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Spiritual emergency and counselling: An exploratory study
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  This article was downloaded by: []On: 18 October 2014, At: 05:57Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: MortimerHouse, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Counselling and Psychotherapy Research: Linkingresearch with practice Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: Spiritual emergency and counselling: An exploratorystudy Lynda Ankrah aa  Edale House, 41, Dudley Road, Whalley Range, Manchester, M16 8FW, UK E-mail:Published online: 18 Aug 2006. To cite this article:  Lynda Ankrah (2002) Spiritual emergency and counselling: An exploratory study, Counselling andPsychotherapy Research: Linking research with practice, 2:1, 55-60, DOI: 10.1080/14733140212331384988 To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the “Content”) containedin the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make norepresentations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be reliedupon and should be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shallnot be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and otherliabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to orarising out of the use of the Content.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematicreproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in anyform to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at http: //  A personal journey A particular feature of the community in which Igrew up in Manchester was the presence of a richdiversity of different cultures and backgrounds.Although it was not openly discussed to any greatextent, I was aware that there were very differentways of talking about, thinking about, and dealingwith the physical and non-physical aspects of well-being and illness. A condition that might bethought by some to be best treated by physicalmeans, whether through medicines or surgery,might be considered by others to be best treatedthrough prayer or other spiritual interventions.The ‘miracles’ considered by some to be eventsthat happened only in the far-off world of the Bibleor the Koran were discussed (privately) by othersin ways that suggested that seeing visions, ‘talkingin tongues’, or being possessed by spirits wereeveryday occurrences in our own contemporaryreality.I myself went through a period where I experi-enced great depths and extremes of emotions andfeelings of intense affinity with nature, especiallytrees. Occasionally I would hear a voice thatseemed to speak inside my head, and have inter-nal dialogues with this other presence.When I tried to speak to people close to meabout my experiences they rapidly fell silent andwithdrew, which made me begin to lose confi-dence in myself. What had begun as an extraordi-nary experience began to develop into a ‘crisis’ inwhich I felt more and more uncomfortable. Atthat time counselling was not an option for me (Ihad never even heard of it) and people around mebegan to distance themselves from me. I soonlearned that people were afraid of what I was Spiritual emergency and counselling: an exploratorystudy Lynda Ankrah Edale House, 41, Dudley Road, Whalley Range, Manchester, M16 8FW, UKEmail: Counselling and Psychotherapy Research 2(1) (2002) 55-60ISSN: 1473 3145Published by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, 1 Regent Place, Rugby CV21 2PJ, UK Growing up in a multicultural community in England brought me into close personal contact with thebeliefs and perceptions about healing held by people of many different cultures. In many cases, nostrong boundary was seen between physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of an illness, and expe-riences of hearing voices or seeing visions were accepted as normal everyday occurrences. During mytraining as a counsellor, I came into contact with the work of Stanislav Grof on the concept of spiritualemergency, which, together with the work of African and European authors who were exploringtranspersonal aspects of psychology, provided a theoretical framework for researching how counsellorsrespond to clients wishing to explore experiences of spiritual crisis. This paper describes an exploratorystudy into the phenomenon of spiritual emergency within counselling. Questionnaires were distributedby post to people known to have been in counselling relationships, and interviews were conducted withthree informants reporting different types of spiritual experience. All respondents who completed ques-tionnaires reported having at least one of the ‘non-ordinary’ experiences classified by Stanislav Grof ascharacteristics of a ‘spiritual emergency’. Several participants felt unable to explore this experience withtheir counsellors, some for fear of being labelled as mentally ill, while others found their counsellorshelpful and sympathetic. Differences in dealing with spiritual phenomena were apparent betweenEuropean and non-European participants. These findings are discussed in relation to theory and prac-tice. Key words: clients’ experiences, culture, heuristic inquiry, race, spiritual emergency 55 COUNSELLING AND PSYCHOTHERAPY RESEARCH  , 2002, VOL 2, NO 1    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   8   8 .   