On seeking professional help after a bad trip

There may come a time, in dealing with the lingering effects of a traumatic psychedelic trip, that you may desire the help or guidance of a professional. When I say professional, I’m referring to anyone who is trained in some discipline or system and offers help, counseling, or guidance in exchange for money. This could be a psychologist, medical doctor, hypnotist, psychiatrist, psychic, social worker, or other type of healer.

While some people prefer to go it alone in all aspects of their lives, I am a firm believer that guidance from a professional can be extremely beneficial, depending on the case. While they can’t actually do the work for you, professionals are experienced and trained, meaning that (if you find the right one for you) they can really help you accelerate your healing by pointing you in the “right” direction, like giving you a roadmap. By the same token, if you work with a professional who you don’t trust or don’t resonate with, you’ll likely be slowing down your healing process rather than accelerating – think of it as a detour.

So, how to select the professional? Where to begin? There’s so much to know and so much to take into consideration. I’ve outlined all those things below to the best of my ability, but, above all, you must trust your intuition. If you sit down with a therapist, notice how they make you feel – does their presence cause you to breathe a sigh of relief or cause you to tense up and go on guard? Do you sense authenticity int their voice, or do you sense impatience? Even if you’ve gone through my whole list below, picked the therapist or healer that sounds perfect in every way, you need to prioritize your intuitive reaction to them more than anything.

So, why do you want professional help?

Understanding this is the very first step. If you don’t understand why you truly want to work with a professional, how will you possibly select the right one, let alone make progress with them? Below, I’ll give some common reasons that I might suspect or that motivated me to seek professional help, as reading through these reasons might help you identify what you’re looking for. Remember that this is for you – you don’t necessarily need to tell a professional you see the true reason for the visit.

“I want to know that my physical body is okay – that I’m not going to die, even though my anxiety makes me feel like I might.”

This can be a common reason for wanting to visit a medical doctor, especially if you had a traumatic trip on mushrooms, acid, DMT, or even weed, which made you feel like you were going to die, having heart palpitations, or some other issue with your physical body. In this case, you may want to go to a normal MD who you trust for a “wellness visit” or annual checkup, and you shouldn’t feel the need to tell them about your psychedelic experience or the anxiety it’s causing you. Just have them do a thorough exam, let them listen to your heart, take your blood pressure, and tell them if there’s anything specific you want them to check out.

In this case, it’s important to remember that you’re most likely completely fine – I would be shocked if something’s wrong with you, and if so, it was probably there before your trip. The trip may have just brought it to your attention. Having issues with anxiety or panic attacks can make it feel like you’re having very real, scary health problems like the potential for a heart attack, but it’s more than likely anxiety and nothing else. If you do choose to go to the doctor for a wellness visit just to make sure everything’s okay, only go once. You don’t want to create a habit of panicking and rushing to the doctor as a hypochondriac.

I can’t stress enough that there absolutely no reason to tell an MD about your use of psychedelics – they won’t be able to tell, they don’t need to know, and they aren’t trained to deal with these substances. It will likely just cause them to be alarmed, try to convince you never to take them again, and refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist – a bunch of trouble you don’t want to deal with.

“The anxiety I’m experiencing is crippling. It’s affecting my daily life in a big way, and I just want to get on a medication that will help me with it fast.”

This is a common reason to want the help of a psychiatrist, because sometimes the anxiety is so great that it’s hard to function in normal life. If that’s your situation, getting on a prescription for a short time is certainly okay, but remember that anxiety doesn’t come out of no where. Anxiety, like all things in life, is a cause and effect process, and the only way to truly rid yourself of the anxiety is to find out the cause.

The trouble with prescriptions (or any type of substance) after a bad trip, is that it’s going to further affect you brain chemistry at a time when your brain has already been thrown for a loop. What’s more is that these substances can be very difficult to get off of, similarly to my experience with developing a nicotine addiction after my bad trip. Even after I went through the pain of quitting nicotine, my anxiety was still there – to me, it wasn’t worth the benefit of feeling good while using it. I would recommend putting some serious thought into the decision to get on an anti-anxiety med. It would be a good idea to visit some other types of traditional and non-traditional mental health professionals who offer a different approach before deciding, once and for all, to start taking  prescription.

If you choose to get on a prescription to help you with your anxiety, I recommend that you view it as a temporary aid rather than a longterm solution. Even as you are prescribed a medication, seek other ways to find out the cause of your anxiety and heal yourself, which may involve visiting another professional for a different kind of help.

