So you want to take psychedelics—those mind-altering, consciousness-expanding, body-buzzing, life-changing medicines that intrigue and excite so many. Maybe you have already read about the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic substances like psilocybin, DMT, and LSD, but you want to make sure your experience is safe and meaningful.
Maybe you are intrigued by the latest research on psychedelics for various conditions like PTSD, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders or simply want to voyage into the unknown for self-exploratory purposes. You may be yearning to expand into deeper connection, open up to profound insights about the universe and your part in it, and heal your bodymind of trauma, dis-ease, and fears.
Regardless, deciding what type of setting and level of support you desire significantly affects the quality of your journey, whether you choose psychedelic therapy or traveling to an international psychedelic retreat.
In this article, we will cover 5 key differences between psychedelic therapy and retreats, the pros and cons of each, and how a professionally guided psychedelic journey may offer the best of both worlds.
Current Research on Group vs. Individual Psychedelic Experiences
Unsurprisingly, environmental factors have a massive impact on the content and quality of one’s psychedelic trip. “Set and setting” coined by Timothy Leary in the 1960s describes the importance of one’s external setting—from location to social presence to aesthetic environment—and one’s internal setting (or mindset).
In a 2021 study conducted on participants of a psychedelic retreat ceremony, social connection and outcome were evaluated as positively correlated factors on self-evaluations of retreat-goers.
Kettner and colleagues found that communitas amongst retreat-goers prior to ceremony, as well as a sense of rapport and respect for the facilitator, was a strong predictor of well-being and positive experience from the ceremony.
The study acknowledges that, while positive relationships between all parties was a strong predictor of positive experience with the medicine, it is unclear if a solo journey with a trusted guide would have even better results.
More studies with a large scope of strict comparison between positive group settings and positive guided solo settings are needed to determine if there is a definitive difference in value. Most likely, this matter is highly subjective to the needs and values of the journeyer, but the study does definitely conclude the importance of positive rapport amongst present participants.
5 Things to Consider: Psychedelic Therapy vs. International Retreats
1. Determining a Therapeutic Setting & Psychedelic Retreat Location
International retreats often take place in serene, natural settings, with a ceremonial feel and an emphasis on spirituality. This atmosphere contributes a sense of beauty and adventure to the overall experience.
During a retreat-based psychedelic ceremony, the journeyer is usually in a group setting and journeys simultaneously with the rest of their party while a single facilitator presides over the group. Many people appreciate journeying with a group to feel a sense of symbiosis, reciprocal support, and creating deep bonding and community with their fellow participants.
In contrast, a therapy setting is more likely to be clinical and sterile, but the benefits of this include a more controlled, predictable environment with a focus on the psychological and emotional effects in regards to pathology. Psychedelic therapy also offers a more insular, individual experience with little outside activity, being purely tailored to the journeyer.
These differences can affect many other factors of the trip, such as being able to choose the music, how much sound one can make, the level of activity, the general location, and how much access someone has to their support system.
In a recent podcast episode, we dove deep into the topic of journeying solo, with a partner, or in a group setting, to help journeyers get an idea of how each model affects the overall experience. In conclusion, a retreat setting may offer more beauty, community, and a ceremonial feel, while a therapy setting is likely to feel comfortable, insular, and clinical.
2. Assessing Quality of Support for Your Psychedelic Experience
This brings us to our next point which relates to the quality and type of psychedelic assistance in retreat ceremonies and therapy sessions. Psychedelic therapy offers access to a trained and licensed specialist who understands via the psychological lens how to navigate psycho-emotional traumatic residue that may emerge during a psychedelic experience.
The user has consistent access to the therapist and is monitored closely for the trip’s entirety with an emphasis on pathology and positive improvements in mental health. In a previous article, we discussed what to look for in a psychedelic therapist to help you get an idea of what qualities and factors to look for.
During a retreat ceremony, however, you may not have full access to your guide at all times since they must offer support to everyone in the group. As far as quality of support goes, a ceremonial guide may have a more spiritual, transcendental approach rooted in shamanism and indigenous ceremonial understanding of the substance’s effects.
In other words, many ceremonial guides in international retreat settings have a more alternative and holistic approach, with healing the spirit of the person rather than focusing on neurochemistry or through reductionistic analysis.
Regardless of which type of lens you are drawn to, ultimately finding the right individual guide is most important, because no qualifications or training can make up for the subjective resonance and values of each journeyer.
3. The Cost of Psychedelic Retreats vs. Psychedelic Therapy
When it comes to pricing, the cost of psychedelic retreats and therapy are within the same ballpark, with retreats averaging between $2,000 and $7,000 when all is said and done. Only some retreats are all-inclusive, with a flat fee for travel expenses, meals, and lodging. Most retreats require separate expenses and a lot of research and planning.
Ketamine treatment, on the other hand, usually costs between $400 and $800 per session with an average of 6 sessions. We also discussed psychedelic insurance coverage in a previous article in regards to local ketamine treatments.
Aside from insurance, the price of psychedelics themselves could be another factor, although with most retreats and therapies, the substance is included in the overall payment. If price is a primary determining factor for you, psychedelic therapy may come in a bit cheaper than going on an international retreat, but many factors can change pricing of each.
