Human Experiences in Academic Boxes


What are Extreme Experiences?  Other terms for them are Spiritual Crisis or Spiritual Emergency. They can be visual or auditory, and people may feel as though they receive too much information, which becomes unmanageable or distressing. They may experience heightened awareness, or feel they are becoming clairvoyant, or can see the future.  Some feel as if they are spiritually awakening, but their mind is being bombarded with inner experiences.  Others simply cannot adjust to the flow of spiritual data. They may find it difficult to cope with daily life, and may feel out of touch with ordinary reality.

With the appropriate support many find the experiences profoundly transformative.  However, observers or relatives may have different beliefs about extreme experiences: perhaps that a person is having a psychological breakdown or mental health problems, or is psychotic or experiencing schizophrenia. In contrast people from different cultures may suggest the experiences offer insight into reincarnation, spirit possession, or shamanic opening. Others consider such anomalous experiences may be a route to develop insight into altered states of consciousness. The same experiences are interpreted in many ways, by different professions, and this is a problem.

Complex terminology. Depending on context and a combination of criteria, some psychiatrists may identify one or more of the above mentioned human experiences as indicative of pathology, schizophrenia or psychosis. It would make a profound difference to social well being, if scholars in different disciplines collaborated to raise awareness on the similarities of the nature of human experience.  The problem is however, an interesting dilemma exists in the field of mental health and ‘extreme experiences’.  This is when academics of different disciplines do not collaborate or speak together about ‘anomalous’ human experience (I put anomalous in quotes, because what is anomalous to one person may be normal to another.)  I list examples of this lack of communication between university departments below.

Departments of Religious Studies conduct research with people who have spontaneous religious and spiritual experiences. Transpersonal Psychology course topics may include studies of transcendence, altered states of consciousness, near death and out of body experiences. In Departments of Paranormal Psychology, students may cover research into clairvoyance, telepathy, mediumship, and precognition.  In contrast, anomalous events such as Near Death, End of Life, and Out of Body experiences have attracted the attention of psychiatrists, cardiologists and psychologists. Departments of Medical Anthropology explore global cultural beliefs about mental health, worldwide shamanic practices, and spiritism (belief in spirits, spirit possession). Finally Transcultural Psychiatry covers social and cultural interpretation of conditions and symptoms, and usually reframes them within a medical context. The above disciplines all study anomalous human experiences.  However, the beliefs of individual scholars in these academic disciplines influence the way extreme experiences and mental health is regarded.

Who are Specialists and Survivors? In addition to the academic disciplines mentioned above, there are those specialists who deliberately seek out anomalous experiences or are practitioners in shifting consciousness, and achieving altered states of awareness. This may include clairvoyants and psychics, mediums who claim to speak with the deceased, and shamans who claim to actively engage with spirits. There has been a long tradition of silence among practitioners about their visionary and auditory experiences (as there was an ancient fear their experiences were suggestive of mental ill health).  Today urban neo-shamans tend to speak openly about this or that visionary experience.

The last decade has seen a rise in ‘survivors’ or mental health service users, who are angry and speaking out against the psychiatric system. Survivors or Service Users may undergo one or more anomalous experience mentioned in the first paragraph. They claim their extreme experiences are events of spiritual crisis, or spiritual emergency, which result in profound personal transformation. They reject psychiatric practice and medication, and are joined by some critical psychiatrists, and others who regard extreme experiences and breakdown as a way of spiritually breaking through to healing.

Why am I interested? My background lies within Medical Anthropology. I have done fieldwork in Sudan and in India, and also in London UK incorporating mental health promotion with Black and Asian minority ethnic groups.  The most recent fieldwork in India explored religious, spiritual and biomedical approaches to mental well being, which was published as the book “Spiritual Psychiatries”. In India, psychiatrists and physicians I met assumed mental distress was an event, triggered by external phenomena. Their explanatory models for mental distress often included esoteric or anomalous phenomena.  They assumed recovery, and this influenced their treatment strategies. The last part of the book explored whether Indian principles were transferable to western populations. It opened a fresh dialogue on global mental wellbeing.

Wider Discussions. In addition to that book, I have for many years attempted to broaden the discussion about different theories of illness causation in hospitals, medical schools, and universities.  To this end, I developed a Spiritual and Cultural Competencies Training Pack to reframe understanding with staff.  I offered seminars to medical and health care staff on existential beliefs about being human, and on the nature of reality. In the UK, in the hospitals and medical schools where I taught, front line staff participants were invariably from many different ethnic groups, and during discussions they corroborated my presentation material.  They were familiar with different ways of considering existential reality and cultural frameworks of understanding.  Peer participatory learning was an effective strategy for changing attitudes.

However, a problem seemed to lie, not with front line medical and health care staff themselves, but more profoundly with the education system as a whole. Although change is the only constant in life, some academic scholars and researchers tend to rigidly maintain the educational classification systems they are familiar with. They adhere to specialist categories.  New students are repeatedly being trained in old ways of thinking about anomalous phenomena. This is particularly unfortunate in the case of those who suffer from extreme experiences, breakdown, or spiritual emergency.  It means there is no consistency about the way such experiences are addressed.

Narrow Thinking. I have concerns. Over time, I opened conversations with colleagues in different academic disciplines about mental health or spiritual crisis. Of those I spoke to, I was disappointed to find several colleagues thought their discipline covered experiential human phenomena that had nothing to do with mental health.  There was absolutely denial.  Not by everyone, but it seemed by popular consent.  It was difficult to progress the argument about spiritual emergence, when professionals in the allied disciplines mentioned above insisted the phenomena they researched, were categorically different from the phenomena experienced during mental distress or extreme crisis.

It is such a small step, to see the connection, and raise awareness of experiences that are being interpreted differently, in different disciplines, in different countries. It is such a small step to explore common ground, to normalise experiences. It can only benefit the global dialogue about mental health, the more people learn about other states of consciousness, and the chosen experiences of different specialist practitioners.

Creating Bridges. Is there anyone out there creating bridges between the academic disciplines of Religious Studies, Psychiatry, Transpersonal Psychology, Paranormal Psychology, and Medical Anthropology, using research to compare and contrast the lived phenomena of human experience? I feel it is difficult to progress social and individual healing until these academic boxes are opened simultaneously for discussion. I am aware some academics are sensitive and respond to modern day issues. Although one or two universities explore this, I would like to see more enhanced open dialogue inclusive of multiple disciplines: scholars sitting together around the table, to support profound educational change, for the benefit of those who have extreme experiences.


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.


  1. Dr. Tolbert, you attempt a very large scale discussion, and I sincerely hope you are successful in engaging serious responses. That said, I would offer one of the footnotes to the discussion.

    It seems to me that if you would encourage a dialog or build bridges between those who practice the healing arts and those who practice shamanism and psychiatry (in my view quite possibly allied disciplines), then you may also need to reconsider the foundations of both — and leave room for different foundations. Hundreds of millions of people in the world no longer accept the concepts of “spirituality” or “the divine other” in the forms most often discussed in Western or Eastern culture. For these people, Shamanism and religion are seen as hold-overs of prehistoric mythologies, frequently damaging to human progress and welfare, even as they attempt to explain us to our selves and reconcile us to the uncertainty and ambivalence of common experience.

    Thus I sense that we may need to permit even deeper questions related to those you pose: what if there is no real Agency or power in our Universe to which we can appeal for healing, other than ourselves and those nearest us in whom we invest significance? What if the buck stops here, rather than in an afterlife or a transcendent revelation? What if we are truly responsible for ourselves, the owners of our acts and feelings, rather than supplicants at various altars for the interventions of the Gods?

