Archive for Experiences & Musings

Why So Close?

The New York Times has an article entitled “Psychologists Vote to End Interrogation Consultations”.  That’s the good news.

The amazing news here to me is that the APA vote was 8,792 to 6,157.

Wouldn’t torture be a bit less popular?

I’m curious for insights into why the vote went this way.



OT: Palin, Religious Theocracy, and Voting

I should really leave politics alone.  Believe it or not I do have several excellent Christian and Republican clients and this is a blog on therapy and Paganism, not politics.  However, the following topic continues to bug me and I have writer’s itch over it.

Somehow, I’d become resigned to a non-choice between the two corporate parties.  Lately in the Bush govt. it has seemed to be primarily a matter of corporate domination and less so one of religion.

In this context I was heavily contemplating a vote for Cynthia McKinney with the Green Party — a candidate closer to my own positions with little chance of winning — rather than holding my nose and voting for the Democratic candidate as the least objectionable realistic choice.

Back in 2004 when I voted for Kerry, and then watched as he didn’t even try to contest Ohio, I finally realized nothing good will come of either major party.  I realized we have to build an alternative by voting for what we truly desire even if there is no near-term chance of winning.

Now however comes this article entitled A Palin Theocracy, and ones like it, uncovering Sarah Palin’s extreme views and likely Dominionist tendencies.

So now I’m weakening — I’m once again contemplating the sick choice of the Obama ticket.  At least with Obama we are only owned by business.  We may maintain a separation of church and state.  We may not have to worry about our religous freedoms.



Northern VA Pagan Pride Day

Yesterday was fun.  I set up a booth at the Northern VA Pagan Pride Day event and got to speak with a handful of folks therapist shopping and otherwise wishing to relate their story.  Several came up to me after my workshop on trauma disorders and how they can effect or groups.  I had around 30 people sitting in on my workshop — always nice when there is interest!  A perfect day after the remains of Hurricane Hanna blew through the day before.  Thanks to the Becoming folks and event organizers for all the help setting up.


We Are Everywhere!

I got a good laugh this evening — and am strangely uplifted too. Tonight I received two emails. The first was from the full-time chaplain of a hospital. He’s been through Christian seminary, is ordained, and wants to join the Pagan Professional Counseling listserv. Turns out he’s also Wiccan and is the HP of a coven. The second email was from a newsletter editor at a Pagan graduate school apologizing for messing up her email lists and sending her local UCC church bulletin out to the Pagan grad school mailing list!

I’m both amused and heartened. I like seeing Pagans working in the mainstream. Let’s face it — there are benefits and rewards to working with mainstream, larger congregations that might keep some Pagans interested in Christian church. And — lots of luck (with a few rare exceptions) of fulfilling your dream to be a PAID clergy member or hospital chaplain if you are openly Pagan.

I wonder how many of us Pagans are quietly working to make MAINSTREAM religion a better place?

— Michael

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The Long, Long Break

Ever found yourself working 60-70 hours per week at a new job?  Then you got sick?  Then you opened a new office?  There’s no good excuse for not blogging for a long, long time but I am just swamped.  I will try to do better.  I also suspect I’ll update less often than I first intended.


Pagan Clients as a Marketplace

I did an interview yesterday with the editor of an industry newletter.  He basically wanted to know what is Paganism, how can therapists work with it, and how big of a financial market opportunity does it represent.  I’d say the emphasis was on the last question — are Pagans a big enough market to warrant specialized attention from psychotherapists?

I’m going to refrain from reposting most of what I wrote and told him because I want to see what he publishes first — it would be uncool of me to undercut his article by posting the interview contents here first.  But this does raise all sorts of interesting questions for the Pagan community and for psychotherapists.

One of the tenets often heard within psychotherapy is that an accepting therapist, who is basically familiar with a cultural group, can service all clients.   So do you think this is true?  Can a therapist who is non-Pagan, but willing to see our Paths as valid and willing to learn a bit about Pagans, service Pagan clients adequately?  Or, does the therapist need to be religiously Pagan themselves in order to understand Pagan clients?

