The imaginary line between “spiritual emergence” and “psychosis” (ecstatic dance, too)

That’s right the line between psychosis and spiritual emergence does not exist. There is no line, there is only spectrum of manifestation and none of it is better or worse. It simply is what is arising in that individual at the moment they are met and unfortunately diagnosed.  It can change any time too. These mental/spiritual states are not stagnant and often times they’re even responses to the ineptness of the so-called professional experts we find ourselves with. When we sense people are unsafe and we can’t easily get away trauma responses to feeling trapped can look pretty “crazy”  In any case, this belief in a line between the two concepts has been a standard meme of sorts in most of the spiritual emergence scene since its inception. The father of the movement, the much beloved and revered Stanislov Grof supported this idea of a line between spiritual emergency and psychosis– it continues to be at the foundation of most of the philosophies/psychologies that employ the concept. It’s a painful and brutal shame. The most vulnerable are once again cut out of hope for care.

Continuing, seamlessly, in the footsteps of psychiatry, this belief in this magical line dividing the truly spiritual emergent from the truly psychotic is used to harm and retraumatize folks routinely.   There are people who are pathologically inclined and there are those who are not. There are those who are worthy of being respected and there are those who are not.

What it really means is that professionals have found that there are those we feel comfortable with and there are those we do not feel comfortable with. When we don’t feel comfortable with a client the most expedient, least personally painful thing to do is blame the patient. The client/patient is so sick that we must dismiss them. We must drug them and remove them from our sight, because if we do not we might actually have to take a look at our own lack of capacity, our own limits. We might have to look at our own trauma and our own shadows. We’d rather not do that so we will instead continue to traumatize you by telling you, “no you are not spiritual emergent, you are sick and always will be and you should go get drugged for the rest of your life.”  Yes, they are simply behaving as another arm of psychiatry at that point. Dirty little secret.

Yet another “micro-aggression. And micro-aggression is a somewhat unfortunate term because the sensitive does not experience these as slight offenses. Not in the least bit.

From the first time I encountered the idea of Spiritual Emergence in my early 20’s when I also made a phone call to the then local to me, Stanislov Grof.  I was hoping to get an appointment to see him.  I wrote the following paragraph in a post about the book Rethinking Madness by Paris Williams:

I … contacted Stan Grof as a young woman having recognized my issues were not mental illness and was engaged with interest until I told him I’d been labeled bipolar and hospitalized briefly. At that point he couldn’t wait to get off the phone. His energy and interest radically shifted away from me. It was devastating.  I was struck with the hypocrisy of that, him having married the wife he met as a patient in the psych ward. Her book, The Stormy Search for the Self, about her own spiritual emergence and crisis was at one time very helpful to me.

Since that time I’ve encountered many such people both professionally as colleagues and also as someone seeking help for my own healing process for which I sometimes utilized the spiritual emergence frame. It is one frame that can be helpful to some people some of the time. It  is by no means the only helpful frame to approach the experience that gets labeled psychotic and it’s also not always necessary. What is necessary is finding frames and people both that support our process, whatever it is, however we choose to interpret it.

The people I’ve encountered within the spiritual emergence world over the years have pretty much all had serious  limits when it comes to working with the folks I advocate for on this site.  These limits are manifested with the professional projecting their own lack of experience and understanding onto the person seeking help one way or another. As a “client” or “patient” I was retraumatized by such folks more than once. I did meet one lovely woman shortly after my phone call to Grof. She was one of his closest students at the time. Luckily she could hold a bigger vision than her teacher.  She and I did do some good work together and people like her help me trust that someday we can be the majority rather than the tiny minority in the professional world.

As a professional I’ve talked to dozens of these folks now. They are almost always dismissive of the folks I advocate for in one way or another. Sometimes in very explicit and non-apologetic ways. I generally only gently confront these folks if at all. I pick my battles and I’m not interested in arguing with people who cannot hear me. It’s wasted energy.  I will speak to anyone who really wants to know and learn what I’ve come to know and learn  about the psyche of those of us who get labeled and far too often tossed away. On occasion I meet people who clearly  want to learn but mostly people are rigidly inflexible around this issue and attached to their training. This is pretty human. I try to find compassion in my heart. I was a professional in such circles too and once thought a lot like them accepting my training without too much question.

