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Psychosocial Implications Of The Shadow Andrew Powell
Quantum Psychiatry - Where Science Meets Spirit Powell
Putting the Soul into Psychiatry Andrew Powell




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Psychosocial Implications Of The Shadow

© Dr. Andrew Powell

      The aim of this paper is to give a psychotherapeutic interpretation of humankind's seeming compulsion to turn against its own self as a species and commit endless self-harm. My perspective is one of working for thirty years with individuals, families and groups who have come for psychotherapy to extricate themselves from patterns of destructive behaviour and the misery that goes with it. The consulting room might seem a long way from the killing fields cast by the shadow of mankind. But as the twig is bent, so grows the tree. Society at large mirrors the mental turmoil in each one of us.

The beginnings of culture
      I'll start by observing that on the one hand we are as Gods, while on the other hand we are very much animals still. Our gift of consciousness, which transcends the physical world, has to live with a brain and body geared to the evolution of the hunter-gatherer and the basic survival mechanisms of fight or flight. This is hardly surprising when we consider how recently language and culture have evolved.
      It is thought that Homo erectus first appeared some 1.5 million years back. One notable achievement of Homo erectus was to harness fire, around 300,000 years ago. Not only did this enable food to be cooked, it also protected against wild animals. Our progenitors could relax in safety, in tribes or clans around the fire and begin the process of socialisation and culture. As little as 100,000 years ago, the blink of an eye on the evolutionary timeline, Homo sapiens discovered the miracle of language. To this day we can see how it began, as a mother reaches out to her baby with voice and gesture and the infant responds in kind.

The mind of the infant
      How does the infant mind start to form? To begin with, the mind has no constructs with which to organise information arising from the world of sense perception and a baby's experience of consciousness may well be something akin to what sages and mystics know as 'the ground of all being'. A sublime expression of this state of wonder is found in Gerald Finzi's cantata 'Dies Natalis' or 'Day of Birth' 1 set to the words of the seventeenth century poet Thomas Traherne.

Sweet Infancy / O hevenly Fire! O Sacred Light! / How fair and bright!
How Great am I / Whom the whol world doth magnify!
O hevenly Joy! / O Great and Sacred Blessedness / Which I possess!
So great a Joy / Who did into my Arms convey?

      The infant mind very soon begins to be structured by experience. Pleasure, and pain too, initially mediated by body sensations but then extending to the mental world, shape the behaviour of the little person. Without mother (or the care-giver), the child would be in acute danger of physical or mental catastrophe.2
      The good mother keeps traumatic impingements to a minimum but to some extent they are part of life. Colic, chafed skin, bumps on the head; how does the child manage these inevitable mini-traumas? In fact, children can cope remarkably well with all manner of adversity provided they feel inwardly secure. Anxiety and discomfort can be tolerated when experience has taught them it will not be forever, just for a little while. Soon help will be on hand, best of all, a parent's love and concern.

The origin of the Shadow
      What if that same child is growing up in a world that does present serious threats to its survival and where there is little or no comfort? Firstly, the child dares not express healthy aggression because if it does, it will be punished. As it happens, the worst form of punishment is not a physical beating but threat of abandonment. The crucial developmental step taken by the higher mammals and primates especially is the intimacy and duration of the parent-infant bond. Parents have no idea of the emotional impact of shouting 'you do that again and I'll leave you right here!' The fear of abandonment will lead children to suppress all their anger and grievances while submitting passively to shocking abuse, just so long as they don't get thrown out.3
      Secondly, the child has to find a way to get rid of unbearable psychic pain so that equilibrium can be restored to the child's ego. This is carried out by a variety of psychological defence mechanisms, 4 best collectively understood in terms of specific coping strategies.

Defence mechanisms
      Everyone has defence mechanisms on board. They are rather like a trip switch in an electrical circuit. Overload triggers the switch instead of burning out the circuit. A vulnerable and insecure child with a fragile ego cannot tolerate fluctuations in emotional tension. Instead, the child relies heavily on its defence mechanisms to protect it. By contrast, the more that love, protection and understanding have been given to a child, the more stable and resilient its inner world comes to be. Accordingly, it learns to handle emotions with confidence and not to anticipate disaster. Defence mechanisms still come into play in the event of major trauma, but the ups and downs of daily life can be managed well enough. Numerous defences have been identified but I need only describe the key ones here.

      Repression is the defence most people have heard of. The traumatic event is simply split off from consciousness and buried, out of sight and out of mind. But it is still there ten, twenty, fifty years on, for so long as it lies concealed, the imprint of the trauma remains as powerful as the day it was laid down. We see this with child sexual abuse, where terrifying flashbacks may occur for the first time during lovemaking in adulthood. But the problem can be compounded by the unconscious choice to engage in an abusive adult relationship. It often transpires in such cases that deep down, the child was left with guilt and shame, or a sense of badness, and years later unconsciously selects a partner on the basis of 'I'm not worthy of more' at best and 'I deserve to be punished' at worst. The reality we create for ourselves is usually the one we half expect.

Splitting and Projection
      The defence of splitting and projection is one we often see parents aiding and abetting in small ways. A child trips over a chair and starts to cry. 'Naughty chair', says the grown up and even gives the chair a smack. The child is comforted, since it obviously must have been the chair's fault and the child is not to blame. The problem has been split off and projected into the hapless chair! This game does no harm to a healthy toddler and its self-esteem, which had momentarily collapsed, is quickly restored.
      Projection is not necessarily defensive. We know that what we see is always coloured by how we feel, for the world is not a thing apart but part of us. We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are.5 When we project love, we can find beauty in all of creation. There is no splitting, for we are happy to feel ourselves part of it too. But when we project anger, it makes the thing bad, 'not-me'. Me good, chair bad! Splitting has put that bad feeling outside of me, where I can kick it, smash it up, run away from it or enjoy watching it on television in the form of other people's misfortunes.
      Children begin making categorical judgements about good and bad when they are still very small. Parental input is needed to soften the harshness of those early judgements. Children have to learn that justice needs tempering with mercy and grandiosity with humility. This is where the action of love is required.
      When we see pathological splitting at work in the adult, we regularly find a characteristic feature, that such persons hold their opinions with absolute certainty. Ambivalence is to be avoided at all costs in case it leads to inner confusion.
      Now the capacity for ambivalence requires us to tolerate conflicting impulses, feelings and ideas, for example, selfishness and generosity, love and hate, right and wrong. It means owning the problem as your own and coming up with a mature solution. It often results in having to bear with a degree of frustration, accepting that you cannot have your cake and eat it. It means loving others and yourself as well, while knowing your faults and failings, and those in your loved ones too. As a developmental achievement, ambivalence gives us the capacity for introspection and depth of personality. Where would Shakespeare be without it!
      Unencumbered by such introspection, people prone to splitting often make charismatic, if immature, leaders because of their conviction in themselves and the rightness of their view of the world. The enemy 'out there' is ruthlessly attacked and any attempt at conciliation is seen as a sign of weakness and scorned - a scapegoat must be found! The dynamic operating here requires that if an enemy cannot be found, one will have to be invented. This can lead to paranoia - the cold war mentality - while to question such a leader's authority is felt as an act of betrayal.

Manic-defence and Idealisation
      The combination of self-idealisation and denigration of other is known as manic-defence; the need for power and triumph over others is understood psychoanalytically as a defence against helplessness and depression.
      An alternative way of dealing with weakness and vulnerability is to attach yourself to someone you see as all-powerful and who can be made the object of idealisation. But if that person should let you down, the fall from grace is precipitous and he or she is now seen as public enemy number one. Immediately the search is on for a replacement to become the new hero and saviour. The hallmark of this dependency situation is the expectation of getting rescued from without, rather than learning how to rescue oneself.

Relationships and Projection
      Splitting of the ego can take place without projection, as in the case of multiple personality. More often, splitting is accompanied by projection into something or someone else.6 It can be an object, as in the example I gave of the child and chair, but projection is frequently directed at people. Hate, for instance, can bind a couple as powerfully as love. People say, 'why not leave?' as if it was the obvious thing to do. But then who would be left to hate? You might discover it was yourself you hated all along and end up contemplating suicide. (This is why paranoia and depression are two sides of one coin, depending on whether the hostility is directed outwards or inwards).
      Sometimes projection systems are mutual and complementary. Take the husband whose wife gets depressed. Until they are seen together, the wife would seem to be the one needing treatment. But closer investigation shows that the husband's anxieties and fears are inadmissible because he was brought up never to show vulnerability. Unconsciously the wife takes on the role of the carrier of these emotions for the both of them. And she, let us say, was brought up to believe that the woman must give support to the man. So, she projects the inadmissible aspect of herself, her own strength, into her husband, where it fortifies his self-esteem. Sometimes such relationships work out well enough. But when the roles become embedded, there is usually trouble, since neither of them are being truly themselves. They are likely to do better if seen for therapy as a couple.

