Integrating Lessons from the Other Side

full moon psychedelic guidance

There is another ‘side’ to consciousness. In fact, there are limitless potentials for exploration. It doesn’t matter which way you look at it, many people are experimenting with psychedelics such as magic mushrooms, exploring the infinity that is consciousness.

There is a vast difference between a spontaneous psychedelic ‘trip’ at a party, versus an intentional, guided, properly facilitated experience. In both cases, the journey will be out of the ordinary and likely something you will always remember. However, when used in an intentional manner – often including ceremony, experienced and trusted guidance as well as important safety measures – profound insights about the Self and the world, even the universe, may emerge. In this setting, the meaning one can derive from the experience can be life-changing. Personal narratives can be quickly transformed. Significant life transitions may gain clarity. Lifestyles and behaviour may change. New ways of being in the world arise.

Integrating the lessons from journeys in altered states of consciousness is extremely helpful if one hopes for lasting and meaningful transformation. Integrative sessions allow you to weave these meanings into your life and your understanding of the world, impacting who you are, how you are and where you are going. Don’t let your journey into the unknown – your hero’s journey into the abyss and back again – become obsolete.

Read more about psychedelic guidance here.

For integrative psychedelic sessions, please click here. *Integrative sessions offered online or in person.

A Brief Rationale for an Integrative Approach

Music therapist integrative therapy Cape Town  Melissa Ellse
Integrative Therapy in Cape Town with Melissa Ellse

We are all unique 🌟

An integrative therapeutic approach draws thoughtfully from various theories, methods and techniques based on the individual’s strengths, needs and concerns.


There is no one-size-fits-all. It simply does not exist. Every single encounter we have with one another is both meaningful and unique. This is because we are human and beautifully complex.


I’ve learned this first hand in my own therapeutic processes, which is why I strive to be integrative, intuitive and informed in my approach. And my approach will probably not work for everyone, because we are all unique 🌟 and that is truly wonderful.

To find out more, click here.

Are substance-free psychedelic experiences possible?

psychedelic experience guidance cape town south africa spiritual awakening music therapy

Short answer: yes.

Longer answer: I have encountered surprisingly many people (older, younger and from all walks of life) who want to experience something of the the mind-manifesting nature of psychedelics without taking a substance. Some people are averse to the idea of substance-induced altered states of consciousness from pre-conceived ideas about “drugs”, some cannot explore any mind altering substances because of medications or psychological predispositions. Some don’t want to get entangled in something that is not legal. Some simply don’t like the idea of ingesting anything that affects their consciousness so profoundly. Some prefer to be in control. Some are fearful. These are all valid concerns.

Yet still, such individuals seek a transcendent (possibly spiritual) encounter that is different to everyday, waking life and that offers up something deeper, possibly holding more meaning, truth and authenticity than their ‘ordinary’ reality. In my experience, these individuals are usually on a voyage of self-exploration, igniting creativity, navigating a life transition and/or discovering meaning in life. My hope-filled and honest response is always yes, there certainly are ways to enter altered states of consciousness without any substances or plant medicines.

Psychedelic literally means ‘mind-manifesting’ or ‘mind-expanding’, the Greek root is psyche (mind, soul) dêlos (manifest, visible). Meditation is one avenue to such experiences, yet this usually takes a great deal of practice before potentially experiencing anything of a psychedelic nature. Still, I highly recommend a steady meditation practice for many, many reasons which I won’t address here. To get started with a meditation practice, the following apps are very useful: https://wakingup.com/ or https://www.headspace.com/.

I work with music and deep relaxation into an altered state of consciousness, eliciting imagery in the mind’s eye that allows the ‘traveller’ transcendent, even psychedelic-type experiences. However, the ‘traveller’ also retains complete personal control and is able to effortlessly emerge from the experience at any point. No substances or plant medicines are used and they do not need to be in order for the process to be effective. Guided Imagery and Music is a technique developed by Helen Bonny after working alongside the renown psychedelic researcher Stanislov Grof in LSD trials of the sixties. Bonny developed a “non-drug, psychedelic technique of music-listening for psychotherapeutic ends.”

This music-listening technique takes place in a 1.5 hour session, the traveller comfortably lying on a couch in an undisturbed, safe and comfortable setting (such as a therapist’s room). During the session, the guide will talk with the client/traveller and work toward setting an intention for the journey. A specific music program that relates directly to the traveller’s mental set and intention – a music program designed to elicit imagery, emotions, memories and even sensations – is selected by the guide. The traveller is taken through a deepening relaxation induction and reminded of their intention. When the selected music plays, the traveller journeys with the music in this deepened, relaxed and in fact altered state of consciousness.

