by Jonathan Davis
another way of looking at
In November 2014 the peak psychology body in the UK, the
British Psychological Association,
released their new flagship report
Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia.
It was a watershed moment
in the mainstream treatment of mental illness, containing statements
such as this:
Hearing voices or
feeling paranoid are common experiences which can often be a
reaction to trauma, abuse or deprivation.
Calling them symptoms
of mental illness, psychosis or schizophrenia is only one way of
thinking about them, with advantages and disadvantages.
Psychosis and Schizophrenia
With mental health
epidemic proportions in the UK and throughout the
western world, this document reads as no less than an admission that
the current model of mental health treatment has failed; and a cry
for help to anyone with an approach that may be useful.
There are indeed a great
many cultures who have had, and still carry, a deeper understanding
of mental illness.
While these perspectives
don't fit within the boundaries of rationalist reductionism, this
has little relevance to their efficacy.
From American Indian
shamanism to esoteric judaism, this concept has dominated for
As it has now become
clear, western civilization is unique in history in it's failure
to recognize each human being as a subtle energy system in
constant relationship to a vast sea of energies in the
Ancient indigenous shamanic practice
What is The Shamanic
View of Mental Health?
Broadly speaking any form of awareness around mental health that
includes spiritual, mystic and/or mythic considerations could be
included in a shamanic view of mental health.
This ranges from ancient
indigenous shamanic practices to yogic methods involving kundalini
awakening, through to Jungian and transpersonal psychology (which
draw heavily from ancient cultures).
Jung, for example,
characterized schizophrenia and psychosis as a natural healing
When conscious life
is characterized by one-sidedness and false attitudes,
primordial healing images are activated - one might say
instinctively - and come to light in the dreams of individuals
and the visions of artists…
Schizophrenia is a
condition in which the dream takes the place of reality.
Another foundation stone
of this perspective is the phrase made famous by Joseph Campbell:
'The schizophrenic is
drowning in the same waters in which the mystic swims with
delight' (an idea borrowed from Jungian psychiatrist
There has been a long
history throughout human culture of people having mystical
experiences, and then becoming 'weller than well' as Dr John Weir
The key here is that in
these instances the person completed a process that western medicine
would have labeled as sickness and then medicated.
They instead passed
through it and went on to lead lives without relapse into
'psychosis', instead living a more fulfilled existence than if they
had never gone though their temporary break with consensus reality.
Throughout history there
have been examples of people who have gone on to use their visionary
insights, newly found drive and focus to create great social reform
for the benefit of all.
Crisis / Spiritual Emergence
Proponents of transpersonal psychotherapy, like one of its founders
Stanislav Grof suggest that 'spiritual emergence'
experiences are often misdiagnosed as psychosis and medicated
Grof sites 11 different
types of spiritual emergencies, including,
initiatory experience of the shaman
experiences of oceanic oneness
the crisis of
experience common within what John Weir Perry called the
Interpreted from this
point of view, a schizophrenic breakdown is an inward and
backward journey to recover something missed or lost, and to
restore, thereby, a vital balance.
So let the voyager
go. He has tipped over and is sinking, perhaps drowning; yet, as
in the old legend of Gilgamesh and his long, deep dive to the
bottom of the cosmic sea to pluck the watercress of immortality,
there is the one green value of his life down there.
Don't cut him off
from it: help him through.
John Weir Perry,
who put these ideas into practice in a medication free facility
Diabasis, suggests these experiences are a dramatic
re-ordering of the person's psyche from a distorted state to an more
To me this is like
cleaning a messy house, sometimes it needs to get messier in order
to sort everything out.
Perry also said ,
justifiable to regard the term "sickness" as pertaining not to
the acute turmoil but to the pre-psychotic personality… the
renewal process occurring in the acute episode may be considered
nature's way of setting things right.'
This is echoed by
Jiddu Krishnamurti's statement that,
'it is no measure of health
to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.'
The Problems of
Pathology, Symptom Suppression, Stigma and Trauma
difference between the approach of calling these experiences
mental illness, psychosis or schizophrenia and 'other ways of
thinking about them', is the very act of pathologizing them.
