The Psychedelic Renaissance is in full bloom: there is research taking place all over the world, looking at how entheogens can treat a range of conditions including PTSD, depression, anxiety and addiction. Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is becoming part of the mainstream and, as a result, there is considerable curiosity about the different substances and their applications. With entheogen substances becoming more popular each day many are now trying psychedelics for the first time, and some of these experiences can be challenging. Even though society has termed these experiences "bad trips,” a difficult psychedelic experience is not necessarily a bad one. The challenging situation can be seen as an opportunity for transformation. And having the company of a Trip Sitter can radically shift a psychedelic experience.
But what exactly is the Trip Sitter role?
Also known as a sober sitter or co-pilot, a trip sitter is the person who remains sober to ensure the safety of the travellers, while they are under the influence of a mind-altering substance. When you are just starting to experiment with psychedelics, or if you want to take higher dosage than you’re used to, a sober companion is highly recommended as harm reduction, to keep you safe during your journey.
If you are looking to find a Trip Sitter for your psychedelic experience, or if you were asked to be a Trip Sitter to someone you know, this guide is a good start to understand the key aspects of this important task.
Trip Sitter Main Goals
- Provide a supportive space for someone undergoing difficult psychedelic experiences in order to help turn those experiences into opportunities for learning and personal growth, and to reduce the number of drug related psychiatric hospitalizations;
- Demonstrate that safe, productive psychedelic experiences are possible without the need for law enforcement based policies.
Set and Setting
The influence of Set and Setting on a psychedelic experience have been discussed extensively by many researchers, psychonauts and healers. Set refers to the drug as well as the mindset of the person taking it. What is the dose, duration, and purity of the drug? What is the person’s intention, their emotional state, and their previous experience with the substance? Setting refers to the physical environment: noise, lighting, other people, familiarity, safety. Changes in set and setting can have a huge impact on a psychedelic experience. A Trip Sitter can help keep both Set and Setting in check, either during the preparation for the journey, at the session and after, during the recovery. Even if a person is having a positive experience on a psychedelic, it can still be helpful to have a sitter. They might need assistance getting to the restroom when their sense of perception is distorted, for example, or water to avoid dehydration.
Not Guiding, but Facilitating
A Trip Sitter is a Facilitator, not a Guide. As a Facilitator you are not a pilot in this journey, you are a Keeper. A Trip Sitter must be a calm meditative presence of acceptance, compassion, and caring. If you are looking for someone to be a keeper during your journey, choose someone that conveys feelings of trust and security. As a Trip Sitter, you must let the person’s unfolding experience be the guide. Don’t try to get ahead of the process. Explore distressing issues as they emerge, if they emerge. Simply being there with the person as a friendly presence can be of great support.
A Trip Sitter must remain sober and calm during the whole experience, and be alert and open to the needs of the traveler without distracting them. If a person under the influence of psychedelics is under distress, help the person connect with what they are feeling without distracting from the experience. Talk through, not down. Invite the person to take the opportunity to explore what’s happening and encourage them to try not to resist it. Difficult is not the same as bad – Challenging experiences can wind up being our most valuable, and may lead to learning and growth. Consider that it may be happening for an important reason. Suggest that they approach the fear and difficult aspects of their experience with curiosity.
Really listen to the traveler. Think carefully about what they are telling you, and avoid any instinct towards being dismissive or belittling of their experiences and concerns. People in an expanded state of consciousness are often exquisitely sensitive to the reactions of those caring for them. Sometimes it may be best to do nothing but be present.
Helpful Tips for a Trip Sitter:
• Let the person know that you are listening and that you care about them.
• Encourage them to explore their self-awareness and ask them to confirm or clarify your understanding of their situation.
• Respond to them in a way that shows that you understand, or are genuinely trying to understand what they are saying.
• Be honest about your feelings concerning their suggestions for resolution of their distress.
• Encourage them to discuss their own perceived emotional strengths and resources.
• Explore what they would consider a good outcome to their situation.
• Ask them to think about the consequences of their actions, not just for themselves, but also for others.
• If a person indicates that they may do something that impacts their well being and safety, invite them to explain the situation as clearly and calmly as they can. Seek help if needed.
• Suggest that they may want to wait until after their psychedelic experience has resolved to assess their decisions in a clearer light.
• Giving someone the time to talk about their concerns will often help them feel less fearful.
• Encourage them to engage in forms of artistic self expression: writing, drawing, etc.
• If they feel anxious or tense, you might encourage them to take deep, slow breaths or engage in some form of movement that releases tightly wound energy.
• Travelers should be given the opportunity to express themselves and/or release excess energy by whatever means they feel is necessary - such as making noises, crying, singing, chanting, or moving around in whatever way is useful to them without disturbing others.
• Sometimes, inviting the person to take a walk with you may be calming.
• Sitters should also be open to a variety of approaches that can help shift the traveller’s experience of distress to a positive outcome.
• Sitters should feel comfortable utilizing self-disclosure.
• Making jokes and having a good sense of humor can often be very helpful.
A person going through a psychedelic experience may be in a vulnerable state, and they must be treated with care and dignity.
• Remain focused on the needs of your friend and remain attentive to changing conditions while providing assistance.
• Keep all discussions and events in confidence.
• Request permission before touching them in any way.
• Act with integrity.
Having a tripsitter watch over you whilst you get high can be a really reassuring experience, helping guide a trip to new and unexplored heights through the knowledge that there is someone around to catch you if you fall. However, the art of tripsitting is not as simple as asking a friend to hang around whilst you take hallucinogens.
It is important to note that a tripsitter is not essential, even for first time users. Not having one doesn’t mean you are going to have a bad trip, so don’t worry if you were not considering finding one. They simply offer those who want it, a little bit of extra reassurance and information.