A brief note on ego development
      Defence mechanisms inevitably develop as the growing child finds out how to protect its sense of personal identity. Two early markers of a child's ego development are worth noting. One is the ability to say no, which comes well before the child learns to say yes. This is a crucial step, for the child is establishing a sense of its own, separate being. The other milestone, which holds lifelong significance, is the discovery of the personal pronoun, 'mine', coming way ahead of 'yours'. 'Mine' is a four-letter word with devastating implications for human society
      The advent of the human ego is something of a two-edged sword. Without it there could be no development of will, no mastery of the environment and no spur to emotional and intellectual growth. The ego ideal 7 which first arises in every child based on its love and admiration for its parents, later acquires a prohibitive function ('I said no!') as parental injunctions are internalised. Sigmund Freud called it the superego.8 Having a conscience means learning to set limits for oneself as a self-governed individual with a capacity for moral introspection.
      At the same time, this separating out of self from 'other' presents an existential challenge for every child, for where there is emotional instability, healthy competitiveness can easily turn into destructive rivalry, admiration into envy and need into greed. These negative developments arise when the child continues to experience a core sense of threat, feeding the need for power. Look at what happens in school playgrounds every day, up and down the land. Unless a protective and respectful culture has been established by the teachers (and for which parental support is also needed), we find everywhere the same struggle for power that William Golding wrote about so chillingly in 'Lord of the Flies'.9

Identification with the aggressor
      In the blackboard jungle, a child who is perceived as weaker than others is fated to be bullied, often ruthlessly. On investigation, the psychological mechanism is always found to be the same and we can readily understand it in terms of projection and splitting. Anna Freud named this defence mechanism 'identification with the aggressor'. The bully comes from a disturbed background. He or she has experienced what it means to be a victim. Now there is a chance to turn the tables; the child takes on the characteristics of the abuser, relishing the feeling of power. But what is to be done now with the split-off victim aspect, which has never known love and sympathy? The bully must get rid of this Achilles heel at all costs, so the name of the game is to find someone weaker, into whom this hated aspect of the self can be projected and then attack it out there, in the other. We call this scapegoating, but in its more malignant expression, it can lead to murder.
      Such is the danger when, for defensive purposes, 'other' has to be treated as alien to self. It highlights the crucial task facing the child in being helped by parents and teachers to develop the capacity for empathy, to learn to understand what could be going on in the mind of the other. It is our good fortune as a species to be hard-wired for this kind of learning (neuro-psychologists call it 'theory of mind'). Unfortunately, for a small minority, the hard-wiring doesn't work - autistic children are severely handicapped by the inability to put themselves in the mind of anybody else and consequently, the world of the autistic child is completely self-centred.10

      In effect, the same psychological endpoint is reached when defence mechanisms come to dominate the workings of the inner world. Humans then show no compunction in seducing, bullying or manipulating others into doing what they want. It is also of note that few such people regard themselves as bad. This leads to some bizarre situations, for instance some mass murderers would seem genuinely to have been conscientious and loving parents.

      This brings me to the last term I want to include, the defence known as denial. The facts may be staring a person in the face, yet what they signify cannot be grasped. Some patients really don't want to face that they have cancer. The unexpected death of a loved one is another case in point - the shock is so overwhelming that the defence cuts in and the person simply cannot take in the bad news. Such denial is usually temporary. But in other situations, like admitting responsibility for genocide, the denial may be lifelong and buttressed by all manner of justifications and rationalisations. Should such denial break down, the outcome can be fatal. Franz Stangl, who was commandant at Treblinka, was later interviewed by Gitta Sereny weekly for about a year.11 In the last interview, he admitted to some degree his responsibility for mass murder. Nineteen hours after this last interview, he died of a heart attack.

Group processes
      I have been illustrating how the pathological use of defence mechanisms can operate in the individual case. Now let us look at some of the consequences for human society.
      When we consider groups, we see the collective emergence of the same mechanisms that apply to the individual. However, the group situation adds a whole new dimension and to help conceptualise this, I want to include another term coined by Freud, called 'transference'.12

      Transference refers to the way in which we unwittingly transfer the emotions we have felt towards key persons in our formative years onto other people and into other situations. Typically, it is not uncommon for someone with a domineering father to have difficulty, years on, with the boss at work, since unresolved rebellious emotions surface and get in the way of a good working relationship. Or if a child never felt sure of the parent's affection, it may be left excessively anxious to please when grown up. Or else, if the children in a family had desperately to compete for the parents' love, poor peer relationships may well result later, since rivalry rather than co-operation still feels like the only way to succeed.
      These unconscious patterns surface because the archetypal constellation of the family is always being activated in the group situation.13 But just as the saying goes, 'blood is thicker than water', when there is an external threat, people will sink their differences to join forces against the common foe, like a family under threat. The leader of the group becomes the object of intense transference projections, for he or she now carries the 'ego-ideal' for all, be it cause or crusade, religious uprising or political ideology.14 Special sanctions are dispensed in the name of the cause, like permission to kill other people. The 'us and them' dynamic, lurking only just beneath the surface at the best of times is now legitimised, while propaganda ensures that the enemy is thoroughly vilified. (The army knows how dangerous it is to allow fraternisation).
      Once the rules of normal civilised behaviour have been suspended and killing is approved, a profound taboo has been lifted; little wonder that rape and other atrocities are commonplace. In some cultures, it is explicitly held that taking a life is strong magic against losing your own. This would be another example of manic-defence, in which the person triumphs over death by projecting his own fear of death into the other, and then exultantly destroying it out there, in the enemy.
      The larger the group, the more individual identity is swept aside.15 Football matches are a fairly harmless case in point. Group cohesion is vested in the favoured team - a secular ego ideal that for some is as powerful as any religion; indeed it becomes the religion. It has been argued that in a society in which so many feel alienated and estranged, to have such opportunities to unite with fellow man must be a good thing. Clearly a deep need is being met, otherwise football would not hold such appeal.
      Because transference reactions have their roots in the hopes and fears of childhood, they tend to be extreme in character, inherently unstable, riding on a wave of emotion and not much amenable to reason. Politicians know how fickle the mood of the electorate can be, and how suddenly disillusionment can set in. Or looked at the other way round, how quickly it can happen that a popular leader is felt to become a persecutor and a tyrant. Democracy may be a wonderful thing but, the world over, leaders and led get caught alike in the dynamics of the dependency relationship. Every child needs guiding and protecting. Yet as it grows, it resents being controlled, the more so as the idealisation of the parent is replaced with a keen perception of the parent's fallibility. Parents are usually hurt by this biting of the hand that feeds, just as politicians usually end up feeling wounded by the slings and arrows of the electorate. In the family of origin, the solution is to leave home. In a totalitarian state, the solution is literal repression and the attempt is made to expunge individual memory by re-writing social history. In a democracy, we elect a new government and with the help of splitting, projection and idealisation, fresh hope springs anew.

The dominance of emotions over intellect
      In the evolution of civilisation as we know it, war has played a big and perhaps indispensable part. Until now, the planet has been sufficiently large, and the weapons of mankind sufficiently limited, to allow each nation to go on behaving as if it was the epicentre of the world. Yet, even the most rudimentary knowledge of the geography and history of the planet shows this to be patently untrue!
      We find the same egocentrism mirrored at every level of social structure, in each community, each family, and each couple, down to each individual self. We must conclude that there is a profound discrepancy between emotional reality and intellectual comprehension. For instance, study of the earth's ecosystems clearly shows that to survive as a species, we urgently need to devote ourselves to caring for spaceship earth, which means confronting the problems of pollution, deforestation, arms proliferation, conflicting ideologies, and social and racial injustice. Yet, from the emotional standpoint we have not advanced very much beyond the world of the child, which experiences itself as the centre of all things. This is the field of action of our defence mechanisms, which develop in the early years to shield the young human being from anxiety and fear, long before the intellect is able to grasp the meaning of the big picture. Nor can these defences be simply extracted from the human ego, for they are deeply woven into the ego and its limited view of self-in-the-world.

Good and Evil
      The developmental psychology I have outlined so far does not address the question of good and evil. Indeed, psychology claims to be a science supposedly independent of moral value judgements, seeing good and evil as best left to philosophers and theologians to argue about. In fact, psychology has all sorts of built-in assumptions about what is good and bad, usually implied by integration of the psyche (good) versus fragmentation (bad), as well as placing a value on the importance of truthfulness, the relief of suffering and the goal of happiness, to name but a few.
      Since we live in a time when whole countries are being castigated as 'the axis of evil', I had better offer my own working paradigm for good and evil before I discuss the psychology of the shadow any further. I don't think psychology needs to stand back from the question of good and evil. In our world of sense perception, structured in four-dimensional space-time, everything is experienced by way of its polarities. This is embodied in the ancient Chinese symbol of the Taiji, where yin and yang entwine within the circle.16

      Dark is dark because it compares with light, inside is contrasted with outside, bigness with smallness and, more abstractly, pleasure compares with pain, love with hate, right is distinguished from wrong and good from evil. We therefore know good because we know evil too, just as there can be no light without shade.
      Scientific materialism, which has been in the driving seat for some three hundred years, argues that our awareness of good and evil, like everything else in our consciousness, is just a by-product of the activity of the brain. (Materialists haven't worked out why consciousness was required in the first place but since it exists, it is presumed to be playing its part in the Darwinian scheme of things). So, from the standpoint of materialist psychology, through projection of the ego ideal we invent a God of goodness, who is supposed to protect us like a loving parent. At the same time, by means of splitting and projection, we invent the Devil so that we can keep the badness outside.
      While Freud has taught us a great deal about defence mechanisms, applying the reductionist approach to spirituality is completely outdated. Instead, we have a new cosmology derived largely from quantum physics during the last century. It suggests that we live in a multidimensional cosmos comprising a gigantic hologram, out of which our physical universe unfolds in the dimensions of what we know as space-time.17 Since the process is not static but flowing, the physicist David Bohm used the term holomovement to describe this flux between the hidden and the revealed, what he called the implicate and explicate orders.18 Since in a hologram the whole is contained in its entirety within the part, it follows that humankind carries and faithfully reflects the image of the greater whole. On this basis, what we experience as consciousness is nothing less than the hallmark of a self-aware universe.
      The most radical claim of quantum theory, incredible though it may seem, is that through the action of human consciousness (what is known as the collapse of the wave), we physically materialise our four-dimensional universe of space-time and everything it contains.19 What is more, our search for meaning is not a luxury but a necessity, for meaning is the bridge between consciousness and matter. This is a great undertaking on behalf of creation, in which we are instruments of the supreme consciousness we call God.