Imagery, storylines and emotions may appear, sometimes sensations and memories, all emerging from the unconscious mind and guided by the music. During this process, the traveller is always free to ‘come out’ of the experience, should they want to. This is unlike a substance-based psychedelic experience, such as a psilocybin journey, where one is locked into the journey until the substance/medicine wears off. The guide asks questions and helps to deepen and intensify the experience. Afterward, the traveller makes marks on paper (creates a mandala), which is a creative output that helps to solidify and integrate the journey and is used for verbally processing the experience.

Guided Imagery and Music sessions are usually conducted once a week over a period of time, as personal narratives, archetypal material and images from the unconscious are developed and worked with.

If you are interested in exploring your consciousness through an alternative, experiential and substance-free way, click here. Offered in Cape Town, South Africa.

Note: BMGIM guides require extensive and rigorous training. I am currently in advanced training in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music.

Hallmarks of a Mystical Experience

William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, delineated four major hallmarks of what might be described as a mystical experience.

  1. Ineffability: the individual just can’t put words to the experience, verbal description does not – cannot – do it justice or even begin to portray the authority, significance or nature of the event.
  2. Noetic Quality: the experience appears extremely significant and important for to the individual and it carries a kind of deep authority, inner knowing and personal truth.
  3. Transiency: the mystical state is not sustained as in it’s peak, but fragments, traces, parts, a felt sense and innate knowing – these do persist and are subject to ongoing development, meaning that the insights/wisdom/truths can deepen in richness and significance over time.
  4. Passivity: it is not by the individual’s active will or direction that the mystical experience occurs. Rather, the individual will is suspended for a time and it is as if the individual is ‘moved’ by something larger than him or herself (such as a higher power).

Clearly, this describes an experience that is quite enormous, powerful and outside of ordinary life experience. This is something that is remembered, owned, held tightly and nurtured. Something that becomes precious, guiding and indeed transformative in one’s life. A deep truth, knowing, reality or beauty may be revealed that is intrinsic to something ordinary, everyday and obvious. The experience of such states can be immensely powerful and transformative in one’s personal journey as well as for collective wellbeing. Does such a state have to have anything to do with religion?

It is possible but uncommon to enter such an altered state of consciousness without intention in everyday life, perhaps but not necessarily while listening to music or being in a sacred or natural space. However, there are various ways to prime for such an experience. For example, one way is through a meditation practice, another through Guided Imagery and Music, and another is through facilitated breathwork. Another increasingly acceptable and accessible way is through the use of sacred plant medicine, such as magic mushrooms (psilocybin) and ayahuasca which through their psychedelic (that is ‘mind-manifesting’) properties may occasion such mystical experiences. While mystical states and religion can seem confusingly intermingled, they are not the same thing. There are many religious people who have never had a mystical experience of this nature, while there are stalwart atheists who have. It is a human experience, not owned by any denomination, school of thought, medical practice or form of therapy. It is true that such experiences may absorb a kind of religious quality, depending on many factors such as the individual’s life experience, the place the experience occurs and even the music playing during the event.

Have you ever experienced an altered state, a mystical state or a spiritual state that relates to James’ conception?

For more information about altered states of consciousness, psychedelic integration, guided imagery and music, mind expansion, transformation and mystical states, please contact me to find out more.

References:

Griffiths, Roland & Richards, William & Mccann, Una & Jesse, Robert. (2006). Psilocybin Can Occasion Mystical-Type Experiences Having Substantial and Sustained Personal Meaning and Spiritual Significance. Psychopharmacology. 187. 268-283. 10.1007/s00213-006-0457-5.

James, W. (1902), The varieties of religious experience. New York: Longmans, Green & Co.

Pollan, M. (2018). How to change your mind: What the new science of psychedelics teaches us about consciousness, dying, addiction, depression, and transcendence. New York: Penguin Press.

Travel Safely: Psychedelic Guidance

Psychedelic Guidance Cape Town

After a long period of enforced dormancy, some psychedelics (such as LSD, psilocybin, ibogaine and ketamine) are emerging as breakthrough treatments for a variety of serious mental health conditions. During the long relegation to ‘illegal’ and ‘dangerous’ status (which many of these substances still hold in most countries, including South Africa), individuals seeking alternative treatments or psychedelic-induced mystical experiences have had to make it on their own, without profession guidance on their mind-altering journey.

