By October 29, 2015 16 Comments Read More →

The Difference Between My Psychiatrist and My Shaman

Shaman 2Dylan Charles, Editor
Waking Times

Nowhere is the disconnect between science and spirit felt more intimately than in matters of mental health.

We can speak empirically on this by saying things like, “America spends over $113 billion a year on mental health treatment,” or “depression affects over 14.8 million adults,” but, cold data marginalizes actual human experience, so if you’re suffering, this doesn’t really help much.

The statistical view does, however, tell us that mental illness is epidemic in our culture, that an enormous economy has risen around the mainstream medical approaches to treating mental illness, and that this industry does not appear to be effective in reversing the growing epidemic of mental illness. 

What is Madness?

The influential book on Western mental health, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, presently lists some 300 mental disorders that a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist can choose from when diagnosing a patient. Given that many of the symptoms of poor mental health are overlapping, like mood swings, depression, and anxiety, psychiatry is a subjective science at best, and the pathological model to matters of the mind and spirit doesn’t always work.

There is, of course, another perspective on mental wellness, one much older than the DSM and the American Psychiatric Association. Many of the world’s indigenous cultures would view our mental disorders not as symptoms of something wrong with a person, but rather as evidence of the arrival of incompatible psychic energies into the person’s life. Energies that must be dispelled or integrated, rather than ignored or subdued.

Another way to say this, which may make more sense to the Western mind, is that we in the West are not trained in how to deal or even taught to acknowledge the existence of psychic phenomena, the spiritual world. In fact, psychic abilities are denigrated. When energies from the spiritual world emerge in a Western psyche, that individual is completely unequipped to integrate them or even recognize what is happening. [Source]

In this context, the role of the shaman as healer is much different than that of a psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor. The healing task is not to correct or remedy anything, but is instead to facilitate change and integration within the patient. To help the flow of psychic and spiritual energy around and through the patient. Assisting them in aligning their thoughts and behaviors with their life purpose.

The plant medicines Ayahuasca and Iboga are revered as agents of profound healing and personal transformation. We don’t fully understand how or why they work, but they do. Clinical studies are backing up the enormous volume of anecdotal evidence of their power to quickly interrupt depression, anxiety, and addiction, and the shamanic healing experience is now both credible and accessible to Westerners.

The Healing Journey

In darker days I’ve called on Western physicians for support, and since those days I’ve had many opportunities to journey with plant medicine masters. The differences between the two systems and experiences are profound, but both have been integral to me in knowing happiness and peace of mind.

Below are my personal reflections on how the experience of modern mental health care and the experience of ancient indigenous medicines compare. As a disclaimer, this is not to be taken as medical advice, as it is only a collection of personal observations intended as a small contribution to the big conversation about mental health.

The Call 

I was driven to counseling and psychiatry during a time of serious personal crisis, my own dark night of the soul, if you will. By the time I decided to actually seek help I was terribly distraught, panicked even. Friends and family recommended I see a doctor, as did the advertising campaigns on TV, so I worked up the nerve to do so. It was a tough and frightening decision that I’ll never forget.

When shamanism came to me I was, gratefully, in a better frame of mind, but still restless and troubled to a degree. Uneasy and discontent in general. Not happy and unfulfilled. I knew nothing of shamanism or plant medicines until a friend mentioned them in conversation, which instantly awoke within me some latent curiosity that stayed with me. The idea began to call me, it seemed.

The Search for a Healer

To find my psychiatrist I first called my health insurance company, then sifted through advertisements. After narrowing the candidates down to those whom I could afford and those who were conveniently located, I chose a professional doctor covered by my HMO. A rational process, but tedious and embarrassing.

During the year after first hearing about shamanic plant medicines my life seemed to fill itself with a series of fabulous coincidences and synchroncities. I knew something big, something crucial was about to happen to me, but not what. I was being called to discover some important, yet so far uncovered piece of fate. It was a very exciting and very cosmic time, and without wanting it, without asking around or seeking it, I found myself in contact with the shamanic healers who have since had such a positive impact on me. With no effort from me, they appeared exactly when they were supposed to.