Living in our own Shadow
      If this is our God-given task, how come the folly and wisdom of humankind exist cheek by jowl and why should the impact of hatred and violence be allowed to jeopardise our very existence? My own view is that it could hardly have been otherwise. Our history suggests that Homo sapiens is still at a very early stage of evolution. Just as Neanderthal man was superseded by Homo sapiens, (indeed they co-existed during the last Ice Age), perhaps the next stage will be the emergence of Homo spiritus.20 But we are not there yet; too much of our consciousness is deployed in fight/flight mentality. And while love and compassion go about their business with a minimum of fuss, the ego-defences shout out from the rooftops; repression, splitting and projection, manic-defence, idealisation and denial have noisy consequences since the human ego is given to much posturing and self-justification.
      Herein we have a deep ethical quandary. There can be no solution to injustice through repression of violence, or retaliation, for however much the retaliatory strike is seen as a lesson in deterrence and a ridding of evil, the act of retaliation draws the offender and the offended against into the same behaviour. Where there was one bully in the playground, now there are two. How could any real progress ever result? Nor is overcoming these ego-defences easily achieved. First, by their nature they work through the unconscious so that they fly in the face of reason. Second, a vicious circle is invariably established; interactions based on threat and counter-threat intensify the operation of defences. Maintaining the ego ideal means having right on one's side. How else could one man's terrorist be another man's freedom fighter?

Integrating the Shadow
      Carl Jung was deeply concerned with how humankind maintains its sense of goodness, what he called the persona, at the cost of getting rid of all those unwanted aspects of the self, which he named 'the Shadow'. While Freud was busy working out the structure of the ego and its defences, no one had grasped the implications for humankind as a species. Jung saw with dreadful clarity how the Shadow falls on humankind and spares no one.21

      Jung concluded that unless a way could be found to integrate the Shadow within the psyche instead of projecting it, humankind would be forever doomed to act out the shadow in all arenas of life, personal, national and international. Jung saw this maturational task as the crucial challenge for humankind. He called the process 'individuation' in the sense of becoming indivisible, a unity, and thereby whole. Jung believed that this potential is found not in the ego but in the Self, which he described as 'not only the centre but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the centre of the conscious mind'.22 This means that healing, which comes from wholeness, can never be accomplished by the activity of the ego. Only the Self, embracing the psyche of both the individual and the collective, holds the key. Jung saw that the Self has the power to accept and contain the internal splits and factions within the psyche because its prime concern is with totality and completeness. From the true perspective of the bigger picture, the squabbles of the ego can be managed as you would manage an unruly child.
      There are three implications. One is that the Shadow can be lived with as part of one's humanity, as part of oneself, instead of being inflicted on others. The concerns of the ego need to be accommodated, for we never entirely outgrow childhood. But we don't have to remain the victim of childhood when we see it from the perspective of the adult.
      The second implication is that individuation is not merely an intellectual exercise but a path of transformation for the emotional and spiritual development of the psyche. Overcoming the limitations and distortions of transference-driven emotions is to become self-sovereign, to experience freedom for the first time.
      The third implication is that the collective aspect of the Self is more than interpersonal; it is transpersonal and makes one creature of all humankind. Jung wrote that '…what is divided on a lower level will reappear, united, on a higher one'.23

      All great leaders of peace movements and spiritual and religious faiths express these characteristics of the larger Self. They are not concerned with advancement of the personal ego; on the contrary, their guiding light is humility. They are indifferent to their own status while dedicated to the welfare of others. They eschew all violence. They give love without reserve, unconditionally, and inspire love in return. As to hypothesising about the exact balance of good and evil, such leaders don't pre-occupy themselves with philosophising. If the drama being played out on the world stage is such that some humans are bent on destruction, all the more reason to throw your weight behind creativity. If there is a collision of values, be steadfast in holding to one's own without standing in judgement over the other.

The ethic of interconnectedness
      Change through acceptance of self and of other is alien to most of us since our reflex mode as an emergent species is defence and attack. So what does acceptance actually mean? It does not mean condoning behaviour we believe to be hurtful and harmful. We can distinguish between the behaviour and the human being that is driven to act destructively. It does mean recognising that not only do we need to share the same planet, the same air, the same water; we also participate in the same unitary consciousness of the greater Self.24 Acting out the impulse to destroy makes absolutely no sense once we have grasped this essential point.25 When we put aside the fortress mentality of the ego and see how the Self extends to comprise one living, sentient consciousness, to shoot another is only to shoot oneself in the foot! This realisation brings ego and the Self into line; individuality and commonality are two sides of one coin.26 What is most personal is universal.
      If humankind is to have a future, a quantum shift from the ego and its defences to the Self and its inclusive vision is urgently required. What will happen to the Shadow? It will always be acted out in the playground of childhood, since the ego must have its day. But retrieving the Shadow is the object lesson of spiritual education. And while owning our own Shadows doesn't make us into murderers, it helps us find compassion for those who take life and never realised it was their own they were taking.

1. Finzi, G. (1939) Dies Natalis EMI CDM 7 63372 2
2. Winnicott, D.W., (1962) 'Ego Integration' in The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment London: Hogarth Press 1979
3. Bowlby, J. (1973) Attachment and Loss, Volume II, Separation: Anxiety and Anger London: Hogarth Press
4. Freud, A. (1936) The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence London: Hogarth Press 1976
5. Nin, A. (1969) The Diary of Anais Nin 1939 - 1944 New York: Brace and World
6. Klein, M. (1957) Contributions to Psycho-analysis London: Hogarth Press 1950
7. Jacobson, E. (1964) The Self and the Object World International Universities Press, Inc. New York
8. Freud, S. (1923) 'The Ego and the Id' Standard Edition Volume 19 London: Hogarth Press
9. Golding, W. (1962) The Lord of the Flies Faber and Faber
10. Baron-Cohen, S., Tager-Flusberg, H., Cohen, D. (Eds) (1999) Understanding Other Minds: perspectives from autism and cognitive neuroscience Oxford University Press
11. Sereny, G (1974) Into that darkness London, Andre Deutsch.
12. Freud, S. (1920) 'Beyond the Pleasure Principle' Standard Edition Volume 18 London: Hogarth Press
13. Foulkes, S.H., (1964) Therapeutic Group Analysis London: George Allen & Unwin
14. Freud, S. (1921) 'Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego' Standard Edition Volume 18 London: Hogarth Press
15. Kreeger, L (ed.) 1975 The Large Group - Dynamics and Therapy Maresfield Reprints. London: H. Karnac Books
16. Guo, B., Powell, A., (2001) Listen to Your Body - the Wisdom of the Dao University of Hawaii Press
17. Talbot, M. (1991) The Holographic Universe HarperPerennial/HarperCollins
18. Bohm, D. (1980) Wholeness and the Implicate Order London: Ark
19. Goswami, A. (1993) The Self-Aware Universe New York: Putnam
20. Bache, C (2000) Dark Night, Early Dawn State University of New York Press
21. Jung, C. (1961) 'Confrontation with the Unconscious' in Memories, Dreams, Reflections London: Fontana 1993
22. Jung, C. (1943) 'Individual Dream Symbolism in Relation to Alchemy' in Psychology and Alchemy Collected Works, Volume 12: 41 London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1953
23. Jung, C. (1942) 'Paracelsus as a Spiritual Phenomenon' in Alchemical Studies, Collected Works, Volume 13:189 London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968
24. Lorimer, D. (1990) Whole in One London: Arkana. Penguin
25. Walsch, N. (1998) Conversations with God, Book 3 Vancouver: Hampton Roads Publishing
26. Powell, A (2000) 'Beyond Space and Time: The Unbounded Psyche' in Thinking Beyond the Brain (ed. Lorimer D). Floris Books

© Andrew Powell 2002

Dr. Andrew Powell is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist who has held consultant and senior academic appointments in London and Oxford. He is founder chair of the Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (see

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Quantum Psychiatry - Where Science Meets Spirit

©Dr. Andrew Powell

A fish said to another fish, 'Above this sea of ours there is another sea, with creatures swimming
in it - and they live there, even as we live here.' The fish replied, 'Pure fancy! When you know
that everything that leaves our sea by even an inch, and stays out of it, dies.
What proof have you of other lives in other seas?'

