You’ve probably seen the recommendation to make a psychedelic trip intention if you’ve looked at psychedelic best practices. The term “intention” is vague, though. Is it a goal? A mantra? How do you even pick an intention, anyway?
Intentions are like signposts. They help point you in the right direction for your psychedelic trip, whether you want to understand your hopes and fears or simply remain open to the experience. However, setting your intention before a trip isn’t as simple as picking a phrase and running with it.
An effective intention can clarify what you hope to achieve during the session and inform integration afterward. Keep reading to learn what an intention is, how to set one, and what to avoid.
What is an Intention?
An intention is what you hope to learn, experience, understand, or resolve from a psychedelic trip. 1 “It’s generally a way to orient a psychedelic session,” said Brian Pilecki, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist at Portland Psychotherapy Clinic, Research, and Training Center.
Psychiatrist and researcher Stanislav Grof, M.D., Ph.D. has described psychedelics as “nonspecific catalysis and amplifiers” of the human psyche, which means psychedelics can bring deep thoughts and behaviors to the surface of your awareness. 2
When those deep-seated dynamics come to the forefront, it’s easier to process them. Intentions help clarify what you hope to bring to the surface. If psychedelics are non-specific amplifiers, why not amplify what you want to understand about yourself?
“The trip begins the moment you decide to do it,” said Pilecki. For example, if you were to decide that you wanted to take psilocybin mushrooms next month, you can already begin setting an intention, orienting your mindset toward the struggles you want to improve. “The work can begin even before the journey,” he said.
According to PJ* of Akasa Journeys, a professional trip sitting service based in Los Angeles, intentions are like dreams. “They can show us things about ourselves, but they’re not really easily decipherable. They’re symbolic,” he said. (*PJ’s name has been changed.)
Here’s an important note: An intention can function as an anchor and clarify what you need to work on, but set and setting are arguably more important for the overall experience. (*PJ’s name has been changed.)
Why? If your psychedelic experience takes place in a safe, supportive, and healing environment, it doesn’t matter whether your intention is “right” or not. “Safety is a carer,” PJ said, quoting Stephen Porges, a psychiatrist and neuroscientst who is regarded for his work with polyvagal theory. “Safety is the healing, and really creating that safety is the healing.”
Difference between an intention and goals
A goal is an aim or desired result. An intention is less specific: You don’t necessarily “achieve” an intention, but you might expand your awareness of it.
Let’s say your goal is to feel less anxious at work. Turn it into a statement: “I will feel less anxious at work.” Notice how that statement has a definite endpoint? You either are anxious at work, or you aren’t. That’s a great goal, but it isn’t an intention.
In comparison, intention setting leads to an open-ended statement that illuminates a deeper part of yourself. It’s the “why,” not the “how.” For example, your intention might be: “Help me learn how to feel more present.” With this statement, there isn’t a specific endpoint; instead, it’s a starting point for future exploration.
Intentions can inform your goals (and vice versa), but they aren’t the same thing.
Why Setting an Intention is So Important
Like your mindset and environment, an intention is a key component of a psychedelic experience. A 2021 psychedelic research survey found that people who took psychedelics in a group setting with spiritual, mind-expansive, reflective, or creative intentions were more likely to experience psychological well-being. 3
Additionally, intentions can help you understand how to use your psychedelic experience as a catalyst for change. For example, if you’re under a lot of stress, you might try setting trip intention energy toward letting go of what you cannot control.
Of course, not every psychedelic trip needs to be transformative. Some people just want to use a psychedelic drug recreationally. In that case, even a simple intention (like “I want to let go”) can help set the stage for a positive experience.
An intention “can be kind of like an anchor point for you to go back to some kind of consistent thread that can provide some degree of stability,” said Pilecki. “If the experience feels chaotic and overwhelming, it can be kind of a grounding skill to go back to your original intention [and ask] why am I doing this? What am I looking for?”
How to Set Intentions for a Psychedelic Trip
There’s no right or wrong way to set an intention. It’s a highly individualized process, so it begins with assessing what you individually want and need. To set an intention before a trip, start by asking why you’re taking psychedelics in the first place.
Are you trying to escape from reality? Do you want to heal from past trauma? Are you dealing with some mental health issues and want to understand why?
Remember, your intention can be as broad or specific as you want it to be. If you aren’t sure where to start, it’s okay to tell yourself that you will take whatever the experience offers. (In fact, that openness might even show you opportunities for future self-growth.)
If you’re aware of areas in your life that need more attention, pick one area that you want to work on during your session. The following questions are thought-starters. Respond to one (or all of them), and use your answers to inform your intention:
- Why did I decide to take this psychedelic substance?
- What do I want to understand or learn about myself?
- What’s holding me back (personally, spiritually, or professionally)?
- What do I love about myself, and what do I want to work on?
- Imagine that this psychedelic experience is successful, and you got everything you wanted. What do you hope will happen?
For example, let’s say you feel like your insecurities are holding you back from connecting with others. After journaling about this feeling, you realize that you want to learn how to trust your gut. Your intention might be: “Help me learn how to feel more confident in my choices.”
