Saturday, December 18, 2010

Therapist as Shaman

Shamanism appears to be the earliest form of healing that we are aware of to date.  It has existed throughout the world from Russia to Australia, from China to the Americas.  Although there is no one explanation as to how shamanism spread throughout the world, the two that are most popular today is that either shamanism began in Siberia and spread, or that it sprang up spontaneously throughout the world.  There are common aspects of shamanism found throughout the world.  They are findings of teeth, bones, feathers, bird feet, helmets with streamers, skirts with skins, mirrors, crystals, horns, drums, antlers, and statues with toungs that allow researchers to determine whether shamanism existed within a particular society.
            The shaman believes that evil spirits cause illness for the body.  They believe that they can create magic with their words and ritual actions that can drive the evil spirits from the body.  To do this, they must first protect themselves from these spirits, then enter into an altered state of consciousness characterized by a state of ecstasy.  They believe they are able to visit three worlds of reality:  The Under World that represents terror and power, The Middle World in which they see the spirits of this world among us, and The Upper World that is the world of deities.  When Someone claims that they are able to perceive those three worlds, they are having a shamanistic experience. 
                What distinguishes a shaman from a professional priest or healer, is that he is a part-time practitioner.  The training passes down individually from teacher to student.  There are no large schools which train people to become a shaman.  There are two principal ways for a person to become a shaman.  The first way is to be born into a shaman lineage and follow in the footsteps of the ancestors.  The second, and most common way, is to experience a calling for the position.  A calling is perceived by a series of events recognized by the tribe and the individual.  Such events involve:  separation, communication with other beings, ecstatic experiences, a sense they are going to be a shaman and the seeking out of a shaman to train with.
            Psychotherapists can learn much from the shaman.  The Shaman represents a multi-dimensional view of reality.  He believes that reality is a creation of the unconscious.  As therapists, we too would do well to learn how to embrace a multi-dimensional view of reality.  By understanding that there is a conscious and unconscious, as well as the different levels of the unconscious:  the world unconscious, personal unconscious, and collective unconscious, we may gain a better insight into the issues of our clients.  I have often seen a client's material world appear to match his/her personal outlook on life.  By understanding this process, which the shaman seems to know so well, we may be able to help our clients pull themselves out of undesirable real world experiences. 
            The shaman expands what is and what can be through their and their clients' belief in magic.  There are times when therapists encounter patients who are only able to see the world through a lens of black and white.  Often, a client may feel that there is no way he will ever be able to change his life.  By assisting our clients to view the possibilities of change as the shaman does with his clients, we may be able to help the client break the chains of status quo that binds him to the old and possibly self-destructive ways.
            The shaman acknowledges that she is not the one who is creating the change for the client.  She is aware that it is a greater force that she can not control, but only influence.  We too, must recognize that we are not able to change the client, but can only influence him/her with new out looks and ideas.  It is up to the client to accept what is given to her and use it in her life.  As therapists, we have no control over the client's unconscious mind.  This is a great force over which we have no control.  We may be able to assist with some influence, but we must always be as cognizant, as the shaman, that we cannot control it.
                 The shaman lives in the real world.  She holds employment outside the shaministic activities.  She does not allow her activities as a shaman to fill her with false pride, or allow her to look down on others with a sense of being superior.  It might be easy for some psychotherapists to become filled with a sense of self-importance as they watch their clients improving.  These therapists could easily become arrogant and loose touch with empathy for the client.  The shaman never forgets that she is a human being and is not above or below the client, but is able to stay in touch with the humanness of herself and the client's.  The Shaman works together with the client, as does a psychotherapist.  The shaman does not blame herself if a cure does not come forth.  The same should hold true for a therapist.  If a therapist believes too strongly that she alone is responsible for change in her clients' lives, then she may be setting him or herself up for over-involvement in a client's life and lose her objectivity.
            The shaman also protects himself before practicing his trade.  So should a therapist.  Often therapists neglect to protect themselves from a client's emotional and mental states.  Depression and anxiety are two especially contagious emotions.  There are times when a therapist comes home from the office, only to find that he is experiencing similar emotions of the client, or they just feel especially drained from a particular patient.  Shamans do not feel drained from their work.  They do not take on any of the emotional states of the client.  Shamans enjoy their work.  As therapists, we too need to protect ourselves so we may continue to enjoy our work and recognize the boundary between ourselves and our work, and ourselves and our clients.
            As part-item healers, shamans are able to keep their egos separate from the work.  Professional therapists have a difficult time keeping their egos out of their work.  The part time status of the shaman allows them to deal with the real world.  This is the world from where their clients come.  It also allows them to perceive themselves as a part of the society and an understanding of the people for whom they perform their work. 
               Therapists would do well to work part time, or at least have outside hobbies and activities that involve them out side of their careers.  By doing so, their chances of defining themselves by their careers and losing perspective life would diminish greatly.  They would then be able to maintain and enhance themselves as useful assistants to their clients.
            Both shaman and therapists provide their clients with a conceptual framework with which to work.  The clients of both come to them often with chaotic and vague distress.  Shamans explain to their clients why the client is having the experience, and what they can expect of an outcome.  Just knowing these simple "answers" can help a client begin a healing process.  As therapists, we too can assist our clients in understanding why something is going on for them and what they can expect.  It will help them to conceptualize their distress and give them hope that maybe something can relieve their discomfort.  This arouses a hope for cure.  Without a hope for cure, the client will probably not want to bother with working on their issues. 
            In order to arouse this hope for a cure the shaman creates an air of authority through the belief that she is in touch with powerful forces and fosters the belief that she will struggle with the client against the forces that cause her malaise.  As psychotherapists, we create our authority through our education and licenses.  Knowledge and experience may be viewed as powerful forces that psychotherapists are in touch with.  If psychotherapists take an approach similar to the shaman's with their clients, by fostering the belief that they will struggle with the client for change, then maybe that would encourage a closer relationship with the client allowing for depth work to take place.
            The shaman elicits vivid emotions in the client.  From the shaman's point of view, these emotions are very helpful in the healing process.  We can learn from the shaman to remember the important aspect of assisting our clients in experiencing emotions.  Psychotherapists assist their clients by leading them into the pain and exploring it.  As psychotherapists, we understand the importance of allowing our clients to experience their emotions.
             The work of the shaman should serve as a teaching guide to psychotherapists.  The shaman reminds us that the work of the mind is as much as an art as a science.  It is the art of our work that keeps us in touch with the client.  It is the art that sparks our creativity and puts us in touch with our humanity.  Like the shaman, we experience a calling that draws us to this profession from somewhere deep in our souls, beyond our physical world at the point where we are aware of our connection to all that exists.  If we take nothing else from the shaman, let us take his wisdom that we interconnect with all that exists; and we must work within its laws.  Science gives us the tools and knowledge; but art, the art of the shaman, gives us the creativity and understanding to use those tools in a way that can benefit mankind to the depths of his soul.

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1 comment:

Peta_de_Aztlan said...

Appreciate your Post Dr. Jim. I am not a therapist, though I know a little about shamanism. The ideal is to realize that the therapist needs therapy, the healer needs healing, the educator needs educating.

When we approach our chosen field of endeavor with humble honesty and an appreciation of our limitations we make room for healing to take place.

Sometimes we just have to get out of the way or respond to a higher calling.

We are mere helpers for the great healer whose source may be divine or simply self-belief in one's self being worthy of being healed ~or at least~ better equipped to deal with life on life's terms.