Shamanism and Mental Health

“Your mind is potentially the most flexible part of you, much more so than even your body, emotions, or spirit.  The reason is that the primary quality of your mind is your imagination.  Developing your mental self means developing the power to focus your imagination in order to expand your awareness, increase your ability to learn more and faster, appreciate different points of view, notice the reactions of others more quickly so you can adapt to them more effectively, and include more patterns of behavior in your repertoire for coping with the unexpected, to name a few.”?

*from: “Huna: Ancient Hawaiian Secrets for Modern Living” by Serge Kahili King


Last year, I had a social worker tell me that shamanism is not an accepted form of therapy (certified social workers all have degrees in psychology).  She went on to tell me that unless I’d been diagnosed with depression or addiction by a psychologist, my self-diagnosis was not valid.  She was trying to drive home the point that unless an expert tells you something about yourself, you can’t possibly just know what is up with yourself.?  She demanded to know why I didn’t just go see a counselor.  My response was simple: “I did see a counselor and it didn’t work for me so I looked for something that did.”

I know she wasn’t satisfied with my response but I could sense that she was closed-minded about this topic and decided not to delve into this further with her.  I changed the topic.  Recently, I was speaking to another social worker who happened to have indigenous ancestry.  When I told her that I did ceremony and learned shamanic tools to heal myself, she smiled and nodded: “Yes.  It works, doesn’t it?”  The relief I felt was actually stunning to me.  I hadn’t realized until then how much of my life I’d lived in fear of being institutionalized if people found out about my psychic skills and how I use them. After all, talking to dead ancestors and totem animals could be interpreted as psychosis.  

The indigenous social worker went on to tell me that she comes across the same ignorance I experienced often in her field where psychologists think that what they learned in their training is the only valid knowledge out there.  She also went on to tell us that this is why the health care system often fails indigenous peoples: because it is culturally insensitive. I had heard this before from a Hawaiian elder who is also a nurse and runs a clinic that blends Western medicine with Traditional Hawaiian medicine on the island of Oahu.  The clinic has been so successful with indigenous Hawaiians because they are offered a choice of blending medicines or just staying with one mode.  Best of all, doctors and traditional healers work in harmony to provide care for their patients.

The truth is, I do perceive elements of reality that most people do not.  This doesn’t make me crazy or ill.  It wasn’t until I started studying shamanism that I met teachers who helped me learn how to use the psychic skills I had without medicating them out of me.  I’d been on anti-depressants in my twenties and they only served to make me feel numb and inhuman.  I am not against using medication and I know that it does help some people. Ultimately, it needs to work for the patient. With shamanic practice, I’ve learned more about who I am, what my skills are, and how to use them to support my own healing and that of others.  Most of all, I’ve learned to embrace these gifts instead of trying to hide them from the world.  This brought a sense of wholeness to my life that was previously missing.

Last week, I celebrated the launch of my new book about the topic of healing addiction with shamanic medicine (“Dreaming of Cupcakes”).  As I relayed pieces of my healing journey to the audience, I realized how shocked they were at my candor about mental illness and addiction.  They were not used to hearing someone be so forthcoming about these taboo subjects.  And they were certainly not necessarily accustomed to someone sharing about their ability to communicate with the spirit world.  In the end, people asked some great questions and I felt good about leaving them with perhaps a new perspective on mental illness.

After the launch, a mental health nurse who was in the audience came up to me and asked if I would speak to her mental health nursing students at a local university.  Of course, I said yes! Whether this happens or not, I was just so floored about the fact that this would even be on offer and it showed me that something is changing in the universe that is allowing for these conversations to come to the fore today.  Even a decade ago, putting this into the public arena would have been much more challenging.  Most of all, I am hopeful that we can learn how to direct the attention of our minds and put them to the use that Spirit intended for them: to remain open to new ideas. And I truly pray that everyone who is struggling with mental health can find the support they need in a way that doesn’t force them to sacrifice who they are.




About the author:



Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic practitioner, reiki master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.

Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:

The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”

“Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”

“Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey into Healing”


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For more information go to: www.spiraldanceshamanics.com