The Phases of Healing After a Psychedelic Experience

The phases of healing after a psychedelic experience are unique to each individual, but recent media attention to these treatments may be creating disproportionate expectations. In this podcast episode transcription of the Psychedelic Passage podcast, our co-founders will explore how some folks may experience more immediate benefits than others.

Nicholas and Jimmy will discuss methods for journeyers to assess if further inner work is required after a psychedelic experience. They’ll touch on the instinctual human habit of self preservation and detail its often, pervasive role, in the maintenance of our suffering. 

Our hosts will explain how conscious discomfort is a vital vehicle for long-term growth and continued healing, in and out of a psychedelic journey. They’ll also clarify common misconceptions about the number of ceremonial experiences and the amount of integration sessions required for successful mental health treatment.

Later, Nicholas and Jimmy exchange personal experiences to highlight how the challenging emotions that arise post-ceremony offer an opportunity for intuitively connecting to your healing nature. Our hosts will discuss the “Golden Rules of Integration” and provide tangible steps for honoring and disentangling the emotions we often feel ashamed to experience. 

Episode 14 – The Phases of Healing After a Psychedelic Experience

Nick: Welcome to the Psychedelic Passage podcast. My name is Nick Levich, and I’m here with Jimmy Nguyen. Thanks for joining us today. This week, we are talking all about the difference between how folks feel immediately after the journey, and then the potential long-term benefits that can be realized from going through medium to high-dose psychedelic ceremony. 

I’ve personally felt really called to address this topic because lately, especially we’ve had number of clients who go through the journey, they go through a ceremony, and either during the ceremony itself or immediately after they end up in this inquisitive questioning, almost judgment style mode, where it’s like, “Am I feeling better? Did it work? Is this what I can expect?” 

Or, “Oh, I feel worse now.” And so there’s this disconnect between how folks are feeling during the journey and in that immediate, call it 48 hours to one week, and then how they can feel long term afterwards. 

Part of what’s happening here, from my perspective, is that when we look at the literature that’s coming out of Johns Hopkins and some of these research into institutions, what’s made very clear is that they’re waiting to make their determination on efficacy until three to six months of integration with a therapist have taken place. 

And so, it’s a little bit unfair to compare how you feel coming fresh out of a journey to how someone may feel after three to six months of integration. And so I’m curious, Jim, is this something that you seen too with your clients?

Jimmy: Oh, all the time. Well, first and foremost, I hear you talking a little bit about timeline. I also hear you talking a little bit about expectations as well.

Nick: Yep.

Healing is Not Linear

Jimmy: The main thing that I tried to express to people who are psychedelic curious or people who are just on a pursuit of healing anyways, is this reminder that it’s not a linear step-up process, like, any process where you are trying to resolve something or heal a wound or learn more about yourself for whatnot, it’s not this linear gradient that you just follow along this path. 

The word dynamic comes up for me and really trying to express to folks that, “Hey, it might actually feel more exacerbated for a time.” Let’s say for in the example where psychedelic medicine shines a light on all of your issues and all of your [crosstalk] stuff and brings it up to the present. 

When I think about the difference between that being a process of suffering versus a potentially constructive process is, how much support do you have around you with that?

Nick: And your willingness to go there. One of the other things that I see is a lot of us are conditioned to seek pleasure and avoid pain. But part of the healing work inherently involves discomfort. There’s just no way around it. 

And so, part of it comes down to the journeyers willingness to sit in that discomfort. It’s always temporary, but it’s a pretty essential part of the healing process. One of the analogies that I use a lot is like, a lot of us are emotionally constipated. 

We have these [Jim laughs] emotions that have been buried in our system. The analogy for me is like, okay, well, these ceremonies are like pouring Drano down the pipe. A lot of that emotion gets moved in the journey itself but it continues to move afterwards.

Jimmy: Some of it gets dissolved, some of it gets a pass through, some of it stays stuck there.

Nick: Exactly. And so you can’t expect that all that’s going to get cleared out in the four to six hours you’re journeying, it keeps moving afterwards. Let’s say you’ve been deeply depressed your whole life and you go through a journey. 

