When Minds Crack, The Light Might Get In: A Spiritual Perspective on Madness


One of the most damaging aspects of the mainstream understanding of “mental health” difficulties is that they are conceptualized as a problem separate from the bigger and deeper problem of how we make sense of our lives as a whole, and how we find meaning, or spiritual questions.

I was recently asked to address the intersection of spirituality and mental health in a talk at the Unitarian Church in Vancouver BC. What follows is roughly a transcript of that talk, in which I question that split and outline a very different, and integrated, approach to understanding. (Or if you want, you could also watch or listen to this video of me rehearsing the talk):

To start off, let’s consider a story of a man who isolates himself and then stops eating for over a month. He starts seeing and hearing things, and a demon suggests to him he should jump off a cliff and suggests that instead of dying, he would get special powers. He doesn’t jump though, and he does eventually come back around people. But sometime later he goes into a place of worship and starts yelling at people he thinks shouldn’t be there and he’s trying to throw them out.

Now if you know our mental health system, you know this guy’s experience and behavior are very likely going to get him diagnosed with a psychotic disorder.

But what I just described is also what we have been told was the experience and behavior of Jesus when he went into the desert, fasted, was tempted by Satan, and then later threw the money changers out of the temple. He definitely wasn’t behaving normally for a Jewish person of his time.

That’s just one example — there are lots of ways that mental health crisis and intense spiritual experiences can look very similar. So an important question is, what should we make of that resemblance?

I’ll briefly outline three approaches to answering that question that people sometimes try.

  • One is to say that any resemblance is misleading, and that spirituality and mental problems are two very different things, and that we should turn to experts to help us tell them apart.
  • A second approach is the one Richard Dawkins took in his book The God Delusion: just dismiss all of spirituality as mental dysfunction!
  • A third approach is to see it as more complex or possibly mixed, with useful spiritual experiences often emerging at times of crisis and breakdown. From this perspective, we would expect to often see truly spiritual and helpful experiences coexisting with some degree of error and confusion.

Out of these three, the approach that is dominant in our culture is to believe that experts like psychiatrists can tell if something is really a spiritual experience or just “mental illness.” But if you check out how exactly they do that, you might see some problems with their method!

Essentially what they do is say that if a person’s experience is seriously disruptive, and if it is not normal in the person’s culture, then it is illness. But this implies that anyone who is experiencing something really new and disruptive to the culture, like Jesus or any kind of prophet, is at risk of being identified as ill. So there’s a danger that psychiatry will become a force used to suppress spiritual or cultural innovation.

A second problem is that psychiatry’s categorization of experience is very black and white. Once someone’s odd experience is categorized as being a result of mental illness, it’s then seen as worthless and meaningless, just something to be suppressed with drugs. But what about if someone’s experience is mixed, and they have some degree of spiritual revelation along with their mental and emotional troubles? In that case, what is the effect of refusing to see any possible value in what they are experiencing?

If you ask a lot of mental health professionals, they will say it’s a good thing to refuse to see anything positive in the experience of people who seem for example to be psychotic. They will say that it is “romanticizing psychosis” to see anything positive in psychosis. We are told to just see it as illness, having nothing to do with spirituality, even if the individual sees the experience as being all about spirituality.

I work with people who are experiencing what we call “psychosis” most every day. So I know how awful things can get. But while I do believe it is not a good idea to romanticize psychosis and to refuse to notice what’s bad about it, I would say it’s also not a good idea to refuse to notice what might be positive or spiritually important within people’s experience, and by doing so to “awfulize” psychotic experiences.

The method that I use most in my therapy practice is called CBT for psychosis. One of the most fundamental parts of this method is to aim at balanced thinking. Madness is typically about being unbalanced, so it definitely doesn’t help when professionals themselves have an unbalanced understanding of what is going on — as they do when they “awfulize” or “pathologize” confusing experiences.

One of the worst things that can happen when we awfulize experiences is we set off a vicious circle where people get more scared of their experiences, and then that fear and avoidance of their experience makes their mental disorder worse.

It’s interesting to reflect a bit on the way that trying to reject experiences we think we shouldn’t have, and being grasping of experiences we do want to have, affects mental health in general.

When we don’t want to have an experience, we often inadvertently make ourselves have more of it.

For example if we really don’t want to feel anxious, then if we do start to feel a little anxious anyway we are likely to also feel anxious about the fact that we are starting to feel anxious, and the anxiety will begin to snowball. Or if we really don’t want to feel depressed, then we are likely to get more depressed in response to noticing that we are having some depressed feelings, and that can also snowball.

Grasping at positive feelings can also cause problems. When we just want to feel good, we might start pushing away any feeling or thought related to self-criticism or a need to slow ourselves down. This can make us carried away with ourselves, and get impulsive or even manic, in a way that can also snowball.

