Failure to Communicate

Discussion Post I Submitted for my Atlantic University TP5005 Course – July 10, 2019

Webster defines pathological as “altered or caused by disease,” and “being such to a degree that is extreme, excessive, or markedly abnormal.”  Pathological, therefore, always has a negative connotation, such as “she is a pathological liar,” or “he has a pathological addiction to gambling.”   Grof & Grof in The Stormy Search for the Self, also point out that not all mystical experiences are pathological, which is logical since mystical experiences can be beautiful and life-transforming.

The individual and their healthcare provider can agree the event was a positive experience.  Mental illness is a broad description, and some are clearly spiritual emergencies.  If someone is severely depressed, for example, this is defined as a mental illness, but its root cause may be a life-altering event such as the loss of a spouse.  The depression, albeit painful, may turn out to be a spark that brings the person to significant spiritual awakening, and leads them to find a more fulfilling career and a possibly a new deeper relationship.

Grof & Grof get to the root of the difficulty when mystical experiences and spiritual emergency are viewed from a “clinical standpoint.”  They state, “In the medical model, the psychological and physical manifestations of [extreme forms of spiritual emergency] are seen as indicative of a serious disease process…The worldview created by traditional Western science and dominating our culture is, in its most rigorous form, incompatible with any notion of spirituality”  (1990, pp. 41-42).  

As my favorite line of all time from the movie Cool Hand Luke says“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”  Western science and Western medicine are not prepared – not yet anyways – to view spiritual emergency, and spirituality in general, in its proper context and rightful purpose.  These are life-changing events that are part of our natural evolutionary process.  Unfortunately, the medical community’s default position is to label them “pathological” or “mental disorders,” and in too many cases automatically prescribe mind-altering pharmaceuticals that actually prevent the individual from becoming the person they are intended.  Hopefully, this limited approach is changing in the West but there is still a significant way to go.


Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary,, accessed 7/10/19.

Grof C. and Groff S., M.D. (1990), The stormy search for the self, Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc.: Los Angeles, CA.