Kahlil Gibran - The Forerunner

Most psychiatrists regard mental disorder as caused by a disturbance of brain chemistry, a view strongly supported over recent years by advances in the neurosciences. There is also good empirical evidence that psychological stress can initiate changes in brain chemistry. This has strengthened the development of a bio/psycho/social model of mental disorder, in which genetic and dynamic factors combine. Yet the fundamental question of what constitutes 'mind' remains unanswered, for mind has no physical substance.
      The general view is that mind is epiphenomenal, meaning it is secondary to the function of the physical brain. The brain is thought somehow to generate consciousness. This is not a logical proposition, although it sounds reasonable enough. How can something non-physical be created by something entirely physical? Yet it is an everyday assumption in a world based on the idea of a mechanical, material universe, in which the five senses are held to be the only reliable source of information.
      I am going to be arguing against this physicalist view of the world, which started with Rene Descartes and Isaac Newton three hundred years ago. Descartes established the golden rule for empirical science, that nothing would be held to be true unless it could be proved to be true and Newton laid the foundation of a mechanical universe, in which time is absolute and space is structured according to the laws of motion.
      From this time, the split between religion and science began to widen. The Church could no longer claim to understand how the universe worked and the spiritual and physical worlds drifted apart. During the 19th century, the new science of psychology helped redefine the mental world in secular terms. Sigmund Freud (1927) saw religion as a massive defence against neurosis and even Carl Jung, despite his own spiritual journey, limited himself to defining the soul as 'the living thing in Man, that which lives of itself and causes life' (Jung 1959:26).
      Psychiatry is set on proving its bona fides as a science equal to any other, and little attention has been paid to spirituality. Yet a survey carried out by the Mental Health Foundation (1997) showed that over fifty per cent of service users hold religious or spiritual beliefs they see as important in helping them cope with mental illness. They also said they don't feel free to discuss their beliefs with the psychiatrist. I have found that psychiatrists, who privately acknowledge the importance of spirituality, often feel reluctant to embark on such talk with their patients because it is outside of their training in medicine, psychiatry and also psychotherapy (Powell 2001).
      The impact of the Newtonian world-view has been immense. Our scientific model of the psyche has no place for the soul; there is nothing before birth and nothing after death. Everything has to be understood as arising from within this temporary, physical existence, with the human self the only source of consciousness. We are all separate beings, bounded by the envelopes of our skin and moving around in a fixed, impersonal, three-dimensional universe utterly indifferent to our comings and goings. Little wonder that depression is the ailment of the modern world. In the first five years of Prozac coming onto the market, over ten million prescriptions were handed out (Kramer 1994).

Quantum Consciousness
      Yet Newtonian science was first knocked off its perch seventy years ago. With the birth of quantum mechanics, the view that our physical world is solid, fixed and independent of mind was shown to be untenable. For example, the famous wave-particle experiment demonstrated that when a beam of light is shone through a single, narrow slit, sub-atomic packets of light called quanta strike the detector screen like miniature bullets. Change the apparatus to two parallel slits and the light passing through generates a wave interference pattern, like ripples crossing when two stones are dropped side-by-side into a pond. Particles become waves and waves become particles. Both 'realities' have equal validity and cannot be divorced from the observer/participant. Behind wave-particle duality doubtless lies the realm of the wavicle. This is just the start, for superstring theory suggests that there are many more dimensions than our local space-time can accommodate.
      Electrons are no longer conceptualised as particles spinning around the atom like a miniature solar system. Instead, the electron is smeared throughout the whole of space as a quantum wave, which only collapses as a particle into our physical space-time when a conscious observer makes a measurement. Nor can the velocity and position of the electron ever both be known at the same time, for when the quantum wave collapses, there is only a statistical probability that the electron will turn up where it is expected. It may just materialise hundreds, thousands or even millions of miles away. When it does so, it arrives at that place in zero time. Both space and time are bypassed. Here are quotes from three eminent physicists:

      'The fundamental process of nature lies outside space-time but generates events that can be located in space-time' (Stapp 1977:202).
      'Ultimately, the entire universe (with all its particles, including those constituting human beings, their laboratories, observing instruments, etc.) has to be understood as a single undivided whole, in which analysis into separately and independently existent parts has no fundamental status' (Bohm 1983:174).
      'The universe exists as formless potentia in myriad possible branches in the transcendent domain and becomes manifest only when observed by conscious beings' (Goswami 1993:141).

      The quantum realm and the physical universe, which arises out of it, is all one undivided, unitary whole. More extraordinary still, it would seem to be our conscious participation that brings the physical world into being.
      When consciousness collapses the wave function into three-dimensional space-time, mind and matter arise simultaneously, like two sides of one coin. The result is what we call reality, in both the personal and collective sense. Each one of us is self-aware, since we are connected with the total field of consciousness, and from this individual vantage point we bring about repeated further collapse of the wave function. The process can be compared with how the individual frames of a film flow together to create movement. In this way, we are continually generating what we take to be 'reality', which we experience both as an internal mental space and all around us in the form of the external, phenomenal world.
      The external world is remarkably stable, which gives the impression that it exists quite independently of us. When you return home after a day's work, your house has not gone missing. This is because the probability wave that your consciousness collapses as you turn the corner, materialising your house for you, has been generated by all conscious beings throughout all time. Short of some unforeseen calamity, your house is still standing there much as you left it.
      Yet consider for a moment those rare and unforeseen happenings we call miracles. Since the wave function contains (in potentium) all that exists throughout all of time, there is in principle no limit to what is possible. A mind of unique power can collapse the wave uniquely, in one famous instance turning water into wine.
      Quantum effects show up most readily at the sub-atomic level, but research into large scale systems (Schmidt 1987) has revealed that random number generators will, over thousands of trials, show a trend towards high or low, correlating with the mental intention of the experimenter. These studies have been replicated, so we can say with certainty that mind affects matter. It has also has been demonstrated that experimental subjects who are emotionally attuned can synchronise their brain waves at a distance from each other (Targ and Puthoff 1974). Mind therefore influences mind at a distance, be it near or far.
      During the 1970's and 1980's, remote viewing experiments funded by the US Military at the Stanford Research Institute yielded 'hit' rates of more than a billion billion to one against chance (May 1988). The mind can 'travel' to distant target sites and report accurately what is to be found there. Precognition has now been firmly established on an empirical basis (Radin 1997). The mind therefore operates not only beyond space but also beyond time.
      The efficacy of prayer has been researched (Byrd 1988), as have more than one hundred and fifty controlled studies on healing with humans and plant life (Benor 1992, 2001). The remote intention of one mind at a distance can promote healing and health in another.
      But there are negative implications to be considered. One military operative in the previously cited remote viewing programme blew the whistle on the project when he was coerced into taking part in remote influencing experiments (Morehouse 2000). It follows that sorcery and witchcraft can no longer be dismissed as working merely through the mechanism of suggestibility.

Multidimensional Awareness
The direct cognisance of other dimensional realities is, of course, clothed with the projections of the human mind, as the extensive literature on the near-death experience shows (Fenwick 1995). Yet to attribute everything to projection would be to make the same kind of mistake as did the pre-Copernican astronomers, who were convinced the sun must surely circle the earth.
      Our problem is that we cannot see the big picture - just like the story of the fish with which I started. Many of us take it on trust that the ultimate consciousness we call God knows what is going on better than we do; at least we are aware of a reality greater than ourselves, unlike the ant that goes about its business oblivious of being watched by the likes of us - or so we think!
      What does all this suggest for the practising psychiatrist or psychotherapist? It is not that the neurosciences are invalid, or that developmental psychology has got it wrong. We just have to take care not to mistake the part for the whole. The linear timeline that marks us out from birth to death is but one axis in a multi-axial cosmos. The limits of perception, sight, sound, touch, smell and taste do not define what is real. Let us appreciate our special senses for what they are - indispensable tools for negotiating three-dimensional space-time.
      The quantum domain has its antecedent in Plato's Theory of Forms. The difference is that we now have a scientific account of the probability wave and the infinite potentia it enfolds. But does this mean that anything goes, that we can all claim to be 'right' about anything and everything?

