Spiritual Crisis and Breakthrough

Spiritual Crisis and Breakthrough


Easter Island Statue


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Pentre Ifan Cromlech, nr Newport Pembrokeshire. Neolithic site of chambered dolmen

The Hearing Voices Network Cymru (Wales) is essentially a Welsh website. The culture and history of Wales as a nation is a deeply spiritual one. We understand that our psychological and spiritual wellbeing are intertwined.  We draw from our collective past. For this reason we have produced this information about spiritual crisis and breakthrough. John Rowlands (Professor of Welsh at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, novelist and literary critic)  partly addresses this issue as follows:

“To call a nation schizophrenic may have no technical accuracy but it does have a metaphorical meaning.  The Welsh were the original Britons, yet their foothold had been seriously eroded by the English, and despite producing medieval classics such as the Mabinogion and Dafydd ap Gwilym, they lost their nerve as the British Empire gained its world hegemony during the 19th century ……………….. We sensed that we had something to be proud of in our native culture, but many felt like Mathew Arnold that it was something unpalpable and vaguely spiritual, with no relevance to the progressive and scientific modern age.  It could be cherished in the heart, but might as well retreat from the practical sphere.” Page 18, Introduction by John Rowlands, The Bloodaxe Book of Modern Welsh Poetry : 20th century Welsh-language poetry in translation, ed. Menna Elfyn and John Rowlands,Bloodaxe Poetry Ltd.,2003)

We believe that culture and spirituality hold a central place in this “progressive and scientific modern age” and rather than retreating we must engage.

Spiritual crisis (also called “spiritual emergency”) is a form of identity crisis where an individual experiences drastic changes to their meaning system (ie. their unique purposes, goals, values, attitude and beliefs, identity and focus) typically because of a spontaneous spiritual experience.  A spiritual crisis may cause significant disruption in psychological,social and occupational functioning.

Among the spiritual experiences thought to lead to episodes of spiritual crisis or spiritual emergency are psychiatric complications related to existential crisis,mystical experience,near-death experiences, Kundalini syndrome, paranormal experiences, religious ecstasy and meditation or other spiritual practices. (source : Wikipedia)

A leader in spiritual crisis work is Stanislav Grof an American psychiatrist who is one of the founders in the field of transpersonal psychology. He is a pioneering researcher into the use of non-ordinary states of consciousness for purposes of exploring, healing, and obtaining growth and insights into the human psyche.

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“My God” versus “Your God”

Alan Baker describes reflects on his own experience of a spiritual crisis.

The experience for a “psychotic” is an overwhelming one. It’s like being thrown into a turbulent river of change and not being able to swim or being in an alien world without a guidebook and unable to read the signposts. I suggest that we need to learn to swim or that we are taught the language and know a little about this world before we get there. Obviously the confusion and fear associated with an unexpected arrival would result in distress and often a dysfunctioning. This is added to by the social/cultural response to the individual’s apparent loss of control.

I would like to make the proposition that the so called psychotic state is an involuntary and unexpected immersion into the world of the subconscious. I use the term subconscious warily but find it a useful means of labelling a part of human consciousness that allows for experience that has been described by so many different people in so many different ways i.e. the psychotic, the shaman, the mystic, the visionary and so on.

The view that the psychotic is accessing the subconscious and experiencing phenomena shared by these other groups is not readily accepted, however neither is the view that these other groups are also experiencing the same thing. To put it crudely it is a case of ‘my’ God versus ‘your’ God.

I hope one day those who may experience a so-called psychosis in the future and mostly to those that already do so will be able to find this kind of support. I would hope that this would empower individuals by putting their experience on a more positive footing and by putting the experience into a framework and context that can be easily related to. In addition I would hope that once so empowered the individual might be enabled to seek out or take up an established practice and transform an otherwise negative experience into a positive one.  Alan Baker

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Publications on Spiritual Crisis


caseemergencyIn Case Of Spiritual Emergency : Moving Successfully Through Your Awakening by Catherine G. Lucas, Findhorn Press, 21 July,2011,  ISBN-10: 1844095460
‘I found myself travelling back to the UK from Egypt in a wheelchair. What I had been through was so extreme, so overwhelming emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, that my body had gone into shock.’ Catherine G Lucas is the Founder of the UK Spiritual Crisis Network, set up following her own spiritual emergency. Her Mindfulness practice helped her through and she is now an accredited Breathworks Mindfulness Trainer, delivering courses for groups such as National Health Service therapists and soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The phenomenon of Spiritual Emergency is growing – but hugely misunderstood by the public and health professionals alike. Hence why books such as Catherine’s are desperately needed.A” – Hazel Courteney, journalist and author This book is going to be very helpful to many people.A” — Dr Andrew Powell, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Special Interest Group on Spirituality

making_space-compMaking Space For Spirituality (Free to download)
Published by The Mental Health Foundation, November 2007

A booklet that gives advice and practical steps on how support and respond to the spiritual needs of service users.



