The following interview is part of a “future of mental health” interview series that will be running for 100+ days. This series presents different points of view about what helps a person in distress. I’ve aimed to be ecumenical and included many points of view different from my own. I hope you enjoy it. As with every service and resource in the mental health field, please do your due diligence. If you’d like to learn more about these philosophies, services, and organizations mentioned, follow the links provided.
Interview with Catherine Lucas
EM: What is the Spiritual Crisis Network?
CL: The Spiritual Crisis Network (SCN) is a UK charity that comes directly out of personal experience of psychospiritual crisis, both mine and others who were involved in setting it up in 2004. The year before I had been through a brief crisis that was so intense I ended up in a wheelchair for a few days because my legs gave way.
I felt we needed to raise awareness and understanding about the complex relationship between ‘madness’ and mysticism. The SCN offers information and support, mainly by email, to those going through crisis, as well as to family, friends and professionals. There is a team of volunteers, some who have personal experience, some professional expertise and some combine both.
There are many equivalent organizations around the world that have also grown up out of transpersonal psychology, including the Canadian Spiritual Emergence Service, the US Spiritual Emergence Network, and other SENs in countries from Germany to Australia and more.
EM: You’ve written a book called Coping with a Mental Health Crisis: Seven Steps to Healing. What are some of your top headlines and tips from that book?
CL: That a mental health crisis can be a wake-up call, our psyche’s attempt to heal itself; that it can be an opportunity for healing and growth, given the right understanding and support.
I look at mental health from the perspective of transpersonal psychology, that branch of psychology that brings together present-day psychological theory and research with ancient spiritual wisdom.
Every crisis holds the potential to be deeply transformative. To help others fulfill that potential, I’ve identified Seven Steps to Healing. From taking responsibility for our healing, to reaching out for support, from finding the right health care professionals to focusing on success stories, the steps are very practical and do-able. At the same time, if we really engage with them, they are radical and life-changing.
When we take an integrative approach to mental health care we can combine the very best of mainstream options with more holistic modalities. I encourage people to create their personal path to wellbeing by exploring which approaches work for them, from Mindfulness and Open Dialogue to transpersonal psychotherapy, homeopathy, family constellations and more.
Because I’ve completely turned my life around I know others can too. The book is my encouragement to find the deeper meaning to our mental health struggles, to think outside the ‘illness’ box. When we’re able to drop the ‘illness’ label that’s when healing and growth become possible.
EM: You’ve also written the book In Case of Spiritual Emergency. What would you like to share about that book?
CL: In Case of Spiritual Emergency (Findhorn Press) was my first book and explores the relationship between breakdown and breakthrough in much more depth. For me, pinning psychiatric labels on a process that is about healing and awakening is not that helpful; it misses the point.
All my work comes directly out of my personal experience and what we’ve learnt through the SCN. So with In Case of Spiritual Emergency I outline the Three Key Phases of moving successfully through spiritual emergency into emergence:
Phase 1 – Coping with the Crisis – getting through the worst of it and staying safe.
Phase 2 – Making Sense of It All – using the Hero’s Journey to help us integrate all we’ve been through.
Phase 3 – Going Back Out Into the World – taking our learning and gifts into our everyday lives, sharing with the wider community and being of service in some way.
The key tool I recommend for getting through the worst is mindfulness. When I was in crisis and ended up in the wheelchair, I discovered how powerful mindfulness can be in such situations. By then I had been meditating for a number of years and I was able to watch the antics of the mind, to see how fear was impacting on my thinking. A direct consequence of that was deciding to train to become a mindfulness teacher. There’s a chapter in the book which details how mindfulness can help when we’re going through spiritual emergence(y), especially with grounding and coping with the fear as the ego dissolves.
Other chapters look at the relevant research and at various well-known mystics and creatives who have been through the process, such as St Teresa of Ávila, Carl Jung and Eckhart Tolle. I had a lot of fun researching that section, going through manuscripts in the British Library!
EM: What are your thoughts on the current, dominant paradigm of diagnosing and treating mental disorders and the use of so-called psychiatric medication to treat mental disorders in children, teens and adults?
