Associations between mysticism and madness have been made since earliest recorded history, and the striking resemblance between self-reports of both mystical and psychotic experience suggests that similar psychological processes may be involved in their occurrence. By exploring the similarities, and proposing a common element to mystical and psychotic experience (referred to here as the experience of "oneness"), this paper aims to place mysticism and madness onto the same experiential continuum. However, in contrast to much of the previous literature, the intention is not to pathologize mystical experience, but rather to normalize psychotic experience. The paper argues not only that the experience of oneness is entirely genuine and available to all humans, but also that it has an important psychological (and evolutionary) function. Using cognitive terminology, it then attempts to explain the processes determining whether an individual enjoys a fulfilling mystical experience, or suffers a debilitating psychotic breakdown (i.e., how "oneness" is experienced). Finally, this paper turns to look at some of the important implications such an approach might have for clinical practice and for the mental health of people in general.
Update: Another recent article in the same journal makes a similar case. One of you might be interested--here's the abstract:
*Full citation: Raab, KA. "Manic depression and religious experience: the use of religion in therapy." Mental Health, Religion & Culture 10.5 (Sept. 2007). Pgs. 473-87.
In the article, I explore the use of spiritual strategies in the treatment of manic depression in religiously oriented psychiatric inpatients. Manic depression, a disorder primarily of mood, is characterized by bouts of mania alternating with depression. Religious themes and mystical experiences pervade the language of manic depressive illness, e.g., sensing one is God, being given a divine mission, receiving divine messages, having ecstatic experiences, and so on. Debate exists concerning the effectiveness of spiritual interventions in manic patients. I suggest that a trained religious leader may be able to work therapeutically with such patients, provided that two goals are kept in mind: emphasizing beliefs that facilitate positive coping and challenging irrational religious beliefs (i.e., beliefs that lead to negative coping). When examined psychoanalytically, patients' religious symbols and beliefs reveal deeply held beliefs about themselves. In particular, splitting and idealization and devaluation can be seen in their religious belief system. The role of culture in promoting maladaptive belief systems must not be overlooked. In employing spiritual interventions in patients diagnosed with manic depression, potential dangers are imposing one's values on patients and overstating the importance of spirituality.*