April 25


It’s a hard journey, not a “bad trip”: Changing the Narrative in Psychedelic Psychotherapy

By Tatyana Kholodkov

April 25, 2023

Have you heard people talking about having a “bad trip”? It describes the difficult experiences people sometimes have after taking psychedelics, such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, or DMT. Let’s explore what this term means. Then we can consider an alternate perspective on difficult experiences that arise when taking psychedelic medicine. This can include psychedelic integration.

What is Psychedelic Integration?

At Project Yes PLLC, we have clients who come specifically seeking therapy for psychedelic integration. This can include processing past recreational use, participation in group use at festivals, and events that occurred at psychedelic retreats. Sometimes they come specifically to process what they describe as a “bad trip.” This can include psychedelic experiences that in some way were challenging, intense, or confusing. Although uncomfortable, one should not automatically assume that experiences that bring up intense emotions are bad.

Psychedelics Bring a Full Range of Emotions

Psychedelics change our state of being. Further, they can open up a full range of emotional experiences, including bringing up what we put aside. We may also find that whatever we typically struggle with also arises in psychedelic experiences. For example, our longing, dealing with disappointment, being afraid to face our traumas, and having difficulty letting go of control. Wherever we go, there we are. 

A large garden pot in the shape of a human head. It is important when considering the use of psychedelics that you understand the need for Psychedelic Integration in Durham, NC.

Adopt a Mindset of Curiosity

For recreational use and psychedelic psychotherapy alike, it can be helpful to set a mindset of curiosity and openness, and not “chase” a particular outcome (which can lead to letdowns). Furthermore, it can be reassuring to know that intense experiences are not uncommon. These experiences don’t mean the substance “isn’t working” for you. 

Difficult Emotions

Freaking Out

One category of difficult emotions that can arise is described at times as “freaking out” – referring to experiences where a person felt really anxious, often had a high degree of physiological arousal, and panic about what was happening. They may also at times experience paranoia, and also may be visibly upset.

Going Dark

Another category is sometimes termed “going dark,” which is when folks experience sadness, dread, and a sense of doom. It may feel like there is no way out of feeling the way they do. Perhaps there is a feeling that it may not end. 

Getting Stuck

There is also “getting stuck,” which can feel like an endless loop, perhaps of images, thoughts, sensations, and perceptions. It can feel like you are experiencing the same thing thousands of times with no end.

An Overwhelming Journey

Others describe journeys that are “overwhelming,”. This happens when things came on strongly, or very quickly, and more than they thought they were able to handle. 

Ego Death

There is also the experience of “ego death” as one’s sense of themselves becomes disconnected. This may or may not be accompanied by feelings as if one is dying, on a physical and spiritual level.

Psychedelic Integration Practices Can Help

For all of the above experiences, it is very helpful to engage in some form of integration practice and community. This is so as to be able to make sense of what took place and not have it become a bookmark that is traumatic. There can be important messages in the difficult feelings and themes emerging, For example, when one loops in some of their deepest existential fears, becomes disconnected from a body they have a mixed relationship with, or needs to experience a “dying away” of a part of their life. People may find themselves lost in deep questioning of their life stories. It can feel like a dark night of the soul. 

A view of the night sky through the trees representing the different challenging experiences that can come from a bad trip. Psychedelic Integration in Durham, NC can guide and support you through the process.

A Lack of Psychedelic Integration Can Cause Difficult Experiences

Additional discomfort can arise when one doesn’t know what to expect prior to ingesting a plant or synthesized medicine. Individuals sometimes take psychedelics blindly and may be in a setting where they don’t receive that reassurance the moment that they are going to be okay. There are some spaces where individuals are essentially taking care of themselves. This can be hard to do in an altered state of mind, too.

Insufficient Preparation Can Create a Jarring Experience

At other times, folks are not told about what it may feel like in their body. Further, they may not understand how their state of mind may change. I hear about these experiences in medical circles, and also from some individuals receiving ketamine treatment from a clinic that doesn’t include ketamine-assisted psychotherapy. Without sufficient preparation, and in either a chaotic or an overly sterile environment, one can have a very jarring experience. 

