Four years after publishing How To Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, the celebrated writer Michael Pollan continues the psychedelic pollination with a Netflix adaptation of his seminal book. The new series is a tour de force of the complex history and applications of psychedelics in the West. In just under four hours, you get to meet some of the most prominent researchers and hear from patients who experienced tremendous change on clinical trials–sometimes over only one journey.
It’s hard to not feel deeply moved by the tremendous relief these substances can bring. It’s hard not to imagine what they could unlock for you and what you might achieve with that newfound creativity and potential.
But is transformation as simple as changing your mind? Does a psychedelic journey truly feel like 10 years of therapy in a day? Are psychedelics the magic pill that will cure all our ills?
Dispelling the magic pill myth
One of the most surprising things about How to Change Your Mind is that it brims with the same naive enthusiasm that led scientists during the early stages of research to refer to psychedelics as “magic pills” that “defrag or reset the brain” and “unlock depression”.
It’s been a long time since the claims of 2017. The last five years of research have brought a more nuanced understanding of psychedelics and the scientists have become more conservative. Data from clinical trials showed that the initial relief experienced by some patients after one or two psilocybin sessions didn’t always last. The depression came back, sometimes with a vengeance. Many needed further sessions or more integration, which most trials couldn’t accommodate due to the limitations of protocols.
In her 2022 Medium piece, the former clinical lead on the psilocybin trials at Imperial College, Rosalind Watts, reflects on how we might have got here:
The drug was a catalyst to the therapeutic process, not the therapeutic process itself. Sadly, this crucial information did not make the headlines as much as the “magic reset button” did. — Rosalind Watts, in Can magic mushrooms unlock depression? What I’ve learned in the five years since my TEDx talk
It’s no wonder the “magic pill” narrative is catching on. Given a choice between taking a pill that makes you feel better now or going through a long therapeutic process where you’re likely to feel worse before you feel better, we wouldn’t blame you if you chose the pill.
This is perhaps How to Change Your Mind’s greatest blindspot. The show gets carried away by the positive stories and fails to acknowledge the significant therapeutic support that accompanies a transformative psychedelic experience.
Despite what looks like overnight transformation, most patients on trials receive copious amounts of psychotherapy before and after the psychedelic journey. Adequate preparation and integration are crucial for ensuring a safe and meaningful experience–and the amount of sessions needed will vary from person to person.
For example, Rosalind Watts’ current model for psychedelic-assisted therapy feature up to a year of integration, including community circles, supporting practices, and reconnecting with nature. At Inlibrium, we shape our protocol around your needs–every leader we work with has a one-of-a-kind experience based on their history, rhythm, and dreams.
Keeping the body in mind
And it’s not only the drug that is fetishised. The popular narrative around psychedelic-assisted transformation remains one largely focused on the brain and the cognitive function–healing appears as simple as changing your mind.
These top-down, mind-over-matter approaches aren’t just outdated–they limit the potential of what psychedelic-assisted therapy can achieve. What’s more, they maintain the same mind-body dualism that’s often at the core of the imbalances psychedelics aim to treat.
A quick gander at Polyvagal Theory reveals that your autonomic nervous directly influences how you experience life by connecting physiology and psychology. For example, patterns of protection learned in childhood become automatic habitual responses that hinder you in adulthood. A traumatic past leads to a reactive nervous system stuck in a state of hyper-vigilance or shutdown: you may be anxious, have a quick temper, or feel completely apathetic or burnt out.
While you may recognise these states as thoughts or limiting beliefs, they often stem from the body’s reaction to triggering sensations and feelings. Trauma experts like Peter Levine, Pat Ogden, Gabor Maté or Bessel van der Kolk remind us that trauma also happens in the body–it affects the whole system. When it’s unresolved, it can lead to further complications like insomnia, an inability to relax, digestive issues, aches and pains, or a compromised immune system. Merely changing your mind won’t fix that.
An embodied approach to psychedelic-assisted therapy takes you out of your head and into your body. It restores the mind-body connection and the ability to tolerate emotions. But more importantly, it supports the discharge of traumatic stress from the body.
Once the nervous system is restored to a state of safety, the energy that was used by patterns of protection can be used creatively, for your purpose–this is a crucial part of the alchemy of transformation that Inlibrium facilitates.
Why integration is at the heart of the experience
Plus, there’s more to psychedelics than the experience itself. The journey can feel like ten years of therapy in a day; immense relief can happen. But making those changes stick is a different story–which remains untold in the Netflix show.
At Inlibrium, we believe that a mature attitude to psychedelic-assisted transformation acknowledges that the substance isn’t the main event–you are.
Thus, each psychedelic experience becomes a catalyst for a renewed commitment to your wellbeing through therapy, coaching, lifestyle changes, and a refocus of business values. Each action you take brings you closer to your full potential.
Besides, integration is not only about making changes–sometimes it’s about not rushing to make any at all. In a fantastic essay that examines the neglected epistemic aspects of psychedelic integration, philosopher Jules Evans highlights the importance of discerning the insights you choose to incorporate into your life:
Clearly, it’s not enough to say ‘psychedelic integration involves integrating the insights from a trip into everyday life’. We have to evaluate the new beliefs and ask — is this belief or instruction true, wise and helpful? — Jules Evans, On philosophy, theology and ‘psychedelic integration’
This is important. Like dreams, psychedelics speak in a symbolic, metaphorical language. The insights received aren’t always true or helpful. Images and emotions often need to be interpreted in non-rational ways, which may be unfamiliar. It can be tempting to make rash decisions without proper examination and grounding, or to think that the answer lies in the next psychedelic journey (or the one after that, and so on).
An experienced facilitator can help you discern. Together you do the quiet work of sifting through the material of an experience and choosing the gold that helps you move towards your potential–not just for a few weeks, but a lifetime.
Navigating the psychedelic hype bubble
Ultimately, a TV show like How to Change Your Mind is instrumental in loosening the stigma that kept psychedelics underground for so many years. But as the popularity of these substances grows, the same researchers behind their renaissance are warning against the dangerous expectations created by the current psychedelics hype bubble.
After decades of suppression due to the War on Drugs, psychedelics are undergoing a flourishing renaissance. The narrative is shifting rapidly–what used to be a niche, underground, and even tabu practice is now the subject of a variety of well-produced Netflix shows you might casually watch with your family on a Sunday night. Plus, witnessing a well-respected writer like Michael Pollan brave a full-body catharsis by taking tobacco snuff within the first five minutes of the show is undoubtedly powerful.
Watching folks like you become better parents, spouses, and enjoying life more fully is proving that psychedelics aren’t just for the rebellious few–in fact, your local policeman could be retraining as an MDMA psychotherapist.
At the same time, by omitting key information about what psychedelic-assisted therapy entails, they are also contributing to an unbalanced and naive narrative. Expectations of overnight cures can do more harm than good for those seeking psychedelics as a last resort. The lack of education around proper use, risks, and the additional support needed can have longterm repercussions for those who seek treatment, as well as the movement to make psychedelics legally accessible.
At Inlibrium, we believe it is our responsibility and mission to encourage and provide psychedelic literacy, so that you can make informed and intelligent decisions for your life, business, and the world.
And to tell the truth: that psychedelics aren’t for everyone; that transformation is a long process; and that it takes serious commitment. Psychedelic-assisted therapy isn’t merely about changing your mind–it’s about changing your physical health, the quality of your relationships, the purpose and success of your business, and ultimately the world.
We aren’t in the business of overnight transformation. We’re in this for the long haul.