How to support a loved one through a psychedelic experience has become a very relevant topic of discussion, considering the recent resurgence of interest in psychedelic medicine. On this episode, hosts Jimmy and Nicholas dive into the importance of non-judgment, empathy, and present moment awareness.
What happens when a friend or loved one has a difficult psychedelic experience? How can you support them without causing discomfort? Jimmy and Nicholas offer helpful tips for being a gentle space holder, and emphasize the importance of allowing someone’s healing process to unfold organically.
Our hosts also delve into the spiritual and philosophical implications of psychedelic experiences, and how they can change the dynamic of interpersonal relationships, a person’s perspective on life, as well as their supporters’ personal healing intentions.
How can you help a loved one integrate these experiences into their daily life, without imposing your own assumptions and limiting beliefs onto them? Jimmy and Nicholas share personal anecdotes from their own experiences to offer real world examples of peer to peer support.
Episode 31 – How to Support a Loved One Through a Psychedelic Experience
Jimmy: Welcome to The Psychedelic Passage Podcast. My name is Jimmy Nguyen. I am joined here by my co-host, Nick Levich. Thanks for joining us today. We recently did an episode on making the decision on journeying solo with the group, with a partner, with a family member, a friend, loved one.
We’ve gotten a lot of great response from our community, and our listeners from there, and it’s gotten us thinking a little bit about the role of being a supporter in psychedelic experiences.
Nick: And this came up in the episode.
Jimmy: Yeah, exactly, and especially if you are a partner or spouse, but it goes beyond that too. If you’re a friend or a family member and you are in a more direct role of supporting a loved one going through an experience, we’d love to chat about that today and give you some of our thoughts on how to do that in the best way possible.
So, we get this all the time. One of the things that we share is that you should be doing psychedelic experiences in community. Even if you’re having a solo experience, it’s important to just have a community around you in preparation, integration, and it’s just so important.
Nick: When you say that what you’re really talking about is people who you’re sharing that you’re even doing this with.
Nick: Which is a big step, sharing maybe some anxieties or fears that are coming up for you, maybe sharing what the process is like. But these are people who you’re essentially disclosing to that you’re going to have this journey or this intentional psychedelic experience.
Jimmy: Yeah, I hear you saying just being acknowledged and witnessed in the process is a big deal. It’s actually really important.
Nick: Yeah, because a lot of people don’t share the fact that they’re going to do this with folks in their network, because they know right after that, “Oh, this person is not going to be able to hold it or this person will judge me or I don’t want to have to rationalize myself,” or whatever it is.
What we’re talking about in this episode is if you’re one of the people that somebody discloses that they’re going to have a journey coming up, what do you do with that? How do you hold it? What’s the best way that you can show up in support of them?
Jimmy: Yeah, I love that framing because I was immediately going to go into advice like best practices. But what’s actually more important is that the journeyer feels comfortable in sharing, disclosing, and opening that pathway to even be supported.
Jimmy: Now it’s the question on, “Okay, how do I do that? if I’m the partner, the spouse, the friend, the sibling?” Where do you want to start here with this conversation, Nick?
Honoring The Role of Being a Supporter
Nick: I think it’s important that we acknowledge that if you have been on the receiving end of that disclosure, you have a friend, a family member, a loved one, who’s going to embark on this journey, they trust you. It’s a massive sign of your relationship and there’s a certain level of closeness and non judgment and willingness to confide that isn’t shared universally.
Jimmy: Yeah, they’re putting it out there and it’s something that a lot of folks keep closer to the heart. It’s rare. I think of it as a privilege to have-
Jimmy: -somewhat of more of a front-row seat to somebody’s process.
Nick: And then prong two, my immediate follow-up is please withhold judgment to the best of your ability.
Withhold judgment of why they’re doing it, withhold judgment of whether they should like, withhold your judgment because it’s their process, not yours. And it’s natural to be super inquisitive. But what I’ve seen is that inquisition can come from very different places.
Jimmy: It’s not always malicious. Even things like having a deep curiosity or asking a lot of questions, it all comes from a well-meaning place, but it can add this unrealized pressure upon the journeyer.
