Information for experts

The term psychospiritual experience refers to the natural, life-enriching aspect of human development, which seeks its realization and meaning in connection with what transcends the personal identity. Such experience can lead to a greater ability to appreciate and integrate qualities such as wisdom, compassion, and respect for life as a whole, a deeper expression of a sense of personal fulfillment and inner peace. However, this internal development can also become a challenge and be very turbulent at a time when it turns into a specific form of crisis called a psychospiritual crisis, and the processes of internal development and change become an unexpected and sometimes overwhelming entry into an area of ​​extraordinary states of consciousness or spiritual experience.

Definition of psychospiritual crisis

The psychospiritual crisis is a relatively new category in the field of psychological diagnostics. These are episodes of unusual experience that include changes in consciousness and changes in perceptual, emotional, cognitive and psychosomatic functions. In these episodes, there is an overlap of the usual boundaries of definition and experience of the Self, ie a shift to trans-personal or psychospiritual experiences. The emergence of these unusual experiences may turn into difficulties, which we then describe by the term psychospiritual crisis.

These include experiences of states of proximity to death, intrinsically experienced mythological and archetypal phenomena (eg themes of death and rebirth, identification with the sacred, etc.), incarnation memories, experiences of self-perception outside the body; body movements, visions and voices, channeling, intense psychosomatic energy phenomena, parapsychological experiences, states of mystical union or identification with cosmic consciousness and other extraordinary states of consciousness.

This new category, for which the title of psychospiritual crisis has taken its place, offers an extension of the current perspective on the phenomenon of unusual experiences, where there is the possibility of having abnormal experiences or behaving abnormally while being "normal" without being stigmatized as insane.

Starters of the psychospiritual crisis

Its formation is often spontaneous, starters are not always clear and causal. For some, internal transformations are so demanding and fast that life in normal reality becomes difficult for them. So far, images of this category have often been considered as manifestations of psychosis and mental pathology and treated in this context. There is about 15 % hospitalized in psychiatric hospitals diagnosed with psychosis. The significant transformative and self-healing potential of this experience and the related internal processes leading to greater personality integration are thus slowed down or stopped and not used. It is difficult to estimate how many people are going through the psychospiritual crisis in the population without contact with psychiatry. Certainly there is a number of those whose experiences do not grow into a crisis and remain at the level of experience..

The most frequent starters of psychospiritual crisis

Manifestations of psychospiritual crisis

The manifestations of developmental crises are highly individual and there is no identical situation. Usually ten forms of psychospiritual crisis are mentioned:

Diagnostic criteria of psychospiritual crisis

/note: Based on the book by Christina and Stanislav Grof: The Difficult Finding of the Self - Growth of Personality through the Transformation Crisis/

Two important and very common questions ask how the states of the spiritual crisis can be diagnosed and the transformative crisis can be distinguished from spiritual awakening and mental illness. In order for a mental health professional to ask these questions seriously, they must accept that spirituality is a legitimate dimension of life and that its awakening and development is desirable.

The criteria for distinguishing between spiritual awakening (psychospiritual experience) and psychospiritual crisis are summarized in the table. Since there are no fixed boundaries between the two states, the criteria can only be used to make a general distinction. The first important factors are the intensity and depth of the process, their variability and the degree of the person's ability to function in everyday life.

The attitude to how the process itself is experienced is also important, whether it is viewed as interesting and meaningful, or as frightening and unmanageable. Finally, the ability of the human relationship in the process of transformation to society is also very important. Depending on whom one chooses in these states to discuss their experiences, and the words they describe them, they may decide whether this person needs to be hospitalized.

When it turns out that one has crossed the boundaries of spiritual awakening (psychospiritual experience) and has experienced a crisis, the possibility of diagnosis should be considered. We summarized them again in a table - see the table, which contains important criteria for distinguishing the states of psychospiritual crisis from purely medically diagnosed diseases and so-called psychic disorders.

The first diagnostic task is to eliminate any health problems that can be detected by available clinical and laboratory techniques that may cause perceptual, emotional and other manifestations - such as encephalitis, meningitis and other infectious diseases, cerebral arteriosclerosis, temporal tumor, uremia and other diseases that may affect the state of consciousness.

