People all over the world are waking up to the transformational power of psychedelics. As therapeutic use of substances such as psilocybin, LSD, ayahuasca, ketamine, and MDMA grows, so does the need for integration support. Too often, people undergo profound, mystical journeys without a plan to integrate the experience and the learnings that came with it.
Without proper integration, the journey could turn into a distant memory that leaves little to no lasting impact on our lives. With the help of trained professionals, however, we can access the help we need to understand the psychedelic experience and learn how to implement its teachings to be able to make sustained, positive changes.
The psychedelic integration support provider field is growing, as is evidenced by the numerous courses and training programs popping up to help develop professionals in the field. There are different paths to choose from, however, and it’s important to consider the differences between each – both for those looking to develop a career in the space and those seeking out the support itself.
The types of providers can be broadly split into psychedelic integration coaches and psychedelic integration therapists. Let’s dive into what makes up each of these roles, what they have in common and where they differ, and when a patient or client might choose one over the other.
Psychedelic Integration Coaches
Psychedelic integration coaching is generally focused on helping clients reach specific goals – ranging from goals related to their mental health to professional performance goals. Integration coaches can play an important role in all stages of the psychedelic journey, from helping clients prepare for the experience, to educating them about harm reduction strategies, to supporting them in post-journey sessions to make their intentions a reality.
Coaches may adopt a variety of modalities to help their clients integrate their experiences, such as somatic release, yoga, or breathwork. They may support their clients by introducing them to practical tools that can help them stay accountable and connected to their journey, such as journaling, meditation, educational resources, and group support networks.
A coach may have undergone one or multiple different training programs or courses to gain the experience necessary to support their clients’ integration. Generally, it’s important for a coach to be trauma-informed.
“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 no overarching regulatory body or ethical code that coaches have to comply with, so many training institutions have created their own regulated “style” of coaching that is becoming recognized within the space. Given that integration coaching is 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 note that, unlike licensed therapists, coaches are not able to diagnose and treat mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, etc.
Psychedelic Integration Therapists
There is a wide consensus for the need for trained therapists to be able to support people as they go through psychedelic-assisted therapy or embark on a journey of personal psychedelic use.1 The number of licensed therapists entering this field is growing to help people make sense of the experience, understand challenging or confusing parts of it, and integrate new insights into their daily lives.
In general, therapists must meet certain regulatory requirements to be able to practice therapy. These requirements are determined by the law in the country that they practice. Therapists will have usually completed a master’s or doctoral degree related to mental health. In the US, these include a Ph.D. or PsyD., or M.S., M.A., LMHC, LICSW, and more.
Therapists are specifically trained to help people with psychological problems and mental health conditions, including the ones mentioned above. Because therapists are trained to treat conditions such as PTSD, depression, or OCD, they can help patients understand new insights around or changes in their symptoms after the psychedelic experience.
“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 have also trained in other modalities that support this type of work, such as transpersonal psychology, nondual psychotherapy, psychodynamic therapy, and/or trauma healing modalities such as EMDR. They may choose different tools from their toolkit depending on their patient and what they need help with, ranging from cognitive behavioral therapy to somatic therapy.
Choosing Between a Coach and a Therapist
Whether you’re seeking out support or exploring integration provision as a career opportunity, there are some important distinctions to make when deciding between the coaching vs therapy paths.
While most coaches may not have the academic repertoire that therapists have, that doesn’t make them less qualified to provide integration support. Ultimately, whether a coach or therapist is right for a person depends on their goals and circumstances – someone dealing with a historical mental health condition, for example, may be best suited to a therapist, while coaching may be a better option for someone who is seeking practical tools to help them reach their goals. Many coaches have gained their expertise from their own experiences and the medicines themselves, which equip them to help others on a healing path.
Given that coaching is an unregulated profession, it’s important for potential clients seeking their support to look into the kind of training they’ve had and how it suits their needs. Coaches that have done multiple training programs will generally have a more comprehensive skill set and a perspective on providing the right kind of integration support. In any case, it’s important for the coach or therapist to have had experiences with the medicine their clients or patients are working 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.
The sentiment that coaches and therapists ultimately serve different needs, and can complement each other, was echoed by psychedelic guide and integration coach, Doug Vargas.
“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 behavioral patterns as I see that to be something that therapists are more qualified to do, but I can much more easily bring in a tripart mind-body-spirit approach,” says Vargas.
Lastly, for many people, the cost is also a factor in which path they may choose, especially if they’re looking for a long-term option. “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.
If you’re choosing between a coach or therapist for your own journey, it’s important to weigh up the skills and qualities of each, and compare those to your own intentions for your path with psychedelic integration. And if you’re looking into providing psychedelic integration support as a career path, make sure to check out our complete ebook on entering the field of psychedelic integration therapy and coaching.
1. Schenberg, E. E. (2018). Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy: A Paradigm Shift in Psychiatric Research and Development. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2018.00733