Tag Archives: Mental health

Future Implications for Fishing: A Universal Therapeutic Skill, Part 4

In the first post of this series, we looked at the idea of fishing and metaskills. In the second post, we explored the idea of fishing in the context of individual therapy. In yesterday’s post, we looked at this idea of fishing in the context of couples’ therapy and group therapy. In today’s post, we’ll look at implications for future research and wrap up the paper.


Future Research

Mindfulness. Fishing can be a very important tool in the therapist’s toolbox. Since Mindell’s publication on fishing (1995), there has not been any research conducted about fishing. It is possible that what Mindell called fishing, some people call mindfulness. According to Krasner (2004), “Mindfulness-based interventions ask of the participants to consciously shift that locus of control internally . . . and apply wise attention . . . to the present moment” (p. 208). Mindfulness asks the client to be conscientious of one’s own processes and fishing is a way for the therapist to acknowledge these processes in the client. In mindfulness, the person sits with unhurried attention and notices what is happening inside them at that moment. In fishing, the therapist is sitting with unhurried attention in an effort to notice what is going on inside the client. Comparing and contrasting the mindfulness techniques to fishing could yield practical results for therapists who use either of the techniques. A study of like this could determine if it is more advantageous to be mindful solely on one’s own or if it is better when someone else (a therapist) is being mindful of one’s processes. In the next section, implications for future research on fishing within the field of transpersonal psychology are explored.

Transpersonal psychology. According to Mindell (1995), “At present there is no one unified system of techniques which all practitioners of transpersonal psychology employ” (p. 36). This can make it very difficult to categorize the techniques used by transpersonal psychologists who have a private practice of therapy. As stated by Hammer (1974), “Transpersonal psychotherapy concerns itself, ultimately, with helping consciousness transcend its identification with the various limiting and relative self-defined personal labels, concepts or images which comprise the apparent and illusional ego and awaken to itself” (p. 202). Given that there are conflicting viewpoints, it would be essential to conduct a study to discern the techniques that are the more effective techniques used in transpersonal psychotherapy. After having witnessed a transpersonal therapist conduct a psychodrama at a transpersonal graduate school where the technique of fishing was utilized, it would be appropriate to include fishing as one of the techniques in a study of transpersonal psychotherapy. There are many different techniques used in transpersonal psychotherapy, but it is possible that much of the techniques are derivatives of fishing. Transpersonal psychology is known for focusing on more than just the person. It includes what is beyond the person. Meaning, transpersonal psychotherapy includes the spirit in therapy. In order to be able to notice the spirit in the client, it is important for the therapist to sit with unhurried attention, much the same as a therapist using the metaskill of fishing would. In this section, there have been ties made between transpersonal psychology and fishing. In the next section, there are connections made between fishing and massage therapy.

Massage therapy. Up to this point, fishing has been referred to in the context of mainly talk therapy applications. If during therapy, the therapist notices an instance where the client’s words are not congruent with the client’s actions; this could be considered a fish. However, the concept of fishing could be applied to a discipline that is mainly a touching discipline. According to Moyer, Rounds, and Hannum (2004), “Massage therapy (MT), [is] the manual manipulation of soft tissue intended to promote health and well-being” (p. 3). Within massage therapy, the therapist does not necessarily have to speak to the client in order to administer the therapy. In most massage therapies, the client lays face down on the table, and the therapist massages their neck, shoulders, and back. It is conceivable that the therapist could go into a state of consciousness where their hands are not moving by their own will. In this state of consciousness, similar to unhurried attention, their hands could be ‘fishing’ on the client’s body. The therapist could be massaging the client in one area and have a sense to move to a specific part on the client’s body. This would be very similar to fishing. In moving to this new spot, the client’s body could give the therapist feedback telling them that this spot is a good spot to continue working with or a spot that they need to move stop working with immediately. In this section, there have been implications for how fishing could be researched further with the topics of mindfulness, transpersonal psychology, and massage therapy.


