Christina Grof and her husband Dr. Stanislav Grof coined the term ‘Spiritual Emergency’ to describe many of the psychological crises that are typically given stigmatized labels.  Christina studied under the mythologist Joseph Campbell and for almost 30 years has been active in the field of Transpersonal Psychology, leading workshops and lecturing worldwide.

Christina experienced alternate states of consciousness at a young age and says that her own spiritual transformation wasn’t always easy. She shares with us her own crisis and the shame, fear and guilt that grew out of sexual molestation as a child.  After self-medicating for over seven years with alcohol and ‘hitting rock bottom’ she recalls how the experience made her finally surrender which opened the path to her healing and spiritual transformation.

Christina founded the Spiritual Emergence Network in 1980 that, unfortunately, is not operational today because of lack of funding.  It is still her dream that other people who are going through a spiritual transformation would have a place to go where they are supported without stigmatizing labels and medication.

Recently, Thomas Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) stated that 1 in 5 Americans will suffer a severe mental illness in their lifetime and 1 in 20 will be disabled by it.  He went on to say the rate of mental illness was more than twice as high among those ages 18-25.  Today many of these people are ending up in our prison system or joining the ranks of the homeless.

Do you feel that some individuals experiencing a psychological crisis were not given a stigmatizing label and their symptoms were not suppressed by pharmaceuticals, that that could result in a more positive outcome?

Next week we hear from Dr. Grof, a psychiatrist and co-founder of Transpersonal Psychology.

6 Responses to “Interview with Christina Grof: Beyond Stigmatizing Labels”

  1. Rossa Forbes

    In answer to your question, yes, obviously. The hard part is finding those places. It all sounds very hopeful and correct, and then there is the reality. Even Stan Grof has reportedly turned down people to his workshops who confess to having had a “mental illness.” (See my remark under Stan Grof interview.) Listening to Christina Grof’s interview, I suspect she more than likely shares the views of her husband. Spiritual emergencies are confined to people you can work with in some sort of cooperative sense/the rest are mentally ill. I am struck by how many people (like Cristina Grof) these days link their spiritual emergency to the result of childhood trauma. This is a very comforting view in our Western culture because it links understandable cause to present behavior. This view, to my mind, is not much different than the Western biochemical view of mental illness that links faulty brain chemistry to psychosis. Doesn’t the shamanic interpretation of what we call “mental illness” often consider that it is a gift from the gods rather than a dysfunctional childhood? Do shamans consider their future healers victims of child abuse? If we re-interpret the Bible and the writings of the saints, for example, we may as well right off the prophets and Saint Teresa of Avila as victims of child abuse and other trauma. If we think of them in that light, to me, it kind of diminishes their message. The great mysteries of life solved! Do shamans make the same distinctions that we often make in the West that there are spiritual crises and then there are just crazy people?

  2. Phil Borges


    I understand your frustration. Unfortunately these blog posts can’t contain the full interviews. From what I understand at this point there are a multitude of issues or events that can cause a psychological break or severe mental disturbance. Present untenable circumstances; childhood Trauma, certain psychoactive drugs, and even contemplative exercises like meditation. It was my understanding that the Grofs don’t make a differential diagnosis between a spiritual emergency and what is commonly called psychosis. They believe that many of these episodes whatever the cause can lead to a ‘spiritual emergence’ (or an increased understanding of our interconnectedness) if given the proper support.

    • Rossa Forbes

      Dear Phil,
      Thank you for your thoughtful responses. Yes, I am occasionally frustrated while also understanding the complexities of how to responsibly treat people who are going through extreme states. It’s not easy. My question about how tribal cultures view someone going through these states is unrelated to the Grof interview, but I can see why you thought it was more of a statement of frustration than a sincere question. When you meet a grandmother, let’s say, who mentors a young person, does the grandmother talk about incest/child abuse/family related crimes/the child being possessed by the demons of her ancestors, or would this grandmother talk in terms of recognizing a special gift arising spontaneously that needs nurturing? If the child were possessed by ancestral demons, would the grandmother discriminate in her treatment methods, and cast out the demons through a ceremony and send the girl home, not thinking of her in the category of a healer, or would she consider this person someone to be mentored as a community healer? I hope I’m making my question a little clearer. I do wonder sometimes if our Western ideas about psychosis/spiritual awakening have taken on Western linear thinking that likes to find a sensible cause for something that other cultures might see differently.
      Best regards,

      • Phil Borges


        I have seen that Indigenous cultures view and define extreme mental states differently, which is the inspiration for the entire Crazywise film. However, I cannot say what the specific treatment methods and approaches used by elders and mentors are. This is the one question I wish I would have asked, and would if I had a chance to do the interviews again. I can say, that the Shamans I’ve interviewed were all told that they had a gift. This is a fascinating contrast to the labels that Western society places on extreme mental states.


  3. Claire P

    I’m with Rossa here. Some people are abused and don’t have a crisis. Some are suffering all their lives with it fairly successfully kept at bay but maybe those having a crisis are showing signs they are potentially “gifted”. Maybe they’d have had a “crisis” with or without abuse or trauma. Either way in another culture maybe they wouldn’t need to concentrate on a horrible past and would just make something wonderful out of a crisis. Maybe they would know how.
    How do we learn to do this? Claire

    • Phil Borges

      The outcome can be completely shifted by seeing a mental emotional crisis as a transformative, growth experience. There is a grassroots movement of mental health professionals, people with lived-experience, and organizations that are calling for a different approach. I can’t say how this change will occur, but I do see that it is underway!


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