What is Psychedelic Integration?

“Integration” is a common term that is closely associated with psychedelics. There are many ways to define integration and you can find many articles, books, and courses on the topic. In short, there is a lot to say about integration and given that it is in the name of our organization, we think it is pretty important. Here is some basic information for orientating to the topic of integration and how integration elates to the use of psychedelics.

“Integration” refers to the unfolding process of reflecting on, embodying, and walking forward the insights, changes, or benefits that occur during a psychedelic journey. Integration is ongoing, over time and can last days, weeks, months, and even years. Integration is largely dependent on what happens during a psychedelic experience and can involve a range of activities and actions. Integration is really important because a psychedelic experience in and of itself does not automatically translate into lasting change. In fact, many psychedelic traditions look at psychedelics as simply catalysts of a longer process that takes effort and consistent attention. A seed may be born, but it requires water, sunlight, nutrients, and lots of care to become a mature, fruiting plant. 

Sometimes psychedelic journeys provide helpful insights or perspectives that are new or have been forgotten.

For example, we may rediscover our love of nature or realize that we are spending too much time focused on one area of our life at the detriment of others. Some psychedelic journeys can include elements of a mystical experience- profound feelings of love, self-acceptance, connection with the universe, or a sense of sacredness. In such cases, psychedelic integration might involve making changes in one’s life to carry forth this wisdom or perspective. What would a life filled with more self-acceptance look like? How can I go about daily life in a way that maintains a connection to the universal oneness that I experienced during my journey? How do I deepen my connection with the plant and animal world? 

Psychedelic experiences can also be challenging and disorienting, and sometimes they really shake things up. In fact, this is a common reason that people seek them out- to get out of feeling stuck or to help with a problem they haven’t been able to fix. Stepping into the psychedelic space can take us out of what is familiar and what we know as “normal.” We may be faced with things that have been hidden away in the dark corners of our body and mind. Psychedelics can be helpful in encouraging us to confront painful thoughts, feelings, and memories that we are avoiding. We may also encounter aspects of our past that span several generations. Often, contacting these painful or avoided parts of ourselves or our collective past, sometimes referred to as our “shadow,” can lead to deep healing as they are expressed, released, and renewed with a new story of hope and possibility for change.

Integration may also be extremely paradoxical.

It may hold the unfolding gems of inspiring hope, connection and change, while also holding a deep wellspring of grief or perhaps a sense of vagueness or confusion. We may feel a change in our sense of identity and how we relate to ourselves and the world- somehow, we feel different. Our body might start to feel things and express them in new ways- we find ourselves uncharacteristically emotional or reserved. It is important to remember that the healing potential of psychedelics can proceed in a non-logical, non-linear path. It is often surprising, unpredictable, and confusing. However, having a basic sense of trust in the process can be helpful in staying open to new possibilities. After all, if we could imagine the path out of our stuck places, we would have walked it already. 

Sheila was initially concerned that nothing much had happened in her journey. She felt really tired and slow during her experience, as if moving her body even the slightest amount took a large degree of effort. She didn’t have many visions or images as she had read about and hoped for. She felt let down that she didn’t get any insights into her life problems. She had an integration session with a therapist who helped her slow down, describe, and re-experience the fatigue that she felt during her journey. During the integration session, the therapist noticed some sadness on her face and asked her about it. Sheila quickly began to cry, tears flooding down her face. She realized how much she had been over-exerting herself and how deeply exhausted her physical body was. She stated that she felt like it was communicating to her, “Please slow down. I need a break!” This insight was the beginning of a series of changes that Sheila would begin to make to decrease her commitments and prioritize time for sleeping and rest. Three months later Sheila felt more energized and aligned with her daily schedule. 

Psychedelics can often lead to new beliefs and shifts in perspective.

For example, you have a realization and see yourself as whole and complete, perfectly deserving of love. While that sounds wonderful, that also may be difficult to process if you’ve spent your whole life believing you were broken or flawed. Shifts in beliefs can also impact relationships. While you might suddenly see clearly that your career is killing your soul, your wife and kids might have a harder time reckoning with this sudden change of heart. Studies have shown that psychedelics are associated with a shift of values away from a materialistic worldview to one that is more spiritual and prosocial in nature (Timmermann et al., 2021). One study even showed that over half of participants who identified as atheist before a psychedelic experience came out as identifying as “other” afterwards (Davis et al., 2020). Integration can therefore be helpful in resolving tensions between new and old beliefs. 

After a psychedelic experience, shifts in perspective can really lead to slowly evolving changes  in other areas of your life. Connections and relationships might start to feel different. New experiences that occur might feel exciting or uncomfortable. We may be drawn to doing things differently while we also feel attached to old ways that don’t serve us anymore. For example, we may really want to be communicative in our relationships, but then continue to experience some social anxiety around others. Change is hard, and integration includes support for moving out of old habits and patterns into newer and more positive ones.

Through integration, we are called to break down, deconstruct, to reconstruct and re-birth into a new worldview and way of being in relationship with ourselves, others and the natural world, guided by our values, the heart and greater sense of inter-connection that greets a wider vision and meaning of living life together. Integration refers to an unfolding process of healing, growth and change that may occur in many domains such as cognitive, emotional, somatic, relational, and spiritual.

Integration is where the “real work” happens, where our healing and growth takes intentional commitment. We encourage you to take your time.

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