Managing Spiritual Emergency: In Spiritist Psychiatric Hospitals and Community Centers In Brazil

Emma Bragdon, PhD
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One of the most unusual ways of looking at mental health crises is that they are all “spiritual emergencies.” After volunteering within the Spiritual Emergency Network for 7 years, and dedicating much of my lifework as a therapist to facilitating a safe spiritual emergence process, I also spent six months of each year, from 2001-2012, in Brazil researching Spiritism and participating in the work of Spiritist community centers.  I like the way the Spiritists step back from the focus on symptoms of mental disease as issues to be stopped; and prefer to first perceive upsets as steps on the path of evolution which require that the person be nurtured.  It’s a change in perspective that has radical consequences for mental healthcare practices.

All emotional crises plunge a person deeply into confronting identity: Who am I really?  What is most important to me?  Why is this happening to me?  Often this inspires a reaching out for something larger: a Higher Self, a Higher Power, a concept of God, an exploration of what is real.  The potential positive outcome when psych meds are used very cautiously and empathy is given in large doses is a clearer sense of identity and a closer connection to what is sacred, or most dear.  If a person has adequate support to answer life’s essential questions, he or she acquires more meaning and purpose in life—and more satisfaction.  When treated in such a way, spiritual emergency is a birthing into a more expanded self.  The emotional upheaval was just a symptom of the birth process.

                Sculpture by Paige Bradley (paigebradley.com)
Sculpture by Paige Bradley (paigebradley.com)

Psychic Opening 

One form of spiritual emergency that can be overwhelming and frightening is the opening of psychic abilities.  It might happen that you unexpectedly have an interaction with a presence that is not in a body that seems to be someone who has passed away giving you information that is useful to the family left behind.  Or, you have a foreshadowing of a future event that comes to pass even without any rational predictor (eg an unexpected death of a loved one, or a storm).  Another example, you meet someone new and can intuit intimate facts about them (eg what organs of the body are in need of healing) without any outward signs revealing a problem; or you find you can sense what is happening in another person’s life, even though that person is hundreds of miles at a distance from you and out of phone or email contact.  Any of these situations can throw a person into questioning: “Is this real? What should I do with this information?  Why do I know this but other’s don’t?”

Since psychic experiences have been pooh-poohed in our culture—to the point we have considered talking to God as a sign of psychosis−most people are scared of them if they start to have them.  They fear friends and family will think they are crazy or going nuts.  (We forget that William James, PhD, MD, often called the father of American psychology, encouraged all doctors to accept that psychic experiences are part of the human experience.)  So, most often, the experiencer tries to find a way to shut down by drinking alcohol, going to the mall, over-eating, or some other distraction.  In some situations, the gift of psychic abilities is such a strong part of an individual’s nature, that pushing the gifts away leads to deep disturbances– including profound depression, addiction, inability to sleep, and even what appear to be psychotic or manic states.

Repressed Mediumship

Marcel is a Brazilian man who was hospitalized in his late 20s for symptoms of schizophrenia.  He heard voices in his head and had sensations of bugs and rodents crawling over his body.  He was constantly brushing off his arms and legs with his hands.  He was irritable and anxious and unable to work or maintain his friendships.  As it turned out, the psychiatric medications he was given in the hospital made him feel worse.  His parents ultimately removed him from the mainstream hospital and hospitalized him in a Spiritist Psychiatric Hospital in Brazil where he was identified as a strong medium who needed supervision to harness his abilities.  He is now out of the hospital, living independently, happy and gradually learning how to work as a psychic healer to assist others who are out of balance.  The symptoms that had bothered him no longer exist.

Jorge is another man I met in Brazil who was unable to function in work or maintain relationships as a young adult.  He had many symptoms of schizophrenia: delusions and hallucinations.  He went to a friend who was involved with Spiritism to ask for advice.  His friend offered him fellowship and helped him understand his sensitivities more fully, and learn how to take care of himself as the “sensitive” that he is.  Jorge subsequently was able to complete a PhD in engineering, is now a professor in a large university, is happily married with children, and leads a Spiritist study group on the weekends with his wife.  He does not use any psych meds.

