The cultural ascent of psychedelic therapeutics is introducing long-time psychonauts to a budding industry galvanized by a millennium of shamanistic traditions that harness the natural healing powers of psychoactive plants and fungi. Our western reconciliation with medicines like psilocybin, ayahuasca, and cannabis, has bred a refreshing convergence of our previously independent drug-therapy psychiatric sectors.
This union of mental health concentrations have launched the inception of psychedelic-assisted therapy, thus establishing the modernized occupation of psychedelic guide/facilitator. While some are interested in finding personal relief through these promising substances, there’s those who also feel inspired to service the other end of these experiences by taking on the role of a psychedelic guide.
However, the infancy of this field can sometimes blur the lines in terms of understanding the most appropriate route for becoming a facilitator/guide. Online training programs offer certifications that seem bona fide at first glance, but the current lack of federal regulations for this industry, maze our abilities to discern their credibility.
Luckily, we’ve done our homework to ensure that by the time you’ve finished screening this article, you’ll have direct answers and a clear understanding on the numerous roads that could be taken for becoming a psychedelic facilitator.
What’s The Difference Between A Therapist, a Guide and a Facilitator?
Although each of these terms refers to someone who assists a journeyer on their intentional psychedelic use, they each have different connotations. The challenge is that the mainstream media uses many of these terms interchangeably, when in reality they have very different meanings.
For instance, most people incorrectly refer to professionally supported intentional psychedelic use as psychedelic assisted therapy—however, the term therapy implies that there is a therapist at the helm, which is not always the case. So, in an effort to clear things up, a therapist is licensed mental health professional.
But as you’ll see, there are plenty of other practitioners out there providing therapeutic psychedelic experiences that may not involve therapy. Although this may seem like a technicality, it’s important to understand which type of support you’d like to provide a journeyer.
Though some consider a psychedelic “guide” to be synonymous with a psychedelic “facilitator”, there are several technicalities that differentiate these two positions. From this perspective, a facilitator would be considered to have a more hands-on role during the actual psychedelic journey. They service clients by providing a safe, judgment-free environment with supportive conversation, empathetic resilience, and flexible direction.
A facilitator helps to redirect the journeyer’s mind by centralizing focus onto their prearranged intentions, often asking open-ended questions to influence positive engagement while also allowing the client to arrive at revelatory conclusions on their own. Depending on the work environment, a facilitator may be required to hold a clinical license, while a guide may not always need one.
A psychedelic guide should be equally experienced in exploring and understanding altered states of consciousness, but typically is more involved in the preparation and integration process. A guide may assist the client in developing their intentions for the journey while also discussing the environmental setting that would best nurture and comfort them throughout the experience.
Guides and facilitators play a collaborative role in tailoring the nuances of the experience to best suit each client. Again, depending on the setting, a psychedelic guide may also be the journey’s facilitator. Some tend to prefer this approach since it allows the client to have a more stable and familiar relationship throughout the entire process.
Both roles though, are underlined by several aligning skills with parallel objectives. Of course, a guide and a facilitator should be well versed in the complexities of psychedelic experiences with an ample grasp of the mind’s fragility and heightened awareness, when on a hallucinogenic drug.
The best way to fully recognize and digest an inner event of this magnitude is by having experiential knowledge of the substances, ideally having embarked on several psychedelic journeys, yourself. Interpersonal skills for both positions also heavily coincide. The ability to set personal boundaries for maintaining a friendly and trusting, but also professional relationship is a MUST.
Communicating in an honest, but tender way, while encouraging genuine and unrefined, but still appropriate openness and vulnerability, should also be a skill in your emotional toolbox. Remember, a psychedelic journey is very raw in nature and sometimes unpredictable, so you should be comfortable discussing delicate and possibly disturbing subjects without projecting distress or unrelatability.
Understanding Your Intentions
Setting an intention for a psychedelic journey is arguably one of the most crucial steps for entering a headspace that will inspire emotional productivity. In becoming a psychedelic guide, it’s equally important that you assess your own intentions and future goals. We’ve taken the liberty to write up a few thought-provoking questions that could help you conduct a clarifying internal discussion:
- Are you drawn toward running a more intimate, experience-based and spiritually-driven practice or does the psychiatric/medical territory of psychedelic healing captivate your interest?
