When you embark on a great adventure to an unfamiliar destination — trekking the mountains, sailing vast oceans, or experiencing a sprawling city, for example — it’s beneficial to enlist the help of an experienced guide.
A guide is someone familiar with the territory. A skilled, and knowledgeable navigator. They prevent you from getting lost, help you avoid injury, and help you notice or discover things that you might miss by yourself.
If you’ll be exploring your own psyche, as is the case with psychedelic therapy, there is no real difference. The ocean of the mind is vast, and it’s helpful to have an experienced guide with you when working within the psychedelic experience.
What is a Psychedelic Guide?
A psychedelic guide helps provide direction, safety, and security when working with psychedelic or altered states of consciousness as a medicinal experience. They’re also equipped and trained with a specific skill set in case any challenges or obstacles arise along the way.
Psychedelic guides provide a safe and secure “container” —the structure and support to help you focus on your journey. They’re equipped and prepared to help unlock more powerful experiences or deeper truths, ensuring a safe and powerful “trip” together.
They cannot walk the path for you, but they can walk alongside you, providing assistance, information, or support as necessary. It is this support that makes guides invaluable in the psychedelic experience.
What is a Psychedelic Guide’s Role at Mindbloom?
Here at Mindbloom, you can think of Guides like a peer coach: someone trained and experienced in helping individuals through transformative experiences, and skilled in navigating the psychedelic waters.
Throughout the program, they help to ensure everything is moving along smoothly —from logistics, to helping prepare the set/setting, refine intentions, and unpack emotions and experiences that may arise in the sessions or as the program unfolds.
We look for a few core characteristics when hiring and training our Guides. They include: experience and understanding of the psychedelic experience, training in coaching, neuroscience, and/or personal transformation techniques, and a high degree of empathy and ability to hold space for our clients.
Whenever you make the decision to move through a transformational process, it is helpful to have support with you. They cannot walk the path for you, but they can walk alongside you, providing support, insight, empathy, and a few laughs along the way.
Mindbloom Guides are not licensed clinicians, nor are they licensed therapists. They are a supporting force that, in tandem with our clinical team, help contribute to the remarkable outcomes clients have reported throughout their Mindbloom journeys.
What’s the Difference between a Psychedelic Guide and a Facilitator?
If you’re interested in becoming a psychedelic guide, it’s important to know the scope of your role, while also understanding the roles of other individuals who play a key part in supporting people through psychedelic therapies.
Another role that can be present during a psychedelic experience is a facilitator or, sometimes called practitioner. A facilitator or practitioner is often more involved and plays a more active role in the administration and orchestration of the psychedelic experience itself. Having trained directly in the administration and facilitation of psychedelic compounds and psychedelic experiences — they can be the conductors of the psychedelic symphony.
Sometimes facilitators or practitioners play a very central role in treatment, such as psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy sessions using psilocybin to treat depression. In indigenous cultures, a shaman plays the role of facilitator in psychedelic experiences. Depending on the compound used, and the level of intensity expected during the experience, facilitators or practitioners may not be present.
As part of Mindbloom’s psychedelic therapy experience, our licensed clinicians are the practitioners. They’re certified to prescribe the medicine, in this case ketamine, and are there to assure proper dosing, client safety, and help clients reach their goals for their mental health.
At Mindbloom, the Guides help with preparation for the experience by helping clients prepare their mindset and physical setting, discussing intentions, holding space for integration, while also holding them accountable for integrations exercises, rooting them on when they need encouragement and celebrating wins along the way.
The Guide works closely with the clinician assuring that the client has a full team dialed in, together, to support their healing process. The roles of Guides, or what the term "Guide" means may vary at other practices.
There are several other primary roles that are an integral part of many's practice with medicines. Some include licensed psychotherapists or shamans in more indigenous communities. These, like others, are highly specialized roles, often developed over years of direct study and experience.
Just as all members of the band are necessary for an orchestra to sound its best, Guides, in many practices or settings, are an essential and critical part of the psychedelic experience: in preparation, in the experience itself, and in the integration afterwards.
What Qualifications are Needed to be a Psychedelic Guide?
There are no formal qualifications to be a psychedelic guide, nor is there a formal definition of what being a psychedelic guide entails, or an industry-standard training or certification that deems one a “psychedelic guide.”
Working with individuals undergoing psychedelic experiences requires a broad skillset. Due to the deeply transformative nature of the experiences themselves, a safe and secure container is vital. People —such as Guides— in support of others in their space, going through their process with medicine, are a part of this container.
Given that many modern therapeutic and transformative experiences are still being developed inside and outside of clinical settings, there isn’t an absolute list of criteria or a set curriculum that qualifies one to practice in the role of psychedelic guide, safely and therapeutically.
However, there are several categories of skill that are crucial to be a guide and to assist others in these experiences:
- Holding Space: The ability to provide a safe, supportive, and trusted environment for the individual without asserting or projecting individual preferences/opinions on to the individual.
- Crisis Management: The ability to respond quickly and decisively to acute crisis situations, such as psychotic episodes, physical health emergencies, adverse reactions, or the surfacing of traumatic memories.