CL: I personally don’t feel comfortable with terms like ‘mental disorders’ or ‘mental illness’. I do my best not to use them. I see our mental health struggles and distress as signs that there is healing work to do, that our psyches and souls need tending to.
It’s now crystal clear, thanks to the work of people like Robert Whitaker in the USA and James Davies in the UK, that whilst medication has its place, the only thing it can possibly hope to do is control symptoms, rather than offering any long term healing. When we look at the extraordinary stories of people like Cathy Penney (see Dr. Daniel Dorman’s Dante’s Cure) we can see that in fact it is possible to live full, rich, fulfilling lives, completely free from symptoms and totally free from medication. So many of us are living proof of this. For me, it’s about learning to manage sensitivity, not symptoms.
Fortunately, a lot of us are now moving beyond the current paradigm. The medical model is no longer enough to create the kind of healing our society needs. In the same way that Newtonian physics is no longer enough to explain the laws of the universe and has given way to quantum physics, so the current paradigm is being replaced by a broader, more holistic understanding.
There is an exciting new initiative to bring together all those individuals and organizations who want to see this new paradigm replace the old with a more humane, holistic and healing approach to mental distress: the Alliance for Revisioning Mental Health.
EM: Can you tell us more about that?
CL: The initiative has come out of the work of UK clinicians such as psychiatrist Russell Razzaque and psychologist Isabel Clarke, who have both been featured in this interview series. I’ve been asked to coordinate the Alliance, bringing my perspective of peer support. The project is brand new and hasn’t been launched yet. At the moment we’re doing the preparation work, laying the foundations. Our thinking is that there are so many influential individuals and organizations who are now working towards this, that together, speaking with one voice, we can have a much greater impact.
The focus of the Alliance for Revisioning Mental Health is not on criticizing or attacking what isn’t working, but rather on presenting alternative therapeutic approaches that are so appealing and compelling you simply can’t argue with them. Mindfulness, Open Dialogue and psychotherapy are just some of the more obvious ones. These are the kind of healing modalities I cover in my latest book, Coping with a Mental Health Crisis, so this new role as Coordinator of the Alliance is the perfect next step for me. The Alliance’s approach ties in beautifully with the message of that book, that there is a different, better way of helping those in mental distress.
So many individuals and organizations are now working towards this. Together we can build a movement that will change the face of mental health. It’s already happening and this interview series is just one manifestation of that!
EM: If you had a loved one in emotional or mental distress, what would you suggest that he or she do or try?
CL: I have had a loved one in severe distress. I was able to help them get through the worst of the crisis by using simple mindfulness techniques to help them to keep coming back to the present moment. Every time they spiraled off, panicking about the future and what was to become of them, I got them to focus on the here and now, through the physical sensations of their body and their other senses. Despite them having no previous experience of mindfulness, it helped cope with the fear and anxiety of the crisis enough to get through the worst couple of days.
I’d like to also reflect here on my own experience of what has helped me when in distress. I’ve been through at least three periods of acute crisis in my life, the first of which landed me in hospital, on an acute psychiatric ward, and the other two that resulted in a complete transformation of my entire life.
The one thing that made the biggest difference between first ending up in hospital and later being able to reclaim my life was, in the later crises, having people around me supporting me who validated rather than pathologized what I was going through. In other words, people who didn’t label me as ill, who were not afraid of what was happening; people who believed in me, who believed in the potential of crisis to be transformative.
Catherine G Lucas is an author, teacher and speaker on the subject of mental health and spirituality. She brings conscious activism to her role as Project Coordinator for the new Alliance for Revisioning Mental Health. Catherine is also Founder of the UK Spiritual Crisis Network, a Mindfulness Trainer and author of two books, with two more on the way.
Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of 40+ books, among them The Future of Mental Health, Rethinking Depression, Mastering Creative Anxiety, Life Purpose Boot Camp and The Van Gogh Blues. Write Dr. Maisel at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit him at http://www.ericmaisel.com, and learn more about the future of mental health movement at http://www.thefutureofmentalhealth.com
To learn more about and/or to purchase The Future of Mental Health visit here
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