Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the relationship between psychotic and spiritual experiences, based on a study of a Dutch self-help group for psychosis. It discusses relevant perspectives from the research literature and addresses the methodological difficulties of researching boundary experiences.
Paper long abstract:
Both psychotic and mystical experiences can be considered boundary experiences and individuals who have experienced psychosis may have a special relationship with spirituality.
In my doctoral research I worked with a Dutch self-help group for psychosis where this relationship was a prominent issue amongst its members. Within the group any experiences of a supernatural or paranormal nature were discussed freely and the boundary of these experiences with psychosis was considered fluid. Psychotic experiences were frequently hard to put into words and an important aspect of the work of the group was to find a common language to capture these experiences. Some members had clear ideas about the spiritual nature of their psychotic experiences and supernatural explanations provided meaning and a sense of control over apparently uncontrollable events. Furthermore, exploring these experiences in terms of encounters with the mysterious instilled hope of healing or of routes left open to something new. Some members made use of spiritual literature to further develop their understanding of their psychotic episodes.
In this paper I will discuss the ways in which the self-help group members dealt with boundary experiences. In the light of this material I will briefly review a number of relevant perspectives on the relationship between psychosis and spirituality derived from the research literature. Finally, I will comment on the difficulties I encountered in studying boundary experiences while not having had these experiences myself, bringing the issue of reflexivity to the fore.
Ethnography of the invisible