Cognitive Integration: 5 Strategies to Gain Insight Into Your Own Mind
The psychedelic experience can be powerful, healing, and transformative.
It can give you new insight into how your mind works, how you relate to yourself and to the world, and how environmental or contextual triggers initiate different responses and behaviors in you.
There are a range of approaches for integration, such as the:
Below we’ll focus on tools and techniques for mental and cognitive integration.
What you do in the days, weeks, months, and years after psychedelic therapy sessions are what help to create long-lasting, life-transforming behaviors.
One of the most valuable cognitive tools you have access to is journaling.
Stream-of-consciousness journaling is simply writing down whatever surfaces in your mind, without editing, as it arises. It’s a uniquely powerful tool in the psychedelic integration process.
An alternative approach that achieves the same outcome is recording voice memos to yourself. Speaking out loud and recording this onto your phone or similar.
Benefits of integrative journaling
Journaling helps you understand in real-time, and day-by-day, how you’re feeling. It surfaces what is present in your awareness, allowing your emotions, thoughts, dreams, and desires to flow from within yourself onto the paper.
It is easy to overlook how powerful it is to take something from your mind and translate it into linear language. It often lives as a fuzzy amalgamation of thoughts, memories, images, sounds, and metaphors.
Begin by finding a quiet, comfortable space (if possible). Start with an empty notebook page. This practice helps to prevent any noise or distraction that may interfere or influence the process.
Begin to write whatever wants to surface.
If you’d like some help getting started, you can consider using these prompts:
- “Today, I feel ‘X’, because…”
- “The past few days have been…”
- “One thing I appreciate right now is…”
- “I’ve been thinking a lot about…”
Making a regular stream-of-consciousness journaling practice, particularly in the days following a psychedelic medicine session, is a foundational cognitive integration tool.
Life audits and clean-ups
Psychedelics are not a panacea: a magic pill that simply fixes everything in your life, and guides you towards everlasting bliss. There is real, sometimes challenging work to be done both inside and outside of the medicine sessions.
Another powerful cognitive integration tool is to do a “life audit.” Based on the results of your audit, you’ll want to conduct any associated clean-up or organization of your life.
A life audit simply means setting aside time to make an honest, high-level assessment of your life at that moment.
This provides a clear picture of your present, and clarity on where you’d like to be, or what you want your life to look like.
Benefits of life audits
If there is something “out of place” after your life audits, such as unwanted relationships, outstanding debt, or a lack of physical activity —you can list clear steps you will take to “clean up.”
While you may be eager to translate these insights into actions immediately, it’s healthy to sit with the thoughts and feelings that arise before making any major decisions.
Journaling, as mentioned above, is helpful in committing and processing insights in the short term, which can carry into a deeper life audit.
“Nothing needs to be rushed into here,” Mindbloom Clinician Chelsea Tersavich says, “It’s important to rest after a psychedelic experience, particularly as it relates to major life changes.”
Life audit tips
Approach life audits with self-preservation and the intent to grow as a person. These should be honest assessments of what is or isn’t working in your life.
Questions to ask yourself may be:
- What exactly is my financial situation? Is it my desired financial situation?
- How is my personal health? How would I like it to be different?
- What’s the state of my relationships? Do I have friends I can count on, and who are happy to see me? How are things going with my partner?
- What hobbies do I enjoy doing? Which activities fulfill me outside of working hours? Am I making space for them in my life?
This is real integration work in practice: assessing where you are, envisioning where you want to be based on your experiences, and taking aligned action in a positive direction.
Conducting a life audit is a powerful tool for cognitive integration after a psychedelic medicine session.
Working with a care team or therapist
Your mind has an almost unfathomable depth.
The further into yourself you explore, the further the path extends in front of you. It can seem daunting, overwhelming, or sometimes impossible to understand the fullness of your psychedelic experiences, and unpack their meaning by yourself.
Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be something you do all by yourself. There is external, third-party support you can lean on.
Traditional therapeutic modalities such as somatic therapy or talk psychotherapy can be powerful cognitive integration tools. Working with a licensed therapist or care team are helpful tools for cognitive integration of psychedelic experiences.
These methods help you deeply understand yourself, and the insights gained in your medicine sessions. This helps create a path forward to making tangible, real change in your day-to-day experiences.
