Experience the beauty and healing power of your Inner Vision

Table of Contents
Shamanic State of Consciousness
Shamanic Journeys and Psychotherapy
Shamanic Roots in Western Therapy
Heart-Vision Shamanic Journeys and Psychotherapy
A Note on Cultural Sensitivity
Our Challenge
Connections
Resources
Notes and Copyright

Ancient Techniques, Modern Journeys:

Shamanic Journeys and Psychotherapy

 

Edie Stone, MA, LPC

 

Shamans were the world's first healers, priests, and therapists. The word "shaman" or "saman" comes from a Siberian tribe, but most indigenous societies around the world relied on someone who could perform this role when they faced illness, loss of spirit, or other crises. Cave paintings in southern France suggest that shamanic practices are at least 20,000 years old.

Scientists have studied contemporary shamans, and the shamanic state of consciousness (or SSC). Although tribal shamans are often skilled at herbal remedies and other healing techniques, the essential quality of shamans is their ability to "journey." In a typical journey, a shaman enters a special state of consciousness, encounters spirit beings, and returns with knowledge or healing for a client or the community.

Recent research and practical experience show that some aspects of shamanic healing and awareness are accessible to all of us, even though we live in the modern world. Almost everyone can learn to journey. It is a natural state of consciousness that I believe is part of our spiritual birthright as human beings.

The Shamanic State of Consciousness (SSC)

The shamanic state of consciousness has several qualities that distinguish it from other altered states of consciousness such as meditation, dreaming, channeling, hypnosis, or daydreaming. The first quality is the degree of control: like meditators, shamanic practitioners enter and leave a journey by choice. Within the journey, they are able to exercise their free will, maintain focus on their intentions, and make conscious choices.

Most people are quite alert and able to concentrate, even speak, within the journey. Unlike some forms of hypnosis and channeling, the SSC does not produce amnesia. People return from journeying with clear, vivid memories. However, techniques for processing the journey are important for maintaining and integrating the shamanic experience into one's life.

The content of a journey depends directly on the intention. People typically travel through a landscape and encounter animals, spirit beings, guides, angels, saints, or ancestors who have wisdom and healing to share. Sometimes people visit scenes from their childhood or past lives, or reclaim power and soul qualities that were lost during traumatic events. Most journeys have a strong visual aspect, but some are experienced through sound, physical sensations, flows of energy, movement, or a deep inner knowing. Some journeys are serene and joyful, others involve a deep release of emotion, followed by an experience of love, power, or healing energy. Many people are surprised to find what a good sense of humor their spirit guides have.

Shamanic Journeys and Psychotherapy

Shamanic journeys are similar to some methods used in psychotherapy, such as guided imagery, Jungian active imagination, Senoi dreamwork, and holotropic breathwork. The types of images, information, and wisdom received can be quite similar. The SSC tends to be more vivid (like a lucid dream), may involve more senses, and seems to be more "real" to the participant.

Perhaps the biggest differences lie not in the techniques themselves, but in the intentions, language, and belief systems of people using each method. Shamanic work is open to spiritual presence and guidance. Traditional psychotherapy tends to confine its focus to behavior, emotions, and mental processes. However, some forms of transpersonal psychotherapy include spiritual experiences as well. In my practice, I use a range of methods drawn from both psychotherapy and shamanic work, depending on the needs, values, and belief systems of the client.

Shamanic Roots in Western Psychotherapy

Although the practice of psychotherapy only developed in the 20th Century following Freud, Jung, and many other pioneers, the word psychotherapy hints at ancient roots and resonances with shamanic techniques in the Western tradition. Psyche meant soul in ancient Greek. Therapeutes meant attendant, especially in one of the temples of Asclepius (or Asklepios), the Greek god of healing. So the literal meaning of psychotherapy is "tending to the soul."

Patients in the Asclepian temples were treated with a form of dream therapy. First they would fast and bathe in sacred springs. In a state of consciousness described as "divine sleep," they would see vivid images of Asclepius, who would diagnose and prescribe treatments. The temple guides would appear, accompanied by snakes and other animals, providing treatments and rituals. After the healing vision was complete, it would be performed as a sacred play. Every element of this Greek temple therapy has a parallel in current or historic shamanic practice.

Some of these ancient methods are still used in modern dream therapy, although the context and language are quite different. Guided imagery is often used to explore, deepen, and extend the experience of a dream. In a Senoi technique, clients are encouraged to visualize interacting with the spirit of a dream image, honoring that presence, asking for information, and exchanging gifts. And both psychodrama and Gestalt use a dramatic technique of acting various dream images in an imagined landscape. This is a powerful method of understanding and integrating the many viewpoints present in any dream.

Heart-Vision Shamanic Journeys and Psychotherapy

I offer clients the opportunity to experience a variety of shamanic techniques and more traditional counseling methods. Some clients just focus on journeying, some just do therapy. But many clients combine journeys and therapy. Clients who choose to journey in combination with therapy often report that the journeys deepen and accelerate their personal and spiritual growth.

