The Power of Surrender: Preparing for a Supported Psychedelic Experience

Learn how to surrender in psychedelic experiences, enhance them, and prepare for supported psychedelic therapy with this comprehensive guide.
Surrender in Psychedelic Experiences. Two people standing and talking in what appears to be a therapy consultation room. There are graphics of wavy soft purple lines in the background.
Author: Peter Addy, PhD
By Peter Addy, PhD
June 10, 2024

Structured supported psychedelic experiences—including Oregon Psilocybin Services or ketamine-assisted psychotherapy—are increasingly available! You’re not alone if you’re feeling excited, curious, or apprehensive about what to expect. As these new experiences become available, many people are eager to understand how to approach them best. So where does surrender in psychedelic experiences come into play?

“[Surrender] may assist in both individual and social functioning [by facilitating insights and] social vision and commitment [previously obscured].”

— Bryan C. Duckham, PhD, MSW, LCSW, & Meagan J. Greenfield, MSW (2007)

When I teach people to prepare for psychedelic journeys, one key factor is the practice of surrender. While it may sound paradoxical, learning to let go and allow whatever arises can enhance one’s sense of control and empowerment. By surrendering to the present moment without rigid expectations, you open yourself to profound insights and healing.

Whether you’re feeling excited or hesitant about upcoming psychedelic sessions, understanding the power of surrender can help you approach them with greater confidence and readiness. 

What is Surrender?

To understand the role of surrender in psychedelic experiences, we first need to clarify what surrender really means. It’s a concept that’s often misunderstood or confused with submission.

Submission implies defeat—the forced relinquishing of your power to an external authority. Surrender, on the other hand, is an active process of consciously letting go of rigid control from within. Genuine surrender isn’t about giving up or becoming passive. It’s about allowing whatever arises in your present experience without resistance or judgment. It means opening yourself with vulnerability, free of preconceived expectations about how things “should” be.

Many deeply root their practice of surrender in spiritual and religious traditions. Duckham and Greenfield (2007) note that “surrender is a general spiritual practice conceptualized and utilized by many major and minor religious and spiritual systems.” Across faiths, people view surrender as a means to access more profound insights, healing, and connection with the divine by relinquishing their limited individual will.

However, while surrender has profound spiritual roots, practicing surrender in psychedelic experiences does not require adherence to any particular religious beliefs. The core principle is cultivating openness and gentleness toward your present moment reality, whatever that entails. Secular or spiritual, anyone can strengthen this crucial skill.

Surrendering to the Psychedelic Journey

During a psychedelic journey, you may encounter challenging thoughts, emotions, or sensory experiences that feel overwhelming if you try to control or avoid them. Surrendering means having the courage to fully experience whatever comes up, embracing it with gentle acceptance rather than inner struggle.

“[D]uring my psilocybin journey, I finally let go of that tight control. I allowed the feelings to just be there without judgment. In that surrender, the emotional charge just…dissolved. What was left was understanding, compassion, and freedom.” 

— Anonymous (Client of Peter Addy, PhD, LPC, LMHC)

Doing so takes practice, but the rewards can be profound. When you stop fighting against your immediate reality, you cease feeding energy into the resistance patterns that cause suffering. As you surrender individual threads of control, a deeper presence emerges—a felt sense of connection to something greater than your small, separate self.

New insights and perspectives can naturally arise from this more expansive state of awareness. Instead of being trapped in your usual mental narratives, you become more open, flexible, and responsive to the unfolding moment.

Crucially, surrender is not done to you—it is a skill and quality of consciousness you develop through steady commitment. Anyone can learn to surrender more fully, regardless of life circumstances. As you’ll see, this humble practice can be incredibly empowering.

The Benefits of Surrender in Psychedelic Experiences

Now that we’ve clarified what surrender means let’s consider why surrender in psychedelic experiences is so valuable. Numerous studies and firsthand accounts highlight how surrendering to the present experience can amplify the therapeutic benefits.

One core advantage is that surrender helps you work with, rather than against, the effects of psychedelics. The medicine tends to dissolve one’s usual cognitive controls and defenses. Often, fighting this process leads to difficult looping thoughts and emotionally fraught resistance.

However, when you surrender into the expansive state psychedelics can catalyze and allow surrender in psychedelic experiences, you become more open, receptive, and able to navigate the experience with greater gentleness. This openness allows the insights and emotional releases to unfold more organically.