The Clinic

The psychiatrist was close to my office, so I didn’t have to take any extra time off work. Parking was easy, the receptionist pleasant, and other anxious patients waited as pharmaceutical sales reps came and went. All very clinical, business-like and professional. White jackets, neck-ties, manila folders, magazines, that sort of thing. I filled out paper work, handing over intimate personal and financial details. The walls of the doctor’s office were covered in plaques, certificates, diplomas, war memorabilia and golfing photos. My co-pay was next to nothing.

Rainforest MedicineAt considerable expense and some alarm to my family, I signed up to go deep into the jungle to have ceremony with a group of shamans whom I’d never met. It was costly, inconvenient and irrational, taking me way out of my element, beyond my comfort zone, and deep into nature. The ceremonial lodge was a sacred healing space, and very much felt so. A place where the sounds and smells of fire, incense, flutes, rattles, and nature combine. A purifying, healing, spiritual place to heal.

The Doctor

My psychiatrist lived in a mansion in the best part of town. He drove a Mercedes-Benz, owned vacation homes in the Rockies and Acapulco, plus a private airplane. He was extremely confident and well-respected in the medical community. He made over $450 thousand dollars a year. His type of healing paid well, he had plenty of clients and lots of repeat customers.

The shaman I know are all deceptively strong and powerful people, especially the elders. Their open-air houses have thatched roofs and are built on stilts with wooden plank floors and next to no furnishings, set deep in the jungle aside rivers. Their clothes are simple, worn, and often dirty, but you hardly notice because their smiles are so big and they always seem to be laughing and enjoying life. They know every plant, tree, animal and insect in the rainforest. They are unflinchingly kind, sensitive and humble people who are a joy to be around.

The Treatment

My psychiatrist asked many intimate questions, and the conversations felt forced, rigid, impersonal and mechanical. Like taking care of business. I was diagnosed as having depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, ADHD, borderline schizophrenia and insomnia. The remedy was antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, and other psychotropics, along with weekly appointments with the doctor… all to continue for as many years as needed. This also included the warning that it was extremely dangerous to stop taking these medications.

Flickr - Pills - HollywoodPimp

Before a night-time medicine ceremony, the day is spent mentally and spiritually preparing. Fasting, meditation, reflection, introspection and concentration. A process of gathering intention and focusing energy. Plant medicine journeys can induce indescribably harrowing and enlightening visions and experiences. The shaman never asks about my troubles, but I sense that he knows of them, perhaps even better than I. He sings instead of speaks and the journey ends in deep in meditation, as powerful and transformative insights appear from some unknown spiritual source. It feels like both a purge and a download. The following day is like a gift, a new beginning, completely renewed in body, mind and spirit.

The Results

I took my doctors recommendations and took the pills, but I quickly realized that the side-effects and the personality changes that the drugs induced in me were not something that I, nor my family, could live with. I dumped them, cancelled all remaining appointments and resolved to heal myself. It was not easy.

My time with sacred medicine always feels like going home to some very special place of physical and spiritual renewal. The visions and experiences from ceremony always prove challenging to integrate into daily life, but the journeys are a continuing source of inspiration to improve myself and enjoy life to the fullest. I’ve come measure the results of this type of healing with a simple metric: am I happy? The answer is yes. Finally.

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Read more articles from Dylan Charles.

About the Author

Dylan Charles is a student and teacher of Shaolin Kung Fu, Tai Chi and Qi Gong, a practitioner of Yoga and Taoist arts, and an activist and idealist passionately engaged in the struggle for a more sustainable and just world for future generations. He is the editor of WakingTimes.com, the proprietor of OffgridOutpost.com, a grateful father and a man who seeks to enlighten others with the power of inspiring information and action. He may be contacted at wakingtimes@gmail.com.

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  • city zen

    separation and compartmentalizaton vs wholeness and unity.

  • Michel

    In regards to Dianetics All one needs to do is go into session with a trusted and caring friend.