The sensitives and psychiatrists who collaborate at the fifty Spiritist Psychiatric Hospitals in Brazil recognize that an element that can cause severe emotional disturbances is “repressed mediumship.”  In other words, those that repress their psychic gifts, trying to force them underground, can go mad until they are given training to recognize and accept the gifts and use them to benefit themselves and others.  After all, these gifts can be channeled so that those harnessing them can serve as superb diagnosticians who use medical intuition in conjunction with human reasoning; or sensitive counselors and healers who can bring great comfort to those who are suffering.

Our mental health care system does not recognize the category of human experience of psychic opening or repressed mediumship and has little ability to effectively promote healing for people experiencing them.  The result: most often individuals reporting such experiences to medical professionals are given anti-psychotics which may obscure their psychic abilities, drive them deeper into the subconscious, and add energy to the repression.  It would be extremely rare for anyone with “repressed mediumship” in the USA to be given any kind of support or supervision to cultivate his/her gifts.

Shamanic cultures throughout the world recognize that often a shaman or healer-to-be will have profound inner experiences, disabling them for a time so they cannot function well in daily life with family and work.  That person may have physical illness at the same time, often punctuated by extremely high fevers.  A job of the qualified elders in the tribe is to recognize the gifts being birthed and, when appropriate, assist the experiencer to harness those gifts to help the tribe.  That involves substantial training over time and nurturing a very close relationship between the qualified elders and the trainee.  It’s also recognized that without that training, the individual with the gifts of a shaman-to-be can go crazy or die prematurely.

Appropriate Training 

Spiritist Community Centers in Brazil offer excellent free training that lasts years to those who have the gifts of psychic abilities.  This is not religious training, nor does it involve conversion to a religion.  It is also not a replacement for responsible medical care or psychotherapy to confront issues related to past trauma.

Spiritism is a way of life that understands that human beings do have a relationship with the realms of spirit, as well as the need to be grounded in physical reality with a healthy emotional life.  A person entering into training as a medium has the gift of meeting with others with similar gifts and thus having fellowship with peers.  It is strongly encouraged that those with psychic abilities never work alone, that they work in small groups at appointed times.  This helps to discourage ego inflation (someone getting too wrapped up in how special they are).  The gifts are considered “God given” and a responsibility to use to benefit others—not a resource to be mined for personal financial gain.  After years of training, the medium can lead a balanced life that is purposeful and personally meaningful and in service to community.  He or she will also have the support and camaraderie of other trained mediums, and thus not feel like a stranger in a strange land.

Catalysts for psychic opening are practices such as yoga and meditation (that often cultivate psychic abilities as a byproduct), as well as using recreational drugs.  As these become increasingly popular, there will continue to be an increase in the awakening of psychic abilities. Rudolf Steiner, a brilliant educator and philosopher of the 20th century, predicted increasing numbers of people will be going through spiritual emergency as developing psychic abilities is simply part of evolution.

I think it’s time we rethink psychiatry and develop ways of helping people gifted with psychic abilities so they can learn how to use them to benefit others and lead balanced lives. Ideally the training would be free, as it is in Brazil, and readily available.  Brazil has approximately 13,000 Spiritist Centers—so one is never far from a source for training.  What a great way to support human evolution and enrich both individuals and community!

25 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much for this. I do not consider myself really to be psychic because no one really has tested me…but I can with practice name down turned cards via Colours and Suits etc etc…It was just something I was “playing” around with. Apologies for the ramble…I’m keenly interested if there is “training” or “studies” I can engage in. Would you be kind enough to perhaps sign post me to something that can help me “have a go”? Thank you for reading 🙂

  2. You might also check out Rhine Research Center http://www.rhine.org and their Psychic Experiences Group for people who help others understand psychic openings/experiences – precisely so they won’t be psychiatrized. There are facilitators in several cities in the US.