Keeping the faith.inddKeeping The Faith  (free to download)
Published by Mental Health Foundation: November 2007, ISBN: 978-1-906162-08-5
Keeping the faith includes examples of good practice where spiritual activities are already on offer in mental health settings and makes a number of recommendations for commissioners, and managers and clinicians working in mental health keen to meet the spiritual needs of service users.



Routledge; 1 edition (March 28, 1998) ISBN-10: 0789004607
“A comprehensive, real-life approach to spiritual care, it gives you the understanding necessary to put a lid on the daily chaos that seeks to destroy those whose lives have been shattered by tragedy, terror, and disillusionment.
Written from the perspective of a compassionate professional who has navigated the dark and turbulent waters of his own spiritual crises, Spiritual Crisis represents a loving cross-section of aid from the fields of pastoral theology, psychology, and health care. Christians and non-Christians alike will benefit from its frank approach to aiding troubled souls through the tough times of belief transition, loss of faith, and potentially damaging extremes in living and thinking.”

Spiritual Emergency : When Personal Transformation Becomes A Crisis – Ed. Stanislav  and Christina Grof, Warner Books (1 Dec 1981) ISBN-10: 0874775388
“This book is about the crisis and personal chaos that can result from personal transformation or spiritual emergence. In the east this is called kundalini, in the west it’s usually called ascension or transformation and is frequently associated with transpersonal experiences and what we perceive as strange physical, emotional, mental and psychic symptoms. For anyone who has been through, is going through, or is trying to support someone else while this process is taking place this book is like a gift from heaven, a light shining on a dark path.
There are contributions from many eminent people with expertise in associated fields. Ranging from: psychologists; Assagioli and Laing to the great spiritual teacher Ram Dass. There are sections covering kundalini, psychic opening, UFO encounters and much, much more.”

Stormy Search For The Self : A Guide To Personal Growth Through Transformational Crisis by Christina Grof,  Jeremy P. Tarcher; Reprint edition (June 1, 1992) ISBN-10: 087477649X
“In The Stormy Search for the Self, Christina and Stanislav Grof, the world’s foremost authorities on the subject of spiritual emergence, draw on years of dramatic personal and professional experience with transformative states to explore these “spiritual emergencies,” altered states so powerful they threaten to overwhelm the individual’s oridinary reality. This book will provide insights, assurances, and practical suggestions for those who are experiencing or have experienced such a crisis, for their families and friends, and for mental-health professionals. It is also a valuable guide for anyone involved in personal transformation whose experiences, though generally untraumatic, may still at times be bewildering or disorienting.”

by Stanislav Grof, Stream of Experience Productions (28 Jun 2012)
The message of Dr. Grof and this book is that there are approaches to therapy which utilize a specific non-ordinary state of consciousness which enables individuals, with support, to access and heal these deeper levels of trauma from the personal and collective unconscious. He has named this state of consciousness Holotropic, a composite word which means “oriented toward wholeness” or “moving in the direction of wholeness” (from the Greek holos = whole and trepo, trepein = moving toward or in the direction of something).

Dr. Grof describes various approaches to achieving this Holotropic state and using it for healing, with his focus on Holotropic Breathwork, which he developed with his partner Christina, and psychedelic therapy, which he pioneered in the 1950s and which is now experiencing a renaissance of clinical research for treatment of addictions and PTSD.

Holotropic-Breathwork-Grof-Stanislav-9781438433943Holotropic Breathwork: A New Approach to Self-Exploration and Therapy by Stanislav GrofState Univ of New York Pr; First Edition edition (August 2010) ISBN-10: 1438433948 Stanislav Grof and Christina Grof describe their groundbreaking new form of self-exploration and psychotherapy: Holotropic Breathwork. Holotropic means “moving toward wholeness,” from the Greek holos (whole) and trepein (moving in the direction of). The breathwork utilizes the remarkable healing and transformative potential of non-ordinary states of consciousness. These states engender a rich array of experiences with unique healing potential–reliving childhood memories, infancy, birth and prenatal life, and elements from the historical and archetypal realms of the collective unconscious. Induced by very simple means–a combination of accelerated breathing, evocative music, and bodywork in a safe and supportive setting, Holotropic Breathwork integrates the insights from modern consciousness research, depth psychology, transpersonal psychology, anthropology, Eastern spiritual practices, and mystical traditions.

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Psychosis or Spiritual Awakening: Phil Borges at TEDx UMKC
Phil Borges, filmmaker and photographer, has been documenting indigenous and tribal cultures for over 25 years. His work is exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide and his award winning books have been published in four languages. Phil’s recent project, Inner Worlds, explores cultural differences with respect to consciousness and mental illness.