- Is there a specific medicine you’d like to practice with, like ketamine or MDMA, or are you open to employing a broader spectrum of substances, like psilocybin, LSD, and ayahuasca?
- What range of substances have you experimented with and in what type of setting? Do you believe you’ve had an ample amount of personal experience with the psychedelics you desire to work with?
- Do you have the mental openness for holding a non-judgemental, unimposing, and candid therapeutic space?
- How prepared do you feel for practicing preventive crisis management and crisis intervention?
- What is your personal risk tolerance surrounding the use of controlled substances and the associated liability (both criminal and civil) that accompanies them?
An Assessment of Legality and Risk Tolerance
Before we get into the nitty gritty how-to of this article, the first step is to determine your own internal risk tolerance. Do you want to work underground, above ground, or somewhere in the middle? What level of risk exposure and liability are you comfortable assuming as a part of your career?
These questions are important considering that psychedelics still remain federally illegal. By extension, this means that supplying controlled substances—even psychedelics with profound healing properties—is also illegal.
Each of us is going to have a difference risk tolerance and that’s largely going to determine your potential path forward.
For licensed doctors, clinicians, and mental health professionals, their only option is ketamine clinics or international retreats—unless they are willing to risk losing their licensure by working with substances like psilocybin domestically. This is why there are so few licensed therapists doing this work currently.
For alternative, holistic and shamanic style healers, your path will involve much less regulation but far more risk exposure as your ability to get liability insurance is non-existent. Your answer to these questions will dictate your path forward as certain legal routes of working with psychedelics require certain trainings, licensure, experience, etc.—and other paths have no formal requirements.
Please be aware that no matter which path you choose, there is inherent risk doing this work within the United States. No path to facilitation is free from risk.
An Experience Based, Spiritually-Driven Approach
Becoming a psychedelic facilitator or guide in a more spiritually motivated and experience-based space can be an incredibly rewarding experience. To offer some clarity, this sort of approach differs from a medically-inclined position in that no clinical licenses are required.
Think about this position as a modern-day shaman, providing therapeutic guidance and support by drawing knowledge from your general life and personal psychedelic experiences rather than following a more systemized, medical approach. These sessions are typically conducted in-home or at a safe and secure predetermined location.
If this is the route you’d prefer to take, you should search for companies that guide therapeutic psychedelic journeys, hiring facilitators with profound and personal psychedelic experiences, prioritizing interpersonal compatibility and concurring values over professional background and scholastic credibility. Though, it of course never hurts to have a related degree under your belt!
If you’re more interested in opening a smaller independently-owned practice, we’d suggest building a clientele in your area by promoting your services to family and friends, which would help you gain valuable experience in facilitating a psychedelic ceremony.
To prepare for the role, it’d be beneficial to sign up for a credible training program that offers intimate exposure to the varying behavioral complexions of these medicines and functional methodologies of the facilitation process. There are a variety of training programs out there, yet none of them have earned the recognition of being the “gold standard.” We don’t endorse any one particular program, but rather suggest that you use your discernment to choose the program that meets your needs.
These programs acutely detail crisis intervention procedures, preparation, conduction, and integration strategies, while also helping you discern the difference between a client who’s mentally and physically capable of enduring a psychedelic journey, versus one that’s not. Criteria usually includes medical family history, current or past presence of mental illness, and prudent analysis of the client’s present emotional condition.
Gaining experience for this sort of role can take many different forms. For example, embarking on a trustworthy, usually international psychedelic retreat, could offer much needed insight into the ceremonial operations of these experiences, while opening the opportunity for connecting with potential long-serving mentors.
Speaking to people already in the field is always a great way to get some reliable direction. Having conversations with others who’ve had their own psychedelic experiences is also equally important.
In understanding the psychedelic experiences of other people, we can better frame the medicine’s effects, gaining broader exposure to different artistic eyes and the way their brains conceptualize these abstract hallucinations through visual rhymes and melodic touch. Doing this helps us paint an unabridged mental picture of the psychedelic space as a whole and our place in it… really, communicating with other humans is the only way to gain knowledge on any existential situation.
