Asylum Magazine (Volume 18 No 3) Autumn 2011

Welcome to this themed edition of Asylum magazine. The Spiritual Crisis Network (SCN) is delighted to present it, and we hope to be able to introduce the concept of spiritual crisis and to give an idea of who we are and what we do. The first article, by our founder, Catherine Lucas, explains in more detail who we are.

But, very broadly, we are a group of people who recognise that spiritual experience and mental health difficulties often overlap. Often by personal experience, we have learnt that, given the right circumstances, turbulent and extreme psychological disturbances may lead to profound personal transformation. And so we recognise and value a spiritual perspective towards such experience.

What exactly might the spiritual perspective be? This gets hard to explain, since the whole area of spirituality is highly subjective and value-laden. It can be closely linked to religious beliefs and practices, or it may be about a sense of connection – with others, with nature or the universe, or with some spiritual reality greater than ourselves.

It may be about finding a meaning and a sense of purpose in our lives, for example, by making sense out of suffering, or by learning more about ourselves and others. The Spiritual Crisis Network recognises all perspectives and has no affiliation or allegiance to any particular faith or spiritual path. So, generally, in the SCN we tend to take a more hopeful and optimistic approach towards mental health difficulties, seeing them in a holistic context.

We recognise that profound and unusual or altered states of consciousness are valid and meaningful human experiences. But we also know that they can be disturbing and the cause of much suffering, distress and even danger. So we understand that people often need support and understanding when in crisis, and as a network we do what we can to help. For example, we try to raise awareness that mental health difficulties may have a positive potential, and we offer an email support service from our website:

A fundamental influence is the work of Czech psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, with his concept of ‘Spiritual Emergency’. Grof and his wife Christina established the Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN) in California in the 1980s, with the aim of providing support for individuals in crisis. This was the original inspiration for setting up the Spiritual Crisis Network here in the UK. (See the article by Catherine Lucas.) Much of what we do is about raising awareness.

Since we live in such a secular and materialist world, spirituality is often a taboo subject, and this seems to be especially so in mental health. We have found that simply letting people know that a well-recognised spiritual perspective is available can be enormously helpful, in itself. So we do what we can to get people together, either in local groups, or in an email group hosted by a founder member, clinical psychologist Isabel Clarke, on which people can explore their unusual experiences in a safe and supportive environment:

Finding a suitable terminology can be tricky in this realm of experience. Some people talk about ‘my crisis’ or ‘my spiritual emergency’. Others may use the terms ‘breakdown’ or ‘psychosis’. Still others talk about ‘an awakening’, or ‘a psychic opening’. Every experience is different and we recognise that everyone has to find the right language to make sense of it within their own frame of reference.

But generally we do not believe that diagnosing people with various stigmatising labels is helpful, and we have found that psychiatric approaches sometimes do more harm than good, especially as they tend to pathologise deeply meaningful inner experiences. ‘Spiritual Crisis’ or ‘Spiritual Emergency’ is one perspective or possible conceptualisation. ‘Mental Illness’ is another. In the Spiritual Crisis Network we believe that our perspective may be more meaningful and empowering. But we leave it to you, the reader, to decide … Now to introduce this edition.

First of all is the letter from our founder, mindfulness trainer Catherine Lucas, who talks about the history of the Spiritual Crisis Network and how you can get involved. Psychotherapist Courtenay Young then describes Grof’s concept of Spiritual Emergency. Next follow two accounts of personal experience: Annabel Hollis highlights the impact of the cultural differences between her experiences in India and here in the UK, whilst Frances Goodall describes the effects on the body’s energy systems in the form of Kundalini awakening and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Both Annabel and Frances have recently been interviewed by Conscious TV about their experiences. This is recorded on YouTube. (Search for: ‘Conscious TV Spiritual Crisis’.) Next, clinical psychologist Isabel Clarke talks about her work in this area, and offers a cognitively based framework for this type of experience. She highlights the difficulties of finding the right language, and stresses the dangers of trying to stick too rigidly to specific theories or ideas.

Kate describes her battles with the lows of depression and the heights of Kundalini awakening. My own article highlights the limitations of the concept of ‘spiritual crisis’, the lack of any generally accepted coherent psychological understanding of unusual and extreme experiences, and the need for interdisciplinary approaches in this area. Maria Ravisankar describes how the support from a church, and a spiritual frame of reference, helped her recovery.

Lisle Ryder, a former deliverance ministry advisor, offers advice for those seeking spiritual support with their difficult paranormal or spiritual experiences. In terms of therapeutic approaches Annabel Hollis describes the work of the Stroud Spiritual Crisis Network group in providing a local support service to people in crisis, and Isabel Clarke describes running her ‘What is real and what is not’ groups. We have also suggested some further reading.

We would like to thank everyone for their contributions and apologise to those whose work we could not include due to a lack of space! We hope you will also enjoy the pictures and poetry which further illustrate the theme of Spiritual Crisis. For artwork, we thank John Hartley, Annabel Hollis, Matthew Potticary, Clare Gill, Hara Willow, Maria Ravisankar and her daughter, Iona, and Rev. Niradhara Marie (whose work may be purchased from her website:

For their poetry, we thank Dunstan Clarke, Rywa Weinberg, Emma Laughton, Maria Ravisankar, and an anonymous contributor. Thanks also to Chris Clarke and John Hartley for their help in Photoshop, and to everyone who has helped to get together this special edition. We hope you will enjoy it!

Janice Hartley

Director of the Spiritual Crisis Network and an independent mental health trainer.

Email: [email protected]


Download Volume 18 No 3



  • Special Issue: Spiritual Crisis Network
  • Editorial: Janice Hartley (director of the Spiritual Crisis Network)
  • The Spiritual Crisis Network. Catharine G Lucas
  • Strange Changes: a Psychotherapists Approach to Spiritual Emergency
  • Rediscovering Wholeness: Annabel’s Story. Annabel Hollis
  • A Journey of Spiritual Emergence. Frances Goodall
  • Openness to Unusual Experiences: Psychosis and Spirituality Re-organised. Isobel Clarke
  • Poems: ‘Symmetrical Poem’ by Dunstan Clarke; ‘My Crisis’ by Anon
  • Dark Nights Before The Dawn. Kate
  • Beyond Spiritual Crisis: What’s Next? Janice Hartley
  • A Walk in the Wilderness. Maria Ravisanka
  • Finding Help from Religion. Lisle Ryder
  • Poem: ‘Shadows’ by Rywa Weinberg
  • Supporting a Person in Crisis. Annabel Hollis
  • The ‘What is Real and What is Not’ Group. Isobel Clarke
  • Poems: ‘The Walls of Silence’ by Janice Hartley; ‘Communiciation’ by Emma Laughton; ‘Psychosis’ by Maria Ravisanka; ‘Return from a Far Country’ by Emma Laughton.
  • And Finally, What can we do?
  • Further Reading.