Heads up: Be open to the possibility that your experience won’t meet your intention. “Things could happen that don’t seem connected to the intention, but are very much so,” Pilecki said.
Let’s say your intention is to figure out why you’re having trouble loving your partner. During the trip, you encounter something totally unrelated, like your high school gym teacher. “It might not seem connected at first, but if you block it out or try to dismiss it, you might lose the opportunity to learn something,” he said.
Examples of Intentions
This list of examples is meant to give you the language to start thinking about your intentions. Feel free to take what you need and adapt them as needed. Remember, your intention doesn’t need to be big or grandiose. It can be a simple statement or idea that feels true to you and your motivations for taking psychedelics.
“I want to remain open to this experience.”
This phrase is a great way to remind yourself to trust the process and accept whatever direction the psychedelic journey takes you. Remember, your intention doesn’t have to involve deep emotional work or explicit positivity. Instead, it can simply be a reminder that you might not know what you need, and that’s okay.
“I want to process the trauma of my past.”
You need to be ready for this one. The odds are high that your psychedelic experience will be challenging. You might confront your inner critic, unearth old memories, and unwrap emotions that should be processed in a psychedelic integration session (ideally with a therapist experienced with psychedelic therapy).
“Help me understand what’s holding me back.”
What do you want to change in your life? This phrase can help illuminate why you feel stuck or untethered, which may open up paths for psychedelic healing.
“Help me give up my bad habit.”
Note that this phrase isn’t a goal. You’re not saying that you will stop your bad habit. For example, a psychedelic trip won’t necessarily make you quit smoking. However, the experience might show you why you do it, such as unresolved stress and anxiety.
“Show me how to be grateful for what I have.”
Do you feel like the grass is greener on the other side? Are you dealing with FOMO? This phrase focuses your attention on the present.
What to Avoid When Setting Intentions for a Trip
It’s tempting to ask for specific answers, like “Show me how to fix my relationship.” However, it’s best to focus your intention on yourself and your personal growth (not anyone else’s).
Additionally, avoid setting expectations or requirements for your trip. You can’t demand your way to enlightenment or instant cures. Instead, you have to trust the process, let the experience take you where it will, and reflect on the insights from the journey afterward.
“Psychedelics open a door to a stairway that show you more places to work,” PJ said. For example, if you feel depressed, you might explore what you’re depressed about and what obstacles are preventing you from processing your emotions.
Unless you want to invite a bad trip, avoid profoundly negative or dark intentions. As James Fadiman, Ph.D., notes in The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, be cautious with intentions to “delve deeply into suffering, darkness, or the nature of evil.” Unlike a comparatively safe trip intention, dark intentions can cause people to become stuck in “hellish parts of their own psyches.” 1
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I set intentions with microdosing?
You can set intentions with microdosing, but the effect isn’t similar to a full psychedelic dose. However, if it’s helpful to meditate on an intention during your experience, consider keeping track of your feelings and mindset day by day.
Whether you’re microdosing psychedelic mushrooms or LSD, microdosing doesn’t cause a full trip or altered consciousness. Additionally, microdosing is usually a long-term endeavor. A psychedelic trip might last a day, while some people microdose for days or weeks.
All that to say, an intention can help you seize the day with greater purpose. However, it’s less likely to shape your psychedelic experience when you’re microdosing.
What if my intention didn’t happen?
It’s okay if your specific intention didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. Instead, it could indicate that your intention wasn’t what you truly needed to work on.
Consider reflecting on what you did learn from your psychedelic use. Are there other barriers you need to overcome before meeting your original intention? Was your intention too vague, too specific, or focused on other people (rather than yourself)?
Can I use the same intention more than once?
There are no “rules” against using the same intention more than once. In fact, it might be helpful if you’re exploring an area with ongoing work, like learning how to be a more loving partner.
“If it’s coming from an authentic place where somebody feels this is an area I really want to continue to work on, or I want help with, then I don’t see any reason why you can’t repeat the intention,” Pilecki said.
However, it might be helpful to evolve your intention over time (even if it stays within the same theme). Let’s say your intention is, “Help me understand how to be more present.” During your trip, you realize that you have an unresolved internal conflict that prevents you from understanding and verbalizing your needs.
While you could repeat your intention, it might be more helpful to reflect on the source of your conflict. Your intention might become, “Help me understand how to connect with myself.”
A psychedelic trip intention might seem like a simple phrase, but it plays an influential role in your experience. Your intention doesn’t have to involve a big, emotional statement or internal quest for healing (although it totally can). Instead, your intention can simply remind you to trust the process, let go, and remain open to whatever the experience offers.
Finally, remember to take the insights from your trip and integrate them through self-reflection afterward. A clear, honest, and personal intention can help set you up for a meaningful journey.
1. Fadiman J. The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys. Illustrated. Park Street Press; 2011:352.
2. Stanislav Grof MD. LSD Psychotherapy. 3rd ed. MAPS; 2001:351.
3. St Arnaud KO, Sharpe D. Contextual Parameters Associated with Positive and Negative Mental Health in Recreational Psychedelic Users. J Psychoactive Drugs. Published online February 13, 2022:1-10. doi:10.1080/02791072.2022.2039815