Spiritist Psychiatric Hospitals in Brazil

Emma Bragdon, PhD
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“If the spirit is not acknowledged as existing and real, psychiatrists will only pay attention to effect. They will be impeded from divining the root causes and will never cure effectively… New theories—with solid experimental foundation—point at illuminating and unveiling the spirit. But, we need courage, not only to acknowledge these theories, but also to examine them.”1
– J.L. Azevedo, MD.

There are 50 Spiritist psychiatric hospitals in Brazil, offering inpatient and outpatient services that utilize an integrative approach to recovery, stressing the spiritual alongside physical and emotional therapies. Few people outside Brazil know of them.  This article describes their philosophy, successes, as well as the treatments they use—and how they are a valuable resource for sensitives, creatives, and visionaries.  In the near future one of these hospitals is planning on opening an English-speaking ward. They take a very cautious approach to medications and never use ECT.  I will post updates on the MIA website as I know more of the details.

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From 2001 until 2012 I spent six months of each year in Brazil learning about Spiritist healing protocols by participating in the activities of a Spiritist Center in Abadiania, a village near Brasilia, as well as visiting other Spiritist Centers and Spiritist Psychiatric Hospitals as the guest of their professional staff in many major cities of Brazil.  I was awed and fascinated by the phenomena I witnessed. I saw many people healing from serious physical and mental issues without the use of conventional medicine’s typical tools– physical surgery and drugs—and without the use of mind-altering substances (which can be risky).  I saw a dramatic display of the positive potentials of healing through meditation, prayer, herbal remedies, peer support, study, and receiving personal healing from highly trained spiritual healers.  I saw a way for gifted sensitives and creatives to find balance and harmony in his world.  I wondered, “Is this a missing piece in our own healthcare system—one that could facilitate wellbeing to many while avoiding the side-effects of surgery and drugs?”

Health Providers Visiting Spiritist Psychiatric Hospital in Brazil
Health Providers Visiting Spiritist Psychiatric Hospital in Brazil

 

Philanthropic donations supported both my travel and documenting what I learned in four books and two films.  I also worked in Brazil: I was a guide to 60+ groups of individuals who wanted to be healed of physical or mental issues by a famous Brazilian healer.  The groups spent two weeks with me, and received individual healing and learning about the healing practices of Spiritism.  I acted as translator, patient advocate, and teacher.  I tried to build bridges between Western medicine to the unique Spiritist way of healing so participants would be more comfortable and receptive to the treatments they received.

In the last few years I have also taken five groups of health providers to visit Spiritist psychiatric hospitals and learn from the psychiatrists who collaborate with spiritual healers to diagnose and treat patients.   I am a psychologist by training; and I relish introducing colleagues to the extraordinary resources I have experienced firsthand in hopes of creating teamwork.  I think it’s time to export some Spiritist wisdom and practical knowledge to help our ailing mental healthcare system in the U.S.

Spiritism in a Nutshell

Spiritism is a branch of Spiritualism.  The word was created by Allan Kardec, a French academic who lived in the mid-19 century.  It refers to a philosophy that includes how the world of spirits is in meaningful communication with the world of human beings.  Most importantly, it stands for a lively and well-organized path of supporting personal and spiritual evolution.  Early Spiritualists were simply fascinated with the phenomena of séances and spirit communication and weren’t invested in personal evolution; Spiritism formalized a more serious path of life.

The numbers of people attending Spiritist activities in Brazil is growing rapidly right now.  It’s estimated that 20-40 million people use the services of Spiritist Centers in Brazil.  The activities include training to become healers, as well as classroom study, spiritual healing (similar to Reiki), peer counseling, diagnosis by medical intuitives, and an unusual treatment that is similar to exorcism.  All of these benefits are given for free in the Spiritist Centers and all people of all ages, cultural and religious backgrounds are welcomed.  The centers offer what we would call free complementary healthcare.  Even the hospitals are in a position to offer free services to the poor for a period of almost a month.