    Thank you for your post, Emma. I was almost killed by psychiatry when I sought help to deal with my precognitive dreams. I was prescribed a benzo for deeper sleep and stress.

    The adverse effects of the benzo were taken for mental illness and started a cascade of drugging and labeling – 8 months, 35 drugs, 25 rounds of bilateral ECT. The damage done is profound. (see http://www.cpso.co – Iatrogenic Insanity – I do not discuss my precognitive dreams or other anomalous experiences there.) I am writing a book and will publish my medical records and the comments of the many psychiatrists (buffoons).

    The problem is that consciousness is not taught in schools.

    People who have psychic sensitivity are also exquisitely sensitive to pharmaceuticals.

    I promote orthomolecular psychiatry and will soon start a blog: Psychics Against Psychiatry.

    Almost all of the women in the psych ward with me had been misdiagnosed. Doctors missed the thyroid problems, the nutrient deficiencies, the celiac disease, the gluten intolerance, the inner ear problem, the kidney not filtering properly, the toxic chemical exposure, etc. All of the women had been given antidepressants, had adverse effects, and were then given electroconvulsive ‘therapy’ to deal with the adverse effects of drugs or the stupidity of doctors.

    Three of the women are dead. I will tell their stories.

    Psychiatrists do not want to listen.

    • “People who have psychic sensitivity are also exquisitely sensitive to pharmaceuticals.”
      Does that in addition to having dreams about future that came true qualify? I had some in the past…
      Honestly, I don’t really believe in physic powers but shamanism is much better than psychiatry in every way.

  3. Thank you for pointing out the problem in the US of the medical community having no insight or belief in spiritual issues and / or psychic ability. I, too, was inappropriately drugged because I questioned the meaning of a dream about being “moved by the Holy Spirit,” by a self proclaimed “Christian” psychologist, no less.

    I had no personal history of any “mental health” issues, and the only remotely related family history was that I had a grandmother who knew when people were going to die (she was psychic, but NOT psychotic). She had been briefly put on Stelazine, but was quickly taken off it due to an egregiously bad reaction; she quickly recovered, and lived happily to the ripe old age of 94 – psychiatry free, of course.

    Today’s US psychiatric industry still apparently doesn’t know the difference between the words psychic and psychotic, and is illegally drugging people up for belief in the “Holy Spirit ‘voice,'” according to my medical records. And now a severe ADR (confessed “Foul up”) to a neuroleptic drug is treated with 30 more psychotropic drugs, prior to doctors coming to the realization that the patient doesn’t react well to any of the psychiatric drugs (and I guess I was lucky I was never subjected to worse).

    And you are correct, an electrifying amount of energy is released after one is weaned off the drugs. I have an amazing story. I wish the US had alternatives like Brazil, however, because today’s US psychiatric industry is just a nightmare, and it breaks my heart others must still deal with it.

    Thank you for writing about this, I will check out your website. And, I too, hope to write a book about my “magical, mystery” spiritual journey. It’s one of a wonderful and just God, but not so wonderful and just Western corporations, doctors, and religions. And, ironically, my spiritual journey began on 9.11.2001.

  4. I can’t see psychiatrists allowing a higher power or ‘spirit’ to get in the way of helping people.

    The first part of any ‘treatment’ is convincing the ‘patient’ that the psychiatrist IS GOD. It is only when the spirit is destroyed that this is achieved, and as many here know, is the first step to recovery.

    Maybe we can convince psychiatrists that God isn’t going to take any of the profits, they might consider letting him or her into triage. Have to ask nicely though.

    Glad there are people like you looking to alternatives Emma. Thank you.

