I had the opportunity to interview Charlton Hall, MMFT, LMFT, therapist and Chief Druid of the Universal Order of Druids about his survey, Pagan Perspectives on Marriage, mental illness in the Pagan community. If you are a Pagan and would like to participate visit www.surveymonkey.com/s/67JKXMG
Masery: On your page at the Saluda Counseling site you mention that the most important factor in a therapeutic intervention is the client/therapist ‘fit’. When someone is searching for a mental health professional, what is the fit they need to look for?
Charlton: Ideally, a therapist should be ‘client-centered.’ This means that the therapist should only help you make the changes that you want to make. But research has demonstrated that the more similar the therapist’s worldview is to the client’s, the more likely you are to get results. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to see if your therapist is on the same page that you’re on. If you’re Pagan, and your therapist is one of those, ‘You’re going to burn in Hell!’ types, then you probably wouldn’t get the results you want. Conversely, if you’re a conservative Christian, and your therapist is a tree-hugging Druid, you’re probably going to clash at some point. Although most therapist training programs incorporate diversity training, therapists are people too. It’s sometimes hard to keep our own worldview from creeping in, in spite of our best efforts.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that a Pagan will only get good results from a Pagan therapist. Some are more open to differing worldviews than others. If this is an issue for you, the best question to ask would be, ‘How comfortable are you in working with a Pagan client?’ If the therapist starts wanting to pathologize your belief system, then it’s probably time to look for a different therapist.
Masery: Pagans are concerned about sharing their religious view and experiences with mental health professionals. They worry about their religion being viewed as part of a misdiagnosis rather than a potential healing tool. What is your advice for Pagans seeking psychological assistance?
Charlton: Be up-front and open with your therapist right from the start. That way, if there are any issues, you can find another therapist sooner rather than later. In the ethical code of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, it is unethical to pathologize or discriminate against a client’s religious worldview. If that’s happened to you, your therapist is walking dangerously close to malpractice under most ethical codes of conduct. It’s also against federal law to discriminate on the basis of religion.
The kicker here is that there are some diagnoses that have elements of religious delusion. But a good therapist should know the difference between an alternative religious practice and a delusion. If your therapist suggests that you may have a diagnosis rooted in your religious beliefs, question them closely and ask them to explain in detail why they’re coming to that conclusion.
Masery: The Universal Order of Druids has started a Pagan-Friendly Health Care Provider (PFHCP) Certification Program. www.uodruids.org/pagan_health_care_provider_directory.htm Am I correct that it was inspired by Kimberly Hendrick’s research? What are the goals of the program and what is required of providers during the training. Is it open to professionals of other or no religion?
Charlton: I was actually already working on this idea before I became aware of Dr. Hendrick’s work. Her findings confirmed my own regarding the reluctance many Pagans feel about discussing their beliefs with their health care providers. My own interest in this area came about because of all the misinformation many therapists seem to have about Pagan spiritual practices. Of course, I live in the Bible Belt, so I may have a slightly skewed picture of the landscape, but in general most of the therapists I’ve talked to have little familiarity with Pagan religions and spiritualities.
The goals of the Pagan-Friendly Health Care Provider (PFHCP) Certification Program are as follows:
To inform health care providers of the special needs and interests of the Pagan population
To assist health care providers in understanding the worldview of this population
To offer suggestions on how health care providers can effectively work with the Pagan community
To help health care providers differentiate between dysfunctional belief systems requiring a diagnosis, and healthy Pagan belief systems
To educate health care providers on the enormous diversity inherent in the Pagan community
We hope to be able to offer both an online PFHCP program, and live workshops in the near future. The first live workshop will be this spring in Asheville, North Carolina. Providers will complete the training, either online or at a workshop, then answer a short quiz at the end. Upon passing the quiz, they will be granted PFHCP certification. PFHCP-certified providers are given a free listing in the directory, and their listing is noted as ‘PFHCP Certified.’ We also offer free listings to providers who have expressed an interest in working with Pagan clients. If they have not taken the training, they do not have the PFHCP certification in their listing.
The Pagan-Friendly Health Care Provider (PFHCP) Certification Program is open to people of all religious/spiritual paths, or none. Non-Pagan providers may find the training especially helpful.
Masery: People with genuine and severe mental illness are a part of any community. I want to share with you an excerpt from Caelesti’s post “Mental Illness in the Pagan Communtiy” at Politics and Polytheism.
