There are about 50 Spiritist psychiatric hospitals in Brazil, utilizing an integrative approach to recovery, stressing the spiritual alongside physical and emotional therapies that address the true causes of imbalance. Energy “passes”, similar to healing touch, are central to the healing and health maintenance. This article briefly describes the Spiritist philosophy, its successes, as well as the treatments. Few people outside Brazil know of these hospitals or the 13,000+ community centers that also offer Spiritist therapies in Brazil. Brazilian Spiritists have practiced combining psychotherapy with energy therapies to hasten recovery for more than 100 years. Perhaps it’s time to export some Spiritist wisdom and practical knowledge to help our ailing mental healthcare system in the U.S.
Photo left–Health Providers Visiting Spiritist Psychiatric Hospital in Brazil
How Did I Learn?
I am a psychologist by academic training but began my career as a bodyworker and Neo-Reichian therapist. I now direct theFoundation for Energy Therapies, Inc, a charitable not-for-profit dedicated to education and research. Energy therapies have been central to my training and my private practice, as well.
From 2001 until 2012 I spent six months of each year in Brazil learning about Spiritist healing protocols by participating in the activities of a Spiritist Center in Abadiania, a village in central Brazil, as well as visiting other Spiritist Centers and Spiritist Psychiatric Hospitals in many major cities of Brazil as the guest of their professional staff. I was awed and fascinated by the phenomena I witnessed. I saw many people healing from serious physical and mental issues, including cancer and schizophrenia, without the use of conventional medicine’s typical tools– physical surgery and drugs— which are risky. I saw a dramatic display of the positive potentials of healing through the use of meditation, prayer, herbal remedies, peer support, study, and receiving personal “energy passes” from highly trained healers who perform a version of “laying on of hands”, akin to Healing Touch. I wanted to transmit what I learned to others outside Brazil.
Philanthropic donations supported both my travel and documenting what I learned into four books and two documentary films. Throughout this time I’ve often wondered, “Are Spiritist therapies a missing piece in our own healthcare system?” So, I continue to try to build bridges between Western medicine and the unique Spiritist way of healing. Integrative Mental Health for You, IMHU.org, is a division of the Foundation for Energy Therapies created in 2013. It offers online courses for the public and health care providers who want to learn more about an integrative approach to optimal wellness, similar to what Spiritists offer. I also now lead groups of healthcare providers to visit Spiritist centers in Brazil and learn about the effectiveness of the protocols from the practitioners themselves—who are also associate instructors for the week-long seminar. We are able to offer continuing education credits to medical doctors, nurses, psychotherapists and counselors.
Participants love to meet psychiatrists and medical doctors who are also working as healers and sensitives in community centers and hospitals—not fettered by the limitations of being academically trained scientists.
My personal interest is not to proselytize Spiritism—instead, to facilitate observations and experiences that may inspire making positive changes in healthcare delivery in communities outside Brazil.
Spiritism in a Nutshell
Spiritism is a branch of Spiritualism. The word, Spiritism, was created by Allan Kardec, a French academic, who lived in the mid-19 century. Spiritism refers to a philosophy, really a way of life that includes knowledge of how the world of spirits is in meaningful communication with the world of human beings. Most importantly, it stands for a lively and well-organized path of supporting personal and spiritual evolution.
Spiritists take Christ as an ideal model of being, but, unlike conventional Christians, Spiritists also believe in reincarnation and the impact of karma. They also have no priesthood, no churches nor other accoutrements of conventional religion. Early Spiritualists were simply fascinated with the phenomena of séances and spirit communication and weren’t invested in personal evolution; Spiritism formalized a more serious, disciplined path of life dedicated to becoming more infused with a consciousness like that of Christ—loving and wise, trustworthy and moral.
The numbers of people attending Spiritist activities in Brazil is growing rapidly right now. It’s estimated that up to 40 million people there use the services of Spiritist Centers in Brazil—about a fifth of the population. The activities include training to become healers, as well as classroom study, receiving energy passes, giving and receiving peer counseling, diagnosis by medical intuitives, and an unusual treatment that we can liken to exorcism, called “disobsession”. All of these benefits are given for free in the Spiritist Centers and people of all ages, sexual orientations, cultural and religious backgrounds are welcomed.
The charge? The centers offer what we would call free complementary healthcare. Even the hospitals are in a position to offer free services to the financially disadvantaged for a period of almost a month, but otherwise must charge fees.