  5. A very useful article. Many thanks. I would like to point out that there are ways that family members can help people understand that they are on a spiritual journey when there is no network of spiritual centers in close proximity. I simply fed my son reading and audio material that challenged the norm, ranging from Neitzche to Castaneda to Buddhist philosophy to quantum physics, in order to ignite the idea in him that his was a special path. I encouraged him to take up transcendental meditation and to visit “shopping mall shamans,” meaning the natural healing practitioners you can find almost in any small town or city in North America or Europe. These people are very helpful and take a gentle, understanding approach. I tried to limit his exposure to the medical model of the so-called illness and made sure he understood why. It would be great to have access to something like the Brazilian centers, though, because there is reinforcement in numbers.

    You write “Spiritist Community Centers in Brazil offer excellent free training that lasts years to those who have the gifts of psychic abilities. This is not religious training, nor does it involve conversion to a religion. It is also not a replacement for responsible medical care or psychotherapy to confront issues related to past trauma.”

    From what you wrote, are you saying that past trauma and spiritual emergency are not one and the same, despite the patient having been given a schizophrenia diagnosis?

    There are schools of thought, well, people’s opinions, really, that claim that past trauma is at the base of psychosis. This school of thought will also freely interchange the words psychosis with spiritual emergency. This school of thought, which appears to be growing, takes a rather Western, rationalist approach by pushing the idea that cause (trauma) equals effect (psychosis) and it seems rather blind to the idea that past trauma may not be the case for all. It can’t quite get the idea that there is a supernatural element to schizophrenia. African and Brazilian cultures with their unique practices accept the supernatural in their everyday lives. The rationalist approach, in a sense, is trying to have it both ways, without fully grasping that there are natural born healers where trauma is not an issue. The cause/effect approach is a very medical perspective, in its own way.

    • Rather than writing a Western “rationalist” approach, I should have used the word “reductionist,” and used “spiritist” instead of “spiritual” There is a big difference in meaning in both cases, and the article clearly states that “spiritist” is about psychic abilities, not religion or (going out on a limb here) spiritual leanings, which many people have, while not adhering to a religion.

  6. Jim Carrey had an awakening and it is on youtube whereby he speaks about his experiences.

    I appreciate what the Dr in this article had to say because it was only through time, coming off my ADs and experiences of trauma – and subsequent recovery – that I came to a similar conclusion: many of us who experienced trauma turned inward to soothe and make sense of terrible circumstances as kids. We lacked the typical NORMALIZING parental safety net and had to develop heightened intuition and in many cases – prayer to a higher power for help. As a means for survival.

    In my case, these experiences opened up a safer world upon which I could draw strength.

    Over time the trauma was too much as I aged and I became depressed. I presume it was due to increasing awareness of the unfair situation I was in as a child and the enormity of those implications. It was difficult to accept my family would subject me to such damage and leave me to fend for my own care. ADs were damage control though mostly it numbed me.

    As I went CT from ADS last yr, I had a flooding of awakenings both positive and frightening. It was too much of a rapid re entry into the unmedicated brain and it overwhelmed me. I restarted the ads and now as I taper, the peace, joy and difficulties are being dealt with bit by bit. It aint easy – but I also am able to embrace my intuitive side with a healthy dose of rationality which would have overwhelmed me and no doubt, escalated had I resumed CT status.

    We speak about divinity in religion and prayer – spirits of Holy Ghosts and ongoing conversations with God (for those who believe) and pray to images and statues of icons. We read about fantastic stories in the bible and other religious texts while being told to embrace and believe in it. That is what faith is: believing in something unseen…yet told to doubt ourselves when we have religious experiences as though it were madness. It is suggested we are made in god’s image – which would allow for amazing graces if it were mainstream acceptable. In most cases it is viewed as negative. All this negating does is create more self doubt and further descent into the psych abyss. A form of self loathing for the things we think and feel beyond the “moral majority” of which is neither IMO.

    One of our senses is intuition and we are encouraged to ignore and stuff it by psychiatrists in favor of shutting up our senses with medication. I do feel, however, medications of certain types may help depending on the illness and severity along with patient consent – but to categorically deny the human experience as tilting at windmills – is to deny we are part of the universe as conscious, thinking beings capable of more than 9-5.