Consensus Reality and the Paranormal
Out of the history of civilisation has emerged what is known as consensus reality - a framework of values and judgements in which religion, science, culture and education all contribute to a coherent world-view. We diagnose mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression not in a vacuum but with reference to this consensus reality. Individually each person is sovereign over his or her inner world, for good or ill. But one man's truth is another man's delusion and if we participate in social reality, we have little choice but to live with the consensus truths that feed our belief systems. We absorb these belief systems unconsciously, although they deeply influence how we make sense of what we perceive.
      Now I want to link the two arenas of consciousness I have mapped out. On the one hand we have the perceptual world of consensus-reality; on the other, the unlimited, beyond-time-and-space function of consciousness, which gives rise to what in the West we call the paranormal.
      For many people, awareness of the eternal and the boundless remains largely out of sight and out of mind. This is probably for a good reason. Consciousness embodied in the human species is largely occupied with a continuous flux of thought and emotion taken up with the challenge of getting through life, and for most people this is more than enough!
      It is as though we have around each one of us a semi-permeable membrane, providing us with a dwelling place for the ego and which delimits the world of sense perception. Without such a boundary, we would merge into unitary consciousness - a case of all waves and no particles! Because the membrane is permeable, we can leave the ego at home and journey beyond space and time. This leads to wholeness or fragmentation, depending on the degree of stability of the psyche. Release from a well-balanced ego through prayer or meditation is one thing. It is quite another to try to hold onto one's identity in the course of a psychotic breakdown. If the membrane becomes porous, there is an uncontrolled outflow of consciousness with a terrifying loss of self. Equally disturbing is the experience of being intruded upon by other energies or entities.
      In health, there is a balance to strike between the mind operating as a classical Newtonian instrument obeying the laws of cause and effect, and as a quantum instrument unfettered by space-time and which opens us to paranormal phenomena. In so-called primitive societies, this latter function is used for the therapeutic tasks of healing, divination, soul recovery and spirit release, to name but a few. The spirit world is understood to interpenetrate our own and the shaman undergoes an arduous training to enable him to enter an altered state of consciousness in which he converses with spirit, be it plant, animal or human, every bit as real as in everyday life (Castaneda 1998).
      Living in industrialised nations distances people from such experiences. In the UK, for example, the spiritualist movement, which arose in the nineteenth century, was attacked on a number of counts. The phenomena ran counter to the prevailing scientific culture; nor were they amenable to the research methods of the time. There were a number of fakes who were gleefully exposed and, not least, the spiritual implications were an uncomfortable challenge to the Church. We have had to wait over a hundred years for the right research tools to be developed, aided by new scientific paradigms and daring anthropological fieldwork (Narby 1998).
      Nevertheless, in our society today there are, as always, healers and mediums who are sensitive to other realities. Typically, they suppress this awareness during childhood because they learn it is risky to be known to be different to others. Later, there is considerable relief when they find they are not alone. Psychiatrists get a particular slant on people with such heightened sensitivity. They easily get labelled 'borderline' and their sensitivities are seen as pathological. Perhaps this is not surprising, since the psychiatrist only gets involved when something has gone seriously wrong.

Soul Dramas
When a good few years ago I began working with healers, I could see that there was indeed an overlap with the borderline state, except that the healers were not ill, or in mental distress. They had learned how to tune their sensitivity to what are called subtle energies so that they could work in the service of others. Healers also initiated my experience of other times and places beyond the bounds of sense perception. I have written on this topic elsewhere (Powell 2000) but I will mention briefly how it happened to me, since such things can come as a bit of a surprise if they are not expected.
      It was a group meditation, which started with a guided fantasy. We had to imagine ourselves walking in a field in the countryside on a summer day. Then we were asked to look around until we saw something that attracted us and to go over and take a good look.
      I found myself standing before a majestic and mysterious tree. It had the appearance of a giant redwood and soared up into the sky. As soon as I came close to the trunk I began ascending rapidly, as if going up in a fast lift. I shot past the top of the tree and suddenly I was scrambling up a rocky outcrop. Instantly I knew what was going on. This was Arizona, the year was eighteen forty-eight, my name was Tom McCann and I was being hunted down by a raiding party of Apache Indians. I heaved myself up onto the flat top of the rock. I could hear the Indian braves a short way below and I knew they would get to me in a couple of minutes and have my scalp. I pulled out of my pocket a worn leather wallet and gazed for the last time on the picture of my wife and two young daughters. Then I took out my gun, put the muzzle to my head and pulled the trigger. There was no sound and no impact. I simply found myself floating peacefully up and away from the body lying on the top of the rock. There had been no sense of invention or contrivance. The scene had unfolded in real time, and all I could do was go through it as it happened.
      The experience can be interpreted in several ways. Was this a soul drama woven from the archetypes of the collective unconscious? Did the theme of loss of loved ones, and of life itself arise, as with dreams, in response to a problem I had not consciously recognised? If so, then the contents are part of the Self, in Jung's meaning of the term.
      I went on to explore a number of 'other lives' with the help of a Jungian colleague and there were recurring themes of loss, which I could readily identify from my life at the time. This might suggest only the projection of emotions into a number of different scenarios unconsciously selected by me for the purpose. Alternatively, these projections might comprise no less than the working out of one's karmic account, as taught by the Hindu and Buddhist faiths.
      Indeed, we now have to take into consideration Professor Stevenson's work on reincarnation, including studies on birthmarks at the site of an injury such as a gunshot wound, which had ended the preceding life. The children interviewed had vivid recollections of their former lives and some could accurately identify members of the deceased's family, whom they had never previously met (Stevenson 1997).
      A third and middle way might be to see the scene as summoned from the quantum domain, by means of sympathetic resonance with the person's current psyche. We collapse the wave at the very point where it most powerfully attracts us. It also has a bearing on the question of the continuity of personal identity, so dear to our hearts, beyond this earthly realm. Could it be that once we move entirely beyond space-time - perhaps 'the point of no return' reported in the near-death experience - we re-enter the wave and remain suspended in the virtual state until the wave is collapsed by another, super-ordinate consciousness? Is this where God the creator comes in? Then we'll get actualised all over again, although we should not be surprised if other worlds await us. Our Father's house has many mansions, we are told.
      Out-of-body excursions to other times and places are not advisable for people who have shaky reality testing. On the other hand, symptoms that are inexplicable, such as can be the case with phobias like fear of water, sometimes resolve with a single session. The scene of the trauma - drowning, for instance - can be re-visited and the therapist enables the client to take leave of the body with release and relief, instead of fear and pain.

Influences from other Realms
The most common mental disorder is depression and it comes in many guises. A young woman came to see me feeling unwell, 'not herself'. She was clinically depressed, with disturbed sleep and loss of energy and concentration. Anti-depressant medication had helped to some extent but she was still 'not herself'.
      I was struck by her use of the phrase. Going into the background, I learned that a few months before the symptoms began, a friend of my patient had killed herself in my patient's home, having been staying there while my patient was away on holiday. By the time she got back, everything had been tidied up and the funeral had already taken place.
      From a psychological perspective, this tragedy could certainly have affected my patient more than she knew. And yet, as we went on, I felt there was something unexplained here. Thinking of how she had twice said she was 'not herself', I asked her if she had the feeling of someone else when she had came back home. She replied that she hadn't wanted to mention it in case I thought she was mad, but every time she went into the house, she had the strong feeling that her friend was right there in the room with her. She couldn't shake it off; it was almost physical.
      One way to receive such information when it is offered is at face value - that in this case the earthbound spirit of her friend was still present and probably unable to leave the scene of suicide. We discussed this possibility and I asked my patient if she would like us to invite the spirit of her friend to the consulting room and see if we could get some more information. My patient was willing to try, so I asked her to close her eyes, tune in to her friend and trying letting her friend speak through her. It was easily done, and we soon had the details of the suicide.
      The spirit of her friend went on to express deep regret at having taken her life. I explained that she could make no progress by staying on and that it was having a bad effect on her friend, who had been generous enough to lend her home to her. She hadn't realised this and apologised. 'If only I had known', she said, 'what I know now. I was facing the biggest challenge of my life, what my whole life had been leading up to, and I went and messed it all up. I feel even worse than I did before'. I said I was sure other opportunities would be given to her. She was very relieved to hear this and we talked for a short while about her hopes for a new life ahead. Then she said she was ready to move on. I asked her to look for the light, (which is the first step, and often all that is needed). She looked around, then exclaimed with a smile 'Yes, I can see it' and left at once. My patient immediately felt the burden lift from her and she went on to make a full recovery.
      Was this a projection of my patient's inner world? I would say both yes and no, since I hold the view that the psychological world is intimately related to the spiritual universe.
      My last example summarises a case study by a colleague, Dr. Azuonye, which I was delighted to see published in the British Medical Journal (Azuonye 1997). In 1984, a previously healthy woman began to hear a distinct voice inside her head. It said ' don't be afraid. I know it must be shocking for you to hear me speaking to you like this, but this is the easiest way I could think of. My friend and I used to work at the children's hospital, Great Ormond Street, and we would like to help you'. The lady was very frightened by this experience and ended up seeing the psychiatrist, who diagnosed a hallucinatory psychosis and put her on Thioridazine. She went off on holiday but while abroad, the voices returned, telling her there was something wrong with her and she needed immediate treatment. They gave her an address in London, which she didn't recognise. When she got back, she went to this address and found herself outside the CT scan department of a teaching hospital. The voices told her she had a brain tumour and must have a scan.
      The patient was most upset and went back to see her psychiatrist. He examined her thoroughly and there was no sign of any physical abnormality but, to reassure her, a brain scan was arranged. It showed a mass, which the neurosurgeon said should be removed. The voices told her they were fully in agreement. At surgery, a sizeable tumour, a meningioma, was dissected out. When she recovered consciousness, the voices told her, 'We are pleased to have helped you. Goodbye'. Twelve years later, the patient remains well. The voices never returned.
      Dr. Azuonye reports that professional colleagues were divided between those that thought the patient already knew the diagnosis and was making the story up; those who thought the tumour must have produced physical sensations which prompted the patient unconsciously to gather information about the treatment options at certain hospitals; and others who wondered if two well-meaning people, endowed with telepathic gifts, had discovered the tumour and were offering assistance.
      Some of us would entertain a further possibility: that these unwelcome voices, which turned out to be an inspiration, came from the realm of spirit. It would not be the first time. A notable instance, one that changed the course of history, took place some time ago. It happened on the road to Damascus.

