Personal Mythologies And The DSM – IV

One of the projects I have had going for some time is that of putting together a manual for people undergoing the crisis of conservative or fundamentalist religious faith through which I went a few years ago. Hence, when I run across material that is relevant to that topic, I file it away. Last night while doing some reading unrelated to that topic, I stumbled across some interesting information in that regard that may be of interest to some here.

I was not aware that the DSM – IV has a category dealing with religious or spiritual crises. See…. David Lukoff (see…) is one of the drivers in this field. Several of his publications deal with the importance of the narrative self, and “personal mythologies” to sound mental health. A disruption one’s personal mythology related to religion can cause a form of mental dysfunction that is dealt with by the DSM – IV.

For an online summary of some of Lukoff’s views regarding the restructuring of personal mythologies in the wake of foundational changes in religious perspective, see… As I read this and then thought about it last night, it seemd to me that Lukoff has nicely summarized the process through which I went, and in my case, the personal mythology that made the most sense was the Religious Naturalism (RN) story that Ursula Goodenough tells so well (See “The Sacred Depths of Nature”) tells so well. I had worked out 90% of that on my own by reading Einstein and others before I knew anything about RN, and so when I ran into Ursula’s book a few months ago, and then ended up at Star Island (See…), it was liking walking into a reunion for a high school I had forgotten thatI had attended.

The DSM – IV does not (as far as I can tell) come close to prescribing something like RN as a personal mythology. Indeed, it seems to leave the door open to many types of mythology, as long as they take the patient in the direction of better mental health. I was troubled by some aspects of Lukoff’s presentation. For example, the use of the term “non-consensual reality” is problematic for me. He seems to be saying that odd non-consensual realities (like, for example, the kind of think David Hufford was describing on Star Island re. sleep paralysis) should be accepted as real in some way that I don’t yet understand as long as they don’t interfere with one’s ability to deal with consensual reality in a socially acceptable way. I don’t know enough about how Lukoff thinks the interface between those two “realities” works to at this point to more than sound a cautionary note. Too much of psychotherapy, from what I can tell, relies upon the placebo affect and invites patients to infer realities that do not exist because something seems to “work”. Once started down that path, the likelihood of magical thinking is too high to be healthy, in my view.

Without trying to exhaustively analyze what Lukoff has to say, it seem to me that the manner in which the DSM-IV deals with religious issues invites RN to present a treatment modality, grounded in the kind of personal mythology Lukoff says is necessary to mental health (and here I am on all fours with him), that has many advantages in terms of grounding the patient in the most reliable epistemic and ontological foundation the world has to offer at this juncture while at the same time dealing with crisis. And if this works for clinical cases, why would not not work for the many sub-clinical cases? This approach, I would argue, is most likely to help the patient to develop the means to protect herself against her own weaknesses and the occasionally human proclivity to take advantage of the weak. Etc.

Yesterday and today are close to perfect days in the Canadian Rocky Mountain foothills. Fall here is more an event than a season. The nights cool and the leaves change color and fall in a couple of weeks. We are in the midst of these weeks now. Nights near freezing. Indian summer days. Color everywhere. Bugs dead. Little wind. Close to perfection. It is good to be alive.



Leave a Reply