Today, I want to explore the psychological and shamanic dimensions behind the reality of mental health issue and the way they can affect the healing process. Let me explain:
If you take the case of a person who experiences visions, unmanageable fears, and can’t handle his/her everyday life normally any longer, you might agree that this person needs help.
If you introduce this person to a psychologist, he/she will probably be diagnosed for a personality disorder, or another mental illness.
Now, introduce this same person to a shaman, and he/she will probably be found to be possessed by a spirit.
While the psychologist will recommend a psychotherapy, a psychoanalyis or send the person to a psychiatric insitution for medication, the shaman will use rituals and herbs.
But the distinction between these 2 approaches, that interest me the most are the different look they have on the issue. While the psychologist is educated, and knows his subject, the shaman is experienced, and lives his subject. This main difference comes from the way they learn to heal. The psychologist will go to college, internship in hospital, to get to know how to heal his patients.
The shaman will experience the illness during his initiation rite. I quote wickipedia:
“ Shamanic illness
Turner and colleagues mention a phenomenon called shamanistic initiatory crisis. A rite of passage for shamans-to-be, commonly involving physical illness and/or psychological crisis. The significant role of initiatory illnesses in the calling of a shaman can be found in the detailed case history of Chuonnasuan, the last master shaman among the Tungus peoples in Northeast China. In Sudan, the sanjak (shaman) experiences the shamanic call in "the form of affliction. The person selected by the spirit becomes severely ill for a prolonged period of time.... The affliction and cure are seen as the sign of his election. The phenomenon thus follows the lines of shamanism, where the initial affliction of the shaman serves as proof of his election”.
So while the psychologist experiences the illness from the outside as an observant, the shaman experiences it from the inside as an ill person."
This might seem like a trivial detail, but it makes one of the fundamental differences between these 2 healing practices, especially for the patient, who is insured that his healer can really empathize with him/her, because he/she intrinsically knows what he is going through.
(In the western educational system, the subject that approaches the most to chamanic teachings in the fact that it values experience other learning is the psychoanalyse. )
I am not stating here that shamanism is a better answer to mental health issues than psychology. In their tentative to heal the person, the psychologist as well as the shaman may both succeed or fail. What I am saying is that the shaman may empathize more with his patient by accepting the existence of the reality their patient is experiencing, therefore making the patient more open to accept the healing process.