A shaman’s view of mental illness

in this very interesting article,Jayson Gaddis reprints an article by Stephanie Marohn (featuring Malidoma Patrice Somé)
(Excerpted from The Natural Medicine Guide to Schizophrenia,
pages 178-189, or The Natural Medicine Guide to Bi-polar Disorder)


Stephanie Marohn presents an alternative view of mental illness with a protocol for accepting and understanding mental illness from a shaman’s point of view. This particular tradition seems to come from an African village, which is unspecified.

This study takes one case review of the benefits a traditional healing had on a young man diagnosed with schizophrenia.  This young man went on to pursue an advanced degree in psychology after experiencing healing through ritual and acceptance in the village community.

The horrors that individuals with mental illnesses are subjected to in the western culture’s attitudes and medical protocols are described.  This is contrasted and compared with the acceptance and integration of the person with visions and what the western world will call hallucinations offered in an indigenous culture.

In this culture, a person with mental illness is considered to be a “healer in the making” and is being approached by a spirit and is treated with respect.  Rituals are performed in which to help the new “healer” to integrate the spiritual entity and the teachings it has for the individual and the community at large.

The reason someone is chosen by a spirit is due to the highly sensitive nature of that particular person.  Sensitivity is considered to be a positive trait in this culture as contrasted with western culture’s disdain.  It also indicates a need for protection and expression through rituals.

Though the study is limited, the concept of how to be more humane, loving, and find more effective methods for dealing with mental illness in the western world is important.  Protocols which show compassion and help a person integrate more fully into community are definitely needed.  Not using the label “mental illness” and finding language which is supportive in nature, as addressed in the article, is a necessary step.


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