Results of Spiritist Healing 

Even though contemporary research studies are few, unusual successes in healing at the Spiritist centers and hospitals are reported through stories and some academic studies. In April, 2004, the President of the Federation for Spiritism in San Paulo (FEESP), Avildo Fioravanti, told me in an interview that FEESP has more than a 90% success rate in helping addicts and the suicidally-depressed to recover normal functioning, without dependence on drug therapy. Social psychologist Canhadas reported in 2001 that 70% experience great improvement and a definite cure of their problems, including all manner of physical and mental illnesses, at Grupo Noel, a Spiritist center in Sao Paulo, Brazil.2  Ivan Herve, MD, a psychiatrist, completed a 20-year study in another Spiritist Center in Porto Alegre.  He reported extraordinary success helping those with profound mental health issues to recover.3  His study aligns with initial results of 30+% cure rate documented in the 1930s by Dr Ferreira4 in the first Spiritist psychiatric hospital in Uberaba, Brazil.5

My Personal Interest: Sensitives, Creatives, and Visionaries

What brought me to invest so much time in Spiritism?  I was born with some natural abilities as a ‘clairsentient.’ AKA a “sensitive.’  This means I have unusual sensitivities which allow me to sense others’ emotions without hearing them described to me or seeing any physically obvious signs of them—even at a distance (remotely).  I also have some clairvoyant abilities as well as creative/ intuitive gifts.  No, I’m not a “channel” for spirits—letting myself be possessed by a spirit guide who then uses my vocal chords or arms and legs for its purposes; but I do feel quite succinct inspiration from ‘another source’ that is not obviously originating with my academic conditioning or ego.

“Straightaway the ideas flow in upon me, directly from God, and not only do I see distinct themes in my mind’s eye, but they are clothed in the right forms, harmonies, and orchestration.  Measure by measure the finished product is revealed to me when I am in those rare inspired moods.”

 — Brahms

Consider that many of our most creative talents spoke about being inspired by a source outside themselves.  I’m not claiming to be a member of this crowd; but just want to provide perspective, as many who are diagnosed with serious mental disturbances also can be highly sensitive and demonstrate profound creative and visionary abilities that are not always respected. Physicist Niels Bohr; poet Robert Louis Stevenson; the inventor Nicholas Tesla; the poet Goethe; composers Brahms, Puccini and Tchaikovsky all spoke of a higher creativity in which they would let something flow through and inspire them that was not their own.6

Similar to other sensitives, the gifts I was born with got me into trouble sometimes.  My family didn’t want me to see or feel the truth underlying their personal secrets; my perceptual abilities made them uncomfortable.  I was silenced by cold shoulders, shaming or teasing.  Given the lack of safety to share my insights, I retreated into nature or spent time with dogs, horses, frogs, birds and creepy crawlies. They accepted me as I was.  But, the ability to empathize and feel others’ emotions also made me feel very confused as these were sometimes stronger than my own and I couldn’t immediately tell if I was feeling my feelings or someone else’s feelings.  As a young person, I had big boundary issues and big issues regarding my own identity, too; I had lots of sorting out to do.

I needed to find places to learn more about being a gifted ‘empath,’ aka a ‘sensitive,’ but I didn’t even have the language to help me find resources for guidance.  What helped me the most was body-oriented psychotherapy.  It brought me into my body and forced me to identify with my own emotions.  I also sought training with very reputable psychics, like Anne Armstrong who taught at Esalen Institute, as well as First American shamans from the Lakota and Yurok tribes—who I worked with closely for 15 years.  Add to that a course I took and later taught, called The Avatar Course™—which is very helpful in nurturing intuition and empathy while simultaneously strengthening identity and boundaries.  Fifty years of meditation have also been beneficial.

