The world is becoming increasingly interested in how psychedelics can contribute to healing. Health practitioners are offering a range of services to help with this, including psychedelic assisted therapy and psychedelic integration.
So, what exactly is the difference between psychedelic assisted therapy and integration? Psychedelic assisted therapy will utilize a specific psychedelic substance, typically administered by medical practitioners and/or therapists who are present throughout the entire experience.
On the other hand, psychedelic integration is therapy, coaching, or counseling that takes place before and/or after the experience, but never during. With the main distinction being the absence of the psychedelic substance itself, many people seek a psychedelic integration specialist to help make sense of their experience and integrate those lessons into everyday life. Because of this, psychedelic integration typically occurs outside of a clinical setting.
Having a therapist present during the psychedelic experience itself has many benefits including medical supervision and harm reduction. Psychedelic integration gives users a healthy outlet to explore the meaning behind the experience and is also a crucial component to harnessing long-term benefits.
We’re fortunate to be living in a time where both of these options are becoming increasingly available. Let’s take a look at how the differences between these modalities and how practitioners can be accessed.
Psychedelic Assisted Therapy: A History
If it’s your first time hearing about psychedelic assisted therapy, you’re not alone. The use of psychedelics in therapeutic settings has made it into the news recently, but does this mean that psychedelic assisted therapy is a new clinical tool? Absolutely not.
In fact, you may be surprised to discover that both psychedelic therapy and research were abundant in the 1950s and ‘60s. After Dr. Albert Hofmann discovered the psychoactive nature of LSD in the 1940s, LSD was first used by psychiatrists to help them understand the effects of psychosis before being used as a helpful tool in psychotherapy.
During this period, the number of patients treated with ‘psychedelic psychotherapy’ numbered in the tens of thousands. With LSD alone, more than 1,000 papers were written on how the drug was helpful in accessing deep and sometimes repressed parts of a patient’s psyche.
Aside from history buffs, why are most people only just hearing about the powerful healing properties of psychedelics? Due to criminalization and prohibition, human psychedelic research was subject to a 25- to 40-year hiatus by various governments around the world.
By the middle of the 1960s, more than a million Americans had taken LSD. Shortly after, in 1966, LSD was made illegal in the US. By the end of that decade, the entire field of psychedelics in medicine came to a standstill.
Modern Psychedelic Assisted Therapy
The revival of psychedelic research started with a 1994 US government funded human study involving DMT led by Dr. Rick Strassman. Today, there is more psychedelic research happening than ever before in US history.
Recent studies have not only proven the safety of psychedelic substances but also their efficacy in addressing a range of mental health issues. These include anxiety in cancer patients, alcohol and tobacco addiction, and major depressive disorder to name just a few.
Some psychedelics, most notably ketamine, are currently legally being used in therapy outside of clinical trials. Other substances, such as psilocybin and MDMA, are well on their way with their recent designation as FDA breakthrough therapies, meaning that FDA approval could be fast tracked and psychedelic assisted therapy may soon become legal. In fact, in 2020 Oregon voted on legislation that would make a psilocybin assisted therapy program available as early as 2022.
It’s a very exciting time in psychedelic research. Studies are being done with a range of psychedelics to assess their benefits in treating mental illness like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. But currently, ketamine is the only legal psychedelic assisted therapy. If you’d like guidance to discover whether psychedelic assisted therapy or participation in a clinical trial may be for you, connect with one of our psychedelic advocates to walk through your options.
Does Psychedelic Assisted Therapy Work?
If you’ve been reading along, it’s pretty clear that psychedelic assisted therapy worked during the ‘second wave’ of psychedelic science in the 1950s (the ‘first wave’ was experimentation with mescaline 125 years ago!). And it’s most certainly working now.
The current ‘third wave’ of psychedelic science is equipped with more tools and scientific understanding to comprehend how the use of psychedelics combined with psychotherapy can contribute to sustained mental health benefits. Consuming the substance in a clinical setting under the supervision of a medical professional provides not only a safe environment in which to explore the psyche, but also additional methods by which mental health benefits can be sustained.
Psychedelic assisted therapy can deepen the experience and contribute to positive therapeutic outcomes. With an understanding of the patient and the mental disorder they suffer from, the therapist can help the patient use the experience to uncover explanations for thought patterns and mental illness symptoms—explanations that are, for the most part, impossible to decipher when psychedelics are consumed recreationally.
Formerly unconscious or repressed accounts of abuse, trauma, childhood struggles, and poverty may become apparent during the psychedelic experience, and having a therapist available to take note and provide comfort during the journey is helpful. Following the experience, discussion about what was uncovered may make a significant difference in obtaining any long-term mental health benefits.
Altered states of consciousness can contribute to understanding how various circumstances and life experiences impact mental health. A psychedelic assisted therapist will not only have an in-depth understanding of psychology, but will also have met with the participant prior to their experience with psychedelics. Armed with an array of psychotherapeutic tools like memory cues, the therapist(s) will be able to assist in the exploration and subsequent understanding of themes and emotions that arise.
