New Position and Pagan Implications

I’ve recently accepted a new position as the director of a psychiatric rehabilitation day program. The hours are such that I can continue my private practice as well.

This means that I will be front-and-center in confronting (at least occasionally) attitudes towards Paganism in the institutional and medical model setting.

It’s alot easier to handle Pagan clients properly in private practice. There, decisions are mostly just between the therapist and the client. There too, clients are usually much more capable and self-sufficient. It’s easy to accept a client’s worldview that they talk with tree spirits when they hold down a job and have friends and function normally. It’s much more difficult when:

  • The client has a 10-year history of psychotic behavior such as screaming at voices on the street corner, burning down houses, & attacking police as agents of the Martian invaders.
  • Medications are proven to help control the above symptoms.
  • The whole clinic system is primed to watch for and interpret any unusual behavior as illness.

Luckily, its darn rare (so far) to encounter a practicing Pagan client who is majorly psychotic like in the above example. But its terribly difficult to try and explain to a treatment team that certain beliefs and practices are okay when the client so obviously has problems. And who knows when such a client’s “Wiccan” behaviors will veer off in a bizarre direction having nothing to do with Wicca?

As usual, the criteria of whether or not Pagan beliefs (or any unusual beliefs and behaviors) are hurting or helping the client is at least a starting point. (Evaluation criteria is the subject for another post.)

I’m just sharing my concern, but also excitement, with being in a position to handle Pagan client issues as they come up from within an institutional setting.

In the past part of what I’ve done has been to run a spirituality and world religions class for psychiatric rehabilitation program clients. One of many reasons for the class was to be able to provide education on all manner of spiritual beliefs (occasionally including Pagan), a safe discussion place for clients to talk about their beliefs, and support for there being many paths to the Divine — or at least that tolerance of your neighbor’s beliefs is a Good Thing.

So — I’m opening the floor to ideas. What sorts of support would you like to see in institutional settings (hospitals, day programs, etc.) for Pagan beliefs? How do you think staff should handle such amongst patients who are profoundly mental ill (schizophrenia for example)? Do you have stories about someone’s treatment in such a setting? As usual, do not post any information that names institutions or individuals or is specific enough to trace and identify.  If you say something about yourself, make sure you are okay with the whole world knowing.


  1. Erynn said,

    January 11, 2008 @ 8:49 pm

    My shrink’s attitude has been “as long as the voices are telling you positive things that are helping you heal, it’s all good.” I honestly think that should be the determining factor.

  2. Michael_Reeder said,

    January 11, 2008 @ 11:53 pm

    Erynn — You know, I can be much more long-winded about it, but that does about say it all. Thanks! — Michael

  3. Jamie Sumner said,

    June 7, 2012 @ 11:58 am

    I consulted on a client who had a history of being involved with a Wiccan coven, but who began experiencing a demon “attachment” after using a Ouiji board. He tried everything from raising his vibration, to smudging, to daily Lesser Banishing of the Pentagram, to Catholic exorcisms (the only thing that gave him some relief: btw, he’s currently Catholic). His therapist was shocked when I suggested Schizotypal PD, ultimately citing that his beliefs were unusual for even his subculture. All his previous therapists had been tip-toeing around the whole topic and given him Psychotic NOS. In our state, one has to do a special population consult on certain ethnicities, and I wish we could do one for Pagans. Because as a counselor, how could you be sensitive to a religion when you don’t know much about it? His therapists believed being Wiccan meant there would be demons, and didn’t look further that this client was using this demon as a means to get what he wants and it was significantly imparing his social and occupational functioning. Or they chalked it up to a sub-culture that they don’t understand at all.

  4. admin said,

    June 7, 2012 @ 4:38 pm

    Thanks Jamie — It is possible we are too slow to diagnose those who are out in the community and at least sort of functioning. Some Wiccans believe in demons although its not a major theme… I think I’d suspect Schizotypal PD too after a few exorcisms did not do the trick (in reality or just to psychologically help him beleive himself cleared).

    — Michael

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