As to conscious intention, I wrote two indie novels, Tessa’s Dance, and its sequel, Signal Peak,1 for several reasons: I wanted to depict the heroism of Yakama Nation youth while trying to tell a decent story; I felt a duty to reflect an alternate view of reality in a way that academic and applied psychology wouldn’t sanction; and I felt told to write them.
In his review of my books, my friend Steve Newcomb at Indian Country Today recognizes in Tessa’s “troubled, flawed . . . and fierce” spirit the “metaphorical chaining of our Nations and peoples” and sees both Tessa’s Dance and Signal Peak as “excellent works to assist us with the decolonization of our existence.” While I’m very grateful for his support, I’m convinced that two features of my books are what draw praise in that regard—the place of the psychologist’s dreams in the plotline and the use of indigenous Yakama language. The former was beyond my own sense of agency (that is, given to me) and the latter does not belong to me (shared with me).
I talked to my brother and esteemed colleague, Eduardo Duran, after he finished reading Tessa’s Dance, and he asked me (no doubt facetiously), “What about this is fiction?”1 I laughed and mentioned, “Well, all the dreams the psychologist has in the books are from my own dream journal while I was working at Indian Health Service.” Dr. Duran graciously offered me a blurb for the back cover in which he astutely noted: “Tessa’s Dance blurs the line between dreamtime and what is known as real time.”
This is how that dream unfolded. I was initially trying to write a nonfiction book about the incredible disconnect between Western mental health systems in Indian Country and the alternate reality I encountered with Yakama people. I wrote a couple of ‘scholarly’ chapters, showed them to a ‘prominent New York agent,’ she liked them, and promptly told me I’d get sued if I kept naming names in the Indian Health Service system. So why not consider ‘fictionalizing’ my experience?
I spoke to my kalá (adopted grandma) and she advised me, “You have to sing your song because it’s a gift from your Creator and if you don’t, it will make you sick.”
Shortly afterwards, the Universe intervened, and I very suddenly found myself recovering from surgery. I wasn’t able to do much except stare at my laptop for about a month. I tried to move forward into what I’d started but then considered how my fledgling ‘scholarly work’, if ever successful, would end up on some dusty university library shelf and then eventually get me sued. I couldn’t get any further.
I laid on the couch a little downhearted, contemplating whether I could actually write a novel (or two), my thoughts floating around in an analytic, left hemisphere, if-and-maybe space when a voice out of nowhere whispered to me —
Tell them about me.
Who are you? I asked. Are you me?
No, I’m Tessa, she said, I’ll tell you a story and you write it.
And I began writing.
Now, was I ‘channeling’ or ‘communicating with spirits’? Like my avatar psychologist Ret Barlow in the books, I’m not much of a New Age enthusiast.
I prefer sticking with the elder guidance I received—I was being ‘given’ a song, or its equivalent in the form of a story. As Tessa’s story unfolded before me on my laptop, which is exactly how it felt, the dream journal I’ve kept since I began working at the Indian Health Service came into play.
Use the dreams, I heard. It felt like an imperative, not an idea. It came out of nowhere. It was the voice of an elder named Elisi. This story is also about the psychologist’s dreams. Put them in there. Write. K’wyaámtimt.
K’wyaámtimt: The Yakama word for enacting truth, to be true to one’s bloodline, language, and culture, to behave honestly. It takes a lot of English words to explain.
I have hesitated until now to mention that while I worked at the Yakama IHS clinic, many of the dreams in my journal came true. All of the dreams included in both novels came true in my daily life. It’s not that my dreams often come true, but they did when I was working at Yakama IHS.
For Western social scientists wanting to scan my temporal lobe or discover the difficulties of my childhood, I’m not alone in having my dreams come true. Even from within a Western research paradigm, a large survey of mostly African American college students in Virginia found 66 percent had experienced ‘paranormal dreams’2 that is, dreams subsequently reflected within ‘actual’ events.
Of course, this same study seeks to correlate such paranormal experiences with symptoms of ‘mental illness.’ Since African Americans are three times more prone to receiving the DSM label of ‘schizophrenia,’ we might wonder in what ways having visionary experiences will get you labeled as psychotic by psychiatry. When my new filmmaking friends Phil Borges, Kevin Tomlinson, and Debra Harvey Thompson finish working on their wonderful CrazyWise project, we will have more to ponder on that subject.
Although psychiatric researchers have speculated that the rate of people within the (politically-derived, biologically-fictional) racial category of ‘American Indian’ who simultaneously fit into the DSM category of schizophrenia is no greater than the ‘general population,’ we should remember that there’s no word at all for being mentally ill or psychotic or schizophrenic in any traditional language among Native Americans. I feel confident in asserting that’s likely also true for traditional indigenous languages worldwide. This is likely so because visionary, dream-time experiences are not viewed as sickness.
There are scholarly avenues through which we can understand why psychiatric words can’t be translated into indigenous languages, i.e. don’t exist in the indigenous world, but you won’t find much help within Western mental health or social science research literature. Instead, I’ll commend to you the good works of physicist F. David Peat, who spent much time with Blackfeet, Cree, and other North American native elders3 looking for a bridge between their understanding of the nature of reality and his own understanding of quantum theory.