Now I want to contrast the unbalanced states I have just described with the perspective of the 19th century Polish rabbi Simcha Bunem. His idea was that it is helpful to have something like two pockets.

  • In one’s right-hand pocket can be a statement like “For my sake was this world created.” Or even as I heard it once, “I am one with the universe, I am the Divine, I am everything.” That’s pretty grandiose, but also carries a truth about our essential oneness.
  • In one’s left-hand pocket can be a statement like “I am but a speck of dust, existing for but a moment in time.” That’s pretty humbling or even depressing, but also true in a sense.

The rabbi’s idea was that when feeling low or depressed, one might reach in the right-hand pocket and feel uplifted, while when feeling high and mighty and carried away with oneself, one might reach in the left-hand pocket and access some humility.

One thing I really like about that story is that it is about having access to, and finding spiritual value in, extreme states of consciousness. Because both those statements are extreme, but the rabbi is talking about accessing them both in a healthy and balanced and non-grasping way. We might say the rabbi is “bipolar” in a spiritually informed sense.

Tom Wootton is a modern guy who talks about the same kind of possibility, for example in his YouTube videos about what he calls being “bipolar in order.”  Tom is a guy who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, who then tried being a Buddhist monk for a while, and eventually learned to accept his extremes as being of spiritual value, as long as he kept them in perspective as just part of a bigger picture.

It’s actually not that uncommon that people will first experience extreme states of consciousness in an unbalanced way, and get lost and confused, and only later, if they are lucky and have help, learn to integrate those extremes in a balanced way like the rabbi did.

That’s my own experience. When I was a kid, I suffered lots of abuse, both at home and outside of home where I was severely bullied. Then, by the time I reached 17 years old, the abuse and bullying had ended. But inside I still felt crushed.

So, like many in my situation, I started experimenting with ways to make myself feel better. It started with using psychedelic drugs but quickly went beyond that, as I started thinking of myself as a completely new being with new ways of thinking and seeing. I would often see myself as God, able to recreate the world by seeing it differently. (Unlike some people who think they are God, I was open to the idea that other people were also really God. But since they weren’t aware of it like I was, they were more like insects or robots compared to me.)

During this time, I rejected the usual ways of making sense, so I often talked or even wrote letters in ways that made no or very little sense to others. Sometimes it was also very scary to me as I also struggled to make sense to myself.

One thing that helped, though, and that gave me some perspective on what I was going through, was reading the ideas of radical mental health writers like RD Laing, and mystical literature like the writings of William Blake and Alan Watts and books like The Cloud of Unknowing. And, over the course of a few years I also almost always had at least one person I could talk to who saw something meaningful in my experience.

A big fear I had at the time was that all important others would see me as just mentally ill, with my efforts to redefine myself seen as meaningless aspects of a disease rather than as the most precious aspects of my spiritual self, struggling to survive. Fortunately for me, that never happened.

Eventually I found more people who took an interest in my wild perspectives. And as they showed more interest in me I started showing more interest in making sense to them, and eventually I no longer came across as crazy. So I never did get forced into any psychiatric treatment. And now I can look back at that time as being when I made lots of spiritual discoveries that really set the foundation for my successful adult life.

But later several of my younger siblings started experiencing their own wild mental states.  Unlike me they did get sent to mental hospitals and told their experiences were due to illness, and where no interest was shown in what might be positive in their experiences. It was seeing that mistreatment of family members and of some friends that got me interested in becoming a therapist and in trying to pioneer better ways of helping people with these kinds of challenges.

I believe that if we really want to get better at helping people, we need to do a couple things:

  • One is to get better at wrapping our minds around all the research that is now showing that adverse experiences and trauma typically plays a crucial role in throwing people into the states we call mental illness.
  • A second is noticing how trauma throws us into the zone where we face the big spiritual questions. This means recognizing that trauma and mental health and spirituality are all very related.

Most of us know the saying that it’s very difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Often, we take that to be referring just to monetary riches. But being rich can also be seen as having a life free of trauma and serious losses. Because when things go well for us, we may just rely on those things, and relying on things gets in the way of spirit. Trauma on the other hand cracks open a hole in our lives and in our minds.

Psychiatrist Sandra Bloom is one who is good at describing how trauma disturbs our frame of reference, and brings into question our beliefs about self, world, causality and higher purpose.

There is a saying that there are some things you just can’t unsee. You can’t go back to totally mundane ways of seeing the world after very dark things happen. People have to access something spiritual, or something that could be called spiritual, in order to integrate the existence of darkness without being overwhelmed.

It’s also important to recognize that the effects of trauma are not all just at the time of trauma.