8 .   8   9 .   1   9   5   ]  a   t   0   5  :   5   7   1   8   O  c   t  o   b  e  r   2   0   1   4  COUNSELLING AND PSYCHOTHERAPY RESEARCH  , 2002, VOL 2, NO 1 56 experiencing, and consequently became afraid ofme. I learned it was not okay to speak about theseexperiences and so, for fear of being pathologised,I kept quiet. I came through this period with new interest inpsychology and spirituality. As I began to meetpeople, and undertake courses of study in theseareas, two things happened. First of all, I cameacross a number of writers from within Western psy-chology who were addressing spirituality and psy-chology. The work of Jung (1963) and the laterwork of Carl Rogers (1978,1980), seemed to res-onate with me, but the work that had the greatestimpact was Spiritual Emergency  by Grof and Grof(1989). This book provided me with a language thatmade sense of my own earlier experiences, and atheoretical framework within which to furtherdevelop my interest. Above all, Stanislav Grof’s cre-ation of the term ‘spiritual emergency’, was aninspiration:“Some of the dramatic experiences and unusualstates of mind that traditional psychiatry diag-noses and treats as mental diseases are actuallycrises of personal transformation...the term spir-itual a play on words, suggestingboth a crisis and an opportunity of rising to a newlevel of awareness, or a spiritual emergence”(Grof and Grof, 1989)At the same time, through a series of conferences, Iwas introduced to the work of a group of scholarswho were working from an African-centred per-spective with the aim of re-validating traditionalAfrican psychological healing systems. I would men-tion here the work of Na’im Akbar (1984, 1994),Wade Nobles (1980) and Amos Wilson (1993), all ofwhom point out that within the African traditionthere is an emphasis on the interconnectedness ofphysical, mental and spiritual aspects of people’sexperience. I began to explore beyond the confines of aca-demic psychology, and the work of Iyanla Vanzant,for example Interiors :  A Black Woman’s Healing InProgress (Vanzant, 1995). In this book, IyanlaVanzant explores how her own personal develop-ment, in relation to both work and personal life, hasbeen influenced by her increasing connection withYoruba spiritual practices. Malidoma Patrice Some,in his book The Healing Wisdom of Africa (Some,1999), describes in detail the healing traditions ofthe Dagara people of Burkina Faso where he wasborn and grew up, which teach about how our indi-vidual health is linked to the health and well-beingof plants, animals and other people around us. Ibegan to recognise some of my own experiences inthe material I was being exposed to, whethertranspersonal psychology from a European perspec-tive or healing practices from an African perspective. By this point I had finished my training and wasworking both as a lecturer in counselling and as acounsellor within a very culturally diverse setting.Clients and students were bringing up familiar sto-ries and raising the same old issues of culture andspirituality. Because of my own experiences I feltable to respond, but with a mixture of feelings. Thisprovided me with the motivation to carry out someresearch. The key ideas which interested me were:ã Is counselling able to provide a space in whichthese personal journeys can be explored? ã How do counsellors receive people who wish totalk about voices and visions, and what are theyable to do - or not do - in response to people’swish to talk about things in their lives that theyhave experienced as ‘spiritual’ in nature? I found that a useful starting point for me was JohnRowan’s description of ‘experiencing somethingspiritual’:“Sometimes it may be experienced as inside our-selves: this is the typical experience of contactingthe real self. Sometimes it may be experiencedas outside ourselves: this is the typical experienceof contacting the transpersonal self. Sometimesit may be experienced as a total letting-go: thisis the typical experience of contacting the divine,which may be known as energy, as nature, asgod or goddess, as pure being, as the void, orwhatever” (Rowan, 1993, p3)I therefore decided to focus on spirituality as thecontent of the ‘spiritual experiences’ of individuals,in which they perceive themselves to be in touchwith forces and energies that they do not ascribe toa physical or material cause, and which are mean-ingful to them. Method In deciding on how best to explore this topic, I wasvery much drawn to the heuristic approach of ClarkMoustakas (1990). This was a methodology thatfitted well with my own beliefs, and with the highlysubjective and experiential nature of my researchtopic. I worked out a two-stage research design.The first step was to design a questionnaire, whichcontained three sections. Section One asked ques-tions about the age, religion and cultural back-ground of the respondent. Section Two exploredthe type of counselling relationship they had expe-rienced, and the context in which the respondentshad sought counselling. Section Three askedrespondents to describe their spiritual experiences,using a list based on Grof’s work, and then asked anumber of very open questions which invitedrespondents to reflect on their experiences of coun-selling. SPIRITUAL EMERGENCY AND COUNSELLING “How do counsellorsreceive people whowish to talk aboutvoices and visions?”    