Azuonye, I. (1997) 'A difficult case: Diagnosis made by hallucinatory voices', British Medical Journal 1997; 315:1685 - 1686
Benor, D. (1992) Healing Research Vol.1 Spiritual Healing: Scientific Validation of a Healing Revolution. Southfield, MI: Vision Publications 2001
Bohm, D. (1980) Wholeness and the Implicate Order Routledge: London. Ark Paperbacks (1983)
Byrd, R.C. (1988) 'Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary Care Unit Population', Southern Medical Journal 81.7 826-829
Castaneda, C. (1998) The Active Side of Infinity Thorsons
Faulkner, A. (1997) Knowing our own Minds. Published Report: London. Mental Health Foundation
Fenwick, P., Fenwick, E. The Truth In The Light Headline 1995
Freud, S. (1927) 'The Future of an Illusion', in Standard Edition Vol. 21 London. Hogarth Press, 1961
Goswami A. (1993) The Self-Aware Universe Putnam: New York
Jung, C. (1959) 'Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious' in The Collected Works, Vol. 9:1 Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959
Kramer, P. (1994) 'Listening to Prozac' Fourth Estate: London
May, E. et al. (1988) 'Review of the psychoenergetic research conducted at SRI
International (1973 - 1988)', SRI International Technical Report (March)
Morehouse, D. (2000) 'Psychic Warrior' Clairview.
Narby, J. (1998) 'The Cosmic Serpent, DNA and the Origins of Knowledge' Gollancz
Powell, A. (1998) 'Soul Consciousness and Human Suffering: Psychotherapeutic Approaches to Healing'. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Vol. 4.1:101-108
Powell, A. (2001) 'Beyond Space and Time - the Unbounded Psyche', Chapter in Thinking Beyond the Brain. Ed. Lorimer, D., Floris Books Powell, A. (2001) Comment on 'Spirituality and Mental Health' in 'Every Family in the Land, (Ed. Crisp, A.H.)
Radin, D. (1997) The Conscious Universe Harper Edge: New York
Schmidt, H. (1987) 'The strange properties of psychokinesis'. Journal of Scientific Exploration 1:103-118
Stapp, H.P. (1977) 'Are superluminal connections necessary?' Nuovo Cimento 40B.1. 191-204
Stevenson, I. (1997). Reincarnation and Biology. Vol. 1: Birthmarks, Vol. 2: Birth Defects and other Anomalies. Praegar
Targ, R. and Puthoff, H.E. (1974) 'Information transmission under conditions of sensory shielding'. Nature 251:602-7

© Andrew Powell

Dr. Andrew Powell is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist who has held consultant and senior academic appointments in London and Oxford. He is founder chair of the Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists:


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Putting the Soul into Psychiatry

©Dr. Andrew Powell

     To throw some light on how the soul got left out of psychiatry in the first place, I'll begin with a bit of history. Then I want to say something about recent developments in physics, which have revolutionised how we think about consciousness, time and space. I will take up the implications for the envisioning of soul, and how altered states of consciousness provide us with some valuable insights. Finally, I'll refer to the empirical evidence now correlating spirituality with mental health and why we need to be able to bring discussion of spiritual concerns into the consulting room.

A Historical Perspective
     In the West, we tend to forget that our world-view of what constitutes 'reality' is not something absolute but the product of our cultural history, one to which, until quite recently, the great nations of the East remained largely indifferent. I'll begin with Pythagorus, the Greek philosopher of the 5th century BC, the same time frame, incidentally, that brought Buddha to India and Laozi to China.
     Pythagorus was a dualist, holding that mind and body co-exist, but that neither could be explained in terms of the other. He firmly believed in the eternal nature of the soul and is said to have recalled an earlier incarnation as Euphorbus, a warrior in the Trojan War. At the same time, he and his students carried out pioneering arithmetical studies, which they saw as unveiling the principle of proportion, order and harmony throughout the universe. With extraordinary prescience, they considered the Earth to be a globe revolving along with the other planets around a central fire, the sun.
     Some 200 years later, Aristotle emphatically rejected these Pythagorean views. Aristotle claimed that there is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses, so that his notion of soul comes much closer to what our science of psychology calls 'mind'. As for cosmology, Aristotle believed that the earth was at the very centre of the universe.
     Fifteen hundred years on, the Roman Catholic Church was able to pick and mix, commending Aristotle's geocentric cosmology as 'the handmaiden to the Queen of Sciences, Theology' while espousing the dualist, Pythagorean view of body and soul.
     The first challenge to this 15th Century worldview came from Coepernicus, whose studies led him to conclude, like Pythagoras, that the earth revolves around the sun. But it was Galileo, a hundred years later, who posed a far greater threat, since his findings were based on the newly discovered powers of the telescope. In 1632, Galileo was put on trial and sentenced to life imprisonment.
     It was to be another fifty years before science burst its bonds, on account of the genius of Isaac Newton, who was made Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in Cambridge at the age of twenty-seven. Over thirty years he transformed the understanding of the physical universe through his work on optics, calculus and the laws of gravitation and motion, bequeathing us a concept of the structure of the universe that we live with to this day.
     It is less well known that Newton's alchemical researches inspired his great discoveries. He described his method as first, mystical intuition or insight into implicate truth; second, mathematical intellection, to prove, express or explicate the implicate understanding; third, experimentation, in order to demonstrate and verify the proof. 'Truth', said Newton, 'is the offspring of silent, unbroken meditation'. For Newton, there was no schism between the spiritual and physical universe; he believed that the physical world had been created by, and was a profound testimony to, the hand of God.
     A few words must be said about the other giant of the early Renaissance, Descartes. Descartes revived the Aristotelian principle of scepticism, which argues that nothing can be held to be true until one is absolutely certain of it. The conclusions he reached, however, took him along a new path, for the one thing he could not doubt was his own existence. It led to his famous dictum Cogito Ergo Sum, 'I think, therefore I am'. This in no way distanced Descartes from God. He went on to apply the deductive method of science as follows: to be capable of so perfect an idea as God means that such an idea could not have been caused by anything with less perfection than God himself. Therefore, argued Descartes, the two classes of substance, body and mind, must both have been created by God.
     Unfortunately, Newton's scientific discoveries were seized upon by the Age of Enlightenment as an opportunity to ditch spiritual reality in favour of equating reality with the physical universe. Descartes' discoveries were similarly hijacked. Man's intellect became the new God and only empirical science was held to be truly revealing of the nature of reality.
     The dire consequences of this outlook reached its heyday in the 20th Century with logical positivism, which deemed that any utterance that could not be confirmed or disconfirmed by sensory experience must be rejected as meaningless. Everything beyond the world of sense perception, including God, spiritual values and transcendental strivings, had to be discounted. (Alfred Ayer, the leading philosopher of this school, had a visionary near-death experience when his heart stopped during a life-threatening illness. However, it is said that his disbelief in God remained unshaken.)
     We are now living in a post-modernist culture, in which there are no absolute, enduring values, in 'nature', 'truth' or 'God'. The revolution in science that Newton started has given us a world filled with extraordinary technology and a great deal of knowledge about the physical universe. Yet just as that paradigm shift was resisted in its time, so has it been with the 'new' science of the 20th Century.

The Second Revolution in Science
     I am talking about the vast implications that flow from advances in relativity theory, quantum physics and cosmology. There are at least three reasons why the paradigm shift has met with such resistance. Firstly, so long as the world is being seen through Newtonian glasses, the findings are profoundly counter-intuitive. Secondly, a lot of reputations and research rests on maintaining the Newtonian paradigm. Lastly, the new science carries enormous implications for the nature and purpose of existence - what I would call its spiritual significance.
     Here are some headline findings of the new physics, many of which are detailed elsewhere:1,2,3,4

The Newtonian world of sense perception, of solid objects and space, appears to exist in its own right, a cosmic stage on which we make our entrances and exits. But matter is energy, objects are not solid and space is not empty.
The illusion of separateness, which is the template for Newtonian physics, is a phenomenon of sense perception. (Show five fingers and they are separate. Show the hand and they become united).
Our space-time dimension is but one of many, nested within a plurality of other dimensions. Sub-atomic particles are not confined to our universe - they flit in and out of other universes too.
To speak of sub-atomic particles is really a misnomer. They are more like minute strings, from which matter emanates like music. The Universe is a symphony and the laws of physics are the harmonics of a 'super-string'.
The 11th dimension is thought to be infinitely long but existing only about one trillionth of a millimetre distant from every point in our four-dimensional universe. It is right next to our skins. Within it exist an infinite number of parallel universes, some with laws of physics, time and space like ours, and others completely different.
Through the agency of our special sense organs, we experience consciousness to be located in the body, somewhere between the ears and behind the eyes. This is an illusion, since it has been demonstrated that consciousness is 'non-local'.
Consciousness is primary. It is not something generated by the brain but available to the brain, which apprehends it much as a radio converts radio waves into audible sound. No theory has provided a convincing explanation of how consciousness, being non-physical, could be created by the physical brain. Imaging studies have been used to support this notion, but all the data can equally well be regarded as correlation effects between neurosynaptic activity and the ambient field of consciousness.
Mind and brain are complementary. As a Newtonian instrument, the brain functions as an object in spacetime, in which the law of cause and effect holds true. The mind, the seat of consciousness, has quantum properties, functioning both in and outside of spacetime.
Spacetime itself is the product of consciousness, the outcome of what is known in quantum physics as the collapse of the probability wave. Not even a tiny particle such as an electron exists as such, until it is measured. Up to that moment, it is in the 'virtual state'. The conscious act of measurement precipitates the electron into spacetime. Even then its speed and momentum cannot be simultaneously measured; there is inherent uncertainty and nothing is fixed.
Everything within spacetime intimately relates to everything else by means of quantum entanglement. Two photons that once shared the same quantum field remain connected forever. Separated by a metre or a million miles, it makes no odds; stop the spin of one and the spin of the other will instantly stop likewise. This is not information travelling from one particle to the other even at the speed of light but is a field change, happening simultaneously outside of spacetime.
So-called 'paranormal' events defy the laws of Newtonian space and linear time, yet are within easy reach of the mind, when the signal to noise ratio is amplified by stilling the mind and reducing sensory input.
There is a robust database of verified paranormal findings both naturally occurring and experimental. These include precognition, telepathy, remote viewing and healing by means of prayer.

