Deep Debugging with techniques from Psychedelic First Aid

People who dive deeply into exploring their minds and self-modification tend to end up in unusual and sometimes difficult states (even while entirely sober). Since learning the basics of psychedelic first aid, I have felt much more capable of creating positive space and helping people, especially in situations where strong emotions or deep psychological tangles are active.

1. Optimize for S1 safety and comfort

In addition to feeling physically safe, the guest must feel emotionally safe, which involves volunteers exuding a non-judgmental, welcoming attitude.
– I did Psychedelic First Aid at a festival in Costa Rica

 

Unless their S1 feels like the environment is thoroughly non-threatening, both physically and socially, many things are hard to expose and trying to push through to them generates tension.

  • Avoid distractions
    • esp. associated with negative affect
    • sensory issues, background noise, physical discomfort
    • social complications (e.g. people walking through loads up a bunch of social processing)
  • Be calm and be+project <calm/passive/patient/assuredness>
    • S1s notice and mirror other S1s, one of the best ways to keep someone in a good state while they’re working with difficult things is to maintain your own centre
  • Give them your full attention
    • Hold them in your mind, and try to get their world
  • Help them to feel you won’t judge them, even if they have specific and unusual preferences, or reveal personal details

2. Hold space and let them steer

Rather than using direct intervention, the goal for the sitter is to allow healing to occur naturally. The tools we used were breathing, validating, mirroring and affirming. The importance of not intervening in a guest’s experience was emphasized over and over throughout the weekend.
– I did Psychedelic First Aid at a festival in Costa Rica

 

There is always the tendency to overpower the other with our knowledge, wisdom, and insight. So let go of all knowledge regarding the experiences that the person is having. Just be with, listen, and observe.
How to Work With Difficult Psychedelic Experiences

This does not mean total non-engagement, but it does mean taking great care when deciding to load something into a person’s context, and practising non-interventionism / patience. People have limited working memory, and saying innocuous things can be very disruptive when they’re near the limits of their capacity to hold the mental objects they’re working with in their head.

If they are in the flow of talking or sitting thinking, it’s almost always best to let them finish processing the thought, so speak only when you detect from their body language that they are looking for input. This often happens at crossroads / decision points, and it can be several minutes of sitting in silence, holding space as they figure things out and feel around emotions. Keep their mind loaded up during this time, so you’re ready to contribute when they want to take the next step.

“It can be useful to provide gentle reassurance or reframing of the experience, these methods of support reflect what is already happening for the individual, while also reassuring them that their experience is acceptable.”
– Chelsea Rose, Zendo’s volunteer coordinator.

3. Talk Through, Not Down

“Trust. Let go. Be open. Breathe. Surrender.”

“When re-experiencing emotions from a past trauma, […] having the space to feel the extent of that pain and suffering can be a pivotal to the guest’s healing opportunity.”
– Linnae Ponté, Director of Harm Reduction at MAPS and Founder of the Zendo Project

 

Sitters are taught to understand that there is a natural process going on in the mind of the affected guest. Thus there is no effort to end the psychedelic trip prematurely; sitters must simply let the guest experience it with as much safety and comfort as possible.
How to Work With Difficult Psychedelic Experiences

  • Let the flow of the experience happen.
  • People will generally end up in better places if you don’t try and interrupt.
  • Acknowledge their experience gently and non-invasively (usually non-verbally, signalling with body language and attention).
  • Avoid giving advice during major emotional reprocessing.

4. Difficult is Not the Same as Bad

The assumption that a difficult experience is “bad” can in fact contribute to the anxiety and general discomfort of the journey. “The mindset evident in the term ‘bad trip’ helps shed light on the outdated and often harmful methods by which these experiences are often addressed, including hospitalization and the involvement of law enforcement,” explains Sara Gael. This approach to handling someone having a difficult psychedelic experience is common at events and often worsens or escalates a situation. They are methods that attempt to end or interrupt the individual’s experience and can send a message to the individual that something is wrong with them or that they are not safe.”

Clearly, that is not the ideal approach for someone who is already feeling overwhelmed or frightened.
How to Work With Difficult Psychedelic Experiences

Volunteer training

 

Slides for another talk.

If people are interested, I could write up summaries of a handful of core mental motions and techniques which have helped me significantly, and can give access to many of the beneficial effects of psychedelics without the commitment and risks.

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