“I’m trying to get through this, but I need some support. I want to be able to rely on someone who knows what they’re doing.” 

This is a very difficult time filled with a lot of uncertainty around a subject that not many people know about. Even if a person you know has had a psychedelic experience before, it’s unlikely that they’re well-versed enough to guide you to understanding and healing. If you’re longing for support, a shoulder to cry on, or someone you can simply call up when you get in a tough spot, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend turning to a professional. A therapist or traditional psychologist will most certainly listen to you and offer some guidance, but it’s likely that you’re craving a more intimate type of support that one can get from a friend or loved one. You can’t just call a therapist on the phone when you’re having trouble with anxiety at midnight on a Tuesday night.

Ideally, you might talk to a friend or loved one who has had a great deal of experience with psychedelics themselves. This way, they can offer their own wise perspective on the subject while being there for you emotionally. It can be or appear to be hard to find people like this, though. Think twice before deciding that no one around you fits the bill – do you have a kooky uncle who was a teenager in the late 60s, or an old family friend who’s passionate about music?

More people than you think have experimented with psychedelics and many of them have had traumatic experiences. If you truly can’t find anyone like this in your life, consider meeting this need using two different channels. Get the intimate, emotional support from a non-judgmental family member or close friend, and find an organization or online resource (such as this one) which can help soothe your specific concerns.

“I just want to know that I’m not crazy or that my brain isn’t messed up, because honestly, I’m not so sure anymore.” 

If you’re having those kinds of feelings, know that it’s a normal reaction to a traumatic trip. I’ve been there, and I’ve gotten through it. I know many people who’ve been there, and they’ve all gotten through it too. More than anything, when you’re in this position, you need a bit of a reality check – you need to just take a step back and trust that you’re most likely totally okay.

I have an entire post on this subject, and I have a lot to say about it because it’s something that I’ve had to spend an immense amount of time dealing with on my personal road to recovery. If this is your situation, there are a few main possibilities:

  1. You’ve done a few too many drugs in your life or a few too many in the recent past and you’re starting to experience being “burnt out.”
  2. You took an enormous dose, and your brain chemistry is now a little whacked out
  3. The trip itself was extremely traumatic and is now causing you some mild PTSD
  4. You’ve had some negative thing from your past bottled up in your psyche for a long time, and your psychedelic trip was traumatic enough that it caused you to spring a leak that bottle i.e. you’re now being forced to deal with some emotional problems you have had for a long time

Start by reading the article I linked above and trying to figure out if you fall into any of these four spheres. If you fall into one of the first two categories, I recommend taking a long break from substances, eating healthy, and exercising – with time, you’ll feel normal again. If you fall into one of the last two categories, you may need to see a professional, particularly someone who has experience dealing with trauma, PTSD, and the nature of the subconscious mind.

“I’ve been working on healing, but I discovered an issue within myself that I don’t know how to solve on my own. I need some help from someone with experience.” 

This is the case that will allow you to get the most out of working with a professional – when you’ve done a good deal of work on your own but gotten to a specific tough spot that you’re not sure how to deal with. Perhaps you’ve gotten your anxiety under control, learned what triggers it, but aren’t quite sure how to get to the bottom of those triggers. Perhaps your bad trip caused you to have immense social anxiety when interacting with strangers, and you’re not quite sure how to get past that.

In my experience of working with mental health professionals, both before and after my bad trip, it’s always most effective when you have a specific question or problem that you can identify. When you don’t have something specific to work on and are just generally despondent, it’s easy to fall into a rut of going to see a therapist once a week for years and years without really making much progress. So, if you’ve got that specific question or issue identified, the next step is to identify what sphere of life it relates to. Here are some possibilities:

  • Does it relate to something that happened during your childhood?
  • Is it related to social interactions?
  • Does it seem to be coming from your subconscious mind?
  • Might it have to do with your own identity, self-worth, or confidence?
  • Does it relate to the effects of your bad trip on your relationships?
  • Does it stem from a radical shift in your world-view as a result of the trip (i.e. feeling like everything you once knew to be true was wrong?)
  • Do you think you might have something repressed? (This is more common than you think.)

Once you get an idea of what the question relates to or stems from, you’ll be able to decide what kind of professional to visit. Generally, more surface-level, issues of day-to-day life are best dealt with by a psychologist or therapist experienced with the specific issue you’re dealing with, such as social anxiety or relationships. If you feel that your problem is stemming from repressed trauma, childhood issues, or something deeply buried in the subconscious, I would recommend seeing some more non-traditional, such as a hypnotherapist.

