A spiritual emergency is a rapid spiritual awakening that becomes uncontrollable with extreme altered states and a chronic overload of the senses. In contrast a spiritual emergence is a natural process that may evolve gradually over a period of time. Spiritual emergency therapy is aimed at giving understanding and teaching techniques to stabilise and control the awakening
Throughout the ages divine madness was almost a rite of passage in many cultures and religions. Afterwards the person would be given support by their community and those who had taken the journey before them. They revealed wisdom, guidance and assistance through the transformative experience. Their communities understood something special and transformative was happening, a gift from a divine source.
Before the mid-1970s mainstream psychiatry made no distinction between spiritual or mystical experiences and mental illness. Around that time the overlap of spiritual / mystical experiences and mental health problems became of particular interest to critics of mainstream psychiatric practice who argued that experiences that fall outside of the norm may simply be another way of constructing reality and not necessarily a sign of mental disorder.
Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof together with his wife Christina Grof published a book The Stormy Search for the Self (1) in 1991 about Christina’s own spiritual emergency. They became pioneers in this area and used the term spiritual emergency to illustrate both the dangers and opportunities present in such states. After much research in 1994 American psychologist David Lukoff attained a new diagnosis of religious or spiritual problem into DSM IV. This inclusion marked an increasing professional acceptance of spiritual issues such as a spiritual emergency in the assessment of mental health problems.
Catherine Lucas book In Case of Spiritual Emergency (2) published in 2011 explored the relationship between breakdown and breakthrough in much more depth. Together with others she set up the Spiritual Crisis Network in the UK offering information and support to those going through a spiritual emergency as well as to family, friends and professionals. Equivalent organisations around the world have been created including the Canadian Spiritual Emergence Service, the US Spiritual Emergence Network and others.
The symptoms of a spiritual emergency include spontaneous distress, extreme altered states, chaotic overload of the senses, an influx of excessive energy and psychic awareness. During an episode of spiritual emergency an individual may experience any or all of the following:
It is extremely difficult for an individual in full-blown crisis to successfully navigate this themselves. With support, understanding, techniques and strategies a crisis can evolve into a more stable and controlled emergence state.
One of the reasons spiritual emergency is increasing in the West may be due to an increased interest in the practices of the spiritual traditions from all over the global. Then incorporating them in a do it yourself approach without the full support and guidance of highly experienced teachers and safe supportive environment. Any of the following or combination may lead to a spiritual emergency:
Spiritual emergency therapy techniques include temporary stopping the clients spiritual practices, teaching energy management, grounding and mindfulness and providing support and understanding.
Many in crisis feel no one has every gone through what they are experiencing before. It is deeply reassuring for them to know other people have had similar experiences during crisis. Ongoing support and talking through the experiences is extremely helpful, allowing time for the individual to become aware of what may be happening and why.
During a spiritual crisis the energy body is more sensitive and vulnerable to intrusive energies. Energy protection is vital for deflecting intrusive energy from entering the energy field, weakening it and hindering progress. Other areas of energy management are cleansing, balancing, healing, awareness of chakra energy canters and opening and closing energetically. The book Spirit Release A Practical Handbook (3) by Sue Allen has more information.
Mindfulness is the mind state embodied by focusing on the present moment to the exclusion of all else. Combined with grounding mindfulness it can be incredibly effective in many situations. It is reputed to be particularly helpful during dissociation, panic, strong impulsive urges, flashbacks, severe anxiety and intense emotional distress. As a spiritual crisis may include any or all of these symptoms teaching mindfulness is very useful.
Creating an inner safe place is helpful for ego strengthening and as a safe container during an emergency, and also once the state is stabilised.
In order to prevent the spiritual emergency reoccurring its important to take care of the physical and energetic body and create a healthy environment. Signs of a spiritual emergency arising again need to be monitored and addressed by using the tools and techniques discussed.
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1 Grof, Christina & Stanislav., The Stormy Search for the Self, Thorsons, 1991.
2 Lucas, Catherine G., In Case of Spiritual Emergency, Findhorn Press, 2011.
3 Allen, Sue., Spirit Release A Practical Handbook, O Books, 2007.
Andy Tomlinson with inspiration from Janet Treloar. Andy's books are translated in French Guérir l'âme Éternelle - livre sur les vies antérieures Spanish Sanando El Alma Eterna - vida pasada libro and German Die Seele Heilen - Buch über Rückführungs- und Reinkarnationstherapie