Making Meaning of a Bad Trip – a case for psychedelic-assisted therapy.

A bad trip can leave one extremely traumatised and/or re-open traumatic experiences from one’s past. It can appear as if no meaning whatsoever can be made from such a horrific and challenging experience, and after the fact one may want to push it as far way from consciousness as possible. In fact, the opposite is true.

The so-called ‘bad trip’ is a doorway to another experience of consciousness that may be extremely painful but offers just as much – if not more – raw and deep psychological and spiritual material to harness for personal growth and for awakening to a fuller consciousness.

Often individuals who have experienced a terror-trip are left feeling as if they have lost their minds. They may feel that the world is unsafe and innocuous things scare or re-traumatise them. They may have disturbing flashbacks or hallucinations. Speaking to an integrative therapist or a practitioner who is skilled in the nature of plant medicine and the human mind and soul can not only alleviate the difficulty, but bring light and meaning into what can be a very dark and lonely place.

Skilfully integrating the emotions, bodily sensations, memories and the imagery elicited during the trip is an effective way to work with trauma. A bad trip can allow direct and cathartic access to repressed traumas without necessarily needing to remember the content. Processing these emotions is essential for reparative work and healing, and it often allows access to previously inaccessible childhood traumas or losses. Further repression may only exacerbate the underlying pain and difficulties.

Integrative psychedelic therapy can also shed light on transgenerational patterns that are in play in the family system. The individual may gain a glimpse of just how much she or he is holding for the family, as well as the nature of this systemically repressed content.

As bad as your trip may be, there is always an opportunity for growth and new life in it. Imagery containing decay, evil and malevolent themes may bring one into a startled, stunted feeling of death-like consciousness. With this comes the call to awaken again, re-birth oneself and better understand your place and power in the world.

Ideally, you would be fortunate enough to begin an integrative process before your journey. However, if not, working in integration as soon as possible afterward, i.e. the next day or two and consistently over a period of weeks (if not months) is extremely helpful. Complementary, somatic therapies such as yoga are highly recommended and assist in grounding and re-entering the new phase of life. Joining a retreat program in Cape Town for a few weeks is another excellent way to process and recover, heal and energise.

For post-trip integrative psychotherapy please click here.

Integrating Lessons from the Other Side

full moon psychedelic guidance

There is another ‘side’ to consciousness. In fact, there are limitless potentials for exploration. It doesn’t matter which way you look at it, many people are experimenting with psychedelics such as magic mushrooms, exploring the infinity that is consciousness.

There is a vast difference between a spontaneous psychedelic ‘trip’ at a party, versus an intentional, guided, properly facilitated experience. In both cases, the journey will be out of the ordinary and likely something you will always remember. However, when used in an intentional manner – often including ceremony, experienced and trusted guidance as well as important safety measures – profound insights about the Self and the world, even the universe, may emerge. In this setting, the meaning one can derive from the experience can be life-changing. Personal narratives can be quickly transformed. Significant life transitions may gain clarity. Lifestyles and behaviour may change. New ways of being in the world arise.

Integrating the lessons from journeys in altered states of consciousness is extremely helpful if one hopes for lasting and meaningful transformation. Integrative sessions allow you to weave these meanings into your life and your understanding of the world, impacting who you are, how you are and where you are going. Don’t let your journey into the unknown – your hero’s journey into the abyss and back again – become obsolete.

Read more about psychedelic guidance here.

For integrative psychedelic sessions, please click here. *Integrative sessions offered online or in person.

Hallmarks of a Mystical Experience

William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, delineated four major hallmarks of what might be described as a mystical experience.

  1. Ineffability: the individual just can’t put words to the experience, verbal description does not – cannot – do it justice or even begin to portray the authority, significance or nature of the event.
  2. Noetic Quality: the experience appears extremely significant and important for to the individual and it carries a kind of deep authority, inner knowing and personal truth.
  3. Transiency: the mystical state is not sustained as in it’s peak, but fragments, traces, parts, a felt sense and innate knowing – these do persist and are subject to ongoing development, meaning that the insights/wisdom/truths can deepen in richness and significance over time.
  4. Passivity: it is not by the individual’s active will or direction that the mystical experience occurs. Rather, the individual will is suspended for a time and it is as if the individual is ‘moved’ by something larger than him or herself (such as a higher power).

Clearly, this describes an experience that is quite enormous, powerful and outside of ordinary life experience. This is something that is remembered, owned, held tightly and nurtured. Something that becomes precious, guiding and indeed transformative in one’s life. A deep truth, knowing, reality or beauty may be revealed that is intrinsic to something ordinary, everyday and obvious. The experience of such states can be immensely powerful and transformative in one’s personal journey as well as for collective wellbeing. Does such a state have to have anything to do with religion?

It is possible but uncommon to enter such an altered state of consciousness without intention in everyday life, perhaps but not necessarily while listening to music or being in a sacred or natural space. However, there are various ways to prime for such an experience. For example, one way is through a meditation practice, another through Guided Imagery and Music, and another is through facilitated breathwork. Another increasingly acceptable and accessible way is through the use of sacred plant medicine, such as magic mushrooms (psilocybin) and ayahuasca which through their psychedelic (that is ‘mind-manifesting’) properties may occasion such mystical experiences. While mystical states and religion can seem confusingly intermingled, they are not the same thing. There are many religious people who have never had a mystical experience of this nature, while there are stalwart atheists who have. It is a human experience, not owned by any denomination, school of thought, medical practice or form of therapy. It is true that such experiences may absorb a kind of religious quality, depending on many factors such as the individual’s life experience, the place the experience occurs and even the music playing during the event.

Have you ever experienced an altered state, a mystical state or a spiritual state that relates to James’ conception?

For more information about altered states of consciousness, psychedelic integration, guided imagery and music, mind expansion, transformation and mystical states, please contact me to find out more.

References:

Griffiths, Roland & Richards, William & Mccann, Una & Jesse, Robert. (2006). Psilocybin Can Occasion Mystical-Type Experiences Having Substantial and Sustained Personal Meaning and Spiritual Significance. Psychopharmacology. 187. 268-283. 10.1007/s00213-006-0457-5.

James, W. (1902), The varieties of religious experience. New York: Longmans, Green & Co.

Pollan, M. (2018). How to change your mind: What the new science of psychedelics teaches us about consciousness, dying, addiction, depression, and transcendence. New York: Penguin Press.