Talking about psychedelics can be tricky. Psychedelics like LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and DMT are all still illegal, meaning that, in the eyes of the federal government, they have no medicinal or therapeutic value. Yes, there’s a huge body of research that suggests otherwise (in addition to the multitude of personal accounts), but the current legal status of psychedelics means talking about them with a medical professional or counselor is still a fine line to walk.
But a psychedelic experience can be a major life event—some participants in psychedelic studies have reported it to be one of the “top five most spiritually significant experiences” in their life. And like any major life event it can provoke complex thoughts and feelings, some beautiful, some scary, and all worth analyzing. It’s only by delving into these feelings that we can maximize the therapeutic potential of the experience. Otherwise, the revelations fade away and the pull of day-to-day life finds us settling back into old habits and patterns.
While you can certainly work to integrate a psychedelic experience through your own personal practices, it is helpful to have someone to talk to, and that’s where psychedelic integration and recovery coaching come in. Both are burgeoning fields that use compassionate conversation and mindfulness practices to make sense of a psychedelic experience, but the techniques, goals, and audience of each are slightly different. (As a note: outside of the psychedelic community, recovery coaching can also mean recovery from an addiction or other acute problem without the use of psychedelic therapy, but for our purposes today, I want to focus on using recovery coaching as a follow-up to a psychedelic experience.)
While a recovery coach and psychedelic integration specialist doesn’t condone psychedelic use or recommend particular treatments for different ailments, they provide an essential service to people who have decided for themselves that they want to undergo a psychedelic treatment. To better understand each, I asked someone who’s well versed in both—Deanne Adamson, founder of Being True to You, a company that offers both psychospiritual integration for psychedelic experiences and recovery coaching over the telephone. She explained the different approach for each and how they often overlap to provide a comprehensive and holistic integration option for people who choose to take psychedelics for therapeutic purposes.
Recovery Coaching vs. Psychedelic Integration: Similarities and Differences
In a nutshell, psychedelic integration and recovery coaching are both supplemental services to psychedelic therapy that help you make sense of a psychedelic experience and integrate it into your day-to-day life. To understand what that means, it’s helpful to think of a psychedelic experience like a dream—if you don’t somehow relay what happened in the experience soon after it’s over (either by writing it down or by telling someone), it will fade. Also like a dream, the visions or feelings that come up in a psychedelic experience are not always easy to understand at first. This is where a recovery coach or integration specialist can help—they talk you through your experience, ask you about the most important moments, and help you make sense of them.
“Psychedelic integration and recovery coaching are similar in that a trust and bond is built between a qualified specialist and their client,” Adamson says. She and other coaches at Being True to You use some of the same approaches for both, including “mindful conversation, combined intuition, and transformational techniques to guide personal awakening, healing, change, and growth.”
So how are they different? While the line between the two techniques is definitely a nuanced one, and they often overlap in any given session, the differences can be summed up in three basic categories.
Recovery from addiction vs. psychospiritual growth: The biggest difference is that recovery coaching helps you recover from something—often a major addiction to substances such as opiates or alcohol, but it also could be an emotional addiction to something like gambling, porn, or food. Psychedelic integration, on the other hand, is often used as a targeted treatment with immediate intentions for relief and results. It’s also used as an all-encompassing tool for overall psychospiritual growth, helping a person set proper intentions and make the most of the emotional, mental, and spiritual revelations provoked in a psychedelic experience.
Long-term vs. short-term timeline: Another difference, Adamson explains, is the general timeline of each. “Recovery coaching provides a longer-term partnership for long-standing addictions, matters, and pursuits.” Psychedelic integration, in contrast, “tends to focus on intentions for specific journeys in the short term, with greater self-liberation as an implied aspect of continual work.”
Tracking external goals vs. fostering internal growth: Recovery coaching helps you set and track life goals, whereas psychedelic integration is often more internal. Adamson explains that recovery coaching tends to be more “cognitive and practical, focusing on self-improvement, quality of life, life achievements, skill building, and self-mastery. Psychedelic integration tends to be more psychosomatic, mind-body-spiritual, and multidimensional by nature, drawing insights from within and integrating them into one’s life.”
But the two practices can overlap. “Recovery coaching and psychedelic integration can go hand-in-hand or be exclusive,” says Adamson. The flexibility of these services allows you to create a comprehensive coaching service tailored to your unique needs.
Recovery Coaching: Techniques and Audience
The tactics taken by recovery coaches are tailored toward people who’ve suffered the mental and emotional struggles of addiction. They are there to offer a compassionate ear and nonjudgmental guidance, and also often include services for family members.
According to Adamson, “Recovery coaching tactics and techniques include conscious conversation and heart-centered dialogue; mindfulness exercises; strength-based and goal-oriented focuses; powerful inquiries and hypothetical scenarios; recovery, action, and safety planning; preventative and maintenance care; and task and performance tracking.” Based on the particular coach’s specialization, a session could also include other techniques like positive psychology, motivational interviewing, neuro-linguistic programming, visual imagery and guided meditations, and working through the stages of change.
So who should sign up for recovery coaching? “Many of our clients have been through traditional addiction treatment and public programs, often many times,” Adamson says. “They come for the new age consciousness-based practice and continuum of care to pull everything else they are doing together.” Ultimately, she says the people who benefit most are those who are coachable, willing to get vulnerable and honest, capable of being accountable, and either desperate or determined enough to commit to permanent change.
Psychedelic Integration: Techniques and Audience
Adamson explains that strategies and techniques for psychedelic integration include getting familiar with psychedelics, making wise decisions regarding set and setting, identifying intentions, letting go of expectations, opening up to the healing process before during and after, learning how to navigate and get the most from a medicine journey, setting the stage for inner and outer change, and integrating insights (meaning putting into action what you learn from your experience). Depending on the coach’s unique skill set, a variety of natural, psychological, somatic, and latent-surfacing therapies may be used.
What kind of person is psychedelic integration suited for? Anyone interested in using psychedelics for healing and growth. People who are already well-versed in psychedelics can use integration services “for continual self-actualization and life-transformational purposes, clearing the pains of the past, settling the fears of the future, and coming into a true state of being present.” For people who are new to psychedelics, an integration specialist can help you “to explore psychedelic options for healing and recovering from a particular and rather stubborn illness, ailment, or block, whether it be mental, emotional, social, environmental, occupational, or spiritual.”
Moving Toward Growth and Healing
It’s important to note that recovery coaches and integration specialists like the ones at Being True to You don’t recommend psychedelics, tell you where to get them, or help you choose which one to use. They are, after all, illegal substances. However, because people are going to take psychedelics, it’s vital that support services like these exist. They help people who decide to use psychedelics to do so in a safe and supportive way. And recovery coaching and psychedelic integration provide a platform for talking about experiences often considered taboo in a conventional therapist’s office. As Deanne Adamson says, “the benefits of working with a recovery coach or integration specialist are that you can talk about subjects beyond the comfort of everyday public and professional licensure.” Choosing between integration or recovery coaching is an important decision but one that will enable your psychedelic journey to be as smooth and enriching as possible.