Generally when we get sick most of us go to a doctor. If the sickness is physical we are put through blood tests, various proddings, and scans to assess what organs or systems in our body are not working well. If the sickness is not physical, or is primarily considered emotional (even if it has significant physical components), or the doctor simply cannot find anything wrong despite complaints of pain and decreased functioning they will either give pharmaceuticals or will advise the patient to seek out a mental health professional.

In cases of spiritual issues the modern allopathic community still defines anything not physical or mechanistic as being in the realm of psychiatrists or psychotherapy. If we were to put this in basic terms, spiritual emergency or issues stemming from a spiritual process would not fit into any paradigm they know so they typically consider it “other” and tell people what they are experiencing is all in their heads- that they need a shrink.

I have personally never found therapy helpful, so I can be a bit biased on this subject, but I have certainly treated and worked with numerous mental health professionals who are quite lovely and competent at their jobs. Here we encounter a bit of difficulty. Psychotherapy, although on its fringes is invested in interest in the spirit, interest in the soul, by and large is interested in the mind and emotions. This may be a fruitful endeavor for some of you, as going through spiritual issues brings up past traumas and emotional experiences that are overwhelming and having a safe space to discuss them can be helpful.

However in a spiritual process the actual spiritual process must be understood. The emotions and mental experiences coming up are significant, of course, but unless the spiritual process is fully understood and the reasoning for the emotions coming up is understood, the therapist will be placing significance on the mind, on the mental, on the emotional, and the processing of the lower emotions rather than a focus on the greater spiritual process occurring. The focus in therapy is a return from “aberrant” behavior to normalcy (wake to sleep) in order to make the person functional according to manuals, commonly accepted paradigms and considered normal behavior by a society that is mostly asleep and feels the need for such rules and control. The truth is that someone who is awakened will not fit into any manual of what is considered “normal” or “proper” for society. They should be able to function reasonably according to societal conventions (going to the grocery store, etc) but beyond that experiences of someone who is spiritual awakening are so far off from what is commonly understood and accepted by conventional society that efforts to stuff them into a diagnosis and treat them as imbalanced, insane, or ill will prove futile. There is a cognitive dissonance for people who are still asleep to understand anyone who is not, and the efforts to bring someone back to the implicit rules, patterns, thoughts, and energetic grids of constriction that restrict most of us into sleep when someone has broken free from them by the psychiatric profession, therapists, and counselors who simply are ignorant of the process is quite sad and at times harmful to those who could really use spiritually-based help.

In cases of spiritual emergency, where the individual is so overwhelmed by their spiritual process that they have lost the ability to function and may be experiencing a wide variety of severe and even life-threatening physical, mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual symptoms, therapists are part of the system set up- they can advise on the need for hospitalization when necessary (and yes, for some hospitalization is necessary). Although hospitalization is necessary in some cases there is a basic lack of understanding of spiritual emergency. Although I will write about this in another blog post, there is a huge difference between someone who is genuinely going through a psychotic break or is severely mentally ill and has such a fractured sense of self that they will require extensive hospitalizations, medication, and so forth, and people who are going through severe spiritual crises that may require long-term or short-term hospitalization, medication, and care. In many cases individuals going through spiritual awakening are medicated and treated as mentally or physically ill when their issues are spiritual and would best be treated by a spiritual provider or healer who deeply understands the spiritual awakening process. Unfortunately this differentiation is not understood at all, and so people undergoing short-term severe spiritual issues are medicated and hospitalized long-term because of improper care, and the genuinely mentally ill fractured soul who may require medication and/or hospitalization may believe that they are going through an intense spiritual awakening and will not receive proper care, and the person who is reasonably functional but going through a spiritual process may find themselves medicated or engaged in therapy that doesn’t help them.

And on its fringes therapists and other mental health professionals have been interested in spiritual emergency, a term coined by psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, and many therapists who have studied with him or consider themselves “transpersonal” or Jungian are invested in working with the spiritual through the lens of modern psychiatric and therapeutic doctrines. There are therapeutic networks, research, and other interesting work being done (and that has been done) for decades now enmeshing the spiritual with the psychiatric with varying degrees of success.

