A “spiritual emergency” is often confused with a psychotic episode. People think, “It’s got to be one or the other! Which one is it?” They look for someone to do an assessment to answer the question and find out that few people know how to tell the difference. It’s rarely taught to MDs, nurses, and psychotherapists.
I specialize in this territory. Part of my PhD dissertation was published as “A Sourcebook for Helping People in Spiritual Emergency.” Another book followed, “The Call of Spiritual Emergency,” I’ve also trained and certified 100 “Spiritual Emergence Coaches”…with more in training.
An Emotional Rollercoaster
As a person expands awareness they may become energized and feel very joyful for a time. Think of this as an experience of Light. Sometimes they experience communion with angels or experience love in an overwhelming way—what most of us would call a “spiritual” experience. But, these wonderful feelings can be followed by facing some darkness inside. The light exposes the darkness. And, that ride between the depths of darkness and the heights of light can happen very quickly.
If that darkness is filled with memories of old trauma or fears, then a person may have difficulty sleeping. Their mind may jump from one topic to the next trying to make sense of the intense change from light to darkness. Someone listening to them may think, “They are not making any sense…I can’t follow what they are saying. They sound nuts.”
We can’t assume they are mentally ill. They are trying to make sense of their experience while immersed in it; and it can be an intense, all-consuming experience.
How much sense do you make when you have just been on the most intense ride at Disneyworld? You might feel dizzy, ungrounded, overwhelmed. You might just repeat the word, “Wow” over and over, ashamed to expose your terror. You might be thinking, “I’ve never felt so exhilarated and so terrified all at the same time.”
How to Help in Spiritual Emergency
The person in spiritual emergency needs an understanding, ethical, compassionate person to be with them. Help them to get their feet on the ground. Bring them a glass of water. Listen to the story of their experience without judgment. And, be sure they are safe. Help them eat good food and get enough rest. Help them to feel patient with what’s going on. Reassure them, “It’s OK”. When they are calmer, help them to see how their experience was meaningful in some way.
Now, this situation can become very complicated if the person is taking recreational or psychiatric drugs or drinking too much alcohol. These can intensify the inner emotional roller coaster and make the person feel they are really out of control. (Imagine a roller coaster ride without the security bar to hold you in.) This creates more fear and anxiety. It can even tip a person into feeling more chaos inside. They may feel more vulnerable and assure themselves they are mentally ill.
If they are acting or thinking in a way that is self-destructive or hurtful of others–take them to a professional provider immediately.
It can be immensely helpful to find someone who understands spiritual emergency who can do a professional assessment. Directories of these providers can be found online at the Spiritual Emergence Network and the Directory of Spiritual Emergence Coaches®. Periodic chaos in life happens to almost everyone. Handling each situation appropriately is of the utmost importance.
The Outcome in Spiritual Emergency
If a person in spiritual emergency is labeled as just “psychotic”, aka nuts, then the outcome may be a diagnosis of mental illness, like Bipolar, possibly schizophrenia. That person may be advised to take medication for the rest of their life, by one or more well-meaning healthcare providers. They may be warned to stay away from “spiritual” things. They will feel limited, fearful, and possibly ashamed of what lies within them.
If someone in spiritual emergency gets the right support from a person educated in spiritual emergency they can emerge transformed. The chaotic state they were in is gone. They feel content that they learned a lot from the experience. They are more likely to be happy in their chosen work, more peaceful within themselves, and connect with their friends and family at a deeper level. They may feel excited to continue their spiritual growth within a spiritually-based community. Most often, they will also become involved in volunteer work, to serve others who may need help.
Roller coaster rides can enrich us, after all. We may become even more resilient.
Author: Emma Bragdon, PhD,
teaches online webinars on “How to Effectively Support Someone in Spiritual Emergency”. She also trains and certifies Spiritual Emergence Coaches®. She is the Executive Director of Integrative Mental Health University, IMHU.org. She has a private consultation practice.
Would you like to learn more about spiritual emergency and awakening to more expanded consciousness?
IMHU’s full roster of courses and presentation is HERE.
A category of courses specifically about spiritual awakening is HERE.
A short course, “How to Differentiate Spiritual Crisis from Psychosis” is available HERE.