Of course, as the saying goes, you should always hold the conscious intention of practicing what you preach. If you’re facilitating a therapeutic psychedelic journey, you should have personal experiences with psychedelic medicines. If you’re trying to gain the trust of a spiritually-oriented clientele, you should also be implementing nourishing spiritual practices into your routines–whether that be yoga, meditation, breathwork, journaling, mindful thinking and actioning, or a cocktail of all of these options.
Remember though, mindfulness practices look different for everyone. Someone may gain just as much internal harmony from dedicating their morning walk to assuming a quiet mind, as someone who adopts a more time-consuming, sit-down meditation routine.
Ultimately, your self-care conventions should promote a balanced lifestyle of self exploration and devotion to altruistic service. We cannot pour from an empty cup, which is why these practices are so vital for ensuring a healthy ability to hold a sustainability vulnerable space for others and essentially, to help them fill their cup. One of the pinnacle necessities of a psychedelic experience is the ability to surrender, to let go of expectations and allow the journey to naturally unfold.
Admittedly, it’d be quite difficult to guide someone into a headspace of acceptance without having any personal experience to draw from. Practice surrender, practice empathetic listening, but most importantly, involve yourself in an environment that truly aligns with your beliefs and promotes intellectual and spiritual growth- that goes for jobs in the field of psychedelics, but also for application to general life circumstances.
A Medically Inclined Practice
If you have your eye on becoming a psychedelic guide or facilitator in a medical setting, you’ll have to take a fairly different approach for becoming appropriately credible. Everything we’ve mentioned in the previous sections should undoubtedly be applied to your course of action.
While psychedelic experiences in medical settings tend to be less spiritually inclined and with a more systemized framework, it’s still vital that you make active efforts to explore the psychological realms your clients will enter. Fortunately, choosing to take a medical route doesn’t remove the inherently spiritual and mystical nature of a psychedelic journey.
Having said that, taking a medical approach for becoming a psychedelic facilitator involves becoming what the healthcare system often refers to as a psychedelic therapist or practitioner. In order to become certified for prescribing these psychedelic medicines, you must attain a clinical license by studying to become a physician assistant or nurse practitioner. You could also become a licensed physician which involves attending four years of college with a science related major like chemistry or biology.
Additionally, you’d need to enroll in a four year program at an accredited medical school, followed by at least one year of internship experience. Another, more relevant option would mean becoming a psychiatrist, which mirrors the process of becoming a LP, but requires three supplemental years of psychiatric residency. The benefit of becoming a psychiatrist is that you’d gain much more applicable neuroscientific knowledge of each substances’ somatic mechanisms, while being legally allowed to prescribe these medicines.
Keep in mind, psychedelics are still largely illegal in most U.S. states and at the federal level. Since ketamine and cannabis-assisted therapy are currently the only legal options, you’d likely have to apply for a job at a company that hosts these practices. Some states have continued to prohibit these therapeutic experiences, so you might need to consider relocating to an area that permits these therapies.
Be advised, prescribing psychedelics or even working with them outside of their legally-permitted area could run the risk of losing your hard-earned medical license, so always tread with caution to avoid committing any malpractice offenses.
Your last option for becoming a psychedelic facilitator in a medical setting would mean applying for a job in one of the many ongoing clinical trials hosted by psychedelic research companies. Many companies have received approval to work with substances like MDMA, psilocybin, or LSD, strictly for scientific research purposes.
If you’re aiming to work with a more diverse selection of psychedelic medicines, assisting in a clinical trial is currently your best option. As we mentioned before, the title of a psychedelic guide doesn’t always require such an extensive educational background. In some cases, rich personal experiences with these substances may be all that is needed, though companies generally seek applicants that at least hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related scientific field.
What About Becoming a Facilitator in Oregon Under Measure 109
Some of you may be wondering how Measure 109, the legislation that legalized psilocybin assisted therapy in Oregon, affects your path to becoming a facilitator. The interesting thing about the program in Oregon is that it blends both the medical and the spiritual approaches outlined above. As of now, there are few requirements to becoming a facilitator in Oregon under measure 109, which we’ll outline below:
- Potential facilitators must have been an Oregon resident for the past two years.
- Facilitators must complete a training program curriculum that is approved by OHA as a condition of being licensed. A high school diploma, or its equivalent, will be required. However, no additional degrees or certifications will be required.
