A mysterious journey awaits you. A hidden oasis with rumored therapeutic properties resides deep in a jungle, teeming with wild and potentially treacherous landscapes and creatures. Would you choose to seek out the healing spring alone, or would you bring a skilled navigator who is familiar with similar terrain and has fought off many ferocious beasts?
Clearly having a guide provides better chances at a successful journey, however, only you—the journeyer—can locate the curative waters you seek and rally up the strength to see it through to the end.
With an influx in clinical studies and intrigue around treatment for mental health issues like PTSD, anxiety, and depression, people are increasingly interested in experimenting with substances like psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA.
The latest scientific research indicates that psychedelics have great therapeutic potential, however, it is important to choose the right circumstances and trip-sitter when experimenting with mind-altering medicine.
In this article, we will discuss the roles of psychedelic guides during the psychedelic experience, the role of the journeyer, and the benefits of having a facilitator to help you through your intentional psychedelic experience.
What is a Psychedelic Guide or Facilitator?
When taking psychedelics, you enter uncharted territory, the Great Unknown. This is why for millenia, indigenous peoples have understood the importance of approaching psychedelic medicines with great reverence.
Traditional ceremonies, cross-culturally, always included a shaman who resided over the ceremony and had intimate familiarity with the spiritual and psychedelic realms, as well as knew how to support participants. A psychedelic guide or facilitator is, overall, a person who provides a level of support and/or guidance to someone who is embarking on an intentional psychedelic journey.
An intentional psychedelic ceremony differs from a casual experience in that the journeyer desires to have a specific outcome through exploring altered states of consciousness, such as healing trauma or gaining insight.
Whether in a group setting on an international retreat or a one-on-one session, guides provide both practical and subtle forms of support through helping ensure that the experience is both safe and meaningful.
Choosing Between a Psychedelic Guide, Trip-Sitter, or Therapist
People use a variety of terms synonymously when describing someone who watches over a person on a mind-altering substance, however, there are a few important distinctions. For instance, a psychedelic “therapist” or clinician refers to a licensed practitioner who might be administering a substance to a patient in a clinical setting.
Some examples of a psychedelic therapist would be a clinical practitioner in a ketamine clinic or in a medical study, but ketamine is not considered to be a traditional psychedelic in the same category as magic mushrooms or DMT.
There are pros and cons of ketamine clinics when trying to have a meaningful psychedelic journey, however, such as not being able to sit with substances other than ketamine, as well as a lack of focus on preparation and integration.
A “trip-sitter,” on the other hand, may be a more casual title for a friend or acquaintance who stays with you while tripping, but may not possess adequate experience or knowledge on how to guide one through a real crisis.
The term “guide” could indicate a power dynamic is present, or that the guide is meant to move the journeyer through the experience. Even still, it is an adequate label to describe a skilled, professional facilitator.
A psychedelic “facilitator” may be an even better term, given that it implies a space-holder and supportive role, without implying that the journeyer needs to be shepherded toward their destination.
For the sake of this article, we will use “guides” and “facilitators” interchangeably in spite of the subtle differences when covering the roles and benefits of having one present during a ceremony.
The Role of the Psychedelic Guide
A psychedelic facilitator offers support in a few different ways through their expertise in the psychedelic realm and navigating the mental landscape. Their contributions may vary depending on personal healing philosophies and specializations, but generally, any psychedelic guide will take on the following supportive roles.
Having a neutral party as a care-taker during a macro-dose is key in being able to really relax and focus on the content of the journey. Practical forms of support during the experience would be keeping track of time, managing music and room temperature, making sure the journeyer stays hydrated and has snacks, and helping the journeyer to the bathroom.
Harm-reduction is also another important type of physical support during a journey, and the facilitator can aid in preparation through educating on dosage as well as benefits and risks prior to the actual ceremony.
Deeper, more subtle forms of support that a guide may provide are endless, but some examples would be helping recall the intention for the trip, providing reassurance in times of uncertainty, and providing general emotional support.