I’d love to hear opinions.  I’ll throw out my own opinion here for what it’s worth.  At the moment I think therapists who are doing secular therapy on standard mental health problems can service Pagan clients adequately if they take some time to learn about us.  I think therapists who specifically market to the Pagan community or who want to engage in something like pastoral or spiritual counseling as well need to be religiously Pagan themselves.  One possible exception might be a counselor on a somewhat similar personal path (like say Pervian shamanism) who chooses to spend LOTS AND LOTS of time at Pagan community events and trainings really getting immersed in our culture first.

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The Gods & Ego States — How Comparable are They?

I’m struck by how many Pagans I know who are good at going into Aspect (divine possession) during rituals also have a traumatic childhood background.  Trauma in childhood is linked with all sorts of trauma disorders and dissociative experiences including PTSD and leading up to Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder).

Now I’m not saying that all instances of divine possession in Pagan rituals are not real.   That they are only an artifact of trauma.  Several times lately I’ve heard the idea batted about that children who have experienced trauma are more open to otherworldly communication & more psychic.  Of course I’ll never be able to prove this through any scientific or professional means as a psychotherapist.  Still — as a Pagan and a psychotherapist I’d really like my religious and professional worldviews to mesh and complement each other.

For more information on this idea, see all of the articles from the Spring 2007 edition of the Journal of Heart-Centered Therapies – especially the one entitled “The influence of childhood dissociative states from sexual abuse on the adult woman’s spiritual development“.

Another interesting article touching on dissociative states and otherworldly communication and creativity leading towards health can be found at a recent “Searching for Imbas” blog posting. 

I’m mulling over an idea right now that I hope proves true — because it would make my world alot easier.  I’m hoping that a parrallelism exists the paradigms of divine possession and psychological dissociative states.  In divine possession, there are “rules” — the gods are supposed to behave certain helpful ways at certain times.  They are of course unperdictable and Themselves, but the farther their behavior strays into what is considered inappropriate or destructive, the more this is discouraged and a means sought to end it.  The more its questioned if it’s really a god or something else. 

In a somewhat similar fashion, psychology usually seeks to integrate the different ego states — the different alters — of a person suffering trauma.  They are all thought to be a part of the same whole person.  They all have strengths as well as weaknesses.  Generally speaking, even the scary ones hold energy and abilities that the whole healthy person needs.  Only occasionally when an alter is too dangerous or the person is not ready does psychology seek to keep that alter — that ego state — walled off and seperate and forgotten.

So, as I work with clients who seem to fit both paradigms simultaneously, what I’m hoping to find is the following:

  • That divine possession states that seem scary actually need to be embraced and worked with, just as scary alters need to be integrated into the whole person
  • That divine possession states that must be discouraged corrispond with ego states or alters that should not be integrated and should be weakened

 I’m indulging in some hopeful thinking here because it will be difficult when I find situations where Pagan religion calls for rejecting at the same time that psychology calls for integrating (or vice versa).

 Whatever the level of divine or otherworldly communication actually present in Paganism, I do tend to think of modern Paganism, and ancient shamanic and magick systems as definitely servicing a mental health purpose as well.  So I’m hopeful the systems will mesh.

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Hypnosis and Pagan Clients

I’m struck as I look at the past few weeks at the power of trances to get to the root of the issue. Therapists with hypnotherapy and hypnosis training should be looking at how their skills overlap with guided journeying and astral travel in Neo-Pagan rituals.

One of the differences between the two is that Pagans believe their soul really is traveling to a distant realm on the astral and that the Beings that they talk to while there are real and constitute contacts outside of themselves.

