1 Columbia University
Copyright © 2008 American Anthropological Association


ayahuasca • spiritual emergency • shamanism • psychotherapy • liminal states


There is an increased controversy surrounding Westerners’ use of ayahuasca. One issue of importance is psychological resiliency of users and lack of screening by ayahuasca tourism groups in the Amazon. Given the powerful effects of ayahuasca coupled with lack of cultural support, Western users are at increased risk for psychological distress. Many Westerners who experience psychological distress following ayahuasca ceremonies report concurrently profound spiritual experiences. Because of this, it may be helpful to consider these episodes “spiritual emergencies,” or crises resulting from intense and transformative spiritual experiences. Although the author warns readers to avoid romantic comparisons of Western ayahuasca users to shamans, ethnographic data on indigenous shamanic initiates along with theory on liminality may be of some use to understand difficult experiences that accompany ayahuasca use. Given that psychotherapy is culturally sanctioned, therapists trained in treating spiritual crises can help Western ayahuasca users make meaning of their distress. Three case studies are offered as examples of individuals working through various sorts of crises following ayahuasca ceremonies.


10.1111/j.1556-3537.2008.00006.x About DOI

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