Shamanic journeys and therapy can be integrated in many ways. For example, clients can explore dreams in a shamanic state of consciousness, or bring images from a journey out onto a pillow and interact with them in a Gestalt dialogue, or explore the voice and movement of an animal helper as expressive therapy. I have also used skills and techniques from my therapy practice to help guide clients within journeys; for example, if a client needed to confront a perpetrator, I would use the same type of prompts and supports within a journey as I would in a Gestalt working.

I find that clients who are working with issues such as alcoholism, depression, or childhood sexual abuse often benefit from a combination of journeys and therapy. The journeys are a safe and efficient doorway into the heart of the issue, and usually bring an immediate sense of release, empowerment, connection, and hope. The transformations can be profound and deeply moving. But then the challenge is to implement the changes from the journey in daily life. Ongoing therapy sessions help clients integrate and maintain the healing they have received in their shamanic journeys. The therapeutic relationship provides a safe container to explore and reprogram old patterns of thinking, feeling, moving, and relating to self and others.

For More Information on Heart-Vision Journeys

If you are interested in doing a shamanic journey, limpia (energy cleansing), or other shamanic work, please email me or leave a message at 303-415-3755.

If you would like to learn more about Heart Vision shamanic journeys, click here.

If you would like to learn more about specific types of journeys, please click on the highlighted topic:

For more information on my shamanic practice, visit my shamanic home page.
For more information on my psychotherapy practice, visit www.EdieStone.com.

A Note on Cultural Sensitivity

It is important to recognize the differences between traditional shamanism and modern adaptations. Shamans play an important, complex role in their community. Each tribe or ethnic group has certain practices and beliefs specific to that culture which affect the shaman's role and techniques. All indigenous groups are uniquely and exquisitely adapted to the ecology in which they live, and the specific environment also affects the shaman's functions. We, as members of so-called "modern civilization," come from a culture which has historically dominated and threatened the very existence of many of these cultures. So it is our responsibility not to copy or imitate tribal customs unless we have permission and personal instruction.

Yet all of us carry within ourselves the capacity to connect to spiritual guidance and to experience some level of shamanic state of consciousness. Also, all of us have ancestral roots in cultures which were more Earth-honoring, more in tune with the spirits of the land and plants and animals -- in essence, more shamanic. This includes the folk traditions and ancient mythologies of Europe. I believe that it is the responsibility of each of us to study the wisdom of our own ancestors, as well as honoring the teachings of indigenous cultures.

Our Challenge

We live in an era of ecological and social crisis, but we also live in a time of great opportunity. Never before has civilization been so out of balance, never before have people so imperiled the web of life on our planet. But never before have so many tools for healing been available. Teachers, elders, and shamans from around the world, from Tibet to the Andes and beyond, have come forward to offer ancient techniques for personal and cultural change.

For the Quechua Indians of Peru and Ecuador, this is the time when their legends say that the Eagle and the Condor will fly together in the same sky. The Eagle represents the mental energy of the culture of the North, the "advanced" industrial, scientific, materialistic vision. The Condor carries the heart energy of the South, the ancient wisdom of Earth-centered cultures and healing practices. Each of us needs to integrate the energy of both head and heart in order to become balanced and healthy. And it is our special challenge in the North to support a shift in social, political, and ecological awareness that will help us bring balance and healing to our culture and environment.

It is my deep hope that the shamanic work and other healing practices that we are learning will help us not just in our personal lives, but also help us to come into right relationship with the Earth and to extend our healing to the circle of life. Through shamanic journeys, we can rediscover our interconnectedness with all beings; we can feel the direct presence of Spirit in our lives; we can envision a new, sustainable future; we can learn to see, and listen, and live from our hearts.

Connections

If you are interested in doing a shamanic journey, soul-centered counseling, or psychotherapy, please call my voice mail, 303-415-3755 or email me at Guide@ShamanicJourneys.net. I offer a free initial consultation.

If you would like to learn more about Heart Vision shamanic journeys, click here.

To return to the list of journey topics, click here.

If you are interested in discussing any of the ideas in this article, you can e-mail me at: Guide@ShamanicJourneys.net. I check my e-mail 2-3 times a week. For a faster response, call me at 303-415-3755.

To return to my shamanic home page, click here.
To return to my psychotherapy home page, click www.EdieStone.com

Resources

RESEARCH ON IMAGERY AND STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Imagery in Healing: Shamanism and Modern Medicine, Jeanne Achterberg. Shambala Publications, 1985.

Historic and current uses of imagery in healing, from shamanism to psychoneuroimmunology. Includes a description of Asclepian dream therapy.

Also by Jeanne Achterberg is Woman as Healer, which includes a description of the shamanic practices of the "wise women" of Europe in the ancient and medieval world, as well as the repression of women's power and healing practices during the witch-burning craze and the rise of modern medicine.