For example, my story is like that of a lot of traumatized young people. At the time when I was abused I just lived with a damaged sense of myself and the world. But when I got old enough to question my identity, I rejected most everything I learned about myself and the world and tried to reinvent it all. That could be described as a dangerous attempt to heal. I think of it as a process more like vomiting, expelling something that is messed up, or like a revolution, rather than as an illness.

What happened to me could be described as my mind having cracked open. Lots of bad things can happen, and bad ideas can get in, when things open up like that. But it’s also possible that the light, or something new and positive, can also get in at that time.

Joseph Campbell liked to say that the mystic swims in the same ocean in which the psychotic flounders. It’s in this floundering that people grasp onto fixed ideas to try to save themselves.

At times like this, people are sometimes grabbing very strongly onto really bad ideas. And then the mental health system comes along and says what they should really grab onto is the idea that they are just mentally ill. What might work better?

To stay with the Joseph Campbell metaphor, is it possible that we could assist people as they learn to swim instead of flounder? That is, can we help people move toward the kind of balance that the rabbi in the earlier example demonstrated?

I definitely think so.

To accomplish that, we who want to be helpers have to also work on being more balanced. We need to be less certain we know what’s going on or that our way is completely correct. That allows us to be curious about how there might be something positive or spiritual in someone else’s confusing experience. And when we model being less certain, we set an example for those whose task is to possibly find some value in their own experiences while also being curious about where they might be making mistakes that require correction.

I would propose that we do best when we are always searching for spiritual truth and sanity, but never too sure that we have it. In Taoism they say the way that can be spoken is not the true way. Just as in many spiritual traditions, any image of God or the Divine is understood to be not the true one.

We need rather a living interest in an ongoing process of discovery of the Way or of the Divine as we engage with each other. The terrible thing about modern psychiatric ideas about mental illness is that we are taught to lose interest in that kind of engagement. The diagnosed person’s views and experience are framed as just meaningless symptoms of an illness.

What I’m suggesting would work better is engagement and dialogue with those who seem crazy, and for each of us to engage and dialogue with the parts of ourselves that seem crazy. We can do this with the understanding that even though those people or those voices within us may be misguided in many ways, they may perhaps have a part of the truth that we don’t have, and if we talk together in an open-minded way we might all learn something.

Another way dialogue with apparently insane people or insane parts of ourselves can be helpful is a little paradoxical. When I was going through my wild experiences, I was very impressed by a William Blake quote: “The fool who persists in his folly will become wise.” Sometimes it’s our encounter with the opposite of the truth that becomes an enlightening experience.

For example I knew a guy who had the habit of just believing and acting on whatever a voice, that he believed to be a spiritual being, told him. Finally the voice stated, “I am just telling you all this so you will learn to be less gullible!” It was a backwards way of encouraging him to have critical thinking.

And often people can learn to find value in what initially seem to be very negative experiences. One guy was disturbed for years by voices who would make him feel vulnerable. And so he focused on fighting them, which really didn’t work. But later he realized he had spent years denying any feelings of vulnerability, and that he had the option instead of using the voices as a reminder that he did have vulnerability and that was part of life. So now the voices were something helpful instead of something he had to fight.

Now a lot of this stuff can get pretty tricky. But you don’t need to know all the tricks to be able to be helpful to people having the kind of experiences I’ve been talking about.

  • One thing you can do is just be more open to talking to people about confusing or disturbing experiences, while keeping in mind that there may be some meaning in these experiences, and something of value mixed in with any confusion or errors.
  • A second thing you can do is advocate for reshaping our mental health system so that it will support people in working through these experiences rather than just framing it all as pathology to be suppressed.
  • A third thing you can do is support people having access to peer groups like hearing voices groups, where alternative views can be explored in an open-minded way.

At the end of my talk, I thanked those in the church for being willing to consider this point of view — there aren’t that many churches that are open to considering the possible intersection between mental health crisis and spiritual breakthroughs!

I might also have thanked Leonard Cohen for his recognition of the way the light comes through the cracks in everything:

Or earlier, Rumi: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” None of these ideas are entirely new, but we always need to introduce them again, because they are always being forgotten.


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. I read Bipolar in Order a while back. My problem with Chris Cole’s philosophy is he’s pretty mainstream psychiatry. He advocates psych drugs as necessary for treating a discrete pathological ailment that doesn’t exist as such. “Bipolar” is only valid as a social construct, billing code, or defamatory weapon against an enemy.

    Mood swings are real, but according to Psychiatry, bipolar is no more moodiness than depression is unhappiness.

  2. Ron

    I agree with the following points:

    “*One is to get better at wrapping our minds around all the research that is now showing that adverse experiences and trauma typically plays a crucial role in throwing people into the states we call mental illness.
    * A second is noticing how trauma throws us into the zone where we face the big spiritual questions. This means recognizing that trauma and mental health and spirituality are all very related.”