Initially, there was a description of metaskills and the fundamental metaskill of fishing. Within the comprehensive explanation of fishing, there were details on recognizing a fish and determining fish from non-fish by way of the feedback given from the client. There were explanations of individual therapy, couples’ therapy, and group therapy, which contained examples of how fishing is present in all three kinds of therapy. There were also areas for possible further research that tied fishing to mindfulness, transpersonal psychology, and massage therapy.


Aposhyan, S. (2004). Body-mind psychotherapy: Principles, techniques, and practical applications. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Bugental, J. (1987). The art of the psychotherapist. New York: W. W. Norton.

Carere-Comes, T. (2007). Bodily holding in the dialogic-dialectical approach. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 17(1), 93-110.

Doss, B. D., Thum, Y. M., Sevier, M., Atkins, D. C., & Christensen, A. (2005). Improving relationships: Mechanisms of change in couple therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73(4), 624-633.

Hammer, M. (1974). The essence of personal and transpersonal psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, 11(3), 202-210.

Krasner, M. (2004). Mindfulness-based intervention: A coming of age? Families, Systems, & Health, 22(2), 207-212.

Mindell, A. (1995). Metaskills: The spiritual art of therapy. Tempe, Arizona: New Falcon Publications.

Moyer, C. A., Rounds, J., & Hannum, J. W. (2004). A meta-analysis of massage therapy research. Psychological Bulletin, 130(1), 3-18.

Oei, T. P. S., & Green, A. L. (2008). The satisfaction with therapy and therapist scale – revised (STTS-R) for group psychotherapy: Psychometric properties and confirmatory factor analysis. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39(4), 435-442.

Yalom, I. D., & Leszcz, M. (2005). The theory and practice of group psychotherapy, fifth edition. New York: Basic Books.


If you liked this paper/series, you might want to check out some of the other papers/series I’ve posted.

Couples’ and Group Therapy: A Universal Therapeutic Skill, Part 3

In the first post of this series, we looked at the idea of fishing and metaskills. In the second post, we explored the idea of fishing in the context of individual therapy. In today’s post, we’ll look at this idea of fishing in the context of couples’ therapy and group therapy.


Couples’ therapy. In couples’ therapy, the therapist may help each person in the relationship hear what the other person is saying. It could be easy for the therapist to get lost in the words of what is being said to her or him during the therapy session. However, if the therapist is sitting with unhurried attention, while listening to what the couple is saying, the therapist will be much more likely to hear the fish. According to Doss, Thum, Sevier, Atkins, and Christensen (2005), “When couple therapies target specific aspects of the relationship, they are typically able to achieve the desired change” (p. 624). When the fish presents itself, the therapist must catch that fish in order to help facilitate and achieve a desired change within the relationship. Working with the fish in couples’ therapy can be trickier because the two people present may be bickering with each other. The therapist must remain centered within himself or herself to notice the fish when it presents itself. Even if the therapist misses the fish, the fish may present itself again in a different way (Mindell, 1995). With all of the possible commotion happening, the therapist could miss the fish that is presented, but because the fish will present itself again, it is not catastrophic if the therapist missed the first fish. So long as the therapist notices one of the fish and then follows it, the therapist will help to achieve the desired change.

An example of fishing in couples’ therapy could be the husband of the couple talking about his wife asking him to do chores around the house and during his speech about the chores, the husband has a somatic reaction. The therapist notices this somatic reaction and sees it as a fish, so the therapist follows it. As the therapist follows this fish, the therapist uncovers the root of the problem, which is really that the husband does not feel like his wife is listening to him. In following this fish, the therapist achieved a desired change for the couple because they wanted an improvement in their relationship. There have been examples of how fishing is present in individual therapy and couples’ therapy. In the next section, there will be examples of how fishing is present in group therapy.

Group therapy. Some people consider group therapy easier than couples’ therapy and some consider it more difficult. Two foundations to group therapy are universality and cohesiveness (Yalom & Leszcz, 2005). Universality is the principle that all human experiences are potentially shared. That is, it is highly unlikely that a single person’s experience is unique. Cohesiveness is when all of the members of the group feel a sense of belonging. Once the group has the sense of universality and cohesiveness to it, the therapist usually has an easier time conducting group therapy. It is possible for the therapist to use the technique of fishing during the opening stages of forming the group, even before the group therapist gets to what some might call therapy. Beginning stages of group therapy can be anxiety producing for some people and because of this, it is possible that they would show all kinds of ‘fish’ to the therapist. As the therapist is scanning the group, he or she may notice that one client is particularly troubled. Because of this, the therapist may want to pose a question to the troubled group member to see if this will lead anywhere. According to Mindell’s fish theory, the group member will then give the therapist feedback to let the therapist know if there is a fish.

