Your Complete Guide to Psychedelic Integration
What comes after a powerful psychedelic therapy session? How do you begin to process the experiences, insights, and emotions that may have surfaced? And what does it look like to turn a powerful session into a long-lasting, positive personal transformation?
The answer to these questions is the domain of psychedelic integration, an important and essential component of the psychedelic therapy process. It is not commonly discussed as often as the psychedelic therapy sessions themselves, but it is just as important to help deliver lasting change and solidifying and validating the experiences. Rooting the lessons deep in normal life.
This piece will explore the definition, utility, history, future, scope, and specifics of psychedelic integration — and how you can use this in your own life to provide powerful experiences and make long-lasting personal change.
What is Psychedelic Integration?
The definition of integration is to bring disparate parts together to become a whole.
This is why integration is the term used when processing and working with the lessons and insights provided in a psychedelic therapy session. You are taking disparate insights —or parts of yourself that you may or may not have been aware of — and intentionally bringing them into yourself, into your way of Being, to become whole and facilitate personal healing.
The specifics of integration can take many shapes. Here are some examples:
- Taking physical action on outstanding tasks
- Healing, addressing, or letting go of past trauma or personal blocks
- Cultivating new hobbies and making time for your relationships and playfulness
- Taking better care of your health
The specifics of integration will depend on the experiences that you have in your sessions and throughout the course of the program overall.
As each person comes into psychedelic therapy with different intentions, life circumstances, and aims or aspirations, it naturally follows that the integration process and the specific activities will look differently. As is a recurring theme with this work, the journey of healing towards wholeness is very personal and intimate, and will look different for each individual.
The Power of Psychedelic Integration
Psychedelic integration is a term still coming into its full fruition within the psychedelic therapy space. It’s solidifying its place as a central pillar in the full experiential arc of a psychedelic therapy program.
The driving force behind these developments is the deep and essential utility of psychedelic integration. It makes the experiences, and the subsequent change, real. It is the driving force that takes the intangible potential presented in the sessions and grounds them deeply in reality, into your day-to-day existence, and makes them a lasting and enduring part of your life.
Without integration, much of the psychedelic experience itself lives as potential. Part of the beauty and power of the psychedelic experience and psychedelic therapy are the experiences and insights that it provides.
Someone may have a visceral experience of an emotion that they had not felt in a long time —joy, peace, opportunity, excitement, for a few examples. Or perhaps it facilitates novel insights, such as how past traumatic experiences have influenced the way they perceive reality now, and that it needs to be addressed and healed. These experiences are absolutely essential, they are life-affirming and freeing. There is no doubt to this.
However, they demonstrate the potential life the individual can have. They shine a light on a destination or state of being that the person can inhabit in the future. It demonstrates potential. Emotions that can be experienced, the life that can be lived, the peak of the mountain waiting to be ascended.
But the crux of integration is action.
Integration is about taking the lessons, insights, feelings, experiences and translating them into actions, habits, behaviors, and beliefs that carry through the rest of your life. Without acting on these experiences, they remain as potential. Something possible, waiting for action, waiting for movement.
This action —the embodied example of the lessons that arise in session— is the domain of psychedelic integration.
Some integration actions can be small and quick, such as cleaning up your living space. Others take more dedicated time and energy, like making healthier diet choices, or preparing and making career transitions.
Others still don’t have a defined end date, and are an ongoing process throughout life. Examples like speaking the truth, practicing kindness and compassion to others. All of these ideas and experience can arise within the sessions, and thus are all the domain of integrative work.
If you make integration a habit, and see it as a vital and necessary part of psychedelic therapy and the psychedelic experience, a dramatic possibility opens up. By combining thorough and sincere integration work with clear intentions and the sessions involved in the particular protocol or program, individuals have the possibility of making rapid and long-lasting progress.
As new experiences arise, an integration plan for them is made and enacted, helping create new baselines, new normals for the individual's experience. From this place, new intentions are set, new experiences are had, and the cycle begins again.
This upward spiral, or path of personal progress, can help tackle everything from major mental health concerns, to radical life changes, to deepening relationships, and everything in between.
Progress can take time, and sometimes integration work is challenging. For example, having tough conversations, or getting out of toxic patterns or living situations. These areas arise in awareness and the experiences for a reason: to help you move towards integrated health and wholeness.