I’ve seen this happen where people feel more depressed after especially if they’ve tapered off their SSRIs because the SSRIs were masking those emotions. And now the full force of 20, 30, 40 years of depression is coming flowing through and it’s not comfortable, but it will pass. 

The challenge here is like, from my perspective, there’s a disconnect between how mainstream media is portraying these medicines and then what it actually looks like on the ground to heal.

Jimmy: Yeah, it’s a little bit of a double-edged sword when you hear folks say, “Oh, one session equals 10 years of therapy.”

Nick: It can.

Jimmy: It can, however, it’s not always the case. And in that regard, I think it’s important for people to recognize that a lot of this is also us how we view healing in our society. And this is changing over time, as well but we are in somewhat of resolve the symptoms and maybe you’ll feel better. 

And to your point, what we do is we mask a lot of things throughout our lives. And I always tell clients, A, first and foremost, there’s no replacement of anything external that will take over the process of this internal thing that you need to go through, to release that thing or to come into perspective and understanding about whatever that is that you’re struggling with. 

And that also it is like, I keep going back to a dynamic process. It’s a hard expectation when folks are– especially folks who I find who are very desperate.

Nick: Yeah, the states of despair make this so much harder.

Jimmy: Yeah, because it just sets up a real tall order. It sets up a real high expectation for folks to say, well, all these other people in these studies and reports got this benefit, and then I’m not feeling that, does that mean that I’m broken? Does that mean that it’s not working for me? 

It’s not always the case that you have a psychedelic experience and you immediately feel relief. You talk about in previous episodes about any particular psychedelic medicine, but the medicine gives you what you need and not what you want. One thing that really rings through clearly for me, is that the lessons need to come in a way that gets your attention-

Nick: Yeah.

Jimmy: -in times. And sometimes to get your attention, it’s going to rock you a little bit.

Nick: Yep. I had a gentleman who was shown very clearly what’s going to happen if he continues on the path that he’s going to be on. And it was dark, and it was scary and he was going to lose his family, and there was going to be all these repercussions that are super serious. 

It was a challenging journey to go through, but it was a very real reminder for him of what’s going to happen if he doesn’t change his behaviors. So, to your point, not necessarily easy or comfortable or fun but there was a very important lesson baked in there and it was likely one of the only ways he was going to get that was seeing it to that magnitude that extreme.

Jimmy: Yeah, I’m reminded of another client who described the first half of their psilocybin experience as, he was like, “This is great, there are rainbows and butterflies, the music’s great, you’re doing great, I’m doing great, I’m feeling great.” 

And then about halfway through, they started to open up about some things that they had been carrying for a while. And then what happened was their mechanism started to kick in. Their mechanisms of the uncomfortableness, the mechanism of coming to grips with that truth. 

Immediately after the experience they had reported, “If it was all rainbows and butterflies this whole time, I wouldn’t have gotten it. I needed to actually go through some of the sufferings to actually recognize how much suffering I’ve been putting on myself in my own life.” It’s not always self-inflicted, by the way, but it is an important concept of this. 

The other part too, when you think about or when you’re talking about timeline, is that the integration process inherently is about taking this peak experience and folding it into your life. 

Well, in order for that to happen, you got to go through a little bit of life to have some post-experience life events that maybe put some things into place for you, or connect some dots for you as well, and you’ve got to give that time.

Nick: I want to touch on this as well because this is something that I have to share all the time is if the work that we’re doing here is largely subconscious and nervous system oriented, when you leave the journey, cognitively you may not know what shifted. 

The only way to start to realize what shifted is to start to engage with life, which is exactly what you’re talking about. What I tell folks is like, “Notice what happens when you start to engage with life again. You may notice that you’re not triggered by something that you used to. 

You may notice that you don’t want to eat unhealthy food anymore. You may notice that this friend group that you are used to getting together with is actually not anything you’re interested in participating in.” 

Life essentially reflects back at us these subtle subconscious and nervous system changes, but what happens is we exist in a culture of rationalization and mental thought, and so if we can’t pinpoint like, “Hey, what shifted?” Then we convince ourselves that it didn’t work.