    • crystalluv

      I’ve also been interested in Dianetics despite the scientology connection. I went to meet with someone about it years ago but she was a strange woman and the effort was futile at best. I consider it a blessing though that I wasn’t sucked into their cult. Is reading the book sufficient or does “clearing” or whatever need to be done by a facilitator?

      • Michel

        Hi Crystalluv, Thank you for your post. Technically two dedicated people can twin up and “clear” each other with Dianetics. No need to become a Scientologist. Note that Scientology will never ask anyone if they are a Scientologist yet. Scientology is about freedom and any dogmatic practices contrary to what you may have been told are not condoned in Scientology. Note that Scientology is a religion for all religions and what you may have been reading is an effort to discredit the technology that works so wonderfully well. Black Propaganda is deliberately paid for to install fear so that people like yourself who are looking for answers will not want to experience a few sessions from a professional auditor to see if it works or does not work for them. Despite all the paid for bad press then of thousands of people are visiting churches around the world to find out for themselves what is true and not true,. Only personal inspection can lead one to the truth. I urge you to get passed your installed fears and to visit a Church or mission. If that is not for you then go to the website and undertake some free online extension courses and you get to realize that for all those years the powers to be have duped you out of truths.

        • crystalluv

          Thank you so much for your post, Michel. May I ask if you’re a Scientologist and if so how long you’ve been with the church?

          • Michel

            Hi Crystalluv, Thank you for your question, yes i’am a Scientologist and belief it or not i’am also an Atheist. People within this Church are from all religious background and are never required to be a Scientologist. In my case Iam still the atheist I have always been.
            Crystalluv Scientologist philosophy is true by actual test. Those that fail to confirm this “Truth” simply did not correctly apply the required conditions. Facts remain that the test of Dianetics auditing will always bring about the same beneficial result. Not only that it can do so fast. However this test can only be TRUE if observed by YOU.
            reading about someone else’s opinion about a failed test is irrational as you are not that person. However like any other test you must have the same conditions applied for diabetics to work. People on drugs for example will find it very hard if not impossible to get results that speak for themselves. People that did not sleep well or hungry are also finding it harder to get results. There are a few other such little simple things that stop the person from getting a great result. A trained auditor however will ensure that you will be sessionable. A casual approach to Dianetics auditing may therefore very well result in failed HELP. Once bitten twice shy and most will not have a second go. I don’t want anyone to belief anything. This also means that If you where to take my word for it then it still is Believing . I wish to stress that there is No Faith required. The prudent thing to do here is too investigate properly and experience some Introductory Auditing delivered by the Church qualified auditor. .
            Allergic to the word Church ? I understand. I felt the same way. Your concerns for this word “Church” or the Church of Scientology are irrational. Like any other Church, we at scientology help people overcome problems experienced whilst in the business of living life well.
            For those that are on drugs I wish to say this. Its not complicated to handle unwanted drugs, the Church like any other church is able to refer you to professionals so that You can have this handled. Once of the drugs YOU will be able to handle the reason why it was that you needed drugs.
            So matter what your history, you can obtain magnificent results. Results that will be real to you from your own observation, Your own reality will be clear and demonstrate itself as clear as the floor you are standing on .

          • city zen

            lies lies lies

          • city zen

            stop now before it’s too late. They will ruin your life.

          • crystalluv

            Thanks for the warning lol. I would never join this church. I was just trying to engage with Michel in a diplomatic manner. And I appreciate what he’s saying about utilizing dianetics without obligation because that’s my only interest in the church. I’ve heard some awful stories and think it’s disgusting they exploit people the way that they do. I’m sorry if that was your experience 🙁 that’s terrible. Maybe Michel’s has been better. Or maybe he’s brainwashed. Yikes.

    • city zen

      scientology is facism, sociopathy, and lies. Go away.

  • Meter

    Thanks for sharing that, Dylan. It sounds like you got to try both sides, as I guess we all do one way or another. That is an interesting writing style to compare these approaches – could be made into a movie (starring Jim Carrey, perhaps, for comedic relief). As you brought out, the illnesses and problems in our lives are often gifts waiting to be unwrapped. They are growth emerging. Mainstream psychiatry mostly would rob us of these gifts for the sake of the status quo, trying to return us to ‘normalcy’, rather than advance us deeper into true self and the unknown. Genuinely healed people become creative and free, not something welcomed by the status quo.

    In my experience, I have come to see that many ‘ill’ states (mental and otherwise) are characterized as lack or insufficiency. eg attention ‘deficit’ is a lack of focus, depression is a lack of motivation, loneliness is a lack of friendship, unhappiness is a lack of things to be happy about, etc. Thus the solutions often involve trying to get or add something to fix it – actions you should take, pills, etc. Those who would sell you something know this process well, this endless hunger in man.

    Yet joy and happiness don’t require anything. There is a joy to simply being. As Eckhart Tolle says, “enjoy being”. This is natural, easy joy, the so-called ‘peace of God’, or ‘the good that has no opposite’. It is a lightness of being. The sun is always shining behind the clouds, so happiness is a matter of knowing this and revealing it. It is not something that must be (or can be) added, earned, struggled for, or attained. It already is. Either you know this in this moment of now, and thus know joy, or you have forgotten it.

    From the Tao Te Ching (48):

    “In pursuit of knowledge,
    every day something is added.
    In the practice of the Tao,
    every day something is dropped.
    Less and less do you need to force things,
    until finally you arrive at non-action.
    When nothing is done,
    nothing is left undone.

    True mastery can be gained
    by letting things go their own way.
    It can’t be gained by interfering.”

    Yet this ‘letting things go their own way’ is no small task. It takes great courage, patience, and faith. It is where most people turn from the way and cling to forms: beliefs about oneself, thoughts about how life ‘should’ be, obligations, loyalties, habits. They begin a tug of war between ‘should’ and ‘is’, and this stubbornness is what creates illness and misery in life. Be careful about taking yourself or anything too seriously. Life doesn’t.

    Honesty is really the key in the end, especially deep, simple self-honesty. Growing up, we become such liars and fibbers, to ourselves and others. There is a great link between joy and truth; honesty is a magnet for life.

  • Michel

    Great that you have found your solution, I found mine in Dianetics The modern science of mental health by LRH. founder of Scientology. Don’t worry reading this book will not make anyone a Scientologist. it will provide knowledge about the mind and how to ensure it works best.

    • Meter

      Dianetics actually is a pretty useful and reasonable book, despite the Scientology relationship. It’s actually a rewording of Freud (who in my view was brilliant and is poorly understood today). If you like Dianetics, you’ll probably appreciate Freud’s A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. It’s valuable for people to gain an understanding of these mechanisms, or they tend to be a victim of their own minds.

      However, Scientology in general takes some of the mechanisms of psychotherapy, such as transference, and turns them into tools of profit and control, which is unethical psychiatry. (At some point during psychoanalysis, the patient tends to develop a worship for their psychiatrist, and an unethical psychiatrist or group may exploit this rapport and vulnerability, effectively turning therapy into mind control, something Freud always cautioned against. Spiritual teachers hit some of these same dynamics as there is overlap between genuine psychiatry and spirituality – beware of creating mindless followers, it’s very easy and ultimately miserable.)

      • city zen

        no it’s not. It’s garbage.

      • city zen

        comparing hubbard to freud is like comparing m night shaymalan to einstein.

    • Meter

      Also, it should be noted in the context of this article that shamans used/use Dianetics or Freudian techniques as well. For example, the shamans of ancient Mexico (Carlos Castaneda) used a technique called ‘recapitulation’ which seeks to retrieve lost memories and free mental/spiritual energies. It involves memory work as well as breath work. Recapitulation is vital to their becoming lighter, or in LRH’s terms, “clear”.

      Iow, to the extent that modern psychiatry is rooted in Freud, it is rooted in what essentially are shamanic practices (as Freud’s student Jung later explored more fully). However, mainstream psychiatry today, with its pharma pills and scant attention to memory and catharsis, are a poor shadow of a great science of being.

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