What Is “Set and Setting” and Why Is It Important?
Entering the brave new world of psychedelic experiences is likely to feel a little bit intimidating for the uninitiated.This learning curve goes beyond getting comfortable with the sometimes strange, ineffable feeling that comes with psychedelics. There’s also an array of important terms and concepts you should try to understand before diving in, and the concept of “set and setting” is no different.
In this article we’ll explain what set and setting is, why it’s important and highlight what Intero does to help ensure psychedelic therapy patients are in a good place during a session–physically and mentally.
What is “set and setting” in psychedelic experiences?
Simply put, the concept of set and setting refers to both your physical surroundings (or setting) and your mental state (or mindset) when undergoing a psychedelic experience.
With setting, it’s important to be in a physical space where you feel comfortable, safe and constructively stimulated during the experience. For mindset, the focus is to ensure you’re mentally prepared to take in the experience. That includes understanding the basic logistics of what you’re about to undergo, along with doing the mental preparation needed to ensure you’re in an open, accepting, and intentional frame of mind before your experience.
Why is set and setting important?
Being in a good place mentally and physically is the ideal for almost any situation in life, but it’s especially important when undergoing a psychedelic experience.
While there are often rough similarities between experiences, there’s not really a uniform template you can expect to follow when under the influence of a psychedelic substance. That’s the double-edged sword of psychedelics. In a good space with proper support, the relative unpredictability can help you to do wonderfully productive things like beginning to challenge assumptions about yourself or reframing your thinking.But a bad set and setting can lead to an experience hyper fixated on fears, paranoia or otherwise unproductive negative thinking. While negative thoughts and feelings are apart of life, it’s important to try to keep these in moderation during a psychedelic experience.
“There will always have up and down moments, and in the clinical utilizations of psychedelics it is not about having “good feelings,” but about feeling a sense of encouragement about navigating the challenges of life. This is why set is so critical in using psychedelics productively.” Kyle Ross.
Life is full of situations where you cannot fully control what happens next, but with preparation and by focusing on the things that are firmly in your control, you’re setting the stage as best you can for a positive outcome. Ensuring a healthy set and setting can help tame some of the unpredictability of a psychedelic experience.
Elements of an effective set and setting
Getting your space–and headspace–ready in advance is an important part of the process. Some of the key components of a conducive set and setting include:
1. A comfortable physical space
It should probably go without saying, but a prolonged psychedelic experience in an uncomfortable setting full of jarring or unpleasant stimuli is less likely to be a pleasant journey. While what’s “comfortable” is certainly subjective, a clearly uncomfortable setting will likely influence your mindset negatively and potentially derail what could be a therapeutic session.
Ideally, your setting should be one that puts you at ease. Dim lights to account for increased photosensitivity, a comfortable space to sit or lie down, blankets and other soothing environmental elements like aromatherapy are all great foundational pieces for a cozy and productive setting–like what. you’ll find with ISleep masks or similar eye coverings are also commonly used during therapeutic sessions, as well as headphones for enjoying curated music.
2. Familiar and trusted people
Perfecting your set and setting is largely about feeling as in control and safe as possible, and the people around you during a psychedelic experience are just as important as any physical comfort in the room. Unfamiliar people can be complete wildcards that can cause undue stress during a session, which is why it’s so important to establish a trusting relationship with the people who will be around you.
For ketamine assisted therapy sessions at Intero, you will be accompanied by both a therapist and a medical practitioner. These trained professionals will be introduced to you during the introductory assessment phase of psychedelic therapy treatment. During this time you’ll have an opportunity to ask questions, build rapport, and generally get more comfortable with the team caring for you during a session.
In the lead up and preparation for your ketamine assisted therapy session, your therapist will also help you lay the foundation for a positive, accepting and intentional mindset. This mental preparation will help you set expectations so you can enter the medicine session without reservation or worry about what’s to come.
3. Curated music
Music and psychedelic experiences go hand-in-hand. Our vast range of thoughts and feelings are not only matched, but often accentuated, by musical expression. Finding the right audio accompaniment for a psychedelic experience is a critical step, but expert guidance can help you curate options that are both stimulating and enjoyable.
“Music can be viewed as a soundtrack to your experience, and often plays the role of guiding the experience along while provoking new experiences during your journey.” Kyle Ross
Much like the psychedelic experience, a well-crafted playlist will ebb and flow, with changes that can build up into a crescendo only to dissipate moments later. This can subtly influence your feeling and thinking as well as provide cues to help you move on from a subject if you find yourself fixated.
4. Limited stressors
Ultimately, a considerable portion of the effort to ensure a good set and setting involves doing what you can to keep stress, and potential sources of stress around you, to a minimum. While it’s likely not practical to keep every possible source of stress in your life completely out of the picture during and after a session, some advanced planning can help minimize it.
Before a medicine session, it’s advisable to have a trusting and supportive friend or family member available for post-session transportation lined up. It’s also best to keep your schedule clear after a session–it’s a time for processing and gradually settling back into your daily routine, not immediately jumping back in to tackle the stresses of the work week.
Having a thought-out logistical plan solidified for the day-of is one important step for managing stressors, but we can also minimize stress by keeping our expectations for a session grounded. If you’re seeking treatment, you obviously hope to make progress and feel better, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking you must accomplish X, Y, and Z in a session to feel like it was a worthwhile effort. The weight of those expectations can sometimes provide an unproductive mental barrier during a session. Rather than a checklist of goals,Ross says he encourages those undergoing ketamine assisted therapy to focus on being open and accepting to where the experience takes them.
The next phase of mental health therapy
Psychedelics have the potential to be a powerful tool for improving your mental health. But like with any powerful instrument, it’s best used in the hands of trusted and experienced mental health providers. These providers help you to avoid potential pitfalls and ensure you’re entering a therapeutic session with a healthy and supportive set and setting.
Want to learn more about whether psychedelic assisted therapy is an appropriate option for you? Visit the Get Started page to get into contact with one of Intero’s skilled mental health providers.