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  • Writer's pictureSara Tookey

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

Updated: 6 days ago

Written by, Dr Sara Tookey


Preparation for psychedelic therapy- true north psychology UK

Psychedelic substances like psilocybin, LSD and DMT are demonstrating promising therapeutic potential in research trials for treating mental health conditions and supporting personal growth. 

 

 

To harness the potential benefits of psychedelics safely and effectively, proper preparation, ethical and professional guidance, as well as integration practices are essential.

 

This article explains what psychedelic preparation is, what it involves when supplemented alongside a psychedelic experience, who can benefit, and how it can support positive outcomes. 

 

Stay tuned for next month’s blog, where I will go in more detail to explore what psychedelic ‘integration’ is, who it’s for and how it can help.






 


Psychedelic Experiences vs Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy


In my work on psychedelic clinical research trials and in working with people pursuing psychedelic therapies within other legalised contexts, I’ve witnessed how psychedelic-assisted therapy can act as a catalyst for moving toward, rather than away from areas of difficulty and pain in one’s life. For many psychedelic therapy can temporarily dismantle one’s usual defense mechanisms, allowing them the opportunity to view trauma, suffering and their struggles through a lens of openness, compassion and courage. But healing from mental health issues requires vulnerability, commitment, persistence and hard work. Psychedelics remind us that looking straight at our pain, rather than distracting ourselves from it is where true healing begins.

Psychedelic experiences can inspire people to change unhelpful thought patterns, behaviours, and attachments that stand in the way of growth. And when offered with proper guidance and support, one can learn how to turn these insights into real lasting changes in their lives. 

There is a common misconception and current debate taking place between the pharmaceutical industry (e.g. companies developing synthetic versions of psychedelics for market and the FDA) and the psychedelic-assisted THERAPY world. One asserts that simply taking a psychedelic IS therapy while the other insists a trained psychotherapist or psychologist is needed to support the unique therapeutic processes required to make change as a result of taking a psychedelic substance. Nevertheless, whether the supporting person or guide is a trained therapist or not, it remains an agreed understanding that proper screening, preparation and integration in psychedelic therapy is crucial.



psychedelic effects on the mind. image created by Dr Sara Tookey at True North Psychology
Psychedelics and the mind, created by True North Psychology- protected image


What is Psychedelic Preparation?


Preparation for a psychedelic experience involves providing individuals with education and tools to help them make the best use of their psychedelic experience and to educate them about how they can reduce the potential risks associated with taking psychedelics (for people with certain predispositions this may include psychosis, mania cardiovascular concerns, worsening mental health). Psychedelic preparation takes an approach known as the harm reduction approach to psychedelic assisted therapy. It is a compassionate and empowering approach, where the therapist prioritises the individual’s agency and autonomy and supports the person in their process Gorman et al., 2021.

 

Preparation typically involves a therapist, coach or guide imparting knowledge to enable a person to make decisions that suit their needs and personal intentions for engaging in a therapeutic psychedelic experience. For example preparation sessions can provide a person with tools to help them spot red flags and reduce risks associated with embarking on a psychedelic journey, by attending to the needs of set and setting. Preparation is a process whereby a therapist or coach helps a person to prepare to embrace and learn from their upcoming psychedelic experience. 

 

Given the rapid expansion of the psychedelic industry, the amplified media attention, and the ever-evolving cultural and political contexts, it is crucial to prioritise education regarding the safe and informed navigation of this landscape.




Who is Psychedelic Preparation For?


Who is Psychedelic Preparation for? 

 

Psychedelic preparation support is suitable for:

  • Any person with interest in altered or expanded states of consciousness.

  • Any person with an interest or curiosity about psychedelic-assisted therapies, those wanting to prepare for a psychedelic experience. Including:

  • People preparing for participation in an approved research study involving a psychedelic compound

  • People seeking to prepare intentionally for an alternative legal psychedelic therapy setting, including independent ceremonial, spiritual or therapeutic use of psychedelics

  • People wanting to learn about how to navigate the psychedelic therapies landscape, assess for risks and spot red flags



What Does Psychedelic Preparation Involve?


