How Do I Prepare For a Psychedelic Experience?
You’ve made the decision to embark on the process of psychedelic therapy, and want to honor this commitment to yourself. Part of honoring this commitment is deciding to be fully present for the experience, doing your best to prepare and get the most out of the experience.
But how does one go about preparing for a psychedelic experience, particularly if you’ve never had a psychedelic experience before? There are a number of ways you can prepare for psychedelic experiences without using psychedelics.
This resource explores the process of preparing for psychedelic experiences and psychedelic therapy without the use of psychedelics.
What Does “Preparation” Mean?
Psychedelic therapy and psychedelic experiences can be profound, challenging, healing, and exciting experiences. They can surface novel states of emotion, facilitate the release of deeply held emotional wounds, and bring about new ways of looking at yourself and the world you are in. Overall, this is no small feat. This is the journey of a lifetime, the first day of the rest of your life —and honoring this experience and showing it the respect it deserves is extremely helpful.
Fortunately, the process of preparing for psychedelic therapy and experiences doesn’t need to be a chore or heavy burden. The process of preparation is an entire journey in itself, and this work greatly assists the experiences and the overall outcomes of the program you are embarking on.
Preparation can address and assist two core areas of the experience.
Creating a receptive state
The preparatory process puts you into a highly receptive state for the medicine, and helps to give you a safe, effective, and powerful experience. By preparing the mind and body to be as open and strong as possible, you are in the best possible state to receive the experiences, emotions, and insights from the medicine.
Kickstarting the process
Your healing process doesn’t begin at your first dosing session, it begins much earlier than that. It’s the moment you first heard about the opportunity, or when you decided to move forward with this program/experience.
There are a host of emotions, challenges, and opportunities that arise throughout this beginning process that can be just as important and essential to the process as the medicine sessions themselves.
Noticing the level of effort you put in, how you respond to anticipation, setbacks, or nervousness can be powerful material to work with and explore throughout a psychedelic therapy program. Some of the habits or behaviors you explore during the preparation process may become lifelong rituals and practices afterwards.
The preparation process is a major catalyst and critical part of the process, and should be treated like such. It has the potential to be life-changing. Let’s take a closer look at the practices and processes that can help you prepare for a psychedelic therapy program and an individual psychedelic experience.
Physical Preparation Practices
Psychedelics work on the mind and body. There is a strong and influential connection between the mind and body. It is an integrated system, a complete whole.
If you’d like to influence the mind, you can go directly through the body. If you’d like to influence the body, you can go directly through the mind. This is an ancient connection, and something that is very helpful to work with when approaching your first psychedelic therapy experiences.
One of the hallmark qualities of the psychedelic experience is its ineffable quality —highly challenging to describe through language. As such, it’s difficult to plan on what to expect.
There will always be this “unknown element” as you approach the session, which can lead to nervousness, hesitation, or internal resistance. In response to this, you want to cultivate an internal state that is as open, flexible, and as confident as possible. This is where physical practices come in, there are a number of practices that can help you cultivate these internal emotional states fairly reliably.
Movement practices, such as taking a walk, doing a light yoga or stretching sequence, or soft exercise can all be helpful at both calming down the nervous system as you approach your session. The more you can deeply inhabit your body, the more receptive, trusting, and open you can be going into the experience. It helps reaffirm you have a reliable, capable body guiding you through the process.
Working with changes in temperature can also help shift mental states. Whether it's hot or cold, the after-effects of temperature change is an alert calmness to the body. Hot showers/baths are very effective at calming down the body, while cold showers/baths are effective at bringing steady alertness and strength to the body.
Being in nature is an extremely centering and grounding practice, and can be an asset in the weeks and days leading up to your session. Taking time to disconnect digitally while experiencing nature is also a reliable method for instilling this open, trusting state which is highly beneficial to go into psychedelic work with. Nature is an ally for you throughout this process, both in the preparation and the integration stages of your journey.
Taking care of the basics
Of course, ensure that you are taking care of the basics for your body. Getting adequate and restful sleep in the days leading up, giving your body the hydration and nutrition it needs to thrive, and getting fresh air and sunlight (another hat tip to nature immersion!) will ensure you have a strong foundation to go into your experience with.
If you’re considering some physical practices to help with the preparation process, check in with yourself and your preferences. Choose activities that you can use that will help bring about these core emotional states: calmness, openness, confidence, and trust. Developing this calm, strong presence is a great way to go into your experiences, rooted in the present, and open to the future.
Working with the body is a great step for preparation, but it’s not the only tool in your preparation kit. As the psychedelic experience is rooted deeply in your psyche and your psychology, there are many contemplative or reflective practices that are highly beneficial in preparing for your first experiences as well.
By contemplative practices we mean practices that are effective at helping you explore, reflect on, or think more deeply about certain topics or motivations within yourself. There are a number of time-tested contemplative practices that are very helpful in preparing for psychedelic experiences.