  7. There’s so much I want to say here, I don’t know where to begin.

    I’ll just sort of jump in.

    Maybe I’ll start with the word psychic. Emma, the word psychic and the way it is used in popular culture is quite different from the way you use it. If you have ever had to deal with the kind of petty jealousy and attempts to take over the decision making of others that occurs with people in popular culture that call themselves psychic, the ones that make money for psychic readings. I’m not saying that there aren’t really helpful psychics and channels, but someone who is a healer is a whole different story. And the amount of energy by “psychics” put into making alliances with the lower astral, hooking people with telling them things about their future or private lives which isn’t supposed to be possible “objectively”, although it changes nothing except the people become hooked to know petty things, and actually become more fear based in their lives, rather than free. And this involves so much getting the ego to control things in life, which actually get in the way of healing; or separate one from God. A Course in Miracles brings this out clearly, I think: http://thecourse.ca/manual-for-teachers/manual-25-are-psychic-powers-desirable/

    I know that what you are talking about involving spiritism is a whole other brand of “psychic” where healing is acknowledged rather than the ego. I’m just bringing out the point about the word. And in a consumer oriented society, it’s become even quite materialistic. I have to say that when I had my psychic opening, along with the uncovered trauma from my youth, it was the “psychics” I had been around that added to the distress (again I know the spiritista association is different, they would have helped). There’s a difference between someone who no longer can ignore the spirit world, or their self from forever which lives beyond fear, and all the loss we calculate from physical reality and try to defend causing it with our fears and what this does to time (as if we are separate from what we cause in our own lives and need hatred and attack towards others to eradicate it); there’s a difference between that and what goes on in “psychic” circles in popular culture. Even such high held names as Deepak Chopra talk about spiritual healing, but when it comes to mental illness still condone “medications.”

    I have to mention that along with doing ACIM as well as other material (The books of Marlo Morgan), I did go to real spiritual healers, in my search for healing. A true Filipino healer (and they are called psychic surgeons, but this healer didn’t like the name because he says they don’t work with “psychic” energies, the lower astral and there is no trauma to the body when the heal: again a different use of the word psychic); and I had a phone session with Gene Egidio that helped immensely. I also talked with a couple other true healers, and these people all have shed their ego. They talk along the same lines as A Course in Miracles, except they live it, rather than using it as doctrine to make themselves out to be superior to others. What they love and adore is the healing energies, NOT themselves or how they can bamboozle others.

    I think that spirit is everything. We aren’t separate from each other. And neither does having “separate” bodies make us separate. What you think about another person, when you harbor secret attack thoughts, as if this is hidden; this does more than any judgment on their behavior. It’s the same way “society” treats people with a “mental illness,” we’re judged on our behavior, and judge with secret thoughts which believe they can know who is sane who isn’t, and how one needs to behave in order to be functional, or sane; and what’s dangerous. And so “society” shields itself from the very consciousness that can create a whole other society based on compassion and understanding rather than judgment, and a brand of justice that’s based on guilt and loss, on wielding the power to traumatize others into submission. With spiritual healing and miracles there is no loss. There wasn’t any loss when the Universe was created from a singularity, from nothing, and expanded into itself, as it goes in Quantum Physics. There IS a source you can give from where there’s no loss, that is from forever, that is where your consciousness comes from, the spark that’s part of the web that created th Universe – this is where the word forgive (for-give) comes from. To bypass any idea of loss, of guilt, of injustice; and see we are all one. All of us.

    I also think there’s a big difference between the people that actually had a spiritual awakening start to happen and those who went to their doctor and thought the magic pill would help them. I’ve been told by a very active personality in the MHS that I’m adding to the “holocaust” if I chose the power of love rather than making myself out to be a victim. And there ARE people who actually have had these experiences, the holy experiences and were called schizophrenic. That’s different than someone going on a medications because they were looking for an easy answer, and finding out differently. Spirit is from a world where it’s acknowledged where the Universe came from, the singularity that expands into itself, the love that has no opposite but is a source you can give from which can never be depleted, from which there is no loss; and there’s no loss to give from love rather than harbor attack thoughts.

