Psychedelic research and psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy are making a profound impact on the world of psychology, psychiatry, medicine, sociology and anthropology. From Michael Pollan’s book “How to Change Your Mind” to the Netflix show it inspired, through the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) research and a massive underground therapy network, to the fact one in four US citizens has tried psychedelics, these substance’s re-entrance into the collective sphere is happening. Yet, inside this ongoing process of re-assimilating psychedelic therapy and entheogenic ceremonies back into society, little is known about what to do after these experiences. The theory and practice of integration is an uncharted, underdeveloped and ambiguous territory.
What Is Integration?
I’ve spent a decade of focused research (Cohen, 2017) facilitating workshops on integration, consultation groups for practitioners, and group and individual integration sessions, as well as practicing long-term depth therapy with individuals who utilize psychedelics for psycho-emotional healing and spiritual growth. While some would say that integration starts at the moment one decides to have a psychedelic experience, for the purposes of this piece I refer to integration as the process that starts the moment we start “coming back” from an experience’s peak, and enter into Joseph Campbell’s ”return of the hero/ine” phase.
The science, practice and philosophy of integration is both personal and collective, with each domain containing its own nuances. On a personal consciousness level, integration is a relational attitude towards life, where we embody the storyteller archetype (Kalsched, 2013). One eye is always open and relating to the outside world, its phenomena, the collective systems that shape our lives and our moment to moment experience of being alive. The other eye is always closed, looking at the impact of the outer on our inner world, tending to our feelings, sensations, images, shadow and soul.
One is the internal process of engaging with the information we got in our psychedelic experience, through curiosity, reflection, and conscious participation.
We process the experience’s somatic, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions, and review meaningful and memorable points.
It’s crucial not to engage in selective dissociation – omitting the parts that were painful, terrifying, boring, shame filled or confusing; the parts of us that were exiled due to trauma.
I want to emphasize that trauma recall, exploration and healing is only one important aspect of integration. Integration should also be the process of accessing and reclaiming innocence, curiosity, wonder, divinity, and joy that we have lost contact with. It can also help us reach unknown parts of ourselves, the newly discovered aspect of self and soul that we can now see.
The second part of integration is the process of implementation – moving from the cultivated inner alchemy of insight and decisions to external actions that reshape our reality. This is embodiment, “the process of bringing into body spirit and soul through action.” Implementation is where integration practices become part of the integration process, like utilizing art, writing, movement, psychotherapy, nature, body work, spiritual practices and so forth. Implementation is also the external actions we perform after we have done the inner process – leaving a relationship, addressing addictions, changing how we relate to people and the world, sexual expression, spending our time more wisely, and the like.
In Service of Community
Integration on a collective consciousness level is the bridging of indigenous traditions where spiritual states are imbedded in the cosmology of one’s lived life, with a de-spiritualized and psychologically dissociated western world that has disconnected itself from a life of reflection, connection, vulnerability, intimacy, and the unseen world and soul. Integration is learning from the cosmologies and cultures that many of these practices come from, and how to relate to and understand these invisible shamanic worlds.
Integration on the collective level is also a reminder that experiencing these expanded states should be in the service of the whole “village.” We can share what we learn and the benefits with our friends and family, and expand to our larger society. Integration on a collective consciousness means the reexamination and deconstruction of systems of oppression and dehumanization, reviewing our relationship with nature and earth, how we conceive what physical, psycho-emotional and spiritual health is, and how we treat each other. The storyteller archetype has one eye open to the collective and one eye closed to the inner world – they always work together.
“We try and reduce the seemingly incomprehensible events…to personal and impersonal origins. By such a procedure, we hope to assimilate the experience, and to integrate it into the whole of the human personality”.
- Cohen, I. (2017). Re-Turning to Wholeness: The Psycho-Spiritual Integration Process of Ayahuasca Ceremonies in Western Participants From a Jungian Perspective. California Institute of Integral Studies ProQuest Dissertations. https://www.proquest.com/openview/37f24c7d0852fdef99c2dc4981393cc8/1.pdf?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750
- Kalsched, D.(2013). Trauma and the soul: A psycho-spiritual approach to human development and its interruption. New York, NY. Routledge