Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Transformation and Subjectivity in Spiritual Emergence and Emergency: A Discourse Analytic Study

Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Transformation and Subjectivity in Spiritual Emergence and Emergency: A Discourse Analytic Study

Article excerpt

Instances of such confusion are not uncommon among people who become dazzled by contact with truths too great or energies too powerful for their mental capacities to grasp and their personality to assimilate. (Assagioli, 1989, p. 36)

The terms spiritual emergence and spiritual emergency were coined by Christina and Stanislav Grof, probably in or before 1980 (Prevatt & Park, 1989). In a spiritual emergence, spiritual experiences are seen to arise in ways that allow for a gentle integration and a gradual movement into new levels of awareness (Ankrah, 2002; Grof & Grof, 1991), whereas a spiritual emergency is a developmental crisis in which the sense of self is temporarily overcome by intense experiences (Collins, 2007). With appropriate support, a spiritual emergency may bring positive outcomes including increased personal functioning and a change of orientation to more spiritual aspects of self (Grof & Grof, 1991). Spiritual emergencies can be triggered by difficult life events, intense sexual experiences, drugs, spontaneous spiritual experiences or spiritual practice (Bragdon, 2013; Grof & Grof, 1989b) and involve ''non-ordinary'' states of consciousness with various perceptual, sensory, and emotional changes that often are related to mythical or spiritual themes (Grof & Grof, 1991).

A number of therapist-researchers have proposed similar concepts that describe psychosis-like experiences that are transformative in nature rather than being solely destructive (Boisen, 1962; Lukoff, 2007b; Perry, 1999). Phillips, Lukoff, and Stone (2009) argue that spiritual experiences within psychosis have been ignored in conventional psychiatry but can be important aspects of a healing process if acknowledged, expressed and supported.

Discerning between a spiritual emergency and a mental disorder has been a point of discussion in the literature (Grof & Grof, 1991; Lukoff, 2007b) and has been considered particularly important for reducing the harm caused by inappropriate psychiatric treatment (Phillips et al., 2009). Brett (2010) and Clarke (2010a) question the usefulness of distinguishing between a psychotic breakdown and a transformative crisis (or spiritual emergency) whilst acknowledging the potential dangers of psychosis. Both are seen to contain experiences that are common and core to human experience, can have transformative possibilities as well as potential for bringing about vulnerabilities, and require appropriate treatment (Clarke, 2010a).

The classification of experiences as pathological or not highlights the importance of social, historical and discursive contexts in understanding the ''nature'' of conditions - an idea central to poststructuralist thought (Foucault, 1972). Poststructuralist explorations of psychosis and other mental health conditions (Blackman, 2001; Malson, 1998; Ussher, 1991) have problematized concepts of normal and abnormal, and the individualizing of conditions, because they rest on realist and essentialist notions of reality and of the subject. Poststructuralism assumes that the relationship between language and human subjectivities, power, and knowledge, is not transparent. Language is a precondition of thought and constitutive of reality (Burr, 1995) and conditions such as spiritual emergence and emergency or psychosis do not exist ''out there'' but are located within discourse.

A discourse is a group of statements, images, practices, representations, metaphors, stories, and so forth that produces a certain ''truth'' or version of people or events (Burr, 1995). Symptoms of mental conditions ''are not things hiding inside the person which a psychologist can then 'discover' but are created by the language that is used to describe them'' (Burman & Parker, 1993, p. 1).

One of the criticisms raised regarding constructionist, poststructuralist approaches is that, in some formulations, they have ignored extra-discursive reality and the material effects of discourse, viewing everything as socially constructed (Ussher, 2008). …

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