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.