How to select the right professional

Once you identify why you want to see someone, you can start trying to identify who to see. At the most basic level, you’ll probably have at least some idea of the type – therapist or psychologist, social worker, counselor, psychiatrist, hypnotherapist, medical doctor, energetic healer, psychic, medium, and so on. These general categories are a decent starting point, but it’s also important to remember that every professional is unique and works with different techniques.

So, if Type is #1, the #2 is Sphere of Experience. Knowing what you need to work on, you’ll want to look for professionals who are experienced with that type of work – you wouldn’t really want to see someone who does most of their therapy work regarding marriage issues if you’re having trouble with your identity and world-view. Just because someone is trained as a psychologist doesn’t mean they’re a good fit for every issue.

Once you’ve found some professionals who sound good based on #s 1 and 2, you’ll want to set up an initial consultation or intake visit. At that point, you’ll take a look at #3: Attitude and Approach. Even if someone is highly experienced in dealing with the exact problem you’re facing, you simply may not click with that individual’s attitude towards life, you, the problem, and their work, or you may not like the techniques they typically use. These are all important factors to consider, because, if you choose to work with someone you don’t click with, you’re going to be going backwards instead of making progress.

The last of these basic, broad selection criteria is Individual Qualities, such as their personality, personal interests and beliefs, and the vibe you get from them. Ask yourself if this is a person you want to open up to and let into your private world. Can you trust them? Do they make you feel calm and at ease, or do they make you feel defensive and stressed out? Even though this criteria is last on the list, it’s most important – it’s only last because it’s hard to get in a position where you can evaluate a professional’s individual qualities without going through criteria 1-3 first.

If you find someone who you feel can truly understand you, someone you can trust, and someone willing to work with you in an open, nonjudgmental fashion regarding your traumatic psychedelic trip, you’ve struck gold no matter what type of professional they are. You may have started out looking for a psychiatrist only to realize that an energetic healer is the perfect fit for you simply based on their individual qualities.

At a more basic level, looking at a professional’s individual qualities can help you identify whether or not they’re someone who will receptive to working with you on issues arising from a traumatic psychedelic experience and respectful of what you’re going through. An easy way to do this is to sneak a peak at their bookshelf during a consultation – if the titles trend towards the New Age, consciousness, the metaphysical, counterculture, plants, music, yoga, etc. you might have someone who has done psychedelics themselves.

Many therapists or counselors are avid readers, so you might also ask them what books have been most influential on them personally. Other elements you can evaluate are the decorations in their office, they’re fashion sense, and even the way they talk. Professionals outside of New Age or metaphysical disciplines will rarely admit to having done psychedelics or other drugs, but if you get any sort of “hippie” vibe from even the most traditional psychologist, chances are, they have.

Basic Criteria

  1. Type
  2. Sphere of Experience
  3. Attitude & Approach
  4. Individual Qualities

In an initial consultation 

Almost all health professionals offer the opportunity to meet with them for an intake visit or initial consultation free of charge because they know how important it is to get a good fit, for both parties involved. If you and a professional don’t click or hit it off during one of these visits, always remember that you are not obligated to keep seeing them. You should never be ashamed to let them know that it wasn’t a good fit, but remember to be kind and respectful. Chances are, if you didn’t feel a good connection, neither did they. Unless financial pressures are causing them to be hungry for patients, there’s a good likelihood that they’ll be relieved and appreciative of your honesty if you let them know how you felt.

During an consultation, think of it as your time to interview the professional. Come up with a list of things you want to know beforehand and bring that list to the consultation so that you don’t forget. If you’ve scheduled initial visits with multiple professionals, it may even help to keep a notebook of their answers to these questions so that you can compare them all later. Here are some ideas of things you could ask:

  • What part of psychology is most interesting to you?
  • What did you research in grad school? (if the person has a PhD)
  • Which kinds of patients or problems do you like to work with the most?
  • Which things typically lead to great success when you work with a client?
  • What has been the biggest influence on your work or approach?
  • What is your view of the nature of consciousness/the mind/the subconscious mind?

It’s best to avoid a 20-questions style rapid interview when talking to a professional for the first time – that can be a turn-off for anyone – instead, just try to naturally work these types of questions into the consultation.

