People are waking up to the healing power of psychedelics. Without post-session integration, however, psychedelic journeys risk being resigned to history as a distant memory with no lasting impact. Integration support can come in many forms, from individualized therapy or coaching to community-based support in the form of integration circles. As such, a growing number of integration circles, both online and in-person, are sprouting up alongside the increasing therapeutic use of psychedelics.
Let’s explore how psychedelic integration circles work and how you might go about starting one yourself.
What is a Psychedelic Integration Circle?
Psychedelic integration circles take place when a group of people gathers to share and connect over experiences of non-ordinary states of consciousness and support one another in the process of integration. Participants may also share their thoughts and feelings about a journey that has not yet happened to help them mentally prepare. The goal of integration circles is to help attendees process psychedelic experiences and provide support for them to implement the profound lessons that they may have gained during those journeys.
“Integration circles are full of people who are actively making their visions a reality,” says Daniel Shankin, founder of Tam Integration. “Integration circles are a place where you can be seen, and more than that, they are a place where you get to see others,” he explains.
Facilitator-led integration circles are usually guided by a coach or therapist with specialist knowledge in helping people integrate psychedelic journeys. These guides help create a safe, non-judgmental, and confidential space that allows for healing and growth. Peer-led circles, on the other hand, may have no particular individual leading the group on a consistent basis. This non-hierarchical model reduces power dynamics and often encourages people to share more authentically without fear of being pathologized.1
An integration circle might take place online using a platform like Zoom, or it might take place in person. It’s important to note that there are benefits to both models – while online circles can increase access beyond geographical boundaries, in-person gatherings can create a truly safe space for people to open up in.
“Online circles can be very powerful and a great option for groups that are geographically dispersed,” says Ivaylo Govedarov, a Colombia-based psychedelic medicine facilitator and founder of The Colibri Garden. “When you’re physically present, however, you can feel a person’s energy, perhaps give them a hug – the circle feels a lot more intimate.”
Some integration circles are restricted to certain groups in order to create the safest container possible for people to share their experiences. For example, The Ancestor Project offers a free online integration circle for people in the BIPOC community. Tam Integration offers an online women’s integration circle, and Psychedelic Liberation Collective hosts a free online circle specifically for Queer-identified 2SLGBTQIA+ folx.
What Are the Benefits of Psychedelic Integration Circles?
Psychedelic integration circles can provide a safe space for people to share their experiences and offer emotional support to participants pre-and post-journey.
Participants don’t always have someone they can openly speak to about their experiences in their personal circle of family and friends. Integration circles provide that opportunity to connect with others with whom they can relate and who may have shared goals.
“The medicine of the word is incredibly powerful,” says Govedarov. “Putting your experience into words helps you to integrate it and give it form. And when we do this in a circle, we allow ourselves to not only express authentically about our experience but also to connect with others and learn from each other’s experiences. We’re all learning from each other in this space,” he explains.
This sentiment was echoed by Nicholas Levich, co-founder and facilitator, Psychedelic Passage: “Regardless of the circumstances and context of your psychedelic experience, many of us are left craving connection and someone with whom we can share our experience.”
“If we’re not ready to share ourselves, perhaps we’re ready to just listen and look for a connection with other people who have experienced states of consciousness similar to our own,” he says.
We shouldn’t underestimate the power of the connection that comes with integration circles. “Tam Integration circles have literally saved people’s lives. People have beat back depression, people have gotten off of bad meds, they’ve gotten off booze,” says Daniel Shankin. “They’ve worked through the death of loved ones, they’ve overcome social anxiety. And healthy, productive, high-performing people just get better.”
“The more that people give away, the more there is. And then we all get to take that away, and share it with the world,” he adds.
Additionally, integration circles can support harm reduction efforts within the psychedelic community. “Harm reduction, in the community group setting, works to answer questions and provide actionable recommendations and education regarding the safe and responsible use of psychedelics,” says Levich of Psychedelic Passage.
Psychedelic integration circles also add a level of accountability, argues Dr. Catalina Munar M.D., founder of IMAP, an integrative medical accompaniment program that provides integration support to individuals working with ancestral medicine: “Integration circles can be beneficial in that they help sustain a person’s commitment to their integration journey. It’s much easier to stay committed if you have support – and often other people’s experiences can help you with your own healing.”
“However, circles cannot be a replacement for individual, tailored support. We all have different experiences, histories, and goals,” adds Dr. Munar. “Group-based support is not geared towards the individual’s needs, so it’s important to consider its role alongside personalized coaching or therapy.”
How to Start Your Own Psychedelic Integration Circle
If you’re wondering whether or not you can start your own psychedelic integration circle, the answer is yes, you can. However, starting a community event like this requires careful planning to make sure it runs as smoothly as possible. Here are some tips on how to start your own circle:
- Decide whether you want to run it online or in person. If online, make sure you have a subscription to a video conference platform such as Zoom. If in-person, the circle should be held in a private environment where people can sit and share comfortably, such as a yoga studio or living room. For in-person circles, it’s a good idea to have refreshments available.
- Establish the cost, size of the group, frequency and duration of the session, structure, and a code of conduct for all participants.
- Announce the circle and advertise on social media and in local businesses to get the word out.
- If you’re holding the circle in a physical space, make sure to arrive early and set up a circle format with pillows, yoga mats, or chairs. It’s a good idea to ask people to sign in so you can keep track of who went and their contact details, and offer additional resources such as harm reduction pamphlets or details of emotional support hotlines.
- You might have a bowl for guests’ contributions, which should be in line with their financial circumstances. Many circles adopt a “pay what you can” policy, with the option to attend for free if you can’t afford it.
- The circle should start and finish on time, and those that arrive over 15 minutes late without a valid excuse may be refused entry.
- You might consider starting with a guided meditation and reading the rules aloud before getting into the circle. Make sure that every participant has the chance to introduce themself and set their intention at the beginning, and an opportunity to contribute to the conversation throughout the circle. By using a talking stick and a timer, you can avoid certain individuals dominating the discussion.
- Stay attentive and compassionate towards each person as they share their experience. Remember that this is a peer-supported environment and not the place for anyone, facilitator or otherwise, to provide professional mental health support.
- Consider closing the circle with another meditation or ritual. Make any community announcements and thank everyone for attending.
For further information about organizing a peer-led integration circle, this guide on community-led integration is an excellent resource.
Psychedelic integration is a multifaceted phenomenon. In addition to one-to-one therapy and coaching, those seeking therapeutic value from psychedelics can gain huge value from integration circles. Offering a safe space where journeyers can share, listen, connect, and collectively heal, integration circles are set to play an increasingly vital role for the psychedelic community.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to turn psychedelic integration into a career path, check out our ebook on entering the field of psychedelic integration therapy and coaching.
1. N. Sylva, Building Community Around Integration: A Guide for Community-Led Peer Integration. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1bp_5cVK6Kd1mPx91jZqARyLxBlYYwBpAI3i14Ko6n54/edit