    The world which I briefly sketch may seem harsh to many who desperately want to believe in forces beyond themselves that can magically make us whole. But magic does not make us whole or free us from emotional shackles. However hard it may be, it is the truth that makes us free.

    Richard A. Lawhern, Ph.D.

    • Thank you, Richard! We should all be seeking the truth rather defending our beliefs. I have had my religious beliefs badly shaken during the years I have been watching my son struggle with mental illness. I would like to believe in a loving God but it keeps getting harder. Someday I hope we can find the truth about mental illness and a cure for sufferers.

    • Sorry, Dr. Lawhern, but you are factually wrong.

      Spirituality is not based simply on faith or personal experience. For more than 130 years, since the founding of the Society for Psychical Research in 1882, disembodied, non-local ascepts of consciousness were studied with scientific rigor. And, after 133 years of inqury, we can say that spirituality, and probably even afterlife, is not an illusion.

      You may be inerested to look at this:

    • Richard Lawhern, my reading of your words is interpreted by me to mean that you separate healing arts from both shamanism and psychiatry to some degree- “those who practice the healing arts and those who practice shamanism and psychiatry (in my view quite possibly allied disciplines). ”

      Can you elucidate the point of bifurcation between healing arts, shamanism and psychiatry so that I might better understand your classification process and where the “foundation” of these disciplines is different.

      Effacement may be what you are referring to with regard to older systems of thought and belief that are not adhered to in the present. Bernini, the sculptor and architect, lived in a time when the ability to disassemble the truth was admired and lauded as a valued skill. Effacement is now used to obscure the mathematical order of operations used in developing source code for binary systems. Prestidigitation allows the magician to seem to do magical things.

      My point being that truth is relative, not absolute. It can be hidden behind many curtains or veils and be revealed in many ways. A child comes to see and understand as a part of natural developmental process. What that child sees and understands is also guided and directed by cultural and social patterns that are overlaid through story, myth, shared meaning, and accepted classifications of knowledge called disciplines. This process affects the child’s relationship to what is presented and represented. What is seen becomes modified for the health of the developing psyche.

      Truth is a living and constantly morphing evolutionary process. How we concatenate the memes can reveal hidden meanings. The archaeology of social sciences, as presented by Foucault, is one tool for excavating the layers of reality and mapping the twists and turns of truths over time.

      Natalie is calling for a collaboration of the professed to bring their cognitive maps into a process of overlay. Cross referencing can help to arrive at a higher understanding of the similitudes in disciplines that may be helpful to humanity.

      Health is achieved by maintaining balance within the system. How the art of healing is applied appears in many guises. Now may be a time to bring the modalities into alignment for the betterment of everyone.

      Respectfully Yours

    • How ironic that Richard seems to be borrowing on a quote made famous by Jesus, “the truth will set you free,” in his appeal for a mechanistic worldview. Is Richard declaring, as Jesus did, “Everyone on the side of truth listen to me.”?

      Such a bold statement begs the question, “What is truth?” (to borrow Pilate’s response to Jesus).

  2. Richard,
    You appear to be burning bridges to those most in need of help in your condemnation of religion and spirituality. Schizophrenia without an intense spiritual component is not really schizophrenia. Why are you aligning yourself with the masses of “normal” people who prefer not to believe in a deity or divine power, as is their right, while condemning those who do (patients). The priorities are skewed.

    “Hundreds of millions of people in the world no longer accept the concepts of “spirituality” or “the divine other” in the forms most often discussed in Western or Eastern culture. For these people, Shamanism and religion are seen as hold-overs of prehistoric mythologies, frequently damaging to human progress and welfare, even as they attempt to explain us to our selves and reconcile us to the uncertainty and ambivalence of common experience.”

    Not taking into account myths and spirituality when working with many psychiatric patients is like a psychiatrist saying to a patient that his voices have no meaning. Potential avenue of support denied. You have no doubt read Dick Russell’s recent post My Mysterious Son: The Passage from Schizophrenia to Shamanism. In my humble opinion, shamanism is only going to grow in influence over the coming years as one holistic tool in treating schizophrenia. People who don’t need myths and spirituality as a framework to their lives will very happily go about their business and be none the wiser.

        • Hi Rossa, Spiritual Psychiatric sounds interesting, doesn’t it? I am not trying to get in on the dispute necessarily over Casteneda’s value, but it is literature of some type or other… I wondered if you had heard of The Beauty of the Primitive? That looks like it balances critical and sympathetic takes and goes after questions of context and value and not just narrow lines of debate unrelated to the genuine quest for meaning that may matter for validation of work or debunking it as standard non-fiction. Anyway, musing is often a step up from opining.

          • My sentences might be a liitle loosely put together there. I meant that for an adult reader there is obvious validity to pursuing Castaneda (or scripture, fairy tales, mythology, confessions, metaphysics) as a material source. That questions of authenticity correspond to maenings and purposes and, like them, are not all of one type, as you recognize. Therefore, it hardly pays to condemn all things in terms of a standard of rationality that is merely the scientific viewpoint misapplied. And I meant that this all seems to need drawn together in a scholarly manner like Dr. Torbert appears to do. If your studies lead to musing and contemplation that certainly outranks confirming your previous opinions with every new fact you meet. Castaneda’s lifestyle and habits of personal communication look hokey to me, but he was involving himself with consenting adults, after all. Likewise, that there is evidence of plagiarism and selective citation and corruption of historical truth within his work is a funny thing to take at face value as free information from either academia or the media here. They are simultaneously preventing the same exposure of all their current darlings, but these aren’t risking a neutral attitude toward drugs and psychedelic experiences, or a curious one, and usually avoid effective questioning of materialism or conformity as virtues. If your front serves the status quo, you’re definitely in, here, regardless of your personal “commitment”.

          • Well, to a large extent, yes. A lot of the healing work my son has engaged with has been all about the vibration. Now think about it. Vibration is shamanic drumming, music therapy, etc. and it is also how you feel when someone speaks loving words or unkind words. Psychology deals largely with the latter.

  3. Hi, Natalie,
    I met you several years ago at a Scientific and Medical Network meeting where you presented your material along with a medical doctor (whose name I forget) who tries to incorporate medical anthropology into her daily practice. It was a fascinating presentation. I’m glad to see that you have published a book that will be of great interest to those who wonder why outcomes for psychiatric patients are better in countries with less access to Westernized medicine. The members at SMN were certainly receptive to your message. I see that you are still struggling with the boxes, as you put it.
    Best wishes for the success of your work.

  4. Very interesting post Natalie.
    I think we tend to get lost in our cultural assumptions about mental distress and its etiology. Most are influenced by psychiatry and the DSM and others are influenced by psychological thinking. But we tend to relegate non-western approaches to being superstitious, magical and non-scientific.

    This is strange because most of the world does integrate a lot of these tools for helping people in crisis that are often effective and merit deeper examination. I think its important to separate out traditional systems of healing people such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and Unani-Tibb from more tribalistic and religious practices. The former have developed countless tools for helping people in crisis such as acupuncture, qi gong, herbalism, yoga, massage and dietary advice. Though these are lumped in with “New Ageism”, they are simply traditional tools that have thousands of years of historical, anecdotal and empirical efficacy.