    And I also like the way you shared your own “Revolution” as you experienced a journey through recovery from past trauma and abuse. You have many valuable insights.

    HOWEVER, what you failed to mention in this article (and something that is extremely important) is the fact that when people go through these watershed/crisis type periods in their lives, they are VERY VULNERABLE and quite susceptible to being sucked into cults, such as the Moonies or Scientology, or perhaps some of the more fringe/extremist type churches.

    In fact, many such groups PREY on people who are going through these periods in their life as great recruiting opportunities. And subsequent experiences in these groups can only make things WORSE for people searching for understanding and meaning in their life at these critical periods.

    Ron, you said:

    “A second approach is the one Richard Dawkins took in his book The God Delusion: just dismiss all of spirituality as mental dysfunction!”

    Another problem I had with this blog is how you completely dismissed Richard Dawkins and his very valuable book the “The God Delusion.”

    In my mind there are two separate definitions of “spirituality.” One is the unscientific belief of a spiritual world separate from the material world (God, Heaven, Hell, The Devil etc.)

    Another definition involves a search for meaning in life outside ourselves in various higher forms of human connectiveness, perhaps including in group efforts to transform the world into a better place. I subscribe to this latter definition.

    In your blog, your references to “heaven” and the “Devil” implied these concepts really exist in the real world, and that they have no problems connected to their acceptance as truths in the world. You are avoiding the fact that the historical role of religion’s role in promoting the belief in “original sin” and the Devil” have played an ENORMOUS role in the actual origins of many people’s profound conflicts with their environment that ultimately end up in some forms thoughts and behaviors that get labeled “mental illness.”

    It is very understandable why many people going through these crises might identify with and/or see themselves as “Jesus” or “God.” After all, many people in these positions have endured an enormous amount of suffering (through trauma and other forms of oppression) and very much identify with the story of Jesus whose story embodies the theme of suffering and then dying “for our sin” etc.

    So Ron, I am giving you a mixed review of this blog and hope you are open to such feedback.



    • Thank you, Ron, for pointing out “that trauma and mental health and spirituality are all very related.” I agree. And I personally found today’s “mental health industry” has gone all the way to committing the only unforgivable sin in the Holy Bible, especially when it comes to covering up trauma committed against children. They believe it’s appropriate to “just dismiss all of spirituality as mental dysfunction!” This is not an open minded and even handed belief system.

      Richard, you stated:

      “Ron, you said:

      “A second approach is the one Richard Dawkins took in his book The God Delusion: just dismiss all of spirituality as mental dysfunction!”

      “Another problem I had with this blog is how you completely dismissed Richard Dawkins and his very valuable book the “The God Delusion.”

      “In my mind there are two separate definitions of ‘spirituality.’ One is the unscientific belief of a spiritual world separate from the material world (God, Heaven, Hell, The Devil etc.)

      “Another definition involves a search for meaning in life outside ourselves in various higher forms of human connectiveness, perhaps including in group efforts to transform the world into a better place. I subscribe to this latter definition.”

      I must confess I’m not certain whether I’ve read “The God Delusion” or not yet, I know the book’s in my dad’s library. I’ve read some of his books, but not all of them. But I know I have, at a minimum, listened to many YouTube debates with Richard Dawkins.

      My point, Richard, is your belief in “spirituality” being one or the other of your definitions, may not be true. The truth may lie in the grey in between, there may be a Creator as well as a connectivity between all of humanity. That’s my personal belief. The physicists have some interesting ideas relating to multiple dimensions. My dad’s theory was heaven may exist in a different dimension.

      The reality is none of us actually knows the whole truth, except for possibly the Creator of the Universe. And when one realizes there is a mathematical organization behind all of God’s creation, I personally think it’s hard to deny the likelihood of an Intelligent Designer (research into ‘sacred geometry’).

      But we can say one thing with certainty, many of today’s “mental health professionals” have gone off the deep end with their delusions of grandeur, that they alone dictate reality and know the truth. They most definitely do not.

      But I do agree,“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” If I had not been wounded by delusions of grandeur filled, DSM deluded “mental health professionals.” I would not likely have researched into all I have, and started my search towards wisdom and truth. And what’s great is many online now share my concerns and are awakening to the problems we, as a society, need to fix.

      Hopefully, with this collective awakening, we can fix what is wrong in this world. But personally, I do not believe this can be accomplished without God’s help, and there are many who share my belief in God. Perhaps, it’s the “only unforgivable sin” in the entire Holy Bible to blasphemy the Holy Spirit, because it is through the Holy Spirit that we all are one?

      “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
      “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
      “And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
      “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
      “Yeah they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

      The solutions to the world’s problems are found in love, not the fear and division our current leaders are using, to try to control us.

