Psychedelic Practitioner Training

This piece was written for The Synthesis Institute’s Psychedelic Practitioner Programme.

The Power of Preparation: Nurturing the Unknown

The re-emergence of psychedelic-use within the mainstream is challenging everything we thought we knew about science and psyche. The core ethical element underpinning this is the notion: “first do no harm.” Preparing for the unknown starts with mitigating the risks: focusing on what we do know about suitability (screening), intention (mindset), environment (setting), dosing (substance), dieta and lifestyle (sustainability).

Safety and ScreeningIn the clinical world, we associate screening with tick box exercises and health questionnaires. But relational screening involves more than just a set of data on a form; it sees the whole person by cultivating a deep understanding of their unique needs, values, and relational dynamics.

Psychedelic therapies are designed to foster emotional, psychological, and spiritual growth. This requires culturally-attuned and somatically-aware approaches that go beyond the rationally cognitive lenses we are used to. Instead of honing in on isolated problems, we are able to pan out and see the embedded nature of events “in situ.”

Set, Setting and SubstanceBecause psychedelics are influenced by the intricate interplay of mind, substance and context, there is no “one size fits all” approach to standardised psychedelic care. Each experience is personal and aims to support the authenticity of the individual.

Even with rigorous screening processes and a calm, safe and supported space, psychedelic experiences will be unpredictable. Because of this, many people find that adopting a mindset of “letting go” and “trusting the process”, regardless of its challenges, may enable them to stay grounded. Our relationship with others begins with our relationship to ourselves, and being patient and compassionate with yourself can assist with the unfolding of these unexpected events.

Sustenance and SustainabilityThe longevity of psychedelic work relies not on a “magic pill” approach, but on a refocusing of lifestyle factors, a reframing of behavioural patterns, and in the strength of rebuilding the therapeutic alliance.

However while connection and inclusion are often emphasised in psychedelic therapy, it’s equally important to recognise when non-inclusion is the most compassionate choice. Setting boundaries is an essential aspect of ensuring that we embark on experiences that align with our readiness and capacity for integration.

As relational beings, our nervous systems co-regulate and take on each other’s state. Building the capacity to remain anchored in ourselves can prevent transference, countertransference, and projection. In the same way that we go to the gym for our physical fitness, we can practice contemplative exercises such as meditation and breath-work for our psycho-social health.

Ultimately, the key to better preparation is education – providing us with the tools, mindset and capabilities needed for confronting the unknown with confidence, resilience, and adaptability. With practice, we can then embrace uncertainty as an opportunity for growth, learning, and innovation.

A Ceremonial Approach to Life: Flying Solo and Finding Solidarity

The psychedelic ceremony applies to both solo and group trips – which setting you opt for is a matter of personal preference. The notion of “community” means different things to different people, it may be: diasporic bonds of affection, a close-nit local network, or a connection to something before and beyond.

In all of these circumstances, life happens in relationship. We are always a part of the environment, organisations, and people around us; and a deeper awareness of our role in this greater ecosystem stems from evaluating how we create meaning in our lives.

Looking at the belief systems that we use to navigate the world enables us to understand what we may have inherited from other traditions and approaches, and what we have chosen to align with. “Communitas“ in psychedelic experiences is defined as an “intense togetherness and shared humanity that temporarily transcends social structures” – this is healing in and of itself.

Western healthcare often focuses on pharmacological solutions to physiological problems, but the very act of being emotionally supported has been shown to influence levels of psychological wellbeing for weeks and months after the event. Communal sharing is a central component of most, if not all retreat experiences.

This is why Synthesis retreats focus on holistic approaches to mind-body wellbeing through supportive group experiences. While emerging evidence suggests psilocybin can alleviate various psychological conditions, we do not offer psychedelic therapy or treat mental health or substance-use disorders.

An integrative approach to better wellbeing focuses on being explicit about our values, scope of practice, capacity, and capabilities, which can translate our “why” into a “how” and facilitate direction and purpose in life. We believe that you, in collaboration with those you work with, will find your own way – informed by deep self-reflection, education, and attuning to an innate inner healing intelligence.