     Such discoveries call for a figure-ground reversal; the Newtonian worldview is valid but we must not mistake the part for the whole. Suppose that we never went out at night and only saw the world in the light of the sun. We would not know the night sky, or suspect the presence of worlds beyond our own..5

Spirituality and Psychology
     If we can overcome these limitations, we have a new vision of reality in which science and spirituality spring from the same source. I am not talking here about religion. In the West, the Church has behaved as though religion is synonymous with spirituality but it is not the same thing. Religion is a way of structuring and supporting the human impulse to transcend material reality. It provides community, ritual and solace. It has enriched our world with art, music and architecture. But it is a man-made system, built on doctrinal assertions about the nature of God. I am talking about the spirituality in every human that naturally arises as scintilla of that supreme consciousness, the source of life, which traditionally we call God.
     I shall be using the term soul to describe that quotient of the Godhead that enlivens every human being. It is not a question of 'having' a soul, but of 'being a soul'. There is no conceit attached to regarding all persons as divine beings for this has nothing to do with ego. We may equally be humbled, when we consider the hand of which we are so many billion fingers.
     Science asks the question 'how?' and this is a very important line of inquiry, for we do need to find out all we can about the biological substrate of mental disorder. Nevertheless, finding meaning in life is a function not of the brain but the mind. It depends not on the 'how' but on the 'why'. This is where a century of psychological research comes in and we might reasonably ask if enough of the 'whys' have been answered to do the job. In my view, the answer is no. I don't underestimate the value of psychological insight, having worked for twenty-five years as a psychotherapist. But for some people, the big questions about the ultimate meaning and purpose of life are of fundamental importance. They need addressing for what they are, not by re-casting them within a psychodynamic frame of reference.
     Again, our culture has set the limits on what is legitimate inquiry. In this case, Sigmund Freud was bent on providing a model of the mind in which everything could be accounted for by the epic struggle of the human ego sandwiched between birth and death; God in his heaven was a necessary illusion to avoid facing the finality of death.6 Carl Jung challenged this assumption, but the scientific clime of the 20th century ensured that Jung's approach, and later transpersonal schools of psychotherapy, never gained much purchase in mainstream healthcare. Behavioural and cognitive treatments are post-modern approaches, tools for re-structuring thought, which steer clear of questions that could distract from the task of 'getting on with life'. They lend themselves to goals and measurements and don't require either therapist or client to have to tolerate uncertainty and the unknown.
     All this is somewhat ironic for psychiatry, since the word psyche comes from the Greek, meaning soul.

The Holoverse and Humanity
     If we are thinking of exchanging the materialist world view for a participative, spiritually inclined cosmos, we might reasonably want to know more about what we are letting ourselves in for.
     It looks increasingly as though the universe is structured like a giant hologram, or holoverse, as it has been called, so that the whole is always contained in the part, no matter how small.7 The new physics is extending our ability to discern more of the whole. But there is another very important way, that of looking within the self, for when it comes to our capacity for love, we make direct contact with an emotion of infinite amplitude. There is an old saying that it's love that makes the world go round! From the transpersonal perspective this means nothing less than to harness the subtle energy of love for the benefit, and self-realisation, of the individual, group, society, nation and planet.
     This is not a grandiose delusion and neither does it deny suffering. Collisions of unimaginable force are inherent in creation. Cosmologists are now suggesting that our universe arose from a collision in the 11th dimension of two parallel universes. Then our baby universe had to contend with the implosion of matter and anti-matter; only a small preponderance of matter over anti-matter by one part in a billion ensured its survival. This drama of colliding forces typifies our human psychological disposition too, as first told in the story of Adam and Eve. Out of conflict comes birth and life and death. In the ensuing play of emotions, each is paired with, and in a sense defined by, its opposite, thus: good and evil, hope and despair, and sorrow and joy. Last but not least, there is love and its sworn antagonist, fear.
     It seems all experience must be lived and harvested, the suffering we go through and inflict on others, as well as the reparation we make and our search for truth and beauty. We could be forgiven for feeling hopeless about the human condition but there are some grounds for optimism if we keep the whole picture in our sights. Cosmology suggests that there is a primal thrust towards life. What began as stardust assumes ever more complex forms, resulting in species like us human beings, with the biological means to support consciousness. This is the anthropic principle, which argues that the attainment of consciousness such as ours was in the blueprint from the very start.
     In this development, conflict has an evolutionary significance; it is a tool of the self-aware universe and a powerful spur to evolution. But now comes a time when a quantum shift is needed, to break through the primitive fight/flight mentality of the species. There has to be the realization of wholeness, of interdependance and of underlying unity. Out of this arises the golden rule of interconnectedness, which says that since we are one, to harm another is to harm oneself. Astronauts come back deeply moved by seeing 'spaceship earth' from afar; the oneness of our little planet is so very striking. The task before us, individually and collectively, is to have regard for the unity of life, and so to make sense of our lives within the greater whole.
     We may feel this intuitively but I also want to mention a few key areas of transpersonal research into consciousness.

Altered States of Consciousness (ASCs)
     The near-death experience has been reported the world over, regardless of race, colour or creed. Some 10% of people who clinically 'die', that is who suffer cardiopulmonary arrest and are then resuscitated, report a complex sequence of events of which they are subjectively conscious throughout.8

     These have been attributed by some scientists to the terminal throes of neural activity in the brain. But this is unlikely for two reasons; the first is that the NDE appears to takes place while the electroencephalogram is 'flat'.9 The second is that the account given is complex and follows a well-recognised sequence. Unlike the fragmented and confused images that are seen in organic and hypoxic conditions, the NDE conveys enormous power, clarity and vision.
     The 'full' NDE includes an out-of-body experience that may begin with watching the attempted resuscitation, a sense of peaceful detachment, then travel through a tunnel or vortex and approaching a bright light, meeting deceased friends and relatives, encounter with a higher or divine presence, being taken through a life review, the reason for coming back and, hardest of all, leaving it all behind in order to return to the body.
     Survivors of the NDE are profoundly and permanently changed. There is never again a fear of death. With it goes a new and deep appreciation of life, beauty and the knowledge that the only true purpose in life is to love. However, about one in a hundred NDEs is negative, being full of fear and foreboding and visions of hell. These have been linked to suicide attempts but can occur spontaneously.
     A second area of research concerns past life regression.10 The past life is experienced in real time, there is no sense of contrivance and no amount of wishful thinking can change the script. The therapist takes the client backwards and forwards through the life, like selecting scenes from a video recording, and sometimes switching entirely from one life to another. Most important is the experience of going through the death and leaving the body, which has the same quality as an NDE. It frees the client from the emotional impact of a sometimes painful death and allows for that life to be reviewed from 'the other side' with wisdom and compassion. While critics have dismissed 'past lives' as cryptomnesia, some cases have stood the test of historical veracity, and there is the strange phenomenon of xenoglossy as yet unexplained.11
     A third area of research is out-of-body-experiences. These include travelling to distant locations and gathering information that can later be corroborated, bi-location (a person manifests in one place, yet is residing in another place or country at the time), and journeying to the realms of the Bardo - the spirit world. There is a large literature; the painstaking work of Robert Munroe over forty years is among the best.12

     Fourthly, meticulous research on reincarnation has stood up to scrutiny, as the researches of Ian Stevenson demonstrate.13 These are cases of young children who claim to belong to another family, and in which they had the identity of someone who died traumatically. When taken to that former home, they have been able to identify members of the family and give the family history. Even birthmarks have been correlated with gunshot wounds on the deceased.14
     Lastly, we have what the Church calls the ministry of deliverance and what in transpersonal therapeutics is called spirit release. This is dealing with the problem of interference by entities that have attached to humans. The Church sees these as demonic; spirit release therapists regard the entities as discarnate souls in need of loving but firm guidance - when helped to let go and move on, they usually do so willingly.15,16
     These various experiences have heightened a lively debate over the last twenty-five years about the nature of the soul and the domain of spirit. This is what I would like to discuss next.

