What is Ayahuasca Integration and Why is it Crucial?
Ayahuasca integration, simply put, refers to the process of integrating one or more experiences with the psychedelic brew ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a natural and ancient psychedelic experiencing newfound popularity as a tool used in psychedelic therapy. But what does integration mean? Ayahuasca integration — like integration involving other psychedelics — can mean many different things. As such, integrating an ayahuasca experience is a highly individual process.
For this reason, it’s important to note the various aspects of ayahuasca integration. This will help anyone who is considering ayahuasca, preparing for a session, or who is looking for avenues to make sense of their journey.
Ayahuasca Integration: The Meaning of the Experience
Firstly, integration involves making sense of what an ayahuasca experience means. Determining what an ayahuasca experience means is both an internal and external process.
The internal side to this aspect of integration means deciding for yourself what lessons to take from the experience. And, indeed, lessons could range from being quite obvious and clear to being more enigmatic and ambiguous.
The external component of integration involves taking practical steps to help you figure out what these lessons are. Often, you may struggle to interpret, accept, or know how to apply certain messages from an ayahuasca experience.
But don’t worry, there are several ways you can aid the meaning-making aspect of ayahuasca integration.
Speak With a Psychotherapist
Having sessions with a trusted and qualified psychotherapist (especially one experienced in psychedelic integration) can give you time to explore your ayahuasca experience(s) in great depth. A therapist might apply one or more therapeutic approaches that help you uncover the deeper meaning of the visionary, emotional, and introspective aspects of your experience. These approaches might include:
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Acceptance and commitment therapy
- Family systems therapy
- Existential therapy
- Humanistic therapy
- Transpersonal therapy
Each approach can differ in terms of focus and overall aim of integration. For example, do you want to focus on your childhood, relationships, meaning and purpose, or spirituality? You can, of course, explore a combination of these areas by seeing an integrative therapist.
The important thing is to find someone who will discuss your experience with you in an open and non-judgmental manner.
Writing about your psychedelic experiences can be a great way to help you better understand the most salient parts of them. You can journal in a stream of consciousness kind of way, jotting down whatever comes to mind in the immediate moment. Or you can take your time with journaling, trying to choose the most suitable words, phrases, and descriptions to encapsulate your experience. Usually, the more in-depth and honest the writing, the more that meaning will be unearthed.
Attend a Psychedelic Integration Circle
Another way to gain useful perspectives on your ayahuasca session(s) is to join a psychedelic integration circle (If there isn’t one in your local area, you could even start your own). This is a peer-support group, involving other people who are also trying to make sense of their psychedelic experiences. These groups provide a space for people to share deep and intense journeys with other members listening and commenting in an empathetic way.
Listening to others describe their experiences and attempts at integration can also benefit ayahuasca integration. Ayahuasca journeys can sometimes be highly emotional and challenging experiences. They can bring up unresolved issues. Talking about the difficult parts of the experience can allow you to face them and grow from them. Bottling them up, in contrast, can cause you to feel confused and distressed.
Sometimes, however, the positive features of an ayahuasca journey can also feel confusing. Experiences of ‘oneness’ and the ‘divine’ can be profound but difficult to integrate into the rest of one’s beliefs and day-to-day life. Psychedelic integration circles can act as a helpful outlet to meaningfully explore these topics.
Talk to Loved Ones
It is worth mentioning here that ayahuasca retreats tend to give you time after the ceremonies, the next day, to discuss what you experienced. But since this time is limited, you may find you need more opportunities for open discussion. If you have loved ones who you normally confide in and who would be open to discussing psychedelics, free from stigma, they could also be there to support you in your process of ayahuasca integration.
Seek Out Ayahuasca-Related Content
There is an abundance of information on ayahuasca experiences, spanning books, lectures, online forums, social media groups, podcasts, and articles. Exposing yourself to as much of this information as possible may shed new light on your experience. Content more generally focused on psychedelic experiences and psychedelic integration can also be illuminating.
Ayahuasca Integration and Mental Health
For many people, ayahuasca integration means applying lessons from the experience in the name of better mental health. For instance, an ayahuasca session can bring up the following emotional and behavioral issues:
- Low self-esteem or self-worth
During an ayahuasca journey, you might find you are able to face these problems with greater openness, acceptance, self-compassion, and self-love. These positive feelings may remain for some time after the journey (which is known as the ‘after glow’ effect). But to maintain these healthier attitudes and improved mental health in the long-term, you often need to adopt certain habits and techniques. This is essential to ayahuasca integration.
Integrating an ayahuasca session in the name of better mental health might involve seeing a therapist or counselor who is trained in the specific issue(s) uncovered in your journey (e.g. trauma, depression, addiction) or maintaining a sustained practice of meditation (there are meditation techniques that can train you in mindfulness, compassion, and gratitude).
Making Relevant Life Changes
During an ayahuasca journey, you might discover precise problems relating to your lifestyle and life choices, as well as realize the beneficial changes you need to make. Indeed, ayahuasca can transform people’s lives. These different kinds of transformation are also a part of ayahuasca integration. These are the specific changes that are influenced by the revelations, thoughts, ideas, and visions you had while under the influence of ayahuasca. These changes may include:
- Ending unhealthy relationships
- Entering healthier relationships
- Starting new careers
- Lifestyle changes, such as giving up drinking or drug use
- Dietary changes
- Healing interpersonal conflicts
The above discussion should highlight how complex and multifaceted the process of ayahuasca integration can be. One final thing to keep in mind is that integration is, for a lot of people, a long and gradual process. Understanding an ayahuasca experience – and applying its lessons – requires patience and curiosity.