History of Psychedelic Integration
The earliest known use of the psychedelic experience as a tool for insight and healing is based in shamanic and indigenous cultures, dating at least 1000 years back, but it’s entirely possible traditions have endured longer than this.
Psychedelics were used for general healing in the community, convening with spirits for guidance and assistance, and as coming-of-age tools in the community. Because the use and practice of these experiences was so fundamentally ingrained in, supported by, and accepted in the cultures that used them, there was not a great need for a formal integration process afterwards. Indeed, the concept of integrating psychedelic experiences did not exist in some psychedelic-medicinal cultures.
However, in today's modern age, re-entry into society after a significant psychedelic experience or program is not always as smooth as it was for those in ancient cultures. The road back into life and society after these experiences can be challenging or turbulent. This “re-integration” birthed the need for effective and support-based psychedelic integration.
Through this need, modern psychedelic therapy integration techniques have emerged and continue to develop. Individuals undergoing psychedelic therapy programs may face difficulty when sharing these experiences with others, who may not understand or be as supportive. Individuals may also face internal friction when returning back to “normal” life, working to understand what the experiences meant or the potential they have for their future.
The integration world is still maturing, coming into full understanding of best practices, techniques, frameworks, and supportive ideas to assist individuals who have chosen to work with these healing experiences.
Across cognitive, physiological, emotional, and sometimes spiritual levels, the techniques and practitioners who utilize them are emerging, filling the present need for the support and guidance of communities and the wisdom they contain.
Psychedelic integration is also developing and emerging alongside the resurgence of research and study being done into the science and practice of psychedelic therapy. It’s constantly refining itself, orienting around how to best serve individuals, offer support, and help unearth gems of insight and experience that arise during the experiences. This helps them ground clients in everyday reality, action, and growth.
Planes of Integration (PEMS and ACE)
There are a number of ways to approach psychedelic integration, and a number of techniques, models, framings, and practices that you can use alongside your practitioner to deeply solidify and enact the lessons that arose during sessions. There will be links to additional resources/outlets at the end of this article.
There are two common approaches to breaking down the psychedelic therapy experience and understanding what it is asking of you: the ACE model and the PEMS Energy System.
The byproduct from some sessions can be intense. Perhaps it was a particularly emotional experience, or there was a lot of content that surfaced. Beginning to take the first steps of sizing it down and listing out integration activities can be difficult. It’s helpful to have frameworks that help you manage and compartmentalize these experiences.
PEMS Energy System
The PEMS energy system stands for: Physical, Emotional, Mental, Spiritual.
This system is a way to bucket or segment the experience and its integration activities. Some experiences may have lessons or insights or experiences that fit into each category, while other experiences may be heavily focused on only one or two.
Breaking things down this way helps you notice themes, and more easily identify next steps for integration, getting specific about what activities/actions/habits will help you integrate the experience.
Physical energy has to do with your body, your health, your level of energy or physical stress, etc. You might have an experience that focuses most on returning to your body, on getting out in nature more often, in reducing stress levels.
This is predominantly physical — and integration activities surrounding this category may include making changes to your diet, dealing with your sleep hygiene, making more time for movement and exercise, and/or cleaning up your living space.
Emotional integration is a process of ensuring that the emotions were fully expressed, had a chance to complete the release process, and adequate time has been spent with them.
The novel states of consciousness provide a safe space for deeply rooted or suppressed emotions to arise and express themselves for release. There may be cathartic moments of grieving, ecstatic moments of appreciation, or novel states and mystical experiences.
For example, if you had an experience of grieving a loved one, or a past relationship, integration can look like dedicating time to intentionally reflect on this. This includes journaling about how you feel, or making space to continue the emotional expression if it is required.
Another example of emotional integration may be expressing something that you have been holding in, whether that be frustration, appreciation, fear, love, or any other emotion. Make dedicated time to give your emotions their full expression and release.
Mental, or cognitive integration, involves making sense of the experience, or taking action on the more literal and physical aspects of your life.
Activities like journaling or talk therapy can help to make sense of ideas, emotions, and experiences that remain unclear. Cognitive integration can also involve taking action on still unresolved areas of your life, like sorting out personal finances, creating conducive environments at home, or seeking out additional support in life where required. Cognitive integration helps to fit the experience inside the narrative arc of your life, to more effectively see where insights lie, what next steps may look like, and how to orient yourself as you move into your future.
