As you start to explore psychedelics, you may seek the support of an experienced guide or a retreat center. To come to a well-informed decision, here are some questions to ask yourself and prospective tripsitters, guides, therapists, and retreats.
In recent years, the number of people who seek professional support on their psychedelic journeys has grown dramatically for many reasons including:
Despite increasing enthusiasm for psychedelic medicines, however, these substances are often grouped alongside heroin in the most restricted group of “drugs” and remain illegal in most jurisdictions Thankfully, as a growing number of researchers and media outlets continue to publish promising data about the benefits of psychedelics, more people are “coming out of the closet” with their experiences as fear of backlash and stigmatization diminishes. However, for obvious reasons, most underground guides prefer to remain anonymous.
If you are searching for medicine and/or a guide, therapist, or retreat, please understand that those who seem to have the necessary experience and knowledge to support you on your journey may be in high demand. While you may find some may be happy to support you, others may choose not to respond due to busy schedules or in order to protect themselves and underground medicine people. If someone doesn't reply, it's not personal.
On the other hand, some guides and medicine people may be open to more work and/or have a greater tolerance for risk. These beings may be able to help you find what you seek. There are many forums and communities, both online and offline, where psychonauts gather; do your research and you may find support in these places. If you decide to seek out illegal substances and support, please do so with utmost discretion and respect. The psychedelics movement is fragile and it’s important to remind ourselves that each action has ripple effects and one mistake can have consequences for the entire mycelial network.
This manual presents some important questions to ask yourself and potential guides. The clearer the answers, the safer and more confident you will feel with your decisions. The goal is to minimize the potential of unpleasant and painful surprises during your journey and to maximize the probability of having a positive experience. The safer you feel, the more able you are to surrender to the process, thereby increasing the chances of a safe and healing journey.
The writer uses the words “guide” and “facilitator” interchangeably. For brevity, these terms also include retreat centers that employ guides and facilitators.
First, contemplate a few questions.
What is my intention?
Why do I seek a guide, therapist, or retreat?
What do I want or expect from a psychedelic experience?
Some people search for a psychedelic experience or guide in the hopes of finding a magic bullet to resolve years or decades of unresolved trauma, depression, anxiety, addiction, low self-esteem, etc. If you think that some person, medicine, event, or retreat will make all your issues disappear, you will be disappointed. The quick fix is a fantasy. If a guide promises you an easy, painless, overnight solution, run away; doing medicine with these types of people can do more harm than good.
If you want meaningful change, you must commit to “doing the work” before, during, and after your psychedelic journey. In fact, the most beneficial attitude to develop is an eternal dedication to spiritual practice and growth. When we realize there is no end to the work, we stop seeking quick fixes.
Psychedelic journeys help us to develop a holistic approach to health and well-being. We might start by incorporating simple practices such as eating well, exercising, and meditating. We must recognize and be honest about what’s not working in our professional and personal relationships, so we can muster the courage to make the changes necessary to live a more fulfilling life. At times, the journey requires us to ask for support, be in community, and be vulnerable with others. Other times, we must practice being alone and self-sufficient.
On this journey, we learn to be responsible for our lives. No person or experience can save or rescue us. Complaining will not solve our problems. When we shift the focus from ourselves and develop faith in something bigger, we gain the strength to move forward. No matter how difficult it may seem, we are protected by something infinite which can be felt but not seen.
A person who has done his or her own work and shares the medicine from a place of love, compassion, and abundance receives many requests for medicine and guided sessions. The more humble and committed you are to the work, the more likely the doors to transformational medicine work will open. Being committed means letting go of ideas, people, possessions that no longer serve you. It means being willing to do whatever it takes to create the time, space, energy, and resources necessary to do the work. Medicine work teaches you to live more simply and minimally, instead of continually seeking to get something tangible.
Usually, most people simply want to connect with someone with whom they can talk openly and vulnerably. An effective guide will help you feel more confident and self-sufficient. She will listen and point you back to yourself. You may realize that she is nothing other than a reflection of your true self. You have everything within you to wake up, realize the truth, and make meaningful change.
