Psychedelics are making a huge splash in the realms of holistic healing and psychiatry. More and more common is the use of substances such as LSD, psilocybin, ketamine, ayahuasca, and MDMA in healing a myriad of conditions such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
As more people seek out these powerful, transformational experiences, the need for quality integration support continues to grow. Oftentimes people undergo these profound, mystical journeys without a proper integration plan to maximize the benefits and mitigate further problems from arising.
Proper integration can mean the difference between a journey becoming a vague, distant memory that offers little lasting impact to a substantial, critical change in one’s overall mental and spiritual health. With the help of trained specialists, we are better able to understand the psychedelic experience and learn how to implement its teaching to positively improve our lives and make lasting changes.
The field of psychedelic integration is growing and is evident in the numerous training programs and courses that continue to sprout up in the field. There are many career paths to choose from, however, and it’s important to consider the differences between each one.
The two types of providers can be broadly split into psychedelic integration therapists and psychedelic integration coaches. Let’s explore what each of these roles consists of, how they relate and differ, and when someone might choose one over the other.
Psychedelic Integration Coaches
Psychedelic integration coaching focuses on helping clients reach specific goals related to mental and spiritual health, as well as professional performance goals. Integration coaches usually play an important role in all stages of the psychedelic experience helping clients prepare for the journey, providing education and harm-reduction techniques, to providing the valuable post-experience integration sessions that allow their intentions to come to fruition.
Coaches may utilize a number of modalities to assist their clients in integrating their psychedelic experiences. This may include a number of tools including yoga, meditation, breathwork, and somatic release. They may also support their clients by introducing practical tools into their routine that can help them stay accountable and connected to their experiences, such as journaling, community support, and other educational resources.
Generally, It’s vital for a coach to be trauma-informed. They may have undergone a number of training programs to gain the necessary skills and experience needed to support the client’s integration process.
“The reality is that many seekers of psychedelic therapies have experienced some degree of trauma in their lives, although they might not be consciously aware of all the details,” says Andrea Kauenhowen, trauma and integration coach.
“Traumatic events from the past often come to the surface while working with these medicines, so if a practitioner cannot recognize what that might look like or how to approach these instances with compassion and understanding, the client may end up in a worse emotional state than when they started,” she explains.
There is currently no overarching regulatory body or ethical code that coaches need to comply with, therefore many institutions have crafted their own regulations and style of coaching that are now becoming recognized in the psychedelic space. Given that integration coaching is currently an unregulated field, “it is critical that coaches be engaged in a community of practice where they can access peer supervision and mentorship from seasoned practitioners,” says psychedelic integration coach Leia Friedwoman.
It’s important to keep in mind that while coaches can be a valuable asset to those undergoing a psychedelic journey, unlike therapists, they are not able to diagnose nor treat mental health conditions such as anxiety, PTSD, OCD, eating disorders, etc.
Psychedelic Integration Therapists
The current consensus is that there is a wide need for trained therapists to support individuals as they go through psychedelic-assisted therapy or when embarking on personal psychedelic journeys. (Schenberg 2018). The amount of licensed therapists entering the field is expanding, ultimately helping participants understand their experiences, unravel the challenging aspects, and integrate these valuable insights into their lives in a positive manner.
Generally, there are certain regulatory requirements that therapists must adhere to in order to practice therapy. They are typically determined by the law in the country they practice. They will have usually completed a master’s or doctoral degree related to mental health. For example, in the US, these include Ph.D. or PsyD., or M.S., M.A., LMHC, LICSW, and more.
Psychedelic integration therapists are specialists in helping people navigate mental health issues and psychological conditions. Due to this specialized knowledge, they are trained to treat conditions such as OCD, depression, and PTSD, and can help patients discover new insights or changes involving their conditions after taking part in the psychedelic journey.
“Psychologically, when we push our psyche to psychedelic limits, we are undergoing a process of altered ego-consciousness,” says Dr. Sam Zand, DO, psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer at ketamine therapy provider Better U. “We need a psychiatrically or psychologically trained professional to be able to help us process the journey of ego awareness, ego dissolution, and ego re-emergence,” he explains.
Integration therapists may also have a broad toolkit of other modalities to support their integration work. They may have been trained in transpersonal psychology, nondual psychotherapy, psychodynamic therapy, and trauma healing modalities such as EDMR. They can utilize these tools when necessary, depending on the need of their patient.
Choosing Between A Coach and a Therapist
When seeking support or considering a possible career as an integration provider, there are important considerations to make when choosing between coaching and therapy as viable options.
While coaches may not have the academic background that most therapists may have, that doesn’t mean they are less qualified to provide quality integration services. It will ultimately depend on the needs of the individual and their specific goals and circumstances. Someone with a history of mental health conditions may consider a therapist to be more ideal, while coaching may be more viable to someone seeking out practical modalities to aid in reaching their specific goals. Oftentimes coaches have attained their knowledge from a direct relationship with psychedelic medicines themselves, gifting them the ability to better help others seeking similar healings.
Considering the fact that coaching is currently an unregulated career path, it’s very important for potential clients to vet the background of their coach and if their training and experience suits their individualized needs. Coaches with multiple training programs under their belt will typically have a more elaborate set of skills and an understanding of how to provide the appropriate integration support. Regardless, it’s important for the coach to have experience with the medicine their prospective clients intent to work with.
“A coach offers peer-level support to the client in finding their own path, with an experiential understanding of the psychedelic process, without the legal constrictions,” says integration coach and Co-founder of Neural Fuzion, Sandra Larsen. “Therapy is traditionally cognitive while coaches tend to address restoring embodiment prior to and post-experience, utilizing other methods.”
“Many times therapists do not have the experience a coach has, and the coach might not have the formal education a therapist has,” explains Larsen.
This sentiment that coaches and therapists serve different needs and can compliment each other was echoed by Doug Vargas, a psychedelic and integration coach,
“I feel a lot more free than most therapists to bring in somatic, trauma, spiritual, and other outside resources, and what I do is inherently a little more fluid than standard talk therapy,” he explains.
“I generally don’t work with changing long-term behavioural patterns as I see that to be something that therapists are more qualified to do, but I can much more easily bring in a tri-part mind-body-spirit approach,” says Vargas.
Finally, for a lot of people, the cost is a major factor in the decision process, especially they’re seeking something long-term. “While health insurances do not often cover harm reduction or integration services (yet), a therapist can be a less expensive option for long-term therapy, than paying out of pocket for a coach,” says Nathaniel Putnam, LCSW and integration therapist and guide. “Sliding scales can help with accessibility. Universal medical insurance that covers psychedelic-assisted therapy and integration would be helpful,” he adds.
When deciding between a coach or therapist to assist with your own psychedelic experience, it’s important to consider the skills and qualities of each, and compare those to your own personal intentions and needs when it comes to psychedelic integration. Furthermore, if you’re considering a career in psychedelic integration, make sure to check out our complete ebook on entering the field of psychedelic integration therapy and coaching.
Schenberg, E. E. 2018. Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy: A Paradigm Shift in Psychiatric Research and Development. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2018.00733.