Jimmy: Let me add something to your list. You also may notice that there are certain patterns, habits, thought processes, and emotional things that persist after the experience. And then you notice that, “Wow, those things are really strong and have a grip on my life.” 

And that actually might be a signal that you need to work through that more. The other side of this not just alleviating the symptomatic part. It’s also highlighting what continued work you need to do.

Nick: For sure.

Jimmy: So, it’s both of those things. 

Integrating Change Through Self Awareness 

Nick: Yeah. One of the things that I think would be helpful for folks is, okay, how do we work through some of this? For starters, this is an emotionally heavy process [Jim laughs] you have to be willing to sit in discomfort, not forever, not for eternity. But for most folks, this stirs the pot. 

We have a snow globe, that’s representative of our internal state of being, and these journeys shake that whole thing up. And it takes a while for that dust to settle and things get rearranged, and it can be a very messy, uncomfortable process, and that’s not talked about very often.

Jimmy: Yeah. I want to add that, for many folks who are seeking change, it’s important to recognize that there’s a part of their being that also wants to stay the same. By nature of us, as humans, we are habit-forming creatures who try to predict safety and stability. 

Therefore, like things being in the status quo, even for people who are deeply, deeply, suffering. There’s a part of us that gets somewhat addicted to that suffering. 

In the pursuit of change, it’s always very important for folks to acknowledge and recognize what parts of them are resisting because if they allow that part of them to go back to status quo, I’ll say, and we’re not aware of that that there is that mechanism in there of survival. 

Then it becomes really difficult when that individual is feeling like, “Oh, I’m regressing,” or, “Oh, maybe I did feel this thing for a very fleeting moment in my psychedelic experience, but then now I’m back to my own normal thing. 

And so that must mean that the medicine is not working, that must mean that I’m broken, that must mean that I’m ineligible for–” they close the door at any type of healing. I really challenge folks with that, my clients, at least. 

I challenge them to think, “Well, maybe there’s this part of you, that there’s the self-preservation part that does want you maybe on an unconscious or subconscious level to keep things the same, because it’s gotten you this far through 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 years. 

But then I share with people, but look at the cost of that, look at the cost of what that’s done to your life and just remembering something that you say very often is the cost of change greater than the cost of saying the same, which one actually creates and causes more pain. 

I’ll share with folks that this is courageous sh**, this is an act of courage to go through some suffering during a psychedelic experience or afterwards or feel this amazing benefit from a psychedelic experience only to have that somewhat wash away. It then is very courageous to continue on a path of unfolding, continue on the path of processing.

Nick: And the clients that are willing to walk that path, it always comes around.

Jimmy: Mm-hmm.

Nick: It’s the people that throw in the towel two weeks after because it’s too uncomfortable that there’s no hope, there’s no chance. You have basically given up on yourself. This discussion, I think, is just really important because no research talks about this. No studies are talking about this dynamic. 

Everyone’s all hyped up on psychedelics right now. [Jim laughs] And nobody’s talking about the very real ways in which this process actually works, and that’s part of the reason that we created this whole show to begin with.

Jimmy: I know you meant hyped up as in, like, interested in psychedelics. I was thinking of people just like walking around, tripping all day every day, that’s not what we mean about. 

Nick: No.

Jimmy: Hyped up on psychedelics, yeah. [laughs]

Nick: But I mean, this is the emerging therapy, by all accounts, this is like the newest tool in the therapy toolkit for decades.

Jimmy: We have to remember that one of the things that we have a little bit of a disadvantage on is that when you look at the history of psychedelic use in human culture. It’s often very much integrated into family systems,-

Nick: Community.

Jimmy: community systems, children are raised with the awareness that these are medicines, and we don’t necessarily have that in our society.

Nick: At all.

Jimmy: [chuckles] Well, yeah. we’re hoping that [chuckles] through real meaningful dialogue and conversation that there is an opportunity to integrate these things into there, but a principle that you find across– 

I’m going to guess to say every culture that uses some type of medicinal sacrament for healing. The challenging and overwhelming and uncomfortable experiences are not only an integral part of this type of healing but it’s welcomed. 

