Having a therapeutic psychedelic experience can be life changing in itself, but how can you productively embed these newfound insights into your everyday life? In this episode transcript of the Psychedelic Passage podcast, our co-founders, Jimmy Nguyen and Nick Levich discuss the importance of intentionally integrating your psychedelic experience. They explain the nuances of this process and share details on the most optimal times to begin integration.
The hosts then cover some of the most common mistakes made during integration. They interpret the value in being held accountable for your consistent healing efforts and offer advice on who you should and shouldn’t share your integration process with.
They also explain why some people struggle to identify the success of their psychedelic experience and offer tools for reframing these counteracting mindsets. Then, Nick and Jimmy review how psychedelic communities could be very beneficial during the integration period. Later, they illustrate the different routes that can be taken for finding integration support that’s tailored to your personal needs.
Episode 6: What is Psychedelic Integration & Why is It Important?
Jimmy Nguyen: Welcome to the Psychedelic Passage podcast. My name is Jimmy Nguyen. I am joined here by my fellow co-founder, podcast partner in crime, Nick Levich. Thanks for joining us. So we have had an episode in the past about psychedelic preparation and we barely scratched the surface there. So there’s likely more content coming up.
We could probably do hours worth of preparation content, but for today we’re going to focus on psychedelic integration. And again, a lot to cover here, but what I think would be helpful is to talk you through what psychedelic integration is. First and foremost the importance of it in a psychedelic setting, even at times where you’re not in an intentional setting, whether recreational or more spontaneous.
And then also we’d like to cover some best practices, common pitfalls, just ways of thinking about the integration process that will set you up a little bit better for lasting, meaningful change. Because after all, I think that’s what people are looking for when they’re approaching an intentional psychedelic experience.
So let’s dive in. Nick, what do you share with folks when you describe integration? You have a client that comes up or you’re talking about psychedelics and folks, they’re like ‘integration, what are you talking about? What’s this word? What is that?’.
What Is Integration of a Psychedelic Experience?
Nick Levich: Yeah, I think a lot of people are wondering this question. And I start off by simply, first of all, clarifying that integration comes after the journey, right? Because preparation is before the journey, integration is after the journey.
And what it’s really about, from my perspective, is how do you take this single, immersive, profound, ineffable experience and then translate these changes, epiphanies shifts into your everyday life? Because as you alluded to, that’s what we all seek. We all want to feel better, to show up in the world the way that we seek without having to rely on anything external, even if it’s natural, even if it’s plant medicine.
And so to me it’s this process that takes days, months, weeks and years of really becoming the person that you want to be. And so the word that I often associate with integration is ‘embodiment’. It’s this process of embodying the version of yourself that you seek to be in the world.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, and integration is important regardless of the content of your experience. Meaning if you went through an experience where you are feeling all that bliss, all that love, all that joy in life, integration is still pretty important because that feeling will fade over time.
Nick Levich: And this is the world that we have to live in, is like this 3-d default.
Jimmy Nguyen: I tell folks that it only matters what we bring back from these psychedelic experiences because you and I both know plenty of people who have had likely hundreds of psychedelic experiences. But inside they’re not doing any of the work. And so they almost become reliant on these altered states to feel that joy, feel that bliss, feel that fulfillment in life.
And I’ll also say that it’s obviously very important for folks who go through challenging, overwhelming, difficult parts of their experience because those things need to be processed. There’s nothing more painful than an unprocessed experience where you’re kind of stuck in the doorway half-in half-out and that can be really challenging for folks.
So I like what you said about days, weeks, months, years. Talk to me about that. Why, first and foremost? And then what would you share with folks about, I think, expectations of timeline and stuff like that for integration?
Nick Levich: Yeah, so, I mean, the short answer is that integration is a lifelong process. From my perspective, I think there’s very distinct phases of that integration cycle and so the 24 to 48 hours immediately preceding your psychedelic journey are going to be profound and different and just a milestone in and of themselves.
And then you kind of expand to this first week after, and then the first month after, and then there’s the rest of life beyond that. And we were chatting just before this episode started recording on how both of us have had clients who are like, well, ‘am I missing the integration sweet spot? Am I hitting this point where there’s no more benefit to be had?’.
