Absorption in Psychotic and Mystical Experience (Borut Škodlar, University of Ljubljana)

Abstract: Psychotic and mystical experiences share several structural features as explored by some phenomenologists, e.g. Parnas and Henriksen, and other researchers. One of these features can be conceptualised as absorption, i.e. experiential immersion, which is suspended between passive and active modes of experience. On the one side, a person slides into them, at times feeling as if being drawn into or even seduced by them. They are revealed, not manifested in a usual noetic-noematic structure. On the other side, these experiences are related to a set of attitudes, strategies and practices, which can be a posteriori understood as actively leading towards them. 

The both sets of experiences, i.e. psychotic and mystical, lead to radical transformations in the sense of self. In psychotic experiences, the sense of self is disrupted, dispersed and unstable to the point of collapse, on the basis of which a psychotic revelation intrudes and consolidates the sense of self in a “hypertrophied”, encircled form. In mystical experiences, the sense of self remains transparent and stable, and is consequently less explicitly thematised in the experience. More precisely, mystical experiences are of a total emptiness (of self). The transparency and consolidation of the sense of self – induced and supported by spiritual practices, e.g. prayer, meditation, yoga – act as a springboard for a mystical revelation.

The differentiation between the two sets of experiences on the basis of self-experiences correlates also with the nature of absorption. Absorption in the case of psychotic experience is an absorption into a solipsistic world, i.e. a world of self-centeredness. Absorption in the case of mystical experience is an absorption into emptiness/fullness, in which self is united with everything, which is called unio mystica. The first absorption leads away from the world of others, the second to the heart of it. The first has a pathogenic, the second psychotherapeutic effect. The latter is thus valuable as an orientation point in psychotherapy for people struggling with psychosis, especially for those who experienced both, i.e. psychotic and mystical-like experiences.


Bio: Borut Škodlar is Head of the Center for Mental Health and Unity for Psychotherapy at the University Psychiatric Clinic Ljubljana and Associate Professor of psychiatry at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. His clinical and academic interests center on phenomenological psychopathology and psychotherapy of psychotic states and disorders (schizophrenia), phenomenological analyses of emotional and existential processes, and interconnections between spiritual quests, like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and mental disorders, particularly interconnections between psychotic and mystical states. His publications include: “Self-disorder and subjective dimensions of suicidality in schizophrenia” (with J. Parnas; Comprehensive Psychiatry, 2010); “Applications of Mindfulness in Psychotherapy – Contemporary Dilemmas” (Asian Studies, 2016); “EAWE : Examination of Anomalous World Experience” (with L.A. Sass et al., Psychopathology, 2017), “Multiple orientations within the worldviews in psychosis and mysticism: relevance for psychotherapy” (with M.G. Henriksen, Discipline filosofiche, 2017), “Self-disorders in psychosis: A possible integrative concept of phenomenology and psychoanalysis” (with B. Rosenbaum & M.G. Henriksen, in Psychoanalysis and Psychiatry, 2019), and “Toward a phenomenological psychotherapy for schizophrenia” (with M.G. Henriksen, Psychopathology, 2019).

Published Oct. 10, 2019 11:13 AM - Last modified Oct. 10, 2019 11:13 AM