As growing numbers of people seek out healing with the help of psychedelic medicines, the need for professional integration providers, whether therapists or coaches, has never been higher. Without this support, psychedelic journeys intended for healing purposes can become distant memories, rather than experiences that result in lasting, concrete changes.
So as many people realize the importance of integration work both before and after the psychedelic experience, they are looking to experienced specialists to help them with that process. Providing integration support is no simple task, and those who choose this path must understand the necessary foundation to offer the service in a professional capacity.
There are a few core elements that all integration coaches or therapists should have under their belt. Let’s dive into what they are and how they might go about reaching them.
Expertise in What the Client Is Integrating
While it may be tempting to adopt a “broad stroke” approach to integration support to access as many people as possible, it is more important for a coach or therapist to have expertise in what their client or patient is trying to heal from.
“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 emphasizes that it’s OK to narrow down your ideal client based on which part you’re most expert at. It’s wise for both coaches and therapists alike to explore their unique superpowers, nail down their area, and if necessary, invest in training to deepen their expertise in that domain.
Experience with Psychedelics
Would you trust a pilot instructor who has never flown a plane? Or a swim coach who has never jumped in at the deep end?
For many people, the same goes for psychedelic integration. Without experience in these altered states of consciousness, 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 extensive experience with psychedelics also allows for a sense of trust in the process that may be lacking in coaches or therapists that haven’t personally benefited from these medicines. “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
Integrating psychedelic journeys with the support of a specialist can allow people to make sense of powerful and often confusing experiences and turn the information they received into meaningful life changes. However, reaching these transformational states of understanding means crossing territory that requires you to be vulnerable and potentially confront repressed traumas, memories, and emotions.
Any integration coach or therapist needs to understand how to create a safe and trusting container for people to explore these emotions without risk of re-traumatization. This requires attentive listening and making sure not to project one’s own experiences and traumas onto the client or patient’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 therapists will be required to meet certain training and ethics requirements, there’s 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 order to help others delve deep into their consciousness and uncover the parts of their psyche that may be holding them back, a coach or therapist must have done their own inner work too.
“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.
By 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.
Becoming a psychedelic integration coach is no doubt a promising, rewarding, and much-needed career choice for those looking to formally support others in their psychedelic journey. However, this path should only be pursued by those who are prepared to commit to the above core elements that make up 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.