This section has defined therapy and outlined some of the things that happen in therapy. There has been an explanation of individual therapy, couples’ therapy, and group therapy, along with examples of how fishing is present in all of the stated therapies. In the following section, there will be possibilities discussed for how research can be conducted on fishing in conjunction with mindfulness, transpersonal psychology, and massage therapy.


Check back tomorrow for some implications for future research and the conclusion.


Individual Therapy: A Universal Therapeutic Skill, Part 2

In yesterday’s post, we looked at metaskills and this idea of fishing. In today’s post, we’ll look at fishing and metaskills in the context of individual therapy.


Fishing as a Therapeutic Skill

Therapy is a very broad term that has many meanings to many people. According to Mindell (1995), “The practice of psychotherapy, unlike religion or science, is the combination of the techniques and metaskills unique to each practitioner or therapeutic skill” (p. 41). Given this definition of therapy, it is fair to say that therapists use metaskills in therapy. In particular, therapists use the metaskill of fishing in therapy. As stated by Bugental (1987), “The most mature psychotherapists are more artists than technicians and they bring to bear a wide variety of sensitivities and skills so their clients can release their latent potentials for further living” (p. 264). Though fishing is a metaskill that a therapist can use, it is important that fishing not be performed merely as a technique. For effective therapy, the therapist must use the metaskill of fishing as an artist would use their skill of painting on a canvas. The therapist must wait with unhurried attention for a fish to come along and then switch to precise awareness in order to follow the fish. The artist does not attack the canvas, but instead, gently waits with unhurried attention for the art to flow through them. Then, they switch their focus to a more precise awareness as they paint the images that are coming to them.

It is important to note that even though the therapist takes on the role of the therapist and the client takes on the role of the client, neither is devoid of their human qualities. Meaning, underneath the roles they are playing (therapist and client) they are still human. Carere-Comes (2007) wrote “In a sense, every human relationship, however technical and impersonal, is also inevitably more or less interpersonal, since a person never manages to completely hide behind their technical role” (p. 95). The therapist can attempt to put on the image of being all knowing and important, but the therapist that knows the least, does the best. “If you are too intelligent, you are not helpful. If you are too smart, you try to make something happen instead of following nature. You have an inflation that you are the creator of life and not the assistant” (Mindell, 1995, p. 114). The metaskill of fishing is important in individual therapy because it allows the therapist to go with the flow of the session and not force change into the client. The therapist waits patiently for the client to reveal a fish, and then the therapist uses the feedback from the client to determine if there really is a fish. In the following sections, there will be examples of how fishing is used in individual therapy, couples’ therapy, and group therapy. The first form of therapy to be explained in more detail is individual therapy.

Individual therapy. According to Aposhyan (2004), “[There are] three general tasks of psychotherapy: 1. healing developmental deficiencies, 2. resolving trauma, [and] 3. supporting further development” (p. 65). Fishing is an important skill to have for achieving these general tasks of therapy. An example of a developmental deficiency is a client not being able to form social bonds very well. The client may present with a seemingly unrelated issue such as being bored at work, but a fish might reveal itself during the session. It is the job of the therapist to notice this fish and follow it, so the two of them together, can explore the developmental deficiency. Fishing can also be useful in resolving trauma.

If a client had been sexually abused as a child, they might not present with this issue, but this issue might arise from therapy. For example, a client could be talking about playing at the park with their friends and then they suddenly become agitated. The therapist could interpret this agitation as a fish, and follow the agitation by probing it with more questions. The client would then provide feedback to these questions indicating to the therapist that there is a fish. The therapist could then follow the fish and from this fish, the therapist might end up discussing how the child had once been kidnapped at the playground by their uncle and taken to his house. At the uncle’s house, the uncle proceeded to sexually abuse the child. This information about the sexual abuse would not have arisen had the therapist not followed the fish in the form of the agitation. Not only is fishing useful in developmental deficiencies and resolving trauma, but it is also helpful in furthering the development of clients.

