What is the difference between psychosis and spiritual emergence? The category 'psychosis', as it is used in the psychiatric paradigm, by definition assumes a pathological origin of the experience of the person. While sometimes there is indeed a pathological cause such as a medical condition, this is not always the case. When there is sufficient evidence of a biomedical cause of an altered state of consciousness, a biomedical response is appropriate. When there is no conclusive evidence that this is the case, then another approach is needed. It is here that the transpersonal concept of spiritual emergence is relevant. The following quote highlights:
“Since traditional psychiatry makes no distinction between psychotic reactions and mystical states,
not only crises of spiritual opening, but also uncomplicated transpersonal experiences often receive
a pathological label” (Christina and Stalinslav Grof 1990)
'Mystical states' and 'spiritual opening' refer here to the spiritual dimension of human experience, and in doing so call to attention to a pitfall inherent to the psychiatric paradigm. How do we define the meaning and significance of life? Who are we and and what is this all about? Approaching a psychological crisis with these questions in mind, and allowing for multiple answers, is to nurture the natural growth and transformation that a 'crisis' can very often typify. Incorrectly diagnosing 'psychosis' will most often result in a cold and limited view of a person and their experience, as well as the administration of suppression medication. While in some cases this is helpful in the short term, it is highly likely to severely hinder the process of the client discovering potentially enriching personal meaning and resources. Allowing for 'spiritual emergence' is an attitude that respects the wonder and mystery of being human, avoids suppression of experiences, and thus greatly increases the potential learning and healing in the person's journey.
If psychosis is a pathological condition, and spiritual emergence is some kind of metamorphosis of the psyche, then knowing what one might expect in an emergence will be very useful in differentiating between the two. Dr Stalinslav Grof's Major Spritual Crisis/Emergence categories outline 11 major common spiritual emergence patterns or themes.
1. The awakening of the kundalini
2. Episodes of intuitive consciousness (peak experiences)
3. Psychological renewal through return to the centre
4. The crisis of psychic opening
5. Past life experience
6. Communications with spirit guides and 'channelling'
7. Neardeath experience
8. Experiences of close encounters with UFO's
9. Possession states
10. Meditation and Spiritual Practice
11.The Shamanic crisis
Ultimately, we must have compassion and humility in the face of another person's experience, if we are to have any understanding. If we do not want to know about the person, then why pretend to be helping them? If that person's experience is unknown to us, we can still offer the respect that we would ourselves like to be accorded.
Humanity must come before materialism and ignorance.
This must be the first step in any therapeutic relationship.
What is Transpersonal Psychology?
Transpersonal Psychology is concerned with questions about the meaning and purpose behind the human experience, and therefore its ideas are sourced from a wide range of traditional and contemporary contexts. There are three core components that loosely define the transpersonal approach. These are; an expansion of the sense of self beyond ego (in this context ego refers to an individual sense of self in a precise space –time location), an integrative or holistic approach to the psyche and relationship with life/world (as opposed to a ‘curing’ or ‘conforming to the norm’ attitude to mental health), and an essential emphasis on the transformational or transitional experiences of the psyche, and the subsequent engagement with the altered states of consciousness (ASC) that are essential to transformation.
It means transformation
The essence of the application of transpersonal psychology in the therapeutic relationship then, is intent to work with a person's experience in such a way as to allow and facilitate transformation.
The therapeutic relationship, within this context, aims to nurture reconciliation between conflicting aspects of a person's psyche and experience, leading to improved understanding of the self, and ideally an enriched appreciation for the mystery and depth of our humanity. Such perspective enables transformation by expanding the identification of the self beyond suffering, beyond ego, beyond mental confusion, towards the ‘transpersonal’. These concepts are core to the 'spiritual dimension' of human experience.
Its practically respectful
The respectful nature of the therapy aims at working with the immediate presenting experience of the person, whilst also introducing safe and appropriate methods for accessing various altered states of consciousness. This approach is essential for the integration of new learning to take place. Too much interference is likely to serve as a distraction from any resulting value for the person. Indeed, the empowerment of the person offered by self-realisation and individuation is the essential aim of transpersonal therapy.