The Presence of Physical Discomfort and Illness

Bad trips are sometimes characterized by physical discomfort and illness. Some medicines are known to have effects of nausea, changes in body temperature, and a disconnect from how the body normally feels. Additionally, since the physical body is often how we identify with a sense of who “we” are, it can feel unsettling to suddenly begin to lose connection with limbs or for body awareness to disappear entirely.

What May the Body be Trying to Express?

Others report uncomfortable sensations in their body, which can include intense vomiting, sweating, dizziness, and uncontrollable shaking. From a psychedelic psychotherapy perspective, intense sensations in the body are not themselves something that needs to be mitigated. Rather, we examine them with curiosity.

An individual doing a yoga pose that brings her heart to her feet representing the deep connection between mind and body. Psychedelic Psychotherapy in Durham, NC can help understand and strengthen this connection.

Normalization of the Body’s Expression

If I told you that upon taking a medicine you may have no idea what your body may do, that could be a bit of an unnerving thought. Here’s a thought: let’s normalize that in a state of expanded consciousness, the body expresses itself however it wants to. For example, I’ve witnessed clients engaging in ketamine-assisted psychotherapy have a range of expressions. This ranges from being totally still and silent to having full-body motion, focalizations, and energy jolts.

The Need to Have a Framework of Support in Place

These moments of embodiment can also have spiritual significance, such as when awakening kundalini energy or the unfolding of rapture. The body may finally release emotion. Furthermore, it can be helpful to not only learn how to welcome this but also understand what it means. However, when you do not have a framework to understand what may be happening, it can just feel as if you are having to surrender all control. 

Flashbacks to Past Trauma

Yet another instance of a bad trip is when an individual takes a psychedelic and has flashbacks of past traumas. They may then continue to have intrusive sensory images from the trip itself. I once had a client come to seek trauma therapy at Project Yyes PLLC to process what was intended to be a week-long Ayahuasca retreat. Their experience was cut short several days later when intense flashbacks from their unprocessed childhood trauma emerged and horrified them. They were utterly overwhelmed, thousands of miles from home, and decades after the incident initially took place.

Psychedelic Integration Allows You to Work Through Your Feelings and Experiences

The retreat facilitators provided some brief support. However, ultimately encouraged the client to go as there was no therapeutic container to process what was happening. They left feeling as if a whole avalanche of trauma had erupted. This flooded them from within, and they had no idea what to do with now. By seeking psychedelic integration, the client was able to work through their trauma and resolve the intense PTSD symptoms that emerged. This led to greater emotional resilience and personal growth. 

The shadow of flowers is cast on the pavement representing the hidden trauma that can be exposed when working with Psychedelic Medicine in Durham, NC.

Challenging Beliefs and Perceptions

Although the difficult feelings can last beyond the time of the pharmacological “high,” the struggle may be an important passageway. These medicines, including ketamine, can challenge a person’s perceptions and beliefs about themselves and the world around them in a way that would otherwise take a lot of time when using only traditional psychotherapy.  Psychedelic integration facilitates individuals in processing the hardest moments from past trips, leading to a deeper understanding of themselves. 

Bad trips are a bit of a misunderstood phenomenon: in some circumstances, they may actually be a catalyst for promoting psychological growth and healing. 

Begin Psychedelic Psychotherapy in Durham, NC Today

If you have been struggling with your mental health and traditional treatments have not worked we can help. Psychedelic Psychotherapy can help with Psychedelic Integration and is a proven alternative treatment that can address mental health issues. At Project YesDr. Kholodkov is trained extensively in the KAP Process and is here to help you on your journey to healing through Psychedelic Psychotherapy and beyond. Follow the steps below to get started:

Other Services Offered by Project Yes

In addition to Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy, we offer Psychotherapy Services for AnxietyInsomniaIntegrative HealthOCD, and Trauma and PTSD as well as Yoga and Meditation Options. We look forward to guiding you on your journey toward optimal physical and mental well-being.

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