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rcpsych_logoThe Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group (SPSIG) of the Royal College of Psychiatry was founded in 1999 to provide a forum for psychiatrists to explore the influence of the major religions, which shape the cultural values and aspirations of psychiatrist and patient alike.The spiritual aspirations of persons not identifying with any one particular faith are held to be of no less importance, as well as the viewpoint of those who hold that spirituality is independent of religion.

Spiritual values have a universality which brings together all involved in mental health care. The Special Interest Group supports the exploration of such fundamental questions as the purpose and meaning of life, which are so important for mental health, as well as the problem of good and evil and a wide range of specific experiences invested with spiritual meaning including birth, death and near-death, mystical and trance states and varieties of religious experience. Both pathological and normal human experiences are considered in order to understand better the overlap and difference between the two.

More information about the SPSIG here

Association for Pastoral and Spiritual Care and Counselling (APSCC). The APSCC is for counsellors, psychotherapists, pastoral carers, chaplains and related professionals whose work is informed by a spiritual perspective of one form or another. The APSCC offers a rich opportunity to make links with others who share and are interested in a broad range of related subjects and beliefs. It is also an opportunity to add to the voice of spiritual and pastoral care through Thresholds, our quarterly professional journal, and via conferences, networking events and other projects.

More information about APSCC here

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Being AllongsideBeing Alongside (the operating name of Association for Pastoral Care in Mental Health)

A national Christian-based voluntary association that recognises the importance of spiritual values and support in mental health.

Tel: 020 3397 2497

Address: Association for Pastoral Care in Mental Health, The National APCMH Secretary, c/o St Paul’s Church, 5 Rossmore Road, Marylebone, London, NW1 6NJ

Web: www.beingalongside.org.uk



National Spirituality and Mental Health Forum NSMHF is by title a forum – and those who attend, reflect variously on the actuality of how individuals integrate spirituality to mental health.  The Forum therefore wishes to enable space for that diversity to be expressed.

NSMHF is a means to connect faith community/belief group representation with statutory health and social care services and third/voluntary sector organisations.

Their purposes are:

  1.  the improving of spiritual care provision within the statutory services
  2. enabling better connections with mental health services for faith communities/belief groups and,
  3. learning from, contributing to and collaborating with the work of voluntary sector mental health organisations who might or do include spirituality within their remit.

Website: www.mhspirituality.org.uk



SCNThe Spiritual Crisis Network (SCN) provides information to those affected by spiritual crisis, their carers and support professionals.

It is based in England and was founded in 2004 by a development committee of volunteers. Some of these are experts through experience of personal spiritual crises. Some are mental health professionals. Some have both personal and professional expertise.

Their vision is to act as a resource:

  • for those going through or recovering from spiritual crisis
  • for professionals, carers and supporters of those going through or recovering from spiritual crisis

They do this by:

  • offering an email support service
  • providing general information on spiritual crisis
  • facilitating a national network of local groups of people with experience, interest or involvement in spiritual crisis – groups currently run in London, Sheffield, Gateshead and Norwich
  • raising awareness and understanding of the issues
  • developing and delivering innovative training
  • gathering and sharing information about local resources

Information is provided in good faith, but does not constitute a recommendation as to suitability — you must make your own assessment of its appropriateness, and seek conventional medical advice as necessary. They like to respond to emails within 7 days but sometimes it takes longer than this. SCN has charitable status in the UK. SCN is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England, no 06755641. Registered office and correspondence address: c/o 38 Market Street, Hoylake, Wirral CH47 2AF.

Website: www.spiritualcrisisnetwork.org.uk

You can contact them by email at [email protected]



retreatThe Retreat Association

The Retreat Association is a national Christian organisation set up to help people find ways of exploring and deepening their journey with God through spirituality and prayer.

The are an ecumenical organisation supporting those from both inside and outside the Church in the following ways:

Finding a retreat — they promote retreats through:

  • Retreats — An annual journal listing 230 retreat houses and their programmes.
  • Spiritual direction — they help people find a spiritual director or companion.
  • Resources — for those wishing to deepen their prayer life.
  • Events — national and regional events with a focus on spirituality.
  • Training including courses in spirituality and spiritual direction and leading retreats and quiet days.


Catholic Retreats

Click on title to link to selected houses of peace that offer a place of sanctuary, silence and guidance. Some also run courses. If you would like to visit one you will be very welcome. It’s worth asking if there is a fee to pay before booking. At most of these you will be able to arrange to speak to someone who can help you to pray.


Buddhist retreats 

Going On Retreat provides you with easy access to retreat information for various UK Buddhist Retreat Centres.


