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Set and Setting - What Why How

Set and setting are terms we hear regularly within the context of psychedelics. Indeed they are critical factors that contribute to how the experience unfolds and what the ultimate result of the experience is. There is much that goes into shaping both the set and setting.

"Set" refers to the mindset, or mental and emotional state of the person that will undergo the psychedelic experience. This encompasses the person’s mindset leading up to the experience, during the experience, and even after the experience. Included under the “set” side of the equation is the person's belief system surrounding, and understanding of the substance and process they will undergo. What pre-existing biases, fears, intentions and expectations do they hold? Additionally, what are the things they have recently experienced in their personal life, both good and bad? What past traumas have shaped their personality? Are they struggling with anything at work or in their personal lives?

The list above is not exhaustive but provides a basic idea for the type of things that “set” refers to and includes. Facilitators can help support the proper set by building rapport and creating a comfortable relationship with the person up front. Additionally, asking plenty of questions to get to understand the person’s set, both past and present, will help to guide this preparatory process. Answering their questions, educating them on the process, the substance and what they may encounter throughout various stages of the process, collaboratively helping them formulate their own intention, and discussing methods up front for navigating the range of potential experiences safely, are all ways the facilitator can help set the stage for a beneficial “set”.

Setting refers to the physical setting in which the experience will be undergone. Things that this side of the equation include are the aesthetics of the actual location, lighting, music, scents, decorations, props, comfortable pillows/blankets/cushions, and even the other individuals present for the session, if any. Again, these lists here are not exhaustive and there is much nuance to this topic. There is an art to curating the environment and supporting the optimal set and setting for a psychedelic experience and it will often be tailored to the needs of the individual(s) undergoing the experience.

Paying poor attention to set and setting can result in a potentially negative experience. Negative psychedelic experiences have the potential to have a damaging impact on the person having the experience, rather than positive. Difficult or challenging psychedelic experiences should be distinguished here from negative ones. While difficult or challenging experiences have the potential for perhaps even greater growth than easy or blissful experiences, negative experiences have the potential to be traumatic and cause lasting psychological and emotional distress.

Jornada (2023)

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