Book Reviews

A Paradigm Developed in Brazil for Integrative Mental Health

Book Reviews by Judith E.Pentz, MD (founding board member of INIMH)

Spiritism and Mental Health: Practices from Spiritist Centers and Spiritist Psychiatric
Hospitals. Edited by Emma Bragdon, PhD. Foreword by James Lake, MD. 352 pages, Singing
Dragon Press.

Resources for Extraordinary Healing: Schizophrenia, BiPolar and Other Serious Mental
Illnesses (companion book to Spiritism and Mental Health for a general audience). Emma
Bragdon, PhD. 256 pages, Lightening Up Press.

The premise of bringing spirituality front and center into the healing arena is most intriguing
and typically lacking in modern day psychiatric settings. Emma Bragdon PhD, editor, has spent
the last 10 years collecting information about the tradition/discipline of Spiritism presented
in the book and the companion book for resources in the USA with this focus in mind. It is a
compelling argument that the authors make and the benefits of this particular healing modality
are noted with numerous case studies and small group studies.

The foundation of Spiritism is described as follows: ‘It operates on a pragmatic, dualist
interactionist model’. There is a comparison of microbiology to Spiritism in that ‘both are
unseen’ yet impact the human organism in the ‘natural world’. In addition, the mind is seen in
this discipline as having ‘independent existence’ to the brain, surviving beyond the body. The
body and soul are seen to be unique to each person and that they influence each other in the
interactionist duality yet there is supremacy of the spirit over the body via ‘free will’.

Spiritism is a scientific discipline that was developed by a French academic in the1850’s under
the pseudonym of Allen Kardec. The name “Spiritism” was an attempt to retain the full import
of the serious healing nature of the inquiry, to keep the philosophy in tact, and to differentiate
it from the free-wheeling parlor games of spiritualism of the times.. Kardec developed
protocols to ferret out fake mediums and ended up intrigued with the real paranormal
phenomena he discovered, and deeply impressed with the cohesive philosophy transmitted by
various mediums unknown to each other. His seminal texts served as the foundation for the
13,000 Spiritist centers that have developed in Brazil in the past 150 years now utilized by one
fifth of the population of Brazil.

The Spiritist movement began when university students from the wealthy classes of Brazil
brought Spiritist books home from France and with European trained homeopaths who were
attempting to bring integrative medical care to the poorer people of Brazil. It is now growing

most quickly in the wealthy classes, as it offers spiritual growth and an organized, effective
method to assist the disenfranchised. John of God is a unique and extraordinary healer in
the Spiritist tradition that many outside of Brazil know of as a result of exposure through ABC
Primetime, Discovery Health, National Geographic, BBC, and Oprah.

There are over 50 hospitals in Brazil built on the specific principles of Spiritism. They are able
to bring in the Spiritist interventions along with allopathic interventions in these free-standing
psychiatric facilities that are not part of the government system. A diverse group of Spiritist
volunteers who have gone through specific and rigorous training that can take longer than 5
years are available—at no charge– for various Spiritist treatments including: empathic listening
to patients in fraternal counseling sessions, laying-on of hands, healing at a distance through
mediums, and diagnostics involving medical intuition

The descriptions of specific cases that utilize the Spiritist interventions attempt to demonstrate
the positive potentials of the interventions— which often allow healing to happen with striking
and lasting results. Citations refer to one hospital’s efforts to create respect and value to the
spiritual dimension, during the time when the bio-chemical model of care was heralded as
the answer to mental health issues. The challenges that the hospitals and the clinics face are
chronicled in “Spiritism and Mental Health”

The concept of ‘spiritual hygiene’ and ‘meaningful connection to the Divine’ are noted to be as
crucial to our wellbeing as are bodily hygiene and nourishment. Reincarnation and spiritual
evolution over lifetimes are concepts of importance to fully receive benefits and understand
some common manifestations of illnesses of the mind and spirit. It is strongly suggested that
incorporating this into research would be important and there is empirical hypothesis to support
this idea.

Jung’s perspective and cultural psychiatry‘s input are noted with regards to different states
of consciousness and the healing impact this can offer individuals. Stanley Krippner, PhD
and others shared their personal journeys visiting Spiritist Centers. There is a call to broaden
horizons in the field of psychiatry/psychology for adequate research to be conducted in areas
such as Spiritist treatments.

The companion book, Resources for Extraordinary Healing, presents the above ideas in a simpler
form appropriate for a person looking for integrative mental healthcare outside Brazil. This
represents a most ambitious project to bring the benefits of Spiritist tradition to other cultures,
including the US. There are compelling reasons to do so as our own mental health system is
in dire need of overhaul and regrouping—Our priorities are currently not about healing and
supporting the patient with a spiritual, communal support system.

The challenges to bring the model to the US might include the language of Christianity that
overlays some of the Spiritist interventions. It is emphasized that the Spiritist process is
ecumenical but I found the flavor of the writings to still be strongly Christian. Thus I would have
concern about its inclusiveness with the diversity of religions and culture here and possibly in

less Christian cultures. However, there are already centers available in larger cities in the US
and other parts of the world which are effectively working with people coming from all religions
and cultures.

The possibility of the Spiritist movement to offer effective, new, community based interventions
with due respect to both science and spirituality—with no cost to the patient– is present in the
information shared by Dr Bragdon and colleagues. The Spiritist movement with the community
inclusion, volunteerism, emphasis on spiritual growth, and ability to sustain itself relatively
independent of the government is appealing to consider in this current economic climate. The
efforts of Emma Bragdon et al are to be commended in bringing forth Spiritist information
beyond the borders of Brazil.