Some other forms of subtle support would be helping the journeyer remember that their state is temporary, helping them navigate through detrimental thought patterns, and calming and diffusing any fear or anxiety that arises.
Prior to the experience, a guide may ask big questions that help the journeyer understand if they are ready for a psychedelic experience, what needs to be done to prepare, and if microdosing might be a better option.
Integration after the ceremony transforms the raw material of the psychedelic wisdom—which is sometimes hard to process—into understandable and actionable lessons for the rest of one’s life.
Witnessing the Revelations
It is the role of the facilitator to be a spotless mirror, to bear witness to the revelations of the voyage into the mystery, and to not project or interject onto the experience with biases or assumptions.
This third role of the facilitator is often overlooked but is equally transformative. Through simple, pure presence, the journeyer can be witnessed in a non-judgmental way during a vulnerable time and also experience co-regulation.
A guide must balance two actions: the action of intervening aid and the action of allowing the journey to unfold naturally. The facilitator must exercise wisdom and meditative intuition to know the right timing of each action.
Overall, the harm-reduction approach and role of the guide “acknowledges client autonomy and supports them in reducing risk and maximizing benefits from whatever life choices they make” (Pilecki et al., 2021).
The Role of the Psychedelic Journeyer
While the role of the guide is a powerful element of a psychedelic ceremony, there are three important things for journeyers to remember about their own role in the process.
Embodying the Inner Healer
Like the explorer searching for the mystical oasis, no navigator can carry you to your sought destination. Any healing, revelations, or strength to overcome a frightening experience comes from within the journeyer themself.
Whether the intention is to heal trauma, explore limiting belief structures, or get in touch with a spiritual realm, one must be ready to plunge into the mystery and stand on their own two feet once immersed.
In our podcast episode, What is the Role of a Facilitator, we discuss the relationship between the journeyer, the guide, the plant medicine, and how the journeyer must tap into their “inner resourcing” to overcome hardships.
Exercising Creative Liberty & Practicing Personal Accountability
The psychedelic journeyer has ultimate freedom in deciding what kind of setting and level of support feels most aligned for their experience. Deciding on the who, what, and where of their trip, allows for the greatest level of comfort and confidence. Part of this freedom means doing the work to actively create the outcome that you want.
Embracing an inner feeling of freedom can also contribute to a positive, more pleasurable experience, because a feeling of fearless expansiveness directly contradicts feelings of contractive worry and loneliness.
Practicing Openness and Trust
Lastly, unlearning the notion of a “bad” psychedelic trip can help one avoid feeling bewildered or disappointed when the medicine takes them in a different direction than expected. Trust that the process will unfold how it is meant to, and that softening your grasp allows you to relax and let go into the stream of pure perception.
Being open can also mean feeling comfortable with one’s own vulnerability and asking for help, as well as being honest with yourself and the facilitator about what will best serve you in your psychedelic journey.
Benefits of Having a Psychedelic Guide
For many people, the single, most pivotal moment in life was the time spent on a consciousness-expanding substance like psilocybin. When deciding if a facilitator is necessary for your psychedelic experience, there are a few key benefits to having one present in comparison to going to a ketamine clinic or simply embarking on a journey alone.
Firstly, having a skilled facilitator provides the best of both worlds, in that the setting can be at home or in a comfortable location while still getting professional guidance. Furthermore, it may be difficult to establish rapport and connection with a clinician in the same way one could with a guide, as well as be difficult to find unbiased, neutral support in a friend.
Facilitators are also trained to improve the likelihood of having a positive, significant journey through their expertise in navigating the world of psychedelics and challenges that arise in mental and emotional spaces.
A guide also provides preparation and integration services to allow someone to approach a ceremony with clarity and find resolution after the fact in the event that confusion arises.
Explore How it Feels to be Connected
Psychedelic Passage is a concierge service with a diverse network of facilitators located all around the country. We encourage seekers to book a consultation with one of our pre-vetted facilitators to get clear on what your desires and expectations are for your psychedelic experience.
If you are interested in learning more about psychedelics and the benefits of having a consciousness-expanding journey, check out our resources page for more articles and info.