Without such fine support from others and my own self-directed efforts in meditation, I likely would have been looking for meds to diminish my sensitivities and numb the pain of my childhood, the pervasive sense of loneliness, and the two near-death experiences that left me out on a limb before age 10.  I feel sad knowing that the support I received is not readily accessible to others who have some or all of the same issues I struggled with.

Spiritism can provide an important resource for ‘sensitives’ to learn how to harness their gifts to be healers to help themselves and others.  Sensitives, like myself, who don’t get this kind of qualified supervision and training and general support often are inclined to think they are crazy and repress their abilities in order to “fit’ into the culture.  The repression can lead to depression, anxiety, mania and even psychosis.  Spiritists label this “repressed mediumicity” and provide ways to integrate one’s gifts safely.  Spiritist centers also provide a venue for healing deep emotional wounds, staying balanced, and, as mentioned, continuing to evolve spiritually.  My life has been blessed by my experiences with these centers. I wish I had had access to them at age 16 when I was a troubled teen.

Spiritism and Spiritist Treatments 

There are more than 12,000 Spiritist Centers within Brazil and 160 Spiritist community centers in 34 countries outside of Brazil (including 70 in the USA). However, while fifty psychiatric hospitals are in Brazil, none exist outside the country.

Patients in Spiritist Psychiatric Hospitals in Brazil can elect to have Spiritist treatments in addition to conventional psychiatric care.  Psychiatric medication may be used (but not relied on as much as it is in the USA and Europe).  Psychotherapy and addiction counseling, various therapies (art, music, and occupational) and outdoor sports or gardening are also available. A few of the key practices used for all patients who elect to have Spiritist treatments are laying-on of hands, blessed water, prayer, and peer support.

Patients with severe problems who are not responding to these treatments can also have sessions with a medical intuitive (a person who can see into the subtle and physical body and can articulate problems through a 6th sense), AKA a highly developed clairsentient.   These patients may also become the focus of a group of well-trained and gifted healers who practice “disobsession.”  There is no English translation for this word.  It involves seeing if a person has a spirit attached to them that is generating negative thought forms that the patient believes are his/or her own.  Such thoughts might include “Kill yourself” or “kill so and so” or “you are a terrible person.”  The intuitives can perceive the spirit and the psychological relationship that brought the spirit to be connected to the patient.  They can also assist the patient to be freed of this negative attachment and the obsessive thoughts that accompanied it.

Each of the Spiritist practitioners donates his/her time at no charge. This can amount to a few hours to more than 40 hours per week—depending on how much each practitioner wants to donate time.  They believe that donating their time and attention to help others also benefits their own spiritual evolution as it enhances their communion with our divine source.

Laying-on of Hands   —  (“Passe” in Portuguese)

The Spiritist trained healers enter into a ward of patients at the psychiatric hospital at an arranged time, generally twice a week. Those patients who choose to participate sit in rows on chairs, or in a circle. The healers know the healing protocol and have been taught to interact with patients who might be highly sensitized or in altered states of consciousness. The practitioners are asked to have next to no verbal communication or physical contact with patients within the treatment or outside of treatment. Their interaction is focused simply on the healing work and saying an uplifting prayer before the healing begins and after it is concluded within the whole group.  Blessed water is made available to patients to drink as part of their healing between sessions.

The actual energy work typically involves circumscribed gestures where the healer passes his or her hands 3 to 6 inches above the body of the patient starting above the head and passing down the body to below the knees.  Treatments last only a few minutes per person, during which time each patient remains seated, eyes closed, if possible. One at a time, the practitioners of the healing work stand in back or in front of each patient, giving each recipient about 3-5 minutes of concentrated attention.

Each healer will be focusing on transmitting Divine energy (e.g., the Holy Spirit, or Christ’s Love) to the patient. To begin, the healer becomes focused, which usually involves shifting to an inspired state of consciousness whereby the healer perceives himself as a channel through which God’s healing energy can flow to the patient. The healing then takes place through a continuum of transmission of energy: from the Divine source to the spirit of the incarnate healer, and from the healer to the subtle and physical body of the patient.  On site nurses say that patients find peace with the treatments and the calming influence frequently lasts for days.