At all times, assuming and attitude of respect and valuing a persons individual experience and ‘where they are’, can only help them to similarly come to trust in the transformative process and therefore come to a sense of peace regarding challenge and suffering, and accessing the empowerment beyond.
This is a blue-print for healing, and then moving to mastery. The intention of this model is to address the ongoing processes of creative personal growth.
There are 3 main aspects or phases of the healing and transformation process:
Explore, Witness, Share.
1. Contemplation/Reception/Meditaiton - Exploration and experience of information, symbolic, sensory, emotional and conceptual.
2. Inspiration/Healing/Movement - New experience is honoured and respected as valuable, and the older pattern is loosened to make way for re-pattering.
3. Articulation/Integration/Communication - The expression of new experience as a creative act of liberation and sharing. This is the re-patterning of consciousness.
1. Explore the experience – Contemplation/Reception - Right View - Un-stitching the pattern.
Under this heading exists any and all techniques for unconditionally attending to and receiving experiential information (Felt Sense Experience). The presenting experience can and will be varied, but an attitude of non-judgment ensures that the experience is not distorted by illusions or past patterns.
These techniques can basically all be seen as being methods of accessing various ASC (altered states of consciousness). The emphasis here is on the experience rather than the conceptualisation of what is taking place.
Receiving wisdom - From the teachers.
Body Awareness - Through movement, dance, relaxation, stillness, and embodiment traditions, and spacial connection.
Observation - Look closely at life and the natural world, allow fascination, explore and enjoy observing whatever is interesting.
Vipassana Meditation - The development of increased awareness and sensitivity to the experience, through non-judgment.
Symbol Meditation – The conscious engagement with presenting elements symbols, words and ideas. These might and do come from any source, including but not limited to dreams, imagination, books, films, music etc.
2. Witness – Inspiration/Healing/Movement - Right Relation - Observing the parts.
This is simply be a natural process in which during the experience, there is a cognition and new connections are made. The new connections are a movement within the experience of the self. Physical movement grounds the shift.
Fundamental to this stage is the way in which the space is held.
Holding Space - For any facilitators, this means witnessing the experience. This requires a grounded and un-judgmental consciousness to prevent harmful interference at this crucial time.
The experience of the the of people present is highly relevant to the vulnerability of healing.
3. Share – Articulation/Integration - Right Action - Re-patterning according to the will.
This is the grounding of the healing experience accessed in phase two. The story is updated to include the healing.
Expression – Creatively expressing the insight and familiarization achieved in phase two. A process of welcoming the FSE to the story of the individual through creative practices, such as art, movement and narrative.
A really good example is a simple journal process.
Any expression of an experience will help to integrate the experience. Any language will be effective, though different languages may be more or less appropriate for particular feelings, and for particular people.
Sharing - This time is primed for the sharing of the experience. The persons present have an opportunity to really connect and grow from the process.
Powerful sharing is in the form of shared creativity.
Sharing might be done through talking, movement, music, or showing the piece of art.
Strengthening - Make what you discover stronger, keep practicing the methods which are enjoyed and are fulfilling. Developing a sustainable personal practice is the best way to integrate the new learning and enjoy access to deeper personal resources.
Mastery: Mastery is the conscious choice to keep practicing and reach deeper levels of integration and insight into the re-patterning process, resulting in access to profound resources for living authentically.
Felt Sense Experience – The present felt sense.
Integration – The process of familiarization with difference, and the translation of the experience through communication or creative process, leading to harmony between elements of experience.
Health – Wholeness. Smooth creative living. The capacity to move through experiences. Not suffering because of suffering.
Healing – The process of moving towards health.
Language – Language as a technology of translation. There are many languages, some include the language of words, symbol, colour, sound and physical language.
Art, language, and symbols are a carrier pigeon for experience, and vice versa. The two exist in relationship to each other. There is a sliding scale of sensitivity to feelings, and the primary reality is unnamed, and its translation into language is a secondary process.
The re-mapping and telling of story is essential to healing and individuation.
In short: 'Art imitates Life, just as Life imitates Art.'