The term Spiritual Emergency was coined in the 1970s by Stanislav & Christina Grof, referring to that moment in a person’s spiritual evolution that becomes a crisis. These crises can be seen as moments of opportunity, of growth and of ascension to a new level of spiritual consciousness, however, in our patriarchal and materialistic societies, we are not always properly prepared to accept and welcome these crises and quantum transformations and personal. And what happens most of the time to these people is being referred to a Psychiatric Hospital, labeled with some psychosis or other psychopathology and starting to take medication for a lifetime without ever realizing or giving space to these crises to unfold from another healthier way.
Stanislav & Christina Grof spread this concept after the publication of the book “Spiritual Emergence: when personal transformation becomes a crisis”, in 1989. Other authors give different names to this same experience, as is the case of Transpersonal Experience, Cosmic Consciousness, Consciousness Mystic, Spiritual Awakening, etc. Usually, these crises happen after a period of deep suffering or events that shake the structure of the Being, arising the need to find explanations and balance the relationship between matter and spirit. Some spiritual practices and this New Age movement can also lead to these states of Spiritual Emergency. What is important to underline is that there are crises that are real opportunities for personal growth and have nothing to do with psychopathological diseases, the lack of knowledge of this reality is what gives rise to other problems. Recognizing the healing potential of these crises is essential for the purpose of the Spiritual Emergency to be fulfilled.
Spiritual Emergency Crises are characterized by very intense emotions and unusual states of consciousness, where people experience death and rebirth of various values and feelings. It’s like a real collapse of internal structures that calls into question old patterns of behavior.
Stanislav Grof defines this term as:
“The evolution of a person towards a more mature way of being, which involves optimal emotional and psychosomatic health, greater freedom of personal choice and a sense of deep connection with other people, with nature and with the cosmos. An important part of this development is a progressive awakening of the spiritual dimension in one’s life and in the universal scheme of things.”
Stanislav & Christina Grof founded the Spiritual Emergencies Network, an organization that helps people with psycho-spiritual crises that still exists today. This was created with the aim of supporting people who could receive specialized help with regard to these spiritual emergencies, without falling into the psychiatric stigma with some psychopathology. They have developed alternative treatments to deal with these psychospiritual crises, which often have no psychopathological character.
Spiritual emergencies are often confused with some psychopathological disorders, but to avoid this confusion, a thorough medical and psychiatric examination is essential, in order to understand some of the criteria that Grof lists:
- Absence of organic brain disorders and physical disease of another organ or system that may be responsible for the mental disorder;
- Absence of a long history of hospitalization and conventional psychiatric treatments;
- Good general somatic and cardiovascular condition, which will allow the patient to safely submit to the exhausting conditions that may result from experiential work and self-discovery strategies;
- Ability to see the disorder as an internal psychological process and to approach it in an internalized way, accepting one’s psyche without projecting it on the outside or blaming others for their difficulties;
- The person’s willingness to face and accept strong and profound experiences, whether at a biographical, perinatal and transpersonal level, thus demonstrating an ability to establish an adequate working relationship;
- Respect the healing vision of the transformation process, support its natural unfolding and honor the full spectrum of human experience, where both the psychotherapist and the person in crisis must be open to the spiritual dimension, recognizing it as a fundamental part of life;
- Episodes of unusual experiences that involve changes in perceptual, emotional, cognitive and psychosomatic functioning and in which there is a strong emphasis on the transpersonal aspect of the process, such as the presence of death and rebirth sequences and mythological and archetypal phenomena.
More recently, David Lukoff and his collaborators have managed to introduce the diagnostic category of Religious or Spiritual Problem in the DSM, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, when the focus of clinical attention has spiritual or religious themes. Some examples include distressing experiences that involve losing or questioning one’s faith, problems associated with converting to a new faith, or questioning spiritual values that may not necessarily be related to an institutionalized church or religion (DSM-IV-TRTM, 2002). Although the term Spiritual Emergency Crisis was not included in the DSM, this diagnostic category creates an opening for these phenomena to be studied further.
David Lukoff’s website offers information, courses and support for people in psycho-spiritual crisis or mental health professionals worth exploring: www.spiritualcompetency.com