Warning Signs When Selecting a Psychedelic Facilitator
This is a harm reduction resource only. Psychedelics are illegal in many countries, as is serving as an underground facilitator. Our organizations do not encourage or condone the illegal use of psychedelic drugs. These principles are intended for the use of people who have already made the decision to have a guided psychedelic experience and are seeking out the services of a psychedelic facilitator.
Neither the use of this article nor its accompanying questions guarantee a safe or positive psychedelic experience. You should use extreme caution, care, and diligence before entrusting someone with the privilege of supporting you during a psychedelic experience. Even if no warning signs are present, a facilitator may still engage in unethical, inappropriate, fraudulent, or abusive behavior. Engaging an underground facilitator is illegal, and will always carry risks.
Psychedelics’ current status as illegal substances in many countries has created a lack of accountability for unscrupulous facilitators, a term we use here to encompass anyone who provides support to another during a psychedelic experience. Although many facilitators operate at the highest levels of professional and ethical standards and may play a meaningful role in the healing process, others are outright sexual predators or engage in a range of inappropriate conduct.
Our own experiences in the psychedelic community have given us a glimpse of the pervasiveness of the problem. At Fireside Project, a non-profit that provides free, confidential emotional support to people during and after their psychedelic experiences, we have received multiple calls from people describing inappropriate conduct by their facilitator. At the Center for Optimal Living, a harm-reduction psychotherapy center which offers education and training on psychedelic therapy topics, we have also heard many reports of misconduct in the psychedelic space and feel that the lack of guidance and support around these issues requires urgent attention.
In response to this concerning trend, we’ve put together this list of ten warning signs when selecting a facilitator. To accompany these warning signs, we’ve also created a detailed list of questions to discuss with a prospective facilitator. We’ve designed the questions to be as granular and practical as possible — you can literally read them to your prospective facilitator, take notes on their responses, then discuss the notes with a trusted, knowledgeable friend.
Without further ado, here are the ten warning signs:
- Allegations have been made about their inappropriate behavior
You should always thoroughly research a prospective facilitator. This research should include internet research, publicly available court websites for current or past lawsuits, and asking trusted friends and community members.
Some facilitators may be licensed professionals such as therapists, doctors, nurses, massage therapists, and social workers. Many of these professionals must maintain active licenses, and their licensing authorities keep databases — some of which are available online — about sustained allegations of misconduct. Before deciding on a facilitator, learn their disciplinary history.
2. They refuse to promise that they will never have sexual contact with you EVER under any circumstances, whether during or after the psychedelic experience
A psychedelic facilitator should not have sexual contact with someone for whom they have facilitated a psychedelic experience. This includes sexual contact DURING a psychedelic experience as well as AFTER that experience.
A prospective facilitator should also be willing to tell you whether they have ever done so in the past. If they have, this is an abuse of power and a major ethical transgression. This is true even if the facilitator tells you that their client initiated the sexual contact.
3. They do not initiate a detailed discussion at least one day before the experience regarding physical contact during the experience
In Warning Sign #2, we addressed sexual contact, and explained that there is no circumstance when sexual contact is ever okay with a facilitator during or after a guided psychedelic experience. In this Warning Sign #3, we address non-sexual contact during a guided experience. Your facilitator should initiate a detailed discussion with you — at least one day before the experience so you have some time to reconsider your agreements— about the physical contact with which you’re comfortable during the journey.
For example, they should ask you if you’re okay with hand holding, shoulder touching, and hugging. They should promise you, in writing if you prefer, that the agreements you make on that day will be held sacrosanct during the psychedelic experience. In other words, during that experience, you are incapable of moral consent, and therefore, a request from you for physical contact not agreed upon beforehand is meaningless, and the facilitator should tactfully refuse it. Likewise, a facilitator should assure you that they will not attempt any physical contact that you did not consent to beforehand, regardless of what arises in the moment during the journey.
4. They don’t ask you about contraindicated conditions or medications
Because psychedelics have been illegal for over 50 years in many places, there is a dearth of research on who should or should not consume them. Scientists are starting learn about contraindicated medical conditions and medications, but the research is still in the early days. Your facilitator should affirmatively raise this with you, should be aware of the latest research, but also be very frank with you about the limits of their Western medical knowledge.
If you mention a particular medical condition such as a heart condition, an ethical facilitator would acknowledge the limits of their own knowledge and potentially refer you to a medical doctor for further discussion. Of course, be wary of someone who is not a medical doctor dispensing purported medical knowledge.
5. They’re not trauma-informed
Even if your facilitator isn’t a clinician, they should have done some form of trauma-informed training and have knowledge of how adverse childhood experiences might affect a person’s behaviors and beliefs. If you are a person of color and/or LGBTQIA+, your facilitator should have training and experience working with people of similar identities and supporting them in the processing of trauma that people with those identities often experience. Regardless, some people may feel more comfortable working with a facilitator who shares aspects of their identity.
6. They don’t discuss drug testing with you
There are more adulterants than ever in psychedelic substances. If you are procuring the psychedelic substance you’ll be taking, the facilitator should insist that you test it. If the facilitator is procuring the substance, they should have personally tested it and be willing to test it in front of you if asked. Dance Safe is a great resource for drug testing!
7. They don’t have an effective plan in place for medical or mental health emergencies
A variety of medical and mental-health emergencies may arise during and after a psychedelic experience. Your facilitator should understand this, have a detailed plan in place for how they respond to such emergencies and be willing to share that plan with you in detail. As you review it, think through the plan’s thoroughness and likely effectiveness, and consider discussing it with a medical professional.
Your facilitator should also be open with you about any past adverse events events that have occurred, how they resolved, what the facilitator learned from those events, and what if any changes they made to their safety plan as a result. Be wary of any refusal or reluctance to discuss these topics in a thorough and forthright way.
8. They have an inflated sense of their own role in the healing process
No one heals you but you. A facilitator may support you in your healing process, and some facilitators may share their insights with you and offer reflections or even advice. But ultimately you and only you have the power to heal yourself. It is a red flag if a facilitator does not acknowledge this humbly and wholeheartedly.
It should also be concerning if they describe themselves as a shaman and are neither Indigenous nor have they trained with an Indigenous person who has authorized them to use the term shaman. At a minimum, this is cultural appropriation. It may also suggest an inflated sense of their own role in the healing process.
9. They lack rigorous education and training, and aren’t part of a community of facilitators
There are many pathways to becoming a facilitator, and having mental health licensure or having trained with Indigenous communities are not the only routes. However, facilitating with psychedelics involves being responsible for vulnerable individuals with a spectrum of potential concerns, ranging from medical to spiritual to psychological. This requires a comprehensive understanding and preparedness to deal with a variety of reactions, traumas, and emergencies. A facilitator should have completed a rigorous training or apprenticeship that involved significant supervision and feedback from a mentor.
Even after a facilitator completes their training, they should still be part of a community of facilitators from whom they can continue to learn and who can hold them accountable if needed. In other words, use caution around a “lone wolf” facilitator who has no peers, no community, and is not part of any system, however informal, for accountability and continued learning.
10. Your intuition tells you that something is off
As you do your due diligence about your prospective facilitator, trust your intuition. If something feels off, then it probably is. Even if you can’t quite articulate what seems awry, honor that voice inside of you.
Helpful resources for people who may have been the victim of facilitator misconduct include Psychedelic Survivors and Ibogaine Collective. For ibogaine-specific warning signs, a useful resource can be found here.