    I’ve been through what happens, when a person doesn’t have the support they need in the beginning, when a spiritual opening occurs. What you call “schizophrenia,” but I still can’t say that’s what it is, even though I had all the “signs”. You remain in another world, you just have to learn to get to know it, and that still happens. Even if it takes 20 years or more (several lifetimes). And I still had miracles happen the whole time, in abundance.

    • I noticed that this sentence is a jumble (I tried to correct it, but it’s still quite a jumble, but I’ll leave it at that):

      “There’s a difference between someone who no longer can ignore the spirit world, or their self from forever which lives beyond fear, and all the loss we calculate from physical reality and try to defend causing it with our fears and what this does to time (as if we are separate from what we cause in our own lives and need hatred and attack towards others to eradicate it); there’s a difference between that and what goes on in “psychic” circles in popular culture.”

      I try to correct it.

      “There’s a difference between someone who no longer can ignore the spirit world, their self from forever that lives beyond fear and all the loss we calculate from the physical trying to defend ourselves from what we are causing with our own fears and what this does to time (as if we are separate from what we cause in our own lives and need hatred and attack towards others to eradicate it); there’s a difference between someone who is no longer able to hold onto such fears and what goes on in “psychic” circles in popular culture.”

      Sorry, it’s hard to put these things into words.

  8. Either the editors at MiA are completely naive or there is really some weird agenda behind MiA’s editorial decisions, that I haven’t figured out yet. Anyway, it’s time to move the debate why MiA is promoting all these dubious bloggers and organizations to another more public place. I think it will be quite interesting to figure out if there are connections between MiA, CCHR, Scientology, MFI and ISEPP and how deep they run. And I don’t care how much that will hurt MiA. You had enough time to clean up the mess on your website, but it seems you’re proud of that cultish, pseudo-scientific content. Good luck with that.

  9. I’m sorry but I’m going to have to say that this is wonderful what’s going on in Brazil, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t find the same support anywhere else on your own. That support is inside you. This also doesn’t mean that, when you don’t have the money to take one of Emma’s trips, and pay for the three star hotels that you can’t find the healing you need.

    There ARE people who find spiritual help in the US, and there is spiritual healing going on, whether or not it’s made into an institution and has a name (such as Spiritist); and I’m sure there are enough people in Brazil who don’t get the help they need. It’s easy to criticize and take people to where the grass is greener. And I’m not saying that the Spiritists isn’t wonderful, but this doesn’t mean that there isn’t amazing help around you already. In fact it’s inside you, not outside of you.

    Although Emma mentions a few places in the US, but then says they are bleak in comparison to the Brazil and the spiritist movement, you do have http://www.psychicsurgeon.org who is an amazing healer in the US; and there are others (Adam the Dream Healer from Canada, there’s brother Gregorio that travels around the US, and there are other filipino healers around who travel). There’s also the amazing book A Course in Miracles which has exercises for a whole year, and simply costs like 20 to 25 dollars, and when you actually do the exercises can help immensely, and this you CAN do all on your own.

    Under appropriate training Emma says:

    ” A person entering into training as a medium has the gift of meeting with others with similar gifts and thus having fellowship with peers. It is strongly encouraged that those with psychic abilities never work alone, that they work in small groups at appointed times. This helps to discourage ego inflation (someone getting too wrapped up in how special they are). The gifts are considered “God given” and a responsibility to use to benefit others—not a resource to be mined for personal financial gain. After years of training, the medium can lead a balanced life that is purposeful and personally meaningful and in service to community.”

    You can do A Course in Miracles all on your own (in fact I would recommend this rather than getting involved with institutions, since people often bond together for ego purposes and act like they are special because they all are adherents of this one book, or this one method). There is the element, just as there is with an artist, where a person expresses their individuality BECAUSE they do it all themselves, and need no institution.