Nick: Yeah. It forces them to have to explain themselves and to rationalize what they’re doing because you’ve got all these questions. This curiosity is natural but one of the best things you can do is educate yourself.
If you’re in the position of support, well how much do about what’s going on here? Are you going to rely on the other person to share everything with you? Or do you have any interest in bringing yourself up to speed, so that you can engage with this person in a more meaningful way?
The Contagious Effects of Internal Reflection
Jimmy: Yeah, to even go, one further step before that, is that when I noticed that journeyers or folks who are about to embark on psychedelic experiences, obviously a lot of their internal stuff is going to come up, their own things in their life. And actually, what I find is that the same thing happens with friends, families, their family members, and supporters.
When one person is willing to go deep inside or look internally and address whatever it is, whether it’s trauma or something that they’re unhappy with in their life or even if they’re just seeking just betterment in their life, oftentimes that stirs the pot for the family member or the friend as well.
Even before the education and research, which I think is really super, super important, I really advise people to just check themselves on what’s going on internally when somebody close to you is sharing that they’re about to go into a psychedelic experience. What beliefs does that bring up for you?
What does that bring up any judgment? Where does that judgment come from? What is your stance on psychedelics or personal growth or betterment? I just find that there’s that part of it too which I don’t think that’s– [crosstalk]
Nick: I mean what you’re describing is mirroring. It’s this process of like, “Okay, well, my spouse just decided that they were going to do this.” And all of a sudden, I’m like “Oh well, do I need to do that? Am I inadequate unless I do a journey? Do I need some healing that I’m not acknowledging? If they evolved so quickly past me.
Nick: Am I still going to be important and needed in this relationship?”
Jimmy: Is there a fear of growing apart, like, are we [crosstalk] disconnected?
Nick: Yeah, what if they changed?
Jimmy: I think that’s really important and to be able to just check with yourself on some of those things and whether it’s transference or not, or whether it’s just bringing up things for you, maybe it’s not. Maybe you’re also just in a place of being very open and accepting of this.
We hope today through our episode will give you, as always, some tangible information and advice so that you can feel like after you’ve gone through this podcast, just a little bit more equipped, when this does come up for you.
Nick: Totally. I’ll acknowledge that, especially if you’re talking about a partner, a spouse or someone that you’re intimate with, it can be scary, if they’re going to do something like this and you’re not, and you’re like, “Well, I’ve never done this, are they going to change? Will I still love them?
Will they still love me?” I just want to acknowledge that it can be very scary in those kinds of intimate relationships, especially when someone’s going to embark on this, because there is this element of unknown, of unsurety, of what will shift and to what extent.
Jimmy: You have the best opportunity, actually probably the only opportunity to talk about this before the ceremony of the experience happens. With anything that you do not withhold these things if you’re feeling them until afterwards.
It’s so, so, important just to get clear and on the same page, and maybe in a structured conversation, you might have the opportunity to be like, “Well, this is what this is bringing up for me. These are where some of my concerns are. These are the issues where I’m a little nervous.”
And likely if your best friend or partner is doing this in a way where they have support, they have a facilitator, they have information, they have the knowledge, they have a plan around it.
I would guess that the majority of the things that you’re concerned about will be absolved, because these experiences are generally very safe with the right harm reduction, with the right support, and with the right plan.
I’ll just also acknowledge that there’s not a lot of just information out there. Many things that we were taught about these experiences over the past, let’s say 50 years, is just not accurate.
I think that the best thing that you can do as the supporter, first and foremost, is the internally check with yourself. Then from there, you can build a great platform to figure out the best way to offer that support.
Maybe the person who’s journeying is just telling you because you’re just a close friend and they’re not asking for anything. They’re just like, “Hey, I just want to share this with you.”
Maybe that person journeying is actually asking for something more. They’re asking to maybe have an outlet in conversation with you to talk about the experience or whatnot. The rules of engagement, I think, of support is also really, really crucial to talk about.
Determining a Realistic & Optimal Level of Support
Nick: Well, it’s funny because this hits one of the points that I wrote down as we were brainstorming what we’re going to talk about today. It’s simply asking this question, “Hey, what can I do to support you as you embark on this journey?”
