Shamanism and PTSD

I found this nifty article about core shamanism and PTSD over at Letters from Hardscrabble Creek. This makes me very hopeful, as PTSD treatment is something I want to do some research on once I have my counseling degree. (Neo)shamanism fits quite nicely into ecopsychology–in fact, the first anthology on ecopsychology includes an interview with Leslie Gray, who created what she calls “shamanic counseling”, a hybrid of core shamanism and counseling techniques.

“But wait, Lupa, I thought you didn’t like core shamanism! Why are you singing its praises?” you may ask. Yes, I have some practical differences with core shamanism that lead to me not wanting to practice it myself as a (neo)shaman. However–and this is a big however–I’m also not going to be so territorial that I refuse to pay attention when something I may not incorporate into my own practices is showing significant results for others.

PTSD is different from a good number of mental disorders. It doesn’t respond to many common therapies in the same way that other disorders, such as depression, do–talking openly about what happened can trigger flashbacks and other symptoms which may be very severe. And, of course, as with anything, individual patients may respond differently. So it can be a lot tougher to treat than many other things.

Many core shamanic practitioners strike me as prioritizing the psychological and other technical aspects of what they do than the relationships with spirits, the latter of which is what I put first. However, in this case, the emphasis on psychology and healing seems to be exactly what hits the spot for some PTSD patients. Granted, I would really like to see formal research on it–anecdotal evidence is a good start, but if someone has published research on it, I’d definitely want to get hold of it. And I’d want to know about the long-term results as well, since I don’t believe in instant fixes. I’ve contacted Sacred Hoop Ministry, the folks mentioned in the article to get more information, because this does make me curious.

There is part of me that’s really curious as to whether non-core shamanic soul retrieval would have similar effects, for better or worse. Would one be more effective than the other? Would it depend on the patient? Or is it simply different ways of doing the same thing? This is in light of the fact that the views on journeying may be very different–Harner stated that the shamanic state of consciousness is safer than dreaming, while most non-core shamans paint the Otherworld(s) as a much more dangerous place.

Still, if it works, then I’m not going to complain about particulars. Despite my preferences and biases, ultimately I’m mainly concerned with what achieves changes for the better. There are too many serious problems that need solutions for us to be spending too much time arguing over things that may not ultimately be all that important.

8 thoughts on “Shamanism and PTSD

  1. I originally started studying core shamanism as a way to help with PTSD, and it did (and does) work, for me anyway. I’m somewhat interested in learning more about this, but just for my own use; I’m not called to work with others that way.

  2. There are some things in that article that disturb me. Things stated like absolute truths: ‘talk therapy only re-traumatises PTSD patients?’ Uh, no, sorry it doesn’t. It CAN. It can be very problematic; but it can also be a source of phenomenal healing.

    I resent any ‘healer’ who needs to put down or dismiss other healing modalities out of sight and out of mind, just because that’s not the primary healing technique they choose to use. And it would be deplorable if they told PTSD clients some of their absolute truths at their healing circles. That could potentially be more damaging than healing.

    It makes sense to help PTSDers to reconnect with their spirituality. One of the big symptoms, particularly in C-PTSD, is a destabilisation of and loss of spirituality. But as this is a symptom, unless these people expect that they can cure a symptom before the root cause in all PTSD clients, PTSD clients are not all going to jump on a spirituality bandwagon. Many feel utterly deserted by and abandoned by ANY god, all gods, all energy, regardless. And some are angry at even being told to try that possibility.

    Spirituality can help with PTSD, but I think the way these folks are going about it is very problematic; and narrowed. I speak from a biased perspective, I have PTSD, and I wouldn’t go to that spiritual circle because I don’t like folks doing the whole ‘this form of therapy doesn’t work, but mine does!!!’

    Also, when one considers that new research is showing that with some PTSD clients the most healing part of therapy out of any healing techniques is simply a trusting, therapeutic alliance – doing shamanic groupwork may not be the way to go for some.

