Spiritual Healing

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Clinical psychologist and psychotherapist James Carpenter has written an interesting article in Aeon addressing the scourge of the misuse of antipsychotic drugs in developed countries. In so doing, he opens the conversation to points I often make to medical audiences about the fundamental role of spiritual healing, and of deeper understanding of spiritual disease, in healing of all types (physical, mental and emotional).

Dr. Carpenter points out, as have others before him, that the successes of psychotherapy over the last few decades have been buried under the current paradigm of defaulting to antipsychotic drugs without addressing the fundamental mental issues. Although these drugs can be very useful in the initial management of acute psychosis (when combined with appropriate psychotherapy), they cause great difficulties when used over longer periods of time without any corresponding psychotherapy.

At the heart of the matter is the conventional tendency to view the hallucinations of psychosis as a lifelong brain disorder that can only be managed through long-term antipsychotic medications that have significant and problematic side effects. Yet there is no evidence that the brain in acute psychosis is different from the normal brain (unlike the situation in chronic psychosis which often has some underlying brain abnormality). He points out that in fact the most dangerous aspect of their use is in trying to wean people off of them after months to years of dependence on such medications.

Given the classical psychotherapeutic approach that Dr. Carpenter and colleagues used decades ago, acute psychosis treated with good psychotherapy led to rapid and stable recovery (without the use of brain chemistry-altering antipsychotic drugs). This is contrary to the current script in managing acute psychosis that labels the brain as abnormal and the psychotic condition as lifelong and in need of ongoing chemical manipulation.

Dr. Cameron observes that the people most afflicted by such acute psychotic illness “have generally been badly hurt, usually early in life, often by people upon whom they were vitally dependent.” Their disorder is fundamentally one of their soul’s primary spiritual journey, manifested through their personal story. Long-term drug treatment may not be necessary, or as effective, if the core causes of a “spiritual emergency” are addressed through therapy. And, an accurate assessment to distinguish between this and the long-term disease states requires our more careful observation of these potential underlying causes.

Dr. Carpenter concludes that the powerful antipsychotic drugs change the brain and makes it profoundly more drug-dependent, which is what makes the use of drugs so dangerous over the longer term. But it is much easier to prescribe and adjust medications in trying to damp down the patient’s undesirable symptoms and behavior, than to actually delve into psychotherapy in an effort to address those early childhood traumas and the psychic repercussions from them that contribute to the symptoms of acute psychosis. Such effective psychotherapy is an endangered species, when one views the current dominant modes of training for psychotherapists, especially in the developed world, with its heavy-handed dependence on antipsychotic medications.

Adopting the broad interconnected view of modern concepts of transpersonal psychology, Dr. Carpenter reiterates Dr. Stan Grof’s belief that “the healing must involve a new integration of deep, inner parts of the person and deep, transpersonal forces beyond the person. It involves new connections between the secret self and others – between the conscious self and the self beyond consciousness nowadays referred to as ‘spiritual’.”

Dr. Carpenter’s views are in alignment with those of the American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences (ACISTE.org), a collection of certified mental health professionals and spiritual guidance counselors who train to address the psychiatric issues of those who have undergone profound spiritual awakenings.

I believe that this discussion is just the tip of the iceberg, and that, in fact, all of Western medicine will morph into a more powerful and effective system for well-being (not just “healing”) when we come to acknowledge and develop the skills to address the spiritual aspects of all disease and take that much larger view of the patient as a spiritual being in an existence that is fundamentally spiritual. Some traditional healing practices could be integrated or affirmed, including the power of prayer and of energy, healing touch, etc. From my point of view, our greatest work as healers will emerge from this far more comprehensive worldview embracing our spiritual essence.

Those who hunger for more in realizing this far grander view of our spiritual existence and how it opens profound channels of healing can join Karen Newell (co-founder of Sacred Acoustics) and me at one of our upcoming workshops listed on our Events page.

We will cover territory such as harboring a much grander view of ourselves, of our universe, and of our possibilities for healing, that touches on the eternal and the infinite. This personal knowing is available to us all through direct experience by slipping beyond the veil that normally obscures the full view of our existence.