I stopped looking for people to work with as a client/patient many years ago now. It became obvious that everyone I had met were not in the least bit competent enough to bring me through what I’ve learned to do for myself in many, strictly speaking, non-therapeutic ways (simply learning to live well and integrity with ourselves is good therapy!). I utilize all manner of things in my environment and life and home that allow me to go deep and heal this stuff. I’ve discovered this process by surrendering to the life-force within me and it’s been a slow sometimes (very) excruciating and also astonishingly beautiful process. My allies and friends are involved for sure, but professionals, again, strictly speaking, generally are not. Of course some of my friends and allies happen to be professionals but our relationships are not conventional at all at this point.

I have however continued to network with professionals in general, as a professional and it’s been largely disappointing. (again, there are always delightful exceptions and that is what keeps me reaching out to professionals … even with this post I hope to recruit professionals! … always, because I too was a professional and I understand that it’s truly not easy to get the training you need to do this very important work even if you are interested in it)

In more recent years I’ve spoken to local professionals in this way and it’s those two most recent contacts that have led me to writing this post today.

One of them, with whom I collaborated with for a while, made a pass at me even while knowing I was married, and, more importantly, extremely vulnerable. He knew my brain injury status and knew that I could barely even leave my home much of the time and that my PTSD remained out of control at the time.  It’s still something that blows my mind that a therapist working with me pretty much as my boss at the time would do that. I trusted him and valued him very much as a friend. Again, one more devastation at the hands of someone trained by Grof.

The other person is someone I called when I found out he was doing this work in the area where I live. We talked on the phone and he was pretty run-of-the-mill dismissive. Nothing shocking, but yeah, I was bummed out. I always hope to find people I might be able to work with as colleagues.

I don’t do much one on one work online anymore with folks who are in need of intensive support because without an infrastructure of care and support from the “village” it’s just too much for me alone to meet all the despair of truly deserving people who reach out to me daily from having read my work. I apologize to all of you. I’m so sorry I cannot respond and hold space for hundreds of you. I am working on finding other ways to get support out there and right now one thing I’m trying to do is educate the professionals.

Anyway, this last guy I spoke to on the phone, is someone I happen to dance with. He doesn’t know who I am and probably doesn’t even remember our conversation. I see him though and we dance together in my local ecstatic dance scene. He’s not always there and mostly I just ignore him but I also can feel his presence when he is there. It’s actually been a great place for me to feel into the hurt, pain and anger of what he represents as one of the many 1000s of therapists who harm us every day. I dance that shit out…right there on the dance floor in his presence. It’s very powerful. Ecstatic dance is one of my most important modes of healing and it includes a lovely community. Whether we like it or not the Village includes everyone. Not just the people we like to hang out with. And so I practice that reality when I dance with this man. He is part of my community and here he crosses over into my safe space. Yeah, it’s a good practice.

Today as I was dancing in his presence this post started being written. Right there on the dance floor. I left half way through to come home and write. This is yet one more topic that has been brewing for years that I finally get to address.

There is no line between psychosis and spiritual emergence. 


If there are professionals reading this today, I invite you to consider a consulting arrangement with me. I’d also consider  speaking at trainings for professionals etc. I want to do more networking and bridge building that more of the folks I advocate for might get the care they need. Leave comment below or find me on LinkedIn



12 thoughts on “The imaginary line between “spiritual emergence” and “psychosis” (ecstatic dance, too)