And so to your point that resistance to that continued pain of healing. I think that that can be a real disservice, I think, to people who are looking for long-lasting healing, and I’m talking about in a way where you don’t even have to go back to a psychedelic experience if you don’t want to. 

In a way where your healing is so long term and so engrained into your being that you don’t need to chase down a peak experience to really feel like you’ve gotten to a place where you’re healed. You know what my favorite clients are? 

They’re the ones who are like, who have suffered so much already that, “It doesn’t matter how uncomfortable this is because I’ve already gone to hell and back, and so let’s do it, let’s go for it.” I’m like, “That’s actually really a bit of a nuance”. 

I think I’ve said this in the past episode, really ready to like go to war with themselves or just really, really, embracing a challenging and difficult. They just know it’s going to be uncomfortable. And then I would say that a lot of those folks actually get surprised with very smooth and blissful and joyful experiences, because they went there in preparation

They already went there and they already tried to uncover and they’re like, “Ah, there’s all this stuff that could potentially be here, and I’m here for it, and I’m ready for it. I’m ready for it after the psychedelic experience as well.”

Taking Personal Accountability Over Your Healing

Nick: Yeah. It’s the willingness to go there that makes all the difference. And if there’s one thing that I hope folks take from this episode is that it’s a messy, nonlinear process. But if you’re willing to stick with it, it does provide these immense, long term lasting benefits. 

You got to be willing to do the work though, and everyone always is like, “Well, what’s the work?” It’s about taking ownership of your situation and recognizing that no part of this is a quick fix. Most of us are up against decades of social conditioning. 

And, frankly, the older you are, the more you have to work through. We can’t expect to change our entire behaviors, especially the toxic habits and patterns, literally overnight. This may help move the needle, but to your point, it has to be integrated into your day-to-day life, and that takes work. 

The other phenomenon that we see quite frequently is folks who leave the journey and they may approach integration earnestly for a week and then they just stop with all daily practices, all time spent dedicated towards integration, and that also just isn’t going to work. 

Jimmy: I also want to bring up that there is this emphasis on one experience, one ceremony, one session, one treatment. It sets up a little bit of a false narrative when we read these studies or watch these documentaries, so necessary and needed, by the way. 

Thank you to all the researchers and documentarians and all those folks, doing that. However, in our society, it sets it up as, “Well, let me go through this one ceremony and let’s see if I get healed.” And we see this all the time also with ketamine-assisted psychotherapy and things like that. 

But the emphasis is that for some folks, it may just be one. For some folks, it may be one with a lot of integration. For some folks, it maybe one with a lot of integration with a mental health professional. 

For some folks, they need to actually come back to successive ceremonies because there is this, like you say, peeling back of the layers. And so maybe your first experience that is challenging, uncomfortable, difficult, regardless of the content of your experience. 

Let’s say your integration, you feel like you are losing that luster or let’s say you are confronting some of your sh**. Oftentimes, it’s going through that, which then maybe might prime you for a second experience where you’ve done a lot of that work. 

And you’re like, “Okay, now I can build on top of that. And now I can go in there a little bit deeper and a little bit deeper, like the first one was really challenging my defense mechanisms. Now that I’ve gone through that and I can see that I’ve come out of that experience and that I’m back to default reality.” 

Well, that’s kind of how life is, so it all stacks on top of each other. The perspective that we have now is built upon all of the past life experiences that we’ve had. And so the psychedelic healing process is the same. It’s the same. 

I think people would broaden their perspective on how healing with psychedelics goes about, we like to put things in a box and to find things. We’re like, “Well, if I’m not feeling results after two weeks of a psychedelic ceremony, then I must be doing something wrong or-“

Nick: It didn’t work.

Jimmy:  “-it didn’t work or maybe my physiology has ruled me out from this.” And if you believe that, guess what? That’s going to be true. 

But if you believe that there is this possibility that sometimes in the pursuit of healing, it’s really, really, painful before it starts to get better. Then that just opens you up to more possibility of your own healing, but also more possibility of support.

Nick: Yeah. there’s two things that you touched on really quick, clearly here that are the pitfalls. One is expectations. And two, is judgment. The more of those two things that we have, the harder this whole process is going to be. 

