Psychedelic Integration Therapy:
A Promising New Treatment Option
When you think of the word psychedelics, what comes to mind? Do you immediately think of the war on Drugs which began in the mid-1960’s and of its potential harmful or risky effects? Or are you intrigued by the possibility that psychedelics could be a tool for healing and growth?
The psychedelic renaissance is here. The field of psychedelics for the treatment of mental health disorders is growing. Many people are curious about psychedelics due to their ancient history, healing properties and spiritual potentials. So, what is the history of psychedelic therapy?
History of Psychedelic Therapy
Plant-based psychedelics (i.e., psilocybin, ayahuasca, peyote) have been used for thousands of years in Native American and indigenous cultures for shamanic and spiritual practices and ceremonies. Evidence of the earliest use of peyote by Native Americans dates back 5,700 – 10,000 years (Bruhn et al., 2002). Indigenous spiritual and healing practices are said to rely on three core assumptions: interconnectedness, harmony/balance, and holism and three primary approaches: emphasis on communal networks, spiritual beliefs and traditions, and the support and guidance of shamans (Sue et al., 2019).
It was not until the 1950’s that LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) became widely used by psychologists and psychiatrists in research and clinical practice. It was noted that psychedelics may be tools to help speed up the effects of traditional psychotherapy. LSD was used mainly as an aid to psychotherapy to treat mood disorders and alcohol dependence. Research on psychedelics peaked in the 1960’s. Prohibitive legislation in the mid-1960’s decreased and eventually shut down all psychedelic research for the next few decades.
There was a 25-year hiatus before scientists in the United States, Germany and Switzerland started the revival of human psychedelic research studies.
Modern research (1990s and onward) on the psychotherapeutic use of psychedelics attests to the benefit of an integration process following a psychedelic journey, or medicine (i.e., dosing) session. The focus on the therapeutic process including integration was influenced by the work of earlier practitioners and researchers who developed psychotherapeutic approaches to psychedelics in the 1960’s (ie Grof (1980), Metzner (2015), and Richards (2015).
What is Psychedelic Therapy?
Psychedelic therapy, or psychedelic-assisted therapy is therapy with the incorporation of a psychedelic substance such as psilocybin, MDMA, LSD or ayahuasca to treat mental disorders. Psychedelic drugs are controlled substances in most countries, therefore, currently psychedelic therapy is not legally available outside clinical trials, although this landscape is changing with some U.S. states legalizing medical and recreational sale and use.
Psychedelic therapy differs from traditional psychopharmacology, as medication is typically prescribed for daily use and is taken by a patient unsupervised. In psychedelic-assisted therapy the medicine is administered in the presence and under the supervision of a trained facilitator.
The purpose of therapeutic supervision is to provide guidance, assistance, and support to the subject while experiencing an altered state of consciousness.
urrently, in the United States most administration of this is done in a clinical research setting whereby medically trained staff can monitor the subject throughout the psychedelic journey.
There are typically preparation sessions before the dosing or medicine session to help the subject to prepare for the altered state, to help them manage any assumptions and expectations, and to work to build their mindful awareness in addition to allowing them to work through any issue(s) the subject is coming in to address and to get background history so the facilitator(s) can understand the context of the issue and their environment etc. prior to the dosing session.
After a dosing or medicine session (which can vary in length depending on the psychedelic substance being administered), there are typically integration session(s) to allow the subject to process their experience.
Most forms of Psychedelic Therapy are not yet legal or FDA approved in New York State.
What is Psychedelic Integration?
Carl Jung said that individuation or integration consists of making one whole out of consciousness and the unconscious. Integration helps to synthesize the mind and body after a psychedelic experience and is the process of sharing and exploring insights that arise. Integration offers a person the chance to reconnect with all of themselves and experience communion with their internal landscape. Without the integration process, the psychedelic journey may be forgotten like an unprocessed dream. Integration makes real something that occurred in a symbolic or ritualistic act during the psychedelic journey.
What Conditions does
Psychedelic Integration Therapy Treat?
There appears to be broad therapeutic potential, demonstrating efficacy for treating: depression, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, substance use disorder and alcohol use disorder. Research into psychedelic- assisted psychotherapy and integration therapy is ongoing.
"I am certain that the LSD experience has helped me very much. I find myself with a heightened color perception and an appreciation of beauty almost destroyed by my years of depression... The sensation that the partition between 'here' and 'there' has become very thin is constantly with me."
-Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, in a 1957 letter
The Role of Integration in Psychedelic Therapy
The period following a psychedelic experience offers a window of opportunity to examine and interpret what emerged, with the possibility of gleaning insight that supports the subject in the long term. This process is referred to as psychedelic integration.
Psychedelic integration therapy is the process of integrating, reflecting upon and connecting with the feelings, sensations, thoughts and images and spiritual experiences you had during a psychedelic dosing (also called medicine) session. It is a process whereby a facilitator or a dyad of facilitators help the person to process and integrate their altered state of consciousness, to help to provide meaning and to help the subject to increase their awareness and understanding of what occurred, and to help make the client apply it to their life. Oftentimes facilitators encourage the subject undergoing psychedelic integration to use modalities such as: journaling, art, music, meditation following a psychedelic therapy experience to help them to connect to what occurred. There can be a natural inclination for the subject who has just undergone a psychedelic experience to want to connect with people. This pull to communal spaces of integration following a psychedelic experience leads some to finding or seeking integration circles.
Known Benefits of Psychedelic Integration Therapy
Integration therapy increases the potential for personal transformation that psychedelics offer. Support after a psychedelic experience can make the difference between successfully integrating new insights into daily living and making meaning about the experience, and finding a new sense of purpose versus or stopping short lasting healing and growth. Integration also reduces the likelihood that any healing benefits of the medicine will be lost following an experience. Furthermore, if there were challenging aspects to the psychedelic experience, integration offers the opportunity to reduce any potential emotional or intrapsychic harm to the subject.
"Subjects see new dimensions in the universe, have strong feelings of being an integral part of creation, and tend to regard ordinary things in everyday life - such as meals, walks in nature, playing with children, or sexual intercourse - as sacred."
- Stanislov Grof
- Bruhn, J.G., De Smet, P. A., El-Seedi, H.R. and Beck, O. (2002). Mescaline was used for 5700 years. Lancet 359:1866. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(02)08701-9
- Grof, S. (1980). LSD Psychotherapy: The healing potential of psychedelic medicine, 4th Edn. Santa Cruz, CA: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
- Metzner, (2015). Allies for Awakening: Guidelines for Productive and Safe Experiences with Entheogens. Berkeley, CA: Regent Press.
- Richards, W. A. (2015). Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
- Sue, D. W., Sue, D., Neville, H. A., and Smith, L. (2019). Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice, 8th Edn. New York: John Wiley and Sons.