Chaplains, pastors, and those serving in the ministry often face the same struggles as spiritual and mental health professionals in maintaining their mental and spiritual wellbeing while tending to others. Providers of spiritual care represent an underserved population and are at risk in many ways.
A 2017 article from The Christian Citizen notes that members of the clergy suffer rates of anxiety and depression higher than the national average (Stephenson, 2017). As a result, many experience burnout, low self-worth, and doubt in their ability (Barna, 2017).
These difficulties can disrupt domestic life and have pushed some church leaders to lose their faith, while others have even taken their own lives (Molina, McFarlan Miller, Stone, 2019).
Understandably, these issues have been exacerbated since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic (Baker, 2020).
I received a tearful call from a potential client. As a Christian pastor, he had grown weary through the responsibilities of his position. For over 20 years he had tended to the needs of different congregations and communities, presiding over their sorrows and joys while trying to have a life of his own.
He’d had much difficulty striking this balance, and though he had many good deeds to rest upon, his heart, mind, and spirit were deeply unsettled and his family’s life was impacted. An existential crisis had dominated his life and he was burdened with a loss of faith.
In this delicate state, he found himself driven to anger and despair. The thought of suicide crept in on occasion.
He recounted the numerous experiences that had led him to the point of seeking therapy. A troubled family life, disconnection from his congregation, and traumas both personal and those accumulated from others caused his soul great unrest.
Larger than life expectations from his parish held him to a standard that was impossible to meet. Beyond his day to day duties, he was haunted by the faces of many who he had overseen in their last moments of life, and the words of a multitude of eulogies echoed in his mind.
His role, as he put it, was “ripe for the transference of trauma” and by this point, he could no longer transmute it. Though unsure of how there was a lingering sense that he needed to process what he was carrying.
A recent journey with psilocybin had shifted his internal landscape in a way that he could not immediately comprehend. As he put it, it seemed to present a way of seeing things quite foreign to how he knew himself.
While his prior internal landscape was dulled by bitter moments from his past, in the psychedelic experience, there was a hint at a vivid antithesis.
It was refreshing though disconcerting. Psychedelic integration with the religious leader was to become part of therapy as a way of grounding this new perspective and assimilating it on the level of spirit.
A sense of God-consciousness was experienced firsthand, reawakening his relationship with scripture. Tears once of desperation now carried the salt away from his wounds and long-buried feelings surfaced.
Years of grief from his own life and the lives of his congregants were brought up for review. These tired old ghosts of his past were sent on their way, leaving an opening for something new to fill the space they once occupied.
In the course of his therapy, I gained a deeper understanding of him and learned more about his connection to his faith.
The role as pastor, one that once bought deep meaning and joy to his life, had gradually come into conflict with his connection to God, family, and self. He had been afraid of losing everything that mattered to him and losing himself as well.
Studies with psychedelics and faith leaders in the last few years show great promise, perhaps offering an untapped resource for meeting the spiritual and mental health needs of this uniquely vulnerable population (Gunther, 2020).
My own experiences in my profession and in psychedelic states informed my psychedelic integration with the religious leader work with the Pastor.
In a cryptic and colorful way, the psilocybin had pushed the Pastor out of his ordinary sense of self and into a deeply felt and known state of unity. Under its force, he had glanced at himself beyond his position of service.
Service to others had taken precedence over all other areas of his life and he had little awareness of his own needs. Meeting those needs in a way that was in line with the spirit and the demands of his life and profession seemed implausible to him, and yet he didn’t wish to dismiss the momentary sense of resolve he had come to know in the visionary state.
A remnant of this clearer perspective remained after the psilocybin had run its course, and we spent much of our therapy exploring what it was that had been blocking it in the first place. This remarkably different way of seeing himself, though temporary, seemed to offer a road map towards clarity.
The psychedelic integration with the religious leader around this experience with psilocybin had a profound impact on his overall therapy, helping to deepen his relationship to himself, his family, and ultimately to God. To this day, he continues to take steps towards a life of greater overall balance.
For him particularly, this has meant placing his own needs on an equal level with his duties as a Pastor. In doing so, he has found ways to set aside time for himself and explore new ways of being in the world, ones that do not exclusively revolve around giving care to others.
This was once a foreign concept but is at this point as important to his well being as diet and exercise.
Those providing spiritual and mental health services tend to the consciousness of others to help heal and transform –and this is the exact sort of soul care that they themselves need.
Disclaimer: The following material is provided for informational purposes only and is not designed to prescribe, diagnose, or treat any physical or mental illness. None of the information presented here should be treated as medical or professional advice. Mindleap does not condone the acquisition nor consumption of illicit psychotropic compounds.
Stephenson, M 2017, Clergy Mental Health, The Christian Citizen, accessed 16 December 2020, <https://medium.com/christian-citizen/clergy-mental-health-30b1f960dac>
Barna 2017, New Barna study in partnership with Pepperdine University offers a revealing look at lives of American pastors, Religion News LLC, accessed 16 December 2020,<https://religionnews.com/2017/01/26/new-barna-study-in-partnership-with-pepperdine-university-offers-revealing-look-at-lives-of-american-pastors/>
Molina, A, McFarlan Miller, E, Stone, R 2019, Pastor and Mental Health Advocate Jarrid Wilson Dies by Suicide, Religion News Service, accessed 18 December 2020, <https://religionnews.com/2019/09/10/pastor-author-and-mental-health-advocate-jarrid-wilson-dies-by-suicide/>
Baker, S 2020, It’s Rough Out There: Considering Your Pastor’s Mental Health in COVID, Pastor Church Resources, accessed 21 December 2020, <https://network.crcna.org/elders/its-rough-out-there-considering-your-pastors-mental-health-covid>
Gunther, M 2020, A minister, a rabbi and the man who gave them psilocybin, The Psychedelic Renaissance, accessed 24 December 2020, <https://medium.com/the-psychedelic-renaissance/a-minister-a-rabbi-and-the-man-who-gave-them-psilocybin-9e0ede4026a2>