A Tale of Integrative Mental Health in Practice
While these types of articles on alternative ways of understanding mental health appear now and then, rarely do we hear from someone who actually has practiced in these ways. While I have much to say about Transpersonal Psychology, I want to share an experience I had treating a young person who had a spiritual awakening and was evidencing psychotic behavior.
This was a young person (I’m withholding as much identifying information as possible) who was attending a prominent university as an undergraduate. In the midst of an abrupt spiritual awakening, while sitting in class they believed that other students were cheating during a class test, because the other students were reading their thoughts.
In clinical psychology, this is a psychotic delusion of a paranoid nature. In their innocence, the young person shared their experience and concerns with a professor, soon ended up at campus counseling and were about to be sent to a psychiatric hospital where they most assuredly would begin a course of powerful and toxic psychiatric medication. Then, I was contacted by a parent.
Of course, always assuring the young person’s safety, I proceeded in a process separating the aspects of their beautiful awakening from what I would describe as confused misattributions of what was actually occurring for them. It does no good to directly confront the truth or falseness of a paranoid delusion, and it often costs in terms of trust and rapport in the relationship.
So, I gently introduced the idea that he was accessing the thoughts of others in the room, but he was misattributing that they were taking advantage of him. Also, I informed him that such misattributions were common during awakening as one begins to learn about their new gifts. So, instead of disavowing his experience, and negating the spiritually wonderful aspects, I simply was suggesting that he was misinterpreting what was occurring. It took several sessions for this to really take full root and remove the harmful beliefs.
With an awakening and the sudden opening to expanded boundaries and sensitivities, it is very easy to become fearful and paranoid and make a misattribution about what was occurring. There were other apparently psychotic symptoms that I treated similarly, by separating out the negative and harmful beliefs.
On the other side, I supported the beauty of his awakening. When he talked about feeling connected to the universe, feeling great love, seeing thoughts and beliefs as illusion, I supported and shared in his experience. I also supported his access to the flow of thought energy, while separating this from his fearful attribution that his thoughts and ideas were being stolen, e.g., “you may be sensing their thoughts, but that does not mean they are sensing yours.” After about 7 months of therapy, he returned to his life, with expanded awareness and sensitivity.