Psychologists turn to spirituality

Calgary Herald, February 12, 2000
By Joe Woodard

At least five Calgary psychologists are employing "shamanic healing" or "earth spirituality" in their therapeutic practices, or are referring patients to "shamanic healers."

Though the College of Alberta Psychologists has no formal objection to this style of therapy, shamanic practitioners claim "unofficial" repression because of a lack of a formal, professional tolerance for their studies. "The psychology profession rejects anything spiritual," said one psychologist, who asked to remain anonymous.

Calgarian Margaret McLeod, a psychologist with 25 years experience, said she has referred patients to shamanic healers.

"There's a reawakening happening across all the sciences and all aspects of human life," she said.

"The psychology I learned in university had something missing, because the spirit was missing. Shamanic practices are a way of tapping into the way spirit works deep within us."

The term "shamanism" comes from the Tuva tribes of central Siberia, who preserved their religion until the Soviet conquest of the 1920s. But it has become the generic term for the worldwide variety of "dream seer" traditions, from the native spirituality of the American and Australian natives, to the sacred oaks and human sacrifices of the ancient Druids and narcotic trances of Saharan Bedouins.

Shamanic healer Laureen Rama receives patient referrals from chartered psychologists. She says shamanic practices are techniques for gaining access to "non-ordinary reality," whether understood as the spirit world, imagination or collective unconsciousness.

Rama said when a person connects with non-ordinary reality, they come to believe certain things, such as "every living thing has a spirit." They tend to become more compassionate and self-referential, depending upon themselves for answers.

She no longer thinks of people or spirits as good and evil, but rather healthy or wounded.

Rama said the first shamanic step is "connecting with our guardian spirits," after which there are two general techniques, "soul retrieval" and "extraction."

The first recovers pieces of the soul lost or stolen in traumatic experiences; the other removes "blockages" to the spirit flow through the person.

Like all shamanic practices, soul retrieval begins in a dream state, Rama said. "I'll go into my trance state and see that part of them at the age they suffered the soul loss," she related. "I'll negotiate with that part of their soul, negotiating its return. And then I'll blow the soul back into the person."

Extraction is needed when a person has created "unhealthy spirit stuff" or picked it up from others. The inability to let go -- whether of anger, fear or sadness -- creates a damaging spirit blockage, Rama said. "I go into my dream state and then run my hands over the person, or shake a rattle over them. The bad spirit that comes out of them sometimes looks like black goop or insects, reptiles or even nails. I've seen some remarkable healings." Calgary writer Liz Cherniak said healing is only the beginning of the shamanic journey.

She spent 15 years in conventional psycho-therapy, before turning to shamanism. She has now been on her journey for six years, guided by her "power animals."

"My main power animals are birds," said Cherniak. "The raven, the hawk and the blue jay. They bring messages to us and they bring their different gifts." The raven brings courage in face of the unknown, she says. The hawk is observant, and the blue jay, playful. Her power animals come to her through the use of divination cards, in her dreams, or simply through ordinary reality.

Much of shamanic practice is learning to pay attention to meanings of experiences in ordinary reality, she adds. Calgary psychologist Larry Fong, president of the regulatory College of Alberta Psychologists, says the college does not approve or reject specific therapeutic techniques.

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