Book Review: Journeying, Where Shamanism and Psychology Meet

This is a revised version of a previously written book review.

Journeying : Where Shamanism and Psychology Meet by Jeannette M. Gagan (✭✭✭✬✩, 3.5/5)

One of the key areas of interest to a lot of spirit workers, myself included, is the link between shamanism and psychology. The role of a shaman, be it core or traditional, is service to the surrounding community, frequently in the capacity of a healer. Raven Kaldera states that, since putting out his shingle as a Shaman, health has become the #1 issue that people ask about (as opposed to love or work, the other two frequent topics for readers). Harner states that the purpose of Shamanism is healing.

Given this association, it is natural that psychotherapists are starting to take an interest in Shamanism, and specifically in journeying, as a mechanism to encourage healing in their clients. Outside of some of the resources provided by the Institute of Shamanic Studies, there simply aren’t all that many good, published resources on the relationship between Shamanism and Psychology. Especially not from the psychotherapist side.

Journeying: Where Shamanism and Psychology Meet is an initial attempt to bridge this gap. After reading the effusive praise of the book Amazon, most of it from the point of view of a psychotherapist approaching shamanic practice, that I was eager to read it from the perspective of a spirit worker.

This book is not–and does not claim to be–an introduction to how to incorporate journeying in a psychotherapeutic context, nor is it in any way a “how to.” Really, there are many books out there on that already, and so this book is attempting to enter a much-needed void: discussion of the actual link between them, and discussion of how one can facilitate and help the other.

The chapters of the book are as follows:

  • Chapter 1: The Apple and the Orange
  • Chapter 2: Shared Slices
  • Chapter 3: How the Cradle is Rocked
  • Chapter 4: Little Red Riding Hood Meets the Wolf
  • Chapter 5: The Alchemical Connection
  • Chapter 6: The Meeting Place

The sequence starts by showing some of the history of Shamanism and Psychotherapy, and then slowly working their way together over the following chapters. The final chapter, The Meeting Place, attempts to draw a synthesis between the two.

History

From the standpoint of introducing people with a psychotherapeutic background to journeying, this book is reasonably good. It attempts to present the argument that there is a missing core of a “Soul” from Psychology, and establishes through some discussion what role this concept of a “Soul” has had in the history of Psychology and Psychotherapy. It describes Psychology as a navel orange, with no clear center and with a vestigial second “fruit” inside–representing the role of the soul–and a variety of clearly delineating slices representing different schools of thoughts.

Shamanism, on the other hand, is compared to an Apple–with a central set of core techniques, concepts, and practices. Very different on the one hand, and the author is attempting to establish that they are basically both forms of fruit.

To do this, it launches into a discussion of third and fourth force psychology, transpersonal psychology, and covers the history of psychological thought including some notes for Aristotle, Freud, Descartes. She goes on to discuss Jung’s Collective Unconscious, the role of visualization in both physical and mental health, and how Altered States of Conscious (ASCs) can be used as part of the healing process.

While generally interesting, during this discussion the author’s inherent biases come out. I expected a Core-Shamanist Perspective with an emphasis on psychological healing via journeying (as the title suggests, and as opposed to other things that Shamanism can and has been used for over the years), what I didn’t expect would be that the author would be unable to separate her own cultural biases, which appear to be based on her Christian background. These show up in several places throughout the book, but nowhere more clearly than when she discusses maladaptive ASCs, where she states that:

The emergence of unconscious conflicts may also be acted out in insidious rituals of possession, witchcraft, or other power-laden altered state ordeals; in life, as in fairy tales, such activities hint at evildoings and can elicit a sense of foreboding.

While it is easy enough to filter out the author’s own biases in these situations, it makes me want to say Really? You could shift your mind far enough to accept journeying, even as practiced by tribal shamans, did you really have to throw out other things practiced by traditional shamans in the process?

How Journeying Can Heal

Later chapters the author starts to talk about the origin of psychological distress and how journeying can help. This, which to me should represent the core of the book, instead ends up as the weakest part. The author spends an inordinate amount of time talking about childhood sources for these problems, which I feel is less important for the purposes of journeying and shamanic healing than that the problems exist.

My own bias in these things is that I tend to be relatively pragmatic: understanding the source of the problems can help tremendously in finding a cure, but the source of such problems can be (and is already represented as) numerous other books, and the solution frequently works independent of the precise source. We don’t really need a discussion of all of the various ways that these problems can and do form in childhood, we need a discussion of how journeying and shamanism tie into the therapy of the conditions regardless of their source.

Here, I feel it would have been better if it had taken Emotional Alchemy’s approach and acknowledged the source, but then moved on to how journeying has been used to treat it, or a Shamanic view on the treatment of the problem.

To this end, I really wish the author had included more case studies and talking about specific circumstances where journeying has helped someone, rather than front-loading with the potential origin of psychological conditions, and then a couple of illustrative case studies on the topic.

Containment

The final chapters present a synthesis between shamanism and psychology and represents the strongest–and most useful–part of the book. Here we see the author talk about how journeying helps clients, how it offers a contained, safe, and non-judgmental space in which to work. Here we see the benefit of how journeying helps keeps the transference from happening on to the therapist, and situations for which the author says journeying is counter-indicated. This is all excellent stuff, and forms the start of where I want to see research in this field start to lead.

Conclusion

The unfortunate problem with this book for spirit workers and psychotherapists is that most of us are not in the target audience. For psychotherapists who are already using journeying, this book won’t give them anything new to work with. For those who are skeptical of journeying, the book doesn’t really give anything that might sway them or convince them otherwise even if they have a relatively open mind to the process. For the spirit worker, it might be an interesting read, but there isn’t much here that we don’t already know and use.

This leads me to think that there are two groups who would benefit the most from this book:

  1. Psychotherapists and Psychologists who are curious about journeying and its application for healing, along with some context on it.
  2. People who have a TV Shamanism view of what a Shaman is, and could use a little context.

For people in these situations, I can see how it would be a really useful book, and I will keep it on my shelf to loan out for just these purposes. Otherwise it is an interesting read, but I really wish the author had taken it just that one extra step farther and removed some of the less-useful bits about how childhood and other circumstances contribute to our current psychological state.

This entry was posted in Book Reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *