The Number One Thing Psychiatry Can Learn from Shamanism
Something important is missing from the psychiatric model of ‘mental illness.’ It’s not a secret or anything, but rather more of an omission. It should be there, but by no accident it’s absent.
You see, human beings are multi-dimensional. We are made up of mind, body and spirit. All three are utterly essential components of life, and until the transhumanists figure out how to disembody the mind, our wellness and happiness is fully reliant on the synergistic balance between these three elements.
Sure, psychiatry along with the medical sciences has the body well enough figured out. And they’ve produced copious theories along with tomes of supporting research on the chemical relation between the body and the mind. With all of this they can haphazardly tweak the performance of the mind by dumping chemicals into the body, even if they have to add more chemicals to offset the effects of the initial chemicals.
They’ve also grown quite adept at selling the idea of better living through chemistry.
A fine example is the top-selling pharmaceutical Lyrica. It was designed to treat fibromyalgia and muscle and nerve pain, but is now widely overprescribed as an anti-anxiety and antidepressant. Such a warped interpretation of the mind-body connection. In 2016, sales of Lyrica netted over $4.4 billion for Pfizer. It’s really big business.
What’s missing from the psychiatric mindset, though, is an acknowledgment of spirit.
You see, the underlying difference between psychiatry and shamanism is that of worldview.
Psychiatry holds onto a predominantly materialistic picture of nature, operating from the perspective that what we can see is all there is. Shamanism, on the other hand, works from the point of view that what we see is only a tiny percentage of what is actually happening. That there are other immeasurable spaces in which we can interact, if only we sufficiently expand our attention. That most of the magic, good and bad, happens in these other realms first, before it manifests in the physical realm.
The psychiatric modality is dreadfully incomplete when measured against the shamanic view. This results in incomplete or partial healing, which is amply reflected in the state of mental health today, where depression is rising astronomically in tandem with sales of pharmaceuticals. The pills work well enough to mask the symptoms, but they don’t work well enough to overcome the need for the pills.
I know this because I’ve been down both roads. I’m speaking from personal experience.
Interestingly, at the same time, there is a surge in interest in shamanic healing. Ayahuasca tourism is pretty much mainstream now, and the African plant medicine iboga continues to gather renown for its ability to help people overcome so-called mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, while also dramatically helping people to overcome past trauma.
People who’ve had these experiences, including myself, often refer to plant medicine ceremonies as the gift of years worth of high-quality psychotherapy in a single night. We say this because the shamanic traditions first treat the spiritual root causes of these conditions. We feel this to be true. It’s difficult to communicate with language, but the knowing is unmistakable.
Once the spirit is healed, the mind and body are easily able to return to normal, proper functioning. Synergy being restored, people don’t need an indefinite prescription of medications, in fact, most people who experience shamanic plant medicines only do so one or two times. There is no need to keep returning to the doctor. Genuine healing works this way.
This is possible only with the understanding that the spirit is the highest component of the self, the most important aspect of being alive. For spirit is the eternal portion of the individual, that which comes long before the body arrives, and that which lives on long after the body returns to the earth. It is where the magic, both good and bad, happens. When the spirit is happy, the mind and body follow suit.
I sometimes reflect on both my experiences with modern psychiatry and those with shamanic plant medicines, searching for common ground. I wonder if there exists the possibility for the unification of science and spirit in order to positively affect the human condition, and I figure that if there is, it will require modern science to in some degree accept the shamanic view of the world and to open up to the needs of the spirit.
Read more articles by Dylan Charles.
Dylan Charles is the editor of Waking Times and co-host of Redesigning Reality, both dedicated to ideas of personal transformation, societal awakening, and planetary renewal. His personal journey is deeply inspired by shamanic plant medicines and the arts of Kung Fu, Qi Gong and Yoga. After seven years of living in Costa Rica, he now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he practices Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and enjoys spending time with family. He has written hundreds of articles, reaching and inspiring millions of people around the world.
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