Zeitschrift für Spiritualität und Transzendentale Psychologie 2011, 1 (3) /
Journal for Spirituality and Transcendental Psychology 2011, 1 (3)

The diagnostic separation of psychosis and spiritual experience I: The phenomenological nature of psychosis[1]

Edgar W. Harnack




„How many possibilities does psychology offer us to shield the troubling unknown with a label that grants it a place on the list of common aberrations!“

Dag Hammarskjöld, Vägmarken.


The distinction between psychotic and spiritual experiences produces sometimes difficulties: while for the materialist a spiritual experience per se does not exist and the possibility of a non-pathological spiritual experience seems so limited from the outset, the open-minded diagnostician has the category of spiritual experience, or (in more difficult cases) spiritual crisis at his disposal, but he must consider carefully whether this or a real psychosis is the case. To distinguish both an understanding of what psychosis actually is should be essential. It is not sufficient to merely appeal to current scientific diagnostic systems, as these are subject to trends and debates within science. Only phenomenological fathoming of what constitutes people defined as "crazy" can lead to a (more or less cross-culturally) firm basis for the distinction towards spiritual experience (also condensed to the essence of this category). Therefore, the following first part of the article deals with academic models of distinction and a possible determination of the essence of psychosis in order to prepare the later following second part differentiating both areas in practice.

Keywords: Psychosis and mysticism, spiritual experience and delusion, phenomenology, psychosis as state of consciousness,


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About the author:

Edgar W. Harnack holds a University degree in psychology and works as a licensed psychotherapist, certified clinical supervisor and independent scholar, specialised in transpersonal/transcendental psychology in Berlin., Germany

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