The need for those specializing in psychedelic integration has sky-rocketed around the world as more and more people seek out healing with these powerful medicines. Either with the aid of therapists or coaches, the demand has never been higher. Without the support of qualified integration professionals, psychedelic experiences intended for healing can become vague memories rather than effective channels of healing that result in lasting changes.
Many people are recognizing the importance of integration work both pre and post-psychedelic experience and are seeking trained professionals to aid with that process. The art of providing integration support is no easy feat, and those walking that path must fully understand the necessary foundation in order to offer the service in a professional capacity.
Both integration coaches and therapists should have a few core elements in their repertoire in order to deliver quality service to their prospective clients. Let’s take a deeper look into what they are and how they may go about reaching them.
Expertise in What the Client Is Integrating
It’s important for a coach or therapist to have expertise in what their client or patient is trying to heal from. Rather than adopting a “broad stroke” approach to integration support to access a larger group of people, this will allow them to have a much more intimate and effective relationship with prospective clients.
“If you’re integrating an experience of trauma, it’s very helpful to have somebody who understands the modalities of trauma,” explained Kat Courtney, CEO and Founder of AfterLife Coaching, at the 2021 Plant Spirit Summit.
“I don’t tend to work with people in the aftermath of ibogaine because I’m not an addiction specialist,” she said. “Whatever tools in our toolkit that we are passionate about and are relevant to helping people integrate – we have to have the integrity to stick to that. Stick to the realm of your expertise.”
Courtney states that it’s OK to narrow down your ideal client based on your specific area of expertise. It’s wise for both therapists and coaches alike to explore their unique set of superpowers, nail down their area, and if necessary, deepen their expertise by investing in further training specific to that domain.
Experience with Psychedelics
Would you put your trust in a sky-dive instructor who has never taken the leap from a plane? Or the captain of a ship who has never sailed at sea?
For many, the same goes for psychedelic integration. Without direct experience navigating these profound altered states, how can a coach or therapist understand what their client is trying to unpack?
“It is important that the coach or therapist have first-hand experience consuming psychedelic medicines themselves,” says Nicholas Levich, co-founder and facilitator at Psychedelic Passage. “How can you adequately help someone else traverse terrain that you’ve never traveled yourself? That’s why having first-hand experience is so crucial. Otherwise, it’s kind of like the blind leading the blind,” he explains.
“Plus, I find that coaches and therapists who’ve sat with these medicines themselves (in an intentional way) have most likely been exposed to their own shadows and demons – really anything that’s been repressed in the subconscious mind,” says Levich.
Having direct, extensive experience with psychedelic medicines deepens the sense of trust in the process which may be lacking with coaches or therapists who haven’t personally benefited from psychedelics. “When I say to the journeyer that it’s OK to go deeper, I have to really believe that, which comes from experience. Any hint of doubt in my voice can become amplified in the psychedelic space, having the potential to cause a downward spiral. Experience helps me to embody calm, confident presence,” explains Liam Farquhar, integration specialist, legal psychedelic guide, and founder of Brighter Pathways.
“My philosophy is I need a lot of experience that’s going to help me grow and also help me process my own stuff as part of a wider inquiry process,” he says. “To me, it feels inauthentic if I don’t have that, but then if you only have the experience and no training, that’s limited as well, because my experience only extends so far, so I want to learn about all the case studies and edge cases from people who have been doing this work longer than I have.”
The Ability to Create a Safe Environment
Psychedelic journeys can be powerful yet sometimes confusing experiences. By working with a qualified specialist, individuals can integrate these experiences into meaningful life changes. Reaching these transformational states of understanding, however, means crossing territory that requires vulnerability and potentially confronting repressed traumas, memories, and emotions.
There is an importance for any integration coach or therapist to understand how to create a safe and trusting container for people to explore these emotions without the risk of re-traumatization. This requires the use of attentive listening and specific care as to not project one’s own traumas and experiences onto the client’s process.
“Presence is everything in the integration process. Clients need to feel heard, seen, and validated as they integrate these experiences that transcend the mind and human experience,” says Levich of Psychedelic Passage.
While there may be certain training and ethic requirements therapists will be required to meet, there is currently no overarching body that regulates coaching. “Coaches should know how to listen and work with the person’s own wisdom and healing intelligence as opposed to putting their own views on somebody else,” says Leia Friedwoman, a psychedelic integration coach. “The client shouldn’t become reliant on the coach for their expertise – the coach should help them come into alignment into what they need,” she explains.
Dr. Sam Zand, DO, psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer at ketamine therapy clinic Better U, echoes these sentiments for therapists too. According to Dr. Zand, psychedelic integration therapists should be able to show “love, compassion, emotional awareness, a non-judgemental approach, clear communication skills, expert conflict management, the ability to be fully present and remove our own projections from the session, and the recognition of red flags and concerning symptoms.”
“The ability to create a safe, trusting environment is even more important in a psychedelic setting where some feel they are surrendering their mental control,” he adds.
Someone Who Has Done Their Own Inner Work
In helping others delve deep into their consciousness and uncover hidden parts of their psyche that may be hindering them, it’s imperative that a coach or therapist have done their own inner work as well.
“You can only guide a client as far as you’ve taken yourself,” says trauma and integration coach Andrea Kauenhowen. “I learned firsthand that as I continued to expand my self-awareness, I was able to recognize patterns in my clients that I couldn’t see before. I had to witness it in myself before I could effectively mirror it for others,” she explains. “That’s really what coaching is about, providing a mirror for people to be able to see themselves.”
Kauenhowen also emphasizes the importance of this inner work to ensure awareness of one’s own triggers and biases. “The responsibility lands on the facilitator to constantly be checking their ego and their agenda. Asking for permission throughout the session helps reinforce that sense of safety,” she says.
In having a deep understanding of their own potential for darkness and shadow, coaches can identify when those triggers are coming up during a session and subsequently avoid projecting them onto the client. “Having gone through those processes yourself – the dark night of the soul or whatever you want to call it – you have a greater chance of creating a ‘clean’ space for the journeyer, free of your own stuff. You are more likely to come from a place of Self: presence, groundedness, compassion, and curiosity,” explains Farquhar.
Entering the field of psychedelic integration is no doubt a rewarding, promising, and much-needed career path for those looking to support others in their psychedelic journey. This path, however, should only be sought out by those prepared to be committed to the core elements discussed above which compile the foundation of good integration coaching.
Interested in learning more about psychedelic integration as a potential career path? Check out our complete ebook on entering the field of psychedelic integration therapy and coaching.