And from my perspective, that doesn’t exist. The puzzle pieces fall back into place on their own timeline and sometimes we’re not ready for that major epiphany or AHA moment or connecting of the dots for a couple of weeks or months after the actual journey took place.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, this is the gift and curse of scientific research because you really need it right to prove the efficacy and just legitimacy at the same time. When a study comes out and says the peak neuroplasticity of the brain post-psilocybin experiences within this range, it puts a lot of pressure on people to be like, oh man, I got 96 hours for me to figure it out, figure it all out and whatnot.
And that can put a lot of pressure on the integration experience for me. I’ve realized that life experience actually helps to reinforce some integration things. So I’ll have a psychedelic experience and then a few years later I’ll have a life experience, whether it’s traveling or a conversation with a friend or something happening in my life, which then re-anchors whatever that was in that psychedelic experience from a while ago.
And then I’m like, okay, I get that now all the way from continuing to process, really bewildering and challenging things as well. So Michael Pollan, a lot of folks know his name. He wrote a book called How To Change Your Mind. He has a Netflix documentary out, which has brought a lot of attention to psychedelics.
He talks about this word ‘ineffable’ and I think that is a pretty accurate description from things that are hard to describe, things that are hard to put our finger on, things that are hard to explain. And what I hear you saying when you’re talking about bringing things back to this world is how do we turn that into tangible, actionable ways of moving forward 100%?
Nick Levich: So when we talk about integration, part of the goal from my perspective is to live in those beautiful points of ceremony all the time, or at least as much as possible. I often use this example for clients when I’m sharing my story because I think it’s helpful to articulate how this whole process works. And so there was a period of time where people would tell me, ‘oh, just love yourself’. And I’m like, ‘cool’.
Conceptually I understand that, but I can’t actually locate that feeling, that emotion. And then I had this very profound journey with plant medicine where I got to experience unconditional self love for the first time. And when I left, I realized a couple of things. One is that prior to that, it was like trying to hit a target in a dark room. I didn’t even know what I was looking for. And then once you’ve got the emotional target in front of you, it’s like turning the lights on in the room and you can get back there anytime with or without medicine.
It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be easy. It takes practice. But that’s really, to me, a great example of what this looks like. This also touches on what we were talking about last episode where thinking only gets you so far. There’s a certain part of this work that’s emotional in nature. So you can think about self love until you’re blue in the face, but until you feel, it’s such a different sensation.
Jimmy Nguyen: And when your systems start to come back online into sobriety and the default reality and your operating system gets back to baseline, there are parts of you that can fall back into some of the same grooves or beliefs or habits or patterns. And so as another effect of what you’re describing, not only is it important to have that actual first hand experience of in your case, that unconditional self love, but then it’s like, how do I anchor that into my normal life?
Because I’ve been running a narrative of 10, 15, 20 years of no self love and no self worth and no self of internal ‘enoughness’. And so these grooves that we build in our lives and in our brains and in the ways that we behave, they’re really strong. They’re really strong. It all somewhat, you can argue, is like programming. And so it then requires an effort, an intentional effort integration to then overcome that.
And that takes time. It takes time and it takes continual choices and it takes a continual effort to re-anchor into the frequency of unconditional self love like you’re saying, or acceptance over certain things that happened to us in our life or in understanding and more compassion for other people and other animals and other beings. It all needs a very active embodiment as you’re saying, to create those anchors in our life that can last outside of the psychedelic experience.
Nick Levich: Yeah. So I think this is where I would use this analogy of a garden. So if the ceremony is this process of gardening, you’re pulling out the weeds, right? You’re extracting all the gunk, the shock, shame, the trauma, the conditioning, and then you’re planting this beautiful rose. And that rose could be compassion, love, connection, peace, whatever it is that you seek. Well, great, you’ve weeded and you’ve planted a rose.
But if you don’t do anything after that, guess what’s going to happen? The rose is going to die and the weeds are going to come back because that’s the way these gardens work. And so there’s an aspect of integration that is nurturing. We have to nurture this new state of being. And that’s exactly what you’re talking about.
