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Why Group Integration Circles are a Life-Changing Part of Psychedelic Therapy

Psychedelic integration is starting to get the attention it rightfully deserves. 

In the context of psychedelic medicine, psychedelic integration refers to the process of turning the insights and experiences you have in the session into long-lasting behavior and lifestyle changes

It’s the process of moving from altered states to altered traits. As integration becomes more prominent in the psychedelic therapy conversation, many clients and companies are beginning to introduce, or perhaps rediscover, group integration circles and experiences. 

Below we’ll explore the specifics, the techniques, and the benefits of group integration practices.

Integration in Psychedelic Therapy

Integration is one of the 3 core pillars of the psychedelic therapy process, which are: 

  • Preparation for the psychedelic experience
  • The experience itself
  • Integration of insights or learnings from the experience

Each pillar contributes to the safety, efficacy, and outcomes of your psychedelic therapy experience.

While most of the conversation surrounds the psychedelic experience pillar, preparation and integration are often overlooked. 

However, this is rapidly changing. Integration is surfacing as fundamentally important to the healing process, particularly for individuals looking to create long-lasting change in their lives. 

Integration helps ensure the psychedelic experience becomes actionable

Integration is the process of becoming “whole.” This means taking the insights or feelings from the medicinal experience, and bringing them into daily actions and patterns of behavior. 

Integration solidifies your learning and growth into tangible, real-world results. It is the completion of the psychedelic therapy process. 

Effective integration is the difference between simply having a pleasant experience, and fundamentally changing the trajectory of your life. 

While many come to psychedelic medicine to work on their personal healing and wholeness, it may not be immediately obvious why group integration can be personally beneficial.

Group Integration in Psychedelic Therapy

Group containers, shared experiences, and integration circles have a long history. They’ve been used for millennia in ceremonial, recreational, and indigenous contexts, in combination with psychedelics and plant medicines.

Many indigenous cultures have these experiences sewn into the fabric of their culture. It is commonplace to welcome an individual back after their own experience, support them as they reintegrate into their society, and play an integral part in their healing process. 

There are both traditional and modern examples of group integration practices. Each one brings its host of benefits to the psychedelic therapy process. It is a practice that has been overlooked through much of the clinical studies, but some organizations and practitioners are beginning to invite this back into their practices and protocols.

Traditional or indigenous group integration examples

  • Group shared experiences: From sweat lodges to peyote ceremonies, indigenous cultures move through major experiences together, to support group bonding and cohesion. 
  • Discussion / support: After vision quests or individual sessions, elders or general tribe members are made available for discussion and support.
  • Cultural norms: Psychedelic experiences are commonplace in indigenous cultures, and it is a cultural norm to have your own experience. This makes support, understanding, and mutual aid practical and readily available. 

Modern group integration examples

  • Group shared experiences: Many psychedelic retreats operate on the group model. Some studies show that the group experience itself has benefits for therapeutic outcomes. 
  • Integration or sharing circles: After a ceremony or experience, the group may come together to share their experience and to hear from others.
  • Support networks: Many in-person and online support networks exist to help individuals express their experiences, receive guidance and support, and continue integrating the lessons they received. 

Benefits of Group Integration Circles

There are several benefits to group integration circles. While participation in group integration circles isn’t required, or sometimes even offered at all, there are real, direct, and lasting benefits that group integration practices can bring.

Shared experience

Once you have a shared experience together, the deep recognition and connection felt is one of the best ways to bond as a group. Overcoming shared challenges fosters respect, connection, and inspiration.

Many individuals in modern culture are increasingly isolated, which may increase the risk of depression or anxiety. A common, shared experience with other members of a group integration circle helps foster deeper feelings of connection, love, and self-esteem.

Being witnessed and understood

Being witnessed may be a fundamental human necessity. To know that you exist, that you matter, and are accepted in your humanity is at the core of many desires. Just being witnessed is often enough. Most people don’t want their problems solved for them, they just want to be acknowledged in the reality of their lives.

Group integration circles provide a perfect opportunity to be witnessed, supported, and understood by a group of peers. These circles are often emotional and highly personal. Being seen as you are, casting aside inauthentic behavior or sharing of your “highlight reel,” is an extremely cathartic and therapeutic experience in and of itself. 

Novel perspective, stories, and insights

As each member in the group sharing circle shares their story —if they choose to— they are also sharing their perspectives and insights. 

As you sit in the circle, and witness and listen to others sharing, these shares may create further insights into your own experience. It can help you see situations and your own emotions in a new way. 

The diverse perspectives and experiences found in group sharing circles are often an asset, rather than a liability, even for a single individual on their healing journey.

Holding space

Anyone who has been given the honor of holding space for someone, whether within a psychedelic experience or just as a friend or loved one, often feels there is a great emotional reward for this action.

Just participating in a group integration circle, even if you choose not to share directly yourself, can still be highly rewarding and emotionally gratifying. You’re contributing to the experience, the context, and the network of support that is available in that session.

Articulating experiences, feelings, and thoughts

If you do choose to share your own experience, you will need to speak to the group. By allowing yourself to verbally and emotionally express your own experience, additional insights may emerge for you as well. 

Hearing yourself say certain things out loud can create space for further reflection. In a way, it becomes an opportunity in your continued integration process, while benefiting the group experience at the same time. 

Takeaways

Group integration circles can have real benefits for individuals who participate in them. 

Though they are not commonly considered by individuals as part of their journeys, opportunities to participate in group circles do exist. They are a beautiful and beneficial addition to a psychedelic therapy program.

You can find several support communities online, and a quick local search may bring up an integration circle or two around your area. Or, you can seek an all-in-one experience that includes the medicine and integrative benefits as a program.

If you are interested in working with psychedelic medicine, Mindbloom’s programming offers unlimited free group integration sessions for all clients. See if you’re a candidate today.

Mindbloom Clients Get Access to Unlimited Group Integration Circles

With Mindbloom you're not only supported by our expert Clinicians and Guides, but also your peers. Our group integration circles are powerful ways to share your healing story, and hear others'. It's one of many ways Mindbloom leads you toward the outcomes that are most important to you.

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Disclaimer

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.

Important FDA Safety Information

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

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Why Group Integration Circles are a Life-Changing Part of Psychedelic Therapy