Developing, or deepening, a personal meditation practice is a relatively easy first step. Psychedelic therapy experiences are like extended meditative sessions. They allow you to notice and witness with compassion and attention the different sensations that arise in your body, and in your awareness.
Having some familiarity in meditation, the act of simply noticing what arises without judgement, is a very powerful skill to have going into psychedelic experiences. If you already have a meditation practice, a commitment to continue with this, or perhaps explore it more deeply, is a nice way to assist your preparation process.
Sitting down in front of a blank page, and writing about whatever comes into your mind, is a wonderful process for releasing or processing how you are feeling at the moment. The aim here is to simply express what is on your mind on the page in front of you.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, and it doesn’t have to be a certain length. Consider it like “spring cleaning” for your psyche, just letting go and giving voice to your inner world at that moment. This is a powerful practice to use if you are noticing any nervousness, hesitation, or resistance arise in you as you get closer to the sessions.
Having additional support throughout your psychedelic therapy program is an asset, and can greatly assist the process.
If you already see a therapist or someone similar, bringing this up with them and discussing it can surface many helpful insights or potential areas of focus for your sessions. If you are working with a care team or Guide for your psychedelic therapy program, asking them any questions you may have or best practices they recommend can also be a great help. Ultimately, you are supported in this process, and can lean on the help you have to prepare as best as you can.
Contemplative practices are geared around re-discovering yourself, or seeing what it’s like to be you at that moment. Without judgement or pressure to change, starting to notice these emotions and thought patterns can be beneficial in resolving some outstanding issues beforehand. This helps to provide clear material for your intentions, or to build the muscle of noticing your inner states. Both are benefits from contemplative practices in preparation for psychedelic experiences.
Clarifying and arriving at a clear intention for your session is an essential and highly beneficial component of preparing for your psychedelic therapy sessions.
It’s a cardinal truth of the psychedelic experience that you can’t control the outcome, you can’t predict what will happen within the session. You do, however, have control over and can influence how you choose to prepare. This includes the level of effort you put into preparing and integrating what the experiences give you.
There is a time-tested mantra in this work that says “You might not always get what you want, but you will always get what you need.”
It’s nice to think of these experiences like a dialogue with the medicine/experience. You ask what you’d like to work on —often through an intention— and the medicine/experience will respond through the experience you receive. Sometimes you get exactly what you ask for, while other times the medicine might give you something else beforehand, a response of “Maybe you should look at this first.”
Both of these outcomes are welcomed, and powerful catalysts for change. But in both situations, there is still the first step of showing up to the proverbial table and to your experience with your own intention. Asking for positive outcomes, to see the best in yourself, to work on specific challenges or internal obstacles, all of these are powerful intentions.
With intentions, the most important step is putting in the work on one that you can influence. Intention setting is a critical and powerful component of preparing for your psychedelic therapy experiences.
Expectations & Environments
With all of this said, it’s important to draw the distinction between an intention and an expectation.
Part of effectively preparing for your psychedelic therapy experiences is letting go of your expectations. Let go of how you think the session needs to go, and the requirements you have for the experience. This allows you to be more open and receptive to what happens in your experience.
An intention is a conversation, or a request. It’s not a requirement.
An expectation is a requirement: “I want this to happen, otherwise I won’t be satisfied.”
It’s important that you do what you can to prepare, and then release expectations related to the final outcome. Attach yourself solely to your input, what you can bring to the table, and not to the outcome, or what transpires.
This is a powerful lesson to learn in life. You are presented with an opportunity to practice this at the very beginning of your process, by showing up for the preparation process fully and releasing expectations for the session experiences themselves.
A final note for preparation is setting up a conducive physical environment. Your practitioners and Guides should provide you with detailed steps on how to prepare effectively, but like we have mentioned before, taking steps that will help you show up more open, calm, confident, trusting, and aware are helpful. Dim lights, soft clothing, and clean spaces all help with this process.
You can’t control the future. And this is okay, because you don’t have to. When preparing for psychedelic experiences, all you are asked to do is to be present. Trust that the experience is working for you, and be open and willing to see and experience whatever the medicine thinks is most beneficial for you at that time.
These medicines and these experiences work with your inner healing intelligence. They work for you, and they are not against you. Sometimes the experiences can be challenging, but these things come up so you can be released from carrying them any longer.
With the preparation process, take the steps to honor the experience you’re about to have and the potential it holds for your life. Work on the things you can control: your physical space, setting your intentions, and preparing your mind/body to be open and alert.
Adequate preparation can go a long way toward creating safe, powerful, and healing experiences for you. You are being presented with an opportunity to be an active participant in your healing.
Psychedelic therapy is not a magic pill, it involves active participation on your end. This involvement starts at the very beginning with how you choose to prepare. Have a wonderful experience, and enjoy the preparation process!
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.
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