4. Availability and Convenience: Psychedelic Therapy vs. Retreats
Arguably one of the most important factors when trying to decide between retreats or therapy for a psychedelic experience is availability. Because most psychedelics—including psilocybin, MDMA, DMT, and LSD—are still Schedule I substances in the US, finding a licensed therapist who can legally administer one of these compounds is almost impossible.
This brings us to ketamine clinics, which is one of the only medically and conveniently available “psychedelics” for treatment of depression and anxiety disorders, even in spite of others being decriminalized.
In a previous article, we discussed the benefits and pitfalls of Ketamine and why you may or may not want to go with special K as your drug of choice when looking for therapeutic potential in a substance.
In light of the significance of choosing the right psychedelic substance, clinical therapy is quite limited with no access to things like magic mushrooms and ayahuasca, unless participating in an experimental clinical trial.
Even though retreats may offer more variety, the topic of convenience is valid, given that many people lack the ability to drop everything and go on an international retreat, which takes a lot of time, effort, and planning.
While clinical trials lend access to a wide range of other drugs, availability and eligibility may be yet another roadblock. Luckily, there is another safe option—professionally-guided experiences—which will be covered later in this article.
5. Psychedelic Retreat Safety & Therapy Legality in the U.S.
As covered previously, most psychedelics are still illegal in accordance with US federal law as of 2023, however, in many states and jurisdictions, substances like psilocybin have been decriminalized.
In prior articles, we went deeper into the legality surrounding psychedelics and Colorado’s Prop 122 which brings complexity to this issue. Many international retreats take place in countries where psychedelics are legal but unregulated.
This lack of regulation in other countries posits the issue of safety. Ensuring that the good quality and sourcing of the substance is of the utmost importance, but this may be hard for journeyers to do on international retreats.
In the event of a true mental health crisis for people with predispositions to certain disorders, being out of the country with a guide who has inadequate knowledge on handling such a situation could be an added liability.
Luckily with increasing research and coverage, various psychedelics are being decriminalized in states like Colorado and Oregon, and Ketamine clinics are entirely safe, regulated, and legal.
It is important to approach psychedelic experiences with caution and under the counsel of professionals and experts since legality, research, and regulation are constantly and quickly evolving.
Guided Psychedelic Experiences: The Best of Both Worlds
What environment is going to help you fully relax and let go, feeling the safest and most supported? This is the primary question you should ask yourself prior to selecting your ideal scenario.
Given the complexity of the benefits and pitfalls of both traveling for a retreat and finding psychedelic-assisted therapy in the US, we want to highlight a third option—professionally guided psychedelic experiences.
We at Psychedelic Passage connect clients with a network of pre-vetted, professional facilitators with expertise in navigating the psychedelic landscape and providing harm-reduction and support.
If you are searching for a safe and convenient way to experience the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics, professional guidance offers high quality support while melding together a scientific and spiritual approach. Journeyers have access to one-on-one attention in a peaceful setting of their choice, whether that be in the comfort of their own home or traveling to a scenic location.
While it is important to understand the differences between a psychedelic therapist and guide, our facilitators are conveniently located all over the US for ease and accessibility to all seekers. This offers the highest quality support, full customizability, safety and affordability for the most aligned individual psychedelic experience.
Ready to Embark on Your Healing Journey?
Not only does our network of pre-vetted facilitators offer professional guidance for your psychedelic journey, but they also offer consulting for microdosing, preparation, integration, and general support and resources around psychedelic use.
If you are ready to feel supported in whatever path you choose, book a consultation with one of our psychedelic concierges today. We also have a free resources page with more information and articles on psychedelic educational topics. As the field of research and public interest expands, we are honored to accompany you on your very special journey toward wholeness and health.
FAQs About Psychedelic Therapy & Psychedelic Retreats
1. What is Psychedelic Therapy? How is it Different From an International Retreat?
Psychedelic therapy involves the use of psychedelic substances such as psilocybin or MDMA in a controlled and therapeutic setting, under the guidance of trained therapists. It focuses on helping individuals to address and resolve underlying psychological issues, such as trauma or anxiety.
In contrast, an international psychedelic retreat typically involves the use of psychedelic substances in a communal or spiritual setting, often with the aim of experiencing altered states of consciousness for personal growth.
The primary difference is that, in a therapy setting, the journeyer is one-on-one with a licensed practitioner while, in a retreat setting, the journeyer is usually a part of a larger group being supported by one guide.
2. Which is More Effective? Psychedelic Therapy or an International Retreat?
Effectiveness depends on the specific needs of the individual in regards to support and setting. Psychedelic therapy has been shown to be effective in treating conditions such as depression, PTSD, and addiction, with long-lasting positive effects.
On the other hand, international psychedelic retreats may offer a unique and transformative experience that can lead to personal growth and spiritual insights.
Finding the right psychedelic facilitator and setting is most important for having a successful trip.
3. How To Decide Which Option is Right For You: Psychedelic Therapy or a Retreat?
The decision to pursue psychedelic therapy or an international psychedelic retreat should be based on your individual goals and needs. If you are seeking help with a specific psychological condition, such as depression or anxiety, psychedelic therapy may be the best option for you.
However, if you are looking for a transformative and potentially spiritual experience, an international psychedelic retreat may be more appropriate. Having a professional psychedelic guide may provide a balanced option for those looking for both a psychological and spiritual approach, as well as offering a more comfortable setting without the need for travel.
It is important to do thorough research and consider the potential risks and benefits of both options before making a decision, and to seek guidance from trained professionals if needed.