And I think we’ve both had clients where they’re like, well, I’m slipping back into my old ways. And it’s like, okay, well, what are you doing to nurture the way that you do want to be in the world? Crickets nothing. It’s like, okay, well, it’s not too late. We just have to prioritize what it is that you’re seeking. And that takes watering, maintaining a new environment, getting the conditions right for that rose to thrive.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah. Thinking that it’s too late is a huge self sabotage story that many folks share with themselves. There are probably times in the neurochemical sense of our brains and then the post-experience of a psychedelic journey where you have a better format or better landscape in which for you to make these changes and connect these dots. But a part of empowering you through this experience is knowing you have a choice.
So if you, let’s say, neglected integration for months and months, and then you’re starting to feel some shame and guilt around that, you’re like, ‘man, I’m way out of the frequency of my experience. And then now I kind of skirted this and I had all this stuff going on’, well, that shame and that guilt is going to block you from actually doing anything about it.
And so you have a choice at any given time to get back on the train of integration. And so it really is not too late. There’s probably an optimal time and an optimal setting, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all out the window.
Nick Levich: Yeah. I mean, if we believe that our brains are actually changeable, that means they’re changeable with or without the medicine, no matter when you took it. They are, by definition, malleable. And so to me, it all is about intentionality. Like, if you’re seeking change, it’s possible.
If you’ve totally thrown out the window that any change is possible because you pass some arbitrary date on your calendar, then that’s exactly what’s going to happen. And so part of this is maintaining the openness that possibility even exists.
Jimmy Nguyen: And integration is unique to each person. Some folks could go through very smoothly. I mean, they’re all beautiful integration processes, but some are smoother than others, and some folks do a lot of heavy lifting, and some folks will go into ebbs and flows of challenging parts of integration and more graceful parts of integration. And so it’s important to know that this is an opinion.
For me, I think integration is actually the most important part. If the ceremony for sure needs to happen, the ceremony can really benefit from preparation. But we know that there are folks who walk into ceremonies or psychedelic experiences unprepared, totally sidewinded, and it’s actually in the integration process that makes any of that matter. So I think it’s honestly 70% to 80% of the actual work. I don’t know your thoughts there.
Nick Levich: I think that ceremony without integration is just ceremony. If all you do is have peak experiences in six to eight hour windows and nothing changes in your day to day life, what good is the peak experience? Most of the people that we work with are seeking something they want to change in their life, right?
Like better relationships, clarity on their careers, the ability to overcome depression or anxiety, like they’re looking for something real. If nothing ever leaves past the ceremonial container, what good is any of this?
Jimmy Nguyen: I was just going to say integration can also be super fun too. There are some times where as you learn a lesson and you get to really flex it and then you really get that notion of your capability or your self worth or knowing you’re enough to be loved, that s*** is awesome. It can be really empowering and fun once you get past those certain lessons or those little reminders as well.
Common Mistakes Made During Integration
Nick Levich: Yeah, I know one of the things that you wanted to touch on this episode was some common mistakes or pitfalls that people make when integrating. And I’m wondering if you’ve got one or two that you want to share.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, I think it’s important to talk about this, and we spoke about this in the preparation episode as well. So I invite folks to go back and check that out so that you can get a broader context in the preparation, ceremony, integration.
There are some pitfalls, I think some common mistakes, some things to be mindful of when you are in an integration process, some of which we already talked about, meaning that it’s not aligning to some timeline or putting some pressure on yourself, that it all has to look perfect to a certain degree. I think seeking perfection and integration is also another one of those mistakes and pitfalls as well. I think the one that I want to highlight the most is folks who feel like they don’t need integration. They have this experience. I’ll assign some words of judgment.
‘It’s amazing. It’s changed my life forever’, all of that. They’re like, ‘I’m good’ they’re like, ‘I don’t need it’. Or there are some folks who start a process and it’s a little too challenging, it’s a little too difficult, and so they back themselves out of it, or they maybe try to avoid it and tuck it back where it came from. And so that’s the number one piece, is that it does not matter how seasoned you are, how exploratory you are, how much existing self discovery practice you have.
Everybody needs integration in the psychedelic experiences. And ultimately you have a choice, I think, for every person. But I invite folks to choose the integration route because it’s very hard to do some of the stuff by yourself. I think first and foremost, the mind is very powerful. You can talk yourself in and out of anything.