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   8   8 .   8 .   8   9 .   1   9   5   ]  a   t   0   5  :   5   7   1   8   O  c   t  o   b  e  r   2   0   1   4  I distributed 80 questionnaires by post to asample of eighty people whom I knew, through myprofessional contacts, to have been in counsellingrelationships. Completed questionnaires werereceived from 20 people: 18 were female and 2were male; ages ranged from 25 to 49; 13described themselves as European, while 7 wereAfrican, Asian or Caribbean. I then selected three participants for in-depthsemi-structured follow-up interviews, all Europeanwomen. (There was actually a fourth person whowas of African Caribbean background, but shewithdrew for personal reasons.) This selection wasbased on the level of detail of their response to thequestionnaire, and the range of their experiencesof counselling. The interviews were based on asemi-structured dialogue format, covering thesame areas as the questionnaire in much moredepth, and were tape- recorded and transcribed. Data were analysed using a qualitative approachbased on the method of heuristic inquiry.Although the findings reported below are basedon a small sample, and must be regarded asexploratory in nature, I found the research processinteresting and challenging, and informative to mycounselling practice. Results All 20 respondents reported having at least one ofthe ‘non-ordinary’ experiences listed at some stagein their life (see Table 1). This may be an indicationof some bias in the sample since it is possible thatpeople who could not recall any such experienceschose not to return the questionnaire at all, ratherthan send back a non-response. All of the respon-dents reported having the listed experiences overa wide range of ages, with several reporting thatthis took place over a long period of time, andmany reporting occurrences since early childhood(the earliest being at 3 years of age).Overall, 75 per cent of the respondents felt ableto bring their spiritual experiences into the coun-selling relationship, although they met with veryvaried responses from their counsellors. Three ofthe respondents (15 per cent) felt that the coun-sellor was unable to help in this area, despite beinggenerally encouraging. One commented that “thecounsellor was helpful and encouraging buttended to try and influence me with her own ideaswhich didn’t always match my experience”.Another described the counsellor as “interested,but puzzled and unable to contribute much”. Athird respondent reported that the counsellor was“encouraging to an extent but did not fully explore[this issue]”. It is important to note that no respon-dent reported their counsellor as ‘hostile’ in thisarea. In the five cases (25 per cent) where therewas an ‘unhelpful’ reaction reported and the word‘indifferent’ was also used, it is possible to explorea little further the reasons behind this responsefrom the comments made by the respondents tothe follow-up open question (“please add any-thing else you feel relevant”). One respondentwrites, “he...always wanted to interpret experi-ences in relation to emotional or psychologicalexplanations”, while another felt that the coun-sellor was “generalising in her feedback”.Despite the small size of the sample, a strongand distinct pattern emerged from the data in rela-tion to clients’ cultural background. Six out of thir-teen European clients found the counsellorhelpful, compared to only one out of seven non-European clients. Eight out of thirteen Europeanclients got a positive response from their counsel-lors, compared to two out of seven non-Europeanclients.For the respondents who felt they did get sup-port from the counsellor, the responses were verypositive, for example one reported that “coun-selling was my saviour...”, while another observedthat counselling had been “.. .a seminal experi-ence... began to discover the real me at thistime...”Comments from people who reported the coun-sellor as ‘unhelpful’ included one client who wrotethat “..I was left with a feeling of felt so limited... there were ultimately noexplanations but the onset of either madness ordementia...”, and another who reported that her“counsellor’s cultural understanding was too lim-ited to European ways of seeing and interpretingthe world of spirit...” 57 COUNSELLING AND PSYCHOTHERAPY RESEARCH  , 2002, VOL 2, NO 1 SPIRITUAL EMERGENCY AND COUNSELLING Table 1: Reported spiritual experiences Number ofType of experienceresponses% Strong inner knowing840Visions735Feeling an energy presence 630Hearing voices525Connections to plants/ trees/animals420Losing contact withthe material world420Feeling at one withthe universe420Past life memories420Out of body experiences315Talking in tongues15 Note: N>20 because each participant could identify asmany items as they wished.    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   8   8 .   8 .   8   9 .   1   9   5   ]  a   t   0   5  :   5   7   1   8   O  c   t  o   b  e  r   2   0   1   4
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