Are We Ready for This?

About five years ago I went to the largest psychiatric hospital in my state of Vermont, The Retreat, in Brattleboro, to offer my services for free and spoke to two administrators in leadership.  I wanted to bring the Spiritist style of “laying on of hands” to the patients who were suffering on the locked “addictions ward.”  I had collected a team of trained healthcare providers and ministers who would come with me to offer the kind of treatment we had seen given in the Spiritist Psychiatric Hospital in Porto Alegre, Brazil.  We promised to do the healing work in a group for patients who wanted it, under the watchful gaze of the hospital nurses.  We promised not to have physical contact with the patients or engage them in conversation or exchange contact information.  The hospital turned my offer down.  They didn’t want what we were offering.  No explanation was given other than “it’s too unusual.”

Is this an indication of how far our conventional care systems are from bridging to a more integrative approach to mental health care?  Despite positive research findings regarding the positive impact of prayer, meditation and laying on of hands, it appears as if there are still very few ways of bringing spiritual practices into psychiatric care in our institutions.  Hopefully, we can build better bridges and construct a practical application of spirituality in mental health care in the future.  I encourage this kind of change as I’ve seen how much it can help people who are suffering from mental imbalances in Brazil.

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References:

1. Azevedo, JL. MD. (1997) Spirit and Matter: New Horizons for Medicine. Tempe, AZ: New Falcon. p.66)

2. Canhadas, C, (1999) Cura Espiritual, Uma Visao Integradora Corpo-Mente-Espirito.  Masters Dissertation for Pontificia Universidade Catolica de Sao Paulo.

3. Herve, I. et al. (2003) Apometria: A Conexao Entre a Ciencia e O Espiritismo. Porto Alegre, Brasil: Dacasa Editora.

4. Moreira-Almeida, A & Moreira, A. (2008) “Inacio Ferreira: the institutionalization of the integration between medicine and paranormal phenomena.” A  presentation at the Convention of the Parapsychoogical Association and the Society for Psychical Research.

5. Bragdon, E. (editor) (2011) Spiritism and Mental Health, London, UK: Singing Dragon.

6. Harman, W. & Reingold, H. (1984) Higher Creativity. Los Angeles:Tarcher.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Very interesting Emma and thank you so much for your research and words. I work with many young people in private practice who are deemed “psychotic” who I think are deeply sensitive souls, often having experienced trauma. I think of “psychosis” as a form of emergence and a deep process of unfoldment. At times people go through experiences that are so overwhelming that they need a safe place, a sanctuary- to work through these complex states. It sounds like Spiritist hospitals an example of this type of sanctuary.

    I also work in a psychiatric hospital setting very part time as a therapist and we use a variety of “unusual” tools such as drumming, aromatherapy, chanting, singing, dancing and movement in different group settings. What you wrote about spiritist hospitals sounds deeply healing and hopefully we can truly create sanctuaries such as you describe.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience, education, and perspective. I very much relate, although not until I was a psychiatrically defamed and drugged as an adult. And I have medical evidence of the disrespect of intuition and the Holy Spirit I personally dealt with, and the advocation of psychiatric defamation and tranquilization for queries regarding such, particularly by the mainstream US medical community and religions.

    My story has to do with the paternalistic mainstream US medical community, and Christian religion’s, “dirty little secret” desire to maintain control. Especially when it comes to their right to defame people, and profit off of covering up, medical evidence of pastoral child abuse cover ups.

    But I am in the midst of my spiritual journey, which I’m still trying to understand. I had no idea how disgusting the mainstream American paternalistic medical and religious industries were, and that they would actually deny and drug a woman for belief in the existence of the Holy Spirit, as I have the medical proof they did in my medical records.

