Psychedelic Pre-Session Intention Setting Explained

Preparation and pre-session intention setting are critical components to integration. Returning to the metaphor of travel, preparing for a psychedelic experience is likened to all the work that goes into preparing for a long-distance trip. We would never go to the airport to catch a flight without the basic essentials: passport, money, a bag with at least the bare necessities, and a destination.

Similarly, setting an intention is akin to having a destination. It can provide a grounding anchor in a psychedelic session, helping guide an individual and give them a lens through which to process insights that arrive post-trip. Integration is unique to each individual — it’s inextricably intertwined with their reason for using psychedelics in the first place.

In the cult classic, The Psychedelic Experience, former Harvard researchers Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert write: “In planning a session, the first question to be decided is ‘what is the goal?’” Whether your intention is to heal from a traumatic experience, overcome addiction, deepen your connection to nature, or examine a specific aspect of yourself, it is important to know what you’re aiming for.

According to clinical psychologist, psychedelic integration therapist and author of The Psychedelics Integration Handbook, Dr. Ryan Westrum, psychedelic integration is a continuous process similar to an infinity wheel in that “future stories will be cultivated, supported and benefitted if you are thinking about them prior.”

Another crucial element of preparation involves tending to your set and setting. “Set” generally refers to a person’s pre-session mindset. However, it can also include both immediate and long-range states of mind, covering everything from fears, hopes, and expectations about the session to personal history and enduring personality traits. The better the preparation, the more equipped an individual is to integrate their experiences.

The “setting” is the container of the experience. It factors into account when and where the experience will take place. In The Psychedelic Experience, the description of “setting” includes a temporal dimension, encouraging individuals planning for a psychedelic session to set aside up to three days to process their insights, so there’s “sufficient time for reflection and meditation.” The text cautions that returning to work too hastily will likely “blur the clarity of the vision and reduce the potential for learning.”

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