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  • Writer's pictureSara Tookey

Psychedelic Integration: What is it and who can benefit from it?

Updated: Mar 12

Written by, Dr Sara Tookey




"The psychedelic experience can be incredibly meaningful, but it is not an end in itself. The real work comes with integrating the experience into everyday life." - Rick Doblin, founder of Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)


Man standing at the foot of a mountain looking to the top of the mountain with a psychedelic aura and hues surrounding
Psychedelic Integration - protected image, created by True North Psychology, UK


One of the key differences between recreational "tripping”  and healing is integration. Integration is vital for enabling sustainable personal growth as a result of a psychedelic experience. Many researchers argue that integration is even more important than the psychedelic experience itself. Without thoughtful effort interpreting and applying insights from expanded states, trippy epiphanies rarely translate into lasting positive life changes.


This article aims to:

  • Define what psychedelic integration is

  • Explain why integration is important 

  • Provide an overview of different integration methods


Stay tuned for next month’s blog, where we will offer practical guidance for conscious integration practices to help translate psychedelic insights into positive life changes. In that article we will focus specifically on techniques and tools to facilitate integration.



 






What is Psychedelic Integration?


While the definition of “ Psychedelic Integration” is ever evolving, integration involves processing profound realisations from psychedelic or otherwise altered states of consciousness to embed perceptual shifts into daily living. It means dedicating time to make sense of visions, lessons, and newly accesible neural pathways revealed in non-ordinary states. It’s theorised that integration then reinforces preferred modes of thought and behaviour before the default mode network reverts people back to prior rigidity.


Most definitions of psychedelic integration emphasise the need to revisit, work through, and make sense of the material and content of experiences with psychedelic or altered states (Bathje et al., 2022).





Why is Psychedelic Integration Important?


It is the diligent integration that allows us to translate altered states into positive traits, healthy behaviours, and transformational lifestyle changes. Essentially, integration fuels personal growth while tripping provides the initial spark of inspiration. This process, known as psychedelic integration, happens in the weeks and months following the psychedelic experience. By digesting psychedelic insights and weaving them into the fabric of one’s identity, integration sustains healing and self-improvement over the long term.


Research indicates psychedelics may open neural pathways and windows of insight that can enable real, lasting change for those willing to strengthen new patterns of thinking and behaviour post-experience. This integration work is essential; without concerted, continued effort to ingrain emerging perspectives, the mind will likely revert to previous states of being.


In working with participants, I often offer the following metaphor to help people understand the important role of integration in the psychedelic therapy journey. I ask people to think of psychedelics as a tool, forging trails through dense jungle. They create fresh pathways, opening new possibilities for directions and destinations. Without maintenance, these routes will soon become overgrown and impassable again, with the  jungle quickly reclaiming its territory. Integration involves walking the newly blazed trails —reinforcing open modes of thought and neural connections through applied reflection and pruning. It requires committed upkeep of terrain revealed. With psychedelics removing some obstacles, and integration keeping routes clear, profound transformation becomes possible.






How Integration Can Help


Making Sense of Experiences & Integrating Back to Normal Life


Psychedelic sessions can unearth intense emotions, forgotten memories, revelations and expanded consciousness. After such deep inner work, people may find it difficult to integrate insights into normal life. Making sense of mystical or challenging experiences, and translating epiphanies into sustainable growth, requires effort. Without integration, the afterglow of psychedelics often fades back to life as it was before.


Providing Support to Engage with Healing


The process of psychedelic-assisted therapy can involve a process of coming face-to-face with areas of pain that have been blocked or avoided for many years. People may find their defences lowered and a new courage and willingness to lean into difficulties as a way of moving toward healing. This is something we therapists see in the psychedelic sessions as well as in the sessions following a psychedelic session. Integration support can help a person to sustain the motivation and mindset needed to keep facing one’s struggles to facilitate the healing process.


