Chrysalis Crises: What Can We Learn from Spiritual Emergency?

Dr. Frank Pasciuti is a licensed clinical psychologist and ASCH certified hypnotherapist practicing privately in Charlottesville, Virginia. As a weekly collaborator with The Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS) at the University of Virginia, and an advisory board member at The Monroe Institute, Dr. Pasciuti has had innumerable clients referred to him who’ve undergone exceptional human experiences, like NDEs and various paranormal anomalies. Here he gives us a preview of his therapeutic model for treating spiritual emergencies described in his forthcoming book: Chrysalis Crises. He can be reached at

Is it possible that spiritual emergency can become an opportunity for personal development? How might this time of psychological crisis represent an invitation to deep transformation, no matter if it results from a psychic opening, a near-death experience (NDE), a past life experience, or some form of paranormal encounter? And if it does present us with an opportunity for growth, what key areas of human functioning would likely change for the positive?

As a clinician, I’ve been grappling with these questions for decades. Over time I’ve come to see that the potential for growth from spiritual emergency will be unique to each person because the longer-term impact of the crisis is often predicated on the person’s prior level of functioning.

For 40 years it has been my privilege to treat clients who presented with various … forms of spiritual emergency. As they adjusted to and made meaning of their crises, any maturation they experienced afterward was usually reflected in multiple arenas of their lives. From observations made throughout the therapeutic work, I’ve been able to identify ten key areas of human growth in which clients may experience improved functioning and greater wellbeing as a result of spiritual emergency. These ten areas encompass a broad spectrum of functioning. Each one evidences a way in which we humans manifest consciousness, and they all hold inherent potentials for our growth and evolution.

Eventually I saw it was useful to divide these areas into three developmental, yet interdependent, categories of experience necessary for living life more skillfully and authentically. The first category provides a basic foundation for human development, and includes growth in the (1) physical, (2) intellectual, (3) emotional, (4) social, and (5) moral arenas of life. The second category, which I call personal development, reflects the maturing of our relationship to self and other, and thus comprises (6) identity, (7) intimacy, and (8) existential growth. Finally the third category relates to transpersonal development and the growth of (9) intuitive and (10) spiritual capacities.

Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, certain of these key areas of growth are critical to basic functioning and healthy social connections, and others point toward the higher evolutionary potentials of all humans.

Let’s now look at how spiritual emergency can affect each of these areas by describing a composite example drawn from various cases I’ve treated. “Joe” had gotten addicted to drugs and been stealing to support his habit. While committing a robbery, he was shot and nearly killed. As a result of the life-threatening wound, he had an NDE accompanied by an out-of-body experience (OBE). From a position above his emaciated and wounded body, Joe saw EMTs rush to the scene to save him.

Afterward, Joe’s first priority was to focus on his physical health and basic stability. He needed to heal from his wound and detox from the drugs. When he was ready for therapy, Joe’s continued growth entailed learning not only how to stay off drugs, but how to better care for his body. This included learning about nutrition, exercise, and appropriate hygienic practices. His efforts expanded to other practical concerns of his physical world, like finding employment so he could acquire food and shelter. It even involved learning how to manage money, keep a budget, and live within his means.

Of course, addressing those aspects of his physical growth and material existence required significant gains in the key area of intellectual growth. Joe needed to gain intellectual insight into his psychological makeup, examine the limiting beliefs he held about himself, modify his thoughts so he could change his behaviors, and gather whatever information was needed to develop and grow other important aspects of his self.

Development was therefore required in the area of emotional growth. Joe had a low emotional IQ, or EQ. He lacked awareness of his feelings. He didn’t understand why they came up, or how to express them appropriately when they did, or how to manage them so he wouldn’t fall back into his addiction. He also evidenced deficits in empathy and sensitivity toward the feelings of others.

Joe also needed to develop in the area of moral growth so that he could strengthen his resolve to stay on the right side of the law, and not lose sight of his moral compass again. Additionally he needed to develop in the key area of social growth so he could avail himself of others’ support, change his circle of friends, and participate in Narcotics Anonymous groups.

His growth in the aftermath of this crisis also involved personal areas of development. There Joe had to work on the key area of identity growth by examining how he once viewed himself, how he realistically saw himself now, and who he had the potential to become. His identity development was directly related to his need for growth in the key area of intimacy. He not only had to gain a more intimate understanding of himself, but to learn to risk sharing that self with others. And finally he sought development in the key area of existential growth, because after undergoing the NDE, he wanted to find greater meaning and purpose in what felt like a second chance at life.

But the most profound changes he experienced in the aftermath of his crisis were in the areas of transpersonal development. Learning that his perceptions were not solely dependent on access to his objective senses propelled the growth of his intuitive self. This growth evolved from his awareness that what he previously believed about the limits of time, space, and causality was no longer true for him. And like many individuals who undergo an NDE, he awakened to an even more expanded range of intuitive awareness, one that included psychic functions like telepathy and precognition.

And finally, after undergoing the NDE and experiencing his consciousness in an out-of-body state, he further developed in the key area of spiritual growth. No longer did it matter what various religions said or didn’t say about the reality of survival, or what people believed or didn’t believe about spirit consciousness. He had personal experience. It was now more than a ‘possible’ reality. For him, the notion that a spiritual consciousness exists, surrounds us, infuses us, and functions separately from our bodies, was an ‘actuality.’

Spiritual crises that arise from anomalous or paranormal experiences, and other types of crises that emerge from conventional ordeals like the death of a loved one or acts of nature, all share something in common. If the struggle to integrate the crisis is used as an opportunity to develop any or all of the ten key areas of growth, we can call those experiences Chrysalis Crises.

Like the butterfly who completes its metamorphosis by struggling to release itself from the chrysalis, or cocoon, and strengthen its wings for flight, we can derive growth from our own Chrysalis Crises. The effort to integrate powerful spiritual emergencies can similarly help us develop in the ten key areas of growth, transform our lives for the better, and strengthen us in our flight toward human evolution.


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