How to integrate a psychedelic experience

In this article, we discuss the need for an Integration Framework. We will explore the different types of integration practices in the upcoming articles.

A considerable curbing and reigning in of drug war policies is underway as a multitude of cities in the U.S have passed “Decriminalize Nature” statutes in order to enforce that plant-based psychedelics become the lowest law enforcement priorities. Cities such as Oregon, California, including other states in the U.S are undertaking state-wide decimalization and legalization policies. (Bathje et al., 2022), laying the foundation for us in South Africa.

There is a growing interest in the use of psychedelics, especially for psychotherapeutic purposes, and the expansion of clinics offering psychedelic assisted therapy, making the topic of psychedelic integration a crucial conversation. (Bathje et al., 2022)

The concept of integration has attracted more attention in the past few years. Since there is only brief mention about indigenous use of it in the literature, given that indigenous tribes do not necessarily follow a formal integration protocol, as they do not have the same need for formal integration as we do in the West.  Winkelman, 2021 states that indigenous cultures employ symbolism and rituals, such as drumming, chanting and dancing, which is already embedded in their culture to address the imbalance and support the realignment of self.

A wide variety of practices and techniques have been suggested in the literature, often without much rationale or context. This explains at least some of the ambiguity surrounding what integration is and the best ways to use it. One the one hand, many integration-related writings offer just a few examples of integration, while others extensive lists. At one extreme, this can result in a lack of direction; at the other, it can result in feeling overwhelmed and confused. 

Winkelman, 2021, purports that we need to recognize and perhaps concede to the idea of treating integration as a separate phase of psychedelic experiences most likely imposes Western dualistic thinking. Western culture is still, very much influenced by Cartesian dualism, which creates binaries that polarize and compartmentalize our thinking, for example, mind and body, self and other, or person and nature (Barker and Lantaffi, 2019) 

As opposed to Indigenous cultures that have a tradition with psychedelics, our Western society do not have sufficient cultural references required to understand the intricate, abstract, and symbolic content, which commonly appears with psychedelics. (Loizaga-Velder and Pazzi, 2014).

(Bathje et al., 2022) argues that indigenous worldviews and culture, which do not have a history with Cartesian dualism, may provide invaluable wisdom for Westerners to look to in their understanding of psychedelics, holistic living, and healing practices. There is historical context for doing so. We have long underestimated the influence of Indigenous worldview, philosophy, and culture on Western thought, as convincing anthropological analysis has shown. Graeber and Wengrow (2021) compiled extensive evidence that Indigenous American critiques of European culture (particularly related to lack of freedom, collectivism, and egalitarianism) were read widely in Europe in the 1600’s and had substantial influence on the European Enlightenment(Bathje et al., 2022).

Expectations and approach to integration.

First, it is important to note that failure to outline a coherent therapeutic approach with standardized therapy procedures presents a problem for controlled research. Without selecting and implementing a particular therapeutic approach, variability between study therapists’ styles and interventions goes unaccounted for, as each is likely to employ his or her own intuitive therapeutic modalities at different times and in different ways with different participants.(Sloshower et al., 2020) believes it is more scientifically rigorous to proactively outline a therapeutic approach and structure, acknowledging that the content of sessions will inevitably vary, instead of completely avoiding defining these variables.

Secondly, some acknowledged that inadequate social/psychological support could prevent you from developing the necessary insight to create the shift that is needed to move forward, or work through less obvious or more challenging content. This present existing chasm in understanding and experience, justifies the significance of a therapeutic support framework to guide facilitators and practitioners. (Pots & Chakhssi, 2022)

On the testimony of (Bathje et al., 2022) their primary sources all emphasize that integration requires active effort to revisit and work with psychedelic experiences and content that emerges from them. Without this proactive effort, important lessons often become lost, and challenging situations can serve to reinforce past traumas or current patterns and defenses. Contrary to popular belief, psychedelics may give us a sense of and orientation toward wholeness as well as insight into the obstacles and misalignments, which must be addressed in order to continue moving toward or maintaining wholeness.

The majority of the primary sources used by (Bathje et al., 2022), describe integration as a long-term process rather than just an occasion or a passing phase. Many aspects of psychedelic experiences may continue to develop gradually or even over the course of a lifetime as they become relevant and take on new meaning during various phases of life. While some changes may occur quickly and permanently, and the initial integration of a fresh experience is particularly important, many changes may occur 

(Bourzat and Hunter, 2019), suggest that if the journeyer can let the integration process develop naturally rather than pushing for an overly task-oriented approach to integration practices, it may also be more in line with the psychedelic experience. (Grof, 1996), maintains that in this way, integration models can assist one in becoming aware of the various facets of existence and how integration practices can nourish them, but they shouldn’t be used in such a rigid way as to ignore one’s intuition for what is required. The phrase “inner healing intelligence” is frequently used to describe the innate wisdom and propensity to gravitate toward healing, development, and wholeness.  

Bathje, G. J., Majeski, E., & Kudowor, M. (2022). Psychedelic integration: An analysis of the concept and its practice. Frontiers in Psychology, 13

Pots, W., & Chakhssi, F. (2022). Psilocybin-Assisted Compassion Focused Therapy for Depression. Frontiers in Psychology, 1079. 

Sloshower, J., Guss, J., Krause, R., Wallace, R. M., Williams, M. T., Reed, S., & Skinta, M. D. (2020). Psilocybin-assisted therapy of major depressive disorder using acceptance and commitment therapy as a therapeutic frame. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 15, 12-19. 

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