It would be disingenuous not to discuss the potentially spiritual or transcendent realms of the psychedelic experience that may arise through these therapeutic programs. Feelings of oneness, of connection with self, others, and world — can be a moving and profound experience for many. Sometimes after these experiences, individuals may be moved to integrate these lessons by starting, developing, or further exploring the spiritual avenues of their life. Perhaps reading scripture, further exploring their native religion or world religions, cultivating a personal practice to help embody these realizations, or investigating for perhaps the first time these transcendent areas of their lives.
ACE Integration Model
The ACE integration model is another useful framework. It’s a starting point to begin relating to a recent experience from your sessions, and seeing what is surfacing. This helps define the integration process, and any insights or emotions that arose during the session.
The first step in this approach is accepting the experience that you had as real and valid. Some of it may be useful and warrant further exploration. Some of the experience may be less useful. All the same, the experience happened. It was real for you, and it came up in the way it did for a reason.
Your psyche, in combination with your inner healing intelligence, was trying to convey something. Accepting your experiences as real and valid is an important first step, it is the first step of the integration process. Accepting that this experience happened, and beginning to further explore it.
The second step of the ACE model is to connect. Once you have accepted that the experience happened, was real, and is valid, the next step is to connect to it.
This helps to explore the experience further, inviting the lessons in so that you can see what the experience meant. You can begin to explore what it is asking of you to integrate, and the messages that were conveyed. It is only when we connect in good-faith to the experience, that you can begin to discern the meaning, wisdom, and next steps that are nested within it.
Through the connection with your experience, next steps and integration activities start to be gleaned. The next approach here is to embody them.
This is what is meant by being integrated: to bring the lessons fully into your being, embodying them so that they become a new normal for you. Embodiment can look like any of the systems from the PEMS approach, embodying new ways of being across the physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual domains of your life.
With continued investment in embodying these lessons and insights, you begin to integrate them fully into your life, the core process of creating long-lasting change through psychedelic therapy.
How Long Does Psychedelic Integration Take?
A common question that arises after psychedelic therapy sessions, once the discussion of integration begins, is “how long does integration take?” Or similarly, “how will I know once I’m done integrating?” Let’s address each of these separately.
As you should be familiar with by now, the immediate response here is that it’s entirely dependent on the individual. The psychedelic therapy process is unique, highly focused on the individual. It’s also highly dependent on their current context, and available time and energy.
This is the most dramatic factor that will influence the length of time that integration takes. There are some other factors, including: dedication, complexity of the activity, and time/resources available.
Dedication to the integration
As with any personal change, habit development, or transformational work, your level of dedication has a large influence on the amount of time it takes, and the depth that it settles in at.
Someone who shows up to work each day will likely make more progress than the individual who shows up once a week. This applies directly to psychedelic integration work: the more you commit to the process, the more you show up, and the more deep the transformation will be. Dedication will increase the speed at which you will begin to recognize the shifts that are taking place.
Complexity of the integration activities
Some integration activities are much more simple than others, and naturally will take less time and/or energy to complete. Cleaning your living space will normally take less time than executing a career change, or developing a new creative hobby.
All of these examples can easily arise in the experience and be on the list for integration. Naturally, the more complex an activity, the larger it is in overall scope. It will take longer to integrate fully and become a part of your life.
The amount of time, energy, and resources you have available to you will also influence the time it takes to fully integrate some lessons.
If you would like to make a career change, but it requires taking an online course, someone who has all day to dedicate to the course can likely take action and integrate this fully faster than someone who can only dedicate 2 hours every Sunday morning due to other commitments.
Time —and your dedication levels mentioned above— is a big factor. Also, aspects like financial resources are involved if you are planning to move to a new home, or live alone. Having the resources available can simplify or accelerate the integration process — though given enough time, it is possible to integrate nearly any experience or insight that arises for you.
Integration Action Timelines
As for timelines in particular, it’s most useful to break this down by immediate, short-term, and long-term/ongoing actions.
Some integration activities are short with defined timelines, others are much larger undertakings requiring many months or years, and others simply do not have ending dates as they are part of an ongoing process or pursuit. Let’s look at each of these a bit closer.
Immediate Integration Actions
Immediate integration actions are quick, well-defined actions that could be completed in a shorter manner of time, from a few minutes to an hour or so.
This could include activities or actions like: cleaning up your space, signing up for that new hobby, calling a friend or family member, or having the discussion you’ve been putting off. These are easily defined, and often don’t take too long.
