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Set and Setting: What it Means and Why It’s Important

Set and Setting: What it Means and Why It’s Important

Set and Setting are crucial components of any psychedelic experience. Set (which is short for mindset) and Setting can make or break a “trip” by priming a person’s perception well before psychedelic consumption — for the better or worse. Essentially, theory suggests that those comfortable in both their mind and environment will have a much more positive experience than those who are mentally or physically uncomfortable.

What are Set and Setting?

“Set and setting” refers to the notion that one’s environment largely dictates the outcome of a psychedelic experience. Set (or mindset) includes thoughts, mood, and expectations, whereas setting refers to things like the environment and social atmosphere.

To explain, imagine two different scenarios. In the first, you feel relaxed in a comfortably lit home surrounded by close friends while listening to your favorite soft playlist. In the second scenario, you’re at a concert or festival with strangers surrounding you. The environment is loud, and you feel constricted and out of control. 

And then the magic mushrooms kick in.

As you might imagine, the ensuing psychedelic experience will largely differ between the two scenarios. You’re comfortable and supported in the first scenario, which is more likely to foster a positive experience. However, in the second scenario, you’re largely at the whim of the crowd and a potentially anxious mind. As such, you’re much more likely to have a volatile experience, a.k.a. a “bad trip.”

Why is Set and Setting Important?

Though the term “Set and Setting” came about in the late 1950s, it wasn’t until 1961 that Timothy Leary made it popular. Essentially, Leary explained that psychedelics are merely a key to transcendent experiences because they open the mind and free it of traditional thought patterns. However, the actual experience depends primarily on a person’s mindset, environment, and support level.

Notably, the Set and Setting theory has been vital to psychedelic research. For example, before we understood its importance, psychedelic research often took place in hospitals. Unfortunately, researchers gave little mind to the environment in which these studies took place. What’s more, researchers often did little to prepare test subjects except to say that they ‘might experience some madness’ during their experience. Consequently, participants are not adequately prepared or supported in these scenarios, thus swaying study results toward the negative.

Though some early psychedelic research suggested they produce a maddening effect (for reasons listed above), many more suggested the opposite. By the late 1950s, researchers were suggesting that, when administered appropriately, psychedelics enhanced cognition and consciousness expansion. One author even suggested that, rather than induce insanity, psychedelics help create “a new sanity” by opening the mind to new ways of thinking.

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Incorporating Set and Setting into Therapy

With a better understanding of Set and Setting, therapists can prepare clients for psychedelic therapy much more effectively. Gone are the days in which patients would hole up in a hospital room under glaring lights and sterile yet uncomfortable bedding. Now, psychedelic therapy sessions take place in homey, comfortable atmospheres following extensive question/answer sessions. Trained psychotherapists no longer imply that their client will temporarily “go mad.” Instead, they work hard to prepare them for the psychedelic session that is to follow. They also follow up with patients to access their experience and counsel them to help unpack any pending issues. If necessary, clinicians might schedule follow-up psychedelic sessions, as well.

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Tips to Improve Set and Setting

There are two ways to engage in a psychedelic experience: either book an appointment for psychedelic therapy or embark on the adventure elsewhere. Those who choose the latter should prepare their mind and environment carefully. The following tips can help.

Adjust Your Mindset

Psychedelics profoundly impact the way our minds process thoughts and other stimuli. As such, your mindset must be calm and well-prepared for the psychedelic experience. Some recommend that you reserve three days for their journey, with the first day dedicated solely to preparing the mind for the ensuing trip. For example, you might have a digital detox 24 hours before their trip, dedicating your time instead to grounding yourself in nature.

Additionally, consider journaling your experience, beginning with a pre-trip entry that outlines your goals, expectations, and other essential details regarding Set and Setting. This might also be a great time to discuss with friends any thoughts or concerns that arise during this contemplative process.

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Prepare Your Environment

Mindset is important, but it’s only part of the equation. To help avoid a “bad trip,” you must prepare your environment, too. Avoid crowds or situations in which you have little control, especially if you are unfamiliar with psychedelic sensations. Instead, try to trip in a comfortable, home-like environment like a living room or bedroom. There should also be sufficient seating, ideally on a couch or bed, along with blankets in case a chill sets in. Clutter should be kept to a minimum, as well.

Lighting should be dim and comfortable, and music should be optimistic and relaxing. Notably, music easily guides a wandering mind, so themes should generally be positive to help keep a psychedelic brain happy. Some experts advise against lyric-heavy music after the first hour to avoid the distraction altogether. 

Feel free to bring a journal along, but don’t feel bad if you don’t use it. After all, you never know when creativity will strike, but you may also not want to hold a pen when it does.

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Choose Your Dose

Different dose sizes will produce different effects. For example, whereas a standard dose may cause minor hallucinogenic effects, a microdose likely will not. However, productivity and creativity will generally still be heightened following a microdose, though the effects might not last as long. To clarify, a microdose is usually about 10-20 percent the size of a standard dose, all of which will vary depending on the substance consumed.

Remember, you can always consume more to achieve your desired results, but you can’t eat less. Start low and go slow.

Follow Up with Friends

One of the most therapeutic parts of a psychedelic experience is the ability to integrate what you’ve learned during the trip. Did your expectations match reality? Did you accomplish what you’d hoped to achieve? What other thoughts and insights did you gain from your experience? Add these thoughts to your journal and discuss them with a trusted friend when possible.

Final Thoughts About Set and Setting

As psychedelics become more mainstream, we must share what we know to help others. Research is hugely beneficial, but so is testimony from our friends, neighbors, and experienced Journeymen. 

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