space for you, makes sure that you don’t slip and fall, makes sure that you have some harm reduction practices in place, but in general they’re going to be pretty hands off during your experience.
And then on the other end of the spectrum, I would say is a psychedelic guide, which I’ll also put an asterisk on because there’s a whole lot of nuance to it.
A psychedelic guide is somebody where you’re seeking them to guide you through the experience*. And they probably have a much more hands-on level of involvement in your psychedelic experience, which I will say has some pros but also a lot of cons because the best that they’re doing is guiding you and interpreting you through an experience based on their own experience and background.
*Editor’s note: There are currently no definitive regulations for the qualifications that constitute the role of a psychedelic guide. The interpretations provided are based on the general consensus within the psychedelic community of both practitioners and journeyers.
Jimmy Nguyen: And what we share with our clients, journeyers, or as anybody who’s looking for the experience, is that this is your journey and this is your experience. And so you need to be set up in a way where you can move through it in the way that’s the most conducive to yours. And so this is why I like the term ‘facilitator’, because it is right in the middle between a trip sitter who’s really hands off and a guide, who’s really hands on.
At least with what we do here at Psychedelic Passage, the whole goal of facilitation is that we set a very conducive container in which for you to move throughout the experience, not only safely, but in a way that really resonates with your needs.
And so what I share with folks philosophically is that if you’re walking into an intentional psychedelic experience, you are the inner healer. Like the journeyer, the person who’s taking the substance or communing with the medicine, you’re the inner healer. And if you are the inner healer, that means that you already have all of the tools and things and skills that you need to heal.
Maybe you just need to access them or maybe you need to be in this process of remembering. If that’s the case, then the plant medicine or the psychedelic is the teacher. And then what that means is that the facilitator is kind of on the side, holding down a space for you so that you can have that clear communion between you and the psychedelic medicine. So what that looks like really varies.
Some people need a lot of hands-on support, some people want a little bit of a hands-off. And I really like the term ‘facilitation’ because it also denotes that agency or that power of choice from the journeyer. How far off am I to the way that you think about this, Nick?
Nicholas Levich: I think you’re spot on. I actually think, personally, that a ‘guide’ is a bit of a disservice at a certain point. Because when we start prescribing the journey or assuming that we know what’s best or assuming- if you’re actually steering the ship right, this is the analogy I use.
If you’re journeying Jimmy, I’m not like, ‘hey Jimmy, go through the green door on the left.’ There may not even be a green door. How am I supposed to lead you through that if I’m not physically inhabiting the space in your body, in your mind, that’s going through this journey?
And so this is the analogy that I use with clients because I think people don’t know what this process looks like and so what ends up happening is they think that it’s a mix of talk therapy with psychedelics included.
When in reality the vast majority of these journeys are incredibly introspective, internal experiences, where there may be no external communication on behalf of the journeyer because everything is going on internally. And so I agree that facilitation is actually the most accurate term for that balanced approach where you’re supportive, yet letting the medicine lead because that experience is happening spontaneously between the medicine and the journeyer.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, the moment you’re trying to analyze and make sense and draw some conclusion or interpretation from your experience, you’re automatically pulling yourself out from experiencing that thing in the first place, which is the main key of walking into a psychedelic experience, is to just show up and be there and be in the full experience of what’s happening.
Nicholas Levich: I also just want to highlight that most people have never had another human dedicate their time and presence and energy to you and your healing process for six to 8 hours straight. That in and of itself is incredibly healing.
Jimmy Nguyen: I’ll say this for myself, personally, and I’m sure a lot of listeners will agree with this, but it’s just hard asking for help and receiving help sometimes. So to have somebody there that’s just holding it down for you, you’re right, there’s a lot of medicine behind that for sure.
Nicholas Levich: So I want to give the listeners some tangible ways to actually find a guide now that we’ve kind of set up this context and understanding of why it’s important, what the different types of support are and then, okay, how do I actually find it?
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, and I guess before we jump into that, before they look for a facilitator, do you have any thoughts about screening and qualifying? I’m sure there’s a lot of listeners who are like, okay, I’m looking for a psychological experience, but I don’t know if I’m approved or qualified to even be a candidate.
Do you have thoughts about either that or any mental barriers with folks who are potentially pursuing an intentional psychedelic experience?