I’ll borrow from his ideas in trying to explain to you why I’m not psychotic if I say my dreams come true, and I’m given stories to write by voices I hear in my head.
Indigenous languages depict a different version of reality pertaining to one’s relationship to the Universe. You might first think of ‘problems of translation’ imposed by differing world languages, but consider for a moment that the language you speak depicts the entire world you know, all you perceive, think, and feel. Without this tool, we have no means of communicating our experience not just to others but to ourselves.
Realize that English language derives from the Indo-European family of languages, but indigenous languages do not. There is no relationship between the two language forms. Languages with a similar heritage are easier to translate between because they contain a similar understanding of the nature of reality. I spent six years in full time work as a psychologist with Yakama people, and we almost always spoke English—my home language, their imposed language. However, Yakama language was shared with me and explained from time to time in order to help me understand client and family experiences. This process was transformative for me and also sometimes awkward. Whether speaking English or discussing Yakama concepts, my clients and I were frequently negotiating differing cultural realities.
The DSM depicts a European understanding of reality not only through its use of categories but in being an English-language document. The desire to name and categorize is a motive that is inescapable within English and other European languages. Neolithic European farmers discovered they could plant big fields with a similar crop and increase their harvests. Therefore, the possession of more land would lead to more sustenance, i.e. more wealth. The land itself became ‘objectified’ and all that pertained to having ‘more’ of it became generalized into the ‘having of more objects’. These objects had to be named and ordered. Dominance over the land of others was informed by ‘classes’ and hierarchies of people and activities and legitimized by a language of category.
Similarly, Greek and Roman thought sought to thoroughly differentiate between the self and the object world, leading to advances in mathematics and the progress of Western science. The self could be deceived, the senses too. A method needed to be developed to capture the ‘objectified’ truth of what lay external to the category of self. Adherents to mind and spirit categories began to clash over the implications of ‘objective science’ and were separated and sent to opposite corners in Post-Enlightenment thought.
This categorical thinking surged Europeans forward in their technologies while instilling a constant hunger for survival through the domination of nature and the possession of wealth. Science and the domination of nature are the historical surround through which ‘ideas’ pertaining to DSM labels become reified into ‘things one has in one’s brain.’ The brain is conceived of as yet another ‘object’ and ideas about what occurs therein should fit inside somehow. There are those among us afflicted by a deep yearning toward that goal.
Moving back to where this all got started, the idea of ‘owning’ or ‘possessing’ land is ludicrous among traditional indigenous cultures. That which is ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ is not very carefully demarked while giving and sharing are highly valued. Colonialists were terribly confused in their attempts to treaty tracts of land and habitation between themselves and their native neighbors until they caught on that native people didn’t really understand how the land could be ‘owned.’ Thereafter, the Europeans imposed their own language heritage into pieces of paper within which they affixed signatures, symbolically representing their inner identification with the surveyed categories they’d invented regarding the sacred land the natives inhabited. What native people made of all that at the time we can’t be sure.
The Europeans handed these pieces of paper to native people as they’d done in back in Europe in order to signify what they owned and dominated and what the natives could still ‘have.’ As EuroAmerican wealth and land increased, the impetus toward domination and possession preceding from their own cultural heritage and their Neolithic European ancestors moved forth into what they’d once said the natives could ‘have.’
Land cannot be owned or possessed within indigenous reality, even though the people are in an ancient and constant relationship to it, and it is in a similar relationship with them. Iroquois farmers plant squash, corn, and beans together because these foods share a similar ‘story’—they are the Three Sisters, beneficent food spirits growing from the grave of Sky Woman and the sacred Earth since the time of Creation and inextricably linked to Tsi? Niyukwaliho’=t^ (gee knee you gwa lee ho tunh), ‘our kinds of ways, our ways.’ What Europeans would order in their language as the ‘objects’ of corn, squash, and beans are perceived by the Iroquois in their interdependency and context in the ongoing life of the People.
Now consider your brain as a similar system of interdependency and context. The currently much-lauded neural connections therein (which sum to more than the number of stars in the Milky Way) are being surveyed, mapped out, categorized, and delineated. There are even ethical disputes over whether psychiatrists can use coercive techniques to ‘treat’ these mapped out sections of your own brain without your consent. They would like to come onto the ‘land of your brain’ and possess and improve it. The folly of the biopsychiatric preoccupation with trying to tease apart neural elements and reduce them to names and categories lies in its flagrant disregard for the dignity and lived context of human beings.
But the connections by which they’re entranced are entirely different than the sum of their constituent mechanisms or parts or even the subsystems of relationships seen via PET scans and their like. You cannot have a thought without a brain, of course, but you can’t have a thought without the Universe you’re inhabiting either.
