Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Distressing psi is really misinterpreted insight, vitality, and developmental thrust

I just finished reading “Perspectives of clinical parapsychology:  An introductory reader,” Kramer, Bauer, and Hövelmann, editors, and I was very struck by how there are a handful of outpatient clinics in Europe and Argentina where people having distressing psychic or spiritual experiences can get help from professionals who are trained in both clinical psychology and parapsychology.  As far as I know, there is no such clinic in the U.S., even though it’s a huge country which does have a few parapsychology research centers.  This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the art of counseling people who are having distressing psi experiences.

The other thing that really jumped out at me is that distressing, usually spontaneous, psi experiences can very often be transmuted into quantum leaps of personal development for the experiencer.  This illuminating fact was evident throughout the book, but it was particularly obvious from the clinical vignettes in the Eberhard Bauer et al. article (Freiburg, Germany), and from the theory in the Niko Kohls article (Munich).

In fact, I would go further and say that the data presented led me to think that the spontaneous psi experiences were distressing because they were being somewhat misinterpreted by the experiencers, and because they contained a developmental thrust that was very much wanted but which was also taboo.  To me, these spontaneous experiences really seemed like shoves from the Tao / infinite self / personal unconscious / spirit guides – or some combination of them all!

Kohls writes:  “…distress and suffering have been defined by dominant mainstream conceptualizations as negative phenomena that only consist of physical and psychological components.  By way of contrast, the concept of spiritual emergency assumes that spiritual distress, although it may bother and harm an individual at least for a certain period of time, may actually lead to greater fulfillment and personal improvement in the long run, if dealt with properly” (p. 139).

Bauer et al. tell of the case of a woman who had distressing precognitive dreams about her daughter’s giving birth to her granddaughter, and then further anomalous experiences having to do with her granddaughter.  While the precognitive dreams turned out to have an element of truth, they were also distorted in a negative direction, as were her other anomalous experiences.  “The phenomena happened during a period when [she] made substantial advances in both her personal and professional life.”  It also became obvious to her that her development required separating more from her family (pp. 159 – 160).

 In another case, a woman began hearing inexplicable noises and feeling the bed shake in the new apartment she moved into after moving out of the apartment she shared with her partner.  She had guilt, fear, and aggression about wanting space and autonomy for herself, especially since she also had a needy mother and sister.  With clinical parapsychological counseling, she “perceived a clear interrelation between the phenomena and her own psychological dynamics.  The [phenomena] had attained a positive, signaling function:  they warned her when she disregarded her feelings and needs, they called on her to have a close eye on herself” (p. 162).

 Interestingly, this woman also had a history of psychotic process, which was not active, but which she feared reactivating.  Based on her creative use of the anomalous noises, the next time she had threatening psychotic material start to emerge, she deliberately engaged it (contrary to the advice of her conventional therapist) and “within a period of just three weeks during which the client maintained good control…[she used painting to transform] the ‘threatening powers’ into a ‘positive vital force’.  As a consequence she separated from her partner and completed her psychotherapy” (pp. 161- 2).

 In yet another case, a man began having distressing anomalous experiences, including a spontaneous vision of a broken traffic light with all the wires hanging out.  When he investigated, he found that the traffic light did not have wires hanging out, however it was partially broken, and the pedestrian light remained stuck on red.  During a single clinical parapsychological session, he had many insights about how this particular vision also symbolized a core conflict throughout his life.  Starting with an authoritarian upbringing, he had repeatedly tried to move forward, and yet been repeatedly blocked in his life.  He had never been given the green light, and he desperately wanted it.  After this immensely fruitful intervention, he pursued further therapy and, a couple of months later, wrote to report that “he had started to fundamentally change his life.  He had taken all the risky steps he hadn’t even dared thinking about before.  He had separated from his wife, sold the house, and was looking forward to take up his studies for which he had been accepted in the meantime” (pp. 166-7).

How wonderful and fascinating and terribly important to discern that these spontaneous, distressing psi experiences were keys to rapid, big developmental steps.  They could so easily have been misinterpreted, instead, as either uselessly delusional or as unhealthy psi.

I was pleasantly struck by the steady psychodynamic interpretation of these psi phenomena in addition to the holding of them as bona fide psi.  The psychodynamic piece seems often to be missing in current, popular U.S. accounts of psychic openings.  Maybe this is because Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is so dominant here right now, and psychodynamic, depth psychology is beleaguered.

Speaking of which, I was dismayed to see American cultural imperialism up to its old tricks in the widespread use of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM all over the world.  I have to admit it is a useful, standardized nosology, but it has so much economic and social oppression built into it, it’s not even funny.