    I’ve done / performed soul retrieval for clients with PTSD – I prefer working with clients with PTSD and that’s where the spirits push me, (non-core shamanic, of course), and it can be very successful. But, I firmly believe that the client should also be or have been in therapy, and should be in a place where they’re willing to process the results of those retrievals with me. It can be a long, ongoing process – and taking on PTSD clients in shamanism is not just a case of a soul retrieval followed by no aftercare; in fact I think the aftercare may be the most important part of the process, to prevent refragmentation.

    The other thing this article states is that things work VERY quickly – but are they actually maintaining after care on their clients? Have they chased them up, 6 or 12 months later? Have they found out how well this work holds after additional ‘current’ trauma or conflict?

    I’m cutting and pasting this to your therioshamanism journal too. *smiles*

    Good post! Definitely provides much food for thought.

  3. Cissa – *nods* Sometimes all we really need to do is work for ourselves.

    Ravenari – I was hoping you’d respond. You bring up some really good points, some of which are why, while I’m happy someone is trying things in this vein, I’m still cautious.

    I think part of the problem with treating PTSD is that, like so many other disorders, there’s no single cause or manifestation of it. Additionally, it’s not as well-understood, particularly among the populace at large, as things like, say, depression. One of the reasons I’m probably going to focus on depression rather than PTSD in my thesis is that I don’t have nearly as good a handle on the latter, and given that a year from now I’ll be doing research, I honestly don’t think that’s enough time (amid all my other school work, including the summer semester) for me to get a good grasp of it.

    I am hoping that the folks in the article that I emailed can provide me with more solid information. If not, then this is a potential area of research down the line. One of the things about ecopsychology in particular is that most of the material on it is purely theoretical, and runs heavily towards “We need to think this way as psychologists and as humans, not the way we’ve been thinking”. There’s not a whole lot of actual research involving techniques and experiments yet–which is why I’m going for the M.S. instead of the M.A.

    If I hear more, including on the long term effectiveness of this, I’ll post what I can here. I think there are very strong possibilities for ecopsych, shamanism, and PTSD treatment (as well as treatment of other disorders), but I want to have something more solid than a single article.

  4. I think an ecopsych approach can have a lot of benefit for many folks with PTSD, and part of the geilt paradigm is getting out into the wilderness so you can be with yourself. Caution is always necessary because, as you point out, PTSD doesn’t have a single cause and it manifests differently in different individuals and in different cultural ideations. A reservation-raised Native American sun dancer veteran with PTSD is going to react to it and treat it differently than a Christian black woman living in the city who has PTSD as a result of poverty, rape, and child abuse.

  5. Erynn–I know I need a better understanding of PTSD before I start thinking of applying any theories to it. My understanding at this point primarily comes from anecdotes from a very limited number of sources, but I think once I know more overall I can start digging in this direction. One thing I’m concerned about, for example, is using wilderness therapy, taking folks out to wild places for therapeutic purposes; I’d be concerned that some people might be triggered by agoraphobia, or the stress of being in an unknown situation, or in some cases of military veterans being in a situation that reminds them of combat situations. And the effectiveness of the ecopsych itself, as you bring up, will depend on the background of the person. Some people are simply more resistant to the great outdoors than others; and cultural differences affect treatments across the board, regardless of what therapy is used. Of course, this is generally true, but my impressions of PTSD is that it is a particularly pernicious phenomenon.

    However, as you mention, for other people this may be exactly what’s needed. Between the article I posted, and the comments I got, it’s becoming more apparent that there would need to be a good bit of background work done between me and a client before implementing something that’s as intense as a wilderness outing, or a soul retrieval, or other potentially dramatic activities.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

  6. Thanks for this. I am in the process of finally healing from PTSD after many, many years of talk therapy and while I would agree that talk therapy can help a lot, it never brought me complete healing. I needed soul retrieval, something that is helping to bring me into wholeness. But I needed therapy to help me create a sustainable, loving environment inside me to bring my soul parts back.

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