So that level of accountability, that level of your own self expression and just like you’re talking about, don’t you want to give yourself the best chance and the best odds of bringing this stuff into your daily life? And then another one that we have kind of touched on is the emphasis on ceremony, thinking that the healing process starts and ends when you’ve consumed the substance and then when it wears off. I know you talk to your clients about that quite often.
Nick Levich: Yeah, I think the other one that I get a lot is like really kind of type A, tightly wound perfectionist, very cognitive, cerebrally oriented. People will often express that they’re not sure if it worked or not, or they don’t know if it was successful or not because they can’t cognitively make sense of what happened.
Jimmy Nguyen: It’s where folks are like, ‘I can’t put together a linear story of what happened. So did it work? Did it not work?’.
Nick Levich: And it’s interesting because that in and of itself is a judgment. If you recall our last episode on preparation, we talk about expectations, right? It’s like, okay, well, what was your expectation that you were going to understand every part of this? Or that it’s not real if you don’t understand it?
Or what is the actual hang up here? And what I want to make very clear to the folks who are listening and we explain this to our clients as well, as a lot of these shifts transcend your cognitive mind because they’re actually affecting or impacting the subconscious. And so a subconscious shift can occur without you cognitively knowing which lever got flipped up or down.
Jimmy Nguyen: It’s a bodily or somatic process. A process of the nervous system.
Nick Levich: Exactly.
Jimmy Nguyen: It doesn’t matter if you can identify all the muscle groups that are spasming for you and what caused the spasm or why there’s an emotional release attached to it. It just matters that you allow that process to happen in a safe and supported way. And to have somebody to say, ‘hey, I’ve worked with clients who have been through this. This is fairly common and fairly normal because some things that happen in the post psychedelic experience can be bewildering because the process is beyond just the ceremony’.
You’re still having this release process which for some folks are like, ‘I don’t know what the h*** is happening to me’, like, ‘can I get a little bit of support and guidance here?’. And then that’s where talking to professionals can be helpful for them to be like ‘it might be this, it could be that, you’re clearly medically safe and you’re talking to me just fine and all those things’. And so just having that little bit of reassurance I also think can be helpful in processing a psychedelic experience.
Nick Levich: So when would you say integration starts for folks that haven’t been through this integration?
Jimmy Nguyen: I say immediately, once you are out of the peak experience. But a part of me also wanted to say that you’re also integrating as you are going through the experience to a degree. But we always share with folks that it’s just important for you to be present in the experience and witness what’s happening because you will have a lot of time to ponder, make sense of, think about, maybe try to make sense, and it never makes sense.
Like all that stuff is okay. I find this actually being another pitfall for folks and this is kind of a conversation of integration, kind of a conversation of ceremony, but they are trying to analyze and find the plan and the action and all that while they’re in the experience, which then takes them out of the experience. Which is a little bit different than an insight, right? An insight is almost like it’s spontaneous, right? There’s this thing, right, instead of planning and orienting around it being, you know.
Nick Levich: That ‘trying to figure it out’, energy is just for sure detrimental.
Jimmy Nguyen: For sure, for sure. ‘Solve the puzzle!’. You know what I mean?
Nick Levich: Exactly. Okay. So it’s very clear that this starts the second your journey is done and you’re in this process of once again the word shows up reintegrating into your body, right. Because there’s a part of that journey where you can feel like you’re outside of yourself, outside of your body and then you come back into your body. That officially starts what is essentially a lifelong process of integration.
And I just want to make it really clear that for those of you who may have had a psychedelic experience in the past and you’re listening to this and you’re like, ‘well, I probably could have used some of that’, it’s never too late to start. You can always pick up the integration process even if your last journey or psychedelic experience was months, three years ago.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah. Another pitfall that I see folks encountering is thinking that the integration process is a linear process, meaning that it increments from 1% to 2% to 3% or almost like this step ladder approach is likely even fairly inaccurate. The integration process has a lot of ebbs and flows. It’s very nuanced and complex depending on the individual.
