Sometime in the summer of 2022 I was struggling. My lovely Dad Derek’s memories and life experience had dissolved into dementia in the year before his death in the Spring and I had found the whole experience extremely painful and disconcerting. I was also witness to others whom I love and care for, appear to lose their way, but I was not in a position to help them in the way I wished to and knew I could. As a result I started to slide into feelings of depression and hopelessness. For the first time in many years I was acutely aware of divisions in my life experience. The different facets of my personality were losing their congruence and connectivity. On the one hand I was successfully helping people in my private hypnotherapy practice and through the Harmony Hypnosis Meditation App, yet at the same time I was also in need of my own healing and giving myself a really hard time for having that need. I was giving myself a hard time because the techniques and processes I use in my practice and app are extremely effective at helping people deal with exactly the same issues I was experiencing personally, but in that moment I was unable to apply them to myself. I was advising people to be kind and understanding to themselves as well as others, but within myself I felt ashamed and had descended into the role of a demanding, grieving, never satisfied, task master. We live in a culture where independence and dealing with things alone is considered strength, when in fact it’s recognising our vulnerabilities and reaching out for help that takes more courage. I was coming to the conclusion and self-awareness that in order to continue to provide the best care both for my clients and my family I needed to seek out help for myself. I also recognised that approaching things in a different way from the way I worked with clients would give me a fresh perspective and maybe even additional tools that I could use to help others.
It was at this point I found myself watching Michael Pollan’s Netflix documentary series “How To Change Your Mind” on the resurgence of psychedelic research and usage around the world. I remembered how in my late teens and early twenties my own experiences of psychedelics, although unsafe and uncontrolled in many respects when I look back now, had at the time shifted my perspective in such a way that what were at the time suicidal thoughts, brought on by intense experiences of loss and rejection, had transformed into a quest for understanding, spiritual experience and love of the earth as well as other people. Without that journey arc I would not have ended up being and doing what I do and who I am today.
In fact one of the reasons I entered the world of hypnotherapy was because I wanted to master a way of accessing and learning from altered states of consciousness in a safe way that wasn’t dependent on drugs or medicines. However I realised as I opened myself up to education and the latest research in this area that the issue I had experienced in my youth was not because of the substances themselves but how they had been applied within a society where the cultural use of such medicines had been lost. This had left young people without the guidance of experienced elders who could create the safe containers within which these substances could be used to the great benefit of both individuals and society.
Over the last two decades that situation has changed and the “Psychedelic Renaissance” is now well underway. The research being produced by organisations like MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, in the USA and The Centre For Psychedelic Research at Imperial College, London, UK is overwhelmingly positive. I realised that plant medicine, when used correctly, could actually work extremely well as an adjunct to hypnotherapy and all other psychological therapies and vice versa. I decided that now was the time, after a personal thirty year gap, to explore these substances again. However, this time I intended to do so in both a safe and educated manner. I started by reading and listening to many books and podcasts on the subject before finally deciding to take myself on a legal psychedelic retreat using psilocybin in The Netherlands with Awaken The Medicine Within, run by Natasja Pelgrom, a pioneer and visionary leader in this area and co led by Alexander Beiner author of “The Bigger Picture: How psychedelics can help us make sense of the world” (coming out in June 2023) and one of the directors of Breaking Convention, Europe’s largest conference on psychedelic consciousness.
The effects of the retreat were profound, however this was not solely because of the medicine itself. There was a lot of preparation in advance of the retreat which involved intention setting, online group meetings and meditations along with a strict diet in the run up to the retreat that allowed us to approach the psychedelic sessions with focus and clarity. The retreat was also followed by integration.
Psychedelic experiences can be chaotic and disorientating. The set or preparation and then the setting for the experience itself are of vital importance to opening yourself to something positive and insightful. The retreat, along with another I attended with my wife a few months later, also in The Netherlands with an organisation called The Essence Institute, were contained within beautiful locations and combined with coaching, yoga and Qigong to ground and integrate the journeys. Both retreats also conducted breathwork sessions which I have to say were a revelation to me. Without the use of psychedelic medicine, breathwork and somatic therapy is also able to induce deep altered states, like hypnosis, and with profound results for the release of pent up negative and unresolved emotion. This was a perfect complement to the psilocybin journeys.