      • By the way, Richard, as a God believer, don’t get me started on the crimes being committed against humanity by the organized religions, and I’m not just talking about “the Moonies or Scientology, or perhaps some of the more fringe/extremist type churches.”

        The paternalistic mainstream religions also chose to be a part of the problem, as opposed to a part of the solution, long ago. Via, what an ethical pastor confessed to me is, “the dirty little secret of the two original educated professions.” The psychiatrists bought them, and their hospitals, out long ago.

        Everyone pretty much now knows about the Catholic child abuse covering up problems. But the Lutherans have the same problem, via this “dirty little secret” child abuse covering up and profiteering system. Check out the chapter on evil in this book, written by an ELCA insider, for evidence of this ELCA child abuse covering up problem:


        I’d merely be one of the many “widows” mentioned in the Preface of that book. How charming, my “credible fictional” life, as my life was declared by an insanely delusional psychiatrist, is now being written about in non-fictional books by others.

        I do so hope I can once again become a non-fictional human, since that’s what I actually am. How bizarre the satanic pedophilia covering up psychiatrists, religions, and their pedophilia profiteering and covering up hospitals, thought covering up child abuse on a massive scale for profit, would be a good idea. Shame on the psycho/ pharmacology industries, and all involved in these satanic pedophilia covering up crimes against humanity.

        Today, “the prevalence of childhood trauma exposure within borderline personality disorder patients has been evidenced to be as high as 92% (Yen et al., 2002). Within individuals diagnosed with psychotic or affective disorders, it reaches 82% (Larsson et al., 2012).”

        And the “treatments” for these child abuse covering up DSM stigmatizations are already medically known to create both the negative and positive symptoms of “schizophrenia,” via neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome and antidepressant and/or antipsychotic induced anticholinergic toxidrome.


        Oops! All the men and women of the “two original educated professions” who bought into the “dirty little secret of the two original educated professions” do deserve to be judged fairly, just like the rest of us.

        But I do not believe they should delude themselves into believing God is dumber than I, thus ignorant of the impropriety of “the dirty little secret of the two original educated professions.”

    • Richard “In my mind there are two separate definitions of “spirituality.” One is the unscientific belief of a spiritual world separate from the material world (God, Heaven, Hell, The Devil etc.)”

      Only two?

      What about a continuum of synthesis between these two definitions? Something like – spirituality which is based on human connectivity AND connectivity with the Universe AND connectivity with the collective unconscious, AND belief in a higher power which orders, disorders and guides these things?

      It is a spiritual exercise to eliminate the words “But” and “Or” from your vocabulary for a time in order to refine your viewpoints and expand your awareness. Other practices, more extreme, consider the elimination of all verb forms of “to be,” in order to emphasise the present moment. I’m sorry, I cannot recall the source of these exercises, but I found them valuable.

      However, when you say either/or – I am reminded of the dogma of religion that I was hammered with in my youth. You are either a sinner or a believer. You either go to heaven or hell. Either you accept the canon as interpreted by your church-God-man, or you are outcast. It was when I started saying “AND” that I realised the rainbow of possibility.

      What I hear in your either/or scenario is someone who rejects Jesus by embracing the Devil, or Atheism with the same fervour that was betrayed by belief in a specific religion. It’s a reaction, and still a belief.

      Then, there are the possibilities that we, in our finite ability, haven’t conceived of yet.

      I like Ron’s suggestion about the role of love. I’ve been exploring the spiritual value of Emotions – perhaps emotions are direct messages from that part of us which is immortal, divine. Perhaps it is the highest guide we have – and when we ignore it, that’s when our lives dissolve into distress and disorder. I’ve been exploring the purpose of Art in living well – that the best truth is Art, whether it is writing, dancing, painting, calligraphy, knitting, child rearing. I write about Art as Truth, here: http://shamanexplorations.com/art-is-truth/ Is Art a form of worship or communication with that higher order – whether it is communication and connectivity with other humans, or an expression of appreciation to something which might be called “divine”?

      I’m more writing for the general audience than you, Richard. You and I have gone round this bend before and I don’t anticipate influencing your beliefs. If, however you can consider replacing “or” with “and,” I would be deeply honoured.

      I am reminded of some music I heard earlier today: https://youtu.be/hHJ5MC9nDTU
      “We’re all Jesus, Buddha and the Wizard of Oz!”

  3. Once again, making light of the destroyed social and civil standing which someone is having to endure, before they should ever have the misfortune of going anywhere near a psychotherapist. And talking about “mental health”, meaning that the survivors present state could be the result of something other than “mental health”. Turning their experience of something being wrong, into a way of making them believe that the problem lies within themselves.

    And we know from all the examples of suicides of people who have been in psychotherapy that coming to believe this fallacy can be fatal.