Your brain is an open system continually interacting with the Universe—sending photons of light to your eyes, signals regarding mass and density to your sense of touch, compressions of air pressure across the cilia of your inner ear, etc. This constant unfolding is felt, ignored, glimpsed, or perhaps even contemplated more carefully as you construct what you think, intuit, value, your motivations, what you feel, and your conclusions. You rely totally upon the language you inhabit with other people and which inhabits you for organizing and characterizing your experience.
In this way, we are permeated by our interrelationships with the Universe while simultaneously constructing our own inner Universe. On our planet, not everyone does this in the same way and this leads to major problems.
Our understanding of the Universe-as-a-whole exists ‘only apparently’ outside of our inner selves and is highly influenced by our particular language and culture. Furthermore, from relativity theory, we know that our context as observers and experiencers affects all that we observe. We can study light as particle or wave—it will behave paradoxically in either manner depending upon the context in which we observe it. But this paradox is resolved when we accept that we are in a constant ongoing relationship with the Universe.
That is an ancient indigenous understanding, and we arrive back at it through time’s circle as an alternate language within quantum physics emerges to challenge what the rest of Western science still chronically ignores.
According to F. David Peat, his mentor David Bohm called this language, ‘rheomode’, ‘rheo’ from the Greek and meaning ‘to flow.’ Before he died, Boem intended this new physics language to offset the nouns and static categories of English language that so fail to capture the quantum world. More dramatically, before he died, Boem “met with a number of Algonkian [indigenous] speakers and was struck by the perfect bridge between their language and worldview and his own exploratory philosophy.”4
Western science construes and studies parts or categories, while languages informing Indigenous science have detected and studied relationships for many centuries longer.
We are not just a ‘biopsychosocial’ Universe but much, much more. Think of the epistemologies, ways of knowing, forever lost as indigenous languages and their insights have been suppressed and even destroyed. We should do all we can to protect and preserve what remains.
Consider how ancient Mayan astronomers without telescopes dug deep trenches in which they could lay so as to limit their visual fields and maximize their acuity. This allowed them to develop such clarity regarding movements of stars and planets that they could calculate the length of a year at 365.242 days thousands of years before modern Western scientists improved upon the equation to derive 365.2422 days. Reconsider how such sensitivity and awareness in those times might have given rise to indigenous stories about humans communicating with animals and nature. Our collective memory regarding the achievements of our ancestors may seem quite short.
In Western mental health practices, the boundary between inside and outside our selves remains marked and enforced by a European language that serves cultural hegemony and doesn’t allow entry to competing epistemologies. Within this constricted reality, I am in the category of sleep because my eyes are closed, and I’m apparently unresponsive to a world categorized as ‘external.’ But even Western science has to admit that my brain is actively functioning; my senses are active; I remain in relationship to the Universe.
From an indigenous perspective, if overnight I wander this Universe in my dreams and then re-encounter what I experience when I’m awake, I’m only continuing my particular journey as a human being. In being alerted by my native friends toward recognizing the synergy between the Universe within me and beyond me (a demarcation imposed by the confines of my English language thinking), whose ‘mental health’ is actually being assisted?
“Pay attention to your dreams,” says my kalá, “because they’re important.”
There is no discontinuity, no categorical shift between dreaming and waking, only a need to further investigate our important relationship with the Universe.
When I say a story was given to me, voices spoke in my head, and I was thereby helped to write my novels, you now have some understanding of what I mean. It arose from my interaction with the Universe and is offered back like the songs I have heard in so many sweatlodges. Thanks for reading and sharing them with others.
But please don’t tell the biopsychiatrists.
* * * * *
1 Both of my novels are available through my website, www.tessasdance.com, and at Amazon.
2 McClenon, J. (2012). A community survey of psychological symptoms: evaluating evolutionary theories regarding shamanism and schizophrenia, Mental Health, Religion & Culture
3 Peat, F. D. (2002). Blackfoot physics. Phanes Press. ISBN 1-8890482-8
4 Ibid. p. 238
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.
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Native Americans, tribal people, people in the third world – all recognize the concept of psychosis and severe mental illness as separate from any cultural aspect.
Evidently the author did not hear the story of the psychiatrist who went to a tribal village in a very isolated part of Africa and was told there was a mentally ill woman there.
He jokingly said, ‘How do you know she is mentally ill, when you yourselves all hear voices?’
The head man of the village looked at him with pity, and explained in as simple words as he could, ‘She hears voices at the wrong times’.
And in fact the woman was severely psychotic.
‘Visionariness’ in traditional cultures is NOTHING like it is painted in the West by so many authors, or by your article. It is a cultural, educated experience that is highly proscribed and is taught meticulously over many years, just like any other skill from arrow making to tanning hides, and is absolutely nothing like the psychotic experience of the severely mentally ill.
Psychosis is recognized and is a matter of concern in all traditional, third world and tribal cultures.
Your article is just one more silly addition to the misconceptions so many people promulgate in the West, about traditional cultures and mental illness.
Thanks David, for your thought provoking post. As for the claims made by tusu, I don’t really agree, but I do think they touch on an important issue.
