This excerpt is from Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion by Michelle Janikian (Ulysses Press, 2019).
A trip sitter is a sober person you trust to keep you safe while you’re under the influence of a psychedelic, and having one along for the journey can make the difference between a meaningful and challenging trip. With a supportive presence, you’re much more likely to release your control to the mushrooms and have an insightful, perhaps even transformational experience. Trip sitters are especially handy for your first few psychedelic experiences, or if you’re planning on taking a moderate to high dose. Yet, many people prefer to have them for all their psychedelic experiences. But how do you trip sit? Are there any special requirements?
How to Prepare to Trip Sit
Trip sitting is fairly simple. The most important thing to remember is to be a calm, nonjudgmental, and kind presence for the entirety of someone else’s psychedelic journey. It’s helpful for trip sitters to have psychedelic experience of their own, especially with challenging trips, but this is not completely necessary. Having that firsthand knowledge can help sitters be more empathetic—without becoming anxious—to the weird range of possible sensations that trippers may go through, but preparing yourself by reading guides like this one can also be enough.
Trip sitting is often referred to as “holding space,” although the expression isn’t exclusive to psychedelics. “Holding space is just being with somebody and allowing them to go through whatever process they need to, without really trying to interfere,” says Jessica Grotfeldt, experienced trip sitter and founder of Luz Eterna Psilocybin Retreats. It’s really just being present for someone, listening or sitting with them in silence, without offering your opinion or any kind of advice.
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So how do you get started? First of all, it’s important to have a conversation before the psychedelic experience with the person you’re going to be sitting. You’ll want to discuss expectations, intentions, boundaries, and to set a loose plan so nothing comes as a surprise. If you’ve had a psychedelic experience before, but the person you’re sitting for has not, talk in depth about how mushrooms can make people feel, both mentally and physically. Some experienced sitters even make people “what to expect” fact sheets, but referring them to Chapter 8 of this book would also suffice! Be sure to also discuss the tripper’s intentions: Why do they want to take mushrooms? What do they hope to see, experience, or learn? Discuss any fears or worries they might have and how you plan to deal with any challenging material that might arise. For instance, if the person is afraid they might have a bad trip or be faced with some challenging thoughts or memories, tell them you’ll be there to hold their hand and be a shoulder to cry on if they need.
“Holding space is just being with somebody and allowing them to go through whatever process they need to, without really trying to interfere.”
It can also be helpful to discuss a loose plan for the trip day. Talk about the location where the experience will take place. If they’re planning on taking mushrooms at their home, ask if anyone else will be there: Are any roommates expected to return home during the trip? Any chance of anyone else showing up that you, as the sitter, may have to deal with? If they don’t have any outdoor space at their house, perhaps you want to discuss the possibility of driving to a nearby park or beach toward the end of the experience to connect with nature? It’s also important to negotiate difficult issues, like boundaries, ideally days before the experience. While physical touch can really be helpful for those going through a tough time, be sure to discuss it first and set any guidelines. The key is to make everything as transparent as possible to limit surprises on trip day and let voyagers focus on their experience without lingering feelings of uncertainty.
Grotfeldt says it’s also crucial to ask if the person you’re going to sit with is on any medications or has any chronic medical conditions. Health considerations like diabetes or history of low blood pressure shouldn’t prevent you from sitting for someone, but should definitely be discussed and planned for. For example, having medications or some sugary drinks around, like Gatorade, should be planned ahead, in the case of sitting a diabetic. It’s also important to know if they have any history of depression or anxiety, and if they’re on any medications to treat it. For example, SSRI antidepressants will lessen the effects of psilocybin, even if the tripper skipped that day’s dose. While depression and anxiety aren’t reasons to cancel sitting a trip, if the person you’ll be sitting for explains a history of violent or dissociative behavior, or a more serious personality disorder diagnosis, then you’re in more sensitive territory. In these cases, it’s best you have a lot of sitting experience or perhaps refer them to a professional guide. Other conditions that are considered dangerous to combine with psychedelics include history of seizures and cardiovascular disease. More information on who should take extra precaution with psychedelics and other possible drug interactions can be found in Chapter 14.