    The psychotherapist is a psychotherapist because they do not want to face the injustices which have shaped their own lives. And facing these injustices would not just be something in the abstract, it would mean actually trying to do something about them. This is where the therapist becomes the enemy of all who are trying to make sense of their experiences and who are trying to do something about the injustices. The psychotherapist is able to con people into disclosing their personal affairs, when all that therapist is ever going to do turn it back against the sufferer.

    Yes, adults are able to consent to psychotherapy sessions, but this does not mean that our government can be licensing it. By licensing it they are giving the therapists a normative authority which makes them potentially dangerous in legal proceedings. And also, people are taken in by therapists. Channelers, Psychics, and Fortune Tellers are comparatively harmless in comparison with Psychotherapists, because our government is not issuing them licenses.

    And then when you have a client who realizes that they have been conned and manipulated, that the government is issuing licenses means that the government is legitimating the process and the underlying assumptions. As such it becomes more difficult to sue. Psychotherapists are emboldened by their licenses to go further in manipulating and using their clients. And this is after all the only reason that they are therapists. They don’t want to actually stand up to the injustices on which our society is built. Instead, they earn a living by covering for the abusers, by making the survivors believe that it is they who have always been in the wrong.


    Fortunately though in many states there are signs of progress:


    Stomping the Cockroach, a work in progress

  4. Ok. This mystical stuff can be interesting and perhaps helpful, but we are forgetting one very important major detail. Much of the so-called “psychosis” out there is a direct result of psychotropic drugging, psychiatric abuse, and involuntary incarceration. This doesn’t mean that people don’t experience difficult things otherwise, but even the notion of “psychosis” has a long and sullied history that ought to be explored. If you drug a person or a person comes cold turkey off of psychotropic drugs he or she has a good chance of experiencing the kind of “psychosis” that psychiatrists love to diagnose as “mental illness.” These are not necessarily cracks in the mind where light can come through. These are land mines implanted in the brains of innocent people. These are sane people driven whose brains are being damaged by psychotropic drugs and psychiatric interventions, not eccentric shamans or mystics of some sort. It is true that light may still enter through these psychiatrically inflicted wounds, but let’s not pretend that there is some mysterious “mental illness” floating around that inspires people to think that they are mystics. Jesus and His prophets were sometimes deemed mad by the mobs, not because Jesus and His prophets behaved like lunatics, but because they preached the truth about the iniquities of the people, hard truths that the people didn’t want to hear.

  5. Ron,

    Wonderful article!

    We’ve come a long way from that time years ago when we both agreed a first-person spiritual perspective was not a topic that earned one brownie points in the world of respectable psychotherapy.

    How things do change! Nowadays whole conferences are devoted to the topic of spirituality and psychology, and professionals like you are invited to speak in churches. A couple of months ago I myself was invited to speak at a Unity church here in SC, where it’s said there are more Baptists than there are people. Unbelievable!

    People are getting disillusioned with old school psychiatry and they want to hear what you’re saying. Keep up the good work!

    Mary Newton

  6. Apparently, and appropriately enough, “mental health” being a religion, we’ve entered a church. We, absent myself, of course, being an atheist. “Soul healer”, do your damnedest.

    Skeptical of the “mental illness” belief before I even entered the “mental health” system, I remain a skeptic.

    I suppose you are aware of how removed you are from anything that remotely resembles science.

    Okay, so much for the theological end of the matter, then there is the industrial business end. 20 % of the US population more or less!? Cut it out, and get a real job.

    The self-help book that always meant the most to me was actually a novel, Naked Lunch, by William Burroughs. William Burroughs, a recovering heroin addict, treats rampant consumerism and other aspects of our cultural malaise as addictions. I would have to say that “mental health”ism is also an addiction. Unfortunately, so many of the afflicted “mental health” clerics, such as yourself, are far from seeking “treatment” and any sort of “recovery” from their affliction (i.e. “mental health work”).

  7. I just came across your work this morning. Rather than critique what you wrote, I just want to say THANK YOU for articulating so well what is so important when we look at human beings who are suffering. Not only to validate their experiences, but also to see where the truth of their experience lies. I’m a big fan of Joseph Campbell’s work and have always connected to his metaphor that we’re all in the same ocean. Looking forward to reading more of your work.

  8. I am so happy to come across this article! I am discovering that my passion is the intersection of theology (in which I have a Bachelor’s degree) and mental health. I’m not sure which direction to go, though, as I’m not a therapist. I’m a writer and a theologian considering mental health rather than a psychologist considering faith. In the 2,000-year history of the church, there has yet to be developed sufficient resources and support for pastors, lay ministers and others; this has kept the church damagingly silent and I want to do something about that. But I haven’t found a financially sustainable way to put these two together.