This is not to say that the tasks are easy. Though having an important conversation doesn’t take a long time, it’s easy to put this off to avoid conflict or expressing your truth. Never underestimate the power of these small, immediate activities.
Sometimes the first domino is all that needs to fall, setting off a chain reaction of positive developments and momentum that can carry you far on your journey towards healing and wholeness. If after your experience(s) you find yourself with a good deal of energy and motivation, these activities are often the easiest place to start. Integration and growth is a long game, and building momentum at the beginning is extremely helpful.
Short-Term Integration Actions
Short-term integration actions are undertakings that cannot be done in a day. They may take a few days, a few weeks, or a few months to fully settle in and reach a stage of completion that you’re happy with.
Forming new habits, extended practice of new hobbies, or moving locations are all examples of integration activities that may fall into the short-term category. Solidifying new habits often takes a few weeks to a month for the habit to become fully ingrained, a part of your new way of being, to integrate fully into your life.
These activities are often the cornerstones of integration work — as many of the insights or experiences in sessions often find their roots in these short-term, but long-lasting developments. A new habit of yoga is something that can be with you for decades to come. A new living situation can bring with it a whole host of new opportunities and experiences.
You’ll also begin to notice an overlapping set of interrelations between these timelines, as these short-term tasks (developing a yoga practice) often can be broken down into the immediate activities mentioned above (do 30 mins of yoga each day). In this way, you begin to develop a holistic orientation towards your integration work — holding long-term visions and plans, while having a set of immediate, well-defined activities, steps along the path, that will move you in that direction.
Long-Term / Ongoing Actions
The final integration timeline is long-term, or ongoing — having no defined end date. These are much larger, more conceptual aims and visions that may arise for you during your sessions.
Long-term activities can include: making a change of careers, building a business or a family, or cultivating deeper relationships. These activities can take months or years to fully develop, bear fruit, and become a new natural way of being for you.
As a specific example, making the move from your current job to a new domain may take some time to train the new skills, build a network of connections in the space, and finally land a new position (or make one yourself!).
These long-term activities will also have accompanying short-term and immediate integration activities as a part of them. When making a career change (long-term), you may need to develop a new skill (short-term), and sign up for the programs/classes that will teach them (immediate). The beauty of these overlaps is that it helps clarify the path forward, as you then have a list of activities that you can do each day, making you more confident that you’re moving in the direction that you want to go.
The final, and most amorphous integration timeline is the “ongoing” category. Think of this as things that don’t have an ending date. They are just new ways of being in the world, that will always be a part of your day to day existence.
Some of the lessons or experiences that you may have in psychedelic therapy can surface themes such as: expressing love more often, speaking your truth, being a supportive partner, or being of service to the world. These are high-level visions that don’t have an end date — you can be integrating and enacting this in your 20’s, all the way through to your final years of life.
These are the north stars, the guiding principles of life, and integrating them isn’t so much about completing the tasks, as it is continually renewing your commitment to uphold and enact these values.
A Note on Integration
An important note on psychedelic integration — it doesn’t have to be a chore, nor should it be perceived this way. These activities need not live as an endless series of overbearing or overwhelming tasks on your to-do list.
Integration is an opportunity.
It’s an opportunity to realize and actualize the profound potential inside of you, which psychedelic therapy is uniquely adept at revealing to you. It’s an opportunity to become the person you want, to have the life you envision for yourself. It is a labor of self-love, of self-compassion, and of showing up with your full being to the spectacle of life.
“After ecstasy, the laundry.” — Jack Kornfield
This quote, from renowned American Buddhist meditation teacher Jack Kornfield is particularly apt when discussing psychedelic integration, or when integrating any form of highly transformative experience.
Psychedelic therapy and the psychedelic experience can launch you into beautiful realms of possibility. They can connect you deeply to your heart, your worth, your compassion, and your potential. Returning to the “normal” world after such experiences can be challenging or disorienting. It can be difficult to see how to make sense of the messages that surfaced in the sessions, or to have a sense of where to go next.
By slowly and diligently grounding the revelations and experiences that psychedelic therapy provides in earnest integration work, you rise up to meet those transcendent realms of possibility that live within the psychedelic experience.
Integration is a process. But it is a process of evolution, and of blooming into the fullness of your being. None of this means that the work is easy. The best rewards rarely have an easy path to receive them.
