Download PDF Back to Life, Back to Normality: Cognitive Therapy, Recovery and Psychosis

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I have been working to make education on this subject more available, in particular in the form of my online course Working with Trauma, Dissociation, and Psychosis: In the bigger picture, alienation and dissociation is something that happens not just within people, but within and between social groups, tribes, nations, etc. We need more attention to approaches that recognize the life and the validity in the alien other, and which help people and social groups assert their own needs while also finding ways to recognize and reconcile with the deeper needs of the other.

I recently put all these videos up on one channel, making them easy for you to find or link to! You can check out that channel and subscribe! The down sides of the drugs are less easy to grasp. So often they never really figure into treatment decisions. Efforts by helpers to simplistically explain or suppress psychosis may also then backfire and increase difficulties. Restoring balance may require accepting and integrating psychotic experiences, neither overvaluing them nor dismissing them as being without value.

Some methods of working toward this goal are identified and discussed. These articles are currently being published online and the hard copy edition of the journal will be out later this year. I expect there will be lots of great articles in this edition! A tale is commonly told of science narrowing in on an understanding of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia — they are an illness of the brain, caused by genetic risk factors, biochemical imbalances Deacon, , and faulty circuits amongst neurons Insel, But do the narrower views of psychosis really follow from evidence, or do they rest more on prejudice?

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What does it mean to heal after a psychotic episode? I have written previously about how psychosis is often due to something like a revolution happening within a person — a revolution that occurs usually because the existing way the person is organized is in some manner not functioning well, or is oppressive. Instead, there will have to be some kind of a shift or transformation in the governing system so that the conditions that led to the revolution no longer exist.

In , Sean Blackwell had his own experience of psychosis within an apparent bipolar episode, and it seemed obvious to him that the episode was an attempt by his psyche to accomplish something quite profound. Rather than being an illness, Sean has always considered his break-down as a critical break-through in his own personal development.

This entire creative process has led Sean to speaking with hundreds of people who have experienced psychosis which they found to be somehow meaningful. For years, Sean wrestled with the question of how to help people complete their healing journey in a way that would be sufficiently safe.

Stanislav Grof and his late wife, Christina. While breathwork facilitators certified by Grof Transpersonal Training generally avoid using this method with people who have had a history of psychosis, Sean has found that for many people with such histories, holotropic breathwork can be both very effective and reasonably safe, provided that it is performed in a highly secure, private retreat setting. You can watch a recording of this presentation at.

Another source of information about this approach is this article from Moni Kettler which goes into detail regarding her initial healing process with Sean: I applaud people like Sean, who are trying to find a balance, attending to safety issues while also finding ways for people to take reasonable risks in their development and healing. I was recently asked to address the intersection of spirituality and mental health in a talk at the Unitarian Church in Vancouver BC. What follows is roughly a transcript of that talk, in which I question that split and outline a very different, and integrated, approach to understanding.

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Or if you want, you could also watch or listen to this video of me rehearsing the talk:. He starts seeing and hearing things, and a demon suggests to him he should jump off a cliff and suggests that instead of dying, he would get special powers. But what I just described is also what we have been told was the experience and behavior of Jesus when he went into the desert, fasted, was tempted by Satan, and then later threw the money changers out of the temple.

So an important question is, what should we make of that resemblance? But this implies that anyone who is experiencing something really new and disruptive to the culture, like Jesus or any kind of prophet, is at risk of being identified as ill.

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In that case, what is the effect of refusing to see any possible value in what they are experiencing? We are told to just see it as illness, having nothing to do with spirituality, even if the individual sees the experience as being all about spirituality.

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So I know how awful things can get. The method that I use most in my therapy practice is called CBT for psychosis. One of the most fundamental parts of this method is to aim at balanced thinking. One of the worst things that can happen when we awfulize experiences is we set off a vicious circle where people get more scared of their experiences, and then that fear and avoidance of their experience makes their mental disorder worse.

Grasping at positive feelings can also cause problems. When we just want to feel good, we might start pushing away any feeling or thought related to self-criticism or a need to slow ourselves down. This can make us carried away with ourselves, and get impulsive or even manic, in a way that can also snowball. Now I want to contrast the unbalanced states I have just described with the perspective of the 19th century Polish rabbi Simcha Bunem.

Back to Life, Back to Normality

His idea was that it is helpful to have something like two pockets. One thing I really like about that story is that it is about having access to, and finding spiritual value in, extreme states of consciousness. Because both those statements are extreme — but the rabbi is talking about accessing them both in a healthy and balanced, and a non-grasping way.

When I was a kid, I suffered lots of abuse, both at home and outside of home where I was severely bullied. Then, by the time I reached 17 years old, the abuse and bullying had ended. But inside I still felt crushed. So, like many in my situation, I started experimenting with ways to make myself feel better. It started with using psychedelic drugs but quickly went beyond that, as I started thinking of myself as a completely new being with new ways of thinking and seeing.

I would often see myself as God, able to recreate the world by seeing it differently. Unlike some people who think they are God, I was open to the idea that other people were also really God. During this time, I rejected the usual ways of making sense, so I often talked or even wrote letters in ways that made no or very little sense to others. Sometimes it was also very scary to me as I also struggled to make sense to myself. One thing that helped though, and that gave me some perspective on what I was going through, was reading the ideas of radical mental health writers like RD Laing, and mystical literature like the writings of William Blake and Alan Watts and books like The Cloud of Unknowing.

And, over the course of a few years I also almost always had at least one person I could talk to who saw something meaningful in my experience. A big fear I had at the time was that all important others would see me as just mentally ill, with my efforts to redefine myself seen as meaningless aspects of a disease rather than as the most precious aspects of my spiritual self, struggling to survive. Fortunately for me, that never happened. Eventually I found more people who took an interest in my wild perspectives.

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And as they showed more interest in me I started showing more interest in making sense to them, and eventually I no longer came across as crazy. So I never did get forced into any psychiatric treatment.

And now I can look back at that time as being when I made lots of spiritual discoveries that really set the foundation for my successful adult life. But later several my younger siblings started experiencing their own wild mental states. Unlike me they did get sent to mental hospitals and told their experiences were due to illness, and where no interest was shown in what might be positive in their experiences. It was seeing that mistreatment of family members and of some friends that got me interested in becoming a therapist and in trying to pioneer better ways of helping people with these kinds of challenges.

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