- The Oregon Health Authority will begin accepting applications for psilocybin facilitator licenses on January 2, 2023.
It’s important to note that the above requirements are still a work in progress and have not yet been finalized. We will continue to update the section above as new development become available.
What Sets Psychedelic Passage Facilitators Apart?
At this point, you’re probably wondering how we vet and verify the facilitators in our network. To clarify, we fall into the category of non-medical guides that bridge the gap between spirituality, science, and psychedelics. The interesting thing about this work is that all of us come to it on our own terms, which isn’t surprising given that we all come from a different background. Although we each have a unique path into this work, we all share the following traits:
- We all have extensive experience journeying ourselves with many different plant medicines.
- We each have several years of experience professionally supporting others on their psychedelic journeys.
- We all have some sort of formal training, apprenticeship, and/or framework to use when engaging with these powerful medicines.
- We are all dedicated to our own healing process so that we can show up fully for our clients without projecting our own ego into the relationship.
In other words, all of our facilitators have the ability to surrender their own body, mind, and spirit as a vehicle to the selfless service of another human. Ram Dass describes this process of “polishing the the mirror” as quieting the mind and entering the flow of love in an effort to reflect love.
Each of our facilitators has been to hell and back—some multiple times. After all, how can we possibly expect to guide someone else out of their darkness if we haven’t navigated our own first? These are the kind of intangible qualities that are essential in a true psychedelic facilitator.
Tangible Steps to Becoming a Facilitator
Regardless whether you’re approaching this work from the medical side or the holistic healing side, there are a few tangible steps your can take, which we’ll outline below:
The most important step is establishing your own personal relationship with plant medicines. This is the only way to truly understand what a journeyer is going through. These experiences transcend the mind and the human language, which means direct experience is the only way to really know what happens during these journeys. The analogy I use here is: you can’t teach someone how to fly a plane if you’ve never flown one yourself. It is essential that you have experience navigating the terrain yourself before you can assist others.
Apprenticeship and Shadowing
The next step is to get some sort of formal apprenticeship or ability to shadow others doing this work. The second best thing to direct experience is direct exposure. No amount of reading will ever prepare you to be able to hold space for others. A large part of this work is learned by watching other more experienced facilitators hold space. This is just as much an art as it is a science.
Commitment to Your Personal Healing
It’s essential for any facilitator to be committed to their own healing journey in order to show up cleanly and clearly for others. Part of this work requires setting aside our sense of self in order to support another human in their most vulnerable moments. This is, by definition, selfless service. Only when we have descended into the depths of our own shadows, can we show up fully for someone else as they navigate their own darkness. The more familiar we are with ourselves the less likelihood we have of running into ethical issues around transference and counter-transference.
Training & Certifications
Trainings and certifications can be helpful in establishing frameworks, but I don’t believe they inherently qualify you to do this work professionally. All the steps prior to this are the true prerequisites—formal trainings are like the icing on the cake. Taking a 200 hour online course will never adequately prepare you to hold space for others in a professional capacity. If you do seek out a formal training or certification program, make sure they provide hands on experience either through journeying personally and/or shadowing others.
A Foretelling Future
If you’ve stuck with us up until this point, your dedication and interest in this line of work is very commendable. Though options for becoming involved in this field of work are currently limited by slim legislative regulations, there’s undoubtedly much professional expansion on the horizon.
With more and more states turning their gaze toward these ancient, highly effective treatments, legislation is bound to become more receptive to considering their legalization. These decisions will open the door for more specific employment requirements, making the process of becoming a psychedelic facilitator/guide much more direct and accessible.
For now, keeping yourself informed on industry developments and legislative mandates is an exceptional way to stay in the psychedelic therapy loop. Contact individuals currently in the position that you desire to occupy. Ask them questions about their professional journey and inquire about any resources they may find helpful to your intellectual development.
Most importantly, continue exploring your own mind, reflect on your behavioral patterns and relationship dynamics. If you’d like to learn about facilitator career opportunities at Psychedelic Passage, we invite you to book a consultation to connect with our psychedelic concierges.
To leave you with a quote borrowed from spiritual teacher Matt Kahn:
“People can only meet you as deeply as they’ve met themselves.”
… and it goes both ways.