Saturday, July 18, 2015

Spiritual Experiences, Challenges and Resources for Support

By: Shaye Hudson MA, Psychotherapist & Clinical Hypnotherapist 

We have talked about what is a Spiritually Transformative Experience in the previous blog and how it can affect the experiencer. We know that each person will be affected differently a particular spiritual experience but there will often be challenges that will show up in different areas of their lives. Also, integrating these experiences can be especially difficult for those living in cultures that are not as supportive of these often strange and difficult to understand experiences that often result in less than accepting responses from friends, family members and others. It is important that the experiencer, clinicians, and other professionals involved have a general understanding of these potential challenges and where they can go to get support.

Spiritual Experiences and Western Culture
Modern societies and those in Western culture generally have an impoverished understanding of such spiritual or religious matters. There is a tendency for Westerners to use a scientific or even a religious worldview to explain away such experiences as just neurons firing in the brain or stating that the experience violates some holy declaration. I have found that due to these cultural norms, the spiritual experiencer may often hesitate to tell friends, family members, coworkers, mental health, or medical professionals, due to fears of being invalidated or even labeled as psychotic.

Spiritual Experiences and Mental Health

There has however, been progress in the mental health community in the distinguishing between what is determined to be a pathology and what is a problem. Practitioners in the mental health field refer to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM V) and the code “V62.89 Religious or Spiritual Problem.” This is a very helpful code that mental health practitioners can use to acknowledge distressing spiritual experiences as non-pathological problems.
While some will not have any significant issues after their experience, common challenges may include:
· Processing a radical shift in their worldview
· Accepting their new perspective
· Experiencing “homesickness”
· Issues related to sharing the experience
· Integrating new spiritual values, and changing ones religious beliefs
· Problems dealing with psychic experiences
· A desire to find, and live one’s purpose.

The spiritual experiencer, depending on their life situation and other factors, may have difficulty with depression, anxiety, isolation, divorce, financial distress, or substance abuse. The above situations could potentially require a mental health professional with a transpersonal orientation or competency to assist individuals in the area of religious or spiritual issues.

Spiritual Experiences in Supportive Cultures

Eastern and tribal-centric cultures often have a history, lineage, and psychological framework accustomed to providing support and integrating the spiritual or mystical experience. The Tibetan Buddhists have the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” to help integrate their encounters. The Senoi, a Stone Age tribe in Malaysia, consider the dream world to be more real than the waking world and have daily practices of dream interpretation. Also, some Native American cultures are known to have more supportive communities that were generally more welcoming of such extraordinary experiences.

Resources for Spiritual Experiencers

We in the West have the opportunity to create more of a conducive social, cultural and psychological framework to help others who have these transpersonal experiences. Where can people in the modern cultures and the West who have had such transcendent encounters find a supportive resource or community to help Integrate in a healthy, safe, supportive way?
I have personally found resources that were invaluable in helping not only myself but others process and integrate their experiences with a sense of community, acceptance and validation. You can find local support by contacting a professional or group affiliated with--or having received training from-- but not limited to, the following organizations:

American Center for the Integration of Spiritual Experiences (ACISTE)

International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS)

The Monroe Institute (TMI) TMI has an International Local Chapter Network and Outreach Facilitators that can provide local support in their groups.

Psychology Today: Online resource for Psychotherapists and Clinical Hypnotherapists with Transpersonal, Humanistic, and related orientations with specialties in spirituality.

We have come to understand that unlike many other cultures, the west may not have as supportive culture and container to help many people integrate have what they believe are spiritual experiences. Many are often hesitant to share their encounters due to ridicule or even condemnation. We also have seen how these experiences can be both positively transformational and at the same time challenging. In some cases, the person may require a Therapist, Coach or spiritual counselor who can assist them in a healthy adjustment to their transcendent or peak experiences.

Shaye Hudson, MA, CH.t is a Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist in Atlanta, GA with a Transpersonal orientation and training, who specializes in Spiritually Transformative Experiences. He is also a Reviewer for the Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology.

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