The growing popularity of psychedelic therapies has led to a rapid increase in retreats and clinics offering these treatments. However, many do not establish or follow rigorous clinical standards of care, which can endanger participants and the potential for these therapies. Psychedelic therapy is not without its risks (see more in Jules Evans' Challenging psychedelic experiences project for more details - I plan to write more about valuable work in future). Implementing ethical and clinical standards is critical.


This should include:


  • Ensuring Participant Safety: Careful screening, medical supervision and appropriate dosing guidelines to minimise risks and promote safe environments.


  • Promoting Ethical Practices: Clear informed consent, confidentiality and professionalism protocols to prevent potential for exploitation and to build patient trust.


  • Facilitating Effective Treatment: While it’s important to understand how psychedelic-assisted therapies can be applied across various settings (like in clinics, retreats, etc), clinical research trials need to continue to develop and implement clearly defined protocols and allow for controlled comparisons to learn how psychedelic-assisted therapies can be most effective and for whom.



Lightbulb moments


Preparation will typically include the following:

 

  1. Thorough Screening: Studies show that psychedelic substances pose very little risk of fatal overdose or addiction. Due to their low potential for harm, experts categorize them among the least dangerous recreational substances. But that doesn’t mean they are entirely without risk. Because of this, psilocybin trials and ketamine clinics have strict exclusion criteria in an attempt to protect people who have physical or psychological vulnerabilities.

  2. Encouraging the Development of an Intention: Peter Addy, PhD says, “Your intention is the purpose you set for your psychedelic experience. It’s your conscious reason for taking this profound inner journey in the first place. A psychedelic intention provides a focus point to guide your thoughts, emotions, and visions during the experience.”

  3. Establishing a Trusting Therapeutic Relationship: Psychedelics amplify suggestibility and lower defenses, so set and setting shape experiences profoundly. A safe, comfortable environment and a trusting relationship (i.e a therapeutic alliance) with a compassionate guide(s) can help support this vulnerability and increase the likelihood of someone having a meaningful psychedelic experience. 

 



Conclusion & Summary


Proper preparation is an essential component of safe and effective psychedelic-assisted therapy. Preparation typically involves screening participants for risks, establishing therapeutic intentions, cultivating openness, strengthening self-awareness, and committing to integration practices afterwards. While psychedelics show promise in treating mental health conditions, they also carry risks if not facilitated appropriately. By implementing careful protocols around screening, setting, dosing, and follow-up care, practitioners can help participants minimize harms and maximise benefits from these powerful catalysts for healing and growth. Ultimately, with proper standards of care in place, psychedelic-assisted therapy can provide opportunities to confront pain courageously and catalyze meaningful, lasting change.


 

FREE Resources on Psychedelic Harm reduction:

Free video series on psychedelic-harm reduction, by Robin Carhart-Harris


At TNP, our preparation and integration therapists are a part of the Psychedelic Support Professionals Community. The Psychedelic Support website is a useful resource and provides FREE courses on harm reduction, substances guides and other information to help people make informed decisions about engaging in psychedelic therapies. 

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.


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

 


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:

  • ​We do not offer psychedelic-assisted therapies, or access to any illegal substances. The use of psychedelic substances is currently illegal in the UK. Please do not contact us with requests for illegal psychedelic assisted work.

  • We do not offer help for you to locate psychedelic-assisted therapy, guided sessions, sitting, or retreats. Although, if we become aware of a clinical research trial that you may be eligible for, we may be able to provide publicly available information to enable contact with the research team for the purposes of research participation. We are not involved in the selection of participants to such trials. 

  • This specialist support is offered from a harm reduction perspective. We do not support or encourage the use of illicit substances in unregulated and/or illegal frameworks. 

  • In working with people who have experienced altered or expanded states of consciousness, we do not work with people experiencing active psychosis. Although, we can work with someone aiming to make sense of an episode of psychosis, and if this individual is under the care of a community mental health team. We will not be liable for risk and do not provide treatment for mental illness.

  • We do not work in the role as an expert in psychedelics or altered states, and will not provide advice or guidance in its use. 

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

References


References from research cited:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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