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What is a Spiritual Crisis?


A spiritual crisis (at times called a "spiritual emergency") is a form of  identity crisis where an individual experiences drastic changes to their values, purposes, goals, attitudes, beliefs, and  identity. This is typically because of a spontaneous spiritual experience.  A spiritual crisis may cause significant disruption in psychological, social, and occupational functioning. Among the spiritual experiences thought to lead to episodes of spiritual crisis or spiritual emergency are psychological complications related to existential dilemmasmystical

experiences; near-death experiences; Kundalini syndrome; Zen madness; paranormal experiences; religious ecstasy; demonic and spirit possession; and

other spiritual practices.

Before the mid-1970s, mainstream psychiatry made no distinction between spiritual or mystical experiences and mental illness. However, during the 1960s and 1970s, the overlap of spiritual/mystical experiences and mental health problems became of particular interest to counterculture critics of mainstream psychiatric practice who argued that experiences that fall outside of the norm may simply be another way of constructing reality and not necessarily a sign of mental disorder. The assumption of mainstream medical psychiatry was also challenged by critics from within the field of medical psychiatry itself. For example, R. D. Laing argued that mental health problems could also be a transcendental experience with healing and spiritual aspects. Another researcher further suggested use of the term "mystical psychosis" to characterize first-person accounts of psychotic experiences that are conceptually similar to reports of mystical experiences.


Because of the gaining recognition of the overlap of spiritual/mystical experiences and mental health problems, in the early 1990s a proposal was made for a new diagnostic category entitled "Religious or Spiritual Problems". The category was approved by the DSM-IV Task Force in 1993 and is included in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). The inclusion marked an increasing professional acceptance of spiritual issues in the assessment of mental health problems.


Much of the above description, and more, may be found under the Wikipedia article of the same title. My personal experience and work with spiritual crises began in the early 1980’s. Both of my books, Revelations and Possession: Distinguishing Spiritual From Psychological Experiences and In Bondage to Evil: A Psycho-Spiritual Understanding of Possession, directly address this issue.

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