But the techniques are highly similar. A Wiccan coven might decide to do a guided journey to meet an aspect of the Crone to determine what their needs are for the coming year. This might very well be done in the next month or so as this is the dark time — the time of the year where you rest up from the efforts of the past year, take stock of your gains and losses, then start planning new projects to coincide with the spring. This coven would likely invoke sacred space, dim the lights, light candles and incense, and then have members relax and close their eyes while the leader walks them through a visualization of going down a tunnel into an astral realm. There they meet a goddess and are asked to individually hear what She has to say and what gifts She gives them. The coven members are then walked back up the tunnel and bought back to wakefulness — possibly soon followed by cakes and ale (food) which further brings them back into their bodies. The experiences are often then shared (which reinforces their validity since most people had them) and helps the group support everyone in attaining what the message said they needed.

Compare this with the guided meditation I recently ran with a client (and I’ve done this or similar several times). The client is trying to figure out the proper direction to go in life. So I have the client close his/her eyes, do some deep breathing for relaxation, then I have the client walk down 10 stair steps — each step taking the client deeper and deeper into relaxation, closer and closer to the place where they can see within themselves what they most need to do. We get to the bottom of the steps and I suggest all manner of possible places they might find themselves while leaving details vague. I suggest that parts of themselves or spiritual guides might show up to help them. Soon the client is describing being in the middle of an activity that feels completely right, peaceful, exciting, and productive. We close by going back up the stairs, turning the lights on, and standing up and clapping our hands a few times to fully return to room. The remander of the session is spent discussing what first steps in the real mundane world might be taken to realistically work towards the envisioned new long-range goal.

The similarities are incredible. One protocol uses words like trance induction, deepening, and calling on inner resources. The other protocol uses words like astral travel, magick, and goddesses. I’m not saying they are exactly the same — they are the same only if you don’t believe that it’s possible to leave the body, or don’t believe goddesses can actually speak to you.

But for therapists counseling Pagan clients, using the toolsets they already believe in and have practiced can make a world of difference.

To a typical Pagan client, being contacted while in trance (on the Astral plane) by an entity or God is a religious experience. It brings a whole new level of importance to the message. The message is not “merely” from the person’s own mind — it is often a Divine message to be taken much more seriously and acted upon much more promptly. There is much greater authority and belief vested in the message.

And so we reach another choice point or ethical decision point for the therapist. If you happen to be a therapist who is religiously Pagan, this is all well and good (and ordinary) for you. If you are not a Pagan therapist, how do you feel about using techniques that may bring along a Divine message? One that you don’t really believe in yourself? Do you worry that a “Divine” message may come through that the client will feel obligated to act on that you may not feel is good for the client?

Honestly, I’ve usually found such messages to be highly useful and to the highest good of the client. I’ll leave it up to you to decide then whether higher power or the client’s own unconscious was the source.

— Michael

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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.

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Psychiatrists & Religion

My post about Friday’s workshop implied that psychiatrists are likely to be intolerant of Pagan religious views that seem too abnormal.  At least, that’s what some of the therapists at the workshop seemed to think.

 However, Kelly sent an interesting article entitled “Psychiatrists: Least Religious but Most Interested in Patients’ Religion“.  A few interesting quotes:

  • “Although psychiatrists are among the least religious physicians, they seem to be the most interested in the religious and spiritual dimensions of their patients, according to survey data published in the December issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.”
  • Farr Curlin, MD said “several recent studies have found that religiosity is often associated with improved mental health outcomes such as quicker recovery from depression. Now most training programs teach developing psychiatrists about the potentially beneficial influence of religion and spirituality on patients’ mental health.”
  • “Psychiatrists are twice as likely (46% versus 23%) as other physicians to say that patients often mention spiritual issues. They are also much more likely to both say that it is appropriate to ask patients about spiritual concerns (93% vs 53%)

I wonder what the Pagan implications of this are?  Would talking with a goddess or dancing around a fire be psychotic or positive religious behavior?

What are some of your experiences with psychiatrists?  Do you think they are tolerant towards religion in general?  Towards Pagan religions?  (Please do not post specific identifiable information about either the client or the psychiatrist — keep stories general and brief.  Thanks.)

The article can be found at:


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