Psychedelic Trip Sitter Preparation Guide

What you need to know to be a great psychedelic (LSD, shrooms) trip sitter.

👨‍🌾 Guide for preparation as a trip sitter

Recommended trip sitter preparation material

The trip sitter and the participant should prepare together to minimize the risk of fear or anxiety

“To develop rapport and trust, which we believe helps minimize the risk of fear or anxiety reactions during the hallucinogen session.”1

How long does it take to prepare?

In the Johns Hopkins studies, there are at least 8 contact hours over at least 4 meetings, usually over a 1-month period. At least one of these meetings should be done in the session room to familiarize the participant.1

What should we talk about to prepare?

Discuss meaningful aspects of the participant’s life. Typically their childhood, romantic life, current relationships with family and friends, and their philosophical and/or spiritual beliefs.1

The interaction should convey that all aspects of the person are welcome, from the petty to the noble, from embarrassments to achievements and from sorrow to joy. By the time of the hallucinogen session day, the volunteer will ideally feel completely comfortable with the monitors, reducing the likelihood of paranoia (e.g. feeling that the monitors are trying to control her or his mind, or have deceived the volunteer about the nature of the study). Second, related personal material may ‘emerge’ under the effects of the hallucinogen. That is, the volunteer may experience intense thoughts, feelings and visions related to his or her personal history or world-view. Knowing about the volunteer’s life will allow the monitors to better understand her or his session experience and help the monitors in providing interpersonal support should strong emotions arise. If it is felt that sufficient rapport and trust have not developed during these monitor meetings, then either additional contact hours should be provided, or the volunteer’s participation should be cancelled.1

Guides should also demonstrate what they will do if the participant becomes nervous. See steps one and two of “What to do if someone is tripping and becomes anxious.”

Preparing for the day

Be ready and willing to sit quietly for a long time

Assume 12-16 hours with LSD. Shrooms would be more like 6-9 hours of sitting.

Sitting quietly likely means preparing food in advance. This will depend on what kind of trip your friend wants to have, of course. If they want to have a quiet trip where they are lying down, then you might want to avoid movement and interaction during their peak. Headphones and eye shades will make this easier.

The sitter should have a decent-sized meal before the tripper begins, so that they don’t need to eat for a while.

During the session

  • Sitters should be “nondirective and supportive.”1 Think of yourself as a sitter, not a guide.

  • Sitters should encourage “participants to ‘trust, let go and be open’ to the experience.”1

  • When they need to use the bathroom, “they walk to the restroom with the staff member at their side. When in the restroom, the door remains unlocked and slightly ajar with a staff member of the same gender remaining immediately outside of the door and in intermittent (about 1 minute intervals) verbal contact with the volunteer.” “Either the restroom door needs to have no lock, or study staff should have a key readily available if needed.”1

  • Don’t leave the participant alone - one sitter should be present at all times.1 “That the person under the influence of LSD should not be left alone is universally agreed” “even when going to the toilet”2

  • Be aware that “[people on psychedelics] can sense the [therapist/sitter]’s unspoken feelings with phenomenal accuracy,” so make sure to take care of yourself and your own feelings and needs, particularly if they are not wearing an eyeshade and headphones2

  • If they try to leave the room, this “would be met with compassionate but firm direction to return to the session room.”1

  • If something unexpected happens, like a fire alarm in the building, the sitter should remain with the participant1

  • Perhaps once per hour, “ask the volunteer, ‘Would you like to describe where you find yourself?”) to ensure that the volunteer is not experiencing significant anxiety and is in need of support.”1

  • Discourage excessive communication or analysis while they are still tripping. “As a whole, we encourage our participants to ‘collect experiences’ to discuss after the drug effects have abated, and discourage attempts to analyse material or communicate excessively while the atypical states of consciousness are still occurring.”1

  • If the sitter leaves once they have fully returned to normal (~12-18 h), the sitter should let the tripper know that they can call them if they need support later that evening.1

  • Check in with them for an hour or two meeting the following day “to ensure psychological stability and provide an opportunity for the volunteer to discuss thoughts or feelings from the session.”1

Other user reported tips:

  • Just go with it! Make it clear to the tripper beforehand that if they want you to switch out of “sitter” mode and into playful/friend mode, you’re happy to at any point.
  • If the person plans to think, get writing utensils available to them in any position they are in. While peaking, it will tend to require far too much energy for the tripper to ask for a pen and paper. Seriously – if you ask them “need anything?” they’ll probably respond with “nope” because they’re trying to work out how to get the energy to tel you that they want paper and pen. At best they might be able to wave their hand around to indicate a pen. It can be hard to understate how difficult it can be for the tripper to communicate to the sitter during the peak period :)
  • Have a watch to check the time so that you don’t need to check your phone
  • Isolate the tripper from unnecessary problems like phone calls (turn off vibrate) or knocks at the door, but don’t be weird or secretive about it. Trippers are pretty good at sensing small details so if you try and hide something they might become concerned
  • Reassure the tripper before you start that you will take full care of yourself, and that you are happy to wait the entire time (say 16-18 hrs at most with LSD, likely 12-14 depending on dosage, and 6-9 hours with shrooms) with them. This is important so that they don’t worry that you’re dissatisfied or uncomfortable. Remember, they likely won’t be able to communicate and ask you “are you comfortable” so they may just think about it in their head
  • During their peak, try and sit mostly in one place without moving around much, so have water/sunscreen/a book with you
  • If it’s a place with windows where others can see in, you (the sitter) sitting outside or by the windows can be nice, a tripper would likely think “It’s nice that they are by the window so that no-one outside sees me doing crazy things inside and thinks I’m a crazy person and wants to call the police”
  • Don’t dismiss anything they say. This applies when they are coming up too. E.g. If they make a suggestion and you respond with an abrupt-seeming “no” they may well feel the negativity more than normal.
  • Don’t worry if they say strange things. Even if the things they are saying are scary to you or them, know that you’ll be in a better spot to discuss it all tomorrow.

What to do if someone is tripping on psychedelics and becomes anxious

See How to help someone having a bad trip on LSD/shrooms.

References

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