In order to embody the lasting personal and habitual changes psychedelic experiences can provide, integration is an essential component of the process.
Transformational experiences —psychedelic-assisted or otherwise— wouldn’t be possible without the deep work that follows them. Integration is a vital, necessary, and important part of long-lasting growth and development.
What is Psychedelic Integration?
Psychedelic integration refers to taking the gained insights, emotions, or attitudes from your experience, and processing them into desired areas of your life. Integration as a general definition means “bringing parts together to make a whole.” Psychedelic integration helps to achieve a sense of “wholeness” clients seek through their set intentions for treatment.
Examples of intentions may involve taking ownership of mistakes, speaking your truth, or reconnecting with parts of yourself that you may have exiled in the past. It is this wholeness, this accepting of all parts of ourselves, that creates the strong, sovereign, calm foundations the rest of your life can be built upon.
Psychedelic experiences have the potential to open up very dramatic or significant ways of being, ways of viewing others, and how you view yourself. It may bring to light new goals you have, things you want to do, say, or move towards.
Once you have these experiences, integration is the process that turns your intentions into reality. It makes your insights tangible.
An example of the integration process and its related work...
As an example, during your psychedelic experience, you may have an important insight around taking care of yourself and your physical health. The related integration work around this insight would be actually carrying that out: perhaps adjusting your sleep schedule, going for more exercise, or changing your diet.
You are integrating the lessons that came up. You are moving the insight of physical health into the reality of changed behavior.
As each person’s psychedelic experience can be radically different, so too will their integration process be radically different. For some it may be focused around a larger, particular “theme,” such as communication, honesty, relationships, career, or health.
Sometimes the tasks may be small and easily managed, such as “call your parents and tell them you love them.” Sometimes the integration activities may be more nebulous, or have no firm deadline, like “I need to speak my authentic truth and say how I feel.”
All of these are valid integration activities, and the follow-up integration work will vary based on your unique circumstances, your specific intention for the session, and who you want to be and where you want to go in life.
Types of Psychedelic Integration
Despite the nuances for each individual, there are a few common categories of integration that tend to arise, often related to common areas of our own personal health, expression, and energy levels.
Physical or somatic integration
Sometimes the integration process is a highly physical one. Perhaps it’s around taking better care of your body, taking time to decompress and release some pent up stress that’s been accumulating, or spending more time in nature. It’s highly focused on the body, on the sensations and feelings you have.
The integration work for this takes the shape of embodied activity:
Walking in nature
Moving your body through exercise or yoga
Taking care of yourself and your physical or mental health
In other cases, the integration process may revolve around how you view yourself, others, and the world, and the relationships between all of them. There are very significant and important themes that can arise in this area of the psychedelic experience, and many of them will take dedicated integration work to process and bring into your being.
Your relationship with your own mortality, your metaphysical relationship with existence, your relationship (or lack thereof) with religion and spirituality. These themes can present themselves in many ways through psychedelic experiences, and will take some integration work to process fully and integrate.
Psycho-spiritual integration can also take the form of looking into your future:
What kind of person do you want to be?
What kind of person are you now?
What kind of relationships do you want to have?
What work do you want to be doing?
Reflections of this nature can be catalyzed by the psychedelic experience, and integration is the process of continuing to answer them. Once you have an answer, you can begin to take decisive action towards making them a reality.
Emotional integration relates to the processing of emotions and feelings that come up in your life. There are times when you don’t want to feel these feelings, and be fully present with them. Instead, they may stay inside of you, waiting to be processed and released.
Grief – Perhaps you weren’t ready to process the loss of a loved one, partner, or family member, as it’s often a painful event at the time
Forgiveness – Forgiving those who may have hurt you, or even yourself for any number of reasons.
Gratitude work – Consciously choosing to focus on the beautiful parts of yourself and your life, instead of only the difficulties.
Managing, processing, and regulating your emotions are essential to your well-being and general affect. Psychedelic experiences can provide the insights that there is work to be done here, catalyzing the recognitions. The integration process is actually carrying the emotional work out for yourself and your future.
How Long Does Psychedelic Integration Take?
As with most general questions surrounding the psychedelic experience, the answer is that it is dependent on the person, their intention, and their unique context.
Some of the actions or integration activities that come up can be handled quite quickly. For example, calling an old friend or signing up for a gym membership can often be done without much difficulty. As a result, integration of those lessons —if they arise— isn’t too difficult.
However, there are much larger themes that can surface in the psychedelic experience, which can take much longer periods of time to integrate fully. Sometimes, there isn’t even an ‘end point’ to the integration. Integration can be the process of a lifetime, because you are always changing, and the world around you is always evolving.
Some examples of extended or lifelong integration might be: “I want to be a better friend or family member” or “I want to change the work that I do,” or even “I want to speak truthfully.” Some of these themes, such as ‘speaking truthfully’ don’t have an end date, and the integration work is simply a process of trying, to the best of your ability, to meet and live up this ideal. Things like changing careers to find a vocation you truly love can take weeks, months, or years to fully bring into being.
Integrating psychedelic experiences can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few years. It depends on the lessons and insights that come up, the work you are willing to do on them after, and the nature of the experience itself and the content that arose.
Why is Psychedelic Integration Important?
Psychedelic integration is an essential part of the psychedelic experience because it is the activity that makes the insights real.
It is work that moves the insight from the conceptual to the actual.
The psychedelic experience without integration is potential. The experience can show you new ways of being, and it can surface important feelings or insights about your life —but it is only showing you these things. It’s like highlighting a potential destination on the map of your life. “This is somewhere you could be. This is who you could become.”
Integration is the process of actually moving from where you are now, in the direction of a new, desired destination. It is the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other walk that takes you from where and who you are now, to where and who you could be.
Having a beautiful and therapeutic psychedelic experience is wonderful, and everyone deserves to have these significant moments in their lives. But most people show up to do this work because they want to create long-lasting, significant change. If that is the case, integration work must be a part of the conversation.
Without showing up for the integration work (which only starts when the psychedelic experience ends), you won’t create the long-lasting change that you’re looking for.
Psychedelic integration work isn’t just important, it is an absolutely essential component of what makes psychedelic therapy and psychedelic medicine so life-transforming for some.
Psychedelic Integration Supports
If this is your first time preparing for a journey or you have already experienced non-ordinary states of consciousness and want to integrate your insight, there are a handful of resources and tools to help guide you.
Consciousness Medicine by Françoise Bourzat with Kristina Hunter
The Psychedelic Explorers Guide by James Fadiman, PhD
The Psychedelics Integration Handbook by Dr. Ryan Westrum
Psychedelic Psychotherapy: A User Friendly Guide to Psychedelic Drug-Assisted Psychotherapy by R. Coleman
Therapy with Substance: Psycholytic psychotherapy in the twenty first century (Muswell Hill Press) by Dr Friederike Meckel Fisher
The Psychedelic Integration Podcast by Mystical Heart Collective
Here are some free research papers on some of the most significant studies done to date, including the most recent FDA approved MDMA trial that took the world by storm (and yes, they incorporated a LOT of integration).