  9. You are absolutely right, that what we call mental health issues are questions answered by the spiritual side of a human being. Notice I didn’t say you are relatively right, or that you are right, and so are all the people who believe completely different things.

    But you don’t really seem to draw any conclusions from your Jesus example, or your youthful episode as God in person. I realize this is partly due to the short space. You must have drawn some conclusions to be writing fluently today, instead of lying strapped to a bed in some hospital while insisting you are our Creator.

    I prefer looking at our experiences and thoughts as possibly coming from another entity – God. God’s role is to help re-calibrate our little human brains, after trauma, drugs, genetics or whatever cause us to start to tune out. God does this by sending us thoughts/visions/voices, the content of which is important for the individual thinking/seeing/hearing it. The goal of these calibration exercises are to accept truth, and invert anti-truth into truth then accept it, using yourself and other people to answer questions that might arise.

    However, this would require us to accept that God tells us satirical anti-truth (Satan) as well as truth. If you read the Bible, you will see that Jesus’ words are all consistent with a guy who realizes God is telling everyone around him that he’s some crazy fella, and that they should feel uncomfortable whenever he talks about God and not ask him questions under any circumstances. With the unsurprising result that he eventually dies with all his disciples none the wiser about the nature of Satan.

    This God is not ‘nice’. But a God who can ask us to do evil, because He wants us to do the opposite, is the only way to solve the problem of evil, and the only way to explain the symptoms of what so many call illness.

  10. Ron Unger wrote,

    “I guess my perspective is that we do best when we are open to seeing there may be a problem within ourselves (unless we happen to be perfect?)…”

    Well yes, this is what psychotherapists do, take people who would not even be in their office unless they were in one way or another already being marginalized and taking the blame upon themselves, and trying to convince them that they themselves are the source of the problem. And what is the basis for this? Just like Ron explained, “unless we happen to be perfect”; it is based on the religious doctrine of Original Sin.

    And doing it with the weight of a government license behind them. Profiting off of other people’s misery, people who already are hyper self-conscious and self-blaming, and marginalized and vulnerable, and offering them absolutely nothing whatsoever.

    Psychotherapy is simply a con game to take advantage of people who are already vulnerable.

    • Wouldn’t call it a con game. Like any faith-based healing system, psychotherapy’s adherents believe in it. What’s more, confirmation bias proves there’s more to psychotherapy than us doubters can see.

      I do not believe. I think the problem with psychotherapy is that it’s not a con game: i.e a significant portion of our world’s GDP is assigned to a faith based healing practice.

      • And Maddestmike, this is why I say we should delicense it. Most of its potential for harm is in this licensing.

        And Run Unger, Talk Therapy is not best for everyone. But in fact, it does not offer anything to anyone, because all it does is turn the blame back onto the client. Many go along with this, because this is what they already think.

        1. On children, not currently being represented by an attorney in court, this should be outlawed.

        2. Otherwise it should be delicensed, so it is just like faith-healing, fortune telling etc. And I think the UU churches should show more smarts in what sorts of presentations they allow.

        Getting grounded, prayer, meditation, communing with nature, physical work, is always good, not because of healing. That is a fallacy. It is good because that helps you prepare to take legal and political action, and to find common cause with others.


          • I was in LA, and there was a tattered (not naked) man accosting all of the people in the parking lot. Not the best neighborhood. There might have been street drugs involved.

            He was loud, obnoxious and quite scary. He may not have been harmless, but I was afraid. It challenged all that I write about here concerning extreme states and alternatives.

            If I knew him, if I were not a tourist (like I was in LA) I would consider telling him, “hey, man, you’re scaring me,” and listen to him for a bit.

            In shame and guilt, I got in my car and drove away, leaving him to his fate. I had to think about it. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Mental diversity doesn’t include behaving in an aggressive or frightening manner.

            Sometimes from the perspective of extreme states, a person doesn’t know how scary they are.

            This is the cutting edge, isn’t it? I’m hoping that someone here has a better answer than me. I ran away. I couldn’t do it, on the ground, face to face, in person with a stranger.

            Maybe someone else could do better. But that’s just it, isn’t it?Communities always pass the buck. “Someone else” always ends up being cops and ambulances and restraints and drugs.

          • I guess everything is in moderation. There was this person who attempted assassinating the former president Ronald Ragan. He also obsessively stalked Jodie Foster thinking that he had something with her. He got caught and found not guilty by criminally insane. He was white by the way. If he was black he would be shot dead at the spot. Brown one will be captured as a terrorist representing the religion of peace.

  11. Yep, can relate to all you described. But it appears we were healed because we were in no way connected with the mental health care system of our country. I think you are erroneously assuming that because some people say it heals them, that it heals some people. What if talk therapy is not the best option for anyone, and we are the only examples of actual healing occurring? Every talk therapy success story seems to come packaged with tightly wound strings attached. i.e another mental break just waiting to happen.