Many people microdose or take small doses without the physical presence of a guide, although having someone to talk through emotions is helpful. You may find that it takes time to clarify intentions. Be patient with yourself.
Most people, including guides, therapists, and retreat managers, need to charge money to sustain themselves. Sometimes, the value of having a guide becomes clear only after a journey. Beforehand, we might question why we are paying someone to sit with us. After going through an experience or two, we may begin to understand the depth of the work involved, and the value of being able to talk with and process emotions with someone who has seen many others undergo similar processes.
From the guide’s perspective, taking on a journeyer is a big responsibility. Competent facilitators will be available to support you before, during, and after a journey, while simultaneously encouraging you to be proactive and self-sufficient. Sometimes, these relationships last several months and sometimes years. Even if there's no physical contact between guide and journeyer, the emotional and spiritual connection remains. Most guides will be open to further contact down the road; taking on a journeyer is like having a child -- the guide feels at least partially responsible for the journeyer’s well-being. Although "paying for a session" may be the initial mindset, it may be more helpful to think along the lines of "I am investing in myself and my spiritual growth," or "I am building a symbiotic relationship with a guide," or "I am giving to someone who can support me."
The more clarity you have about how much you are willing to invest in your psychedelic journey, the clearer your choices become. For example, if you have $10,000, you’ll find almost infinite doors open to you; you’ll be able to fly anywhere in the world and to afford almost any luxury multi-day retreat or ceremony. Having $1000-$1500 will open up doors to a few multi-day retreats, and many guides who offer one-day and overnight sessions.
On the other hand, with $300 in your bank account, you may be better off growing your medicine and/or asking a family member, friend, and community member to tripsit for you. She can receive free support in online forums and groups (visit the Tripsitters Directory to explore). If you want to work with a “professional” guide with this budget, you will most likely be disappointed in the available options.
However, you may be lucky to find a guide who does not charge anything for her time or services. Most psychedelic guides naturally become friends with many who are on the psychedelic path, and may offer support as a friend. In fact, this is how most "professionals" start: as a friend who listens and cares, and to whom people come for advice about psychedelics. Empathetic psychedelic guides and friends are in high demand. We hope everyone, regardless of budget, has the ability to connect with these generous beings, and can sooner or later practice being such a guide and friend.
Remember, you do not need a lot of money to get started. It’s relatively easy and affordable to grow your own mushrooms. There are grow kits and spore syringes available for purchase on the internet and countless tutorials on how to be successful in the growing process. This guide on finding medicine may be helpful. This route takes guts, resourcefulness, and a higher than normal tolerance for risk, as you may be engaging in highly illegal activity.
If you seek support from an experienced guide, understand that many others are doing the same and that facilitators may be overloaded by clients and requests. When you focus on spiritual practice and are willing to do whatever it takes to do this work, medicine and guides will show up to support you.
There are certain environments in which you may feel more comfortable taking mind-altering substances. Some prefer being in nature and/or their home. Some may like taking mushrooms in a city setting. Others may prefer a clinical setting with licensed doctors and therapists.
In some cases, the journeyer will travel to the facilitator, or vice versa. How comfortable are you to travelling to and entering a new space? How are the accommodations? How are the bathrooms?
While some journeyers travel to the Amazonian jungle for their first experience, others may feel safer asking a tripsitter to come to their own home. If you are not used to getting out of your comfort zone, you may benefit from having a more familiar setting for your first few experiences. On the other hand, pushing yourself to get out of your comfort zone may be the best thing to do.
Some people feel more comfortable in one-on-one sessions, while others may want to experience psychedelics in a group. Sometimes, people who are skeptical at first are amazed at the power of being part of a group. After a group retreat, others may feel that a private ceremony may be more suitable for them. It may be beneficial to keep an open mind about this question as you continue your exploration.
Some people seek out a guide or retreat thinking they will be in and out, without having to do much work before or after. Some people want to “experience” something special. These attitudes are misguided and reflect a culture that lack spiritual education.