    Shamanic, spiritual and religious tools are more complicated because they do rely on a willingness to forego scientific rationality. As you mentioned, concepts like possession, out of body experiences, shamanic healing, ritual and ceremony are common to many indigenous cultures throughout the world. Deriding these tools for being superstitious and magical is somewhat amusing when we offer an alternative (psychiatry) that has led to an epidemic of worsening mental health.

    I think the challenge is that these tools don’t easily translate well into cultures based in scientific rationality and modernity. But they do hold an important place for many indigenous and religious groups throughout the world. Even if one were to consider them metaphorical, they help allow for a community to embrace and help in the healing process for someone who is in deep distress. These techniques are ways for the community to come together and offer hope and care for someone who is experiencing extreme distress. Frankly I’d like to see a whole lot more of that than a drug based approach to distress.

    • “Shamanic, spiritual and religious tools are more complicated because they do rely on a willingness to forego scientific rationality.”

      I disagree. There is a very rational logic to Shamanic work, when you understand energy and vibration. There is a lot of scientific work that supports what Shamans and other esoteric healers have been able to intuit for centuries, in a variety of aspects. Many things you can google to get this information–emotions and vibrational frequency, studies on meditation and grounding, how like energies attract like energies, etc. All of these link to scientific evidence, one way or another.

      Personally, I’ve never seen or heard of a study that totally affirms how soul-retrieving works, on a physical level, but I don’t think that lack of ‘scientific evidence via academic research’ necessarily means that Shamans eschew the rationale of science. The evidence of Shamanic/spiritual energy work is experiential, no need to prove anything to others. One is either open to it or not.

      From my experience, having been open to the energy of healing, while also knowing from having been a psychotherapist myself, the psychological components involved, being open to Shamanic energy work will bring the evidence one needs in one’s experience to feel much, much better about themselves, and about life. This level of integration the core of healing, in my estimation.

      In no way do I feel this is shunning anything rational. What I do feel, is that science is second to intuition and personal experience. Eventually, science catches up to what healers have already figured out.

      • Hey Alex, I think by scientific rationality, I’m mainly talking about the gold standard of double blind studies. Frankly, I think the idea of something needing to be proved by a double blind study is often ridiculous. How do you use a placebo for the warmth of the sun, the kindness of a stranger, warm home cooked food, a cup of warm linden tea- all things that have obvious merit for improving wellbeing.

        Shamanic techniques are fairly impossible to verify as something repeatable and verifiable s effective under the classic double blind scientific paradigm.

        But I would say…bah. There is a long history of using these techniques in many settings with good anecdotal support. But there are many complexities in bringing that wisdom forth. One of the main problems is cultural imperialism, appropriating another culture’s healing forms. A second problem is that some of these forms just don’t translate to many modern people. They often involve culturally unique cosmologies, spirits, deities, etc.

        But…I still think its something we should deeply explore as shamanic/spiritual techniques of working with people in deep distress is a time honored tradition and one that I have personally seen as effective.

        • Thanks for clarifying, Jonathon. Regardless, the language you are using—double blind studies, placebo, etc.—is quite foreign to non-academic populations, so right there is a cultural divide. All of that is relatively meaningless, imo, to people who continue to suffer, if only for reasons of oppression by elitism and classism, so the emphasis on academic research is kind of a pardox, really.

          Historically, many spiritual healing cultures also operated on an elitist level, harboring the secrets of energy and healing, while still successfully employing these healing methods, because they were trusted due to effectiveness. That is not the case in the mental health world, where the evidence of failure and harm is rampant, and trust has been betrayed repeatedly.

          At present, however, there are a plethora of spiritual healers and teachers who are in the process of doing just what you say is, perhaps, impossible, or at best, extremely challenging. I think this is what any good healing conference would be about nowadays, how to translate these concepts and practices into accessible and relatively universal language. That would take a focus and patience. Esther Hicks, Kimberley Jones, Henry Stites, Doreen Virtue, and Lizette Rodriguez are teachers/healers such as these that come to mind right off the bat…there are so many others. That’s the order of the day in the spiritual healing world.

          It’s also exactly what I do in my own practice. I have traditional psychotherapy training which really has done me no good with myself or with my clients, in all honesty—other than, perhaps, learning to sit with a client. I also have years of training in a variety of energy and spiritual healing schools of thought–chakra work, psychic healing, vibrational/energy medicine, Kabbalah, and I trained as a medical intuit with Buddhist teachers/healers. All that, I did AS I healed from meds withdrawal and social trauma (stigma), and it all added up to retrieving my soul, integrating, and experiencing a full on healing transformation.

          (I was had also just started acting and performing on stage during this time, by an act of fate, which was challenging, enormously rewarding, and most vital to retrieving my spirit).

          If you check out my list of classes I’ve taught for several years now, you will see the trajectory of the healing, from start to finish, ending with “Paradigm Shift.”

          As far as language and beliefs, I am successful with people who are open to learning from a beginners mind, and who are willing to follow their processes with flexibility, in order to learn a new perspective. By the same token, I have worked with some clients who enjoy the personal empowerment that these teaching inevitably bring, but who’s heart is so wounded, they remain angry, split, and quite resistant to change. They’re more interested in manipulating others, rather than healing their hearts and shifting perspective.

          Also, I’ve run into people who by my merely using the word ‘vibration,’ they accuse me of being “New Agey,” which is really self-defeating. Vibration is a physics term which is most relevant to our existence. But if people want to dig their heals in cynicism and prejudice without informing themselves, nothing I can do about that.

          Overall, I find that by speaking consciously and mindfully about what words we use in what context and allowing people to dialogue for clarity, a new perspective and paradigm can be translated into pretty simple and straightforward language. But only to open minds and hearts, and that’s up to each individual what they bring to the table.

          We teach by setting the example and we learn by trusting and being open. Both sides have to cooperate with this, or nothing at all gets accomplished, other than keeping things good and stuck.

          • I’ve been following the “shamanic vibration trail” in healing for several years with my son, and it’s amazing how some practitioners are documenting their work to show the underlying science.
   Interesting, too, that after all the therapies my son has been through, he is out there on stage singing. It was good to hear your corroboration that stage work was vital for restoring your spirit. Thanks for sharing your knowledge here at MIA.

          • That’s great to hear about your son singing, Rossa. Channeling music through our bodies is one of the most healthful and aligning experiences we can have, and performing puts us in pure present time. Most healing and growth-oriented thing I’ve ever done. Without intending or expecting to, I got a career out of it and did theater in the Bay Area for several years, after defecting from the mental health world. I still call my singing teacher and mentor the greatest healer I’ve ever had. First thing we did on first day in class, under his direction, was to kick out of our space anyone who said we couldn’t do it. That was revelatory.

            Thanks for posting the link, too, very interesting. I’d never heard of the assemblage point, but I do know about the thymus playing a vital role in our energy balance (yin/yang). My focus in the healing work I do with others is helping people to identify their true spirit voice over external messages, so they can align with their authentic spirit nature–which can be quite different than what we had been perceiving about ourselves. When we align with our inner being, we are said to be ‘in synchronicity with ourselves,’ and life becomes rhythmic and poetic–in fact, it feels like music to me.

            On a separate note–my apologies, Jonathan, for the misspelling of your name, I just noticed this. Also for the typos in my post above. I should know better than to be hurried as I post.