    Would a goal of abolishing our mental health care system, and using the money to fund a community driven outdoorsy Basic Income work scheme be classified as sane or delusional? I bet there’d be a lot more people getting better.

  12. Talk to people? Once you realize that psychotherapy is a game of abuse, you learn only to talk to comrades, not sympathy givers, because that sympathy is just pity.

    And Mary Newton, the way to handle a naked man in the super market parking lot is by political consciousness raising and political activism.

    I went to a church which stays open late. A man approached me outside and explained about how his landlord had just run him out. I felt bad that someone has to live in such a non-standard and non-due process environment. The man told me that he was on disability and had a heart condition. He wanted money for a motel. I was not going to supply it. And it was already late on a warm summer night. He could sleep anywhere, not even worth it to go where he was talking about.

    But he said, “I have a *heart condition*, if I don’t eat *I could die*.”

    I showed him where the pay phone was and told him that if he got into any trouble he could call 911.

    He said, “Making a false 911 call is a *FELONY*!”

    So I realized that this musth be how our disability system works, just like our public assistance system does, to placate people, to make them powerless.

    What I wanted to say to the man was, “Follow me. You will be sheltered and fed, and you will be trained and armed, to fight in the revolution.”

    But I had no such training camp and no such army. But this is what is needed.

    So called crazy people are survivors of injustice. Political consciousness means finding the nature of the injustice and dealing with it. Capitalism is unjust. The middle-class family is unjust, as are lots of other things. But everyone wants to do well, if they are given any kind of a decent chance.

    If a man is talking to himself or saying crazy sounding things, the most simple interpretation is that he is very angry, and for very good reason.

    The last person he should talk to is a Psychotherapist because these people are not comrades, they are secondary abusers. Just flip them off if you encounter them.

  13. I saw a man lying down on the asphalt blocking a lane of traffic on a major boulevard. Soon police arrived. The man seemed to be trying to preach.

    Police kept shouting orders at him, but they would not put the cuffs on him or try to restrain him.

    He kept trying to preach. They got more officers to shout orders at him in another language. He seemed unresponsive, still trying to preach. So when he approached, standing on the other side of a patrol car, they tazered him. They would tazer him a couple of times, when they could have just put the cuffs on him. This really bothered me.

    Police approached me and wanted me to fill out a witness statement. I just turned my back and walked away from them.

    People need to talk and to be heard. But the last person they should talk to is any kind of a therapist. The therapist is just a cop with no badge or uniform.

    Political consciousness and political action, this is the way. And Therapy, Psychiatry, and Recovery are the enemy of such.

  14. Ron Unger wrote:

    “Life is complex, and while doing forestry work really helped out at one point in my life, there was another point in my life where I was really stuck … ”

    Again, turning the issues back onto the client. Psychotherapy works like religion. It is reactionary. We should not outlaw it between consenting adults, but we should delicense it.

    And fortunately there are others who have shaped out society by selecting instead political consciousness raising and political action, instead of Psychotherapy.

      • ^^^ Shouldn’t. But it shouldn’t be live and let live either, as that is just a denial system. What it needs to be is disruption and breaking down the system. Get white coats and abuser parents arrested. Make them pay by civil suits. And just make it impossible for them to function by street actions.

        Make people understand that they are not wrong or defective, its just that they’ve been letting people abuse them. Most of the time this will have started as they were children.

        Breaking the machine which our society is, is very hard labor. But it is some of the most productive labor that any of us could ever be involved in.

        Right now, somewhere near you, a parent is driving their child to the doctor, because the parent finds the child to be an embarrassment and feels that they need more moral authority over the child, and just to give themselves a reason for existing.

        We need to be the ones who will find ways to crack into that situation and make some people extremely sorry.

        I cut my teeth by helping to incarcerate a man who was sexually molesting his 3 daughters, and with his church standing behind him, and trying to use psychotherapy to break the daughters down. It was a rare opportunity, a Burning Bush. I knew I must not pass it up, so I jumped in and worked long and hard.

        Now I want to put some psychotherapists and psychiatrists out of business.

        Politics is not just wasting time. Part of the problem with people who submit to Psychotherapy is that they don’t understand this. They don’t understand that Psychotherapy is extremely political, and in the very worst sort of a way.

  15. Politics is what decides whether or not the parents of a rambunctious or non-confirming child can take him to a fix-my-kid doctor, or whether that would entail severe legal consequences for both the parents and the doctor.

    Politics is what decides whether we send people with legitimate grievances to doctors, or to attorney’s who can help restore their rights and social and civil standing.

    When one takes to the therapist’s office, its because they have already given up. That therapist’s couch is just like a confessional. One is seeking absolution, not justice.