Why guidance?

“Institutionalized use of psychedelics in religions of pre-modern societies worldwide reveal the central roles of these substances in the evolution of spiritual experiences, cultures, and religions” (Winkelman, 2017). The ancient wisdom traditions that use/d various psychedelic substances, such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms), for their medicinal and transcendent properties knew that a certain factors were not just important, but necessary for safely and meaningfully entering into the induced mystical or spiritual state.

In pre-modern cultures, ritual and ceremony cannot be divorced from the use of mind-altering substances. Various culturally relevant preparations and enactments are essential for the containment and enhanced meaningfulness of the journey. Nor would one expect to make one’s own way through a psychedelic experience without the use of an experienced guide, usually a shaman or similar, who themselves has mastered the ‘two worlds’ and is capable of holding and guiding the intense and vivid journeys of others. Further traditions are often forgotten by the modern, solo traveller, such as those leading up to the experience: fasting, if necessary, other medical implications (such as medicines that may need to be discontinued before use), the environment in which the experience will occur and the individual’s mindset (known as set and setting: both of which research has found to be markedly important for the outcome of the experience), and even the time of day that the ceremony is performed. Mindset is incredibly important when entering an altered state of consciousness; fears, anxieties and doubts should be addressed long before the experience is underway. There may be certain longer term preparations than need to be made, such as developing a mindfulness practice, meditation or yoga.

A psychedelic revolution has been gaining momentum for some time now, and until certain measures are in place, modern day, city-dwelling individuals are frankly forced into unsafe, hardly optimal conditions if they seek these experiences. Because of the increasingly complex yet somewhat spiritually flattened society we live in, there is more that a ‘modern-day’ guide needs to take into consideration than a traditional, pre-modern ‘small village’ guide. This versatility and adaptiveness on the part of a modern guide is essential in order to safely and meaningfully guide different individuals with different intentions, backgrounds and world views who are seeking psychedelic-induced mystical experiences.

In truth, not everyone can, should or needs to embark on a psychonautic journey. For those who do, the services of a trusted, sober, experienced guide makes a qualitative difference. Unfortunately, there are now individuals who pose as guides with little understanding of the psychological, environmental, spiritual and biological factors at play and because psychedelic experiences are in no way regulated, an individual seeking a guide may be none-the-wiser.

Language associated with psychedelic-induced and naturally-induced mystical experiences (‘total awareness’, ‘complete ego dissolution’) is becoming commonplace, as more individuals engage in contemplative practices and exploratory psychedelic experiences. This is both encouraging, as it is indicative of people seeking more awareness and deeper, more meaningful engagement with their realities. However, one must also note the fact that a forced, complete and sudden break from one’s familiar reality holds the potential to be at minimum unpleasant or worse, outright dangerous. No person should use a psychedelic, mind-altering substance without seriously considering the implications and the possible outcomes. This is a process which can be undertaken with a guide, in order to determine if the experience is optimal for you and how it can be most meaningful, beneficial and safe.

For more information, Cape Town, click here.

How Guided Imagery and Music can transform your life

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Book a transformative session in the leafy Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa. Be kind to yourself, or offer the gift of self -compassion, creative exploration and self-discovery to a loved one. The Bonny Guided Imagery of Music (BMGIM) is a form of music and image based psychotherapy that requires extensive training in mythical, pathological, archetypal, practical and other modules over three years. The qualification has it’s roots in the psychedelic experimentation and training that took pace in the 50s and 60s in labs in the United States, effective therapeutic modalities which are being resurrected now. BMGIM (The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music), emerging out of this field and growing exponentially, borrows language such as ‘Guide’ and ‘Traveller’ and even ‘Journey’. Travellers are likely to experience altered states of consciousness, unlike a drug-induces state (far more controlled than a drug-induced state) yet still reap the benefits of accessing deeply unconscious, sometimes mythological and archetypal material. Currently, I am in advanced training in BMGIM and find that my client’s BMGIM encounters are potent and hold tranformative potential, as well as the potential for deep rest, growth and healing. This topic is certain to be discussed at the upcoming World Congress of Music Therapy in Pretoria at The University of Pretoria in 2020.
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Guided imagery is for adults and most teens, men and women. If you are unsure whether it is for you or are interested in finding out more about this transformative and creative way of working, contact me: https://melissaellse.co.za/contact/
Please note, no previous ‘creative endeavours’ are necessary, such as art or music etc. Come as you are.