Helping People in Spiritual Emergency


Author: Emma Bragdon, PhD.

Foreword: David Lukoff, PhD.

Lightening Up Press, 2006 (2nd edition, revised)

Click HERE to go to Softcover & ebook formats

First Edition title: A Sourcebook for Helping People in Spiritual Emergency (1990)


A classic on recognizing the difference between mental breakdown and spiritual breakthrough into higher levels of functioning. A handbook for health professionals and a practical guide for those undergoing spiritual awakening or caring for someone in spiritual crisis.

People in spiritual crisis-e.g. disoriented by psychic experiences, Near-Death experiences,   communication with disembodied beings, mystical experiences of oneness with the transcendent, or re-evaluating their religious beliefs-have often been perceived as mentally ill by healthcare professionals who are not knowledgeable about spiritual evolution.  This misunderstanding has created suffering for those trying to come to terms with a spiritual issue, often called a transformative or evolutionary crisis.

The outcome of a spiritual crisis that is appropriately supported is increase in peacefulness, life satisfaction, compassion, and desire to be of service to others.

This Sourcebook gives comfort and direction to both people struggling to understand powerful spiritual experiences, and those who care for them.  It is especially helpful for those in  healthcare roles who are trying to understand how to differentiate spiritual crisis, aka spiritual emergency, from psychopathology, or so-called “mental illness”.  Along with the books of Dr. Stanislav and Christina Grof, it is one of the first books to articulate the difference between symptoms of mental illness and signposts of spiritual or religious problems.

Since 1990, the text has also been used in graduate schools of Transpersonal Psychology to increase the spiritual competency of psychologists, coaches and therapists.

The first edition of this book was published in 1988 under the title “A Sourcebook for Helping People in Spiritual Emergency“.  Helping People in Spiritual EmergencyIn the early 90s the editors of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)–used to name categories of problems presented to psychiatrists and psychotherapists–included a code for “Spiritual Problems” for the first time.  Prior to this the DSM had not acknowledged this kind of problem may be part of the reason an individual seeks support from a clinician.  Unfortunately, the editors of the DSM did not articulate all the ways a “spiritual problem” might manifest.  The Sourcebook fills in, explaining not only what such a problem is, and how it may occur, but defining most effective so-called ‘treatment’, i.e. support.

David Lukoff, PhD, who wrote the Foreword for the 2nd edition, was one of three people instrumental in convincing the editors of the DSM-IV to include a category called “Spiritual Problems”.  Dr. Lukoff founded and now directs the “Spiritual Competency Academy”, to assist healthcare providers to deepen their understanding of  how spirituality can impact mental health.



SpiritismEmma Bragdon, Ph.D., is an internationally-acclaimed author, teacher, film producer, and psychotherapist. She is the Executive Director of Integrative Mental Health University,  She is also in private practice consulting individuals,  In 2022 Dr Bragdon was invited to be one of four teachers in “Grof Legacy Training®” in South America.  She is honored to be awarded this role by Stanislav Grof, MD.

Dr. Bragdon has published 7 books and co-produced two documentary films on themes related to spirituality and mental health.  These include:

  • The Call of Spiritual Emergency: From Personal Crisis to Personal Transformation
  • Resources for Extraordinary Healing
  • Kardec’s Spiritism: A Home for Healing and Spiritual Evolution
  • Spiritism and Mental Health

The first edition of the  Sourcebook (above) was initially published as one chapter in her lengthy dissertation for her PhD at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.  When she received an order for 1000 copies from a renowned psychologist–she decided to self-publish the book.  The proceeds helped her pay for graduate school expenses.  The book was found by HarperSanFrancisco who subsequently invited her to write a book for the public that included stories of individuals experiencing spiritual emergency, and how they resolved their crises.  That book, The Call of Spiritual Emergency, was published in 1990 by HarperSanFrancisco.


Editorial Reviews

Helping People in Spiritual Emergency

Bragdon’s books are not only scholarly but communicate a clear message, and I finally know exactly what is meant by spiritual emergence and spiritual emergency. — Winafred Lucas, Ph.D., author of Regression Therapy: A Handbook for Professionals

Once the concept of Spiritual Emergence is understood, psychotherapy will have broken the sound barrier. I trust that this Sourcebook will make an important contribution to this hoped for breakthrough. — Brother David Steindl-Rast, prolific author and leader in interfaith dialogue.

The connection between traditional mental and emotional health and spiritual well-being has never been so clearly and rigorously examined, even by Scott Peck. This (Sourcebook) is no mere study, it is a practical book with many suggestions for uniting the two aspects of our inner world. — Sandy Anderson, for NAPRA trade journal

This Sourcebook fulfills a real need among people who might otherwise be labeled mentally ill… — John Mack,MD., professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and founding director of the Center for Psychology and Social Change

This Sourcebook is a valuable resource for anyone interested in spiritual experiences and their relationship to psychological health and pathology. It is a clear, concise statement about the nature of spiritual emergencies and appropriate treatment modalities. It deserves careful reading by mental health professionals as well as lay people who are exploring their own spiritual growth. It provides a well-balanced perspective and a wealth of useful information. — Frances Vaughan, PhD. past president of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology, and co-author of “Beyond Ego” and “Paths Beyond Ego”.


Reader’s Reviews

This book goes into the practical aspects of recovery that other books on the subject tend to pass over. Bragdon is a Jungian master for contemporary America — we have a lot to learn from this book. It should be on every MD’s bookshelf.–New England Journeyman

This is a guide book written for professionals and laypeople. It is easy to read and is in plain no nonsense language. I highly recommend this informative book to anyone developing, wanting to develop their Spirituality or going through Spiritual issues they do not understand.–Joseph