Nicholas Levich: You’re talking about from the journeyer’s standpoint?
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, from the journeyer’s standpoint.
Nicholas Levich: I have a good litmus test that I like to offer people, which is understanding that this is a deeply internal process that’s got to be done at your own pace, on your own timeline. We as humans are fairly resistant to change and discomfort [Jimmy laughs] and these experiences include both of those things as well as uncertainty, right?
And so that triggers a situation where the ego goes, ‘oh man, do I really want to do this’. And so what I offer to folks as a litmus test for an internal check-in is, where are you at presently? If your present situation causes you more discomfort than the potential change of pursuing something like this, then maybe it’s worth it.
But most of the time we’re not going to be motivated to seek something like this out that’s going to potentially uncover everything we’ve suppressed and repressed, unless we reach a point where whatever we’re doing now is not working. And so that’s really an important internal decision that nobody can convince you of, nor should they try.
And so if you’re seeking out a guide and they’re pushing you for this or they’re guaranteeing you certain outcomes, I would run the other way because that’s really a sign that it’s not a good fit. And this goes back to your whole concept about power dynamics, right?
If you just go seek out the first person that claims they’re a facilitator, that’s a recipe for disaster. We could do a whole episode on how you screen your guide. I do want to make sure we at least give people some tools to explore how they may go about locating somebody.
Jimmy Nguyen: I was laughing earlier when you said that humans are resistant to change because in our current social, political, just world climate, we’re just like drinking from a fire hose of change constantly, literally every day changes for us here in America. I really hear you.
Well, let’s dive in. Let’s talk about some of those tangible ways for folks to find a facilitator. So I’m an individual who has been either researching for a while or I’m interested or I feel like I’m ready for an intentional psychedelic experience. What do I do? Where do I go?
Nicholas Levich: Yeah. So I would say that we live in the age of technology. And so I think people’s first inclination is to hit Google. They go to their search engine and they search for a guide. And what that’s probably going to lead you to is a number of different types of results.
So I kind of break it down into categories. So there’s a number of online directories with facilitators, guides, therapists, integration professionals, all different people that play different roles in the assistance of intentional psychedelic use. There’s a challenge with directories which is that it puts the burden on the journeyer to filter through potentially hundreds of different profiles to try and find somebody, it can be a little daunting.
Then you’ve got a platform, kind of like ours, which is more of a concierge-style platform where we take into account where you’re at, your location, gender preferences, all of that, and then pair you with one or two potential facilitators. That way you still have the full agency to choose, but we’ve at least helped you narrow it down based on your preferences.
The other way, and the longest standing traditional way of this work is word-of-mouth referrals. But the challenge there is that not everybody has access to these networks.
And so that was really honestly part of the impetus for starting the platform that we started, is this recognition that okay, you and I may have access to a network of guides or someone who does this work because we’ve been in it for a long time.
How to Find a Psychedelic Guide
Nicholas Levich: But how does the average person go about it?
Jimmy Nguyen: I mean, even after the average person, I have a very long relationship with psychedelics and even in my own experiences and journeys, it’s still super hard pressed to find somebody that I know, that I trust to hold space for me and all that.
So I think that even regardless of whether you’re plugged into a psychedelic community or whether this is your 100th psychedelic experience or whether this is your first, there is that sense of ‘I know I need support, but I don’t know how to go about getting that.’ And I think one truth that sits within your response, Nick, is that people just need to know that there are choices out there.
I think that’s the best thing that we can say now where it probably wasn’t true ten years ago because everything had to be underground, but now that psychedelics are an interesting topic, it’s a social buzzword, it’s just a lot of attention onto psychedelics- I will first say that if you are earnestly dedicated to your own healing journey with the aid and use of psychedelics, you’re going to find a support service or professional out there.
And then now you can choose. You can choose whether that’s a clinical-medical model through ketamine or whether you go on an international retreat where the substances are legal, but maybe you’re in a group retreat setting, to one-on-one facilitation and ceremonial services.
So there’s a lot of options out there for folks and I think the first really important piece of this is to recognize that and then ask the appropriate questions. Because what I find with the journeyer that we engage with is they don’t even know what they need most of the time. And so I think a combination is assessing what you need, what’s the best thing for you, and then also just realizing, wow, there’s probably a couple of different outlets out here.