          • Hey Rossa- Yes I wrote a piece that was up on Monica’s site- Beyond Meds and can be found at my site here-

            It talks about my personal experience going through “madness”, my experience of possession and healing. One of things I wrote fits here as well…

            “When I look back at that experience now I wonder a few things. On a certain level, I could see the whole experience as imagined, a part of the process of psychosis, a grand delusion. And from a scientific and logical perspective that seems rationally true. But from a different perspective, I see how the descent into darkness and then coming through a horrific and torturous experience through the help of a healer and plant medicine is a story that is as old as time. We are walking in a world where treating madness through the use of double blind study proven antipsychotic neuroleptics is the main accepted form of treating “mental illness.”

            What is challenging is how easily these conversations can drift into feeling “new Agey”, assembling indigenous cultural perspectives into a modern formulated “shamanism”- created almost entirely for white and privileged people. This is a fair critique- but I would also suggest that by dismissing these ancient traditions, we have exchanged them for a rationalistic, scientific and reductionist way of working with madness that is deeply flawed and often far more dangerous.

            One of the most interesting things that have been happening lately is a very strong interest in exploring healing with Ayahuasca, a South American hallucinogen. This medicine has been used entirely in unique tribalistic contexts but numerous Westerners are exploring and finding great healing through ritual work with ayahuasca. There has been quite a bit of talk on CNN (just google) about returning veterans feeling completely zombified by psych drugs for treating their PTSD, and a number of them have traveled south to take part in ayahuasca ceremonies that they describe as being tremendously transformative.

            I think we need to be careful, but open, to these wider possibilities for healing.

        • The total impossibility of double-blind studies was a problem we kept bumping up against at the Hospital here in Sao Paulo. It’s fine for comparing one medication against a placebo, but most people try a bunch of things when it comes to holistic healing. So isolating one factor is tough. Also, for spiritual healing practices, having a cold “objective observer” in the room hampers the healing process. We are in sacred communion working through sensitive materials together. And a guy in a lab coat is going to take notes in the corner? Not easy.

  5. This is the clearest and, to me, most relevant ‘call to arms’ I’ve seen on MIA. When attempting to issue such change in how we address human suffering is no time for naysayers, resistance, cynicism, or back-stabbing competition. Ego and rigidity in thinking obscures the path to enlightenment, and enlightenment is what we need now, more than ever.

    A rainbow bridge is what is needed, where all aspects of humanity are represented, not simply more dominant thought, with a few token radicals. That only duplicates the dualistic approach, fertile ground for stigma and discrimination, that has failed us chronically.

    It’s time the playing field is leveled, with respect to all culturally-influenced thinking, so that power struggles and abuse, along with ‘the need to be right,’ are replaced by mutual respect, and the desire for inner and outer peace, above all else. To me, that’s the proverbial bridge to cross, with a plethora of unknowns, but I feel a journey well worth taking.

    Thank you so much for this beautiful and fascinating piece. Gave me great hope when I read this 🙂

    • This comment was written in rage. It triggered decades of memories around so many “supernatural”, “magical” and non-ordinary states of reality. I would like to apologize for it. My current life is a sad, sodden ruin, despite being steeped in “magical insanity”. Our culture has no context for it.

      What I have learned most during these years is that there is no greater or more powerful “magic” than kindness. It has the power to blast through walls no level 12 sorcerer or shaman could manage for a moment.

      Please accept my apologies Natalie. My tirade is about my own past and bitterness. Your words are very needed, and important.

      This website was built on a foundation of kindness, compassion, curiosity and clarity. That is the kind of practical magic I have come to trust.

  6. What a great discussion to start. The call to coalesce appears to have a basic flaw. It focuses on academics, the need to study, examine and describe some phenomena according to a particular set of beliefs.

    What if, as individuals having anomalous experiences, we own our own creation? What if my life experience and personal mythology, my quest for the holy grail of wellness. including my anomalous experiences, are unique? What if applying any paradigm actually prevents me from reconciling some aspect of my existential pain because while one piece may fit, several others are missing or appear to conflict? What if I need to be the studier, not the studied?

    I think the bridge building starts with those of us who’ve had sufficient anomalous experiences to speak to our personal paradigm and how it fits/doesn’t fit with the previously observed in academia. It’s kind of like reversing who asks whom to dance. My healing came when I started finding others with similar experiences who can share their deeper stories. As I listen, I find many parallels, but am struck by the uniqueness of each person’s own mythology, unless they are tied into the medical model. That mythology is fairly consistent.

  7. Thank you Natalie, for sharing this very valuable essay here on MIA! Bringing your cross-cultural field experience and unique perspective as a medical anthropologist, adds an important ingredient to the diverse mix of MIA writers and commenters.

    It’s heartening to hear that some psychiatrists in India that you interviewed, assume recovery for people going through extreme states, given the norm here in the US that psychiatrists assume a lifelong pathological impairment.
    Best wishes, and welcome to MIA!

  8. The anthropologist Carlos Castaneda learned from Don Juan that the assemblage point is a hairy, luminous egg-shaped cocoon located about an arm’s length away from the body and linked to the energy at our disposal. A warrior’s energy, according to Don Juan, is always a consequence of a shift in his assemblage point. “Any movement of the assemblage point meant a movement away from the excessive concern with that individual self which was the mark of modern man.” Further reading of Castaneda’s books showed me that shifting the assemblage point is also an act of mastering intent. Drugs, alcohol, trauma, etc. throw off the angle that energy enters the body. Don Juan occasionally gave a surreptitious blow (Shaman’s blow) to Castanada’s back, to bring him back to reality. Jon Wale, an engineer, documented the position of assemblage point and where energy enters the body. Angela and Tom Blaen find that vibratory power of crystals can bring misaligned APS back into position.

    • Rossa,
      According to anthropologist, Andrei A. Znamenski, author of The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and the Western Imagination, Carlos Casteneda’s character of Don Juan is an entire work of fiction. Znamenski provides a very well documented chapter on this subject alone. The title is, Anthropology, Castaneda’s Healing Fiction and Neo-Shamanism in Print Culture (pp.205-231)

      I think when dealing with the subject of spiritual emergency, which is a sensitive one, we need to be careful not to treat post-modern mythology as fact. That’s the only way this subject will ever gain credibility.

      • Yes- I am afraid Bipolar waking up is right. Casteneda has been dismissed as fiction, though he borrows from a lot of anthropological literature and first hand accounts. This is one of the problems when talking about this sort of thing. It can be easily dismissed. That’s too bad, because there is tremendous wisdom inherent in these ancient practices.

        • “there is tremendous wisdom inherent in these ancient practices.”

          I completely agree Jonathan. I think the key is to interpret our shamanic past symbolically, not concretely. Once we get past the ‘magic powers’ aspect of shamanism, we can access the true power of the mystic experience – love.

          • Pardon this being somewhat off the conversation here, but I agree with Sean. I agree love is the answer, love heals. And I can’t think of anything really more hateful than mainstream psychiatry’s current approach – stigmatizing people with “diseases” that have no scientific validity, taking away all hope of recovery, and then tranquilizing (and torturing) human beings.

            And I found it absolutely pointless trying to speak with “professionals” who, unbeknownst to me at the time, were trying to put “human experiences into academic boxes.” Their “academic boxes” were completely irrelevant to my experiences.

            I had a dream I was “moved by the Holy Spirit,” this dream was declared “psychosis.” Dreams are not “psychosis.” And defaming and torturing people for belief in God is illegal in the United States.

