The article Building Models for Psychedelic Integration was originally published on Microdose.
Few would debate the importance of psychedelic integration. We are using powerful tools to shift consciousness and the changes that can occur afterward don’t necessarily happen on their own. It’s well-established that a supportive environment contributes to positive psychedelic outcomes.
With this understanding has come the concept of “integration”. The term has become an essential part of psychedelic language, spawning an increasing number of books, coaching programs, and conversations. But despite its popularity, integration, along with mystical experiences and DMT entities, remains a somewhat nebulous psychedelic concept.
What is Psychedelic Integration?
Dr. Geoff J. Bathje of Sana Healing Collective and his colleagues decided to dig into the question of what psychedelic integration is. The task proved significant as they began scraping the web for publications and mentions of psychedelic integration, and the team found over twenty-four different definitions.
After Dr. Bathje’s group narrowed down the various methodologies to a list of ten different approaches, models were then analyzed, and the team published a “Synthesized Mode of Integration” in the paper Psychedelic integration: An analysis of the concept and its practice.
Integration in the Western World
It’s been said that integration is a largely Western practice because indigenous psychedelic use happened largely in the context of a supportive and understanding community. In the West, things are a bit different. The skepticism from your inlaws at Thanksgiving dinner didn’t exist in cultures where psychedelics are already integrated.
While the specific practice and development of integration techniques is a Western concept, Dr. Bathje’s group found many influences from indigenous cultures in existing integration practices.
Dr. Bathje cites David Graeber’s book “The Dawn of Everything,” which includes:
“Compelling research that the European Enlightenment was to a large degree a consequence of meeting indigenous cultures, comparing themselves, and encountering Indigenous critique of European culture.”
Dr. Bathje ”got interested in this area because it made it clear to me that almost nothing about the way we organize society is natural or inherent.” He notes that two cultures’ meeting has probably always led to the comparison and questioning of basic assumptions.
Indeed, the current enthusiasm around psychedelics isn’t simply new scientific research and policy changes, but a collision of worlds between ancient shamanistic cultures and the West.
Indigenous Influence on Psychedelic Integration
Dr. Bathje explains that western minds invented dualistic models of the world, escaping from the holistic view of traditional cultures held before us.
Dr. Bathje’s paper describes indigenous perspectives as focused on harmony, balance, interconnection, and wholeness. These are found in community, family, traditions, and spiritual beliefs, with shamans being naturally integrated.
In contrast, psychology and much of modern psychedelic integration are focused on the mind. While some models expand beyond longstanding psychological views, Geoff sees potential in holism.
“Holism rejects the idea that you can carve nature up and instead views the world as a kind of like ecosystems within ecosystems, with everything interconnected in fundamental ways.”
It’s also true that while holism might seem attractive, stepping outside dualistic models of thought is difficult — as we live in a culture that constantly reinforces a standard of reductionist thinking.
For example, the paper states that “treating integration as a separate phase of psychedelic experiences probably imposes Western dualistic thinking.” Yet looking back at traditional cultures using psychedelics effectively, such a separation is not the case. The paper notes:
“Rather than doing the healing for us, psychedelics may give us an experience of and orientation toward wholeness, along with insight into the barriers and misalignments that will need to be addressed”
None of this is to say psychotherapy has no place, but it simply acknowledges that our current systems of psychotherapy may have limitations, particularly when faced with psychedelics.
Building Integration Models
The ten models of psychedelic integration that Dr. Bathje’s team compiled were all developed independently of each other. Some draw from traditional practices, while others are rooted in modern psychology. Some are exclusively focused on mental processes, while others leaned towards a more somatic approach.
Because of these varying influences and approaches, a comparison was tricky. But in the process, Dr. Bathje says that “it became apparent each model had some unique and some overlapping aspects.”
The goal had not been to build an overarching model of psychedelic integration, but over time the group came up with six areas, organized into a wheel, with certain related groupings.
The areas chosen are:
- Natural world
The image shows how the domains relate, offering a potential glimpse of the factors one could be trying to balance in the pursuit of becoming whole.
How to Do Psychedelic Integration
With the factors in front of us, one might feel overwhelmed. How exactly does one make their life so balanced?
Integration is a process, not simply an idea. To address navigating it, the paper put forward its definition of integration:
“Integration is a process in which a person revisits and actively engages in making sense of, working through, translating, and processing the content of their psychedelic experience.
“Through intentional effort and supportive practices, this process allows one to gradually capture and incorporate the emergent lessons and insights into their lives, thus moving toward greater balance and wholeness, both internally (mind, body, and spirit) and externally (lifestyle, social relations, and the natural world)”
The list of actual activities for integration is long and spans many themes, from dreamwork to diet to downtime and activism. Based on one’s original intentions, situation and resources, relevant activities can be chosen from the wheel. A commitment to adequate time and space is required, and understanding community and relationships support the process.
Other recommendations included laying the groundwork for integration during preparation, attention to intuition over rigid task-focused approaches, and not trying to integrate in isolation. For large experiences or for individuals with fewer resources, incremental change is recommended. For those privileged with deep pools of resources, a slower, reflective approach to change is encouraged rather than rapid shifts.
The paper also cautioned researchers and practitioners against imposing their own beliefs onto participants’ experiences. Having humility in recognizing limitations to their own cultural conditioning, training, knowledge, and worldviews is also encouraged.
Meeting People Where They Are
Ultimately, Dr. Bathje emphasizes integration hasn’t really been researched yet. Current systems of thought in psychology may have limitations when it comes to interpreting and supporting the transcendental and mystical content of psychedelics.
Figuring out effective integration systems will require much more study and experimentation. Dr. Bathje’s idea that we may need to challenge our well-worn patterns is a necessary consideration. For example, he cautions against “symptoms scales meant to measure diagnoses… we’ll overlook many domains of life and further reinforce this mind-body, person-environment dualism.”
Using psychedelics effectively is not just about taking a substance. There is no magic pill, and integration is not an easily boxed or packaged process. Living a balanced life is not simply about treating singular symptoms. Likewise, what it means to become whole is a complex task that our culture is only just beginning to consider.