Results of Spiritist Healing
“If the spirit is not acknowledged as existing and real, psychiatrists will only pay attention to effect. They will be impeded from divining the root causes and will never cure effectively… New theories—with solid experimental foundation—point at illuminating and unveiling the spirit. But, we need courage, not only to acknowledge these theories, but also to examine them”. —J.L. Azevedo, MD. [i]
Even though contemporary research studies are few, unusual successes in healing at the Spiritist centers and hospitals are reported through stories and some academic studies. In April, 2004, the President of the Federation for Spiritism in San Paulo (FEESP), Avildo Fioravanti, told me in an interview that FEESP has more than a 90% success rate in helping addicts and the suicidally-depressed to recover normal functioning, without dependence on drug therapy. Social psychologist Canhadas[ii] reported in 2001 that 70% experience great improvement and a definite cure of their problems, including all manner of physical and mental illnesses, at Grupo Noel, a Spiritist center in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Ivan Herve, MD[iii], a psychiatrist, completed a 20-year study in another Spiritist Center in Porto Alegre. He reported extraordinary success helping those with profound mental health issues to recover. His study aligns with initial results of 30+% cure rate documented in the 1930s by Dr Ferreira[iv] in the first Spiritist psychiatric hospital in Uberaba, Brazil[v].
Spiritist Treatments and Where to Find Them
There are more than 13,000 Spiritist Centers within Brazil and 160 Spiritist community centers in 34 countries outside of Brazil (including 70 in the USA). Few in the USA offer services in English, as most were created by Spanish and Portuguese speakers who immigrated to the USA and wanted to create extensions of their home countries. Whereas 50 Spiritist psychiatric hospitals exist in Brazil, none exist outside the country.
Patients in Spiritist Psychiatric Hospitals in Brazil can elect to have Spiritist treatments in addition to conventional psychiatric care. Psychiatric medication may be used within the hospital but is not relied on as much as it is in the USA and Europe. Psychotherapy and addiction counseling, various therapies (art, music, gardening, and occupational) and outdoor sports are also available. A few of the key practices used for all patients who elect to have Spiritist treatments are laying-on of hands (passé in Portuguese), blessed water, prayer, and peer support.
Patients with severe problems who are not responding to the above treatments can also have sessions with a medical intuitive (a sensitive person who can see into the subtle and physical bodies through their 6th sense and can articulate perceived problems to benefit the patient and the team of healthcare practitioners attending the patient). These patients may also become the focus of a group of well-trained and gifted sensitives (trained by supervisors to collaborate over decades) who practice “disobsession”. There is no English translation for this word. It involves sensitives who can first perceive if a person has a spirit attached to them that is generating negative thought forms that the patient believes are his/or her own. Such thoughts might include “Kill yourself” or “Kill so and so” or “You are a terrible person”. These trained sensitives can perceive the spiritual and the psychological relationship that attracted the spirit to connect energetically to the patient—the true cause of imbalances. The sensitives in the group are also trained to assist the patient to be freed of the negative “attachments”, aka “obsessors,” and the obsessive thoughts they transmit.
Each of the Spiritist practitioners donates his/her time at no charge. This can amount to a few hours to more than 40 hours per week—depending on how much each practitioner wants to donate time. They believe that donating their time and attention to help others also benefits their own spiritual evolution as it enhances their communion with our divine source.
Spiritism & Laying-on of Hands
The Spiritist healers who practice the passes are trained at the community centers and then either work at these centers or go as a group to the Spiritist hospitals at an agreed on time, usually twice each week.
The group serving the hospitals will enter into a ward of patients at the psychiatric hospital and those patients who choose to participate sit in rows on chairs, or in a circle. The healers know the healing protocol and have been taught to interact minimally with patients who might be highly sensitized or in altered states or extreme states of consciousness. The practitioners are asked to have next to no verbal communication or physical contact with patients within the treatment or outside of treatment. Their interaction is focused simply on the healing work and saying an uplifting prayer before the healing begins and after it is concluded within the whole group setting. Blessed water (also energized by laying on of hands) is made available to patients to drink as part of their healing between sessions.
The actual energy work typically involves circumscribed gestures where the healer passes his or her hands 3 to 6 inches above the body of the patient starting above the head and passing down the body to below the knees. Treatments last only a few minutes per person, during which time each patient remains seated, eyes closed, if possible. One at a time, the practitioners of the healing work stand in back or in front of each patient, giving each recipient about 3-5 minutes of concentrated attention.