            The rather ironic thing about my story is that my medical records state that my ex-pastor “thought she was the second coming of Jesus.” The Jew who was drugging me, then eventually weaned me off the drugs, claimed in his medical records that “voices of God talk through her.” A social worker’s medical records state that, just after I’d been inexplicable put on a hypnotic drug, Jesus claimed to be a man speaking through a woman’s body. And “He” supposedly told this social worker that she was an evil person orchestrating the attempted murder of me. She then had me shipped off to V R Kuchipudi, a doctor whose now been arrested by the FBI for killing a lot of patients. If Jesus did speak through me, and I of course don’t remember this conversation because I’d been put on the hypnotic drug, He was right. So, the ironic thing is that I was drugged because I had a dream I was moved by the Holy Spirit, and I now have numerous medical records claiming “professionals” seemed to think so, too.

            I do so hope the psychiatric community will start abiding by the laws of our country some day. I hope they will realize their entire belief system is not only fraudulent, but evil. I hope some day all within humanity will understand that defaming and torturing other human beings is not “appropriate medical care,” nor acceptable human behavior, whatsoever. And, call me crazy, I believe that would be God’s opinion as well.

      • The only thing that bothers me about this is relying on one individual’s book to trash a great contribution to society. Did Castanada misrepresent Yaqui knowledge? I doubt it. I don’t want to live in a world populated by deconsructionists. Please give me a list of who else joined Znamesnki in pounding the pulp out of the useful information Castanada brought to life. I couldn’t have gone so far with my son in understanding the quantum mechanics behind his so called illness, without the help of Castanada and others who are often routinely belittled as charlatans.

        • Hey Rossa- I think Castaneda really made it tough on himself by presenting his experience as a first hand narrative. If he had just explained things as a deeply imbedded anthropologist he wouldn’t have caused himself so many problems.

          But…I think there is quite a bit of value in those books- and he very much popularized the idea of examining experience from a non-ordinary, non-linear perspective. This influenced a lot of folks who have been interested in seeing our experience outside of reductionistic ways of examining life.

          This can be really important for people going through extreme states because the process is often very non-ordinary/non-linear. So- not trying to trash. But I am acknowledging what many other people will say when discussing Castaneda and his works. On an academic level, he lost his good standing. But his willingness to deeply explore and describe these complex experiences deserve admiration, and certainly they have helped many people understand their own process better.

          • Hi, Jonathan,
            I wasn’t targetting you in particular. But, where are the bodies? How many other academics joined in trashing Castanada other than the one cited? So what if his book reads like fiction? He made it accessible to everybody. It got a wider audience that it would have had it been an academic tome. Where would we be today with Castanda? The assemblage point shift is being scientifically documented by people who were familiar with Castanada’s work.
            You are probably aware that academics can be a nasty bunch who make their living tearing down the work of fellow academics for their own gain. The knives are perpetually out. We just have to look at Natalie Tobert’s box problem.She didn’t refer to knives, but fear and territoriality is a big part of why people stay in their boxes.

          • “You are probably aware that academics can be a nasty bunch who make their living tearing down the work of fellow academics for their own gain. The knives are perpetually out. We just have to look at Natalie Tobert’s box problem.She didn’t refer to knives, but fear and territoriality is a big part of why people stay in their boxes.”

            Yes, I agree, it’s insidious; and it’s a significant problem because it becomes a programmed mindset to tear down others, rather than working co-operatively and encouraging each other. Of course, that would be risky to trust in academia, and everyone fears the other will throw the first knife, so there is a chronic defensiveness.

            So in relationship with that academic cultural programming, all parties end up either terribly frustrated, paranoid, or both. Hardly what I’d call healthy dynamics, so I don’t see how this can possibly be or provide any example of authentic health and healing, in any respect. Seems more like a rabbit hole to me.

            Alternative, to me, means alternative to ivory tower medicine. That tower is, in and of itself, maddening, and potentially, disabling. Sorry to say, but frankly, more harm than good comes from this culture.

          • And, I do humbly apologize for joining in the chorus of ‘tear-downs’ regarding academia, but I cannot regret feeling this way because it is from experience on the inside.

            I come from a highly academic family and ‘ve done my share of academic and graduate work. I have been behind the curtain, and awakened to a lot of duplicity and manipulation taking place, with no regard for how it is affecting others–usually terribly.

            So this is a sore spot for me. Again, from my experience, especially when it comes to ‘mental health’ and related issues, I have found the academic approach to be so extremely limited, at best. There are no doubt many brilliant academic minds that I can admire a great deal, but the culture, overall, is tainted.

            Ok, last I’ll say about this, but I felt compelled to own my paradox, here.

        • Rossa

          What you point out reminds me of a point that I always tried to make when I was a high school teacher. Just as much truth can be told in a fictional work as in a factual rendering. Until I got caught in the system and lost it, I had an old, battered copy of the novel Zorba the Greek. I kept it by my bedside, along with a Bible, because that novel taught me such profound truth about human nature. I always referred to it as my secular Bible.

          All too often people only accept factual truth while missing the really important things in forms like mythology, fairy tales, fictional novels, etc. Castaneda is valuable for me for the very reasons you pointed out, but his books are not factual renderings of the truths that he found and tried to share with the rest of us.

        • Rossa,
          Only if you have the stomach for it….
          Google: BBC Carlos C Documentary 2006
          Based on your previous comments, I think this film will probably be very disappointing to you. But, from my own experience I can say that the more I allowed my own illusions to painfully die, the deeper my true spirituality became. And I’m sure I still have a few illusions floating around somewhere.
          Have Courage,
          Sean Blackwell

          • Thank you for the reference to that documentary. I watched it last night and it gave me some closure for the memories I have of being a very troubled and desperate twenty year old and trying to get answers out of those books. For me, they were a mindf__k. Fortunately, by the time I got to the tenth(?) book, the inconsistencies were enough even for then-me not to be able to ignore. These inconsistencies are not the result of perspectivism; they are the result of making stories up as one goes along. This would be fine if these books had been labeled as fiction, rather than having been initially passed off as anthropology by UCLA. (They are still labeled “non-fiction” by Simon & Schuster, I believe.)

            I found this article which covers most of what is in the BBC program and more: I didn’t have internet when I read Casteneda’s books, so I couldn’t have seen information like this:

            One of the commenters on the first article I’ve linked to said that the dead giveaway about The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge is that it is a white man who is chosen to carry on the supposedly ancient Yaqui traditions. It’s true. In addition, Casteneda borrows elements of Buddhism and phenomenology and anthropological sources to build a philosophy of selfishness that is the opposite of traditional communitarianism. Again, this would be fine if it were all understood to be fiction, but it is not. What about the really existing Yaqui people?

          • Sean,
            I still don’t get why you are on the warpath to discredit Castanada’s book. I read many of them; I used the knowledge that I gained from it very successfully to help my son in his healing journey. (The assemblage point was only a part of the healing process.) Are you implying that I am naive and gullible and that you have a superior understanding of what is illusion and what is not? Have courage for what? Killing off my illusions? Because that’s the impression I am getting here. Why is Castanada such a hot button for you? I used him, as I used many other sources. I take what I want from each. I genuinely don’t understand why you feel you need to correct my illusions, or delusions, or whatever.

