Voices and spiritual crisis

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Sometimes unusual mental and bodily experiences occur quite suddenly or unexpectedly. Whether or not this takes place outside of, or within, established spiritual or religious traditions, the result can be a ‘spiritual crisis’ or ‘spiritual emergency’.

Spiritual crisis refers to a major and meaningful shift in one’s identity, values, beliefs and worldview caused by spontaneous, spiritually significant events. This can cause confusion as well as sensory and perceptual changes in the individual, leading to distress and a subsequent search for explanation and meaning.

Experiences and practices that sometimes give rise to a spiritual crisis or emergency include:

  • Kundalini awakening
  • Ritual and religious ecstasy
  • Hallucinogenic drug use
  • Perceived paranormal events
  • Seeing visions
  • Voice-hearing

Although the idea of a spiritual emergency remains outside the mainstream of psychiatry and psychology, there is an increasing awareness that the personally meaningful changes brought on by voice-hearing and other sudden perceptual experiences may lead to an existential crisis.

For those experiencing such a crisis – as well as for their relatives, friends, therapists and spiritual advisors – it is important to remember that a spiritual crisis can lead to a spiritual breakthrough. It can help to find the necessary support and environment to process the experience, learn from it and integrate it into their identity. 

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