And there may be times where you’re feeling more of those symptomatic things or more of those anxiety ridden challenging things, difficult things to address and overcome in the pursuit of actually addressing them in the integration process, you may still feel it.
So I have folks who want to come in addressing their anxiety and they come out and they’re like, ‘well I’m still anxious and I’m still having some of these anxious feelings and actually it might be a little bit stronger’ because I’ll tell you, this is why ego death is bull****. It’s all about sidestepping these things, which means that as you sidestep them, when you come back into your sober thinking mind, some of those things can come back with a vengeance and some of those things can show up even more present.
And so that’s why it’s important to have professional support, go to therapy, and then also have a psychedelic professional and also to have some tools and frameworks so that the same way you approach all of the unknowns in the psychedelic ceremony, you can approach this stuff as it comes up in integration too.
Nick Levich: Yeah, I mean, something that you just said really makes me want to highlight that we are humans and we are literally here to experience the full range of emotions, everything from peace, to love, to compassion, to grief, to sorrow, to loss, to frustration, to every color of the rainbow. Yeah, that’s literally why we’re here. And so this whole thing of like, ‘I’m trying to avoid anything remotely unpleasant’ is like not a good recipe for life.
Jimmy Nguyen: And now there are some choices you have to make, meaning how safe and supported do I feel moving towards this thing, this anxiety, or this pain, or this certain symptom? Or how stable am I feeling emotionally to be able to address this thing right now? Or maybe actually a little bit of sleep, a little bit of rest, a little bit of taking care of my needs is actually what’s most important to me.
And so at each juncture of integration you have these choices. And when you think about a linear process, meaning that everything has the gradients upon the same momentum that actually doesn’t align to your needs at the moment. And so you may need time where you need to rest and take a break from integration so that you can come back to it or have that AHA moment, or sit with things.
Or you might say, ‘hey, this is really challenging and overwhelming, so let me just get some support around me before I integrate and process this big hairy thing that I need to look at’. And so giving yourself a little bit of room to breathe and create in the moment. Knowing that you have choices.
There’s so many different layers of integration in the body, in the mind. Mindfulness, journaling. Sitting with things. As you say. And what works for you in the first couple of weeks may not work for you a month or two down the road to reinforce whatever that is. And so just give yourself a little bit of fluidity, I think, here. As far as approaching your integration.
Where To Find Integration Support
Nick Levich: In our last few minutes, I want to touch on something which you kind of highlighted just prior to this, which is that there’s a lot of different ways to integrate. Part of it is getting really clear on the level of support that you seek. And what it got me thinking about was solo versus supported integration.
And then if you choose to go the supported route, what are your options, pros and cons, that kind of thing. So maybe in our last few minutes we just talk about the different ways someone can seek out integration support.
Jimmy Nguyen: You’re talking about something more tangible there.
Nick Levich: Yeah, well, just like I’m sure there’s some people like, ‘oh, well, I can kind of do this process on my own’. And there’s a part of me that’s like, yeah, on some level you can. But I also think there’s this thing that happens when we’re in a relationship with other humans where they mirror things back to us and it’s an opportunity to feel seen and heard and validated in a way that you don’t get when you move through this process solo.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah, what I hear is that psychedelics are best, the most conducive in community, some type of community. And we see that as far as all indigenous use. As far as psychedelic history has gone, it’s been done in community. And so it then becomes your choice on what that community looks like.
And then the other component of this that I hear you saying is, sure all these things are possible, but what’s the most effective for you? What’s the most conducive for you? And for some folks, the integration process might also include some solitude and deep contemplation and thinking. Because this is a nondual conversation, you’re still the one who has to do all the work, but it’s how it’s better fostered.
I think there’s a lot of medicine and just having people hold space and hear you out and hear your story with a loving and nonjudgmental capacity. So at a minimum, if you have those people in your life, seek them out and share your experiences.
Nick Levich: The flip side of that is don’t share with people who can’t hold it.
Jimmy Nguyen: Right, because that can really jack up your whole integration process. It falls upon the ears of non-supportive people. Then they judge you, then you go into a spiral of your own judgment. And so be really thoughtful, I think first and foremost about your discernment, your discretion, who you share these experiences with.
Nick Levich: What you share with them.