Embedding Insights Into Lasting Lifestyle Changes


Integration allows breakthroughs and insights from psychedelic sessions to fully take root in daily life. This happens by continually nurturing the initial intentions that led a person to seek psychedelic therapy. Similar to physical therapy requiring repeated training to repattern muscles, integrating psychedelic insights means continually revisiting revelations.  This crystallises lessons over months and years within various life contexts, embedding new wisdom into the ongoing narrative of one's life.


You can read about models of psychedelic integration in this comprehensive review and recommended book on integration by Psychologist and Psychotherapist, Marc Aixalà.




Who is Psychedelic Integration For?


  • Those with experiences in expanded states of consciousness seeking to find meaning

  • Those wanting to make-sense of profound, challenging or confusing psychedelic experiences. 

  • Anyone wanting to apply psychedelic insights to daily life

  • Those needing support to manage challenging after-effects of a psychedelic experience. Including:

  • Those wanting to transform difficult experiences into meaningful turning points for healing







What Kinds of Insights or Experiences Need Integration?


In my work as an integration specialist, there are two kinds of experiences that more often require integration therapy or support:



Mystical Experiences:


These transcendent states marked by a sense of unity, sacredness, or intuitive truths can require integration support. In research, these are measured by the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ), but have been written about across contexts and cultures. They include one or more of the following experiences:


  1. Sense of Interconnectedness or Oneness: People may experience a feeling of connection or oneness with the world around them. They become aware of and deeply connected with a sense of life that exists both within them and all around them. Some may describe an experience known as ‘ego dissolution’ - where Ego dissolution experiences often occur in the context of mystical states in which the ordinary sense of self is replaced by a sense of union with an ultimate reality underlying all of manifest existence (Letheby et al., 2017).

  2. Intuitive or Subjective truth: A person may describe a feeling of being connected to a higher truth, larger than themselves or as though they’ve gained access to truth on an intuitive level. 

  3. Positive Mood/ Ecstatic States: A person may have an experience that is marked by intense joy and elation or may feel a strong sense of being calm and at peace or experiencing bliss.

  4. Transcending Time and Space: People may feel outside of the present day or beyond the scope of past, present and future. This can also be experienced with physical space. 

  5. Sense of the Sacred or Spiritual: A person’s experience may feel sacred or spiritual in nature. Spiritual words, feelings, imagery are common and may lie outside the person’s usual belief systems or spiritual/religious orientation.

  6. Ineffability - insights beyond language: A person’s experience may have an ineffable quality, where they struggle to find the words to describe their experience. They may feel as though their insights or experience cannot be captured by human language.


In 2006, Johns Hopkins University researchers published clinical studies that looked at the potential of psilocybin-assisted therapy to induce mystical-type experiences. Participants rated the psilocybin experience as having “substantial personal meaning and spiritual significance” and participants linked the psychedelic experience to enduring positive shifts in their attitudes and behaviour over time (Griffiths et al., 2006). About 64% of the participants rated their experience in the top five most spiritually significant and/ personally meaningful experiences of their lives (Griffiths et al., 2008). 


Media has fueled rising expectations that psychedelics reliably induce revelatory mystical states and it’s these experiences that lead to improvement in  mental health conditions. However, transcendent experiences are far from guaranteed and research is still trying to understand the relationship between such experiences and improved mental health outcomes. Careful preparation, guidance and integration, grounded in realistic expectations can help to mitigate disappointment and maximise opportunities for meaning making, mystical or otherwise.



Challenging Experiences:


The Psychedelic Renaissance has replaced the term “bad trip” with “challenging psychedelic experience”. This is because reports and research results have shown the potential for positive outcomes that can result from seemingly distressing or even traumatic psychedelic experiences (see more in this research). 


A challenging experience is an experience that involves overwhelming anxiety, panic, fear, confusion, depersonalization, ego dissolution, paranoia, as well as somatic symptoms or paranoia (Barett et al, 2016).  


