A West African shaman by the name of Dr. Malidoma Patrice Somé has a different view of mental illness compared to that of people in the western world, where we focus on pathology and the idea that the behavior exhibited by those diagnosed with the condition is something that needs to stop.
Dr. Somé proposes that what we call depression, bi-polar, psychosis and schizophrenia may perhaps be a remarkable transformation in consciousness and an inevitable step towards human development.
Dr. Somé and the Dagara people support the shamanic view that signals mental illness as “the birth of a healer.” They believe that this person has been selected as a medium for a message to the community. What Westerners view as “mental illness”, the Dagara people view as “good news from the other world.”
“Mental disorder, behavioural disorder of all kinds, signal the fact that two obviously incompatible energies have merged into the same field,” says Dr. Somé. “Disturbances result when the person fails to acquire assistance in dealing with the presence of the energy from the spirit realm.”
Upon Dr. Somé’s first visit to the United States in 1980, he encountered how the country deals with mental illness. Dr. Somé was startled to notice that patients in the psychiatric ward were exhibiting the same symptoms as those he had seen in his village.
“So this is how the healers who are attempting to be born are treated in this culture. What a loss! What a loss that a person who is finally being aligned with a power from the other world is just being wasted.”
He acknowledged that the West is not trained in how to deal with the existence of psychic phenomena and the spiritual world. When these energies emerge, the individual, that lacks the capacity to recognize what is happening, is labeled “insane” and is given high doses of anti-psychotic drugs which hinder spiritual evolution.
Shamans and psychics are also able to see “entities” or “beings” that linger in the presence of these individuals. The screaming and yelling exhibited by the patients in the psychiatric ward signalled to Dr. Somé that the entities were trying to rid the medication out of their bodies and their pain was heightening in the process.
In the Dagara tradition, these individuals are seen as bridge between the physical and spiritual world and the community assists the person to reconcile with the energies of both worlds. Failing to do this aborts the birth of a healer and sustains the initial disorder of energy.
He describes Schizophrenia as having “receptivity to a flow of images and information, which cannot be controlled.”
“When this kind of rush occurs at a time that is not personally chosen, and particularly when it comes with images that are scary and contradictory, the person goes into a frenzy.”
Shamans will clear foreign energies out of the individual’s aura using a practice known as a “sweep”. This helps calm the spiritual energy that is being received and calms the person down. The shaman will then seek to align the high-voltage energy of the spirit attempting to come through from the other world and in turn, give birth to the healer. Blocking this is what creates problems and exacerbates the situation.
In cases where the energy channeled is negative and will not promote healing, shamans seek to remove them from the aura rather than align them.
While in the USA, Dr. Somé was curious if his techniques would be universally apply to all patients. Upon request he took an 18-year-old mentally-ill patient back to his African village. After four years of hospitalization and suffering from hallucinations and severe depression, the boy’s parents were stumped on what to do. Dr. Somé reports that after eight months, their son had become “quite normal” after participating in Shamanic healing rituals and understanding his gifts as a healer. He continued to live in the village for another four years as a healer before returning to the US to complete his Psychology degree at Harvard. “He discovered that all the things that he needed to do had been done, and he could then move on with his life,” said Dr. Somé.
One of the gifts Shamans can bring to the Western world is to assist individuals in rediscovering a spiritual point of view which is necessary for one to live. Adopting the spiritual realm of life reduces the likeliness of mental distress which stems from the fact that “they are called by beings from the other world to cooperate with them in doing healing work.”
Dr. Somé suggests that “some of the spirits trying to come through, as described earlier, may be ancestors who want to merge with a descendant in an attempt to heal what they weren’t able to do while in their physical body.”
He continues, “unless the relationship between the living and the dead is in balance, chaos ensues. The Dagara believe that, if such an imbalance exists, it is the duty of the living to heal their ancestors. If these ancestors are not healed, their sick energy will haunt the souls and psyches of those who are responsible for helping them.”
Dr. Somé suggest that taking a ritualistic approach to mental illness creates an array of opportunities and can change the individual’s life for the better.