Integration is life-long, life-level work. Approach it with compassion, and expect that there will be setbacks, mistakes, and some backward progress at times. If you show up with renewed vigor, compassion for yourself, and gratitude for the sublime opportunity that you have to become what you have always wanted to be, psychedelic integration will be a profound tool of self-actualization and personal development and healing.
The Future of Psychedelic Integration
Just as continued research in psychedelic science will continue to push forward the potential and best practices of psychedelic medicine and therapy, there is just as much potential for this work to impact, improve, and further the expertise and available opportunities in psychedelic integration.
Psychedelic integration is still an emerging field, both an art and a science, based in grounding the lessons of psychedelic therapy. There is certainly room for further development. This includes: establishment of qualifications, techniques, processes, and understanding around what works, what is most helpful, and how to best personalize the integration process for each individual and for each experience.
As with any emerging field, the future looks bright, but there is much work to be done. As with each initiative, with each client and practitioner, the body of knowledge continues to grow, expand, and refine itself.
In the future we would expect to see new and improved containers and support systems to help individuals process their experiences, define an integration plan, and offer continued guidance and resources throughout the individuals integration journey.
There will likely be the further proliferation and expansion of tools and techniques that are uniquely effective at integration. This would include supplementation routines, movement and embodiment exercises, and multimedia experiences to help return individuals to the expansive states of psychedelic therapy.
There is already an emerging market of trained therapists and practitioners who are uniquely skilled at helping make sense of the experiences and support the integration process. Establishment of unified qualifications, and improved awareness and access will also come with continued investment in this space.
The more integration is seen as a necessity to psychedelic therapy and healing, instead of an ancillary option or supplement, the faster the progress will be.
You can help this process, by encouraging responsible psychedelic experiences, and underscoring the importance of grounding the experiences back in the lived experiences.
Everyone who works in, or embarks on a journey of psychedelic therapy has a unique signal to contribute to psychedelic integration. The growth of good-faith conversations and sharing will only help the entire field mature and refine itself further, ultimately helping all who come to this work in the future.
Psychedelic Integration Resources
The list below can be considered a jumping-off point. These resources help if you are in need of additional support with your integration process, want to contribute to the growth of psychedelic integration as a field and practice, or if you would simply like to see what is currently available to the public and in what form.
As with anything in this line of work, this list is not exhaustive, as new initiatives are currently in development.
Psychedelic Integration Handbook - The Integration Handbook from Ryan Westrum is a comprehensive guidebook to embarking on and integrating a psychedelic experience or program. Combining both theory and practice, it is an asset to anyone wishing to explore the realm of psychedelic integration further.
Psychedelic.Support - Psychedelic.Support is a fantastic outlet to help individuals find a mind/body practitioner uniquely skilled and focused at helping individuals process their experiences and work through the things that come up throughout the integration process. Though integration is a personal journey, that does not mean it needs to be done alone.
MAPS Integration List - MAPS is a pioneering and influential organization in the psychedelic therapy space, they have put together their own resources list to help individuals find support and other practitioners to assist with the integration process.
Fireside Project - A 24/7 hotline that can help individuals in need during and just after an experience. Powerful psychedelic experiences can be intense, and having the support available on hand, or having someone with the knowledge to help point you in the direction of next steps can be an asset.
Hakomi Method - The Hakomi method is another technique and therapeutic approach that is useful to help unpack and understand experiences, feelings, or insights that arise throughout psychedelic therapy programs. They have a list of practitioners available that can be of service to anyone moving through the integration process.
Traditional Psychotherapy - Traditional therapeutic techniques and experiences are helpful when it is difficult to make sense of the experiences or insights that arise in psychedelic therapy, or throughout the integration process. It is not always immediately clear what the next step or best course of action is. Working with skilled therapists and clinicians help accentuate and accelerate this process, and unearth new insights and drive new connections that may not have arisen if it was done alone.
Somatic Bodywork - Making sense of the experiences in an embodied fashion, not merely on the cognitive level, can be just as important or useful along these journeys. Somatic experiencing and somatic bodywork is a useful outlet when navigating trauma healing or approaching integration work from a body-based perspective.
Mind/Body Practices - Ensuring that you are supporting yourself with a mix of mind/body practices on your own provides important scaffolding and support to continue diving deep into the integration process. Techniques like meditation, journaling, yoga/movement, or breathwork can all be helpful to make the re-entry and integration into life at home smoother.
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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