Delirium: spiritual emergence or temporary psychosis?

Assessing the aftercare needs for those who have been affected by a delirious episode. The term spiritual emergence was first coined by Stan and Christina Grof who founded the Spiritual Emergency Network in the 1980s at the Esalen Institute in California.

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Delirium is considered a condition of the nervous system where a person becomes suddenly confused and is also known as 'acute confusional state'. It can often occur in intensive care units (ICU) in hospitals (for a fuller explanation of how it occurs see the link at the bottom). Someone suffers from either distorted belief systems, perceptual disturbances and/or cognitive impairment and it can be a very frightening experience for the person concerned as well as for family and friends affected by the event. 

Individuals who have suffered a delirious episode in hospital care will most likely have had some contact with psychiatric services, particularly if there has been ongoing confusion or worries about mental well-being. But, as we all know, psychiatric services are stretched and it is possible that someone may not have had much attention specifically about delirium whilst in hospital. The condition may have been clinically managed but the psychological care may have been lacking. It is also very possible that aftercare is limited and that any aftercare that has been offered is restricted to irregular and brief outpatient appointments. It might well be the case that someone who suffered a delirious episode is left to make sense of the experience essentially on their own. This is usually the case when the predisposing factors are deemed to have passed, such as admission to ICU, for example.

People who have suffered a delirious episode might well be left with unanswered questions as to how it happened and whether or not the whole experience is best forgotten or worth exploring in therapy. Therapy for such experiences can potentially be an opportunity to examine what happened and how the psyche behaved in such circumstances. With paranoia and anxiety at raised levels there may have been vivid hallucinations and such imagery (either through diaries or drawings) could be explored in a private and confidential setting with a therapist. Might your experiences have been about spiritual emergence, if viewed through a transpersonal lens? The term spiritual emergence was first coined by Stan and Christina Grof who founded the Spiritual Emergency Network in the 1980s at the Esalen Institute in California. Therapy might be the appropriate setting for such considerations since family and friends may lack the emotional capacity to revisit the events with you. It is important to remember that they will have been affected too and might want you to forget about what happened.

See also

Psychotherapy for delirium
Benzodiazepine Use & Neuropsychiatric Outcomes in ICU: A Systematic Review

Noel Bell

I have spent the past 20 years exploring and studying personal growth, recovery from addictions and inner transformation. I am integrative in my approach and tune my work to the uniqueness of each individual I work with.