Considerations in Choosing a Psychedelic Coach or Therapist
Updated: Sep 9, 2020
Have you ever held a “universe of answers” but they all slipped through your fingers a few weeks later? Or had a ‘’Life-changing” trip but then you slowly reverted back to normal? This could be a sign of not fully integrating your experiences, and if it happens often a sign of spiritual bypassing. Seeking the help of a professional can facilitate holding on to these revelations through integration and maximizing the benefits of psychedelic use.
If you are new to the psychedelic revolution you may find it confusing trying to choose a professional to help with integration. After a few Internet searches, you may be wondering what is the difference between a psychedelic coach and a psychedelic therapist. The term Psychedelic Therapy seems explanatory but how is that different from an integration therapist or psychedelic coach. Here is the breakdown of the various psychedelics support personnel. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of these different types of integration support, will help identify what kind of professional support will benefit you.
Your BFF (not professional support!)
Your best friend can be a wonderful asset for unpacking experiences and integrating them back into your default reality. However, your best friend is not impartial to your situation and may lack an understanding of these substances. Unless your best friend is a therapist, they may not possess the required coaching skills to help you get from ideas to manifestation. Best friends are great at listening and empathizing and can be a helpful step in integration until a coach can be found. Integrating with a BFF will be casual and have less structure than seeing an integration coach or therapist.
A life coach is someone who will work with you to determine your goals and then develop an action plan to meet these goals. Much like a sports coach who helps an individual or team reach their goal (winning the game), a coach will help figure out your goals and break them into action steps. Coaching is based on the belief that an individual possesses the answers to their problems within themselves.
Life coaching has sprung up out of a need for affordable access for people making changes in their life. Coaches tend to specialize in a specific genre such as business, careers or psychedelics, like us (More on this later). Although there are several certificate programs, there’s no legal standard for this title. It’s important to research the background and credentials of any coach.
This goes hand in hand with ideas present in psychedelic therapy and coaching. Stanislav Grof, one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology and a researcher into the use of non-ordinary states of consciousness (also one of the first LSD therapists) talks about the idea of the inner healer. This concept works its way into the MAPS MDMA therapy program - the idea that everyone is innately capable of doing the healing, themselves. The participant is treated as an expert of their own experience and as having the capacity to access the knowledge they need to heal. The therapist or coaches role is to hold space to help the individual unlock their maximum potential; setting goals and providing accountability are important aspects of this.
A very common question about psychedelics is ‘Where can I find an MDMA / Psilocybin Therapist’? To clarify the legal terminology, Psychedelics are considered schedule 1 substances by the DEA. They are only legal to administer during an FDA approved study and therefore not available to general mental health providers. If someone is acting as a therapist or counselor they currently CAN NOT give you controlled substances outside of a sanctioned research study. Otherwise, anyone claiming to be an MDMA or psilocybin therapist is operating outside of the scope of their license and is committing a felony.
Currently psychedelic therapy in the USA is primarily limited to Ketamine clinics and MAPS’ ongoing MDMA Phase 3 trials. Ketamine, an anesthesia drug, is unique because it is the only schedule 3 psychedelic substance so it can be prescribed for off label usage. Ketamine has been gaining attention as a depression treatment for individuals with treatment-resistant depression. There has been a surge of ketamine clinics popping up which provide framework and integration therapy ranging from extensive to non-existent. So, while psychedelics therapy may be prominent in the future, currently you’ll need to be part of a trial or find a therapist working with ketamine treatments.
A Licensed Professional Counselor(LPC) or Licensed Clinical Social Worker(LCSW) is someone who provides professional guidance by utilizing psychological methods to collect case history, data, and using various psychology techniques combined with a personal interview method (ie. talk therapy). A therapist or a counselor will be board certified and have a defined scope of practice. A therapist will listen to you talk about problems and work on reflecting and creating solutions.
An integration therapist is a great option for someone who is hoping to see someone with advanced mental health experience. A psychedelic integration therapist DOES NOT provide you with psychedelic substances but works with you pre- and post-experience to integrate and derive meaning from the experience.
Unfortunately, mental health professionals can be expensive. There is no guarantee that insurance will cover your integration therapist. Chances are, your current therapist has little or no experience for processing psychedelic experiences as classic education has no reference point for study. This can cause resistance between a client and their therapist when “drug use” becomes a topic of conversation. There is still a lot of taboo and lack of understanding among the medical community regarding psychedelics and even the best therapist can have biases. Everyone can benefit from therapy but therapy isn’t always a good place to unpack psychedelic experiences and integrate them.
Integration Coaching is focused on individuals unlocking the answers to their problems presented in altered states. Integration coaches set the framework for change by providing focus on pre-trip intention setting, psychedelic harm reduction, after care, and accountability. Like a counselor, a coach is someone who works with you to identify your strengths and weaknesses as well as developing skills to overcome the obstacles holding you back.
Anyone can utilize coaching skills to benefit themselves or others: whether that be peers, subject experts, or superiors at a job. These skills can be learned and practiced to make you a better coach (or therapist). Working with a psychedelic coach enhances the productivity of a psychedelic session due to their experience with the subject matter. They may also have experience working with difficult trips and have a greater knowledge of traversing altered states.
Since Psychedelics coaching is not regulated, look for coaches with experience in Harm Reduction services such as the Zendo Project or Burning Man Sanctuary. Ask where they got their coaching experience and how long they’ve been working in psychedelic spaces. While having some experience with altered states is desirable, it’s important to make sure that your coach isn’t newly returned from a one time experience in the Amazon trying to share the magic of psychedelics. Coaches should be easy to talk to and not full of advice.
If you are currently in therapy, a good psychedelic coach can work in conjunction with that treatment. They won't suggest abrupt medicine changes or to discontinue working with your therapist unnecessarily. A psychedelic coach is a great accompaniment to traditional therapy for a psychonaut. Working with both a therapist and integration coach allows each specialist to focus on different critical aspects of your well-being. It allows them to focus on their strengths.
Psychedelics, by nature, can be confusing and hard to derive meaning from. No matter what type of integration support person you choose, it's important they are familiar with transpersonal spaces. extensive knowledge in the process of integrating ‘big’ experiences can be a significant asset in unpacking your latest journey.