    It seems to me that the mainstream American religions, who own many of the not-for profit hospitals, have completely bought into the profitability of the DSM psychiatric stigmatization and tranquilization system. Especially since the DSM claims of belief in God and the Holy Spirit are “delusions” now allow the mainstream religions to cover up their pastoral child abuse issues in the USA.

    I hope to have the time and resources to look into your research and writings, there were so many points I wanted to address in your article. But I also hope to point out there are seemingly profit driven, and / or unethical reasons even the supposedly “not for profit” US medical community and religions, are currently supporting the scientifically invalid psychiatric philosophy. We do need a change from the status quo, they are no longer respectable, maybe they never were. Although, I personally believe their used to be a Christian ethic in this country, and that’s what made to US great. I personally pray for a return of such.

  3. Dear Ms. Bragdon,
    Thank you for all the great work you are doing to raise awareness about both Spiritism and the healing that is going on at places like this in Brazil. We definitely need to bring more of that to this country, and I appreciate the efforts you are making in that regard. I was impressed by what you did in Vermont – disappointed by the results, but I do share in your hope for more promising changes down the road.

    I know you also have books on these topics as well. If I may, I would like to offer the professionals here and others who have taken interest in Spiritism through your work another resource to explore what Spiritism is all about. This is my book, “Changing Lives with Spiritism: Fresh Perspectives for a New Humanity” (more information at http://changingliveswithspiritism.com).

    Thank you very much and God bless.
    Heather

  4. “I wondered, ‘Is this a missing piece in our own healthcare system—one that could facilitate wellbeing to many while avoiding the side-effects of surgery and drugs?’

    Indeed, it is, a resounding YES from me on this. Thank you so much for writing about this. I’d never heard the term ‘spiritism.’ I will be researching this further.

    You have described much of what I learned and experienced in my journey of healing, and what I discovered about myself, as well. I learned all about the gift of true empathy and clairsentience. I read Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person, then someone gave me Rose Rosetree’s The Empowered Empath, and that really shifted my perspective and is exactly what led me out of that place of chaos and feelings of powerlessness. My world and health shifted poles, here, a full 180.

    After my disaster in the system and coming off medication and all that nightmare, from which there seemed no end to the darkness in that snake pit, I found a meditation and healing program which taught about this thoroughly, about clairsentience and other fascinating and relevant things, and I studied for several years at this psychic healing school in San Francisco which specifically focused on this as a healing perspective. It was a miraculous shift, to understand this aspect of me in a way that was validating and empowering, finally!

    I applied all I learned to my everyday life, and eventually, I was creating a different existence for myself, one that I could enjoy and in which I could create freely. This is what I experience now, and the work you are talking about is what allowed me to experience this after decades of diagnoses and medication, all in the past now, thank God.

    Yes, this level of sensitivity can be such a challenge in today’s society, until one learns to focus and use it consciously. Then, it is an incredible healing tool and gift. I am very relieved to see you write about this, can’t say enough about that!

    Very interesting and frustrating that you were turned down, although I’m not at all surprised. I was learning all of this and healing like gangbusters even as I was still involved in the system, and even though I was right in front of them, obviously well, grounded, present, productive, telling my story, and offering to pay forward what I learned and how it applies, I was snubbed, the way you were—over and over again. And I was no stranger to them, I was in their midst. They refused to acknowledge that I knew something of value that they did not.

    It is so telling of where the system is, and it is truly sad and even tragic. I don’t know what it will take to open these minds and hearts, if anything at this point, and go outside their extremely limited comfort zone. I’ve never seen such stubborn resistance. I think solutions are everywhere, but there is some kind of resistance to actually really solving these issues. Too much money in keeping this going, I guess, would be what I gather, from the role we all know money plays in this industry. I really hope this changes soon. I think the work you describe is extremely valuable in all this. Challenges the ego in every way.

    Very best wishes in continuing your work with this. I think it’s fantastic, it’s exactly my perspective. Again, thank you!

