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Ways to Integrate the Whole Self After Psychedelic Exploration

For someone with trauma in their history, for instance sexual assault, using psychedelics may help them heal. However, in addition to addressing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychedelics may also help with addiction and treatment-resistant depression as well as anxiety.

An important aspect to discuss is the integration process after a psychedelic journey, which offers a person the chance to experience communion with their internal landscape–or, other words, to reconnect with all of themselves.

I’m a big proponent of integrating the whole self and in fact, Whole Person Integration is the name of my practice. Without the integration piece, the psychedelic journey may be forgotten like an unrecorded dream.

Furthermore, pairing psychedelics with somatic techniques can be especially helpful because the somatic, or body, experience puts the person back in touch with their physical form (and this is important because a lot of people are dissociated from their bodies). Below I discuss what psychedelic integration means along with specific somatic techniques that can aid the process.

What is Psychedelic Integration?

Psychedelic integration refers to making real something that occurred in a symbolic or ritualistic act during the psychedelic journey–in lay person’s terms, during the person’s “trip.” For instance, when someone says they were “tripping on mushrooms,” they’re referring to a psychedelic experience.

Working with a trained clinician or coach, such as myself, can help people make sense of what was unlocked from a person’s unconscious during their psychedelic journey.

Psychedelics fall into two categories: entheogenic and empathogenic/entactogenic (there’s debate in the scientific community about the best term). Entheogens cause a person to become inspired or to experience feelings of inspiration, often in a religious or spiritual manner. Entheogens include psilocybin (the active substance in “magic” mushrooms), ayahuasca, LSD, San Pedro, and ibogaine (African root bark used by the Biwiti tribe).

Empathogens or entactogens are not technically psychedelics but they produce experiences of emotional communion, oneness, relatedness, and emotional openness. A well-known example of an empathogen/entactogen is MDMA. Because of the promising results found in phase 2 clinical trials using MDMA to treat PTSD, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given approval to start phase 3 of the research.

I think it’s important to mention here I do not condone illegal use of drugs or behaviors. Nor do I encourage clinicians to engage in any illegal or unethical activity. I also do not believe many of these nature medicines should be illegal as they have been used as sacraments in indigenous communities for many generations and the synthetics have yielded positive impacts on individuals and societies when used with right (mind) set and setting (environment).

However, having said all that, a person may have taken psychedelics as part of FDA-approved research, through out-of-country experiences, or they may have found their way to psychedelic use via other avenues.

Primarily what I’m interested in is engaging in the integration process after the psychedelic experience, which gives the individual a greater chance of reaping the psychospiritual benefits of the psychedelic journey. All of my work is to help people have access to and be more of their whole selves. Somatic techniques are particularly helpful in that way.

What are Examples of Somatic Techniques?

My experience has been that the way people dress their psychological self was historically more mental until somatic psychology came on the scene. Somatic psychology looks at the connection of mind and body, and uses psychotherapy, focusing, and body awareness techniques for self-awareness and holistic healing.

Especially because yoga has gained such popularity in the West, yoga therapy has become a field in its own right. Additionally, somatic psychology has an increased capacity to help people on all levels of their human experience: mind, body, spirit.

I recommend yoga therapy as one way to help integrate a psychedelic experience, and I’d like to point out here it’s more complicated than going to a regular yoga class. A trained yoga therapist such as myself can help a person in a tailored way. For instance, during a person’s psychedelic journey perhaps they had an image of the ocean and it felt a bit ominous or they couldn’t make sense of it.

Through yoga therapy, the person might engage with boat pose (navasana) as a way to be with and to navigate the part of themselves they met in the form of the ocean. Boat pose may become a vehicle for the person to feel safe while moving through the part of themselves they met in their psychedelic journey as well as have a deeper understanding of that part.

In addition to yoga therapy, I recommend breathwork or pranayama, which is accessible to anyone at anytime. Breathwork uses the breath to connect the whole person: mind and body. You don’t have to go to some sort of fancy place or expensive setting to breathe. You can simply breathe deeply into your belly at any moment.

All infants breathe deeply into their bellies and as people get older, they often are conditioned to start breathing higher into their chests, which increases anxiety. When speaking of breathwork, I would be remiss here if I didn’t mention holotropic breathwork, developed by Stan and Christina Grof.

During holotropic breathwork, participants breathe rapidly to induce a non-ordinary state of consciousness and potentially derive a deeper understanding of themselves. The Grofs noted that it can be a powerful way to integrate the psychedelic journey, but I believe it may be more beneficial in lieu of or as a precursor to deeper work with psychedelics.