The Challenging Experience Questionnaire was developed to measure such experiences and it categorises “bad trips” into seven dimensions: fear, grief, death, insanity, isolation, paranoia and physical distress (related to physical symptoms such as nausea, dizziness and heart palpitations).


Though traumatic for participants in the moment, many who experience challenging psychedelic experiences can later report positive lasting effects - even from their worst experiences (Gashi et al., 2021). Research shows that while psychedelics can temporarily induce fear or make pre-existing struggles feel inescapable, when combined with caring support, working through this challenging experience often leads to personal growth. It seems facing darkness makes the light shine brighter afterward.


We don’t fully understand all the factors that can lead a person to have a challenging psychedelic experience, but we know it is influenced greatly by a person's history, physical and psychological factors of a person, the dose of the substance taken and factors involved in the set and setting (Carbonaro, et al., 2016).  


It’s important to know the risks of engaging in a psychedelic experience, as distress from any psychedelic experience can persist into daily life (Evans et al., 2023), especially where the psychedelic experience was undertaken without proper safeguards (e.g. proper screening, preparation and clinical and ethical standards of care). 


Returning to the earlier mentioned metaphor, sometimes clearing the path reveals obstacles and challenges that must be attended to before one can walk the path forward.




What Kinds of Integration are There?


Whether addressing trauma recovery, psychedelic therapy, or personal growth, integration fundamentally involves linking insights together into an expanded yet coherent understanding of oneself and one’s healing. This creative linking process stems from innate human capacities for self-reflection and making meaning from our experiences over time.


Generally speaking, there are two main forms of integration- conscious and unconscious. 


Unconscious Integration:


To some degree, integration occurs organically after profound experiences. Our innate drive towards wholeness and balance propels us to make sense of intense states that disrupt habitual patterns. Many people report sudden improvements following intense personal work. However, without conscious committed effort, most revert back to previous ways of thinking and behaving after once the afterglow of the experience fades.  


Conscious Integration: 


There are a few forms that conscious integration can take. These can be  used on their own or in conjunction with one-another to enable people to transform their psychedelic experience into positive changes in their lives. 


Integration can be done as a community practice, 1:1 guided practice or therapeutic process with a qualified mental health professional that has been trained to integrate psychedelic integration into their practice, or as a  self-led practice.


Community integration involves engaging with a supportive community to facilitate the integration processes. Recent research shows supportive communities play an important role in integrating psychedelic experiences. Western approaches have focused primarily on individual psychotherapy, however findings indicate communal practices such as sharing experiences, participating in rituals, and receiving empathy from others can greatly aid integration. This aligns with indigenous views of healing as intertwined with community and the collective wisdom of the culture. 


The research points to an expanded definition of integration that goes beyond the individual to include mutual understanding and holistic healing through communal support. This underscores the vital role communities can play in sustaining personal growth during the integration process by instilling a sense of belonging and collective responsibility in supporting the emotional, mental, and spiritual processes of integration.


Guided Integration or 1:1 Psychedelic Integration Support involves working with a trained specialist after a psychedelic experience. The specialist therapist/coach/guide/facilitator invites participants to commit to practices that help strengthen new perspectives and translate insights into meaningful life changes over time. Together they relate psychedelic content to everyday challenges, anchoring insights before patterns of thinking and behaving return. 


Just as preparation and setting shape psychedelic experiences themselves, the trajectory afterward depends heavily on consciously reinforcing and integrating takeaways from the experience. Reinforcing lessons with as much dedication as the person devotes to the psychedelic sessions themselves is important.


The practitioner conducting integration may differ based on context. In clinical settings, the same guide from psychedelic sessions often handles integration. In recreational or ceremonial settings a separate specialist may be needed to provide integration support, as many retreats do not provide more than one integration sharing circle following a psychedelic experience. Regardless of circumstance, establishing trust between the experiencer and the integration specialist is essential. 


We will be going into more depth about the processes involved in 1:1 Integration Support and therapy in an upcoming article, so stay tuned!