And let them tell you what they need because oftentimes I think we tend to assume what other people need. One of the best things we can do as a supporter is remove any sense of assumption, and just ask, “Hey Jim, you’ve got this experience coming up.
What can I do to support you?” I know for me, when I’m on the receiving end of that question, I’m like, “Wow, cool, this person cares.” Even if I don’t have a tangible ask, just the fact that they were willing to ask me what I needed is enough.
The other thing that I want to share is just your presence as a friend, family member, spouse, partner, supporter is enough. It’s funny because that’s all the– that’s not all. That’s one of the main things that a facilitator does is show up in full, unadulterated presence for you. As a supporter, if you can do the same, that’s incredibly powerful.
Jimmy: Yeah, the ask may change. Like, as the journeyer moves through their process, their needs and prep will be different than their needs on the day of ceremony. If you’re in contact with them, will be different. A couple of days after will be different in the integration process.
But what remains the same is this presence, this acknowledging, I think, just folks just being witnessed and seen in their process, there’s so much healing potential there. This adds into, maybe I might get a little like woo-woo here, but I see it being so true in my client work and just the anecdotes and stories that I hear from other folks is that it matters.
Like, you’re a part of the container, the energy that you put out. Regardless of whether you’re in the ceremony, like present or not. When we talk about the container, we’re talking about all of the events and experiences and people and the content we consume, the things that we put in our body, the relationship with the facilitator.
All of this adds into the ceremonial container, which if you’ve maybe heard us say in a very, very early episode of our podcast that the ceremony starts the moment that somebody commits to the process.
I’ve seen so many times when a partner knows that the ceremony is happening, maybe they’re away or whatnot, but they’re really nervous, they’re really concerned, they just have some anxiety around it. And lo and behold, guess what the journeyer is doing?
The journeyer is like wondering if their spouse is okay, if their partner is okay, if they’re going to be okay. I can’t really explain this or define it. I don’t know if there’s like, scientific data to like, prove what I’m saying.
But I know that that is a dynamic that happens and so the best that you can do to, calm yourself mentally, to regulate your own nervous system, to also just address and check your own fear or anxiety around this, likely the journeyer is going to be more supported through the process.
Nick: 100%. Yeah. Perhaps you touched on the fact that how we support a friend, family member, or loved one in this process shifts in the different iterations, kind of the arc of the journey. We’ve touched on a lot of what to do during the preparation phase.
It’s like withhold judgment, bear witness to what’s stirring up within you as a supporter. Educate yourself on what it is they’re actually doing and ask how you can support. Those are a couple of really, really, tangible things during the preparation process.
Jimmy: Curiosity just around how the process works is also, I think, okay, we’re going to talk about asking questions [chuckles] and things like that here in a couple of minutes, but just acknowledging that there are many different facilitators out there with different modalities of practice.
Some practitioners go through a couple of months of preparation. Some folks have just a few sessions. Just even getting some info on what the process looks like and what they’re going through can also just help to inform you and your role.
Nick: And I’ll share– [crosstalk]
Jimmy: Yeah, I’ll say one last thing, is that this also depends on your bandwidth. If you are in a really busy place in your life or you’re in a really erratic place, and a journeyer is asking you for support, it’s also important just to check how much capacity you have.
They’re asking for you to be the main supporter through this, but you’re working 80 hours a week and have three kids. Maybe you’re not the right person for that [chuckles] you know.
Nick: Expectation setting. One of the things we come back to very regularly in this podcast.
Jimmy: What were you about you say? I was really curious.
Nick: I don’t know it escaped me, but it’ll come back if it’s important.
Jimmy: Sure. Yeah.
Supporting Someone on The Day of Ceremony
Nick: Oh, I know. When I’ve got my facilitation hat on, one of the things that I’ve seen time and time again is, it’s especially common with spousal or intimate relationships, but the spouse or the partner will oftentimes want to chat with me as well, as a way to calm their own nerves and familiarize themselves with the process.
