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DSM-IV Religious and Spiritual Problems

LESSON 3.6 Psychic Experiences
Table of Contents

Description Psychic Experiences & PsychopathologyAssociated Clinical problemsTreatmentCase ExamplesWWW Library

Psychic experiences are extrasensory occurrences, such as:

clairvoyance (visions of past, future, or remote events)
telepathy (communication without apparent physical means)
poltergeist phenomena (physical disturbances in a house with no apparent physical cause)
precognition (visions or dreams that provide formerly unknown information)
Synchronistic events (meaningful coincidences of two apparently (in terms of cause and effect) non-related events)

Psychic experiences occur in other forms of spiritual emergences, such as shamanic crises, kundalini, and mystical experiences, but in the Psychic Experience type of spiritual problem, psychic events are the central feature of the person's experience.

Psychic experiences are also associated with many spiritual paths and altered states of consciousness. In yoga and Buddhism, these are referred to as siddhis. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Buddhist Abhidhamma include specific practices that are purported to lead to the development of psychic abilities, but practitioners are taught that these are distractions from the true path of spiritual development.

While the scientific status of psychic experiences has been the subject of much debate, there is no question that most people have such experiences. Gallup polls [1] show that a majority of the population have extrasensory experiences, and the percentage is increasing (from 58% in 1973 to 67% in 1986). Unfortunately both sensationalism (in tabloid media) and commercialism (fee-based psychic hot lines) are associated with this topic, but extrasensory perception has also been the subject of scientific research for 100 years, and continues to this day. (see Rhine Center for a history of scientific research)

Psychic Experiences and Psychopathology
Some types of psychic experiences are considered to be abilities, such as Medical Intuition: The ability to perceive the subtle energy around another individual. This psychic ability is taught in workshops by therapists like Caroline M. Myss, PhD who is a medical intuitve.

Jerome Frank, PhD, former Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins and considered one of the most influential theorists about psychotherapy, also considers psychic abilities to play a role in psychotherapy:

My own hunch, which I mention with some trepidation, is that the most gifted therapists may have telepathic, clairvoyant, or other parapsychological abilities. . .They may, in addition, possess something. . .that can only be termed "healing power." Any researcher who attempts to study such phenomena risks his reputation as a reliable scientist, so their pursuit can be recommended only to the most intrepid. The rewards, however, might be great. (Persuasion and Healing: A Comparative Study of Psychotherapy)

However, psychic experiences are also reported by people in psychotic and dissociative experiences. Thus, differential diagnosis is a key issue. The therapist needs to know about the variety of ways that psychic phenomena can manifest and how people cope with them

To acquaint yourself with the range of psychic experiences, visit the story archives, which has dozens of first person accounts of "normal" people's psychic experiences such as telepathy and clairvoyance.

Associated Clinical Problems
Confusion and the fear that "I'm going crazy" are common reactions to spontaneous psychic experiences. In Psychics' Fears of Psychic Powers, Charles T. Tart, PhD. has described how people can become quite fearful upon the awakening of their intuitive abilities. People also report feeling isolated from others because theyare afraid to talk about these experiences with their friends and family.

Many people who have had psychic experiences are able to integrate them without any professional help. But some do seek out a therapist for assistance in understanding such events and coping with their reactions to them. Arthur Hastings, PhD [1 ]suggests that,

The focus of this counseling, given therapeutic purposes, rather than research purposes only, should be to assist the person to a experience of balance, integration, and judgment relating to apparent or genuine parapsychological experience. (p. 143)

He describes 7 steps in working with someone who has had a disturbing psychic experience:

  1. Ask the person to describe the experience or events
  2. Listen fully and carefully, without judging
  3. Reassure the person that the experience is not "crazy" or "insane" (if this is appropriate)
  4. Identify or label the type of event
  5. Give information about what is known about this type of event
  6. Where possible, develop reality tests to discover if the event is genuine or if there are non-psychic alternative explanations
  7. Address the psychological reactions that result from the experience

This approach is very congruent with the treatment approach outlined in Lesson 6.2 Psychotherapy, particularly the therapist's role in normalizing spiritual emergence experiences.

Case Examples
The Terrifying Amherst Poltergeist story archives has dozens of first person accounts of people's paranormal experiences.

WWW Library of Religion and Spirituality
The WWW Library of Religion and Spirituality contains articles on parapsychology, interviews with Francis Vaughan, PhD on awakening intutition and with Arthur Hastings, PhD on channeling, as well as a link to the Professional Parapsychological Association.

1 Gallup, G., (1987) The Gallup poll: Public Opinion 1986., Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources.
Hastings, A. (1983). "A counseling approach to parapsychological experience." Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 15 (2): 143-167. p. 143.

Psychic Experiences

Psychic experiences are an indicator that a person is in the midst of a psychotic episode.


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Therapy with Psychic Experiences

In therapy, a person's psychic experiences

a) should be put on extinction b) should be considered a spiritual experience c) should be investigated in therapy for what it means to the client

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