Monday, January 11, 2010

Psychology, Shamanism and healing process

My last post was about the different dimensions behind a reality.
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[48] 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.[49] 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.


ChrisJ said...

Really interesting post. I also think that the patient's belief affects this. Someone raised in the shamanic tradition would probably do better with a shaman than would someone raised in a tradition which depends on pshchoanalyse (I love the way French asserts itself here ;).)

angelshair said...

Thank you Chris!
This is a really good point you made, and I totally agree with you.
Ethnopsychiatry and ethnopsychoanalyse at least try to consider the cultural dimension in the healing process.
Tobie Nathan wrote some nice books on the subject, but again, I don't know if they have been translated in english.

Danangib said...

Very interesting. Many times modern doctors don't feel at all any simpathy for the pacient, he/her is just a "case". A different approach can help, only because the pacient can trust somebody who understand his problem.

Lana Gramlich said...

Interesting, but I wouldn't say that the psychologist's anymore "outside" than the shaman. Even they experience depression, anxiety & other issues. Many people get into the field in an attempt to gain insight into themselves or to aid friends or family.

angelshair said...

@Dana, I agree with you.

@Lana, you are right, and in this case, they might be more empathic.

But when I was stating about inside or outside, it was more about experiencing other dimensions, invisible world, or visual hallucination whatever you like to call it. And then as I said, in general the psychologists learn about it, and the shaman experiences it.
If the psychologist has someone close to him going through this issue,it then becomes an experience from the outside.

Being and Quirkiness said...

I know little about shamanism, I wouldn't be in the least surprised if it handled the core problem better than a psychologist would. Nice.

angelshair said...

Thank you Harvey.
Yes, I think you are absolutly right about handling the core problem, especially concerning some heavy issues for which psychology does not have real solutions, except some prescriptions drugs that the patient will have to take in case of crisis, or for the rest of his life. These drugs does not heal, they just work on the symptoms.

nothingprofound said...

I find the subject of "healing" so problematic I hesitate to say anything on this subject. There are so many questionable assumptions involved.

Fatima Da aka Fatibony said...

Very Interesting post ... The problem in my view is that each helper be it the psychologist, doctor, traditional healer or the shamanism will hold different beliefs and values as to how a person may be treated .... Each helper seems to hold strong values.... but obviously what matters is the client... It will be great if all helpers could work under one umbrella for the benefit of the client and also to understand what works or does not work for a client..

angelshair said...

@ NP, yes I understand. One of the assumption is to say that there is something that needs to be healed :).

@ Fatima, I agree with you in all points. The benefit of the patient/client should be and stay the priority.

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Von said...

More empathy would help everyone.

A Room of One's own said...


I came here from ChrisJ's page. I love your blog. I often think of healing processes as a girl from the Carribean who suffered from seizures. Very intersting post.


tagskie said...

hi.. just dropping by here... have a nice day!

Sarah S said...

Wow! What an interesting post!

I was having a conversation about shamanism a few weeks ago, actually, and someone told me that since medicine can largely be placebo effect (even in Western medicine) that she believes that each area in the world has its own way of fixing people's problems, and that they wouldn't work outside of that area. I think that's what ChrisJ was saying too, and I totally agree.

That's not to say, however, that I don't think the two shouldn't be combined--combining Western medicine with spiritual medicine certainly isn't going to hurt anybody, so why not attack things from every angle?

angelshair said...

Sarah, I love how open minded you are!!

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