Sometimes that’s another way to get more info if you find yourself in that support role, maybe instead of going to your partner for it, you set up a 15, 20 minutes call with the facilitator just to get a better understanding of what is involved in this process. If nothing else, just logistically, what to expect what does it look like? So, that you can track their progress as they go through it.
Jimmy: I think that really holds true in prep, and then also during the ceremony, I always offer to my own clients that there is a line of communication there. Sometimes I’ll even meet the partner, friend or spouse who’s listed-
Jimmy: -as the emergency contact. Yeah, like before or on the day of the ceremony. I sometimes offer, “Hey, I’m happy to send you some text updates.” Like, I’m not going to text you the content of what’s going on, but I can definitely text you that we’re– [crosstalk]
Nick: “Hey, we are an hour in.”
Jimmy: Yep, all is well, things like that. And so, that is really, really important. I want to spend also of time talking about post-ceremony.
Nick: Well, let’s address the ceremony, and I will move into after.
Nick: Because we’re already talking about ceremony. One of the things is like, how do you, as the supporting person want to be engaged during the ceremony? Do you want updates? Do you just want to wait until afterward?
What are you doing on the day of ceremony? Are you finding a way to connect and just honor what that person is going through? Or how are you carrying yourself while this person is having one of the most potentially profound and ineffable immersive experiences of their life?
Jimmy: Yeah. And maybe you’re not able to take the day off or whatnot. Maybe you do have to work or run errands or do your thing, especially if you’re not listed as the journeyer, as emergency contact and you’re just in, let’s say, like a circle of friends or whatnot.
If you know that your friend or close one is moving through an experience that has massive potential for significance and meaning, just even sending some well wishes or thinking about them or paying a little bit of attention and focus and just redirecting just some of your things.
Whether it’s like a couple of minutes that day or whether you’re meditating about it or whether you have another mindful practice about it, goes a long way. Regardless of whether their journeyer feels that in ceremony or not–
Nick: And often they do.
Jimmy: Usually they do. [Nick laughs] Even if afterward and they check in with you and you’re like, “Yeah, I was thinking about you that day.” Boy, does that go a long, long, long way?
The cool thing is that during the ceremony, unless you’ve arranged with the facilitator or the practitioner for you to be present or to be on call or something, you don’t have to do a lot because likely the journeyer is in good hands.
If a facilitator has the proper processes and plan and all that. It’s obviously much different if the journeyer is asking you to trip sit for them as a friend, family member, or whatnot. Listen, people can do whatever they want to do, but that is a much deeper decision than whether you got the availability to do that or not.
Nick: And that is not what we’re talking about in this episode.
Jimmy: Yeah, that’s a whole another– [crosstalk]
Nick: This episode is specifically if they’re engaging professionally with a facilitator of some kind, and you are supporting from afar in some way, shape, or form.
Jimmy: Anything else on actual ceremony?
Honoring The Journeyer Without Imposing Personal Beliefs
Nick: Well, I think what I would sum up is that the same way we talk about as a journeyer having an intention, “What is your intention for this person as you support them?” That’s what you’re talking about is like, “Are you sending them well wishes? Are you thinking of them?
Did you carve out of mental bandwidth to just acknowledge the gravity of what it is that they’re committing to?” Because we’ve talked about this. It’s an immense act of courage for a journeyer to do this. You may not actually support them in terms of, and you may not agree with it, is what I’m getting at.
But you can still acknowledge the courage and the dedication that it takes for them to embark on it, even though it’s something you would never do yourself because I see this a lot too, where one spouse is ready to go head first, and the other one’s not. They’re like, “I am afraid of that, I am not interested.” Maybe they have some stigma around the whole thing still.
Jimmy: I think there’s also an opportunity to whether you acknowledge or respect the person’s like personal choice and sovereignty around it.
Jimmy: Just because it’s something that you may choose differently on or that you have different views and opinions on, doesn’t mean that you can’t respect their autonomy and freedom of choice as well.
I’ll actually stay here for a second before we move into post-ceremony, where this story comes up and reminds me of one of my clients. They have a circle of friends, a handful of them, they’re really close. One of the friends of that friend group was chatting with the journeyer the morning of ceremony.
