≡ Menu

If you are new to this site, Questions and Answers about Recovery can be a good place to start!

Article on madness and spirituality

I just ran across an interesting article on psychosis and spirituality.  It starts off by pointing out that

“Psychotic and religious experiences have been associated since the earliest recorded history (Lukoff & Lu, 2005). The Old Testament uses the same term to refer to madness sent by God as a punishment for the disobedient, and to describe the behavior of prophets (Rosen, 1968). Socrates declared, “Our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness, provided the madness is given us by divine gift” (Dodds, 1951, p. 61). In more recent years, religious institutions and the mental health field-especially in the West- have taken a more dichotomous view of spirituality and psychosis. When spirituality and psychosis overlap, the experience has usually been viewed as pathological.”

I think it would be fair to call this a “dissociation” between spirituality and psychosis, a sign of something truly wrong with both our mental health system and with our culture generally.  There is no recognition that spiritual experiences come in any sort of raw or disorderly form.  Consequently, when people do have confusing experiences, it is labeled as illness, and no one helps the person sort out what might be valuable in the experience.  I believe this is a sad thing.

The article, INTEGRATING THE SPIRIT WITHIN PSYCHOSIS: ALTERNATIVE CONCEPTUALIZATIONS OF PSYCHOTIC DISORDERS, does have a bit too much of the “some people have real biological mental illness and some people have spiritual emergencies” rhetoric for my taste at points, but it is a good article overall.  (Certainly, some people may be more understandable to themselves and others in spiritual terms, but I don’t think there is any dividing line that allows us to “really” categorize people as one or the other, no reason to shrink some people to being viewed as biologically defective while others are allowed to be seen as having valid spiritual journeys.) 

I think to really reach out to people in crisis with a spiritual perspective takes an ability to be pretty free of dogma – and that means being free of the kind of dogma that dismisses all spiritual experiences as meaningless, as well as free of dogma that says it can have only one kind of meaning.  Not something easy to find in either the mental health system or the wider culture.

4 comments… add one
  • I so agree! I haven’t read this particular article yet, but I’ve certainly observed the “dissociation” all over the New-Age-sphere. It is absolutely mind-boggling to me to see even those, who are widely regarded as leaders in the field, allegedly “enlightened” people, engage in the same us-and-them-thinking that biopsychiatry promotes. Pema Chödrön for instance links to NAMI from her website. She doesn’t link to MFI, or the HVN, or anything along those lines. I lost any sympathy for YouTube-celeb Sean Blackwell, who himself went through a “spiritual emergency”, and actually did produce some brilliant videos on “psychosis”, when I watched this one, where he ventures to tell people who are labelled with “sz” that their chances for recovery are somewhat minor than the chances of people labelled “bipolar” – as “bipolars” certainly (???) are more spiritually evolved than “schizophrenics”, and that the latter therefor often will need to take drugs.

    The spiritual emergency vs. real, biological mental illness thing advocated by most New Agers really isn’t any different from biopsychiatry’s distinction between existential, personal crisis vs. real, biological mental illness advocated by biopsychiatry (to the extent that biopsychiatry still acknowledges existential crises at all, that is, as it looks pretty much like they’re doing everything in their power to declare all human experiences to be “mental illness”). How “enlightened” is somebody who still needs to scapegoat?

  • Lukoff’s done some important work…

    here’s a video I have on the blog

    also he’s on Madness Radio with Will Hall:

    all phenomena is spiritual in my opinion…some of the “dark” stuff is sometimes more stubborn than others…I think that is the stuff that people don’t know what to do with…and dismiss as “real disease”

    certainly there are things none of us would know what to do with…regardless of what we ultimately think about it’s causation or etiology…

  • Ezekiel had a classic schizophrenic (not bipolar) experience which was eerily similar to reporting seeing invaders from outer space, or should I say Martians. Today, he would be locked up and nobody would call him a prophet.

  • Rossa: A friend of mine once told me about a psychopharmacologist (married to a shrink, btw, the perfect couple… ), who’d said, he would love to cure Jesus with Haldol. He meant it. Seriously.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.