Jimmy Nguyen: Totally. And you have a right in all of this. You have a right, this is your choice how much or how little to share, who to share with, and this part versus all of that. So it ranges from you having your own solo process, which can be helpful. However, know that the mind is powerful and you can draw a lot of narratives and assumptions and all these things.
So it’s important to have people you can at least express to and people who can mirror back to you what they’re hearing. There’s that accountability piece again. Then I think the next level is a friend, family member or somebody in your life that you trust or feel, you know, confident around. Those all can be helpful, but I always fall into the realm of more tangible support with people who work in psychedelics.
Nick Levich: They’ve been there before. I just think there’s a line that starts to get real blurry when you start involving friends and family where there’s preexisting relationships, different wants and needs and emotions.
Jimmy Nguyen: You have to be mindful of their boundaries and capacity and then a lot of folks feel like they’re a burden when they’re asking their friends and family to hold space like this. So get some professional support. I’ll list off a couple of different things.
I think the best is either a psychedelic professional, a facilitator, maybe it’s the person who actually held space for you in the ceremony, which does have some benefits, which has a lot of benefits because you don’t have to go through this reinterpreting retelling piece and they can see things that you’re not always aware of as the journeyer.
Nick Levich: 100%.
Jimmy Nguyen: I think other viable options are finding a psychedelic-friendly mental health professional. So there are folks out there who kind of self proclaim being psychedelic-friendly. You have to do some vetting and see if they work with the same substance, have the same, you know, area of content, that they’re exposed to stuff like that.
Nick Levich: This is cool though, because in the modern day legal climate, this is one of the few places where licensed mental health professionals can actually legally support you in your journey .If you do have a desire to work with a therapist, a counselor, someone who’s licensed the preparation on the front end and the integration on the back end, is one of the few places where they can actually help out.
Jimmy Nguyen: A really cool way is if you already have established a relationship with this therapist and maybe you’ve been working with them for a number of months or years and then they’re psychedelic-friendly. You go off and have your experience in a supported, safe setting and then that likely will bring up a lot of content to a therapist that already knows you and already has a report with you.
But if that’s not possible, it’s also okay to go out and seek a psychedelic- oriented mental health professional. There are also integration specialists out there in the realm of coaches or folks who have other modalities, whether it’s body work, movements, other things like that.
And then also there are integration circles, even just being a part of a community, whether that’s a virtual community and in person community, that can also be really helpful too. I think I’ve covered most of it as far as what’s out there today.
Nick Levich: The peer to peer communities are really great and they’re different than pre-existing relationships with friends and family. And so there’s a lot of people that find a lot of value from being in community, in those containers with people who are also in their processing and integration phase.
Jimmy Nguyen: Yeah. So luckily we’re in an environment where there’s more support out there than there used to be. And I think that with the political climate, all of this interest in psychedelics will hopefully continue to move in that trajectory. And that about wraps up our episode today. My number one takeaway for folks is to go towards that thing, go towards that stuff, lean into those things that you know would be helpful if you process them, because it is so painful to be halfway through a process and have it interrupted.
So all of this is possible and each one of you out there has a lot of choice on your support, your care, what that looks like. So thank you so much for tuning in today. Thank you for our community of listeners, community of supporters, community of clients, other facilitators. Let us know how we can do better.
Let us know what’s been exciting for you in these conversations by leaving us a review, by rating and even recommending new topics, things for us to address. You can download episodes of the Psychedelic Passage podcast. Look for all our episodes by going to CannabisRadio.com, subscribing to the show on Apple Podcast, Amazon, Spotify, IHeartRadio, anywhere where you get your podcast and we’ll see you next time.
We hope that you found today’s stimulating conversation on psychedelic integration to be helpful for painting a more clear understanding on the importance of this process. Here at Psychedelic Passage we facilitate therapeutic psychedelic experiences across all 50 U.S. states. If you’d like to be connected with our thoroughly vetted and carefully curated network of facilitators, we empower you to book a consultation with us.Healing isn’t easy, but it can be a much more fluid process with the right support. We encourage you to take a peek at our blog page for more informative resources like this one, on everything-psychedelic. That’s all for now, friends. Safe journeying!