One other way to prepare before the psychedelic experience begins is to have a “backup sitter,” recommends Grotfeldt. While it’s not necessary to have two sitters for one tripping person, telling someone you trust what you’ll be doing can be crucial if an emergency situation arises. While sitters have to be prepared to call emergency services as a last resort if something seriously dangerous goes down, sometimes all you need is a backup sitter to support you and help you think of solutions from another perspective. Another situation where a backup sitter could come in handy is if you’re sitting for someone who is physically much larger than you, and they begin to act violently (breaking things, screaming). In this case, you’ll want to have a backup sitter on call who is large enough to help the voyager work through these feelings. Basically, having someone to call or text when things get questionable can help you to make the safest choices for those you’re sitting.
Lastly, it’s important to set aside enough time to trip sit. Medium to high doses of psilocybin generally last at least six hours, with the experience coming on and off in waves toward the end. Therefore, be sure to be available for closer to eight to nine hours to fully support the person you’re sitting for. You’ll be able to tell when their experience is winding down, but they’ll likely still be in a vulnerable and sensitive place. So stick around, help them cook or order some takeout if they’re getting their appetite back, and continue to hold space for them. Let them talk it out if they want, or help them settle into a nice nature documentary or other entertainment of their choice. If they’re a really close friend, consider spending the night with them or at the very least make yourself available to talk on the phone or via text that night and the next day.
Trip Day: Trip-Sitting Essentials
On trip day your main job is to stay calm, supportive, and present. Trippers are extra sensitive to the environment, including your mood, so remaining centered and smiling at them when you make eye contact helps. Don’t act bored, annoyed, or upset (even if you are) because it can grossly affect their experience for the worse. Many experienced sitters recommend bringing a book so you have something peaceful to do and you’re not repeatedly checking your phone. In fact, some sitters recommend wearing a watch so you don’t need to take out your phone to check the time. While you are there for the person going on a psychedelic journey, don’t completely ignore your own needs. Eat when you’re hungry and go to the bathroom when you have to because, again, the tripper will be able to sense when you’re uncomfortable and that could cause them to feel uncomfortable.
It’s also important to remember that you are not there to guide their trip in any particular direction, but rather to be a nondirective source of support. “Number one, the mushrooms are the teachers,” says experienced sitter and founder of The Buena Vida Psilocybin Retreats Amanda Schendel. “We are not there to counsel or guide someone in a specific direction or to ask them pointed questions. We’re just there to keep everyone physically and emotionally safe and to be a support if someone needs it. So I train people to speak as little as possible and to never insert themselves into someone’s experience.” If someone wants to talk, listen, smile, nod, put your arm around them, offer them a tissue if they’re tearing up, but don’t give advice or anything too opinionated.
“We are not there to counsel or guide someone in a specific direction or to ask them pointed questions. We’re just there to keep everyone physically and emotionally safe and to be a support if someone needs it.”
It’s also crucial never to be condescending or patronizing in any way. Don’t talk to trippers like they’re children or like they’re stupid because that can really send people into a negative place. If they’re your close friends, talk to them as you normally would, perhaps more sparingly. It’s also common for trippers to want to be left alone, and that’s totally fine. It absolutely doesn’t mean they don’t need you anymore and you can leave, because having someone around that’s sober, who they can trust, will still be a pillar of support. Instead, discuss this the day before. Tell them it’s common to want some alone time, but if that happens, suggest they go into another room and leave the door ajar so you can periodically check in on them without disturbing them.
However, sometimes when trippers are alone, they can go through some of their most difficult inner material. When you poke your head in to check on them, you’ll be able to tell if they need some support by their breathing. If their chest is going up and down rapidly, they’re probably struggling, and it’s a good time to sit next to them and just hold their hand. You might not even have to say anything, but often a supportive, gentle touch can go a long way. People may not communicate their needs because they’re too far gone, so you can ask, or just offer them things like a thick blanket, a glass of water, some tissues, or just a hand to hold.
People may also need help with things like going to the bathroom or getting up to walk around because their bodies feel so differently. Everyday things can be a struggle, like changing the music or putting on a movie or video games, so if they express interest in one of these activities, offer to set it up for them. Even adjusting the volume of music or the brightness of lights can be difficult when on mushrooms, so that’s your job as trip sitter.