It is important for the therapist to support further development within their clients. A fish may present itself in the form of an edge for the client. An edge is a place where a client is at the limit of their comfortableness. If the client were to push their edge, they would be attempting to extend their ability to feel comfortable beyond where they initially felt comfortable. In short, when someone pushes their edge, they are seeking to grow. An example of a therapist supporting further development within a client could be assisting the client to push their edge. The client might be talking about something that took place in their business meeting that morning. The client might say that they had an idea that might have contributed to the advancement of the discussion, but chose not to voice their opinion. The therapist might notice the client shift in their seat, as they mention not voicing their opinion. The client shifting in their seat could be a fish. The therapist tests to see if the shifting within the seat is a fish and discovers that it is. The therapist and client then discuss the possibility of the client speaking up in meetings to further the development within the client. There have been examples of how the three general tasks of psychotherapy relate to fishing. If the client and the therapist worked specifically with one of these tasks of psychotherapy and achieved the task, the client and the therapist would deem the therapy successful. It is important for the client and the therapist to feel like therapy is a success.

According to Oei and Green (2008), “Individuals typically undertake therapy on the assumption of it being a valid endeavor; therefore, the patient’s level of satisfaction with his or her therapeutic experience is fundamental” (p. 435). Because of this, it is imperative that the therapist and the client work together in an efficient manner to achieve the desired outcome – successful therapy. In order to facilitate an expedient process, it is most appropriate for the therapist to use the metaskill of fishing because fishing allows the therapist to get right to the heart of the issue. There have been multiple examples of how fishing is used during individual therapy. The next section will discuss some examples of how fishing can be used in couples’ therapy.


Check back tomorrow for the second half of this section where we look at fishing in the context of couples’ therapy and group therapy.

Metaskills and Fishing: A Universal Therapeutic Skill, Part 1

I spent all day yesterday packing and preparing to move, which is what I’ll be doing for the next few days. I’ll be in transit (from one city to the next) for a little bit, so I thought this would be a good time to share another one of the papers I wrote. This one was for a class called: “Proseminar in Somatic Psychology.” In today’s post, we’ll look at the introduction and talk about ‘fishing’ in the context of metaskills.


This paper will give a brief summary of metaskills, followed by what is proposed to be the metaskill present during individual therapy, couples’ therapy, and group therapy – fishing. There will be examples of fishing in the three kinds of therapy to support this idea. There will also be implications for possible research of fishing as it relates to mindfulness, transpersonal psychology, and massage therapy. In the proceeding section, there will be an explanation of metaskills.


There are many different kinds of therapies and many different techniques of administering therapies. Some therapists find it more effective to use cognitive-behavioral therapies and some use emotion-focused therapies. No matter the kind of therapy administered, it is important that the therapist have the right skills. The universal skills present in therapy are what Mindell (1995) calls “metaskills.” Metaskills are the underlying feelings of a therapist and can be cultivated (Mindell, 1995). It is highly unlikely for a therapist to be devoid of feelings. Mindell (1995) wrote “Often these most significant beliefs and feelings are not clearly defined, yet strongly influence a therapist’s interactions” (p. 19). A therapist might not know that he or she has strong feelings about the way a person looks or talks, but these feelings can still influence the interaction between the therapist and the client. “The client feels these attitudes whether the therapist uses them consciously or not” (Mindell, 1995, p. 19). These feelings can potentially have a strong influence on the relationship between the client and the therapist. Even though the therapist is not consciously expressing the feelings he or she might have about the way their client looks or talks, the client may be able to sense these feelings. In sensing those feelings, the client may be less apt to share certain aspects of himself or herself with the therapist. Mindell (1995) stated “Metaskills are found in many therapeutic systems and in the work of individual therapists” (p. 21). When working in individual therapy, couples’ therapy, or group therapy, the metaskill used by the therapist is “fishing.”