Research on the Benefits of Surrender

Psychologists Kenneth Pargament and Brenda Cole highlighted the “paradoxical power of surrender” in their research on spiritual coping methods. They found that among hospital patients dealing with serious illnesses, those who embraced a stance of surrender exhibited lower depression, better quality of life, and more stress-related growth compared to control groups.

Additional research by Wong-McDonald and Gorsuch (2000) found that a surrendering mindset correlated positively with intrinsic religiousness, spiritual well-being, and a sense of control centered on a higher power rather than chance or powerful others. Surrendering one’s desires to a benevolent force beyond the individual self may foster a deeper state of inner peace and meaning.

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While their work looked at spiritual frameworks, the principle extends to psychedelics. By letting go of your alienated small self’s controlling tendencies, you open to a broader perspective that can be immensely healing.

Examples of the Benefits of Surrender

In my psychotherapy practice, where I focus on psychedelic harm reduction and integration, one of my clients described how surrender in psychedelic experiences helped transform their long-standing trauma:

“For years, I’d revisited my painful memories again and again, trying to ‘figure them out’ analytically. But during my psilocybin journey, I finally let go of that tight control. I allowed the feelings to just be there without judgment. In that surrender, the emotional charge just…dissolved. What was left was understanding, compassion, and freedom.”  

Another client noted how surrendering allowed their consciousness to merge with the interconnected web of all life:

“I temporarily lost all sense of being a separate self. I felt myself as the trees, the rocks, the clouds – just pure present awareness beholding itself. There was no ‘me’ to control or resist. Everything was perfect unity and interdependence.”

Experiences like these are powerful reminders that our small, hyper-individualistic self is not the entirety of who we are. By surrendering the limited ego, we can open to perspectives that can catalyze profound healing and restorative interdependence. Duckham and Greenfield (2007) suggest that surrender “may assist in both individual and social functioning” by facilitating insights and “social vision and commitment” previously obscured.

Of course, surrender doesn’t mean you simply surrender all intention or sacred purpose for your psychedelic journey. The practice is about striking a delicate balance of engaged presence and intuition so the experience can guide you toward more profound revelations.

Cultivating Surrender: Practical Tips and Strategies

While the concept of surrender can seem paradoxical at first, it’s a skill that can be developed and strengthened through practice. An important first step is developing self-awareness around your tendencies toward surrender or struggle on the “surrender-struggle continuum” proposed by Eisele (2020).

Some people tend to resign into inertia quite easily, surrendering control even when positive change is possible through engaged effort. Others constantly strive and struggle, gripping tightly to control even when letting go would serve them better.

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Most of us cycle between these two modes in different areas of our lives. Learning about your unique pattern can help you work toward greater balance and fluid wisdom.

Once you’ve reflected on your control tendencies, here are some practical tips for cultivating a more surrendered presence:

Start Small

You don’t have to try surrendering to enormous life challenges immediately. Begin by bringing gentle acceptance to small, routine experiences. For example, the next time you’re stuck in traffic or standing in a long line, consciously relax your inner resistance. Instead of mentally fighting the situation, breathe and allow yourself to feel whatever arises with compassionate awareness.

When you catch yourself judging or criticizing your experience, simply notice those thoughts and let them go. Come back to this present moment over and over. What might happen if you surrender a few moments of constant striving for optimization, wealth accumulation, and control?

Mindfulness and Breathwork

Practices like meditation, mindful movement, or breathwork can be invaluable for strengthening your surrender muscles. Sit for a few minutes each day and purposely let go of controlling your breath. Allow it to flow naturally with accepting awareness. When your mind wanders (and it will!), gently come back to the breath.

This practice helps build your capacity to recognize when you’ve contracted into control and relax back into allowing whatever arises. It’s a lifelong practice that grows your window of tolerance for uncertainty.

Work with Imagery and Metaphor

Our language is full of metaphors about surrender (“letting go,” “being carried by the river,” “melting iron-grip control”). Get creative with choosing one that resonates with you, then explore it wholeheartedly. For example, you could envision handing over a heavy backpack of burdens you’ve been carrying and breathing into the spaciousness of being unburdened, even if just for a few moments.

