Psychedelic Experience as a Rite of Passage

A rite of passage offers a format to explore healing through the psychedelic experience. Join Craig Salerno, MA, LAC, LPC as we learn.
Author: Craig Salerno, MA, LAC, LPC
By Craig Salerno, MA, LAC, LPC
November 30, 2021(Updated: April 21, 2022)

A rite of passage is a powerful part of meaning-making and ritual in cultures around the world. Psychedelic experience mirrors the journey from Preliminal, to Liminal, to Postliminal Stages. Join Craig Salerno, MA, LAC, LPC as we learn about these phases and the support they offer in healing.

A rite of passage marks the transition from one identity to another. Whether from child to adult, or student to graduate, a rite of passage experience will often involve a series of rituals or ceremonies to help catalyze a meaningful change. The rite of passage serves to bring a sense of movement from one way of being to another, and this movement is often marked with both internal and external changes to the individual undergoing the experience.

maze, rite of passage

Psychedelics as a Rite of Passage

In regards to mental health, rites of passage are often overlooked. What is available when we’d like to transition from one mental state to another? The commitment to individual therapy itself can mark a transition, so much so that a percentage of individuals will even experience significant shifts in mental health just solely through the act of choosing therapy. For most of us, however, a stronger experience is needed to catalyze change.

Psychedelic therapy should be respected as one such option for a rite of passage through mental states.

Psychedelic therapy session, rite of passage

Rite of Passage Stages

There are three stages to help contextualize a rite of passage. The Preliminal Stage is a stage of separation and movement from a current state of being. In the realm of mental health, there is often a point of tension that indicates one is ready for transition. Symptoms may be occurring and the individual likely feels stuck. In more extreme cases, internal revulsion, addiction, or severe consequences are manifesting as a result of the current mental state. Change feels imminent, if not mandatory.

The Liminal Stage is the between-state once someone has chosen to exit the familiarity of their previous state of being, but has not yet manifested into their new identity. This is a stage of groundlessness and uncertainty, often requiring the individual to exhibit fearlessness, bravery, and commitment to the new self. It is a leap of faith where one leaves what is known and moves towards the unknown.

The Postliminal Stage is the period of integration and reorientation that occurs on the other side. The individual is invited to surrender old ideals and beliefs in service of a new way of manifesting in the world. The Postliminal Stage marks the process of grounding and rooting into one’s new identity. The old self has died, a transition has occurred, and now integration takes priority.

Most individuals seek psychedelic psychotherapy because they have a strong sense that a break through is needed. In this Preliminal state, a client will benefit from preparation sessions focused on exploring the current state and examining the desire for change. Where are we coming from and where are we going? What do we expect to find on the way? What might hinder the process? How do we best prepare for the journey?

To support passage through the Liminal state, a psychedelic psychotherapy session is initiated. The medicine session is best supported with ritual and ceremony. Relics might be placed on an alter to signify the intended wishes of the journeyer. There is an element of sacredness brought to the journey, both through the preparation of the mind-state and physical setting for the experience. The psychedelic medicine serves as a carrier through this liminal state, providing guidance and direction for the transition. The medicine is treated with respect and handled delicately.

Invitation to the Journeyer

Once in the journey, there is a call to the new self. The psychedelic experience is celebrated as an opportunity to invite new parts to emerge. The journeyer may face uncertainty and fear and may be tested to bring forth courage and bravery. One might meet challenges that serve as initiation for these new parts to emerge. Whether facing demons or stepping into passages of darkness or uncertainty, the journeyer is asked to trust the process and use the guidance and support of both the medicine and psychotherapist. The changes come through the process of saying yes to that which arises, and meeting it with qualities of fearlessness, openness, and compassion.

On the other side of the journey, there is a process of integration. In this Postliminal state, we now have permission to leave old parts in the past, particularly ones that no longer serve us. We are called to make significant shifts in our day-to-day behavior to reinforce and ground the new self. The mind and spirit may experience an increase in flexibility, changing how we react and respond to old stimuli. As the old roots are removed, new roots are planted. It is a death and a rebirth, often marked by an oscillation of grief, joy, relief, and awe.

moon phases, rite of passage

By inviting the psychedelic experience to serve as a rite of passage, we may experience a transformation. Old core beliefs begin to disintegrate as a new mental state has room to arise. The journeyer is primed to bring forward openness, clarity, gratitude, and other core characteristics that will serve the formation of the new identity. The passage through uncertainty brings forth a sense of trust and confidence in the healing process. Change becomes not only possible, but inevitable.

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.

Published by:
Author: Craig Salerno, MA, LAC, LPC
Craig Salerno, MA, LAC, LPC
Craig Salerno is a Licensed Professional Counselor based in Boulder, CO.

You may also be interested in: