Dr. Stanislav Grof is a psychiatrist, chief theoretician of Transpersonal Psychology and pioneering researcher into the use of non-ordinary states of consciousness for purposes of exploring, healing, and obtaining insights into the human psyche.

Stan makes the point that western culture is very outwardly oriented toward the acquisition of material goods and status.  When ones outer world is threatened or begins to fall apart the person is forced to focus on their inner world and may undergo a psychological crisis. He says that these crises are becoming more frequent as our economy and environment become less secure.

He goes on to say that in such cases it’s important not to apply “mentally ill” labels and just suppress the symptoms with pharmaceuticals.  He states that the crisis may actually be an opportunity for growth and that the psyche has a self-healing potential if the person is supported in the correct way.  He makes the point that our culture is not comfortable with non-ordinary states of consciousness and tends to pathologize them.

Stan believes that a large number of psychological crises could actually be ‘Spiritual Emergencies’ and that the number of individuals having these emergencies is growing. He feels like many in the Transpersonal Psychology circles that the well-being and even survival of our species depends on a shift in consciousness that a ‘Spiritual Emergency’ could initiate.

Do you think that many “psychological crises” could instead be opportunities for spiritual growth and transformation?

I would love to hear your thoughts on Dr. Grof’s ideas.

12 Responses to “Interview with Stan Grof: The Potential of Holotropic States for Emotional Healing”

  1. Rossa Forbes

    I see a lot of hypocrisy surrounding psychosis or spiritual emergency as determined by psychiatrists, and Grof may well be hypocritical on this subject. Steve Morgan writes in The Wind Never Lies, that after having had such a spiritual emergency, he aplied for a scholarship to attend a holotropic breathwork retreat with Grof and Jack Kornfeld. He was specifically turned down on the basis of his “mental illness.” Pardon me for being frustrated and jaded. Psychosis scares psychiatritsts, probably because most of them are too close to the edge, themselves. Best to turn the person over to the streets or let their families try to make sense of it, or, better yet, tranquillize them. I was extremely annoyed when my son wanted to learm TM, and when the instructor learned of my son’s mental health history, he insisted that my son get permission from his psychiatrist. He got that “permission” but why should he be stigmatized further in the process? I have had to sneak around behind the psychiatrist’s back in order to obtain meaningful shamanic resources for him. Dealing with full blown psychosis scares just about everybody, but some psychiatrists profess to know the difference between energency or psychosis, and they will take the path of least resistance. I suspect Grof talks the talk.

    • Mary Newton

      Rossa, I agree with you, though a bit sadly. I’ve had two people whom I respect very much tell me Grof turned them down when they were most in need of help, on grounds that they had psychiatric diagnoses. To me this is a bit like setting yourself up as an expert oncologist but only taking patients who have bad colds. The Grofs had the background and experience to start a truly effective system of humane and non-stigmatizing psychotherapy in this country, but unfortunately they blew it. A great pity.

  2. Phil Borges

    I share your frustration on this. Adam was turned away from his third Vipassana meditation retreat because they found out about his medical history. The retreat was where he found the most help and relief. However, I don’t think we can blame it on the people who are leading workshops to teach alternative approaches. In our litigious society anyone who departs from the mainstream treatment is open for attack if something goes wrong. A workshop is a very public event and hard to monitor as well as a more intimate setting. I think about how many psychiatrists probably just prescribe meds because it is not only the easiest but the safest (for them) course of treatment.

  3. Vivian Fulk

    I have been to four Holotropic Breathwork workshops. They last 3 hours with loud rhythmic music intended to take you deeper and deeper. I will share just a bit to give you why one needs to be a bit stable to handle it. It is a self healing modality. I have share here before that I have two mentally ill brothers and that I decide not to have children because of it. During my Breathwork, I mourned this and came out the other side having passed through all stages of grief in this short three hour period. I never allowed myself this mourning. Never even know I was sad about it. It was very intense. However, now I am at ease with talking about it openly, whereas before I would tear up, probably giving myself an ulcer. Anyway, the mind and our emotions are very powerful. My living mentally ill brother is 60 now living in a half way house in Miami. He would flip out at Holotrpic Breathwork. He is on strong meds to stay non delusional. I would not want him to be subjected to any more pain. His psyche could not handle it.

  4. isa

    A year ago i experienced a ‘psychosis’ and was compulsory admitted to hospital due to the intensity of it. Since then i’ve researched any information i could find related to this topic. Intuitively i knew there was a lot of truth in my experience. Gradually my search shifted from searching for ‘psychoses’ to spiritual crisis/ emergency, dark night of the soul etc because this defined my own experience. Grof’s book, the stormy search for the self has answered most of my questions, i can totally relate to it from my own experiences. This has been a huge relief. Even though i struggle these days in the inability to share my experiences to people who can understand the depth of it.

    • Bea

      Isa, I went through my, I suppose one might call it “dark night of the soul” several years ago. I was in such a state for a solid 6 mo. that anyone other than my inexplicably indulgent parents (I was an adult and had happened to end up at their place between moves, at a divinely appropriate time, just as I entered this state.) would have institutionalized me. I’ve always been grateful that I was given the space to go through it, naturally. I’m sorry you had to do it the other way. I found great comfort in a remark I came across that, in the “old days”, they had a place for those who went through this kind of thing: monasteries; now, we have the streets and hospitals. I’ll have a look at the Grof book and share that St. John of the Cross’ (of course, Dk Night of the Soul) collected works, especially The Ascent of Mt. Carmel were of great help to me (in the only way he says it can – giving me the single comfort of knowing beyond any doubt that I wasn’t crazy.)

  5. Caroline Andrews

    Hi there , I love your work so far what i’ve seen! I was diagnosed Bipolar years ago and had 3 major highs – and knew all through there was more to it than what i was being told – so i got off meds and researched and grounded, and have had enough visions and confirming info from different healers/ pshcyics that i’ve visited to know why I went through it! To me it is ALL about spiritual awakening – humanity is going through its next evolutionary stage , and some of us are more in at the deep end! So, the whole system needs changing to educate people that we are ok to be going through this, and it is a positive thing and slowly by peeling away the layers of trauma, we get to see our true higher self, and then can help others come through to the other side too…so many blessings to you for your work, i will keep watching!….

    • Phil Borges

      Thank you sharing your experience and for following CRAZYWISE Caroline! I appreciate your support and words of affirmation for the film!

  6. Grace Silvia

    I am thankful for the Grofs’ work, but am also troubled by the distinction between “real psychosis/schizophrenia” and spiritual emergency.

    Yes, sometimes what is called psychosis is a symptom of physical problems: thyroid issues, sleep deprivation, reactions to (both legal and illegal) drugs, etc. However, don’t these have a spiritual dimension, too?

    As for “real schizophrenia,” it just makes no sense to me to claim to know that there is no spiritual meaning in it and that it is essentially different than spiritual emergency. The work of Catherine Lucas (in her book, In Case of Spiritual Emergency) is much more resonant with me. Plus, she outlines practical, accessible practices to ground and work with the experiences (with what is called “bipolar,” “schizophrenia,” and all other things we call “mental illness.”)

    I encourage you, Phil, to get in touch with Lucas. She responded via FB to an initiative Rethinking Psychiatry is doing to bring receivers and givers of psychiatric care together in Truth & Reconciliation circles. Unfortunately, she did not respond directly on RP’s page, but through a friend’s page, but it was so powerful–she really gets it.

    Thank you for this project. I share your site widely and also send people to Madness Radio and Mad in America for powerful alternative and liberating perspectives, and links to a whole wide world of radical mental health perspectives. There are also huge human rights implications and issues of social, economic and environmental justice intimately connected to these issues–it’s not just spiritual and within a person, but has huge implications in the world, and is set in our society of power and control.

    Thank you, Phil.

    • Phil Borges

      Hi Grace, What a timely note! I can say that a shift is underway about whether there is a distinction between “psychosis and spiritual emergency” vs whether every mental health crisis is an opportunity for transformation. Keep an eye out for the International Spiritual Emergence Network that will be launched in the next few months! We have been in touch with Catherine and are working with her currently on a screening of CRAZYWISE once it is released. Thank you for your insightful comments and be rest assure that our stance is aligned – every crisis is an opportunity for transformation!


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