  9. Hi Natalie,
    Great to hear that you are championing a cause that is so close to my heart in academic circles. My wife and I have done similar work in pioneering this cause both in our country of Brazil, and online, with my YouTube channel and website, In Brazil we have the social network, .
    In October, we gave a presentation at the Eurotas (European Association of Transpersonal Psychology) Conference in Crete, Greece, on the link between bipolar disorder and spiritual emergencies. Dr. David Lukoff (of was one of the attendees. Ironically, while it is not a challenge for transpersonal psychologists to grasp the concept of Spiritual Emergency, it can be difficult for them to accept that this idea is deeply related to what is normally considered mental illness. So our challenge there was to help bridge that gap.
    I would challenge you on one of your assumptions. When you wrote,
    “It is such a small step, to see the connection, and raise awareness of experiences that are being interpreted differently, in different disciplines, in different countries. It is such a small step to explore common ground, to normalise experiences.”
    It may be a small step, but for most people today, it is an extraordinarily difficult step to make, due to the vast implications of validating such experiences. Not only does the concept of spiritual emergency challenge the concept of “mental illness”, it also challenges the concept of simply being “normal”. In other words, when you introduce these ideas to academics, you are not only implying, “mental illness is not what you think it is”, you are also implying, “YOU are not who you think you are!”
    You are challenging worldviews, deeply held ego concepts that will block out any information that threaten their existence. You are trying to wake up the world, and the world is recoiling in fear.
    I would also encourage you to see your work, as well as the Grof concept of Spiritual Emergency, within the context of the Spiritual Evolution of Consciousness of humanity. Ken Wilber has done as good a job as anyone at sorting this out. I think that part of issue you are facing is what Wilber refers to as the “Pre-Trans” fallacy. Critics, like Dr. Lawhern conflate religious beliefs (which are often rooted in unscientific superstition and mythology treated as literal history), with authentic spiritual experience. To the atheist, Religion and Spirituality are treated as equally irrational – so there is a lot of confusion around this point.
    As for me, I am working outside of academic circles (outside the system entirely). I was recently in Europe, treating a few enthusiasts of my work for their disorders, with very encouraging results. I hope to be helping people heal from bipolar disorder and other related disorders, full-time, by 2016.
    Feel free to get in touch. My email is [email protected].
    Sean Blackwell

    • Love the work you are doing, Sean. That’s my story–lived 20 years diagnosed and drugged for bipolar (which became other random labels over the course of time). Turned out that it that, all along, it was just me trying to get back to my spirit in a non-permissive, fear-based culture. Lots of drama, chaos, and despair during those times, before I stumbled upon similar information as you are sharing. Done with all that now, have been for 12 years now–no meds, no diagnosis, just awake, alive, aligned, and finally, just me, creating my life the way I most desire now.

      Very best wishes on your groundbreaking work!

        • Interesting that you should ask me this, Sean. I got frustrated with the stigma around energy and spiritual healing, so I withdrew from discussing it here for a while. I’d like to see those barriers broken down, because I truly feel in my heart and bones that this is the avenue to take in order to transform all of this mess. Inner peace = outer peace.

          My work, in general, has been about ‘stigma’ overall–that is, how living in a seriously and chronically stigmatizing society is what creates fertile ground for suffering, violence, criminal inequality and injustice, and illness and imbalances of all kinds, especially what many refer to as ‘mental illness.’ In short, it creates a distorted sense of self, intimidation and paranoia, and all sorts of other confusing illusions–enough to drive anyone and all to madness.

          So indeed, when I saw this blog, I got excited, and the discussion has been encouraging. I’m all for moving forward, and ascending any and all boxes and perceived limitations. Times now call for utter creativity in thinking and courage in action. That’s how change occurs.

  10. Maybe a bit off-topic on the conversation but reading the comments here it just dawned on me how disinterested and not at all curious most psychiatrists are. If you’re sitting across from a person who’s having an extreme experience how can you not ask about it? How can you not want to know how it feels, what it means? I only had a few out-of-the-ordinary experiences in my life and I’ve always been curious how they look for others and what other extreme states of mind are there. Yet psychiatrists only look at their checklists like mindless robots: anxiety? tick. delusions? tick…

    • LOL, I completely agree B. Their utter lack of curiosity towards non-ordinary states is infuriating! They make themselves out to be scientists, always harping on about how they are based on ‘science’ while alternative therapies are not. They don’t have any sense of healthy scientific curiosity, and they just continue to believe the same old dogma, regardless of the evidence in front of them. Of course, I do know a few awesome psychiatrists, but the vast majority….yuck.

      • Don’t confuse doctors (or psychiatrists – I refuse to call them doctors) with scientists. There are some really good scientists who happen to have medical degree or even be practicing medicine but most doctors are not even close to understand scientific method.
        I was in a unique position during my studies to observe how the world of biological science and medicine interact and I was stunned at the level of misunderstanding and cluelessness of even good practitioners about basic biological facts. Even the theory of evolution, which is by far the most important in all biology was not really taught and it’s of utmost importance to many medical treatments. Genetics and histology were also treated as unimportant though they are the core of modern diagnosis. I could go on but it may be enough to state that the model of educating medical professionals is way behind modern science and when you add pharma’s misinformation and PR campaigns no wonder that psychiatrists believe the “chemical imbalance” bs and so on without a second thought.

  11. Hey B – I believe that’s the heart of the topic, what are psychiatrists in it for if they are not able to get interested? I see how very interested they stay in pushing people around and pretending to be providing medicall services for medical conditions medically identified as such. That they then prescribe psychoactive drugs with which they have no firsthand experience then completes the joke that they care about minds.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head. They lack curiosity and interest because I believe that power and control over others appeals much more to them than walking with people in their adversity and difficulties so that together the individuals they are working for and with can find healing and well being. I think it also appeals to many of them because they can set themselves up as the supposed “experts” over people forced into their care. Many of these people are emotionally abusive, but psychiatry isn’t the only specialty where doctors are abusive. Of the five psychiatrists that I came into the hands of, two were outright abusive, two were benign but not really helpful, and one was wonderful. The really good one was great because he worked out of his own humanity and wasn’t afraid to admit that the didn’t know everything.

      I often look at the psychiatrists that I have to work among in the state hospital where I work and wonder what their childhoods were like and what happened to them as they were growing up. Most of them do not strike me as the best and brightest of what medicine has to offer us. Of course, this is just my opinion based on my own personal dealings with and observations of these people. The most apparent thing that strikes me about so many psychiatrists is how lacking they are in empathy. How can you minister to people and facilitate their healing when you don’t give a big damn about them?

      • Steven, My views develop along the lines of yours, but all of my experience is as a consumer. So I tend to pay attention to details in your comments. I, also, find it important to notice whatever saving graces people working in these screwed up hierarchies still occasionally exhibited. It pays to recall your own humanity, and there is much less inspiration than usual for doing so around the sorts of people who mean to faciltate very liberally mandated detentions “for safety”.

        • I can’t call myself a “consumer” but I am a survivor/ex-patient. I was held for two and a half months in the very state hospital where I now work. As far as I’m concerned I work in the system but am not of the system.

          Out of the five psychiatrists who I dealt with personally, two were psychologically abusive (often screaming at me anytime that I didn’t agree with what they believed about my own life), two were benign but not very helpful, and one was wonderful. The last was a young doctor who worked out of his own humanity and wasn’t afraid to admit that he didn’t know everything and that he made mistakes. He was the most helpful of all five. He also was not into controlling people at all and dealt with people in a mutual manner, stating that what they believed is as important as anything that he might contribute to the “conversation’.

          • Stephen, FYI, I wasn’t saying consumer as a buzzword, just to distinguish the limitations of my experience, having only literally been a consumer of services and participant in typical support groups. I have never exactly been memorably screamed at or shouted down. But I have yet to obtain actual help in any hospital setting. If it happens in the future that someone pulls a dirty trick on me, and makes the doctors and other staff feel important for keeping me under observation, I won’t be talking except to tell them what frauds and dimwits they are. If it’s someone nice, my idea would be to stick to letting them know that their system is zero benefit to me.

