In a nutshell, I switched coasts and moved from Philadelphia to attend CIIS in San Francisco, because I couldn’t tell my story. In Philly I was known for my role as Storytelling Training Trainer, in which I facilitated a workshop to help people share their stories of mental health and substance abuse recovery. But I never felt I could tell my own real story, because the culture there wouldn’t allow it. The culture allowed me to be a person diagnosed with bipolar with psychotic episodes, who was living a meaningful life, but it did not allow me to be a person who is undergoing a very profound developmental process where my psyche was perceiving and processing my universe in ways that were shifting my paradigm of the potential of what reality can be, which for me, is a very spiritual process, and my true story.
I came to CIIS, which has the reputation for integrating spirituality and psychology, and found to my disappointment that, in my program, my story still was not completely validated. While spirituality was discussed in classes, pathology overshadowed. And while CIIS classes do acknowledge and even one class teaches about spiritual emergence, I believe the Board of Behavioral Sciences has had a limiting influence on our ICP curriculum. We don’t even learn any Jung! And spiritual emergence, in my experience, in most contexts seems to be brought up by students, only as an alternative perspective, without equal footing to diagnosis like bipolar and schizophrenia. Also other extraordinary spiritual experiences, sometimes are met with resistance and even hostility or they just can’t breathe in the stale air that chokes deep discussion of personal spirituality, not always, but sometimes, in the CIIS ICP classroom culture. Other students felt like me, and we started the student group “Spiritual Emergence and Other Extraordinary Experiences” to provide a space for another dialogue and inclusion of experiences that have been marginalized by the status quo reality. Some people communicate with angels. Some people are labeled as having a psychotic break when their personal narrative says they are experiencing oneness with the universe mixed in the intergenerational trauma. Some people hear voices. I could go on. All of these experiences are valid human experiences, not to be pathologized, marginalized, or stifled.
The group was founded in the Spring Semester of 2014, and has hosted four public events so far, with more talks planned in the fall, and a potential conference in Spring 2015. Therapist, trainer, and schizophrenia diagnosis survivor Will Hall, MA, DiplPW spoke on “New Visions of Psychosis: From Shamanism to Open Dialogue in a Multicultural World.” Therapist Ron Unger, LCSW, spoke on “Understanding Psychosis as an Attempt to Solve Problems: Integrating Perspectives on Trauma, Spirituality and Creativity.” CIIS professor Kirk Templeton, PhD, spoke on “The Academic Dissertation as a Process of Spiritual Emergence: A Case Study.” Therapist Lane Arye spoke on “A Processwork Approach to Spiritual Emergence and Extraordinary States.”
As future therapists at CIIS I feel we have the responsibility to never stifle our clients’ voices. I hope our group “Spiritual Emergence and Other Extraordinary Experiences” helps more people tell their true story and gives us the capacity as budding therapists to always encourage our clients to share their voice and narrative from a true place. I hope the group also shifts the culture at CIIS to be more inclusive, accepting, and truly value the breadth of human experience. Please visit our facebook page for more information and updates on events.
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