Psychedelic Integration: Understanding Its Importance
The resurgence of interest in psychedelic molecules, plants, and fungi for therapeutic, spiritual and personal growth purposes has been steadily growing over the last couple of decades. As research unveils the potential of substances like psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, and MDMA as mental health treatment, the concept of “psychedelic integration” is becoming increasingly significant. But what is psychedelic integration, and why does it matter?
What is Psychedelic Integration?
Psychedelic integration refers to the process of understanding, embodying, and enacting the insights, wisdom, and experiences encountered during a psychedelic journey, and subsequently applying them in one’s daily life. In essence, it’s about “carrying over” the lessons learned and any revelations uncovered during the journey into one’s everyday reality.
Defining the term, author of Psychedelic Integration: Psychotherapy for Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness, Marc Aixalà explains, “In the context of psychedelic therapy and the psychonautical or neo-shamanic use of drugs, integration is usually understood as the higher level understanding of the experience and the proper application of the insights and lessons derived from it in our daily lives.”
A psychedelic experience can be profoundly meaningful, destabilizing, and, at times, deeply challenging. Integration is the bridge between the mystical and interpersonal insights gleaned from psychedelics and our day-to-day lives, ensuring that inner revelation translates into actionable and beneficial changes.
Why Does Psychedelic Integration Matter?
Even though psychedelic plants and fungi have been used for millennia by Indigenous communities world-over, their use in the global North is relatively new and there are no shared frameworks about how such experiences ought to be contextualized and understood.
Kile Ortigo, author of Beyond the Narrow Life: A Guide for Psychedelic Integration and Existential Exploration, explains, “As knowledge of psychedelics spreads to people who never before would consider partaking in such experiences, we’re faced with the challenge of needing inclusive and robust models for preparation and integration. We lack, however, what indigenous communities have—a shared understanding about what psychedelic experiences may mean to one’s life.
Additionally, Aixalà cautions against skipping the integration phase or not giving it enough time or attention, suggesting that there are negative effects that may occur including not taking full advantage of the experience, ego inflation, spiritual bypassing, and attachment/addiction to peak experiences.
Despite the fact that these risks are often not grave and generally do not involve significant suffering/discomfort, he shares, “These risks, however, can be a serious obstacle to our personal and spiritual evolution. Therefore, although they usually do not involve any type of clinical complication, they must be taken into account by psychonauts and all people who seek access to non-ordinary states of consciousness as part of their spiritual and healing path.
Similarly, Ortigo explains, “Without conscious efforts to integrate such fleeting experiences, they remain ephemeral—or worse. If not prepared for and respected, a quick taste of the boundless mysteries can be like drinking from a firehose. One can become overwhelmed by the sheer force of the unconscious. The greatest risks then are either disintegration or despair. Alternatively, even a full-blown mystical experience, with its swift dive into profundity and rapture, can lead to overconfidence in one’s sudden ‘enlightenment.’”
How to Integrate a Psychedelic Experience?
Aixalà explains that integration is idiosyncratic and looks different for each individual depending on their unique needs as well as the context and lens through which they approach the experience.
He shares, “The practices aimed at maximizing the benefits after a psychedelic experience can vary significantly. There is no recipe for this integration. The personalized application of these techniques will depend on each person’s situation and context. For a participant in a clinical study, the first phases of integration will probably be done through an interview with their psychotherapist. In contrast, integration will probably be based on a group sharing circle for a participant in an ayahuasca retreat.”
Even so, we’ve included a brief list of practices below that may be considered helpful in the integration process:
Journaling: Writing down the experience can help in processing emotions and insights.
Verbal Processing & Talk Therapy: Sharing about the experience in community with trusted friends, peer-support groups, or therapists can help provide a sense of clarity and make you feel less alone in the process.
Artistic Expression: Drawing, painting, writing poetry or making music can help in expressing and processing the experience.
Meditation & Mindfulness: These awareness-based practices can help in grounding oneself and further exploring insights.
Movement Practices & Physical Activity: For many it can be helpful to regularly engage in a movement practice like yoga and dance, or a physical activity like running, in order to help process insights and move any residual emotions through the body.
As the paradigm shifts towards accepting psychedelics as powerful therapeutic tools, emphasis on integration in Western contexts is paramount. It’s not just about the journey itself, but how one engages the journey to create and sustain positive change in their life.
Artwork: The Fool on the Hill by Tù.úk’z (Arthur Machado)