Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Paranormal and psychosis

This is a followup to my previous article (Learning to become a psychic) on the former researcher of UCLA. The professor mentioned that during his years of experience running seminars in the subject of paranormal behavior, he noticed that he attracted a number of psychotic people coming to his seminars venturing to discuss with him, thereby revealing to him their abnormality. The professor did not offer any treatment advice to those folks, presumably he was not a psychiatrist nor a New Age healer. I reckon that our professor was at least disturbed by these encounters. A not unusual reaction towards the mentally ills in our society.

Paranormal in particular and spiritual experience in general is a close relative of psychosis. In the former case, visions can be managed; in the latter case, visions cannot be controlled.  The visions of both are psychological or metaphysical constructs; and both visions have the tendency to be construed as physical in the mind of the practitioner/patient (for the purpose of this essay, I shall not dwell into the philosophical question: Which reality [psychological/metaphysical on the one hand and physical on the other] is superior or more real?)

The problem is because the experience of spirituality is similar to that of psychosis, people suffering from psychosis may seek help, or perhaps seeking people with similar experience, from practitioners of spirituality. That was exactly the case with the professor.

In the past, both East and West, in cities people suffering from psychosis were locked up in their home, if their family could manage it, otherwise they would be locked up in jails or in mad-houses. Treatment was minimal, and often times inhuman. Madmen were more tolerated in the country side where people knew one another better. With industrialization, psychiatric hospitals were built with all sorts of human and inhuman treatment methods. Unfortunately most cases were incurable. And even Sigmund Freud seemed to be contended with the rather low success rate of his psychiatric treatment methods.

Nowadays psychosis is usually treated with psychiatric drugs, hospitalized or outpatient. And with the advance of more effective psychotic drugs with less side-effects, this seem to be the best option of treatment. For mild psychosis, counseling will also be used. Whereas severe psychosis will require life-long meditation (with possible uncomfortable life-long side effects), mild psychosis can be cured completely. Without proper treatment, mild psychosis can develop into full blown psychosis. Therefore mainstream medical advice is to treat mild psychosis as early as possible. Prevention of on-set is educational in nature, and therefore logically fall outside the domain of psychiatrists.

Another problem is that a person suffering from mild or full-blown psychosis is likely to refuse treatment. It is due to our cultural bias towards the condition labeled as insanity. And therefore a patient will hesitate to admit even to himself that I am insane! More education clearly needed for the general public in this area.

Spirituality and psychosis meet on another front: psychosis has been equated with spiritual possession in many spiritual practices and many places around the world. The ritual of exorcism, though a marginal presence now, is still practiced in Hong Kong,usually for treating less severe cases of mild psychosis. It is marginal and private. I have no way to compare the treatment results of modern psychiatry and exorcism. The fact remains that exorcism is an unregulated industry and therefore tends to attract crooks for their private gains. Once in a while I can read from local (HK) news that a fake exorcist (often times called himself a "Taoist guru") was put behind bar for personal gain of money and/or sex. The problem is however not limited to crooks. It was on local news recently that a pastor was put behind bar for indecently asserted a teenager during a exorcist session almost a decade ago. Since religious leaders are symbols of high moral standard, such cases are usually only brought up years after the event when the victims have grown into adulthood. Needless to say, I am not implying that the morality of our psychologists is beyond reproach.

In conclusion, our society needs to offer more help and protection to those who suffer from mental illness.

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