I believe there is a difference between hearing voices etc. and having contact with the spirits in a helpful way, and being troubled by voices and spirits. But I think cultural research has found a pattern about how in many cultures, signs of shamanic crisis, which indicates destiny to be a shaman, can be things like babbling confused words or being tormented by spirits. In other words, people with a tendency to have these kinds of experience might first run into trouble with them, but then be helped to handle them successfully, so they can use their talent of going into altered states to help the community instead of suffer from it.
I have talked with a Native American spiritual leader i know, he agrees that in his tribe, there was no concept of people who were the equivalent of what we call “psychotic” long term, though there were people who ran into trouble with the spirits, and people who had more of a tendency to engage with spirits. The main difference seemed to be that people in the community had ideas about how to engage in the spirit world and could help prevent people from getting stuck in long term problems with “spirits.”
Hi Ron, thanks for your comment. While I don’t think it’s easy to generalize about the wide diversity of native people worldwide, I suspect as you do that the development of healers and/or shamans occurs deep within a place of relationship and a community that helps those with disturbing voices, visions, etc. by providing a spiritual and epistemological context within which they are not only understood, but valued and given a role. I intended this piece to suggest that one culture’s language (and version of reality) reflected in terms like ‘psychosis’ or ‘mental illness’ or whatever else cannot be presumed to readily account for the understanding of reality embedded in another, unrelated language. Tusu seems to have bristled because of the desire to de-contextualize the word ‘psychotic’ from its roots in European and American psychiatry so it can be exported universally to indigenous communities. Horse-puckey. That’s an oppressive effort that’s already well underway, unfortunately, along with its shoddy science and ‘masquerade of medication’ for the ‘severely mentally ill’. For the record, I’ve worked with numerous members of medicine families in Indian Country who would surely be re-labeled and fed sedatives by that movement. ‘Pacification’ has unique meaning in the history of American Indians. As to what we might learn from their traditional understanding, their home language for their experience has only been disrespected and so many historical efforts have been applied to destroy it. I think we should be responding to the imposition of oppressive mental health language as a substitute or borrowed language for what’s been damaged or taken away by those who wield that language. See my post WHOMHP to learn how the WHO psychiatrists hope to export their language globally as a substitute for oppressed experience. When I say there’s never been a word for the ‘mental illness’ phenomena of Western societies in native languages, I’m not pointing to problems in translation– they are insurmountable in my opinion. I mean to suggest more importantly that it’s cultural hegemony to compel people to substitute words for their experience from your own language (that label and stigmatize and secularize them away from their own traditions) when your society is the very one responsible for trying to destroy that people’s traditions and the very language by which they have always understood themselves.
I find someone misguided. It was just last week that I read an article that a psychiatrist in a remote part of West Africa found that several tribes there had no word for mental illness in their languages. But, the good Dr. is going to set that straight by injecting the term and creating a whole new nation of “sick” people. I also suspect that their will be created a whole new legion of those requiring “treatment” which in return generates profit for the drug manufacturers. I searched the piece to try and discover who was funding his efforts but there, of course, was no mention of it. It seems to me to be another phase of the Divine Intervention movement but it is now being exported.
Your article and your views are wonderful. I think it is far past due time when it begins to be understood that we are a complex being created to every aspect of creation. We effect and are effected and that is how it is supposed to be.
“Evidently the author did not hear the story of the psychiatrist who went to a tribal village in a very isolated part of Africa and was told there was a mentally ill woman there.”
It is not a “story”, but a report. and it was not a psychiatrist, but Stanford psychology professor Robert Sapolsky. We can all learn a lot from his lectures here:
Thanks for your comment, subvest416. I have strong opinions about this particular scientist. First off, Robert Saplosky is neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist–he’s a biologist and neuroendocrinologist. Ideologically, he is a biological reductionist who presupposes schizophrenia is a genetically-based disease of the brain. He relies on the term ‘schizophrenia’ in his lectures and papers as though the category itself is as immutably reliable and valid as any other physical disease. As is well known, there is no reliable or valid physical correlates for the alleged ‘brain disease’ of schizophrenia. Saplosky and others sharing his view minimize or even entirely disregard the brain as an open system in relationship with the world around it. I assume he may have made the remarks under discussion in this thread about when a villager ‘hears voices’ based on some interaction he had while studying baboons in Africa. He has made similar remarks in other places–“Now we have to ask our evolutionary question: ‘Who are the schizotypals throughout 99% of human history?’ And in the 1930s, decades before the word “schizotypal” even existed, anthropologists already had the answer. It’s the shamans. It’s the medicine men. It’s the medicine women.” (ffrf.org/legacy/fttoday/2003/april/index.php?ft=sapolsky) His views on what we’re discussing are entirely conjectural, his opinion, premised upon no background in behavioral sciences, and open to dispute. The quote I’ve included illustrates one of the main points of my post–he uses psychiatric language to obfuscate what is presumed to be an inferior world view, not on par with ‘psychiatric science’ (as thought there is such a thing). I don’t share his perspective at all–I’m fundamentally at odds with the underpinnings of his scientific philosophy, which seeks to locate human complexity in the elemental. I’ve looked at the same science for many years and consider it mostly shoddy and trite, fueled by drug company money. In my view, mind does not equal brain. I’d watch his lectures with great skepticism.