Psychedelic substances, such as psilocybin, LSD, which is derived from the ergot fungus, DMT and ayahuasca, have been used for thousands of years in spiritual and healing contexts. In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in the use of these substances for therapeutic and self-development purposes. This renewed interest has led to a growing body of research on the potential benefits of psychedelics in treating mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction.
One of the most promising areas of research has been the use of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, to treat depression. Studies have shown that a single dose of psilocybin, administered under the guidance of a trained therapist, can lead to significant and lasting improvements in mood and quality of life. In fact, some researchers have suggested that psilocybin could be a breakthrough treatment for depression, which is currently one of the most common and debilitating mental health conditions in the world.
Despite these promising results, there are still many challenges to overcome in order to fully integrate psychedelics into mainstream medicine and culture. One of the biggest challenges is ensuring that people who have a psychedelic experience are able to fully integrate and make sense of what they have experienced. Psychedelic experiences can be profound and transformative, but they can also be confusing, overwhelming, and even traumatic for some people.
This is where integration comes in. Integration is the process of making sense of a psychedelic journey and incorporating the insights and lessons learned into daily life. It typically involves working with a therapist or other trained professional to process the journey and explore its meaning. Integration can also involve making lifestyle changes, such as practising mindfulness, developing a regular meditation or yoga practice, or engaging in other forms of self-care.
Hypnotherapy is also a wonderful way to help integrate psychedelic experiences and the Harmony Hypnosis Meditation app is full of guided sessions that help to consolidate feelings of gratitude, self-compassion, confidence and much more. We have now added specific Psychedelic Preparation and Integration sessions which can be used both by those who have been on a retreat like the ones I have attended but also by those who may have had psychedelic journeys in other settings, to help make sense of and ground the experience. It can also be used to prepare for and integrate learnings from Breathwork sessions.
I have also started to see one to one clients with the specific purpose of psychedelic Integration. In some respects this is not so different from what I do with other clients as they work on releasing and letting go of the limiting beliefs and emotions that may have been holding them back from living their best life. But it’s useful to do that work with someone who has psychedelic awareness and experience if you are approaching it in the wake of a psychedelic journey.
There is growing recognition in the psychedelic community that integration is a critical component of the process. In addition to being important for individual well-being, integration is also crucial for the long-term success of psychedelic therapy as a whole. In order for psychedelics to be fully integrated into mainstream medicine and self-development, there needs to be a solid infrastructure in place to support people before, during, and after a psychedelic experience.
From a personal perspective I have written many thousands of words about the insights and learnings I have acquired from these medicines and practises but I’m not going to share those here. However I would like to summarise where I have got to with this journey so far. When I returned from the first retreat my wife said it was like I had been upgraded! She was intrigued and inspired by the impact it had made on me but also the impact my self-improvement had on all those around me. With hindsight I realise it had simply made me just more like myself again. I have become more accepting and compassionate towards myself and others, but know this is an area I need to keep an eye on. I have noticed greater connection and love all round. Once again I am living with a sense of deep passion and purpose. This has improved both my work as well as my personal relationships. However, continual maintenance and integration are essential to help maintain this state of being. I have created several new positive habits and let go of some of those that no longer serve me. Coming to a deep acceptance of, and being ok with the fact, that there is no certainty in life, is a theme that I will continue to focus on and remind myself of.
The progress being made in psychedelic research is exciting and holds tremendous promise for the treatment of mental health conditions. However, it is important to remember that psychedelics are not a magic bullet and that preparation and integration are critical components of the process. By supporting people with integration, we can help ensure that the insights and lessons learned from these journeys are fully incorporated into daily life, leading to lasting improvements in mental health and well-being.
Wishing you health, harmony and happiness,
NB: It is important to note that we recommend you only take part in psychedelic retreats or therapy sessions in places where it is legal to do so. We cannot offer medical advice and do not encourage illegal activities.