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Shamanic techniques as a model for Earth-based psychospiritual interventions
PsyD graduate student David Christy wrote a scientific scholarly paper about shamanic techniques as a model for Earth-based psychospiritual interventions. Spiritually oriented psychology seeks to foster mental health and overall wellbeing using techniques derived from clients’ faith traditions (Richards & Worthington, 2010). Most of the research in this field has focused on interventions rooted in Abrahamic traditions or on increasing spirituality in general (Hook et al., 2010). This paper argues that culturally congruent psychospiritual interventions are needed for people with earth-based belief systems. It then presents shamanic techniques as examples of interventions well suited for psychotherapy with these populations. This paper provides (a) an introduction to spiritually oriented psychology; (b) proposes that there is a need for earth-based psychospiritual interventions; (c) examines shamanic techniques and associated health outcomes; (d) overviews psychological mechanisms that may underlie these practices; (e) examines areas for future research; and (f) discusses ways these techniques could be integrated into a spiritually oriented therapeutic practice.
According to Gallup (2002) polls, the U.S. population is becoming increasingly spiritual and religious: approximately 95% of the United States population reported belief in God, and more than half believe in an after-life. The religious and spiritual beliefs of the public are also becoming increasingly eclectic – 24% of the overall public indicated they sometimes attend religious services of a faith different from their own, and nearly half of the public has reported having had a religious or mystical experience, up from 22% in 1962 (Pew, 2009). Psychologists have studied the roles religion and spirituality (R/S) play in people’s lives for some time; recently the field has begun to pay greater attention to how R/S can positively impact mental health and facilitate growth. In an early article arguing for this scientific examination of R/S, Miller and Thoresen (2003) linked R/S variables with health outcomes, discussed how to operationalize the terms and advocated for further research into this area of psychology.
Miller and Thorsen (2003) described spirituality and religion as distinct but related constructs, characterizing religion as a primarily social phenomenon and spirituality as an individual’s engagement with the sacred. Miller and Thorsen’s article presented an objectivist approach to studying R/S. This approach assumes that the phenomena studied (e.g. religious and spiritual beliefs) can be examined as external objects independent of the observer. The approach also assumes that a systematic analysis of R/S phenomena will lead to universal conclusions. Objectivist approaches are often contrasted with constructivist approaches. Constructivist approaches study human behavior within the contexts and relationships in which it occurs, assuming that that the phenomena studied cannot be separated from the observer (Parks, 2003). Many authors have advocated including constructivist approaches to working with spiritual and religious issues, especially when working with people from religious and ethnic minority groups (McCabe, 2007; Parks, 2003; Yeh, Hunter, Madan-Bahel, Chiang, & Arora, 2004). Harley (2006) discussed the need for health care models that embrace both paradigms, noting that the biomedical model is “not well equipped to analyze the experiential or political dimensions of health, especially those of indigenous healing knowledge embedded in alternative epistemologies” (p. 436).
Therapists working with these populations, or with clients holding earth-based and eclectic R/S beliefs need to be able to provide culturally congruent interventions. Counselors should be aware that clients who embrace shamanic techniques may also utilize other spiritual practices, rituals, and work with faith healers as a part of their healing. Therapists who wish to understand the belief systems of such clients might look to the theoretical framework of participatory empiricism as a way of understanding how energy work, rituals, or shamanic journeys done by others may help their clients in their healing process.
Research is beginning to show that using these techniques on their own can result in increased health outcomes. To date the studies examining the efficacy of these techniques have been small and these findings should be seen as tentative until more research has been conducted.
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