Self-Led Integration involves a process of engaging with insights from a psychedelic experience in different forms. Practices may include journaling, engaging in embodied practices, connecting with nature or creative and artistic pursuits. 







How Long Will it Take to 'Integrate'?


Integration is an ongoing, unfolding process. Integration involves continually linking insights into an expanded yet coherent understanding of oneself. This happens through revisiting psychedelic visions and realisations, then relating them to one’s life context and challenges and creating meaning.


Effective integration is therefore an open-ended, lifelong practice. It should honour each person’s abilities for self-observation and self-direction. The best integration guidance bears witness to insights with empathy and guidance while respecting self-healing as an organic, multidimensional journey that unfolds at its own pace. Therefore the process of integration has no definitive endpoint. 


In formal 1:1 integration therapy, there is no evidence to suggest a recommended number of sessions and there may be a point where the support sessions take on a broader psychotherapeutic approach rather than intensive focus directly linking content back to the psychedelic experience itself (more about this in an upcoming article).

  The True North Psychology Integration Approach


Integration is vital after a psychedelic experience to process emotions, perspectives, and insights for positive life changes. We provide integration support that meets each person's needs, whether they seek guidance or education for self-led practices or a more guided therapeutic approach. We are also networked with therapists, coaches and other support professional members of the Institute of Psychedelic Therapy and can provide onward referrals where necessary. 


Our therapists have worked in psychedelic research and community integration groups. We understand the need for ethical, compassionate and  skilled care before, during, and after psychedelic sessions helps people safely navigate expanded states of consciousness. This allows them to find meaning, implement insights into daily life, and transform struggles into strengths.


We help people:


  • Find personal meaning from intense sessions

  • Learn how to translate learnings from psychedelic experiences into lasting positive changes in their lives

  • Heal from traumatic experiences unearthed through psychedelics

  • Recover from difficult psychedelic experiences

  • Develop self-compassion practices for wellbeing

  • Prepare for psychedelic experiences from a harm reduction lens

  • Connect with supportive communities

  • Integrate psychedelic perspectives into talk therapy approaches



Contact Us to inquire about the integration services and psychedelic-informed therapy approaches that our therapists provide.




Conclusion & Summary


Psychedelic integration is vital for translating insights into positive life changes. Without conscious effort to make sense of a person's experience with non-ordinary states, psychedelic epiphanies rarely crystallise into lasting improved wellbeing. Integration involves continually reinforcing preferred modes of thought and behaviour revealed in non-ordinary states before old patterns reclaim territory in the brain. It requires linking realisations together into an expanded yet coherent self-understanding. Integration is therefore an open-ended process that respects the multidimensional nature of self-healing. Rather than expect immediate transformation, effective integration means committing to lifelong practices that nurture emerging growth over time. Regular habits allow psychedelic inspiration to fully crystallise, embedding lessons into one’s identity and receiving support in the process can help a person stay connected to their process.



 

FREE Resources:


NEED IMMEDIATE SUPPORT FOR A CHALLENGING PSYCHEDELIC EXPERIENCE?

TNP does not offer crisis support.


Below are a list of additional resources and support services to support the integration process:


See further resources on our integration therapy page (scroll to the bottom). 



PsyCare: Offers information and support for integration


Psychedelic Support is a website that provides information about psychedelic-assisted therapy and FREE courses on integration. 


F.I.V.E, is an organisation providing necessary education for individuals to make informed decisions when considering taking 5-MeO-DMT, has provided key resources to learn more about red flags and what to look for in a safe facilitator and how to engage with the integration process.

 


Stay Connected


Are you curious about psychedelic experiences or wish to join a supportive community to integrate non-ordinary states of consciousness?


CONTACT US to learn more about preparing for, making sense of, integrating, and coping with the residual effects and impact of a psychedelic experiences.


Book a therapy consultation to explore preparation, integration, and psychedelic-informed therapy for yourself.


We welcome your thoughts and reflections on this article.


 


Need one to one support? Book a consultation below.




