Though uneven, Resources for Extraordinary Healing: Schizophrenia, Bipolar and Other Serious Mental Illnesses by Emma Bragdon nevertheless offers some fascinating insights into mental wellness from a perspective not normally considered by the Western psychological community: that of spiritual and holistic health. The author discusses the Spiritist healing movement of Brazil — a model that offers patients a holistic approach to healing, with a focus on spiritual health — and then introduces us to some of the very few holistic mental health treatment centers in the U.S.
Though the book could have used a good editor and been more intuitively organized, it’s still a fairly compelling read, and offers some pointed comparisons between the Spiritist approach and the modern mainstream U.S. approach — the latter of which views mental illness as a physical disease to be medicated away despite the sometimes crippling side effects of medication.
Bragdon begins by introducing us to Gerry, an “attractive young woman” who experienced what seemed to be a psychotic break during a time of extreme stress. About four years ago, Gerry began exploring alternative forms of healing, including consulting with Bragdon, a spiritually-oriented psychologist. Now, Gerry is doing well, engaged, and intending to enter graduate school. The author writes that Gerry’s recovery was facilitated by empathy, encouragement, caring health professionals and family members, and “teachers who helped educate her about lifestyle choices.”
This approach, Bragdon tells us, mirrors the Spiritist methodology that is currently in practice in Brazil, where more than 12,000 Spiritist community centers and 50 Spiritist psychiatric hospitals freely offer “a highly effective… program of integrative care, treating the needs of the public side-by-side with conventional medical practitioners.” It’s a community-oriented, relationally-focused, holistic and welcoming model that treats the patient as a human being who has just as much insight into her illness as any professional. But it also involves some practices that the average U.S. citizen might find unfamiliar.
“According to Spiritists,” writes Bragdon, “optimal wellbeing is ours when we are 1) doing the mission that we agreed to do before coming into this life and 2) treating ourselves and others with compassion consistently.” She goes on to explain that a Spiritist “considers that a pervasive and long-lasting mental imbalance that threatens life may come because a person is rebalancing themselves after a life experience that was not compassionate or may come from having lost his/her purpose in life.”
That part may not sound unusual, save for the part about making agreements before we were born. But the Spiritist approach offers multiple techniques that a non-religious, States-bound consumer might find “out there.” These include the laying-on of hands, inspired speech and prayer, blessed water, peer support for the patient and the family (called “fraternal assistance” in the book), interactions with mediums and psychics, and a post-hospital program of study and philosophical and spiritual conversation. It also welcomes family members and loved ones to be involved.
Although it’s unlikely that the U.S. healthcare model is going to follow the Spiritist one anytime soon, and although the author doesn’t provide objective proof of the success of the treatment, what I found fascinating about Bragdon’s book is how the Spiritist approach reflects some of the insights the mainstream psychological community has come to about mental health. The differences are obvious, but the underpinnings between these two very disparate models is surprising. Some descriptions of the Spiritist approach that may sound more familiar:
“The inspired speech directs the patients to focus on the value of compassion and love, helping them recollect loving relationships they may have had or may long for, assisting them toward greater self-acceptance, compassion, and tolerance,” one description goes.
“Perhaps Spiritism has been so successful in its treatments because it facilitates individuals clarifying their life purpose and aligning with that purpose,” Bragdon posits.
“The treatment aims at working with the patients’ motivation and with their state of readiness or eagerness to change.”
Another passage describes spirits that cause negative thoughts. Taken together, these concepts of forgiveness, self-acceptance, compassion, life purpose, negative thoughts, and motivation are all vital aspects of established psychotherapy modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Buddhist Psychology, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Motivational Interviewing.
Bragdon’s book may be of limited value unless one is interested in different cultural approaches to psychological treatment. For those who are intrigued, however, it draws a compelling Venn diagram of the similarities between seemingly separate schools of thought. The author’s description of several U.S.-based holistic mental health clinics certainly gives the reader hope that there are people in the States working to change the dominant “medication-not-meditation” paradigm — even as we’re slow to accept alternative healing methods.
Resources for Extraordinary Healing: Schizophrenia, Bipolar and Other Serious Mental Illnesses
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, February, 2012
Paperback, 264 pages