When you meet a professional, it’s important that you are upfront about what you need to work on IF you decide that you’re interested in working with them. If it’s clear from the very beginning of the session that you two are not a good fit or that you simply don’t trust them, it’s best not to open up and share your traumatic experiences – what’s the use if you don’t get a good feeling from that person to begin with? If, over the course of the session, you do decide that you like, trust, and click with them, it’s best to explain what you think is really going on during the first session. This way, both of you know exactly what you’re getting into before you start the real work.

My experiences with seeing professionals after my bad trip

Even before my bad trip, I had seen psychologists – it was first recommended by a pediatrician when I was a teenager due to my parents’ unusual and rocky marriage, and from time to time, I had trouble with social anxiety. I had seen a few different, very traditional psychologists and developed a pretty good relationship with one, we’ll call him Dr. Y.

I saw Dr. Y on and off, starting around 16 and continuing into college, and he did help me a lot in understanding and processing my social anxiety and issues with my parents. Working with him was very much like that stereotypical therapist you go see for years, talking about your mother this week and your father the next. When my bad trip came along, it had been a while since I’d gone to see Dr. Y, but soon after the traumatic experience, I felt that I needed someone to talk to. I wanted help with the anxiety, but more than anything, I wanted some confirmation and validation about what I had seen and experienced. I went to Dr. Y to get that because he had confirmed so many of my theories about life before – looking back, this was naïve.

I went to see him, and I told him what I had experienced. Right off the bat, I felt a little embarrassed because he’d tried to get me to stop using LSD a few months before, and here I was in a “told ya so” situation. Even though he never said that, I could sense that he was holding back the thought, trying to be supportive. I was sensitive enough to pick up that he was ever so slightly judgmental. I think this situation was one of those that truly does exasperate psychologist or even doctors – they tell us to do something they know to be “good for you” in general, we don’t listen, and then we end up back in their office, asking them to help us fix even worse problems.

Instead of getting the confirmation and support I was looking for, I got the kind of psychedelic-downplaying that is typical of traditional psychologists – when I said I experienced telepathy, I wanted someone who could say, “Yes, dear, that is one of well-guarded secrets of this earth,” because I knew that it was. Instead, I got, “How do you know?” and “It may have seemed that way, but…” From a psychologist’s perspective, reeling a patient back in from the brink of metaphysical, spiritual la-la land and getting their feet planted firmly back in reality is a noble goal.

When you get someone claiming to have experienced telepathy, met god, or that they can see spirits, auras, or energies, you have to realize that unless they’re very deeply grounded, they’re about two steps away from being totally nonfunctional in normal reality. Getting you functioning like a well-oiled machine here in the third dimension is going to be a better goal to a traditional psychologist than helping you explore the far-out possibilities of inner and outer space.

In my case, I needed more than what Dr. Y was willing to give me. I was having anxiety issues, and he did help with that. But, above all, my trip represented a powerful personal transformation and spiritual awakening – I needed someone I could talk to about that. Even though Dr. Y, who had grown up in California in the hippie days, had more than likely experienced psychedelics himself, he wasn’t going to let the cat out of the back nor support that kind of activity in a patient. I didn’t continue seeing him for help in my recovery.

Over a year later, I was discussing my experience with a new friend who happened to know a hypnotherapist who was very dear to her – let’s call her Dr. Z. She said that something about me made her think that Dr. Z would be very helpful for me, and she was right. From my initial consultation, I knew that she was going to be able to help me understand and get past many things in my life, not just the bad trip.

Judging by appearances, Dr. Z was pretty normal – her home office looked like that of your average professional woman, save for a collection of large crystals tucked in a display case that wasn’t particularly noticeable. When I began to talk to her, however, I realized that this woman was wise and knew exactly what I was talking about – I didn’t have to struggle to explain myself or my thoughts. There was no judgement, and I opened up.

While she had come to a few conclusions in our first visit, our subsequent work uncovered years of repressed sexual abuse from my childhood – the ultimate root of my emotional problems, anxiety, and what the bad trip had let loose upon my psyche. It had existed within me for over a decade although I had no conscious memory of it, and understanding came through interpretations of my dreams, hypnosis, and talking as one would with a traditional therapist. I began to truly see changes and results in a way that I never did when working with a traditional therapist, and I attribute it to the degree to which Dr. Z and I clicked on a personal level and her understanding of and experience with the subconscious mind. Much of what I know about the subconscious, I’ve learned from her.

Finding the right professional is not always an easy, direct process, and the perfect person to help often comes by chance after you’ve done a great deal of work yourself. When you finally find a person you click with, your healing can truly become exponential.

Hope this helps,