However, you may recognize the depth and intensity of the work. Facing yourself is often difficult and unpleasant. You may experience existential crises. The feeling of melting or breaking down may arise repeatedly during and after a journey. If you expect only pleasure, you will be disappointed. Some core unpleasant emotions -- shame, guilt, grief, rage, frustration -- may surface during your psychedelic experience.
It’s important to enter the field with humility and gratitude for anybody who takes the time to support our journey. Otherwise, the medicine may not be as effective as we initially thought. A sense of entitlement and “getting” leads to challenging and disappointing journeys, which may teach us unexpected lessons. Some of us are used to being in control and getting what we want, but the medicine shows us life does not always unfold as planned. The more we surrender to the process, the more an invisible force seems to support us.
The psychedelic experience is just one aspect on the spiritual path. It may take one or many psychedelic journeys to realize these experiences are part of a continuous awakening, infinite lesson, and eternal unraveling.
There are many medicines available to you: psilocybin mushrooms or truffles, ayahuasca, DMT, peyote, san pedro, LSD, iboga, MDMA, 5-MEO-DMT, kambo, and others. Sometimes, you may choose to work with medicine available locally and/or conveniently rather than wait for an opportunity to work with what you perceive to be the ideal medicine. For example, you may be called to experience ayahuasca in the Peruvian jungle, but you may decide to accept the home-grown mushrooms that your friend offers you. As the saying goes, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
Other times, you may decide to do whatever it takes to follow a calling to work with a specific medicine, location, or guide. When you practice trusting and listening to your heart and gut, you will find resources and support appear everywhere you look.
In some cases, there may be considerations about sustainability (peyote, ibogaine, 5-MEO-DMT). You may decide only to work with regenerable and widely available medicine. Or you may meet a guide and trust whatever she offers. The medicine appears in many forms and the more open you are, the more you allow it to work its magic and find a way into your life.
You may feel called to have a guide of one gender or another. Regardless of biological sex, most mature guides follow a receptive, feminine approach to the work. Softness, gentleness, kindness, humility, strong listening ability, and non-rigidity are some characteristics of a competent guide. She will be curious about you without assuming she knows better than you. You may feel she is merely present in the background, accompanying you by your side, or holding your hand. The guide may feel like a parent or grandparent or sibling. You will feel like she is a servant waiting on you rather than a king or queen wanting your obedience, respect, and adoration. A mature guide follows your lead rather than pulling you from the front. The feminine approach does less. A good facilitator does not push, rush, puff up, or have anything to prove.
These realities may seem subtle at first, but will become clearer as you explore options and speak with more facilitators. In the end, an unexpected friend or community may appear to support you on your journey. Sometimes the best guides show up in an unassuming fashion without any expectation of getting anything from you. Sometimes, you may not think an individual is a guide at first but may change your mind in retrospect. The more we look inward and commit to doing the work, the more guides seem to appear in our lives.
Ideally, you will be able to spend multiple days with a guide or at a retreat. In reality, time, logistics and finances may be limiting factors. Balance your true desire with realistic expectations.
Facilitators who discuss and emphasize the importance of preparation and integration are more likely to understand the holistic nature of the work than those who focus only on participation in a ceremony or retreat. Preparation sessions help the guide and journeyer to build a high level of trust, which is essential for an effective medicine session. Integration helps the journeyer feel held and loved even after a session is over. Some guides provide all these services while others partner with therapists and integration specialists who can support journeyers before and after sessions. The more support you receive before and after the journey, the more likely you will experience long-lasting benefits.
Do your research. Many individuals and organizations that have experience doing this work will have some type of internet presence. If they don’t, you may want to ask for references. However, the lack of an online presence does not mean the guide is inexperienced; she may rely solely on discreet word-of-mouth referrals. Some of the best guides are unknown to all but their clients and a few trusted associates.
