Primum non nocere: mental illness and divination

Lately, I’ve dealt with a particularly hairy divinatory situation, which is the inspiration for this particular entry.

Personal policy dictates that I refuse to read or offer spiritual advice to someone with an active mental illness. By “active,” I mean a mental illness that isn’t being appropriately treated or one in which appropriate treatment hasn’t yet been determined (i.e., medication was recently adjusted and symptoms return, etc.) This may include not only the folks with paranoid schizophrenia — and I’d probably include the aforementioned in that category, based on what I’ve seen — but someone with deep even suicidal depression, or in the throes of mania, etc.

I struggle with this sometimes, as it seems discriminatory. People don’t choose to have mental illnesses, after all; by what right does a seer refuse to share the wisdom of the Otherworld?

Primum non nocere: First, do no harm.

That’s a healer’s principle and not a seer’s, one may argue. A seer’s motives aren’t limited to healing, per se. Truth, perhaps, or interaction with cosmic order. What clients most often seek, however, is some sort of soul-healing — the truth that sets them free (pardon the cliche), the signpost that can show the soul’s path and thus calm the source of dis-ease.

You can offer the best and most accurate reading in the world to someone — but if they’re not — and cannot be — in a place to receive it, it’s a wasted effort. Now, the wasted effort isn’t entirely my business, so to speak; I cannot make people heed the reading and some perfectly “normal” folks have disregarded the advice offered in repeated sessions. That’s human nature for you.

Where mental illness becomes a problem is the client’s interpretation, which may have nothing to do with the actual reading or the situation at hand. Someone in the throes of suicidal depression may see a reading as proving the bleakness of their circumstances, giving a motive for their act. Same with paranoid schizophrenia. I’ve seen this firsthand when I did end up doing readings for people who were ill. I don’t want to give anyone an excuse or justification for harming themselves or others.

Second, the true spiritual task for clients so inclined is to get a handle on their illness — not to converse with spirits, cast spells or journey to the Otherworld. They need connection to the flesh and blood world, to consensus reality. Spiritual exploration is better done with your feet on solid earth, not on quicksand. This isn’t to say that folks with mental health diagnoses can’t do journey work or ritual — not at all. But without a firm grounding in their own physical and mental well-being, that work is at best wasted and, at worst, something that fans the flames of their illness.

In these cases, the only responsible thing for me to do is refer such clients to their mental health professionals. I am a seer and not a healer — I know my limits. I do feel compassion, however, because there are mental health professionals who would view spiritual pursuits as symptomatic of illness or at least an idle escape. And sometimes they’re right, too.

This isn’t a blanket refusal to read for anyone with a diagnosis. Someone with well-managed schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder or what-have-you may come in and ask for insight into job prospects, a relationship, a dream. As a seer, I’d be none the wiser; these clients are no longer defined or circumscribed by their illnesses. They’re in touch with the worlds — the outer world of consensual reality, the inner world of their own thoughts and feelings. In short, where we all need to be.


About whitecatgrove

The musings of a Druid priestess, singer, poet and musician in Upstate New York.
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One Response to Primum non nocere: mental illness and divination

  1. Pingback: Primum non nocere: mental illness and divination « White Cat Grove : Schizophrenia Page

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