- Neurobiology/Psychological Familiarity: A comprehensive understanding of the compounds, the range of experiences possible, the connections between mind and body, and resolving common obstacles/challenges/questions that can arise.
- Communication: The ability to clearly and effectively communicate with individuals in sensitive situations, to foster a sense of openness, trust, expertise, and safety for the individual to express and process whatever is coming up for them.
These are the broad categories within which there are many sub-skills or complimentary areas of study and experience to be developed. There are more specific skill sets, and a near endless list of ideal qualities and qualifications that can be suggested for psychedelic guides.
Overall, a psychedelic guide should be able to set up a safe and secure context and container for the psychedelic experience, and be able to respond effectively and efficiently to any situations that can arise within the individual sessions, to assure both their physical and psychological safety without impeding on their healing process. This applies to both single sessions, and throughout a treatment program that may include a series of treatments.
How do I Learn More or Gain Experience to Qualify as a Psychedelic Guide?
Given the diverse nature of a psychedelic guide’s role from one practice to the next and the range of experiences and qualifications listed above, there are different learning institutions, experiences, and resources that can help to cultivate the skill sets required to be an effective guide.
It’s important to note that this does not apply to the process of becoming a psychedelic therapist. Becoming a therapist has specific educational, clinical and licensing requirements. You can find more information on training to become a psychedelic therapist here.
However, there are a number of outlets that are providing exposure and training to cultivate the skills and qualifications of a psychedelic guide. You can take programming for psychedelic experiences at different universities and institutes, such as the California Institute for Integral Studies, or classes at Naropa University.
There are training and programs focused on psychedelic guiding and sitting, and even psychedelic-specific first-aid programs.
Soliciting feedback from others working in the space, developing mentorship relationships or training arrangements with established organizations or individuals can all help you develop and cultivate the skill sets required to become a psychedelic guide.
What Opportunities are Available for Psychedelic Guides?
Modern psychedelic medicine experiences and psychedelic therapy programs are an emerging field and more openings, companies, and opportunities arise every day.
There are a number of opportunities already available for psychedelic guides. With a number of new compounds and substances moving through clinical trials with positive results, there are promising signs that more opportunities and varieties of experiences to practice as in this field, will continue to open up in the future.
From supporting individuals through programs like the Guides at Mindbloom do, to becoming a therapist with a focus on integration of psychedelic experiences, psychedelic experience sitter, or to assisting and holding space in other contexts abroad — there are and continue to be new opportunities to support people through their healing journeys with these medicines.
Disclaimer about Psychedelic Guides: In the emerging space of psychedelic therapy, at present there is no universal agreement as to what qualifies or constitutes a ‘psychedelic guide’. There are a number of different contexts that facilitation and/or guiding is present, and each context will require and work best with different characteristics and qualifications. The information presented is for informational purposes, serving as a high-level overview of some areas in this work, and should not be taken as definitive qualifications or guidelines on how to become a psychedelic guide.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at +1 (800) 273-8255, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.
Important FDA Safety Information
Ketamine is not FDA-approved for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Learn more about off-label uses here.
Side effects of ketamine treatment may include: altered sense of time, anxiety, blurred vision, diminished ability to see/hear/feel, dry mouth, elevated blood pressure or heart rate, elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure, excitability, loss of appetite, mental confusion, nausea/vomiting, nystagmus (rapid eye movements), restlessness, slurred speech, synesthesia (a mingling of the senses).
Do not proceed with ketamine treatment if any of the following apply to you:
- Allergic to ketamine
- Symptoms of psychosis or mania
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- CHF or other serious heart problem
- Severe breathing problem
- History of elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure
- History of hyperthyroidism
- Other serious medical illness
- Pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant
Ketamine has been reported to produce issues including, but not limited to, those listed below. However, lasting adverse side-effects are rare when medical protocols are carefully followed.
While ketamine has not been shown to be physically addictive, it has been shown to cause moderate psychological dependency in some recreational users.
- In rare cases, frequent, heavy users have reported increased frequency of urination, urinary incontinence, pain urinating, passing blood in the urine, or reduced bladder size
- Ketamine may worsen problems in people with schizophrenia, severe personality disorders, or other serious mental disorders.
- Users with a personal or family history of psychosis should be cautious using any psychoactive substance, including ketamine, and discuss potential risks with your MindBloom clinician before proceeding with treatment.
- The dissociative effects of ketamine may increase patient vulnerability and the risk of accidents.
To promote positive outcomes and ensure safety, follow these ketamine treatment guidelines:
- Do not operate a vehicle (e.g., car, motorcycle, bicycle) or heavy machinery following treatment until you’ve had a full night of sleep
- Refrain from taking benzodiazepines or stimulants for 24 hours prior to treatment
- Continue to take antihypertensive medication as prescribed
- Avoid hangovers or alcohol intake
- Refrain from consuming solid foods within 3 hours prior to treatment and liquids within 1 hour prior to treatment
- Ketamine treatment should never be conducted without a monitor present to ensure your safety