Some guides work alone with a maximum of one or two journeyers during a ceremony. Others may employ an assistant even when working with a solo journeyer. Retreat centers differ in the ratio of facilitators-to-participants. The more highly-qualified facilitators available to support you before, during, and after a journey, the better your chances of having a positive experience. However, having access to one mature facilitator can be sufficient.
How reverent does the guide seem? How much faith does she have in the mysterious workings of the medicine? What attitudes does she carry toward the medicine and the work? To what spiritual practices or lineages is she connected?
Having many personal experiences does not automatically qualify a person to be a trustworthy guide. On the other hand, even if a person has had only a few experiences with the medicine, her spiritual and emotional maturity may make her an excellent facilitator.
Spiritual guides are committed to lives of truth and service. A mature facilitator listens more than she talks. She has no need to prove or sell herself to you. You will feel safe and comfortable around her. The possibility of tripsitting may not excite an experienced guide as she has realized that the work, although fulfilling, can be heavy. A competent facilitator will exude a sense of confident calm and joy rather than an excited restlessness.
In general, the more stringent a guide’s screening and qualification process, the more likely she takes a more cautious, long-term, holistic approach to the work, which signals experience. Competent guides focus on building trust and relationship. The less eager a guide seems to get you “in the system,” the more you can trust her.
Does the guide seem to focus on quality over quantity? Does it feel like you are exploring together with the guide and making decisions that are in your best interest? Do you feel pushed or rushed to make a decision? Do you feel encouraged to take your time to make a well-informed decision? Do you feel optimistic and grounded during and after your connections with the guide, or do you feel off-center and restless?
Ethics is a paramount issue in the psychedelics space. Small ethical slips can have far-reaching consequences when working with these medicines. Make sure your guide has a strong ethical code.
Does the guide feel grounded? Does she want you to think she is someone special? Does she listen more than she speaks? Do you feel comfortable and safe when in her presence? What drives her? Listen to and trust your gut.
This code of ethics provides examples of the attitudes and qualities of a competent facilitator.
Some journeyers may feel safer when licensed medical and psychological professionals are present during the session. Some retreats provide medical supervision but many individual guides will not unless they are doctors, nurses, or psychologists themselves. Keep in mind that, for millennia, people have been taking psychedelics without medical supervision. A facilitator's academic or clinical training may or may not correlate with her ability to support you before, during, and after your journey, and many competent guides lack any formal training. However, the mere presence of licensed clinicians may reassure those with more delicate mental and physical health.
For legal reasons, some guides may request you source your own medicine. If so, make sure you are able to do so before making the decision to move forward.
If you are a heavy smoker or drinker, you may be asked to abstain from these habits for a specified period before, during, and after a session. Most guides do not allow use of alcohol or cigarettes during a session. If you have been dependent on these or other substances, be prepared to face intense cravings without being able to fulfill them. Some guides may allow or encourage the ceremonial use of cannabis or rapé (tobacco snuff) before, during, and/or after a session.
Some facilitators may microdose to tune into the field of the medicine. Some facilitators may take larger doses when they tripsit for others. The intention behind this decision is important: why is the facilitator dosing? Does the facilitator's actions aid her intuition and ability to support journeyers? Skilled guides may be able to take medicine alongside journeyers without experiencing adverse effects, whereas inexperienced guides may run into problems. Make sure you know what the guide will do on ceremony day.
It’s helpful to understand what nourishment is available before, during, and after your journey. Some guides will offer a post-journey meal even for one-day sessions. Some traditional multi-day retreats require all journeyers to follow a severely restricted diet, whereas modern retreats may be more lenient and cater to a wide range of preferences. If you are a picky eater or find comfort in specific foods or food groups, find out if the retreat has what you like. If not, you have an opportunity to become aware of and relinquish attachments to certain tastes and sensations.
Ultimately, you decide how to move forward on your journey.
Develop your intuition. Make decisions that are a full yes.
Have faith in yourself.
Explore other written guides for journeyers.
Connect with others through the Tripsitters Directory.
To learn more about what's it's like from a tripsitter's point of view, read this guide.