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Outmoded fear of "psychism"

May 05, 1998 07:18 AM
by K Paul Johnson

A thought occurred to me as to why in HPB's time it would have
been much more sensible to issue stern warnings against "dabbling
in psychism" than it is today.  That was the *infancy* of
clinical psychology!  People understood very little about mental
illness, its varieties and manifestations.  HPB comments that a
great many "mediums" became crazy, and implies a cause/effect
relationship there.  But isn't it more reasonable to assume that
mentally ill (and undiagnosed, back then) people whose symptoms
included hearing voices, seeing visions, and so on would in
Victorian terms define their experiences as "mediumship?"
Which means not that mediumship led people to become mentally
ill, but rather that mental illness manifested in forms that were
categorized as Spiritualism rather than psychosis.

Nowadays, with vastly more understanding of human psychology and
mental illness, we recognize these things and can treat them with
various forms of therapy.  And is it any surprise that there is
not much contemporary association between mental illness and psychic
exploration or techniques of consciousness expansion?  That there
is in fact an opposite association-- that psychologists
themselves use such techniques and exploration to promote health,
integration, self-actualization?  I won't deny that people can
become unbalanced after going on binges with psychism, still.
But there are far more protections now than then, since we have
the ability to recognize symptoms of mental illness and treat
them.  And we also understand that unhealthy preoccupation with
some forms of psychism is generally a symptom, rather than a
cause, of psychological imbalances.

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