The therapeutic modality known as IFS and the therapeutic use of psychedelics offer ways to reconnect with our authentic self. Many of us have been so distracted by our protective behaviors that we’ve disconnected from our true nature, what’s known in IFS as Self Energy. For me, Self Energy is a synonym for love.
Love is relational. It can happen within your psyche, as you shine the light of your Higher Self on the well-guarded, tender places within and heal them. And it happens between people, such as when a guide creates a grounded space for you during your psychedelic journey, amplifying your own connection with your inner healer.
IFS provides a tool kit for handling what you find when you journey into interior space (whether sober or under the influence of plant medicine). No matter how dark the material you encounter may be, the healing comes from viewing it with love and compassion. While psychedelics can speed up this process, sometimes I wonder if they are necessary, because doing IFS on its own feels psychedelic to me. It’s that powerful.
Taking psychedelics without sufficient preparation puts you at risk of bypassing your protective system and diving into suppressed material before you’re ready for it. This is what’s known as a bad trip, and it can leave you reeling. This unnecessary suffering won’t happen if we spend time preparing.
When do you feel connected to the tapestry of the universe? When are you immersed in a sense of peace, calm and well-being, like everything is going to be okay after all? There are many ways to describe this spiritual experience: prana, chi, atman, divine spark, universal love… One of my first encounters with this kind of ecstatic divinity came when I encountered the monarch butterfly migration in Mexico. But I’ve also felt it while watching clouds or appreciating the sunset or meandering in a forest. I also feel this love and compassion every time I do an IFS session with a client.
In IFS, your Higher Self is who you are when your protective and wounded parts are not activated. Self not something you have to work to obtain. It’s always already there. In a process of subtraction, we lovingly spend time with everything that’s getting in the way, witnessing them and helping them to lay down their burdens so they can take on a different role in your system.
This process is the opposite of positive thinking or a spiritual bypass. Trust me, I tried that, it did not work. We are not trying to gloss over and deny our difficulties and their impact on us. Instead, we learn how to summon forth our Self Energy, trusting that whatever we’re carrying, Self can handle it. The love we have within us allows us to transform even the most difficult material.
For many of us, accessing this vibration happens more easily when we take psychedelics. While some of my clients have no interest in working with them, for many, they make an excellent partner in the work of healing.
I still have nervous parts come up before every experience. You never know what’s going to happen. For a long time, my journeys forced me to revisit difficult biographical material, seeing painful scenes from my past: every break up ever, every moment of sexual violence ickiness, every time I behaved selfishly and badly. It was grueling. And incredibly healing, as I revisited these scenarios with immense compassion for all of the players, releasing them, forgiving them, wishing them well. Most importantly, I gained a sense of compassion and forgiveness for myself.
Finally, the medicine started blessing me with lighter, more ecstatic but equally profound experiences—ones where I felt myself as a specific incarnation of an immortal soul that existed before and will continue to exist. I emerged feeling both less afraid of death and more committed to taking care of the vessel I’ve been gifted for this go-round.
When you take psychedelics, you become extremely sensitive to the energy of the room. It is extremely important to choose your guide carefully. I know how bad it can feel when the person holding space for you isn’t doing their own work. It can end up feeling like another trauma layered on top of the trauma you’re trying to heal. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. The most important thing in choosing a guide is finding someone who’s working with their own system, someone who’s aware of their own intrapsychic energies, someone who can embody compassionate curiosity while you go in and do your work.
I pledge to do all that I can to be as present with you as possible during your journey. And if or when there is a moment when our past injuries and sensitivities get into a conversation, I promise to own my part and do my best to make a repair with you. Recovery is a lifelong, full-time process, a path I’m committed to walking. I’m honored to travel part of the way with you.
After an experience, we work with the material that came up for you. How do you make meaning of what arose? How do you continue the process of releasing old stuff, old resentments, old patterns? Do you burn them up, bury them deep in the earth, wash them away with water or release them into light? However your parts and guides tell you to do it, it’s important to let them go. They are not yours anymore. A lot of this pain never yours to begin with. We are all born with legacy burdens, passed on by your family, pushed onto you by society. Racism. Patriarchy. Homophobia. We take what isn’t yours and pass it back to your ancestors to heal. Then we process and release what is yours. When we clear out this junk, all that’s left is light and love. It’s where you came from, and to whence you will return. In the meantime, you are free.