Active imagination, a Jungian technique, helps people use the body with the imagination to understand and deepen an understanding of one’s life experience. It’s a method of assimilating the unconscious through some form of self-expression.

For instance, to take our ocean example, a person might make a body movement like a wave. Or they might make a painting of a wave. They could also have an ecopsychology session where they go to the beach and interact with it. Doing so deepens the person’s relationship with the ocean because they are touching it or looking at it, or perhaps having a conversation with it as a separate entity outside of themselves.

If the ocean is amplified through painting it or visiting it, the ocean can be seen as a separate entity and therefore a relationship can be developed with it in a different way than if the ocean just stayed within the self. Active imagination has the capacity to simultaneously play with both the separation and the union of self and other, lending itself nicely to the concept of oneness that can be experienced through psychedelics.

As a trained labyrinth facilitator, I also enjoy the use of a labyrinth as a tool for psychedelic integration. Labyrinths have been used for hundreds of years for meditative body movement as well as ritual and ceremonial use.

Walking a labyrinth is an amazing way to be in one’s body and also activate the mind while having seemingly spontaneous spaciousness created for spirit to thrive. The labyrinth can be understood as metaphor for life: There’s one way in and one way out, but throughout the walking meditation journey there are many twists and turns. Labyrinths are a great way for people to meditate, pray, and potentially find peace and serenity.

And the benefit of a labyrinth is it’s not a maze – a person can easily walk off of it at any time for any reason and can also return whenever they are ready.

The last technique I recommend is one I developed myself and is the topic of my own research:  Spontaneous Embodied Spiritual Experience (SESE). It’s a body movement meditation technique where the body is allowed to move without thought or instruction. Like the labyrinth, SESE offers a container for the individual who is integrating a psychedelic journey. There is a container, or frame, for the movement to unfold with no explicit instruction on how the body (or soma) will move.

Using a technique like focusing (popularized by Eugene Gendlin), a person tracks what’s happening inside of themselves and then moves from that space rather than from the mind. Ideally a practitioner would set up the space for you. But on your own, it’s important to create a container similar to when you’re meditating. “I’m setting myself up in this space to do this body movement practice,” could be something that you say to yourself. A person could also set a timer for five minutes and slowly increase the time as a way to process unconscious material through something other than words.

I’ve only touched on each of these techniques to give you a sense of them, but if any technique interests you, I highly recommend you seek out a professional for further guidance. Incorporating the body could amplify and potentially maintain the healing aspects of your psychedelic experience.

References

Artress, Lauren. Walking a Sacred Path : Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice. New York, Riverhead, 2006.

Bourzat, Francoise. CONSCIOUSNESS MEDICINE : Indigenous Wisdom, Entheogens, and Expanded States of Consciousness for Healing and Growth. North Atlantic Books, 2019.

Bouso J. C., Doblin R., Farré M., Alcázar M. A., Gómez-Jarabo G. (2008). MDMA-assisted psychotherapy using low doses in a small sample of women with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder. J. Psychoactive Drugs; 40, 225–236. 10.1080/02791072.2008.10400637

Gendlin, Eugene T. Focusing. New York, Bantam Books, 2007.

Jung, C G, and Joan Chodorow. Jung on Active Imagination. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1997.

Metzner, Ralph. Allies for Awakening : Guidelines for Productive and Safe Experiences with Entheogens. Berkeley, Ca, Green Earth Foundation & Regent Press, 2015.

Mithoefer M. C., Grob C. S., Brewerton T. D. (2016). Novel psychopharmacological therapies for psychiatric disorders: psilocybin and MDMA. Lancet Psychiatry; 3, 481–488. 10.1016/S2215-0366(15)00576-3

Renye, D, (2012). Spontaneous embodied spiritual experience of movement and being moved: A qualitative analysis (Doctoral dissertation). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (Publication no. AAT 3539734)

Stanislav Grof, and Christina Grof. Holotropic Breathwork: A New Approach to Self-Exploration and Therapy. Albany, N.Y., Excelsior; Bristol, 2010.

Ways to Integrate the Whole Self After Psychedelic Exploration


 

APA Reference
Denise, D. (2020). Ways to Integrate the Whole Self After Psychedelic Exploration. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 28, 2020, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/ways-to-integrate-the-whole-self-after-psychedelic-exploration/

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 20 Apr 2020
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Apr 2020
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.