The Spirit of Shamanism, Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Perigee Books (Putnam), 1990.

A psychological study of shamanism. Walsh compares and contrasts the shamanic state of consciousness, other altered states, and mental illness.

The Adventure of Self-Discovery, Stanislav Grof, M.D. State University of New York Press, 1988.

A description of many non-ordinary states of consciousness.

 

STYLES, TECHNIQUES, AND TEACHERS

The Personal Totem Pole: Animal Imagery, the Chakras, and Psychotherapy. Eligio Stephen Gallegos, PhD. Moon Bear Press, Box 15811, Sante Fe, NM 87506.

Animals of the Four Windows: Integrating Thinking, Sensing, Feeling and Imagery. Eligio Stephen Gallegos, PhD. Moon Bear Press, Box 15811, Sante Fe, NM 87506.

My first introduction to working with animal guides was a workshop given by Stephen Gallegos in 1992. My teacher, Kayla Moonwatcher, was one of Stephen's first students. Kayla extended his style of journeying, The Personal Totem Pole Process™, to develop Journey to Wholeness™, but there remain many similarities between these two approaches.

Psychology in the Truest Sense of the Word: Entering the Dream World, Letting the Dream Speak, a workshop with Clarissa Pinkola Estes, April, 1999.
Jungian, Senoi, and curanderismo approaches to dreams from a teacher who transcends categories. 

The World Is As You Dream It: Shamanic Teachings From the Amazon and Andes, John Perkins. Destiny Books, Rochester, VT, 1994.

Shapeshifting: Shamanic Techniques for Global and Personal Transformation, John Perkins. Destiny Books, www.InnerTraditions.com, 1997.

These books describe Perkins' personal experiences with traditional shamanic healers who have encouraged him to help us transform our destructive, materialistic culture. He teaches workshops, and he has been helping the Eagle and Condor to fly together by bringing indigenous healers and elders to the U.S.

The goals of Dream Change Coalition are: Inspiring earth-honoring changes in consciousness, conserving forests, and applying indigenous wisdom in ways that foster environmental and social balance and a sustainable future. Visit the Dream Change web site at www.dreamchange.org

The Celtic Shaman, John Matthews. Element, 1991.

Singing the Soul Back Home: Shamanism in Daily Life, Caitlin Matthews. Element, 1995.

Two of the many fine books by this couple, whose work is both scholarly and personal. Both books contain background and many practical exercises.

 Fire in the Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit, Tom Cowan. HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.

Shamanic aspects of Celtic mythology and culture.

 
The Way of the Shaman, Michael Harner. HarperSanFrancisco, 1980.

A pioneering book on contemporary shamanism.

Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self, Sandra Ingerman. HarperSanFrancisco, 1991

A continuation and deepening of Harner's approach.

NOTE: In the style of soul retrieval described by Harner and Ingerman, shamanic practitioners journey for their clients and blow the clients' souls back into them. This can be useful, especially if the client is ill or too fragmented to do their own inner work.

In my practice, however, I help my clients to journey for themselves, develop a relationship with their own lost power or soul qualities, then fully embrace and integrate all parts of themselves. In my experience, this leads to a deeper, more fully embodied healing for the client.
 

Journeying: Where Shamanism and Psychology Meet, Jeannette M. Gagan, PhD. Rio Chama Publications, Sante Fe, NM 87502

An interesting exploration of the use of journeying within a psychotherapy practice. The author's approach sounds similar to the way I integrate shamanic journeys and therapy with some of my clients.

GENERAL

Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Mircea Eliade. Bollingen Foundation, Princeton University Press, 1972.

The classic study of shamanism. 

Shamanism, Nevil Drury. Element, 1996.

Brief, illustrated introduction to shamanic traditions in many cultures. 

Shaman's Drum: A Journal of Experiential Shamanism and Spiritual Healing. P.O. Box 97, Ashland, OR 97520

A great resource, with articles on ancient cultures, current tribal healers, and modern experiences. Number 49, Summer 1998, has an article by my friend and colleague Frank MacEowen, "Rekindling the Gaelic Hearthways of Oran Mor." Visit Frank's web site at www.angelfire.com/ns/seannos

Connections, again

If you are interested in doing a shamanic journey, soul-centered counseling, or psychotherapy, please call my voice mail, 303-415-3755 or email me at Guide@ShamanicJourneys.net. I offer a free initial consultation.

If you would like to learn more about Heart Vision shamanic journeys, click here.

For a list of journey topics, click here.

Please let me know your thoughts on this article, how you are using this information, other resources you have found on shamanic research, etc. Let's continue the dialogue. Email me at: Guide@ShamanicJourneys.net

To return to my shamanic home page, click here.
To return to my psychotherapy home page, click www.EdieStone.com

© 2005 Edie Stone. Permission given for article to be quoted, as long as credit and copyright information is included.