One of the central metaskills is “fishing” (Mindell, 1995). Fishing is the fluctuation between “diffuse, unhurried attention” and “precise awareness” (Mindell, 1995, p. 112). It is very similar to how one would fish on a lake. The person fishing casts a line into the water and then uses ‘diffuse, unhurried attention’ to wait for a fish to bite the line. Once the fish has bitten the line, the person fishing uses a ‘precise awareness’ to reel in the fish. In therapy, the client may be rambling on about something that is not important to follow deeply, until the client reveals the ‘fish.’ The fish could be a somatic response, in that it is something displayed by the client’s body, or it could be something the client says. Mainly, the fish is something presented by the client that is incongruent with their current state of being. When the client reveals the fish, this is where the therapist must use the skill. One potential example of a fish could be the client talking about their grandmother who had recently died. As the client is talking more about their grandmother’s death, the therapist notices movement by the client’s body when they speak about death. It does not have to be a grandiose expression, but just a subtle twitch or movement that seems to contrast with the client’s way of being. The movement is not exaggerated, but quite subtle. The movement could be a slight tension in the client’s shoulders. Specifically, when the client mentions the word death, the therapist notices that the client’s shoulders tighten and rise up ever so slightly. At this point, the therapist could check the line to see if there is a fish. That is, the therapist might stop the client and ask them more about death, to see if what the therapist thought was a fish, really was a fish. Even if what the therapist thought to be a fish turns out not to be a fish, that is part of the metaskill of fishing. There are times when there might appear to be a fish, both on the lake and in therapy, and it is appropriate to check and see if there is a fish. In order to know if there is a fish on the end of the line, the therapist must listen to the feedback from the client. The client could give the therapist negative feedback, which is when the client’s responses to the therapist’s tests indicate that there is not a fish. The client could also give the therapist positive feedback, which is when the client’s responses to the therapist’s tests indicate that there is a fish. There has been a thorough explanation of fishing. In the following section, fishing will be tied to therapy.


Check back tomorrow for the next section: fishing as a therapeutic skill.


Twenty Online Talks That Will Change Your Life, Part 2

Yesterday, I began going through one of The Guardian’s articles about 20 online talks that could change your life. We got through the first 10 talks yesterday. In this post, we’ll look at the last 10 talks.

11. Shaking Hands With Death – Terry Pratchett

12. The Voices in My Head – Eleanor Longden

If you have no experience with schizophrenia, Longden’s talk will certainly change that. It’s important to note, not everyone comes as ‘far’ as she did. Nonetheless, I hope her story fosters empathy within you.

13. Arithmetic, Population and Energy: Sustainability 101 – Albert Bartlett

I don’t remember when I first saw this lecture from Bartlett, but I know that it was probably one of the first lectures I watched on the internet (maybe 15 years ago?). If you’re captivated by headlines like “Crime Doubles in a Decade,” or you’re confused about inflation then you’ll learn a lot in the first half of the video. As someone who majored (second major) in sociology, I can certainly empathize with the idea of a Malthusian catastrophe. I suppose I’m putting stock in the fact that something will change before it gets to that. You may be tired of hearing that people of time X couldn’t have predicted what life would be like in time Y, but I’d say that this is a big factor in why I think we’re not hurtling toward the future that Bartlett explains. Of course, I could be wrong, but I really think that something will change before it comes to this.

14. The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class – Elizabeth Warren

15. The Secret Powers of Time – Philip Zimbardo

If you’ve ever taken PSYC 100, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Zimbardo. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, his famous experiment will: the Stanford Prison Experiment. I remember watching the RSA Animate version of this talk a couple of years ago. Zimbardo shines a light where you might not have been looking: your relationship to time.

16. The secret to desire in a long-term relationship – Esther Perel

17. Printing a human kidney – Anthony Atala

In 2011 when this talk was given, the idea of 3D printing was brand new. To some, it may still be. I remember talking about it last year in the context of rapid technological change. If you’re still fuzzy on 3D printing, this is an enlightening place to start.