So if you realize that you need the person to be a licensed mental health professional, you’re likely going to have to route through ketamine right now or wait for one of these state programs to come online. So it really varies depending on the person.
Are there any other tangible things you’re thinking of as far as helpful actionable information that we could tell our listeners right now about finding a facilitator?
Nicholas Levich: Well, for those that are willing to wait, there will be clinics coming up in Oregon, likely in the next six to eight months, where you can literally walk into an office and in theory, get treatment. There’s a lot of questions as to how that’s all going to go.
And then the international retreats, which you touched on- that’s been one of the longest standing ways to go about guides, given that the landscape in the US was really fairly unfriendly to this type of work. And so then you’ve got word of mouth, which we touched on, and then you’ve got more of the online oriented resources, I would say that’s pretty much the extent of the options that exist right now.
And I think the landscape will change over time, but that’s really where we’re at here in the US, at least.
Jimmy Nguyen: And I’ll tack on to say that the entire state of California, through SB 519, has decriminalized most illicit substances, which then pave the road for some type of psychedelic-assisted services to become legal there. Colorado also has, hopefully on the ballot this November, the Natural Medicine Act of 2022, which will hopefully create a structure and a framework for these types of services to be able to be offered as well.
And ultimately, my number one thing that I want to share with folks is that there is a light and a shadow side to everything. So even though you’ve identified that you want one-on-one services or an international retreat or a licensed mental health professional, there’s probably a pool of those folks who do high integrity work, and there’s also those service providers who don’t have your best interests in mind.
The best thing that you can do is just ask questions, tune into your gut, take your time, work on your own timeline, and it will unfold. What I see people having the most issues with is when they try to rush to the process, or when they know, like you said, Nick, that their gut is screaming out, but then they’re like, ‘no, I’m going to go for this anyway’.
Nicholas Levich: And it’s very confusing because they can have all of the right qualifications that hit all of your due diligence marks and yet you still feel icky after the conversation.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah.
Nicholas Levich: And so that’s challenging for someone that hasn’t navigated this before, because a lot of these folks aren’t in touch with their intuition. And so the way that I break this down really simply is if you feel comfortable, if you feel better after the interaction with them, good sign. If you feel worse after the interaction, really bad sign, keep looking.
The one thing we forgot to touch on was churches, which is another way to access medicine here in the United States. It’s debatable how legal or not that is. Essentially, they’re using a religious freedom exemption. But they do exist.
And so typically, most states at this point have some kind of a church set up. But once again, the degree of support, or lack thereof, that those programs may offer are totally varied.
So it’s really up to you as a journeyer to use both your mind and your heart in order to choose something. And just a word of advice, please, for your own sake, honor preparation and integration. It’s such an integral part of the actual journey. There’s so many people that want to skip just to the journey, and it’s really essential to get the most out of that, to include preparation and integration as a part of that.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, and I would also add that these are still federally illicit substances, most psychedelics. And so you are taking on your own measure of risk. Every decision that you make has to line up with your own morality, your own risk tolerance, your own values, even for something like a church.
Like maybe you are really involved in your own church and your own religion, which may be like, ‘okay, now this doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t feel morally right for me to join a church’. And so ultimately the onus is on you as a journeyer, and you have so much power and so much agency in choosing the right service for you.
So that wraps up this episode here for us. Thank you so much. For anybody who’s been listening, we hope that you’ve gotten some value, some resource, some actual information through our dialogue.
You can download episodes of the Psychedelic Passage podcast. Look for all of our episodes by going to CannabisRadio.com or subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast, Amazon, Spotify and IHeartRadio or wherever you get your podcast from. So thank you so much. Looking forward to seeing you all next week. Bye!
If you’ve read up until this point, it’s likely that you’re interested in pursuing a therapeutic psychedelic experience for yourself. First off, we’re happy that you’re exploring this option as a potential tool for your healing journey or for that of a loved one.
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To satiate the psychedelic curiosities that may still linger in your mind, we empower you to check out the extensive bibliotheca of information and resources that can be found on our blog page. It’s never too late to weave new perspectives on healing into our lives. That’s all for now, friends. Safe journeying!