There is nothing wrong in looking at human behaviour in a biological level, though there are psychological levels, and other levels as well, which levels are often quite related to each other. The trouble is not in looking at what goes on in biological level, the trouble is when some people start to use some of those findings to support their conquest of behaviour control and treating of mad. Even diagnosis can be often seen as tools of behaviour control.
Hi Hermes. Re- your comment below “quantum mechanics bridging Western view to the spiritual view is just silly”- I have no ‘reply’ button there so am responding here. My effort in my post is to encourage thoughtfulness about indigenous world views embedded in spirituality that conflict with Western psychiatric assumptions. Too long a piece if I tried to delve into the bridge evident in Western science quantum physics, but I tried to hint at it. I’m hoping you’ll stay open and take a look a closer look at what F. David Peat has to say- try http://www.fdavidpeat.com/bibliography/essays/black.htm Thanks.
Hi David, I don’t have a reply button either. When the depth of replies goes too far on this board, there won’t be a reply button anymore. In any case, I think I’m relatively open minded to new ideas and so on. I read through that link you gave, and it was not very convincing.
Saplosky’s Zebra book was a great listen, thought there are probably many new better theories and findings made since. It’s just one “level” of seeing things. People get elevated stress hormones during stress, long term stress may affect immunological issues in body and so on. That’s one level of seeing what goes on. There are other levels of seeing things, such as spiritual, social and psychological, and these levels are often related to each other in various kinds of ways. So, in short, though I evidently don’t like the effects neuroleptic drugs have on my body, I think it’s often quite useful to think about what goes on in body in this “neuroendocrinology” level. It’s one level to consider, there are many other levels as well.
As for that link you gave, it seemed a bit like yet more of that new age stuff.
“There is a related metaphor in Western science. A molecule is not so much an object but a dynamical pattern. At the quantum level it is a pattern of energies which extend into the ground state of the entire cosmos. Absorbed into the body this dynamic energy pattern provokes a range of transformations of the body’s biochemical activities. Of course, the analogy can only go so long as Western science continues to fragment matter from ethical values, consciousness and spirit. …”
New age bullshit generator here gives answers that are quite as good: http://sebpearce.com/bullshit/
“We exist as chaos-driven reactions.
Nothing is impossible. Sharing is a constant.
If you have never experienced this harmonizing on a cosmic scale, it can be difficult to self-actualize.
Although you may not realize it, you are transformative. Have you found your mission? It can be difficult to know where to begin.
You will soon be recreated by a power deep within yourself — a power that is high-frequency, magical. Through affirmations, our essences are transformed into faith. Naturopathy may be the solution to what’s holding you back from an unfathomable vector of synchronicity.”
“There is a related metaphor in Western science. A molecule is not so much an object but a dynamical pattern. At the quantum level it is a pattern of energies which extend into the ground state of the entire cosmos. Absorbed into the body this dynamic energy pattern provokes a range of transformations of the body’s biochemical activities. Of course, the analogy can only go so long as Western science continues to fragment matter from ethical values, consciousness and spirit. …””
Hmm. Well, the competing world view per New Agers is not indigenous even if it has co-opted certain indigenous beliefs, one has been around for many thousands of years and the other has emerged over the last 40 years mostly in response to the massive ‘technocrocizing’ of human beings. So I don’t believe the derivative viewpoints of New Age philosophy are comparable at all to what I’m trying to reflect from my own experience inside native communities. An indigenous view doesn’t negate the approaches of Western science either, but I believe Western science does attempt to preempt indigenous science as too mystical and subjective. That’s understandable given the cultural history of European science. I’ll close by reiterating that I’m deeply concerned about the movement of pseudo-science within Western psychiatry toward indigenous people and consider its forced and unquestioning imposition to be cultural hegemony. I’ve enjoyed our dialogue and have to opt out at this point, herme, with the hope that maybe others will weigh in alongside our dialogue. Thanks again for sharing your views.
David, ok, let’s opt out. I’ll add that I liked to read much of the stuff about indigenous people and so on you wrote about. It’s just that I don’t think quantum mechanics has much to do with this issue, and that Sapolsky also has something interesting to say. 🙂
During the last autumn, I listened to Sapolsky’s “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” when I was walking or running through the woods in my evenings. I remember listening to that audio book while I was running through the woods. It was a very interesting listen. I think Sapolsky’s level of reasoning is entirely valid and interesting, at least to me.
I mean, I totally understand the complexity of human behaviour.. I was given the diagnosis of “schizophrenia” a few years back… But I think that the level of explaining human or animal behaviour given by Sapolsky is entirely reasonably and interesting.
There are different levels of reasoning about the world and one’s experiences. You can have mystical subjective experiences, and there can be some bodily or neural things that can explain of correlate with those experiences. Live with that.
You say Sapolsky is “first of a biologist and neuroendocrinologist” instead of a psychologist or psychiatrist – well, that’s exactly what’s good of him! That’s the level of science I want to hear of. I want to hear good science about biology and related fields, now psychiatry and psychology.