 

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Our TNP DISCLAIMER:

  • Our site provides information for educational purposes only, and is a platform to connect people with qualified therapists. It does not provide professional mental health or medical advice.

  • We do not offer psychedelic-assisted therapies or access to illegal substances. Requesting such services is prohibited.

  • We cannot help locate psychedelic-assisted therapy, guided sessions, or retreats.

  • We may provide publicly available information about eligible clinical research trials for research participation purposes only.

  • Our therapists provide support which adopts a harm reduction perspective and does not encourage illicit substance use.

  • We do not work with individuals experiencing active psychosis, although we can assist in making sense of past psychotic episodes for those under professional care.

  • We do not act as experts on psychedelics or altered states, nor provide advice on their use.

  • We are not liable for risks associated with using information from our site.


Mushroom on a stack of books
Psychedelic Science Resources and References- created by True North Psychology, protected image

References


References from research cited:

 

Acevedo, E. C., Uhler, S., White, K. P., & Al-Shawaf, L. (2024). What predicts beneficial outcomes in psychedelic use? A quantitative content analysis of psychedelic health outcomes. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2024.2314729


Barrett, F. S., Bradstreet, M. P., Leoutsakos, J. S., Johnson, M. W., & Griffiths, R. R. (2016). The Challenging Experience Questionnaire: Characterization of challenging experiences with psilocybin mushrooms. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 30(12), 1279–1295. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881116678781


Bathje, G. J., Majeski, E., & Kudowor, M. (2022). Psychedelic integration: An analysis of the concept and its practice. Frontiers in Psychology, 13, 824077. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.824077


Carbonaro, T. M., Bradstreet, M. P., Barrett, F. S., MacLean, K. A., Jesse, R., Johnson, M. W., & Griffiths, R. R. (2016). Survey study of challenging experiences after ingesting psilocybin mushrooms: Acute and enduring positive and negative consequences. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 30(12), 1268–1278. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881116662634


Carhart-Harris, R. L., & Friston, K. J. (2019). REBUS and the anarchic brain: Toward a unified model of the brain action of psychedelics. Pharmacological Reviews, 71(3), 316–344. https://doi.org/10.1124/pr.118.017160


Cowley-Court, T., Chenhall, R., Sarris, J., Bouso, J.C., Tófoli, L.F., Opaleye, E.S., Schubert, V., & Perkins, D. (2023). Life after Ayahuasca: A Qualitative Analysis of the Psychedelic Integration Experiences of 1630 Ayahuasca Drinkers from a Global Survey.

Evens, R., Schmidt, M. E., Majić, T., Schmidt, T. T. (2023). The psychedelic afterglow phenomenon: A systematic review of subacute effects of classic serotonergic psychedelics. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology. https://doi.org/10.1177/20451253231172254


Gattuso, J. J., Perkins, D., Ruffell, S., Lawrence, A. J., Hoyer, D., Jacobson, L. H., Timmermann, C., Castle, D., Rossell, S. L., Downey, L. A., Pagni, B. A., Galvão-Coelho, N. L., Nutt, D., & Sarris, J. (2023). Default mode network modulation by psychedelics: A systematic review. The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 26(3), 155–188. https://doi.org/10.1093/ijnp/pyac074


Griffiths, R.R., Richards, W.A., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. (2006). Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Psychopharmacology, 187(3), 268–283. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-006-0457-5


Griffiths, R., Richards, W., Johnson, M., McCann, U., & Jesse, R. (2008). Mystical-type experiences occasioned by psilocybin mediate the attribution of personal meaning and spiritual significance 14 months later. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 22(6), 621–632. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881108094300


Letheby, C., & Gerrans, P. (2017). Self unbound: Ego dissolution in psychedelic experience. Neuroscience of Consciousness, 2017(1), nix016. https://doi.org/10.1093/nc/nix016

Schenberg, E. E. (2018). Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy: A paradigm shift in psychiatric research and development. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 9, 733. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2018.00733

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