“Gestalt: something that is made of many parts and yet is somehow more than or different from the combination of its parts” Miriam-Webster Dictionary
“Integration: coordination of mental processes into a normal effective personality or with the environment” Miriam-Webster Dictionary
￼The use of psychedelics and entactogens is a cultural fact in Western societies today1,2. According to the Global Drug Survey, the largest international online survey on drug use, the use of psychedelics is on the rise among drug users – in 2017, 20% of the people who use illegal drugs reported the use of LSD within the last 12 months. Easier access through the darknet, but also through clearnet webshops retailing new psychoactive substances has increased the availability especially for young people. Although we don’t have any data on this the non-pharmacological induction of expanded or altered states of consciousness (ASC)3 might also be on the rise4,5 and is closely linked to broad societal phenomena like yoga and meditation practices.
The „psychedelic renaissance“ in medicine and neuroscience has lead to an increased interest and landed a portrait of Sasha and Ann Shulgin, the godparents of new psychoactive substances, on the front page of the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2015 (Large)￼. MDMA and Psilocybin are likely to become prescription medications for a narrow spectrum of mental disorders within the next decade and are discussed in mainstream media again. While science had turned a cold shoulder on the possibilities of psychedelic research for several decades since the illegalization of LSD in the late sixties, the recreational use of psychedelics has never been halted ever since their introduction to the US and Europe.
Contexts and modes of use have varied and today range from purely hedonistic party use, over psychonautic self-exploration of individuals and in psychedelics communities to ceremonial, religious, neo-shamanic or paratherapeutic settings. While concepts like set and setting are already firmly embedded within most psychedelic communities and harm reduction strategies are publicized by many organizations6 such as Eclipse e.V. in Berlin or Rave it Safe ￼in Switzerland for decades, the integration of the psychedelic experience has only become a focal topic within the psychedelic community in recent years. The widespread availability and use of psychoactives, as well as non-pharmacological methods leads up to several questions:
- How to make sense of your experiences?
- How to draw beneficial conclusions from your experiences?
- How to cope with difficulties, fears and possible re-traumatization?
- Generally: How to integrate insights acquired in altered states of consciousness?
- And finally: If you manage to integrate psychedelic experiences into your life positively, how do you make these benefits last?
“Psychedelic Integration“ can be understood as the process of creating a synthesis from insights and experiences gained during altered states of consciousness and the pre-existing mental framework of worldview, moral assumptions and individual patterns of (re)action to the world around us. The shift from focussing on having an experience to maintaining and incorporating it is something that often follows the experience that even insights that were considered extremely valuable may be lost over time or lead to no change in behaviour. They lose their palpability or fade to the extent that they cannot be evoked at will anymore – for many this is the case when the so-called afterglow7 disappears. Or in opposition: challenging biographical topics or traumata that were considered “dealt well with” can re-emerge with sudden urgency later on. While many people learn to structure and shape their inner and outer landscapes well in and around expanded states of consciousness, the long-term effort of creating lasting benefit is often neglected or replaced by the search for new, strong experiences. This often leads to the repetitive use of psychedelics or other induction methods, leaving material yet to be integrated piling up in a corner of your consciousness or squashed under the fresher impressions of recent experiences.
Severe cases of mental upheaval following psychedelic experiences should be treated by experienced therapists. In some urban areas like Berlin (St. Hedwig Krankenhaus, Charité Universitätsmedizin) or New York (e.g. the private psychotherapy practice of Ingmar Goreman) professional consultation hours or outpatient supplies in clinics have been established. Yet, professional services like these that are working on a basis beyond a strictly pathological or an addiction paradigm are rare. We could also say that there still is little understanding of extraordinary experiences and the ambivalent roles they play in peoples lives. Most people in search of better integration of their expanded states of consciousness don’t need therapy, but rather self-experience groups with facilitators that do support integrative efforts – which may be considered as attempts for self-healing of a person or an organism that was challenged by disturbing information. Facilitating integration in a structured way that is linked to professional insights and science-based theories is a challenge that has been taken up by different groups and people already – ranging from integration circles sometimes provided by the growing psychedelic societies movement (e.g. Marlene Rupp of the Vienna Psychedelic Society) or InnerSpace Integration in the US. These groups are mainly based on sharing in circles and provide a platform for peer exchange and support from experienced facilitators, helping people to put their experiences into words and work from there.
At MIND Foundation, we have decided for a different approach. A group within the organization that consists of medical doctors, psychotherapists, researchers, social workers and others has developed a semi-manualized program for integration. It is designed as a focussed process within a closed group over the duration of three weekends and addresses the psychedelic experience through a multidimensional approach. Many layers of these experiences are non-verbal and multimodal: they include sensory, imaginary or mainly emotional aspects. We embrace all these dimensions in our workshop series, including basic forms of bodywork and (trance) dance expression, breathing exercises, creative artwork and interventions from mindfulness practices. On top of these experiential methods, we include psychoeducation and harm reduction inputs into our setup, trying to enable participants to be more aware of themselves, their motives, abilities and achievements and the role of others during psychedelic experiences in the future. These weekends are all embedded in strongly guided group processes serving as a safe container for personal development. The facilitator team consists of therapists, coaches, bodyworkers, harm reduction practitioners and others, giving us the unique opportunity to transfer the integration manual into an open and flexible practice that allows for maximal exploration while creating the most beneficial environment.
Over a period of more than a year, the development group has come together regularly with up to fifteen contributors and teamed up in smaller task forces to create the “Beyond Experience”- program we are now offering up from September 2018. At time being this MIND Integration Process will be available both in Berlin (German & English) and Amsterdam (English). The application opened in June 2018, registration for these groups is possible here. We are looking forward to meeting participants from very different social origins and are interested in your ideas and contributions to the further development of the program. In the following weeks, we are going to publish a series of blogposts on the topic of integration – highlighting both the current theoretical concepts and biographical stories on integration we want to share with you. So – stay tuned, psychedelic integration will be a good companion through the year.
1 Hermle, L., & Schuldt, F. (2016). MDMA. In M. von Heyden, H. Jungaberle, & T. Majić (Hrsg.), Handbuch Psychoaktive Substanzen (p. 1–20). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-55214-4_25-1
2 von Heyden, M., & Jungaberle, H. (2017). Psychedelika. In Maximilian von Heyden, Henrik Jungaberle, & Tomislav Majic (Hrsg.), Handbuch Psychoaktive Substanzen (1st Aufl.). Berlin-Heidelberg-New York: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-55214-4
3 Charles T. Tart. (1975). States of Consciousness. iUniverse. Abgerufen von https://www.goodreads.com/work/best_book/702103-states-of-consciousness
6 Psychedelic Care Publications. (2015). The Manual of Psychedelic Support. A practical Guide to Etablishing and Facilitating Care Services at Music Festivals and Other Events (S. 342).
7 Majić, T., Schmidt, T. T., & Gallinat, J. (2015). Peak experiences and the afterglow phenomenon: when and how do therapeutic effects of hallucinogens depend on psychedelic experiences? J Psychopharmacol, 29(3), 241–253. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881114568040
Proposals for further exploration