18. Do schools kill creativity? – Ken Robinson

If you’ve ever watched a TEDTalk, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of this one from Ken Robinson. As of this time last year, it was the most watched TEDTalk – ever – with almost 15,000,000 views. If you haven’t seen this one, spend the next 20 minutes doing just that.

19. Sugar: The Bitter Truth – Robert Lustig

20. Moral behavior in animals – Frans de Waal


If you liked this paper/series, you might want to check out some of the other papers/series I’ve posted.

No-Vacation Nation: What Kind of Balance Do You Want?

Way back in February, I wrote a post about a 25-hour workweek that used data from the OECD. This data showed the paid vacation and paid holidays for OECD nations. In particular, this data showed the requirements for paid vacations and paid holidays for some of the OECD countries. There’s been an update to the data, so I’ve included the graphic below:

You may notice a couple of things. First, it looks very similar to the first one that I embedded back in February. The second thing you may notice… the United States continues its perseverance in not mandating paid vacation. Every time I see data like this, I’m astonished that one of the wealthiest countries in the history of the world doesn’t see fit to require that its people are required to have vacation. Of course, the lack of vacation probably contributed to the US becoming one of the wealthiest countries in the history of the world, but what good is all that wealth if you can’t enjoy it? What good is money if you’re took sick to spend it?

The declining state of health probably had something to do with the separation of one’s mental health from one’s body’s health, but the lack of vacation has probably accelerated it. Of course, just because vacation isn’t mandated by the government doesn’t mean that companies don’t offer it. In order to stay competitive, companies have to offer their employees vacation or they’ll work elsewhere. That being said, there’s a pervasive culture of overworking yourself in the US. Not only on a national-level (lack of holidays), but also at the employee-level.

Take a peak inside a big firm and you’ll often hear about employees who participate in the game of one-upmanship in trying to see who’s worked more in a given week. “I worked 60 hours last week trying to get this report finished for a client.” “Yeah, well I worked 65 hours last week finishing a report…”


At first, one may say that this is putting people and the culture way out of balance. Well, one would be wrong. Balance has a way of maintaining an equilibrium. That is, balance will always be balance. Confused? Think about it like this: stand up from your chair. Are you standing? Good. Right now, you’re balanced. You have some of your weight on your left foot and some of your weight on your right foot. Balanced. Now, shift your weight to right. You’ll notice that you didn’t fall over, right? You simply have more weight on your right side than on your left side. Balanced. Now, lift your left foot off the ground. All of your weight is currently on your right foot. You’re still balanced, right? Now, begin to bend at the waist to outstretch your right arm forwards… while stretching your left leg backwards. At some point, you may fall over in attempting to do this. That’s okay because I’m sure you get the picture by now.

At each stage of this exercise, you’re body was balanced. You were balanced when you were standing straight, you were balanced when your weight was on your right foot, you were balanced when you lifted your left foot, and you would have been balanced had you been able to outstretch your right arm and left foot. It’s simply a question of what kind of balance do you want. Do you prefer the balance where you’re standing comfortable with both feet on the ground? How about the balance where you’re lifting one foot off of the ground?

While the lack of mandated vacation in the US may seem like there’s no balance, there has to be. It just might be manifesting itself in different ways. You have a choice — what kind of balance do you want?


Note: if you’re looking for a creative way to add more vacation days to the US, how about making every religious holiday a national holiday?

How One Becomes a Shaman: A Brief Overview of Shamanism, Part 2

In yesterday’s post, we looked at the history of shamanism. We learned that shamanism goes back at least as far as 25,000 years ago in South Africa. We also looked at the varying definitions of shaman. In today’s post, we’ll look at how one becomes a shaman. Enjoy!