Spirituality and Soul
     In its broad definition, spirituality is that which makes life meaningful and purposeful. It calls for a perspective on life that goes beyond one's own small being - the ego has to take second place. For psychiatrists who hold that consciousness is confined to the body, this may be sufficient; hopefully the research correlating spirituality with mental health will interest them in its own right. However, there are certain obstacles to overcome. Firstly, psychiatrists are not the norm they might suppose they are. Gallup polls show them to be at least twice as unbelieving of matters spiritual and religious as the population as a whole.17 Secondly, psychiatry is still trying to attain credibility within the medical fraternity and in this 'we are nothing but our genes' culture, the focus is on neuroscience. Thirdly, psychiatrists, like most people, are uncomfortable with not having answers to searching questions.
     On the other hand, when psychiatrists engage their patients with open minds, and when the patient senses that the psychiatrist is genuinely concerned to help them make sense of the deepest questions of life and death, spiritual disclosures are often readily and appropriately forthcoming. Being familiar with transpersonal concepts helps with this. Since nothing need be ruled out as impossible, the experiences the patient brings can be worked with as authentic and meaningful.
     We cannot say anything with certainty about the anatomy of soul, since this is shaped by culture and belief. How it is perceived depends also on ones state of mind. In ordinary consciousness, it is experienced as the spiritual attribute of the self. In ASCs, the soul may become permeable and unbounded, engaging with an archetypal world populated with wrathful and beatific spirits. Beyond that, and transcending the individual ego, there is a merging with the species-mind, in which all the joy and pain of all humankind is laid bare.18 In mystical rapture, enlightenment or samadhi, there is a total dissolution of the ego, a fusion of subject and object and an experience of oneness for which there are no words.19
      Some hold that the soul is immutable, unchanging and perfect in its essence while others see the soul as making an evolutionary journey. The picture that emerges out of the various transpersonal lines of enquiry suggests that all of these different perspectives hold true. I have attempted to illustrate this diagrammatically:

     Suppose that in everyday consciousness the individual soul / self (S) is travelling in linear time along axis AB. In an ASC such as past life regression, there is some movement along axis CG. The psyche is still experienced as individual, but past, present and future can now be accessed from the vantage point of (S1) as a linear sequence of births and deaths. Moving further away from linear time (S2), the individual soul / self begins to merge with the transpersonal collective, with a corresponding loss of ego boundaries. Note that the perceived duration of linear time AB will diminish with the shift towards G. The further CG extends towards infinite space, the more acute is the angle at the apex so that as sides AG and BG lengthen (and AB continues to contract), they approach the parallel and will eventually unite. Time has now shrunk to zero and is no longer felt to exist, while the Self is merged with infinite space. Such subjective reports are characteristic of states of enlightenment.
     This is just a conceptual aid to help make sense of the diverse accounts of soul from the individual to the collective. Similarly, whether we see the soul as being on an evolutionary journey, or already an essence of perfection depends on how we choose to view the picture, since linear time does not exist as a thing in itself. We are woven into a tapestry of cosmic simultaneities; all events both in and outside of time and space are inter-connected, and acting together.
     The last feature of the transpersonal domain I want to mention concerns healing. As I highlighted earlier, from the quantum standpoint our physical separateness is an illusion. The bio-energy field, or aura, is ubiquitous throughout Nature - we are immersed in each other's energy fields.20 This helps to make sense of how healing might work; there is evidence from more than 150 controlled studies on plants, animals and humans that healing has a significant effect in over 50% of the studies.21 Under laboratory conditions, healers have been shown to accelerate the growth of yeast cultures, the germination of seeds and the rate of wound healing, to name but a few. Distant healing has also been researched in a randomised controlled trial of patients being treated in a coronary care unit, a study that has been subsequently replicated.22,23 The group prayed for had fewer deaths, needed less intubations, ventilation and drugs, had less pulmonary oedema and there were fewer episodes of cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
     Healing means wholeness; that is the origin of the word. It is the hallmark of spiritual psychiatry.16 The effect of mental breakdown is invariably to feel shattered; the need to feel whole again is crucial to recovery. Healing is mediated by empathy, a heartfelt understanding of the other and the desire to be of help. It means entering another's world with sensitivity to, and respect for, the beliefs and values of the person in need. And this takes me on to the importance of the new evidence base for including spirituality in the clinical setting.

The Evidence Base for Spirituality and Mental Health
     We know from surveys of service users that up to half will identify their spiritual/religious beliefs as important in helping them cope with breakdown. 24 We also know that many of them don't feel able to discuss such matters with the psychiatrist.25 Now, thankfully, we are seeing the emergence of an evidence base linking spirituality with mental health and which will help bring spiritual concerns to the attention of psychiatry. Here are some of the findings:26

Depression. Overall, some 25% of women and 12% of men suffer major depressive disorder during their lifetime. But people with a spiritual or religious affiliation are up to 40% less likely to get depressed than those who don't have such an affiliation. And when they do, they recover faster. Where psychotherapy is offered, those receiving religiously orientated therapy sensitive to their religious beliefs score best on post-treatment measures. (Interestingly, the outcome does not require the therapist personally to hold the same religious views).
Depression among the medically seriously ill. Depression affects up to 35% of this group. A study using multidimensional measures including the 10-item validated Hoge Intrinsic Religiousness Scale showed that for every 10-point increase in the intrinsic religion score, there was a 70% increase in the speed of remission from depression. Another study showed that the more severe the disability, the stronger the protective effect of religious commitment.
Suicide. Adults aged over 50 who have never participated in religious activities are four times more likely to commit suicide than those who do. This holds true after having adjusted for other variables. Similarly, religious commitment among teenagers significantly reduces the risk of suicide.
Substance Abuse. Religious/spiritual commitment correlates with lower levels of substance abuse. The risk of alcohol dependency is 60% greater when there is no religious affiliation. In a study of opiate withdrawal, 45% of participants in a religiously orientated programme remained drug-free at one year compared with 5% in a non-religious treatment programme. Concerning alcohol abuse, those who participate in AA, which is spiritually orientated and invokes the help of a Higher Power, are most likely to remain abstinent after inpatient or outpatient treatment.

     Such findings are part of a broader picture of the correlation of spirituality/religious beliefs with improved health outcomes that should interest every physician. They include: smoking prevention, substantially improved survival in the elderly after heart surgery and improved coping with cancer and AIDS. Not least, there is a striking correlation with longevity. One longitudinal study of over 21,000 US adults has shown that after controlling for other factors, attending religious services more than once weekly increased the lifespan by an average of 7 years for whites and 14 years for African Americans.
     There is one area of negative correlation that will come as no surprise. Spiritual/religious beliefs and practices that manipulate or coerce, and entail punitive or condemning images of God are associated with increased rates of depression and, in the elderly, increased mortality.

Future Directions
     In the UK, we have a lot of ground to make up. In over 75 medical schools in the USA there are modules in the curriculum on spirituality and health while in the UK we have just one, in Aberdeen. The World Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organisation have both called for more attention to be given to spirituality and religious beliefs, yet in the clinical setting, religion is often little more than a tick in the box.
     Exploring spiritual/religious beliefs and values in the clinical setting is not difficult, and can be done in an impartial way. Here are some areas of inquiry26:

What is the patient's spiritual/religious background?
Are spiritual/religious beliefs supportive and positive, or anxiety provoking and punitive?
What role did spirituality/religion play in childhood, and how does the patient feel about that now?
What role does spirituality/religion play now in the patient's life?
Is religion/spirituality drawn upon to cope with stress? In what ways?
Is the patient a member of any religious community? Is it supportive?
What is the patient's relationship with their clergy like?
Are there any spiritual/religious issues the patient would like to discuss in therapy?
Do the patient's spiritual/religious beliefs influence the type of therapy he or she would be most comfortable with?
Do those beliefs influence how the person feels about taking medication?

     In the Royal College of Psychiatrists, two comprehensive documents are currently re-defining the aims and objectives of training in psychiatry, the new curriculum for Basic Specialist Training and the Membership Examination, and the required competencies for the Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training. The Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group is submitting detailed amendments, which we hope will be taken on board, for this is a major educational initiative for UK psychiatry.
     Other areas of concern include distinguishing between spiritual emergency and mental illness. Yet they are not mutually exclusive, so this can be a matter of fine judgement. Then there is the important question of liaison with chaplaincy and spiritual/religious support networks, so often excluded from acute psychiatry.
     Putting the soul into psychiatry is not an esoteric undertaking. In the clinical setting it means being open, interested, asking the relevant questions and letting the answers come naturally. Behind those simple enquiries lies the breathtaking story of creation, of the birth of consciousness and of enduring spiritual values and aspirations. Psychiatrist and patient are both making their journeys through time and space, on different paths maybe, but heading in the same direction. As long as we are mindful that the journey is not the destination and that finding the right question matters more than coming up with the right answer, we have much to learn from each other along the way.

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22. Byrd, R. C. (1988) Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in coronary care unit population. Southern Medical journal, 81, 826-829
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26. Larson, D., Larson, S., Koenig, G. (2001) 'The Patient's Spiritual/Religious Dimension: A Forgotten Factor in Mental Health'. Directions in Psychiatry Vol. 21: 307 - 333 (see also

Based on a talk given at the conference 'The Place of Spirituality in Psychiatry' held jointly by the Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group, Royal College of Psychiatrists UK and the Psychiatry Section of the Royal Society of Medicine, London, 14th May 2002 (see also

© Andrew Powell 2002

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