What they were saying is, “You’re going to have such an amazing, life-changing experience. I’m so excited for all of the healing that you’re going to receive. I feel like this is going to fix all of your health issues and all of that.”
I’m going to assume that it was well intended, but what ended up happening was it created a lot of discord for the journeyer because the journeyer went into the experience and we’re talking about not having expectations, and we’re talking about being open and surrendering.
And the journeyer is like, that was a lot of pressure. I now feel like, I have to perform to a certain degree now in this ceremony to make this friend happy. Anything short of this miraculous healing is now like, I feel like–[crosstalk]
Nick: Not good enough.
Jimmy: So, we spent an extra hour before we even got into things to talk through that and so on and so forth. Your words, they bear a lot of weight and a lot of significance. I think that it’s a lot of stuff that you may not even be aware of of creating that is somewhat like undue pressure.
Nick: Excellent example.
Supporting a Loved One Through Psychedelic Integration
Jimmy: Yeah. Which then will segue into the post-ceremony because I think that the same holds true. And something that you were noting, which I think– [crosstalk]
Nick: This is my biggest bugaboo. [Jimmy laughs] If I could get across one point in this whole episode, it would be, and this is my perspective, but I hold to it is–
“Please don’t ask this journeyer how it went, especially the second you go pick them up from their journey or whatever the case is.” Like, I’ve watched this where the first words out of the spouse’s mouth is “How did it go? How was it?”
Jimmy: Let me just repeat that in all caps. “DO NOT ASK HOW IT WENT.” Don’t. Because the journey will tell you. The person will tell you and maybe they’re in a position where they’re not able to tell you. Maybe they’re still putting the puzzle pieces back together.
Maybe they went through a deeply somatic experience. Maybe it was, as one of my favorite clients says, “This was the most traumatic yet healing thing that I’ve ever been through.” But it took that person many months of integration before they arrived at that point.
Nick: That question is loaded with judgment. It forces the journeyer to immediately make a determination.
Jimmy: And categorize. It forces them to take an experience that likely has a lot of intangible ineffable components to it and categorize it as it was great, it was not, it– [crosstalk]
Nick: It worked; it didn’t work.
Jimmy: It’s challenging– Right. And that in itself can be really damaging because you have to remember that journeyers in all of the stages of this process are in deeply vulnerable and open states. And so even some things like, “Ah, I wish you just have a wonderful ceremony.”
Look in the healing process, it might not be that wonderful. You might go through some sh*t. And it has the potential to be significant and impactful. I’ve also seen a lot of folks who move through the psychedelic experience and they don’t have those deep, meaningful experiences. That’s probably the most important thing [laughs] we can share with folks afterwards.
Jimmy: Some other things I’ll say about post-ceremony is that just know that your loved one has gone through not only likely an experience that take a note of mental and emotional capacity and energy, but also physiological.
You’re using a lot of glucose, you’re using a lot of serotonin, you’re just using a lot of stuff. Most of the time clients are horizontal for the majority of the experience and they come out feeling like they ran a marathon.
My favorite thing from you is mental and emotional and spiritual gymnastics. You know what I mean? Just know that there might be some fatigue and that there may be some of those things.
I think that it’s okay to check on people’s needs. Maybe they do need to eat. Maybe they do need to hydrate. Maybe they do need to rest. Maybe they do need some interaction and engagement.
Nick: A much better question is, “How are you feeling? How can I support you?” Because that’s just a snapshot of what is actually happening.
Jimmy: In the moment.
Nick: But how did it go? Please don’t.
Jimmy: It’s a judgment.
Nick: Please don’t do it.
Jimmy: Yeah, it’s a judgment. Or what do you need right now? Do you need anything? Do you need some space? Do you need some rest? Like, what is it that you need right now? That’s super important in the hours after a psychedelic experience.
But I think that would probably hold true for the, I’ll call it the one to four days after an experience as well. Just know that that part is a little bit of a moving target, because those needs will change as the journeyer starts to get back into the regular cadence of life.