How One Becomes a Shaman

Given the seemingly differing opinions on the history of shamanism and the definition of a shaman, there seems to be substantially more agreement on the process by which one must undergo to become a shaman. According to Merchant (2006):

The ‘call of the spirits’ to the shamanic vocation is experienced as a serious and disturbing psychological phenomenon early in life (often at adolescence) and this initiatory illness is interpreted as a (mostly unsolicited) calling, which is not only experienced as a destiny/fate but is articulated in these cultures as an election by the spirits. A strenuous and difficult initiation follows, involving altered states of consciousness, dismemberment imagery and death/rebirth phenomena. (p. 133-4)

The candidate is not fully recognized by their cultural group as a shaman until they are able to demonstrate their abilities of mastery over the spirits and communicate with them to acquire information for the purposes of healing (Merchant, 2006). Metzner (1998), like Merchant (2006), referred to a process where the shaman-to-be has visions in which they see themselves being dismembered. According to Metzner (1998), “In some Australian aboriginal tribes, the would-be medicine man [or shaman] is “cut open” with stones; the abdominal organs are “removed” and replaced by crystals, which give him curing and clairvoyant power after he is put back together” (p. 101). Smoley and King (2006) also refer to the dismemberment of the shaman-to-be and reassembly: “The candidate ‘dies’ to his old identity and is reborn to a new one” (p. 160). Given the idea that the shaman has to die under his old identity before the shaman can become the new identity, the rite of passage where the shaman must undergo a process of dismemberment and reassembly is fitting. Merchant (2006) referred to ‘serious and disturbing psychological phenomena during adolescence’ and in the western world (the USA) can easily be mistaken for schizophrenia.

Given all that I have read about schizophrenia and shamanism, it is possible that people who are classified as schizophrenic in the western world are actually ‘hearing the call of the spirits,’ but because they were born into a society that does not appreciate this as a gift, but rather an illness, are treated distinctly different. I have not found any evidence to support this point of view, but it is worth mentioning. Rock, Abbot, Childargushi, and Kiehne (2008) conducted a study where they were attempting to determine the effect of a shamanic-like stimulus (a procedure that was very similar to shamanic journeying) on those who could be classified on the schizotypy continuum. The study included the appropriate control group(s) and had the following conclusion: “One’s score on the CP [cognitive-perceptual] factor of schizotypy appeared to influence one’s ability to experience alterations in phenomenology. Consequently, high CP factor individuals may be strong candidates for shamanic training” (p. 94). The results of this study are seemingly in congruence with the description that those in adolescence undergo psychological hardship offered by Merchant (2006).

There is an activity that I remember participating in during my ‘psychopathology and diagnosis’ class in the winter semester of this year at ITP. During this activity, the class was divided into 4 or 5 groups. The professor gave us a case study of a tribe of people in Africa who had been relocated from their original land and who had some people that were seemingly ‘ill.’ We were to pretend that we were a prospective business vying for the right to ‘cure’ these people. Many of the ‘symptoms’ that were present in the people would have made them categorically schizophrenic, if we were to use the DSM-IV [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders]. During the presentation portion of this class, we worked our way around the room as all the groups identified their possible ‘plan of action’ to cure the people. It was at this point that each of the groups made mention of the fact that the people who were ‘ill’ might not have been ‘ill’ by the standards of the tribe. However, the ‘illness’ was something that was observed by the people who were examining the tribe from the outside. After each of the groups shared, the professor praised all of us for recognizing this and made note that other classes he has taught at non-transpersonal schools would probably not have recognized this factor. While this example might just show the openness of the students who enroll at a transpersonal psychology school, my hope was that it might have shed light on the possibility that non-transpersonal schools rarely (if at all) take into account the norms of the tribe they might be diagnosing. My reason for sharing this story is that it seems to tie in with the shamanistic ‘rites of passage’ discussion. If the people who were shamans in tribes in other countries, instead, grew up in America, it is quite possible that they would be categorized as schizophrenic and placed in a hospital. This makes me wonder if the people that are categorized as schizophrenic in our society today are not necessarily people who need to be feared, but instead, people who need to be revered and taught to embrace their shamanic qualities.

In this section, we have examined the process one undergoes to become a shaman. We have learned that there is a great deal involved in becoming a shaman including the following: ‘schizophrenic’-like symptoms in adolescence, altered states of consciousness, dismemberment/reassembly of one’s body, and an ability to display one’s skills in communicating with the spirits to obtain information to heal people within their community. We have also explored the possibility that people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia in America are actually candidates for shamans. In the next section, we will take a closer look at some of the roles that shamans can play for their community.


Check back tomorrow for the next section: Roles of a Shaman.