Mystical Psychosis Jung and the Spiritual in Psychiatry

Mystical Psychosis: Picking Up Where Jung Left Off

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions”-Joel 2:28 (KJV)

“I felt like I obeyed God and there will be good out of this. . . I feel like He will reveal His power and they will be raised up. They will become alive again”-Deanna Laney after she stoned two of her children to death because God told her to.

“So habitual is the trance of ordinary life that one could say that human beings are a race that sleeps and awakens, but does not awaken fully. Because the half-awake is sufficient for the task we customarily do, few of us are aware of the dysfunction of our condition”-Arthur J. Deikman.

In the 1970s, Arthur Deikman (a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco) introduced the term “mystical psychosis” to the psychiatric world. Himself a student of Zen, Sufism, and the Human Potential Movement of the 1960s, he sought to understand those who have experiences similar to mystical experiences but yet are not socially acceptable. The experience may be a psychotic episode brought on by extreme stress or substance abuse but may not be pathological. This could mean that the person guilty of killing because God told them to do it may never be tempted to do it again once the trigger for this altered state of consciousness is eliminated or at least understood by the subject who experienced it.

This particular field of research is not without precedence. Carl Jung, one of the father’s of modern psychiatry, had no problem accepting mystical experiences in his work. As his peer and rival Sigmund Freud was exploring the psycho-sexual nature of humanity, Jung was delving into the spiritual and paranormal aspects of human nature. Jung, himself, was no stranger to unexplained phenomena. As a young man he was convinced his own stress and temperament caused a dining room table to crack down the middle (psycho-kinetic energy). And, throughout his life he experienced visions, premonitions, and telepathic communications. Although he didn’t speak much about it until his career was well established, the spiritual and paranormal were always in his thoughts when he psychoanalyzed patients. So much so that he suspected those we consider autistic are in multiple dimensions at one time rather than fully in the 3-D physical world most of us are accustomed to.

Arthur Deikman and his view of “mystical psychosis” is a step forward from Jung’s point of view. In a society in which Freud’s animalistic view of human nature dominates, Deikman’s work can be seen as courageous. We’ve been conditioned to believe that there is no unseen spiritual world. A person who has a truly mystical experience is obviously insane so why bother trying to understand that the person who thinks God told them to hurt someone might just be having an isolated spiritual breakdown?

Fortunately, the works of those like Jung and Deikman are respected in certain psychiatric circles. In 2003, the Dalai Lama and a group of Buddhist monks shared thoughts and spiritual expertise with neuroscientists and psychologists at MIT. Both groups walked away understanding more about the human mind. And, just this year (2009), The Center for Mystical Psychosis, founded by Rob Sacco, seeks to help others deal with the mystical psychotic experiences in their lives. In the exact words from their website, “psychiatrists can no longer afford to neglect the importance of mystical experiences to their patient’s lives”.

“True spirituality-the authentic religious journey-can never be an escape from life’s problems. God, the sacred center at the source of all authentic spiritual journeys, must be met in the midst of life, not in the escape from life. Today we live in a global age-and age of planetary exploration and communications and new global interdependencies. Our spiritual journey-our search for life in God-must be worked out now in a global context, in the midst of global crises and global community. Our spirituality must be a global spirituality”-Carl Jung.