The difficulty with working with spiritual awakenings, spiritual emergency, and spiritual processes of all sorts through the lens of modern therapy, psychiatry, and the various lenses of mental health is that they define spiritual processes and spiritual awakening as an aberration, a disease, or at the various least something negative that has occurred. They have a paradigm- one that can be helpful in some ways… if you are so non-functional or ill that you require 24/7 care or are in severe mental, physical, emotional danger hospitalization may be the way to go.

However while the ability to diagnose someone as needing intensive medical care such as hospitalization can be important and even life-saving in some cases, spiritual awakening is not an aberration, it is not a disease, it is not an imbalance even. It is so easy to put things into the DSM-V (the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders) or to conduct studies blaming everything from too much meditation to drug usage to fragile mental states in the issues that present with spiritual awakenings. What is not understood by modern therapy, even those included in “spiritual networks” or who work with those undergoing spiritual awakenings is that it is not a negative process, even though it can result in issues that outwardly seem negative. By this I mean that spiritual awakenings are difficult. They bring up physical issues, pain, in some cases near-death states, mental and emotional issues, there will be strong energies that clear out our bodies, bring up the past traumas and issues not only from our lives but from our ancestors, our families, our community, the world. It is an isolating process, it is difficult to function, and the spiritual understandings and sheer amount of material that come up in some of the stronger awakenings (such as Kundalini awakenings or Shamanic callings) can be nearly impossible to integrate into daily functioning and interaction with a world that is not awake.

But this is not a negative, it is not an aberration that has occurred, it is not pathological, and it should not be treated as such. If anything it is a biological process of allowing for us to wake up to our highest potential. The intent of any type of spiritual process is to allow for us to process all of the energies, all of the traumas and emotions, all of the physical issues… everything that is weighing us down so that we can remember who we truly are and claim our power. In our world anything that is painful, any emotions or experiences that are not considered “normal” or are outside of the understanding of the mainstream are to be treated so that we can return to a state of sleep, a state of numbness. Many of us may wish to go back to sleep, to return to “normal”, to not feel pain physically or emotionally, to not have the spiritual understandings and separateness that those understandings mean. We are a culture that fears power, that fears individuation, that fears the unknown. We do not want to surrender, we do not want to let go and allow for the pain, the processing that true spiritual awakening creates. Instead we treat the process as a pathological state, numb our physical, emotional, and energetic sensations. In the early stages of spiritual awakening we are unable to have much of the bliss, the ecstacy, the love that comes from clearing all of our gunk out. We are so mired in sleep, in gunk, in conditioning and trauma and patterns and they are so painful to remove that we are ignorant and cannot see that we are gaining power, we are becoming more ourselves, we are achieving greater understandings, we are having sneak peeks of bliss, ecstatic states, and profound peace.

Some of us may be going through such an overwhelming process that talk therapy with an experienced therapist, medication, and hospitalization may be required. If we are reasonably functional and have a bit of knowledge we can understand spiritual awakening as a process, a positive process at that, rather than something that necessitates numbing through the current allopathic paradigm. By understanding that this is a biological process- that we are “waking up” to our true selves, our true potential- and that we are processing everything that stands in the way of that we can learn to work through it and come out the other side instead of putting ourselves back to sleep or focusing on the negative aspects of the experience.

Since this is an experience that is difficult to understand unless experienced directly, and many people who are in the beginning stages of “waking up” simply create more illusions (of control, rules, saying, belief systems, fears, and practices) that serve only to constrict and do not allow for deeper levels of surrender and processing, much of the information on spiritual awakenings is rather meaningless, feel-good sort of information that most of us truly going through spiritual awakenings will find frustrating or will see through as illusory. By learning simple tools, by understanding what you are going through, and by surrendering all of muck and grime and conditioning can be cleared. The more grime and conditioning we clear the more we become ourselves, the more joy we feel, the less symptoms we have, the more we understand what is “true” for us and claim our own power. It is a beautiful thing to witness when someone makes it through the storm of the spiritual process to feel the sheer amount of peace and flow that lies beyond.

I (Mary Shutan) offer assistance and mentorship to people undergoing spiritual awakenings as well as a wide variety of spiritual experiences to understand and work through their experiences. You may contact me here for interest in working with me. Due to the amount of emails I receive on a daily basis I am unfortunately unable to provide free advice via email, but do take emails for a Spiritual Advice column (put Spiritual Advice in the header of the email) and suggestions for new low- cost classes (the ones I currently offer can be accessed here).