          • I sympathize with your defiance but I hope you’re aware that it would essentially mean you’re going to be needle raped? If you don’t cooperate you’re automatically danger to self and others even if you have not so much as lifted a finger.

    • I am quite interested in the boxes that psychiatry and theology/the clergy find themselves in when it comes to “extreme” experiences . Those who practice the art of psychiatry are high priests – they have much in common with the clergy. “Schizophrenia” is one thing they have in common, meaning how they interpret it and treat it. Thomas Szsaz had many good observations about schizophrenia being the central reason for psychiatry’s existence. I would like to say that schizophrenia is a central to the church as it is to psychiatry. Szasz’s most famous quote is “If you talk to God, you are praying; If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.” Today, both psychiatry and the clergy act uncomfortably alike on this subject, while doing nothing to help the sufferer. (You are diseased, says the psychiatrist; you are not a prophet, says the church. Only the the “Bible” has Prophets.)

      One of my big peeves is the strange attitude of the clergy toward hearing voices. It’s quite amusing really, but if the church ever got its act together on so-called schizophrenia, it could really topple the stigma surrounding it. I’m sitting in church today listening to the sermon, given by a man who “was called by God.” He took up the Old Testament story of Samuel. (In reference to my other comments re Castanada, I fully get that the Bible is a work of fiction based on broader truths.) Samuel, as many of you well know, heard the voice of God three time, but kept jumping up and running over to his father thinking it was his father who had spoken. His father kept telling Samuel to go back to bed, until he finally clued in that Samuel was hearing the voice of God. He coached Samuel on what to say to God the next time he was contacted. Samuel did as he was told, and went on in life to become a Prophet. Now, these days, Samuel’s father would take him to a psychiatrist who would label him schizophrenic and drug him. He/she would tell Samuel that his voices were delusions and not to listen to them, and his father should not encourage him by taking an interest in the content of his delusions.

      The clergy is is a much more delicate position; it is uncomfortably aware how one could easily “mistake” these Prophets as suffering from “schizophrenia,” and not just the Prophets, just everybody in the Bible, and, let’s face it, many people in the modern day church. The Clergy is no doubt aware how “schizophrenic” it appears, dressing up in white robes, being called by God as a prerequisite for joining, kissing Bibles or swinging incense, babbling about heaven and hell and the afterlife — really I sit in Church and look around me and easily I see what attracts my son to it (he’s a member of the choir, lol). But, rather than acting like Samuel’s father did, to help those in their flock make sense of their experience in a way that encourages a dialogue between self and God, it aligns itself with the way most modern psychiatry is practiced. Schizophrenia is outside of the church, shunned, not talked about. If the Church really got interested in the content of the “delusions,” if psychiatry really got interested in the content of the delusions, there would be no stigma because millions of the faithful would buy what the high priests of both professions are saying: “You are no longer a schizophrenic, you are a Prophet/a Healer/a Leader!” But, it’s not about to happen because of the fear of being thought “schizophrenic” themselves. Many are teetering on the edge but have found an acceptable way to contain their own delusions. And, to make a long story short, that ‘s probably why Dr. Tobert is having problems getting them out of their respective boxes to discuss spiritual emergencies.

      • My first two comments on this topic are at the very end of the page – it seems no one noticed them.

        I am ‘iffy’ about shamanism because I was attacked by someone who had shamanic training and was using it for evil – for making telepathic suggestions to his patients to pay him more money and to bring him more clients – and it’s working – his clients get well and then he makes them sick so they come back to him. He also drains energy from his clients. I had the good fortune or misfortune to be able to ‘see’ him and ‘hear’ him – when he realized I knew what he was doing, all hell broke loose.

        Many people tried to help me. One person stands out – a clergyman (who also has a degree in physics). We met by synchronicity at a conference on healing. I told him I had a physics, philosophy and religion deficiency. He said he could help me with that. And he did. He taught me how to pray. He started a group at his church where people could talk about the things people don’t usually talk about in church. The outdoor church sign read: OBEs and NDEs. He used to make Therapeutic Touch and other forms of energy healing available at the church – and practices them himself. He’s long retired. I saw him last at a meeting of the Society for Scientific Exploration.

        I’m about to contact Jeffrey Rediger – Master of Divinity (1989) MD (1997) instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

        I write about the role of trauma, nutrition and epigentics in ‘mental’ illness – under my own name – also about energy healing . I need to remain anonymous re my psychiatric history for a little longer.

        Psychiatry mainly results in suffering. People heal people, drugs don’t heal people.

  12. Deep bow to your work! At our university the northeast of the USA the only bridge is the spirituality and social work courses and our chaplaincy. What you appear to be calling for is integral methodological pluralism. There have been several attempts within academia: Naropa in Denver, California Integral Institute, the Integral Program at JFK and several in Europe. Outside of academia there are various wisdom schools using evolutionary mysticism and other post metaphysical perspectives.

  13. I had a spiritual emergency. I had no history of mental illness and I was taking no drugs. I did not exhibit any bizarre behaviour but I did become severely stressed.

    The atrocities subsequently inflicted upon me by psychiatry almost took my life, erased 20 years of my memory, and left me neurologically and cognitively impaired.

    An encounter with a naturopath with shamanic training pulled the rug and the floorboards from under my feet. I was in awe, shock, horror and terror when I saw his life-size spectral image suspended over me one night. I could hear his telepathic suggestions. I knew it wasn’t a dream but I didn’t know what was it was. I had never heard of out-of-body states and had no idea I could ‘see’ them. I have always been very sensitive and have had many experiences with anomalous cognition. I was traumatized and started having precognitive dreams – usually involving death. They were always accurate. I had difficulty sleeping. I agreed to take a benzodiazepine and initially it was beneficial. I took it intermittently until I had a dream about my mother’s death. I knew she was going to have a stroke – no one believed me. I then took the benzodiazepine every day until her death (of a stroke) three weeks later.

    After her death I started trembling. I connected the trembling to the benzo and stopped taking it. The tremors became worse and I was diagnosed with agitated depression. No one recognized benzo adverse and withdrawal effects. What followed was 8 months of a drugging frenzy/cascade with more than 30 different drugs, a two-and-a-half month forced stay in a psychiatric facility (where I had gone for help in withdrawing from drugs) and 25 sessions of forced bilateral electroconvulsive therapy. (I’ve told parts of my story many times on the pages of MIA.) Psychiatrists told me I was demented, that I had psychotic depression, that I would require pharmaceuticals and ECT for the rest of my life, and that I would be going to an institution. The only thing I did have was Iatrogenic Insanity.

    My husband collapsed when I returned home with my memory erased; when he saw me falling to the floor, spasming, and frothing at the mouth with spontaneous seizures. His heart couldn’t take it. He had never missed a day of work or school for illness in the first 60 years of his life. Now he had serious heart problems. I tapered myself off all drugs and did not go back for maintence ECT – I couldn’t go – I had an invalid husband to look after.

    A surgeon with shamanic training wrote: ” The thought comes to affirm you for your recognition of the fact that many people haven’t a clue as to what you see. … the most effective way is 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.”

