Promoting Healing After Psychosis

Ron Unger, LCSW

What does it mean to heal after a psychotic episode? Is it just about trying to “get back to normality” and to suppress any further “psychosis” — or does something deeper need to happen?

I have written previously about how psychosis is often due to something like a revolution happening within a person — a revolution that occurs usually because the existing way the person is organized is in some manner not functioning well, or is oppressive.

It’s commonly known that just putting down a revolt and forcing a return to a prior oppressive “normality” will be unlikely to lead to long-term peace and stability. Instead, there will have to be some kind of a shift or transformation in the governing system so that the conditions that led to the revolution no longer exist. Isn’t it likely that the same sort of thing applies in the case of revolt within the mind?

In 1996, Sean Blackwell had his own experience of psychosis within an apparent bipolar episode, and it seemed obvious to him that the episode was an attempt by his psyche to accomplish something quite profound. Rather than being an illness, Sean has always considered his break-down as a critical break-through in his own personal development. In 2011, he authored the book Am I Bipolar or Waking Up? while also producing numerous YouTube videos which explore the connection between psychotic episodes and psychological transformation. This entire creative process has led Sean to speaking with hundreds of people who have experienced psychosis which they found to be somehow meaningful.

However, modern forms of treatment don’t provide much space for people to explore altered states or “revolutionary” ways of functioning to see what might be positive in them: instead, action is taken to bring people back to some simulation of “normality” as quickly as possible. Once that happens, most people are understandably frightened of going back into an altered state, which is likely to both disrupt their life and bring on more intrusive “treatment.” Unfortunately, this can lead to being stuck in a kind of limbo state, with the person’s psyche still struggling to transform, but with the conscious mind firmly opposed to any further dangerous disruption of stability.

For years, Sean wrestled with the question of how to help people complete their healing journey in a way that would be sufficiently safe. He eventually turned to Holotropic Breathwork, which is a powerful therapeutic process originally developed in the 1970’s by Dr. Stanislav Grof and his late wife, Christina. While breathwork facilitators certified by Grof Transpersonal Training generally avoid using this method with people who have had a history of psychosis, Sean has found that for many people with such histories, holotropic breathwork can be both very effective and reasonably safe, provided that it is performed in a highly secure, private retreat setting.

In a webinar that occurred on 3/2/18, Sean shared the details of his retreat program, with a focus on how modifications to the standard holotropic breathwork format have led to increasingly positive results. Two of Sean’s clients share their experiences of healing — their shift to living a life free of both psychotic symptoms and psychiatric medications.  You can watch a recording of this presentation at

Another source of information about this approach is this article from Moni Kettler which goes into detail regarding her initial healing process with Sean.

It does make sense to me that we be cautious about any kind of exploratory practice that might send someone who has been “psychotic” into another “psychotic episode,” or another period of being lost and confused. But I think we should also beware the risk of trying to be too stable and “normal” after psychosis — the risk of avoiding the transformative work that might need to happen for that person. In other words, we need to avoid what Sandra Bloom calls “risky risk avoidance,” where avoiding risk at one level creates more risk at another. I applaud people like Sean who are trying to find a balance, attending to safety issues while also finding ways for people to take reasonable risks in their development and healing.

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  1. I don’t mean any offense, but the mainstream “mental health professionals” are doing the opposite of trying to prevent “psychotic” episodes, since both the “antidepressants” and “antipsychotics” are drug classes that are already medically know to cause “psychosis,” via anticholinergic toxidrome.

    “The symptoms of an anticholinergic toxidrome include … psychosis … Substances that may cause this toxidrome include the four ‘anti’s of antihistamines, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and antiparkinsonian drugs[3] as well as …”

    This is basically medical proof that today’s “mental health” industry’s primary function is to create “psychosis’ with the drugs they regularly prescribe.

    I do agree, Sean’s work is great. I do agree, suffering from a psychiatric drug induced “psychosis” should never be used against a person, and fraudulently claimed to be a “lifelong, incurable, genetic mental illness,” as the psychiatric industry is currently doing. Today’s psychiatric theology consists of nothing more than disgusting medical/scientific/paternalistic religious/satanic fraud, largely to cover up pedophilia for the religious leaders, according to my sources.

  2. This also sounds a lot like Dr. Clare Graves’ work (Emergent Cyclic Levels of Existence Theory). The video when speaking of Maslow seems to describe a description of jumping from the Graves’ development stage 5 or 6 to an 8, by-passing stage 7 (not particularly healthy–but still navigatable). Stage 8 is a unique stage of development where the person sees all of humanity as one–as family.

    Note Maslow was influenced by Graves–and in fact, due to Graves’ influence, changed his hierarchy pyramid to an open-ended view and instead of “self-actualization” at the peak of the pyramid, “transformation” is a step higher and opens up (perhaps as the beginning of an inverted pyramid).

    • Hi Darryl,
      Just to clarify, my work focuses on helping people heal while in a non-ordinary, or “holotropic” STATES of consciousness. These states can be accessed by anyone using holotropic breathwork, or other means, like psychedelics or intensive meditation. Dr. Clare Graves work focused on STAGES of development, with the more developed stages having an increasingly spiritual component. Both are important aspects of human development, as deep work in the holotropic states helps people evolved through the stages that Graves talks about. I have different playlists on my YouTube channel. The stuff related to bipolar disorder is usually focused on the states, and the work of Dr. Stan Grof. The developmental, or stage part, focuses a lot on Spiral Dynamics, which was started by Graves and expanded upon by Don Beck, and Ken Wilber in different ways. Just thought you`d like to know.

    • “Maslow was influenced by Graves–and in fact, due to Graves’ influence, changed his hierarchy pyramid to an open-ended view and instead of “self-actualization” at the peak of the pyramid, “transformation” is a step higher and opens up (perhaps as the beginning of an inverted pyramid).”

      I love the “inverted pyramid” image, and it resonates with my healing experience. From knowing ourselves aside from the influence of outside opinions, negative projections, and social programming, we begin to discover more of our ever-expansive awareness. We are always unfolding into new ways of being and perceiving, if we allow ourselves that flexibility, it is a never-ending process. The creative possibilities are endless, to be discovered as we go along.

  3. The question that needs to be asked is more simple. What is psychosis? We owe such vague and misleading terminology to people like Freud, and it is by no means clear that there is really any such thing as “psychosis.” Freud was a fraud like his teacher, the charlatan Charcot. But their fraudulence and charlatanry continue to influence the way that most people look at the world.

  4. Thanks, Ron, for providing this article of a valid alternative to the standard treatment for “extreme states.”

    You tell how Sean says: ” . . . holotropic breathwork can be both very effective and reasonably safe, provided that it is performed in a highly secure, private retreat setting.”

    For me the most important common denominator for safety is the experience of the shaman or leader of this adventure into altered states, and my compatibility with him or her. The setting is likewise important, but let’s not leave out the importance of the facilitator’s skill set, please.

  5. This is very similar to shamanic work – of dealing with extreme states in safe, prescribed spaces (set and setting – no need for drugs). Giving the format and space for exploration of meaning within the altered state, releasing the pressure of the cognitive dissonance – or revolution, as you call it – and gain a “prescription” from the inner self, as represented by Guardians, Guides, Ancestors, Angels – it doesn’t really matter what you call these deeper, higher influences – just that – there is meaning to the state. Even though it may be “disorganized,” with guidance, it can be brought to light, just as the Shadows can be illuminated and integrated. It really is the highest calling to work these things through, and those who have done it are empowered, interesting, curious, passionate, and engaged with living, because they’ve experienced directly the meaning behind their “events.”