Correction: “now psychiatry and psychiatry”… I meant to say NOT those. I don’t know if Sapolsky is correct in his opinions, but his level of thinking about these issues is in my opinion entirely valid.
Mystic or magic levels of thinking are not entirely bad either, and I actually have some like in those practices as well. But I also like what I heard in that Sapolsky audio book about Zebras.
Hi Hermes. Thanks for your comment. I take issue with bioreductionism but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading and studying biological views. Two different things and Saplosky. I also agree with you that psychology and psychiatry shouldn’t have last say on what’s what. My post highlights F. David Peat because quantum physics offers a bridge for Western scientific thought toward indigenous spiritual perspectives. I think that’s useful and interesting and am glad this particular blog post is provoking reaction and commentary.
Hi David, maybe I have not understood all of it, but this stuff about quantum mechanics bridging Western view to the spiritual view is just silly. When on earth does quantum mechanics have to do with spiritual experiences, and so on?
Thanks for sharing your perspective, tusu. Although I think you’re as off target as you feel I am, I’m glad we have a forum to exchange ideas. It’s interesting to read your anecdote, which fails to cite which psychiatrist and which African village. You’re right, I’ve not heard that particular story, but it sounds like others similarly positioned to legitimize the universalism of psychiatric ideas. I doubt its authenticity, but that’s not really the point. There’s no body of intercultural study to legitimize the claims you’ve made. As to your contention that psychosis is ‘recognized and is a matter of concern in all traditional, third world, and tribal cultures’, I challenge you to simply provide one tribal language term that easily translates to the English language word ‘psychosis.’ It’s a European construct.
This is an absolutely true story. I worked at a mental health agency briefly (which drove me out of the field and into advocacy as a result!) with a psychiatrist who was actually pretty good as psychiatrists go. He went to talk to a Native American guy who was hearing voices. In as empowering a way as he knew how, he offered that he had some medication he could prescribe that might make those voices go away. The guy’s response: “You white people – you’re all the same. You hear voices and you want to make them go away. We hear voices, we go someplace quiet and see if they have anything interesting to say!”
A Native mother I spoke with described her son (who heard voices) as having a “gift” that required that she take extra care of him. He was quite unable to care for himself much of the time, but she was concerned that Western “mental health treatment” would be damaging to his spirit. She did not see him as being ill.
This is a difference in attitude toward hearing voices that I think reflects exactly what you are talking about here. There is simply no belief that hearing voices is a malady or “disorder” of any kind. It’s just something that happens to some people, an experience to be pondered and made sense of, rather than something to fear or eliminate.
Thanks for your post, Steve McCrea. The two responses of Native Americans you’ve shared echo what I’ve also heard from many indigenous people over the years– Western mental health models do not fit their worldview. I wonder what it would mean to consider that perspective as at least on par from any other in the world.
Brilliant. And, no, don’t tell the psychiatrists.
I have precognitive dreams. I am often stressed by the ones which show death or disaster. I wake up with solar plexus spasms. I took a benzodiazepine to help with sleep after I saw my mother’s (unexpected) death. I had adverse and withdrawal effects which were taken for mental illness and I was drugged to insanity and forced to have electroshock. I kept accepting the drugs because I would have done almost anything to stop the drug-induced agitation – akathisia. I was told I would be on drugs and weekly maintenance ECT for the rest of my life and would require institutionalization. WRONG.
I am now writing a book about consciousness and will include some of my medical records.
Here’s what one consulting psychiatrist wrote to another : ” I had difficulty eliciting any psychotic symptoms. She does, however, endorse what she describes as ‘precognitive dreams.’ When listening to three or four of these in sequence, it became quite clear to me that there was indeed a logical connection between the dream content and the subsequent life events though only in a general way and at times vague way. ” (My dreams are generally quite precise.) The psychiatrist continues: “I am not entirely convinced that this is not a product of her own bent towards non-traditional and spiritual treatments. For example, she has worked as a practitioner of therapeutic touch. I could not elicit any history of auditory hallucinations or indeed hallucinations of any type, nor could I obtain a history of any delusional ideation beyond the prophetic dreams.” And more: “If she is presenting a history reliably, the psychotic symptomology would essentially arise within the context of the “precognitive dreams” she describes.” “There is no clear Axis ll diagnosis though I would wonder about schizotypal traits. ”
Those are the words of a psychiatrist esteemed by his colleagues.
The ‘spirits’ have already helped me save lives and I hope will guide me through my book.
Good to have connected with you.
Hi amnesia, thanks so much for your remarks. The quotes from your psychiatrists should be shocking, but alas, they are the mainstream perspective on paranormal dreaming. Out-of-the-ordinary experiences, which may be very disturbing but also revered in many spiritual traditions, offer many opportunities for pathological labeling via the DSM system. I’m glad you’re writing your book–it sounds like you have plenty of experiences to draw off. Good luck.
