Tips For Difficult or Challenging Psychedelic Trips

Challenging psychedelic trips aren’t unusual. The nature of a psychedelic state often includes a variety of sensations, dynamics, and expressions. These can sometimes disorient, confuse, and frighten people.

Many of my clients want to explore psychedelics because they’re looking for a change in perception or a way to expand their awareness before death. And yet this altered consciousness can occasionally contribute to a difficult experience.

Challenging the beliefs and assumptions that shape our views of ourselves and the universe isn’t always easy.

The Zendo Project

I received a scholarship to study with The Zendo Project. This highly-respected harm reduction organization provides support and assistance to individuals experiencing difficult psychedelic experiences at festivals, events, and other settings where psychedelics are used.


The Zendo Project was founded in 2012 by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a non-profit research organization dedicated to studying the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and marijuana.

The project was created in response to the increasing popularity of psychedelic substances at festivals and events, where individuals sometimes found themselves in challenging or overwhelming situations without adequate support.

The mission of The Zendo Project is to provide a supportive and compassionate environment to minimize potential harm. They do this by providing a safe and comfortable space where “guests” receive support and guidance.

Psychedelic Peer Support

Trained volunteers, often referred to as “sitters,” offer non-judgmental support, empathy, and reassurance to individuals in need. They use active listening, deep breathing exercises, and grounding techniques to help guests navigate their experiences.

As a death doula, I studied with Zendo to be better prepared when clients choose psychedelics to reduce end-of-life fears and anxieties. The Zendo Project trains professionals like me to promote safer psychedelic use and support practices.

What I Learned From Zendo Project Training

I’m so grateful for this educational opportunity to study with an ethical and pioneering organization. Although I’m experienced in the realm of trip-sitting and death work, I learned many new things and am excited to share some of them with you.

Cultural Attunement

I teach courses about the importance of cultural competency when working as a death doula. But what is cultural attunement? It goes further than competency and involves acknowledging the pain of oppression, acting with reverence and humility, and maintaining a position of “not knowing.” 

As a student of both Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, I incorporate “not knowing” in my everyday practice. Zendo reminded me that cultural attunement is also part of this important work.

Peer Support

I utilize peer support with my clients who prefer a type of counseling that doesn’t involve power differentials. Using my own experiences to support or advise, I provide a space where my clients feel accepted and understood.

Zendo reminded peer support counselors like me to promote self-care and wellness. Our ethics must include sobriety while trip-sitting, and creating a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible (DEIA) space. We also learned how to gather permission and maintain confidentiality during the planning phase.

Karens Are Everywhere

Even in the world of psychedelics, some people reject DEIA practices and get angry. Aaron Rodgers taught us that no space is completely free from white fragility. In my cohort, a few students reacted poorly and lashed out on social media about Zendo’s “woke” trip-sitting curriculum.

That’s unfortunate.

As plant medicine becomes more available, we must deal with this reality. But some individuals simply aren’t cut out for the non-judgmental, “it’s not about me” world of trip-sitting and death doula work. As an educator, I can’t help but think about how I’ll handle (and what I’ll say to) similar students.

Illusion of Separateness

A great reminder from the creators of the Zendo Project training program: the illusion of separation is the mistaken belief that we are separate beings, cut off from others and the world around us.

Trip Sitting and Death Work

Supporting someone during the end of life is a lot like trip-sitting. For me, being better at one means I’m better at both.

‘Tending to Safety’, ‘Sitting Not Guiding’, and ‘Presence Supports Safety.’ Doulas and trip-sitters do these things every day. We let the medicine or unfolding circumstances guide our clients as we support them without an agenda.

Doulas and sitters sit comfortably in silence and understand that difficult isn’t necessarily bad. A challenging experience can still be meaningful and catalyze growth and change.

We understand that the more we try to fix, the more we miss.

Root to Rise

“Root to rise” is a fundamental cue in yoga class that means ground down to lift up. The Zendo Project training reminded me that before we can fully extend or expand, we must be firmly rooted. Only when we’re grounded can we grow.

Otherwise, we will find ourselves wobbling or falling over.

Consensus Reality

Consensus reality refers to the generally agreed-upon version of reality within a community or society, shaped by shared experiences and understandings.

The Value of Curiosity

Leaning in. Asking questions. Reflecting not only words but also emotions. Staying curious and open-minded. As one instructor said, “Catch the vibe and be chill.”

Or “read the room.”

It’s how we turn compost into nutrient-rich soil. Or difficult experiences into transcendent ones.

There Are Bad Trips

To deny this is to deny someone’s reality. We don’t argue with dying people and we don’t argue with those experiencing a challenging psychedelic journey. We listen.


This amazing organization works globally for the health, safety, and fundamental rights of indigenous communities. I am grateful to Zendo for introducing me to this group. Their work toward evolving society’s relationship with plant medicines and traditional knowledge-holding communities will create systemic change.

They get us closer to a unified humanity and culture of life.

Supporting Clients Through Challenging Trips

Zendo’s training, along with my experience as a trip-sitter and death doula, has helped to prepare me for sitting with clients during challenging psychedelic trips. I do this in several ways.

  • Calmness helps ground my clients and prevent the situation from escalating. I speak slowly and softly and maintain a reassuring tone.
  • I ensure the surroundings are comfortable, quiet, and free from potential triggers. That means I dim the lights, play soothing music if appropriate, and remove any sources of stress or potential danger.
  • As a trip sitter and doula, I remind my clients that they are safe and that what they experience is temporary. Sometimes they need a gentle reminder that the effects will wear off eventually.
  • I encourage slow, deep breathing to help my clients relax and regain control. Sometimes I breathe with them to provide a calming rhythm.
  • Engaging my clients in a different activity or redirecting their focus can help alleviate distress. We go for a walk, listen to music, or engage in other calming activities.
  • I refrain from judging or criticizing their experience, even if it seems irrational or unusual. Instead, I validate their feelings and experiences without dismissing them.
  • My job is to be present physically and emotionally. That means listening actively to what my clients say and responding with empathy and understanding.
  • Unless necessary for their safety, I avoid restraining my clients physically. That could increase their anxiety and make the situation worse.
  • After the experience, I check in with clients to see how they are doing. I offer support and encouragement as needed and am willing to listen if they want to talk about their experience further.

Remember that every client and every trip is unique, so the most important thing is to be present, compassionate, and supportive throughout the process. It’s also important to properly plan for the trip ahead of time.

If you’d like support during psychedelic journeys or end-of-life, please get in touch with me today.

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