The psychological symptoms of these organic psychoses are easily distinguishable from functional psychoses by psychiatric examination and psychological tests. The criteria for such distinctions are in the first half of the table.

If appropriate examinations and tests exclude the possibility that the problem is of organic origin, it is necessary to determine whether the client falls into the category of spiritual crisis, ie in other words, it is necessary to distinguish this condition from functional psychosis.

There is no way of establishing absolutely clear criteria for distinguishing between a spiritual crisis and a psychosis or mental disorder, as these terms lack objective scientific validity. It is not possible to confuse categories of this kind with such well-defined diseases as diabetes mellitus or malignant form of anemia.

Functional psychoses are not illnesses from a medical point of view, and in the case of differential diagnosis, it is not possible to apply as precise aspects as in clinical medicine.

Deciding on a case-by-case basis, whether it is a spiritual crisis, means in practice determining whether the client would be helped by the strategy described in this book (Difficult Self-Seek) or if it needs to be treated traditionally. The criteria for such decisions are set out in the second half of the table.

The typical spiritual crisis is a combination of transpersonal, perinatal and biographical experiences. It is sufficiently coherent and probably evolves around one or more of the themes described in the "Forms and manifestations of psychospiritual crisis" section.

Favorable features include good psychological, sexual and social adaptability prior to the episode, ability to realize that the process may be based on the client's own psyche, and willingness to adhere to the underlying preconditions for treatment.

Conversely, lifelong serious psychological problems and lack of sexual and social adaptability can generally be seen as a warning signal.

Similarly, the confused and poorly structured experience content, the presence of Bleuler's primary symptoms of schizophrenia, the strong involvement of manic elements, the systematic use of projection, and the presence of persecuting voices and delusions are indications for favoring traditional therapies.

Other negative factors are strong destructive and self-destructive tendencies and violations of basic treatment rules.

For clients falling into the category of spiritual crisis, efforts to label their condition with traditional medical terms have little meaning. However, since physicians with traditional training usually consider these terms and must often work in the context of the traditional medical system, we will briefly discuss the question of these terms.

The possibilities of describing what people are experiencing through a spiritual crisis provided by the ICD10 official diagnostic manual used in the Czech Republic are insufficient. All in all they include schizophrenic, psychotic, manic-depressive and paranoid reactions. Careful analysis of the manifestations of major types of spiritual crisis shows that they do not fall into any of these official categories.

Since traditional psychiatry makes no distinction between psychotic reactions and mystical states, not only the crisis of spiritual opening but also uncomplicated transpersonal experiences are often labeled with these pathological labels.

The situation is rightly criticized not only by transpersonally oriented therapists and researchers. One of the most open and sharp critics of current diagnostic practices regarding mystical states and spiritual crisis is David Lukoff, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He stressed the need to clearly distinguish mystical states from psychotic reactions. He believes that there should be two categories in psychiatry for cases of mystical and psychotic overlap: the category of mystical states with psychotic features and the category of psychotic states with mystical features.

Note: Thanks to the efforts of David Lukoff and other experts, a non-pathological category has been introduced in the current DSM IV diagnostic manual in the USA: A spiritual and religious problem-involving psychospiritual crisis - !!! From_Spiritual_Emergency_to_Spiritual_Problem_DSM_IV.pdf.

Under current circumstances in the Czech Republic, the use of diagnostic labels obscures real problems and interferes with the healing potential of the process. This condition not only causes social stigma and psychological damage, but also creates the false impression that the disorder is a precisely identified disease and serves as a justification for suppressive treatment as a scientifically indicated approach.

Organized differential diagnostic tables:

Therapeutic techniques and strategies of approaching the spiritual crisis

The extraordinary states of consciousness allow the unconscious material with a strong emotional charge to enter into consciousness. This process shows a strong spontaneous recovery potential that needs to be encouraged. In this light, emotional or psychosomatic symptoms are not a problem to be tackled but a sign of the organism's healing effort to be supported and encouraged and brought to an end.