FAQ: Do I need a sitter or a guide if I want to take psychedelics?

“Heal yourself with the light of the sun and the rays of the moon. With the sound of the river and the waterfall. With the swaying of the sea and the fluttering of birds. Heal yourself with mint, neem, and eucalyptus. Sweeten with lavender, rosemary, and chamomile. Hug yourself with the cocoa bean and a hint of cinnamon. Put love in tea instead of sugar and drink it looking at the stars. Heal yourself with the kisses that the wind gives you and the hugs of the rain. Stand strong with your bare feet on the ground and with everything that comes from it. Be smarter every day by listening to your intuition, looking at the world with your forehead. Jump, dance, sing, so that you live happier. Heal yourself, with beautiful love, and always remember … you are the medicine.” (the advice attributed to Maria Sabina)

FAQ: Do I need a sitter or a guide if I want to take psychedelics?

Maybe, or maybe not. There are numerous articles, blogs, videos out there that express a strong opinion that psychedelics should only be taken under supervision, preferably by a trained health care professional. There are a couple of arguments I can raise against that.

First of all, while there is some value in the “playing it safe” approach, the whole notion of the success of your psychedelic ceremony to be wholly dependent on someone else is contradictory to the freeing and empowering potential that psychedelics may bring into our lives. Thorough research, careful preparation and immaculate execution of your own psychedelic ceremonial space can be of much bigger help to the success of your endeavor than delegating it to strangers that are willing to take your money for doing it. Taking responsibility for your Setting will be paramount in creating the needed Set in you – the attitude of a Humble Warrior – courageous and reverent, determined and respectful.

Secondly, regarding the intra-ceremony support of a guide, after more than seven years in the field, I can say that there are not many people out there, working with psychedelics or not, who would be of sufficient spiritual health and level of personal integration to qualify as great transpersonal guides into the psychedelic realm, to be your beacons in the dark. I also believe that solo guiding cannot provide the adequate level of support and safety during psychedelic ceremonies. The standard recommendation (from the scientific circles of psychedelic research and my personal observation) is at least two guides, preferably with complementary (Yin-Yang) energies. And if you cannot find a great guide or actually –  two great guides, you are often much better off by trusting yourself rather than someone of a mediocre status, working outside of the safety margins.

Now, while I hold and encourage you to hold very high standards for psychedelic guides, the role of a sitter is different and demands less. Someone familiar with psychedelic realms, of non-judgmental, calm and kind disposition, who could act on your behalf if the outside world intervenes while you are under the influence of psychedelic substance, someone capable of walking you to the toilet and back, bringing you a blanket or helping to change a music track – if you are lucky to have a person like that in your circles, or encounter someone like that in the world of psychonauts, by all means – ask for their support. Having a sitter in the vicinity might bring you an extra degree of confidence and reduce the level of anxiety that is often there with your first psychedelic ceremonies. However, do not delegate any of your own Set and Setting preparation responsibility to them, do not rely on them as your intra-ceremony psychological help, and ask them to be as invisible and unobtrusive during the process as humanly possible.

So, yes – a sitter can be helpful. Having said that, I often find that people seeking psychedelic experiences are often in situations when they have pretty much no support in their life, no one that they can trust. In my opinion, in such cases, the recommendation to have a sitter is impossible to follow, and should not stand in your way of organizing and holding your own solo psychedelic ceremony.

There are situations when seeking support for your psychedelic journeys is warranted. Dealing with long standing hard-wired addiction patterns, working with psychedelics that can lead to life threatening physical responses, history of severe and long suppressed traumas – these could be examples when psychedelic therapy is chosen as a course of treatment, but may pose substantial risks for the well being during and after the ceremony. Many of these situations are not easy to deal with. For example, disclosing all the risk factors on your application form to the treatment centers specializing in psychedelic therapies might make you ineligible for their services. Most places simply don’t want to deal with hard cases and take extra risks. And the ones that do take you, might be sloppy in their safety measures, and would not be able to provide you with effective care if something does go wrong. It is hard to provide umbrella advice for the complex cases. Sometimes finding a sitter with First Aid knowledge and some psychological support for the post ceremony integration process  might do the trick, sometimes you might need to travel far to the right people, sometimes you need to choose how transparent you should be and how much you share with your available support humans and organizations.  

Research, networking and listening to your instincts are things that wouldn’t hurt in any case. And of course staying on the path, walking the path of healing – continue, persevere, get up when you fall, learn from your mistakes and keep going, keep looking for truth, health, love, beauty, joy. Keep on living.