“While the often tolerant and nonjudgmental nature of the Pagan community is greatly beneficial to many eccentric but sufficiently sane people, we may be enabling some bizarre behavior that is a cry for help. Some of these people who think that they are elves and vampires really need to be on medication. Undiagnosed people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can mask their behavior with some kinds of spiritual practices.” paganleft.wordpress.com/2006/09/10/mental-illness-in-the-pagan-community/
I’m sure there are people who would agree this applies to the subculture of otherkin. I know two Pagans who consider themselves otherkin and they are employed and find a lot of strength in the practice. I’ve also encountered others at festivals who seemed to be using the idea as a means of escape or to feel somehow more powerful than others. Have you met anyone who considered themselves to be half human and another species or the reincarnation of another species? What is your view on this?
Charlton: Whew, I could probably write a whole book on this topic! In Drawing Down the Moon, Margot Adler talks about her experience of ‘becoming the bear’ in order to catch fish barehanded.
The Bard Taliesin said:
“I have been a blue salmon,
I have been a dog, a stag, a roebuck on the mountain,
A stock, a spade, an axe in the hand,
A stallion, a bull, a buck,
I was reaped and placed in an oven;
I fell to the ground when I was being roasted
And a hen swallowed me.
For nine nights was I in her crop.
I have been dead, I have been alive.
I am Taliesin.”
One of the exercises in Mindful Ecotherapy is ‘Finding Your Animal Totem.’ Carl Jung talked of archetypes. Each archetype has its own energy. A ‘wolf’ archetype has a different kind of energy than a ‘bear’ archetype, etc. In Mindful Ecotherapy, we call the energy of animal archetypes into our own lives to help us draw closer to the person we wish to be. For example, if you are as timid as a rabbit, then you might call on the energy of the lion archetype to help you to become more assertive. This is a fun exercise involving a lot of role playing and imagination.
The concept of becoming an animal is nothing new. Shamans have been doing it for millennia. Native American tribes have Wolf Clans, Bear Clans, and animal totems. Even in modern times, we cheer for the Atlanta Falcons or the Detroit Tigers or the Arkansas Razorbacks.
It is also true that ‘otherkin’ behavior can sometimes mask mental health symptoms. The dividing line lies in whether the behavior helps the person to live a happier life, or whether it causes them harm. If living as otherkin is causing problems at work, in social relationships, or the person is a danger to themselves or the people around them, then the behavior has crossed the line into dysfunction.
Masery: The referral to practitioners with OCD reminds me of correspondences I’ve had with two magicians, one eclectic and one ceremonial, at Sacred Magic and another forum. When they set up strict daily practices of elaborate rituals of the mind or to access other plans of reality, they became more and more isolated. Often they forgot to shave, eat, sleep, and didn’t leave their homes for days and in the extreme case of the ceremonial magician, months. The eclectic came to realize it was time to tend to his physical needs and he claimed to be stronger for the experience. His emails became more coherent and he shared several amazing insights. The other became increasingly paranoid that other magicians and beings were seeking to destroy him. What are your experiences with practitioners who have become seemingly obsessed with ritual? Could you share any insight into this behavior?
Charlton: Once again, the dividing line is whether or not the behavior is harmful to the individual or to others around him. This can be a bit trickier to establish when shamanistic practices are involved, as they sometimes involve self-deprivation, fasting, and in some cases, ritual self-mutilation. For example, the Lakotas had a grief ritual involving slicing skin from their forearms. A mental health professional might consider this self-injury risky or even pathological behavior, but would think nothing of lopping off his own infant son’s foreskin.
In such a case, it would probably be best to look at the long-term results. Did the practitioner gain spiritual insight, or did he become increasingly paranoid? Does he know what he’s doing, and is he acting with intent and purpose, or is he randomly self-injuring? An in-depth knowledge and application of cultural norms regarding the purposes of such behaviors, and the likely result, is required for any mental health provider working with such clients.
Masery: One of the advantages of a magical community, aside from festivals, is that our groups tend to be small which allows for more intimate collaboration and experiences. People share their inner thoughts, desires, with the potential to go through serious spiritual changes. This also makes it more important, in a way, for Covens and circles, to be much more exclusive. This can make it difficult for Pagans to find a group to practice with. What advice can you offer to leaders, Priests and Priestesses who meet a candidate with a mental illness. Also, what advice could you offer a candidate?
Charlton: My first advice would be that if you feel that something is not quite ‘right’ about a candidate, don’t try to diagnose them yourself. If you feel it appropriate, you might gently suggest to them that they talk to a professional. If you don’t feel that they would be open to such a suggestion, then you might politely decline to take them in for training. Covens and Groves are tightly-knit communities that often share very deep and meaningful personal information with each other. A person who is not open to advice of this nature from a Priest or Priestess is probably not someone you would want in your group anyway.