How to Help Someone Through a Challenging Trip
Likely, the most difficult thing you’ll encounter as a sitter is helping someone through an emotionally challenging experience. As we’ve been discussing in this book, mushrooms can bring up distressing emotions, past traumas, unresolved guilt, or grief among a host of other tough and even otherworldly experiences. But resisting these inner struggles only makes a challenging trip more difficult. That’s why The Manual of Psychedelic Support recommends that sitters talk trippers through these challenging experiences rather than talking them down or out of them. In fact, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) teaches sitters to encourage trippers to “explore all emotions, even difficult ones.” Once trippers relax and let all of their emotions flow, they’ll stop resisting the experience and likely find incredible insights, deep inner peace, or even transcendence on the other side.
The best thing a sitter can do for a tripper going through a difficult experience is to just be there for them. Sit down next to them and only talk if they want to. Again, physical touch might help, so hold their hand or touch their shoulder if you’ve already discussed beforehand this is something they’re comfortable with. Offer them a blanket to snuggle under, some tissues, or a glass of water. Make eye contact, smile, and act empathetic and understanding, not worried or concerned (even if you actually are). Grotfeldt tells me the best thing you can do for someone having a challenging trip or even a panic attack is to help them connect with their breath. Take deep breaths with them and if they’re able, try doing some simple breathwork. Grotfeldt recommends pranayama breathing, which is inhaling for three seconds, holding for six, and exhaling for nine. Count for them gently and hold their hand if they want. Grotfeldt also tells me it can help to have trippers take their shoes off and touch their feet to the ground while breathing deeply. If they’re really struggling with something and don’t want to sit with it, suggest taking a little walk, even if it’s around the room. “People just need to move their energy in a way that helps distract them,” Grotfeldt says. “If they’re unable to walk, breathing with their feet on the ground and reminding them that you’re there and that you’re taking care of their physical body helps.”
Make eye contact, smile, and act empathetic and understanding, not worried or concerned (even if you actually are).
Sometimes a challenging experience looks more like a person being very confused. People can forget who and where they are or think they’re dying or going crazy. Trippers can also get paranoid and might project this onto their sitter, thinking you’re talking about them, conspiring against them, or that you even tried to poison them. The key is to remain calm and kind in all situations. If people are very confused, using their first name when you talk to them can really help. If they think they’re dying or going crazy, remind them that they took magic mushrooms and that the effects will begin to wear off soon, and of course, that you’re there for them no matter what.
Sometimes people on mushrooms get stuck in negative thought loops that are hard to get themselves out of or resolve. So if you notice this as a sitter, you can try to introduce some distractions like beautiful, colorful, or sparkly things to look at together. You could try to watch a nature documentary together, go for a little walk, or get up and move the body by shaking or dancing. The classic recommendations are to change the scenery, music, or lighting; these alterations can help change a tripper’s mood quickly. Do an activity together if they want, like making art or banging on a percussive instrument. The best thing you can do is to remain calm, centered, chill, and friendly. Don’t get stressed or anxious or try to fix everything. Sometimes people just need to cry it out for a while, and it’s a very healing and cathartic experience. Don’t make a big deal of anything, even if they spill something on you, throw up, or wet their pants. Just remind them it’s all part of the experience and help them clean up while remaining positive.
Be supportive yet nondirective.
Be soft-spoken and gentle.
Smile and make eye contact.
Be understanding and kind.
Be willing to talk but more willing to listen.
Be willing to change and turn music on or off (and always respect their choices).
Help with movies, video games, lights, and handle other electronics and technical tasks.
Get snacks and drinks. Order pizza or help make food toward the end.
Offer tissues, blankets, and distractions if you feel they’re needed.
Be willing to call emergency services as a last resort.
Be condescending, aggressive, annoyed, or stressed.
Bring up negative, tough memories or emotional topics.
Dismiss anything they say as worthless, stupid, immature, or “just the drugs talking.”
Ask them if they’re feeling it, how they feel, or probe them about anything too often.
Make a big deal if they have an accident, spill or break something, cry, talk too loudly, have a hard time, throw up, etc.
Have other drugs on you in public.
Ignore them or leave before the trip concludes.
You can order Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion here or find it at a local bookstore.
Michelle Janikian is a journalist focused on drug policy, trends and education. She’s the author of “Your Psilocybin Mushroom Companion: An Informative, Easy-to-Use Guide to Understanding Magic Mushrooms”, writes a column for Playboy about psychedelics and cannabis and has also contributed to High Times, Herb, Rolling Stone and Teen Vogue.