  5. Since you mentioned Tchaikovsky in your post.

    I actually talked with Tchaikovsky through a medium, and that a couple of times.
    Actually played a bit of his first piano concerto with him there.
    But I had had contact with him years before this, in a way.
    I was listening to vinyl discs from the library of his Ballet Sleeping Beauty.
    I actually at that time was smoking (haven’t for years anymore) and had counted how many cigarettes there were per record side. When it came out how it should have, there were two extra cigarettes. I knew instinctively that this was to show me that the music was stronger than the surgeon general’s warning, that there’s something that goes on that transcends physical laws. You can look at many things by now that point this out (phonons are a form of quantum entanglement with sound that goes beyond time, and the accumulation of harmonics also does this, and I think is used on fiber-optic cables). Music basically prism emotions and is actually more objective than physical reality, because it goes directly to how you manifest things in you own life, depending on your emotions. Music lets you know it’s OK.

    Tchaikovsky actually told me about his suicide, how he had been discovered as a homosexual, and in that time it was against the law. The person who discovered him made a sarcastic remark that he should kill himself. Peter told me that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and that the last two years of his life were very difficult. But he was very good about this, rather than indulging in the melodramatics, he went to pointing something out in my life. He asked me whether the medium wasn’t like everyone else, and I had to reply that this was and wasn’t the case. He told me that I’d make it, and then the medium woke up wondering why he had tears all over his face. But later I realized that everyone is a medium. And to tell you the truth, spiritualism isn’t necessarily some wonderful thing to get into, because the medium’s can truly be trying to exploit the spiritual energies. And this can cause extreme confusion and can be quite abusive to someone who is creative rather than exploitive. I have never in my life heard so much negative gossip and phobias as I have around the few spiritualist churches in this area, gossip about this or that person and their supposedly negative energies, or negative entities around them. The first spirit that came through the medium Tchaikovsky asked me about was Mozart’s mother. He had been going to a spiritualist church for years, hadn’t gone into a trance till he was around me. She put him in a trance because she said he was doubting the information he had been relaying before that. So there was an opening for a year. But already in the beginning the medium had said and I was told that he was blown away by the love between Mozart’s mother and me. And I have to say in the end he started acting a bit like Lord Voldemoort, as if there was something stronger than love. He had to chose himself whether he accepted something he couldn’t control, something that didn’t need an opposite, needed no struggle to validate it, that simply was, that was love. And he didn’t. At least not consciously.

    Tchaikovsky was amazing though, as were many other of the spirits that are still around me. With this particular medium, it came to an end after about a year.

    You have to understand that music is an innate part of the human condition, and it goes way beyond the physical. It’s part of the arts giving a home to your emotions as they embrace creativity, and where you can let go of the ego. Music has done more than anyone will know, because it needs no validation. You’ll never know what imperceptible change has taken place in anyone’s life after listening to music, how it took an emotion and gave it direction from the respite it gives. That goes even beyond a whole list of tangible miracles someone has performed whose actions are known. Music in “primitive” cultures was part of healing and the matrix that their mythology, their stories were woven into.

    Tchaikovsky also simply said that God loved me…..

  6. Sadly, it’s not surprising that when you try to help the asylum, a place where people are put because they are just to “unusual” too be understood, you’re told you’re too unusual to help. But it doesn’t matter. It’s about thought, and thought is spiritual, it remains that way. You can still help those people by simply acknowledging there’s a different way. They’ll still somehow feel that, even though that would seem “too unusual” and for you to actually help there would have to be some “tangible” contact, according to the norm.

    My music is here, by the way http://www.youtube.com/oelte

    I’ve of course also been through a whole “spiritual awakening” or enlightenment. Considered to unusual or crazy.

    A Course in Miracles and various spiritual healers have helped me a lot. Gene Egidio and some filipino healers. That’s where I turned after my adventure with “spiritualism.”