Each healer focuses on transmitting Divine energy (e.g., the Holy Spirit, or Christ’s Love, or the energies coming from highly evolved disembodied spirits or angels) to the patient. To begin, the healer becomes focused, which involves shifting to an inspired state of consciousness whereby the healer perceives himself as a channel through which God’s healing energy can flow to the patient. After a prayer to invoke a stream of Divine Energy for healing, the dynamic healing then takes place through a continuum of transmission of energy: from the Divine source to the spirit of the incarnate healer, and from the healer to the subtle and physical body of the patient. An observer would see a series of strokes above the body to disperse energies that can lead to imbalance followed by a series of long strokes above the body to enhance the body’s self-healing systems. The practitioner sending the pure vibration of compassion and care is considered essential to success. In order to transmit that vibration the “pass-giver” is continuously involved in “reforma intima” (Portuguese for inner transformation so as to become more loving and wise).
On site nurses say that patients find peace with the treatments and the calming influence usually lasts for days after the treatment.
Are We Ready for This?
About eight years ago I went to the largest psychiatric hospital in my state of Vermont in Brattleboro, VT to offer my services for free and spoke to two administrators in leadership positions. I wanted to bring the Spiritist style of “laying on of hands” to the patients who were suffering on the locked “addictions ward”. I had collected a team of trained healthcare providers and ministers who would come with me to offer the kind of treatment we had seen given in the Spiritist Psychiatric Hospital in Porto Alegre, Brazil. We promised to do the healing work in a group for patients who wanted it, under the watchful gaze of the hospital nurses. We promised not to have physical contact with the patients or engage them in conversation or exchange contact information. The hospital turned the offer down. No explanation was given other than “it’s too unusual”.
In Brazil the culture is more receptive to the philosophy and practices of Spiritism. Not so long ago, Brazil was populated with indigenous cultures that believed in the spiritual realms, were well acquainted with subtle forces of energy. When slaves were brought in from Africa they, too, had similar beliefs. The colonists from Europe intermarried with these cultures. Thus the cultures acknowledging subtle bodies and interacting in powerful ways with the spirits began to blend with the more Christian culture of the Europeans. As a result, healthcare practices in Brazil to this day often intermix conventional biomedical care with homeopathy, energy work, use of herbs, and accessing the wisdom and love of spirits in a more integrative approach to health maintenance.
The Vermont hospital’s response to me might be an indication of how far distant our conventional care systems are from bridging to a more integrative approach to mental health care. Despite recent research findings regarding the positive impact of prayer, meditation and laying on of hands, it appears as if there are still very few ways of bringing energy medicine practices into psychiatric care in most of our US-based institutions. Hopefully, we will continue to build bridges and construct a practical application of spirituality and energy work in mental health care in the future.
Emma Bragdon, PhD, is well-known for her two classic books contributing to the field of Spiritual Emergency (1988 & 1990). She has also published 4 books and co-produced 2 documentary films on Brazilian Spiritism. The 30 minute film “Spiritism: Bridging Spirituality and Health” documents the work of Spiritist Centers and Hospitals in Brazil and the USA. Website for courses at IMHU: IMHU.org/shop. Information on trips to Brazil:https://imhu.org/product/Brazil-trip. Books/films: IMHU.org/store
Key words: mental health, Spiritism, Spiritist, psychiatric hospital, laying-on of hands, spiritual healing, energy passes, recovery, healers, sensitives
[i] Azevedo, JL. MD. (1997) Spirit and Matter: New Horizons for Medicine. Tempe, AZ: New Falcon. p.66)
[ii] Canhadas, C, (1999) Cura Espiritual, Uma Visao Integradora Corpo-Mente-Espirito. Masters Dissertation for Pontificia Universidade Catolica de Sao Paulo.
[iii] Herve, I. et al. (2003) Apometria: A Conexao Entre a Ciencia e O Espiritismo. Porto Alegre, Brasil: Dacasa Editora.
[iv] Moreira-Almeida, A & Moreira, A. (2008) “Inacio Ferreira: the institutionalization of the integration between medicine and paranormal phenomena.” A presentation at the Convention of the Parapsychoogical Association and the Society for Psychical Research. Note: Dr Moreira Almeida has been prolific in writing articles and creating youtube videos that describe Spiritism and the value of spirituality in healthcare.
[v] Bragdon, E. (editor) (2011) Spiritism and Mental Health, London, UK: Singing Dragon.
This article was first published in the May/June, 2017 issue of EnergyMagazine.com