Anyway, the broadly psychodynamic approach (inc humanistic, existential, etc.) to psi experiences apparent in this book is so smart.  If we use the First Sight model -- that everything we’re doing is already psi -- then things we *call* psychic are just further extensions of our natural capacities.  And, why haven’t we been using these extended capacities before now?  Psychodynamic explanations for this kind of developmental stall make so much sense.

The idea that distressing psychic / spiritual experiences might be driven by some kind of need to take the next step in one’s development parallels the strand in the history of psychology / psychiatry that has seen psychosis in a similar light.  John Weir Perry at the Diabasis center, R.D. Laing, C.G. Jung, Kazimierz Dąbrowski, the Anti-psychiatry movement in the 1960s, the Spiritual Emergency Network in the 1980s, etc. have avowed that psychosis is a crisis accompanied by much distortion, yes, but it is also an opportunity for radical healing if it is also interpreted as a source of truth and vitality.

Why do these developmental thrusts appear in such negative guise, for example, as distressing psi or as psychosis?  One important reason, that Kohls mentions in his essay, is that they involve change in self boundaries or ego (p. 140).  And, unfortunately, we tend to fear this and fight it tooth and nail, even if it’s for our eventual greater happiness.

Another important reason why these developmental urges initially appear to be bad things is that they are usually inconvenient to others and to the powers that be.  That’s why they get framed as purely pathological by the DSM!

We’re already psychic all the time.  It’s a basic feature of how we do everything we consider normal – walking, reading, understanding the spoken word, etc. But, we are supposed to be so much more psychic, so much healthier physically and psychologically, so much more powerful, and so much more happy.  That’s our natural state.

Instead, family and society unwittingly or wittingly have trained us to be small versions of ourselves.  The true self does its best to emerge, but it’s a confusing, conflicted, frightening process, that, by definition, goes against the status quo.  Maybe the title of this post should be “Civilization and its Discontents” (“Das Unbehagen in der Kultur”)…..

The psychic / spiritual / transpersonal level of reality is trying to help us.  These clinical parapsychologists are trying to heed that help.


Bauer, E., Belz, M., Fach, W., Fangmeier, R., Schupp-Ihle, C., & Wiedemer, A.  (2012).  Counseling at the IGPP – An overview.  In Kramer, W.H., Bauer, E., & Hövelmann, G.  (Eds.)  Perspectives of clinical parapsychology:  An introductory reader, Bunnik, The Netherlands:  Stichting Het Johan Borgman Fonds.

Kohls, N.B.  (2012).  Are spiritual and transpersonal aspects important for clinical parapsychology?  In Kramer, W.H., Bauer, E., & Hövelmann, G.  (Eds.)  Perspectives of clinical parapsychology:  An introductory reader, Bunnik, The Netherlands:  Stichting Het Johan Borgman Fonds.


  1. This is the first I have *ever* heard of such therapy or information...and I am seriously wondering why! What is it about the U.S. that this information is available only in Europe and Argentina?
    Nan Bush

  2. Thanks for commenting, Nan! And for citing the post on your blog! Yeah, it's pretty striking, huh?

    There *is* the Spiritual Emergence Network http://www.spiritualemergence.info/ which maintains a short national referral list of licensed clinicians with expertise in psi / spiritual / psychic issues.

    And, as you know, but other readers may not, many of the U.S. psi-related organizations have referral lists of private practitioners with expertise.

    Also, I don't know anything about this group yet -- http://www.instituteforspiritualityandpsychology.com/ -- but they maintain a directory of vetted therapists for the San Francisco area, and they offer training to therapists.

    But no brick-and-mortar clinic that I know of...

  3. Thanks for this post! As I have been wanting to get more information on the psi that I've been experiencing. Like you say it can be distressful and uncomfortable…I'm glad to have a framework of integral theory, spiritual practice and developmental practices to support a healthy integration of psi.


  4. Thanks very much for reading and commenting, Paulina! It sounds like you have put together a good theoretical and practical framework to support healthy integration of psi for yourself and others. If you ever feel like saying more about any of your psi experiences, please comment or email.

  5. Very nice blog, Sheila. The Rhine Research Center offers a psi experiences support group. In fact, at the upcoming PA convention, Dr. Athena Drewes is presenting a workshop on creating and facilitating such groups. Hopefully we'll see more of these pop up around the US.

    1. Thank you very much, Annalisa! That is really neat to hear about Dr. Athena Drewes. I did not know about her. I wish health permitted me to attend. I will try to read about her workshop. Thank you for mentioning her and the Rhine Center group here as a resource for readers.