Written By: Mags Tanev
What it Takes to Be a Good Psychedelic Integration Coach
By Mags Tanev |
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?
“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.
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 Friedman, 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.
About Mags Tanev
Mags Tanev is a freelance writer and editor with a keen interest in sacred medicines, indigenous plant wisdom, and psychedelic science. She is based in Medellín, Colombia. You can find more of her work here: https://www.magstanev.com/