Thank you, David. I, too, have dreams that are sometimes prophetic. And these dreams seem to be anything other than “irrelevant to reality” and “fictional,” as the American “mental health” industry as proclaimed. During a lucid dreaming state I experienced in 2009, I was reprimanding the Federal Reserve banksters, lots of people are doing this all over the web now (I come from an ethical “in God we trust” American banking family.)
And my initial lucid dream, which occurred on the night of 9.11.2001, that was claimed to be “psychosis” by an ELCA Lutheran psychologist, was that I was “moved by the Holy Spirit.” Drugs don’t “cure” one from belief in God, dreams aren’t actually “psychosis,” and I’m not quite certain why the ELCA religion is having people tranquilized and poisoned for belief in the Holy Spirit, other than they seem to have turned their religion into a money only worshiping, child abuse covering up corporation, rather than continuing to be a Christian organization. And, perhaps, they were upset that God had not called me to manage money for the ELCA (I did turn a pastor down on such a job offer just before I was attacked and defamed), or this country, as He had my father (dad had volunteered his financial acumen to help manage the ELCA pension fund, as well as being arguably the number one MIS specialist in the US banking industry, back when there was some ethics and fiscal responsibility within the American banking industry).
Oh, by the way, my unethical ex-pastor had denied my daughter a baptism at the exact moment the second plane hit the second World Trade Center building on 9.11.2001, which could have been the reason for the powerful dream – and my subsequent Methodist pastor shuddered when he heard about that sin, guess it was a bigger sin than I had originally understood. But, to my knowledge, my former doctors and the ELCA Chicago synod headquarters are the only people who don’t agree with me that 9.11.2001 was disgusting – these people all seem to think disgust at 9.11.2001 is the “life long, incurable, genetic” “bipolar disorder.”
I’ll ask for your books for Christmas, since I too just started working on a book about the “credible fictional story” the mainstream “mental health” community has claimed my life and dreams to be. It’s odd having to write one’s own life as a “fictional story,” just because psychiatrists think they alone dictate reality. But, at least my husband’s relatives, who write the legalize in this country, have an ironic definition for “legal fiction,” that seemingly makes my medical records also “legal fiction.”
Thanks for your comment, Someone Else, and for sharing your paranormal dream experiences and how you were pathologized for having them. These kinds of ‘deviations’ generally be taken as ‘evidence’ of abnormality including psychosis. I think consumers within the mental health system may wish to consider carefully how they may be ‘evaluated’ if they choose to share experiences like you’ve described.
I think the “mental health” industry should start abiding by the laws of our country, and stop claiming dreams are “psychosis,” and coercively medicating people for belief in “God” and the “Holy Spirit,” since doing such is actually illegal in the US.
By the way, thank you for the response, and acknowledgment of my existence as a human being. Since the psychiatric industry seemingly believes, according to my medical records, that my life and concerns are a “credible fictional story.”
The Robert Moss Blog: Dream messages about the future: “This is part of our natural intuitive radar. It has helped humans to survive for the whole of our odyssey on the planet, and most human societies , until recently, have valued dreams and dreamers that can show us the shape of things to come.”
It just occurred to me that as more and more of these stories come to light, as individuals whose spiritual or paranormal experiences were pathologized by psychiatrists share their experiences and connect the dots through social media, the APA and their consumer mouthpiece, NAMI, will amp up the efforts to rewrite history, first by comparing the ‘humane’ approach offered by the medical model compared to the inhumane era of burning epileptics at the stake and institutionalizing people in asylums, and second, by exaggerating the success of the current paradigm of care based on the medical model.
Meanwhile, the race to find the ‘gene’ or the chemical mechanism for mental illness continues, like the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a colossol waste of resources to obfuscate the original greed and abuse of power that led to millions of unecessart deaths.
To deploy this massive distraction and continue to bilk billions, Pharma will amp up its efforts to co opt the recovery movement to newer heights, by aggressively seeking out happy compliant consumers whose lives were saved by psychiatry, offering them ‘fellowships’ to start blogs, websites, write books, and basically counteract this upwelling of new consciousness we are witnessing. Expect a reality show soon pitting family members against a loved one who refuses to take his/her meds.
Not to say that individuals who identify with having been saved by psychiatry don’t exist; they do. And I honor them.
But psychiatry will highlight these stories, possibly even fictionalize or spin them as they did with John Nash’s story in ‘A Beautiful Mind’ (The Nobel Prize winning scholar who does not take medication) at the expense of individuals who identify as having recovered in spite of psychiatric abuse. Psychiatry will continue to squander opportunities to learn from its victims and its own dissidents.
Psychiatry will not deal with its own shadow. Instead, psychiatry, to protect its questionable legacy, must project its shadow onto the hapless inhabitants of a previous age who had not yet discovered the ‘science’ of mental illness and the ‘ignorant’ inhabitants of third world nations. Psychiatry must maintain, at all costs, its savior image, even as the false science upon which it is founded continues to unravel.
Trying to present psychiatry (as it is practiced generally in the US today) as ‘humane’ and effective is like trying to put perfume on a turd.