I would advise candidates to first be sure of their own motivations for wanting to join a particular group. Is your motivation out of a desire for self-improvement, or are you just looking for titles and degrees? Secondly, if you are a candidate considering a group, investigate it before committing to it. How is this group viewed in the local Pagan community? What do its members and former members have to say about it? Does its style of working match yours? Are you comfortable with the people? You might also want to check for any signs of cultish behavior. The late Isaac Bonewits created the Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Form (ABCDEF) for the purpose of establishing whether or not a group is a cult. The ABCDEF is available on the Universal Order of Druids website at: www.uodruids.org/Educational_Resources/advanced_bonewits_cult_danger_ev.htm.
Masery: On the other side of the ritual coin, how can magical practices can be therapeutic? For example keeping an altar or even more specific the LBRP (Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram) or the Druid concept of sacred space, nemeton.
Charlton: There is a psychological concept called ‘Situation-Specific Learning.’ This just means that if you learn certain behaviors in certain places or situations, then those places and situations become associated with those behaviors. If you have a sacred space such as an altar or a Grove, and you routinely have deep and meaningful spiritual experiences at these locations, then eventually simply going to those places will put you into a meditative state.
The same can be said of rituals and the tools of magic. If humans are raised without ritual, we spontaneously create our own. There’s something comforting in the familiar. Knowing that you can count on rituals and tools has a calming effect.
We also tend to attach our own meanings to these symbols of the Craft. For example, I have a Bell Branch. This is a branch that a novice Druid cuts from his own sacred tree at the start of his journey on the path of Druidry. Each time a rite of passage occurs in the life of a Druid, he hangs a bell on his branch to commemorate the event. I have bells on my Bell Branch representing the births of my children, my marriage to my wife, my graduations from college, getting my Marriage and Family Therapy license, etc. Each time I carry my Bell Branch into the sacred circle, I am reminded of all these events in my life. It’s a living representation of where I’ve been, and how far I’ve come.
To me, all of the tools and rituals of our Craft work this way. In seeing ourselves and our lives in our practice, we come to know ourselves. And that’s what therapy is all about: knowledge of self.
Masery: Charlton, you are a licensed marriage and family therapist. Recently you started the Pagan Perspectives on Marriage survey. What inspired you to conduct this survey?
Charlton: In the Pagan community, I have a lot of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) friends. As a result of seeing their struggles for acceptance, I have become a strong advocate for GLBT rights. I have also conducted handfastings for some of my GLBT friends. It’s pretty well known in the Pagan community that we are more tolerant of alternative forms of sexual expression. Even though this is usually accepted as fact among Pagans, to my knowledge no one has ever attempted to quantify how prevalent this tolerance is. The Pagan Perspectives on Marriage survey is an initial attempt to study how we view these relationships.
Masery: What are your goals for the survey and what do you hope to do with the information?
Charlton: I created this preliminary study to get an idea of what Pagan thoughts are on the subject. Next year I intend to do a follow-up study that will be more in-depth. When the survey analysis is completed, it will be posted on the Universal Order of Druids website. I also intend to submit it for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
One interesting result from Dr. Hendrick’s study is that many people become Pagan because they feel that mainstream religions are not tolerant of alternative forms of sexual expression. One goal of my current research is to educate the public, including those members of mainstream religions, on how Pagans feel about the topic of marriage. Another is to gain a better understanding of how mental health professionals can best address the needs of the Pagan community concerning marriage.
Masery: There are a few questions in the survey regarding polyamory. I recently learned that Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, Oberon’s wife and co-founder of the Church of All Worlds, coined the term polyamory. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyamory So in a way this current concept or consensual non-monogamy grew out of the modern Pagan movement. Have you counseled polyamorous couples or mainly more traditional male and female relationships? (After the interview I remembered that supporters of polyamory distinguish its view of less restricted relationships from polygamy which tends to be the marriage of one man to multiple wives.)
Charlton: Polyamory has been around for a long time. I find it ironic that the Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as ‘one man-one woman,’ supposedly in defense of a Biblical view of marriage, while in the Bible polyamory was practiced on a regular basis. Most of the biblical patriarchs had more than one wife. King Solomon is said to have had 300 wives and 700 concubines!
I can’t go into specifics on polyamorous couples I’ve counseled due to client confidentiality, but I can say that I have counseled polyamorous couples, and the practice is more widespread than most people would be willing to believe, even here in the Bible Belt. Unfortunately, there are still therapists who would like to pathologize this practice as well. As in all things with mental health, the bottom line should always be, “Does it help the individuals involved lead happier, more fulfilling lives?” If the answer to that question is ‘yes,’ then how on Earth could it be pathological?
Charlton Hall will be a guest on the Pagan Centered Podcast on February 9, 2011. imbleedingprofusely.com/
Staff of Asclepius interview with Kimberly Hendrick, PhD about the groundbreaking Pagan Health Surveywww.patheos.com/community/paganswithdisabilities/2011/01/16/interview-with-kimberly-hendrick-phd-about-the-groundbreaking-pagan-health-survey/