Many of us recognize the power spirituality brings to our lives. It offers us hope, connects us with others, inspires us, and helps us access dimensions of our being we never knew existed. With such a significant role, one would think spirituality would be an integral component of the psychotherapeutic process. However, it is only very recently that these two fields are beginning to merge – again.
One could say that the earliest therapists were shamans, or medicine men and women. Shamans held vital positions within tribal societies, serving as religious leaders, proto-scientists, counselors, and healers. Often selected among those who had undergone near-death experiences, they we pioneers, obtaining knowledge of both the spiritual world and the earth. They applied this varied knowledge to aid their kin.
Science, medicine, religion, and psychotherapy truly all have their roots in ancient shamanism, with its quest to understand reality and utilize practical wisdom. However, since the Age of Enlightenment, society has been growing more rational while discarding its intuitive side. Science has become strictly about analyzing the physical world of the senses, and cares little about spirits, otherworlds, or God. Yet new scientific models are beginning to redefine this landscape, albeit in baby steps, and the New Age wave is trickling into previously orthodox arenas…
You are deep in meditation, in succulent peace, when a voice begins talking to you, its celestial words opening doors to your soul. You have a vivid dream about your friend calling you, even though you haven’t talked with him in ages, and the next day the phone rings and BAM! – déjà vu. You’re talking with a coworker when you notice a strange black “spot” hovering around the base of her throat, only to discover weeks later that she has thyroid cancer.
There are default responses to all of these events, which a psychiatrist or therapist would give you without hesitation. If you’re lucky, you’ll get away with delirium from lack of sleep, confirmation bias, and seeing an optical illusion. Or, in harsher cases, you might be classified as schizotypal or schizophrenic! Psychology Today describes schizotypy, which is one step below schizophrenic and considered psychotic, as “associated with unusual beliefs about reality and the tendency to have odd perceptual experiences…adherents of New Age beliefs tend to be high in schizotypy and this is reflected in a loose ‘holistic’ thinking style.” Clearly, a psychologist won’t see you as having your head on straight if you recant about seeing auras and talking with spirits.
However, this does not in itself undermine the value – or validity – of such experiences. Science is a slow process, which is both its strength and weakness. It is starting, just barely, to relax some of its dogmatic confines, but how long has it taken? Any scientist worth his money knows the importance of always keeping an open mind, due to the fact that scientific models are often updated. Yet, just as in many mainstream religions, members of the scientific community can take on fundamentalist aspects.
Psychotherapy fuels itself on scientific research. If the consensus is that Model A is true of reality, therapists will adhere to that. You might have experiences that defy some part of that model – and if you do, you can rest assured it won’t be easy convincing others, especially the therapist sitting across from you.
So, returning to the point, are those visions hallucinations? Is that dream just a coincidence? Are you simply seeing patterns that really aren’t there?
The answer isn’t black and white. You MAY be hallucinating. There MIGHT not be a pattern. We know that sometimes our brains DO play tricks on us. Yet, on the flip side, you could very well be experiencing something real.
Here are some tips to point you in the right direction, if you’re having unusual experiences:
Do a Google and library search of the phenomenon, whether it’s telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, or something even more “out there.” Look for both anecdotal stories, where you might be able to gain insight from another person’s experiences, and peer reviewed journal articles that include credible scientific sources. Believe it or not, there are legitimate experiments on ESP and similar phenomena.
If you’re receiving information, such as a voice telling you something specific or a vision with clear details, try to verify it. If it’s an event that seems coincidental, and you’re not sure if it means anything, try keeping a journal or log, and date and describe each strange coincidence (what Swiss psychologist Carl Jung called synchronicity). See how many of these you collect after awhile, then do some reflecting. You might realize that some of these experiences are too profound to be sheer coincidence. As a cautionary note, please use reason and ethics – don’t listen to a voice that tells you to do something harmful to yourself or others. Real or not, it’s just not a good idea!
After all is said and done, does the phenomenon have value? Does it offer anything practical and useful? Does it inspire you, give you workable knowledge, or even just impart peace? Do you feel it improves your life at all? It may be hard to test it with 100% accuracy, but if this experience is of benefit, you need not necessarily confine it to “symptom of mental disorder.” A disorder is, essentially, an interference with a major life function, usually leading to distress. If the phenomenon is constructive, rather than destructive, or at least does not get in the way of you living a normal life, then please don’t denigrate yourself.
As alluded to earlier, some psychotherapists are starting to ease up. There are now a wide array of different modalities. If you’re having any unusual experiences you suspect might be psychic or spiritual in nature, a transpersonal psychologist, for example, will probably be in a good position to help you without judgment. You might even be lucky enough to find an experienced shaman who can walk you through the process. Investigate what’s out there, and the different backgrounds of experts. You can likely find someone who will understand.
Most importantly, you might not actually be crazy if you’re seeing or hearing things!
Tell us about your experiences. Have you ever seen auras or communicated with spirits or had spiritual revelations? How did they impact you and how did you manage them in your life?