If you don’t have access to therapists or a care team, intentional conversations with friends or loved ones who hold space for you can be just as powerful.
The 5 whys
Sometimes, during a session or in the time that follows, you are presented with a particularly difficult experience or emotion. It may be hard to understand, and not obvious why it happened, what it means, what you’re supposed to do with it.
The “5 Whys'' uses question-based prompts to find a root cause. It consists of simply asking “why?” to each answer you are able to give around your experiences. It’s a cognitive tool to find the root cause of any given experience, emotion, or self-confrontation.
An example of the 5 Whys
Here’s an example of how the 5 Whys can help you find the root cause of an issue or experience:
1. “Why did this particular memory cause me to become emotional?”
It reminded me of a past mistake.
2. Why is this past mistake so important?
I hurt the feelings of someone I love.
3. Why did you hurt their feelings?
I overreacted to something they told me to do.
4. Why did you overreact?
I felt like they were trying to control me.
5. Why is control so important to you?
I don’t feel like I have many areas of my life under control.
Through this exercise, you unlock new levels of understanding and insight. Though this is not always an easy task.
For more complicated or emotionally-charged material, it may take some time to begin this practice. And that is okay: Integration is not a race to the end, it is an ongoing process.
Following hobbies, passions, and curiosities
A happy, healthy mind is also a playful, curious, and engaged mind.
Asha Urban, Mindbloom’s Guide Lead, recommends simply trying something new!
“Immerse yourself in something you’ve never done before, and expand the horizons of what is possible for you,” she says. “Taking dance is a particularly powerful practice, as it forms new neural pathways, challenges your comfort zones, and is great for your physical health.”
If you feel called to focus on mental and cognitive integration, make sure that you are following your interests, pursuing your passions, and chasing your creativity and curiosity.
Doing this is as much physical as it is emotional, mental, and even spiritual for many. It makes you “lean into” life. There is a magic in genuine excitement, and it is a powerful integration tool and technique for you and your journey.
Cognitive integration is a core component of continuing to “do the work” after psychedelic medicine experiences.
It’s not always glorious nor glamorous, but taking a loving, hard look at your life sows the seeds of lasting change.
Powerful exercises worth considering are stream-of-consciousness journaling, life audits, therapeutic conversations, the 5 whys, and following your curiosity.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at +1 (800) 273-8255, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.
Ketamine is not FDA-approved for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Learn more about off-label uses here.
Side effects of ketamine treatment may include: altered sense of time, anxiety, blurred vision, diminished ability to see/hear/feel, dry mouth, elevated blood pressure or heart rate, elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure, excitability, loss of appetite, mental confusion, nausea/vomiting, nystagmus (rapid eye movements), restlessness, slurred speech, synesthesia (a mingling of the senses).
Do not proceed with ketamine treatment if any of the following apply to you:
- Allergic to ketamine
- Symptoms of psychosis or mania
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- CHF or other serious heart problem
- Severe breathing problem
- History of elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure
- History of hyperthyroidism
- Other serious medical illness
- Pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant
Ketamine has been reported to produce issues including, but not limited to, those listed below. However, lasting adverse side-effects are rare when medical protocols are carefully followed.
While ketamine has not been shown to be physically addictive, it has been shown to cause moderate psychological dependency in some recreational users.
- In rare cases, frequent, heavy users have reported increased frequency of urination, urinary incontinence, pain urinating, passing blood in the urine, or reduced bladder size
- Ketamine may worsen problems in people with schizophrenia, severe personality disorders, or other serious mental disorders.
- Users with a personal or family history of psychosis should be cautious using any psychoactive substance, including ketamine, and discuss potential risks with your MindBloom® clinician before proceeding with treatment.
- The dissociative effects of ketamine may increase patient vulnerability and the risk of accidents.
To promote positive outcomes and ensure safety, follow these ketamine treatment guidelines:
- Do not operate a vehicle (e.g., car, motorcycle, bicycle) or heavy machinery following treatment until you’ve had a full night of sleep
- Refrain from taking benzodiazepines or stimulants for 24 hours prior to treatment
- Continue to take antihypertensive medication as prescribed
- Avoid hangovers or alcohol intake
- Refrain from consuming solid foods within 3 hours prior to treatment and liquids within 1 hour prior to treatment
- Ketamine treatment should never be conducted without a monitor present to ensure your safety