Journal About Resistance

If you struggle to surrender around a particular issue or part of your life, get it all out on paper first. Describe in vivid detail all the thoughts, emotions, judgments, fears, and reasoning your mind goes through. Then read it back and ask yourself: Is it possible to hold this with more openness, more gentleness? You don’t have to let it go immediately, but can you soften around the edges of your control just a little?

Throughout it all, be gentle and have compassion for yourself. Our culture reinforces “struggle” more than “surrender,” so it can feel immensely vulnerable and counterintuitive. Remember, you’re retraining patterns built over a lifetime. One breath, one moment at a time, nurture the values of simply being over obsessive productivity, acceptance over greed, and harmonious interdependence over egocentric ownership.

The more you practice surrendering to what is here right now, the more available you’ll be for whatever depth of expansion and transformation your psychedelic journeys have in store.

The Role of Facilitators in Supporting Surrender

“[True surrender] does not necessarily require another person’s presence, except possibly as a guide. One may surrender “in the presence of another,” not “to another” as in the case of submission.”

— Emmanuel Ghent, MD (1990)

While cultivating surrender is ultimately an inside job, the guidance of experienced facilitators can be invaluable. OPS facilitators undergo special training to help create a safe, supportive container for unfolding surrender in psychedelic experiences.  

Seek out facilitators who create a space of egalitarian wisdom-sharing free from power hierarchies. Look for non-authoritarian models of mutual trust and caring connection. Avoid facilitators who value competition, exploitation, and deference to social capital.

As psychoanalyst Emmanuel Ghent highlighted, true surrender “does not necessarily require another person’s presence, except possibly as a guide. One may surrender “in the presence of another,” not “to another” as in the case of submission.” An experienced psilocybin facilitator can serve this role, holding a caring space without judgment as you move through whatever arises.

The facilitator-client relationship is key. You’re encouraged to be open, honest, and vulnerable about your fears, resistances, and intentions. Your facilitator can then provide personalized techniques for gently relaxing into surrender when needed.

You’re never forced or coerced to let go of control. Instead, the facilitator creates an atmosphere of warmth and trust so you can find your own organic letting go at your own pace. They compassionately remind you that whatever you’re experiencing is temporary and can be opened to with courageous presence.

Throughout your psychedelic journey, you’ll be encouraged to communicate freely and receive continuous interpersonal support. This caring partnership provides vital reassurance so you can feel safe enough to dance with the uncertainties and simply be with what unfolds.

Ultimately, skilled facilitation creates an autonomous container for deepening your self-exploration and surrender practice. You’ll never be alone on this journey.

Keep Expanding Your Understanding

Surrender may seem counterintuitive, but it’s a profound skill that can open you to the deepest revelations psychedelics have to offer. By letting go of your limited self’s controlling tendencies, you create spaciousness for insights, emotional healing, and transcendent interconnection to emerge naturally.

While challenging at first, you can cultivate surrender through steady practice and the nurturing presence of experienced facilitators. As you build confidence in gently allowing and accepting whatever arises, your psychedelic journeys can unfold with more extraordinary grace and wisdom.


Cole, B. S., & Pargament, K. I. (1999). Spiritual surrender: A paradoxical path to control. In W. R. Miller (Ed.), Integrating spirituality into treatment: Resources for practitioners. American Psychological Association, 179-198. 

Duckham, B. C., & Greenfield, M. J. (2009). Surrender and contemporary social work theory. Critical Social Work, 10(1). 

Eisele, P. (2020). Languishing but not giving up: Suggesting a surrender-struggle continuum as the missing piece of the mental health puzzle. Journal of Mental Health & Clinical Psychology, 4(3). 

Ghent, E. (1990). Masochism, Submission, Surrender: Masochism as a Perversion of Surrender. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 26(1), 108–136.

Wong-McDonald, A., & Gorsuch, R. L. (2000). Surrender to God: An additional coping style?. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 28(2), 149-161. 

The content provided is for educational and informational purposes only and should be a substitute for medical or other professional advice. Articles are based on personal opinions, research, and experiences of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Psychedelic Support.

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Author: Peter Addy, PhD
Peter Addy, PhD
I help intentional psychedelic explorers prepare mindfully for transformative psychedelic sessions by providing tools for focused preparation. I've spent over a decade conducting psychedelic research, helping therapy clients, and training new therapists and psilocybin facilitators.

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