And the clients that tend to have the toughest time are the ones that are judging it at every step of the way. Is this working? Did it help? Did it work? Am I fixed? That is just unhealthy lines of questioning. It’s really not helpful.

Jimmy: Yeah, I’ll just add also that when expectations and judgment comes into play, the only person you have to get real with about those things is yourself. And I’ve had so many folks who just want to say the right things to move through the screening process. They’re like, “I totally know this isn’t a magic bullet or a cure.” I know you’ve had a couple of these.

Nick: Oh, yeah.

Jimmy: “I don’t have any expectations on how they should look, I’m open to all possibilities. I know this isn’t a cure-all.” 

And then they’re in the midst of their experience, or they’re going through something challenging and they’re like, “I guess, I do have expectations and I do view this in certain way and I’m expecting healing and all that.” And that’s a hard process to go through in the middle [laughs] of a psychedelic experience.

Nick: And it happens regularly.

Jimmy: Regularly. I share with folks you got to get right with yourself on where you’re at because if you just say the stuff, and in the back of your mind, or in your heart, you are really expecting this external thing to come in and do the stuff for you, it’s not going to happen. 

It’s really not going to happen. So, I think the expectations– when we’re talking about expectations, it’s okay to have expectations. But where we draw the line is the expectation on how it should look, when it should be.

Nick: The timeline.

Jimmy: The timeline, that sets up a real hard fall. if none of that matches up to it. And also judgment to a degree is okay. You have to use your discernment and judgment to pick the right facilitator. But what we’re talking about is the judgment of your process.

Nick: Outcomes.

Jimmy: Yes, yes.

Nick: The solution here is to have grace, patience, curiosity, openness, persistence, that’s what’s needed in integration after the journey to actually hold all these. I’ve had clients who have incredibly challenging reentries afterward but they’ll stick with it. 

And five, six weeks later, we have a check-in and look at that, they’re making real progress. But up until that point, messy, challenging, confusing, uncomfortable. This goes back to the nonlinear nature of this work, all of this stuff takes time and it’s the folks who are willing to stick with it that really get the real results.

Jimmy: Yeah, and that I think, is universal, regardless of how experienced you are. If you’re new to psychedelics, if you got the hundreds of experiences under your– I mean, this is happening to me right now, I shared with you, I had an experience on Saturday that just like blew my whole thing open in the most beautiful way possible. 

For the couple of days afterwards, I was in a real flow state and really feeling whole. This morning, I woke up with shame and guilt. I woke up with that. I was like, “Oh, man, I’m feeling it.” [laughter]

So I have my own thing, I’m talking this through and I felt this analytical part of my mind coming in, I was like,” Oh, well, let’s locate this and let’s eradicate this, where’s this coming from.” I really just sat with it for a while. Another thing, I really felt it, I allowed myself to really feel the sh**. 

In that feeling, I was able to embrace it a little bit more, and it was just such a reminder, as I woke up today with shame and guilt. I was trying to solve it, but then in this part, I just sat with it, and I was like, “What does this have to show me?” What does this have to show me? 

Because sometimes it needs to be front and center in your face to show you whatever it is that you need to learn. It’s like some of our favorite teachers and mentors think– 

I’m sure every person has some figure in their life who they probably looked up to, and maybe those figures weren’t super kind to you all the time. Maybe they were just telling you how it is sometimes. Maybe they were just giving you that like hard truth sometimes in order for you to really hear it. 

Even for me, who had been through hundreds of experiences, held space for a lot of different folks, I was going through it. What I want to share with folks is that it’s okay. It’s okay to go through that. But it’s important that you name it and it is important that you acknowledge it and it’s important that you get help and support around you as well.

The Benefit of Sitting With Discomfort

Nick: One of the things that you’re highlighting very clearly is that emotions are central to this process. We, as a western culture, are not very well equipped to hold our emotions, and where things go south for most people is we experience one of these uncomfortable emotions, like shame or guilt, which isn’t usually the problem. The problem comes in when we assign a story to it.

Jimmy: Yes.

Nick: It goes from just feeling the shame and guilt in your body, to then, “Oh, I’m a bad person. I did all these things, I’m broken,” and that story is actually what keeps the emotion looping through your system.