To avoid such simplistic comparisons between modern psychiatry and the inhumane days of asylums, work houses, and burning people at the stake, and the tendency of psychiatry to blatantly disregard modern forms of abuse that are occurring behind closed doors at hundreds of locked facilities today, I suggest that individuals bypass corporate media and Pharma backed legislators, and reach out to communities of faith.
If you worship at a church, temple, etc. invite a speaker from the survivor/consumer community to speak to those with whom you worship. Invite a holistic, alternative healer who has hands on experience helping others achieve recovery using non medical models to speak there.
It is important for people of faith to understand not only the horrific history of psychiatry including lobotomies, insulin shock, and electroshock but also to understand how these abuses continue to occur in the present day, through lack of informed consent, forced shock, and forced outpatient treatment with drugs that harm and make people chronically ill.
Finally, its important for people to understand how communities of faith are throwing individuals who experience extreme states including ‘psychosis’ under the bus, by failing to provide to their members, alternative explanations including those explanations that draw from their own, undoubtedly rich spiritual traditions. People need to see the evidence that clearly shows that recovery rates from ‘mental illness’ in the U.S. are higher for individuals who do not accept psychiatric treatment and who seek alternatives, instead.
UGANDA – FROM MENTAL HOSPITAL TO MEDICAL SCHOOL
Excerpt from TIME Magazine July 2006 article “Calling All Healers”: Yahaya Sekagya ….. his history was shaped by medical trauma. As a teenager he was consigned to a mental hospital for visions he says were calling him to traditional medicine. “It was misdiagnosed and misunderstood by Western medicine,” says Sekagya, 43. Although he ended up going to medical school–more out of contrariness than conviction – he also spent six years studying at a medicine man’s shrine. Now he’s the director of the Ugandan chapter of Prometra, a Senegal-based advocacy group promoting traditional medicine. Sekagya runs an outdoor school in a forest south of Kampala. About 100 students gather weekly under a leafy canopy. Instructors line up herbs on a thin wooden table cut from a single log. Along with the basics of hygiene and anatomy, students learn the identification and uses of local plants. Meanwhile, spiritualists chant, dance and drum to call down spirits and consult them for cures.
While Sekagya concedes that modern medicine is better at blood transfusions, rehydration and aligning compound fractures, he insists that traditional ways should not be dismissed simply because they are not understood. “A Western yardstick is the wrong yardstick to regulate traditional medicine,” he says. He is also worried that expensive modern medicines may be smothering local knowledge, leaving the country dependent on foreign drugs and funding. “ARVs are not curing AIDS. They are improving the quality of life,” Sekagya says. “Some traditional practices are doing the same. What attention are we giving to that? And if we come with ARVS and flood the whole system, will we lose those traditions?” Uganda’s medical establishment recognizes that ….. they need to listen to the Sekagyas. Thus, the Ministry of Health is drafting a policy to regulate healers, and the Makerere University Medical School in Kampala is teaching students to respect traditional medicine – if only to learn what potions their clients are taking. “They are not going to control the behavior of their patients,” says Samuel Luboga, deputy dean of education. “But by being hostile, they can prevent themselves from finding out.
STAND AWAY FROM THEM WITH THE INFORMATION BEFORE IT CAUSES THEM THE PAIN OF CONFUSION.
An American surgeon trained in shamanism wrote to me: “I appreciate that you are so sensitive to the essence of people, especially those whose existence is under great stress. ….. You do have gifts that set you outside the norm, but The Mystery reveals Itself in such people, though their struggle may be great. The thought comes to affirm you for your recognition of the fact that many people haven’t a clue as to what you see. We talked about that in a HOPE group meeting yesterday and agreed that the most effective way was to recognize the blank expression in their eyes before they put it there and stand away from them with the information before it causes them the pain of confusion.
YOU ARE IN THIS MESS BECAUSE CONSCIOUSNESS ISN’T TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS.
The words of a Soviet-trained psychic the first time we met: “What the hell happened to you. You were a totally healthy person and doctors have turned you into a piece of shit. There are nine spaces in your energy field – all because of drugs. Your doctors should be jailed. You are in this mess because consciousness isn’t taught in schools. Your are here to help people and you can help people by telling your story.”
Should you be in spiritual crisis never ever ever turn to a psychiatrist. They know only the DSM and pharmaceuticals. They are spiritually unevolved.
Warn parents not to introduce their children to psychiatry! I was the one who made the error in judgement of taking my daughter to the ER when she was experiencing an extreme state. They restrained her in five points restraints when she tried to run away. They forcibly injected her then committed her on an ’emergency hold’ and she has never been the same since, cycling in an out of hospitals, foster homes, etc ! In retrospect, I believe my daughter was experiencing a spiritual emergency. Instead of showing her compassion by taking her home, running a bath, burning sage, giving her a foot massage, etc. i panicked and introduced her to psychiatry where she had her rights and dignity stripped from her, was terrified and told she had an incurable brain disease! I feel terrible but I was trained to trust doctors! I didn’t know about the dark side of psychiatry. I just never thought about these issues before. Now, these issues consume my thoughts: how wrong I was, how profoundly damaging psychiatry can be, and how my actions are partly to blame for my daughter’s situation.