Finding a Psychedelic Assisted Therapist
The field of psychedelic assisted therapy is continuously evolving and currently can be accessed in a few ways. Following legalization across much of the US, cannabis-assisted therapy is now available. Like other psychedelic substances, cannabis is a tool by which a psychotherapist can help to access repressed memories, thoughts, and beliefs. Cannabis is not only a safe medication, but can also help to treat depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder—particularly when paired with the help of a therapist. For more info, we’ve written an article that specifically addresses how to find cannabis assisted therapy near you.
Ketamine assisted therapy has recently shown tremendous promise in treating treatment-resistant depression, amongst other illnesses like anxiety and addiction. Ketamine assisted therapy works much like other types of psychedelic assisted therapy in that it provides therapists and the user with access to the unconscious. Just one session can break down barriers and allow patients to access thoughts and emotions that could have taken months to access through conventional therapy sessions. For more info, we’ve written an article that specifically addresses how to find ketamine assisted therapy near you.
Most therapists have backgrounds as medical practitioners (MDs, DOs, or Psy-Ds as examples) and either complete training with organizations such as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), California Institute of Integral Studies, or the Usona Institute.
To be clear, cannabis and ketamine are currently the only legal psychedelic assisted therapy options outside of clinical trials. If you seek an experience with a different substance and still want to be professionally supported, psychedelic integration is the only option (besides clinical trials).
Compared with psychedelic integration, psychedelic assisted therapy will most likely be more of a financial and time commitment, so it’s important to do your own due diligence to find an option that works for you. We suggest working with a therapist who has experienced the psychedelic substance themselves so they can better understand the experience you’ll be having. For more info, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide you can use to find a reputable psychedelic therapist near you today.
Benefits of Psychedelic Integration
Though psychedelic assisted therapy is currently illegal except for two substances, psychedelic integration services are completely legal as they do not include the actual consumption of the drug. This makes psychedelic integration a better choice for those of you seeking an experience with psilocybin, LSD, DMT, mescaline, or any other substance, because it allows you to be professionally supported, legally.
The period before and after the psychedelic event is significant to the journey and a crucial time to both explore the thoughts and emotions that arise, and to use them as the driving force toward long term positive change. Integration specialists provide services to discuss intention, preparation, and harm reduction strategies for the trip, as well as counseling and coaching during the days and weeks prior to and following the psychedelic experience.
Because this occurs outside of a clinical setting, integration specialists may have varying backgrounds and qualifications, including psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, coaches, or even shamans who have worked with indigenous cultures. Not sure what the difference is? We’ve written an article that specifically addresses whether shamans or Western trained therapists are more legitimate.
Integration specialists often have direct and personal experience with the particular psychedelic substance, which may help the user define and identify seemingly ineffable experiences by speaking to someone who has encountered something very similar.
Without integration, you’ll likely feel the ‘afterglow’ of enhanced emotions and clarity for weeks following the experience, but won’t have the tools to transform these into long term change. You may even feel isolated, depressed, or uneasy following the experience.
You may feel stuck and unsure of what your experience meant, and a psychedelic integration specialist will help you make sense of your journey and help you with what’s to come. An integration coach will help you feel supported and keep you accountable as you step into a new way of being.
Finding a Psychedelic Integration Specialist
Psychedelic integration is a relatively new field in both psychedelics and psychology. That being said, it is recognized as a crucial part of the experience and is becoming more prevalent in psychedelic and mental health communities alike.
Integration can be the vital link that turns a psychedelic experience into sustained healing. We’re usually left with a lot of unanswered questions and unresolved emotions following an experience with entheogenic or psychedelic substances—and an integration specialist can help.
Your psychedelic journey is largely in your hands. With research, diligence, and an understanding of your needs, you can find a psychedelic integration specialist that’s best for you. Each practitioner will have a different background, ranging from those who have been involved in more traditional, shamanic healing practices, as well as those with more of a Western medical science understanding.
Some may be more experienced with a particular psychedelic substance than others. Ultimately, you’ll want to find a trusted practitioner who is respectful of your journey and beliefs but is also competent enough to be able to contribute to your mental, emotional, and spiritual healing.
At Psychedelic Passage, we provide integration services and beyond. Recent decriminalization in certain cities has significantly reduced the legal risks of guiding and trip sitting services. Through our trip sitting program, we’ll support you before, during, and after your trip so you can get the most out of your psychedelic experiences. In essence, we are providing a service that we wish we had during our psychedelic journey of healing. If you’re interested in learning how our services may help you, book a free call with one of our facilitators today.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to harness the profound and positive healing effects of psychedelics that we desire through recreational use—truly harnessing all of the benefits requires the help of a professional. The value of trip sitting and psychedelic integration is well-recognized in the therapy community and practitioners are available to discuss a range of experiences.
We are fortunate to live in a time where these psychedelic therapeutic tools are becoming more accessible. Therapy using psychedelics substances is experiencing a much-needed renaissance and we should see more legalized therapy options in the coming years.