Which is different, and different timing, not only for each person but for each ceremony. I’ve come out of ceremonies where I’m really functional afterwards. I’ve also had ceremonies that have floored me for like, five days afterward.
Those needs and things are so, so, different. Just being aware that those needs will evolve, and the ability to communicate those needs will also shift and change.
Nick: It’s normal to have excitement for this person, this loved one, this friend, this family member, because it is, it’s a pivotal inflection point in their life. But I assure you, that they will share when they feel ready. It’s not going to require prompting.
They will share when they feel ready. If you do feel like you want to make it known that you’re there for them, just share that. “Hey, if and when you’re ever interested in sharing or you’re ever feeling ready, I’m here for you.”
Jimmy: Yeah. My summation of this part of the conversation is, be a safe person. If you are a safe person, that is, withholding your own judgment, and you are creating options, and avenues for folks to come to you as a safe person, then the conversations will happen when they need to.
Also, you’re creating an environment where the journeyer feels okay in doing that as well. I think a lot of this conversation, we’re talking about somewhat of the do’s and don’ts in the name of actionable, tangible advice. But I’ll go back to what you said earlier of just being present for them, that’s like 80%, 90% of it.
And then the other tactical stuff is the add ons what you can do otherwise, but just being present and being there and showing up in the phone call when they’re ready or just to hang out if they need or whatnot, it goes really a long way.
Nick: I’ve had clients that live alone and they come out of a ceremony and they’re like, “I don’t want to be alone right now.” They’ll call someone over just to literally sit with them. There’s no talking. It’s like just having another physical human presence around is enough.
We don’t often have a lot of experiences like that, where we’re just with someone and enjoying our presence without actively doing anything together. But what I can tell you is from the journeyer’s perspective, it’s nothing short of life-changing, that is incredibly helpful. Our natural reaction when we’re supporting someone is to want to do something.
Nick: But you just literally being there for them is so, so, so meaningful.
Jimmy: I don’t even think there are many people out there who can sit with themselves, [laughs] let alone sit with somebody who’s just gone through a psychedelic experience. An iteration of what this can look like is, let’s say your friend or partner, spouse, calls you over, and then you’re sitting there and then immediately you’re like, “Well, what can I do to make it better?”
Jimmy: First of all, you’re assuming that the person is not doing well, so there’s like an assumption laid in there. And then is that betterment for you or is it for them? Even little simple things like, “Oh, do you want to listen to music?” Or “Should we put on a show?”
Or something like that? I don’t think you need to direct or offer those things. First is just checking whether that’s comforting you or comforting them. But maybe they’re overstimulated, and they actually do need quiet and a low-light environment, and they just need to feel your presence.
I think that the only exception to that is, like, physiological needs. I think it’s okay to ask, “Hey, do you need some water tea? Or can I prepare any food or something for you?” I think that’s like a different category, but, yeah, I think just sitting there, being there, look, it’s an honor that they called you.
It’s an honor that they called you. That means that they trust you. The best way that we can hold that opportunity in a sacred regard is to tune in and just be there and just be present. That’s really it.
Nick: If your skin is starting to crawl, go back to the question, “Hey, just let me know if there’s anything that you need. I’ll support you in whatever way I can, and you made it now–” [crosstalk]
Jimmy: Or you might find that your anxiety is starting to ramp up and you’re getting a little antsy and you’re getting a little whatever. You might also check yourself there too. Are there any other things that we want to share with our audience here on this conversation?
Nick: I think we’ve done a good job of covering this in a succinct way. I think this is most of what I wanted to get across is just be there for them and know that they’ll share on their own time if and when they’re ready.
Jimmy: Well, thank you for joining us this week. This wraps up our episode. You can find our podcast on all the major streaming platforms Apple Podcast, Amazon, Spotify, IHeartRadio, really anywhere that you get your podcast.
Just want to send a big thank you to our community. We’ve just been getting so much amazing feedback that warms Nick and I’s hearts. We’re not perfect, we’re humans as well, but we’re just really grateful that folks are getting benefits from just two best friends ranting about something-
Jimmy: -we’re really passionate about it. Thank you everybody, and we’ll see you next week.
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