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How to Integrate Your First Ketamine-assisted Psychotherapy Session

The biomedical approach to ketamine involves seeing the experience it induces as an unwanted side-effect and views its anti-depressant effects as independent of the particular experience you go through. This framing is consistent with standard pharmaceutical approaches to mental health: you take a drug which works behind the scenes to change your brain in order for you to feel better. 

However, a growing number of clinicians and therapists — including those that operate our EntheoMed Ketamine Assisted Therapy Suite — believe that the ketamine experience can be a valuable source of personal insight. By discussing and working through the content that emerges during a session, one can best create lasting positive change. In our last post, we discussed how to prepare for your first ketamine session from this perspective. Today, we will cover best practices for after your session or sessions are over.

The period following your session(s) is commonly referred to as integration. Integration, broadly speaking, involves reflecting on and interpreting what came up during your experience, and devising a concrete action plan to integrate insights and new perspectives into your life. If one does not take care to integrate one’s experience(s), it may very well just fade away into memory without lasting impact. Altered states such as those induced by ketamine offer a rare and unique window into your mind — it would be a disservice not to make the most of it!

As the often-repeated saying goes, integration helps make altered states into altered traits.

An important first step for integration is to journal about your experience and describe it in as much detail as possible. Given the radical nature of the experience, this may be difficult, and you may feel as if there’s a lot of ‘filling in between the blanks’ going on, but this is part of the process. Think of it as a story-telling process: you’re taking the parts of the experience you remember and crafting a narrative around it in order to make it more concrete in your mind.

After creating a narrative, start to dive into the specific experiences that occurred and how they might relate to your life. Why did certain memories and images come up and not others? How did you feel within your body? Did anything take you off guard? Did you have a difficult time facing certain aspects of the experience? Why? You can engage in this process by yourself, with a therapist or integration specialist, with a close friend, or however you want.

This process of questioning and analyzing the experience has the potential to bring you insights into your patterns of thinking and behaving, and new perspectives on your life. It may also be the case that what occurred just seemed nonsensical, which is okay too! Even a seemingly nonsensical experience can be therapeutic: it still represents a temporary escape from your usual inner dialogue and regular way of functioning.

If you are able to derive some insights and/or new perspectives, the next step is to find a way to implement them into your life. This should be as specific and concrete as possible. For example, if you realized that you’ve been neglecting your health because you’ve been too preoccupied with work and achievement, you could make a list of three self-care practices that you need to implement every week. Start small and build yourself up. We can’t stress enough how important it is to make (and carry out) specific, concrete, and attainable goals to help create lasting change after your experience. Including a loved one in this process can really help as well. For each insight or perspective you gained, try to outline an action plan you can start implementing right away.

The days immediately after an experience are perfect for letting go of old habits and creating new ones, and breaking out of patterns more generally. Make space for yourself and don’t be quick to jump back into high stimulation and high stress environments if you don’t absolutely have to. Slowly integrate yourself back into your routines, mindful of what you learned in your experience and in the ways you can improve your habits to best support health and well-being.

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