Jimmy: That’s what keeps that stuff ricocheting through your body and in your mind.

Nick: Right. And so if we can withhold the story, then you’re just feeling the emotion in your body. And what I tell folks and myself is you can only feel the emotion for so long before it passes. It always passes. Everything is temporary. We’re constantly in this state of flux and transition. 

And so if we can just sit with it and honor it, it’ll pass. There’s no question about it. We can’t stay stuck in an emotional state forever. The only way that can happen is if we continue to support it with the mental narrative.

Jimmy: Self perpetuate, yeah. And that’s a process of days, weeks, months, years. I’ve grieved over the loss of loved ones in my life for years. And it’s come through to be one of the most important parts of my own healing. So, just an example of what you’re sharing. 

Anything else that you think would be tangible for folks to really understand about this? Obviously, you’re hearing, Nick and I very, very, passionate about this, because it is somewhat of– like you said, something that’s not discussed a lot. 

And I think something that with the right perspective can help, I think a lot of folks who are approaching but anything else tangibly that might be supportive for people here?

Nick: I have one other tool that I liked; this was shared with me by my mentor. It’s called “prescribe the symptom.” A lot of times what happens is folks are feeling depressed, they’re like, “I don’t want to feel depressed.” They’re trying to escape this feeling of depression

Well, what happens if you just give yourself permission to be fully depressed for a little bit? That’s the whole piece of prescribing the symptom is like, “Okay, well, the symptom is depression,” give yourself full permission to just be as depressed as you want for a week, really feel into it. 

And that eliminates the judgment piece because now there’s permission involved. And then once again, you’re only going to feel that for so long before you’re like, “All right, I’m kind of sick of depression, I’m going to do something else now.”

Jimmy: Yeah. I share with folks too, I call them “Golden Rules of Integration. And they sound really simple, and maybe almost borderline cliché but the reason why I bring it up is that people have a much harder time doing this than it actually sounds. 

One is being kind and gentle to yourself through this process, which I hear when you’re talking about this lack of judgment. Imagine if a child was going through some struggling issues. Well, how would you treat that child? 

I would hope that you’d be kind and gentle and understanding and give them a little bit of grace when they’re going through it. So maybe it’s helpful for you to apply that a little bit to yourself. 

And then the other part that’s really hard to do is taking care of your needs, and those needs can be physiological needs, physical needs, social needs, emotional needs, support needs, mental health needs. 

There’s so many different types of needs out there because if you are going through this process, and it’s challenging, well, it’s a little bit strategic to set yourself up in a prime environment in which for you to go through that. 

The only way that that’s a prime environment is if it helps and supports and takes care of your needs. There are so many different ways. So, so, so, many different ways.

Nick: Yeah.

Jimmy: What I find folks doing is like you’re saying kind of mentally and emotionally throwing in the towel. And then that closes the door on any other type of support that might be helpful for you.

Nick: Yeah, I really liked those. Thanks for sharing. And so just a reminder to all who are listening, if you feel funky after, if you feel worse after, if you don’t know what’s happening after, it’s okay. 

It doesn’t mean it didn’t work to the best of your ability, stick with the process, engage the support that you need, and stick with it. I promise if you continue to stick with it for that three to six-month window, real change is possible, just know that. That brings us to the end of our episode for today. 

Thank you all for joining us. You can download episodes of the Psychedelic Podcast and look for all of our episodes by going to CannabisRadio.com or subscribing to the show on Apple Podcast, Amazon, Spotify, IHeartRadio, or wherever else you may stream your podcasts. If you liked the show, please leave us a rating and review and we’ll see you guys next week.

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If you’d like to connect with our carefully curated network of psychedelic facilitators, we empower you to book a consultation with us. We’re here to assist you on your journey, and part of that involves access to the most current information on all-things-psychedelic via our resources page. As always, safe journeying, fellow psychonauts.

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We (Nick & Jimmy) are spiritually oriented psychedelic guides who facilitate in-person ceremonial psychedelic experiences with an emphasis on harm reduction all across the U.S. We foster transformational journeys through the exploration of consciousness, which we believe to be a fundamental human right.

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