  1. I too was very inspired by the book Spiritual Emergency by Stanislav & Christina Grof and could relate to a lot of it from personal experience. Nonetheless the book totally excludes the trauma base of mental illness and psychosis and so is part of the cover up. I suspect that Grof received military funding to experiment with LSD on disturbed people. Tomothy Leary said that Grof ‘had been brought from behind the “Iron Curtain” to the U.S. to run one of the only official “LSD Research Projects”.’ When I had my psychotic breakdown I believed it to be a spiritual expansion because I was now living in the non-physical with a tenuous connection to the physical. I assumed that there was some unseen virtuous cause to it, when in fact it was trauma based, a fact of which I was amnesic. The reason I broke was that being broken was the only way not to be used.
    I think that spiritual emergence and psychosis is a false equivalence and that psychosis is more from, for instance, being broken, being displaced, popping out because you can’t cope, or having experiences that you can’t integrate.
    Disability caused by psychosis may also be necessary for reasons of personal safety.
    Your point is very well made that this false equivalence is also used to medicalise non-physical experiences. People having trouble with these experiences need relevant support and advice to be available to them. The medical method is based on the theory that they are defective which is false and unhelpful.


    1. thank you for your comments. it’s not my experience that that spiritual emergence movement in general denies trauma…quite the opposite in fact. I don’t remember enough of Grof’s original work to comment on what you’ve said above about him specifically however. I do know some of his students and they are, at this point in time, certainly not denying the trauma model. His students, I’m sure have been influenced my many sources. Things are always evolving, thank god. (a lot of what you’re saying is right on as well…I use multiple models side by side and find them complementary rather than conflicting quite often so most of what you said rang true in any case.


  2. Thank you, Monica. I agree. The lines have been socially created from fear. I’m sorry for the violence that is unleashed by this fear and the social locations of so many professionals. I appreciate your generosity and passion for healing.


  3. Thank you, Monica. I agree. The lines have been socially created from fear. I’m sorry for the violence that is unleashed by this fear and the social locations of so many professionals. I appreciate your generosity and passion for healing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Monica, nice to meet you. I really appreciate your thoughtful advice on a day where I am needing some extra encouragement revamp my recovery process. I have met considerable success with continuing to be med free after 5 years. One question I have for you is if you can suggest any on-line support groups that have a similar positive track record? I’d love to start one locally where I live as there a really non offered however, I have met it with trepidation for a lack of support to deal with the potential risk to set backs for my own mental health. Love the music, thnx so much! I recently learned that harp music for animals and people is particularly soothing as well. Many blessings and Happy New Year.


  5. Thank you. I had been looking at my spiritual emergency/psychosis and trying to sort out what was the “sick” portion and what was the “spiritual portion”. I had never considered that the experience was interrelated.


  6. It was amazing to read your post! I am a psychiatric survivor. Stuck with my psychiatrist. Afraid to leave, but each appointment is excruciating! He always threatens me. I don’t know how to get away. I have heard of an Icelandic woman who fired her psychiatrist. Went to a GP and laid out her plan to get off her medication. It is 10 years that she is free. I too want to be free! I do my own therapy. I am in an amazing online support group.
    The article was amazing because you put into words this feeling of non safety I have with my psychiatrist. How you are open to professionals even though they dismiss you. You are very courageous.


  7. Thanks Monica. It’s awful to hear about some of the ways you’ve been treated by people connected with the “spiritual emergence” movement. And I agree with you about how “there is no line” – this is something I wrote about in my post “Distinguishing Mysticism from Psychosis: Is That the Wrong Idea?”

    Curiously, there are times Stan Grof himself has recognized that any distinction between what promotes growth vs. what causes ongoing trouble is mostly related to:
    Context in which they occur
    Manner in which they are approached
    Ability to integrate them into everyday life
    Grof, 1985, as cited in Watkins, 2008

    Of course, when something is identified as definitely pathological, that makes it much less likely that it will be approached in a helpful way or integrated into everyday life!


    1. Thanks Ron a lot of people can handle the truly bare-bones concept– but if you push just a little bit and deal with pragmatic reality they back off real fast and have no interest in being challenged so that we might actually create infrastructures of care that support more people. Thanks for your comment I always love your work and I look forward to reading your piece


  8. Hello Monica

    I have read your postings a great deal over a number of years. I too qualified as a social worker. I too had bipolar diagnosis. I have written some books for Chipmunks publishing the mental health publisher. I admire your work, and I know you are in the right track.

    Best wishes


Comments are closed.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: