Guide/Therapist qualifications

Tripsitting (or “sitting”) is the psychedelic equivalent of babysitting. While a person is under the influence of hallucinogens — and in this sense, is intoxicated and impaired — this guide stands by to ensure that everything goes well. In addition, a guide with specialized training may also act as a therapist.

Picking a psychedelic guide

Finding the ideal psychedelic guide can be challenging. Casual psychedelic users frequently enlist a dear friend who possesses many of the qualifications described below. Another idea is to connect with local psychedelic groups to see if any seasoned guides or integration therapists are available. For more information, see our article on organizations & practitioners.

Competencies for psychedelic therapists

Having a psychedelic guide can immensely increase the psychotherapeutic benefits of a session. If you choose to trip with a guide, they should be someone who you find trustworthy and reassuring. Effective psychedelic therapists should possess the following criteria:[1]

  1. empathic abiding presence: the guide should be an empathic individual, whose experiences allow them to effectively understand the emotional states of the participant. “Abiding” implies a patience and trust in the psychedelic process, wherever it may lead. 
  2. enhances trust in the therapy: the participant should trust in the guide; moreover, the guide should maintain an aura of trust, evoking a trust in the medicine and in the process of healing. This will encourage the participant through any bizarre or spectacular psychedelic experiences that may occur.
  3. spiritual intelligence: due to the transpersonal nature of psychedelic states, it is beneficial if the guide is familiar with spiritual or metaphysical traditions. Clinically, this includes: relating to an all-encompassing sense of love toward other life, comfortability with existential and spiritual concepts, and a familiarity with mystical states.  
  4. knowledge of psychedelics: the guide should be familiar with the effects produced by psychedelics, so that they can effectively connect with the participant. They should also be versed in common physical side effects. 
  5. self-awareness and ethical integrity: the guide must respect power dynamics of the therapist-patient relationship, maintain a set of ethical guidelines informing personal boundaries, and should be familiar with with theories of object transference and psychological projection (see below)
  6. proficiency in complimentary therapies: familiarity with a wide range of complementary therapy practices such as Holotropic Breathwork, therapeutic bodywork and other somatic therapies, use of affective imagery, art and expressive therapy, family oriented techniques such as Internal Family Systems work, gestalt therapy, and traumacentric methods such as EMDR 

The guide’s role is not to direct the trip, but rather to act as a supportive presence. The guide should facilitate a comfortable exploration of altered consciousness, for the purpose of psychological healing. They should do this non-invasively, setting aside their own impulses to direct the therapy. The guide should ensures the psychedelic experience is undergone with a sense of security, well-being, and trust. 

Preparing with the guide

The guide should help make preparations to ensure the psychedelic trip goes as smoothly as possible. They can help set up the area, provide entertainment and therapy materials, or make arrangements for wherever the experience will take place. Most importantly, both the guide and participant should read through psychedelic instructions such as this one, so they are fully prepared for what to expect.

If you cannot find a suitable guide, you may feel more comfortable undergoing the psychedelic experience solo. In this case, take steps to ensure your process is safe, effective, and moderate. Thorough study of safety protocols, participant screening, and preparation of mindset and setting is critical.

In some practices, the guide will take a psychedelic along with the participant. This will usually be a low dose that the guide has experience managing, in order to help connect with their headspace and experience. This is not practice in clinical research. In informal settings, it is recommended this be decided based on the comfort level of both the guide and the participant, with informed consent from both of them.

Physical and emotional boundaries 

Sometimes during a trip, it may be appropriate for the guide to physically touch the psychedelic user as an offering of compassion or support. Although professional therapists are usually discouraged from using touch as a means of connecting with their patients for ethical reasons, the lack of touch when it is an appropriate and expected gesture of empathy may be perceived negatively by someone who is tripping. If the guide thinks touch may be expected, they hold a hand toward the participant in support, offer to give them a hug, or ask permission some other way in order to make sure that the contact is wanted.

The difference between gestures of support and physical exploitation during a session is very important. If your guide is someone you feel attracted to or is of the sex that you find attractive, it is possible for psychedelics to kindle romantic, codependent, or otherwise confusing feelings for during the trip. For this reason, it is important to employ a guide with whom you have strong and established physical boundaries.[2]

Considerations for trauma & identity

As part of their empathic awareness and familiarity in complementary therapies, it is useful for the guide to understand the psychological theories of object attachment and transference. For example, while processing memories during a psychedelic session, a participant may project feelings such as attraction or anger onto the guide or other individuals that are present. In these situations the guide must be able to honor the participants’ behaviors as arising from emotional processing in the psychedelic state, and guide them towards a resolution of the state by trusting in the psychologically transformative properties of the psychedelic experience. The guide will be better able to handle these situations with patience and wisdom if they understand the etiology and course of the participant’s trauma.

Participants who may be processing biographical information related to racial, sexual, disability, or other identity may be more comfortable with a guide who is of a specific heritage, gender, or ability. A guide with mutual experiences in social struggle will be better able to relate to complex trauma that are specifically experienced by their respective minority group.

Owl staring at viewer with great pupils

Works cited

  1. Phelps, J. (2017). Developing Guidelines and Competencies for the Training of Psychedelic Therapists. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 57(5), 450-487.
  2. Haden, M., Ball, M., Woods, B. (2018). Psychedelic Guide Manual. Vancouver, British Columbia.