The sacred science of loving; connecting; and aligning all of mind, body, and spirit, fosters a sense of knowing and belonging that can motivate us to act from a place of fulfilment over fear; It helps us to cope with life’s challenges and setbacks, providing a natural medicine that not only transforms our own outlook on life, but inherently ripples out to others.

To do this work with integrity, we must be aware of the ethical questions that we face as a larger community. An ecology of ethics addresses the systemic dynamics that may unconsciously cause harm: internalised biases, the fine line between appropriation and appreciation, and working with our individual and collective shadow. Doing this in a likeminded group helps us to realise that we are not alone, and may normalise some of our struggles.

Life, in its essence, is a ceremony – a cyclical procession of beginnings and endings, where we each have the power to co-create the tapestry of our shared existence. The process of coming to know ourselves and to own our narratives happens when we are given the space to listen and be heard.

Unity in Diversity: Simply Integrating Complexity

If sympathy is from the sidelines and empathy is from experience – integrating our past, present and future into a coherent whole allows us to move with a more embodied sense of clarity, purpose, and insight.

At the Synthesis Institute, we believe that to have full integrity and complete confidence in the safety and effectiveness of our work, our commitment to our own practice and inner alchemy must be an ongoing priority. Because change is an inevitable part of integration, non-judgment is key. This doesn’t have a set timeline and some people take a lifetime to integrate an experience – psychedelic or otherwise.

Life has many dimensions but we can broadly break them up into cognitive, somatic, relational, emotional, spiritual, creative, and political spheres. Experiencing the unity inherent to this diversity, both within and between ourselves, can only really happen when we are prepared, present and grounded. We can never truly know the experience of another, but we can witness it, while bearing in mind that everyone’s process looks different.

As an ongoing and dynamic unfolding that defines how we live and engage with the mystery of life – a functional integration process rests on compassion, acceptance, coherence, and empowerment. This is especially relevant where social issues like poverty, racism, sexism or other forms of violence and discrimination may interfere with a person’s sense of safety, and thus their capacity for integrative re-alignment.

As linguistic, self-aware creatures we tend to prioritise talking as a way to process a journey, whether we speak with an individual guide or therapist, or attend an integration circle. But integration can be deeply embodied and non-verbal. How we experience the world, and ourselves, is mediated by our beliefs.

Of course, not all beliefs are helpful. Our past experiences inform our beliefs, which inform our expectations, our subjective interpretations, and therefore our present experiences. If we empower ourselves with the tools we need to change our minds – we can begin to change our lives.

When we talk about eureka moments, intellectual epiphanies, and sudden downloads, we are talking about a message or an answer suddenly appearing, which happens when we break through our pre-existing assumptions, understandings, and filters – all functions of our predictive prior beliefs.

This is part of the reason why psychedelic-assisted experiences are so exciting, because they operate at the core of our belief systems, affecting even the most resistant and all-encompassing of maladaptive models. Creating a constructive container for navigating the opportunities this presents is enhanced by education, communitas and connection.

At the Synthesis Institute, our integration sessions include discussions, professional supervision, skills practice, and other embodied and group exercises. In the same way that the landscape changes when we see our hometown from above, or observe the Earth from space (the overview effect), subverting the hierarchy of our cognitive landscape has the potential to inspire profound shifts in perspective.

An intentional container helps us to avoid “spiritual bypassing”, in which we substitute meaningful integration with equally unhelpful or unhealthy interpretations. It does this by fostering a level of complexity that will enable us to navigate uncertainty in an informed, yet open-minded manner.

At Synthesis, we combine leading-edge cognitive research with ancient wisdom traditions, rituals, and meaning-making practices to curate potent participatory containers with the potential to catalyse change. Led by a host of experienced professionals, the Psychedelic Practitioner Core Training Program is designed to equip participants with a diverse array of somatically-aware and culturally-sensitive lenses, so that you can effectively challenge the paradigms that are holding you back. 

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