    An elderly clairvoyant bellowed 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 all be jailed. You are in this mess because consciousness isn’t taught in schools. You are here to help people and you can help people by telling your story. ”

    I will tell my story. I am uniquely suited to writing about the depravity that is psychiatry. I will dedicate my book to the dozen or so women incarcerated with me – most of them without mental problems – at least not until the first drug went in . They were receiving ECT for undiagnosed thyroid conditions, gluten intolerance, B12 deficiency, kidney not filtering properly, childhood head injury, toxic chemical exposure, inner ear problem, adverse drug reactions, etc. etc. SICK. Three of the women are dead – victims of psychiatry.

    I look forward to publishing my medical records. I still have precognitive dreams. I’m still not comfortable with them but I have been able to save lives, including my husband’s.

    Readers might be interested in IONS, ISSSEEM, SSE, Monroe Institute, Rhine Research Center, Robert Moss, Larry Burk MD Larry Burk often makes his book available at no cost through Amazon.

  14. Sent for a consult/second opinion with an esteemed/famous psychiatrist – I’d already been given a number of DSM labels. Here’s how’spiritually unevolved he was (excerpts from the consult letter too the referring psychiatrist) :

    ” 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.”

    “I could not elicit any history of bipolar disorder.”

    “I did not have any sense that there was any thought disorder or any delusional content.

    “I could not find any evidence of psychosis.” “Indeed 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 thought I would wonder about schizotypal traits”

    Is there hope for psychiatry?

  15. I have followed most of this discussion although I check out when ideologies get heavily debated. Here’s what I see.

    In extreme states, academic pursuits and paradigms we use to explain our experiences to ourselves our primary reference is our own personal mythology. My experiences, memories and constructs are the stuff of my distress and my wellness. Everything from my DNA and family lineage to trauma to school experiences, interests and things I don’t even remember that I remember, but mostly my beliefs and ideas about those things form my personal mythology. My senses are constantly gathering, bombarded really because I’m someone who “feels” energy. Sudden flashes of brilliance have come through over the years, illuminating clusters of what is stored in that bank of books I’ve read, illnesses I’ve had, allergies, sensations and ancestral lore. The flash of brilliance shines on truth and lie at the same time. Boom!

    Connections are made where they didn’t exist before. Things tumble out like brain salad and observers see “crisis” “suffering” “panic” and an urgency to set it all straight. Each observer sees what I’m experiencing through THEIR mythologies, not mine. We do not have the same ones. No one does. We can be helpful to each other by describing our mythologies and constructs. We may have had flashes of insight that fall into the truth category in that vast library of memory. That truth may resonate with someone else’s personal mythology but they are never exactly the same.

    This is why I am hesitant to accept anyone’s direct guidance in healing. I need to uncover my own mythology, unravel it to extract the untruths.

    True dialog and learning occurs when we look at our own mythologies, follow the breadcrumbs we have already dropped for ourselves. Castaneda, the Bible, psychiatry, shamanism, transpersonal psychology: any individual piece could be the scary place we are healing ourselves from or it could be the place our breadcrumbs lead us to respite. It is unique and individual. In my paradigm “collapsing” the barriers goes to the individual who is experiencing the extreme state. That person is the ONLY one who can find the breadcrumbs.

    • Yep, I agree, I don’t see any two ways about this. It helps to have people around that can sincerely and wholeheartedly trust a process–be encouraging, perhaps, but not interfering. Yet, certainly not enabling, although that’s a whole other discussion to be had. We’re all learning these delicate balances as we go along, which I think is an inherent part of life.

      I tend to be in awe of anyone’s process, we’re such amazingly creative beings, all of us. Although, admittedly, some process do seem more rugged than others. I believe we can refine the level of ease as we go along, if we wish. Personally, find that a highly desirable goal, perpetually.

      After that, it’s a whole new world…

  16. Love the article Natalie and the comments have been most educational.

    I must admit that I like the idea of an interdisciplinary ‘showing of hands’. I do hope someone is available to take a photo when these old white guys who all went to the same schools, clubs etc, and have managed to define ‘mental illness’ as anyone who isn’t them, put their cards on the table and realise they were playing with half a deck.

  17. Natalie, I wasn’t going to post any further on this blog because I feel I stated my perspectives pretty thoroughly here. However, it occurred to me this morning that I have a 10 minute video clip to share with you that I feel might be relevant, here, if you have the time.

    I made a film in 2011 called Voices That Heal that has made its rounds and is now on YouTube posted as a service announcement. 6 of us from within the system share our feelings and perspectives of the system, while talking about our life journeys from childhood to present time, through the system, and where we are in the moment with our healing and personal evolution. We not of like mind, have various perspectives, although we do overlap in areas of thought. I call it a rainbow choir of voices from within the system. (At that time, we were all part of a public speaker bureau program associated with an ‘advocacy’ agency).

    I edited together clips from public presentations we did, interviews, and I include a round table discussion, which I facilitate, spliced throughout. It’s all in real time, kind of a documentation, perhaps, more than a documentary.

    When I thought about it, I realized that it’s a good example of discussion outside the academic box. While I do hold a degree and my training in the field, we all come from a client perspective as we relate our stories and offer our reflections. We are all speaking our truths here, in the moment, regarding our experiences. It’s a snapshot in time, we’ve all evolved since then.

    For me, personally, this film was a catalyst for transforming my life. I thought, as an anthropologist, and also since you had asked about the round table situation here in the US, you might find this interesting. If so, there is a link in the description below the video that leads to where the film is posted in its entirety.

    Thank you.

  18. The word “psychiatry” means – or at least it did mean “soul-healing”.

    That this much has been so forgotten alone says much.

    That we have built a belief system that thinks soul healing can only be achieved with academic definitions, chemicals, electricity and coercion is bizarre in the least.

    Academia is not only not the solution but right at the root and core of the problem, seeking as it does to hive human knowledge off into separate fiefdoms members of which then sit atop their own jerry built towers claiming sole right to truth- slinging arrows and arguments at each other in the name of rationality.


    Healing means make whole – breaking down our understanding of human experience into neat little boxes or buckets or academic factions that then engage themselves in a fight with each other is fragmentation – the opposite of healing.

    Human experience does not fit into nice neat little rows of boxes: it can’t since the boxes are entirely a construct made up by a select, self appointed few who deliberately choose a restricted view of human experience and that is itself rooted in narrow beliefs about what must be true.

    True science does claim any truth, it is merely a process of inquiry. The great thing about science is that it can allow us to recognize, eventually, that what people used to believe is not true.

    Today used to be the future, one day it will be the past and in that new future our children and grandchildren will laugh themselves silly at the ridiculous beliefs that hold sway today in the name of ‘truth”.

  19. Hey B…, I’ve been shot up but it isn’t a freaky experience to me, just a stupid one like all the others you pay for in “hospitals”. Also, I don’t mean to emphasize defiance, although it gets thought of if you so much as doubt or wonder aloud about the treatment you “obtain”. In fact, in order not to appear dense, I always have found that a lot of seeming interested and grateful were necessary in locked wards or the attendants’ confidence in themselves broke down and their egos took over in collective fashion.

    I don’t think the immediate future will reveal me back in any mainstream treatment, and I’ve got some record of success now working on regulating my emotions and dealing with flashbacks, and defensive and aggressive reactions my own terms. So I should have claimed that I would only talk about what I believed valid and helpful to talk about, but that includes what non-help labels and abrogations of civil rights are.

    In the same vein,

  20. In the same vein as your note of caution, though, I agree that very little leeway should be counted on if you try to bend the rules in life like everybody else, once YOU are stuck forever with the undying need of psychiatrists to take you under their wing and define your life’s meaning.