Each retreat centre runs a wide variety of retreats throughout the year exploring buddhism, buddhist meditation and yoga. Some centres also run specialised events which promote well being such as tai chi, shiatsu, massage, and the arts.


GoingOnRetreat.com is a collective venture set up by the UK Buddhist Retreat Centres featured on this site. All of the UK Buddhist Retreat Centres are run by the Triratna Buddhist Community which is dedicated to communicating the ancient teachings of the Buddha in the modern world


Research and Practice


Published Mental Health Foundation: April 2002 ISBN: 1-90-3645-29-8

A report based on interviews and discussions with 27 mental health service users in Somerset with an interest in religious or spiritual beliefs. It highlights the potentially narrow line between hallucination and visions, which could lead to people either being seen as ‘psychotic’ or ‘spiritual’ depending on the interpretation of their experiences. It also reveals how people experiencing distress might be better supported and understood, particularly within faith communities and mental health services.




Spirituality And Mental Health Update Click on title  to download
Published by the Mental Health Foundation: November 2002

An update briefing on the Foundation’s work exploring religion, spirituality and mental health. This work has been informed by the views and experiences of service users and survivors as voiced in the Knowing Our Own Minds user-led survey, and the UK-wide user-led Strategies for Living qualitative research.





Published by the Mental Health Foundation July 2006 ISBN: 978-1-903645-85-7

A literature review of the evidence linking spirituality and religious expression with different aspects of mental health and, in particular, different mental health problems. Written by Dr Deborah Cornah.





mental health and spiritualityGuidelines on spirituality for staff in acute care services

University of Staffordshire (2008)

Recognising a person’s spiritual dimension is one of the most vital aspects of care and recovery in mental health. People who use services increasingly wish to have services view them as whole persons in the context of their whole lives; and spirituality and faith is a vital element in that.
These guidelines have been developed in order give acute care staff a simple introduction to spirituality issues within acute care. They cover six key issues:

  • responding to the needs of the whole person
  • assessing peoples’ needs and risks
  • different approaches in mapping spirituality and identity
  • work with faith and spiritual communities
  • blocks to responding to the spiritual dimension
  • support for staff.

Each issue is illustrated with a short exercise and case study which are designed to increase staff awareness and confidence in addressing them. 
Written by Peter Gilbert, Professor of Social Work and Spirituality, Staffordshire University, CSIP NIMHE National Lead on Spirituality and Mental Health.


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Spirituality and Mental Health: Information from the Mental Health Foundation 
This is the fact sheet from the Mental Health Foundation Spirituality. Spirituality can play an important role in helping people maintain good mental health and live with or recover from mental health problems, here you can find useful information about spirituality and religion.

Spirituality Factsheet from Rethink
Religion and spirituality can play an important role in many people’s lives. This factsheet from Rethink looks at spirituality and religion generally and also more specifically at spirituality and religion in relation to mental health.

Spiritual Crisis – Information from Wikipedia
Spiritual crisis (also called “spiritual emergency”) is a form of identity crisis where an individual experiences drastic changes to their meaning system (i.e., their unique purposes, goals, values, attitude and beliefs, identity, and focus) typically because of a spontaneous spiritual experience. A spiritual crisis may cause significant disruption in psychological, social and occupational functioning. Among the spiritual experiences thought to lead to episodes of spiritual crisis or spiritual emergency are psychiatric complications related to existential crisismystical experiencenear-death experiencesKundalini syndromeparanormal experiences, religious ecstasy and meditation or other spiritual practices (Grof & Grof, 1989; Turner, Lukoff, Barnhouse, & Lu, 1995).

Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN) (USA)
SEN provides individuals that are experiencing difficulties with psychospiritual growth a therapist referral and support service that is staffed by trained graduate students. In a culture which has not understood issues surrounding spiritual development, the gift of being heard and understood by a knowledgeable and supportive listener can be life-altering.

Spiritual Recovery  (UK)
“I am an individual who has undergone a transformative experience that in this culture and setting would be identified as psychosis or schizophrenic. Other cultures and settings have other names for the same experience: kundalini awakening, shamanism, mysticism, gnosis, the psychotic-visionary episode, the dark night of the soul, ego death, the alchemical process, positive disintegration, post traumatic stress disorder with psychotic features, spiritual emergency, etc. I was not on any form of spiritual path previous to that experience nor was I experimenting with ethnogens. I was simply an individual in a great deal of pain doing my best to get through it. That experience lasted approximately six weeks. I was guided through it by a mentor figure who appeared and served as my constant companion. Everything in this blog has been researched after the fact.”
See Also Spiritual Emergency blog

Beyond Hearing Voices 
“Hearing voices has not only enabled my spiritual growth and development, but has broadened my ability in helping others with their spiritual healing. You will discover my experience in dealing with hearing voices by reading mental illness stigma, and you can help yourself by doing cleansing.

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