The labeling of something as a sickness, when working in the realms
of the psycho-spiritual can have a dramatically negative effect
on what happens next.
Like a person experiencing an overwhelming
psychedelic experience, a person in this kind of state is highly
influenced by their surroundings including what they are told,
for good or for ill.
A suggestion that the experience is a
sickness can become a self fulfilling prophecy.
encouraged to see the voice, not as an experience, but as a
symptom - my fear and resistance towards it intensified.
this represented taking an aggressive stance towards my own
mind - a kind of psychic civil war, and in turn this caused
the number of voices to increase and grow progressively
hostile and menacing.
The next big
challenge is symptom suppression.
Critics of the current model
of care (who now seem to include the British Psychological
Association) argue that psychiatric medication merely suppresses
Many people find
that 'antipsychotic' medication helps to make the
experiences less frequent, intense or distressing. However,
there is no evidence that it corrects an underlying
Recent evidence also suggests that
it carries significant risks, particularly if taken long
British Psychological Association:
Psychosis and Schizophrenia
Those of the shamanic
or transpersonal persuasion go further in suggesting that
medication tends to ultimately prevent the person from
completing a natural experience such as the 'process of renewal'
John Weir Perry describes.
Instead this process keeps trying to
complete itself and symptoms keep reappearing, and then drugs
suppress it again in an endless cycle.
It's unsurprising that
the phrase 'you have a mental illness, and you will have it for
the rest of your life' is so often heard by people experiencing
cultures] have a cultural context.
The physiological crisis,
although it's difficult, it's believed to be… they put it in
a positive light. It's something the person's going to come
out of and be stronger in the end, and have more abilities
in the end.
The other thing that's a big advantage is - it's
maker of upcoming film
CrazyWise (watch far below video)
'It's something the person
is going to come out of
be stronger in the end.'
Thankfully, even in
the western model there is a strong surge of recognition
occurring around the fact that trauma and neglect in childhood
(and in adulthood) can lead to serious mental health crisis.
We had a lot of
trouble with western mental health workers who came here
immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of
them to leave.
They came and their practice did not involve
being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better.
There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing
again. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day
off so that the entire community could come together to try
to lift you up and bring you back to joy.
There was no
acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and
external that could actually be cast out again.
would take people one at a time into these dingy little
rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk
about bad things that had happened to them.
We had to ask
them to leave.
Rwandan talking to writer, Andrew Solomon
Between Two Worlds - Sickness or Acute Sensitivity?
Dr Joseph Polimeni
'In most traditional societies those
persons who were overcome by hallucinations in young adulthood were
more often than not destined to become shamans'.
presented with symptoms we would call psychosis, the people of their
tribe or village would send them for training with someone who had
learned a level of mastery over the sensitivity that once
Phil Borges states that,
'they have a mentor; they
have somebody who has been through this process that can take and
hold their hand and say listen, I know what this is all about and
this is how you manage it'.
In cultures around the world, before
western civilization the idea of schizophrenia as a disease was,
quite simply, non-existent.
The assumption was that a person
experiencing the challenges known in modern times as psychosis was
in fact experiencing things that were actually real, but only able
to perceived by those who were gifted.
They have a community
that buys into what they've gone through, and not only that,
they have an outlet for their talents - and many of these people
have specific talents that the normal person doesn't have.
maker of upcoming
film CrazyWise (below video)
To me it is clear that we
live in a culture that immediately labels these moments of crisis as
sickness, and our culture has almost no level of acceptance for the
people that go through it.
When face to face with a person
experiencing involuntary states of non-ordinary consciousness, most
of us - to put it bluntly - just want them away from us.
as if we fear that 'crazy' is contagious and we want it quarantined.
It's unfortunate that this approach may be compounding the problem,
however another way forward is re-awakening.
When I look at a person
in such a crisis, I see a future potential mentor for others.
more we can assist people in passing through their
dark night of the
soul, the more guides we will have with lived experience to help
others come through in the future.