Q. Religious or sick: A friend of mine who is now part of my step-family recently decided to explore different religious traditions. I support her to find her happiness the way she wants, but the things she talks about worry me. She claims to have a “spirit guide” who is a dragon who visibly manifests to her, interacts with the world around her, and speaks to her in her mind throughout the day. She also decided, on her own without a diagnosis from a therapist or psychiatrist, that she had “predominantly embedded dissociative identity disorder” and that many of her personalities are not human – l one is a harpy priestess of Zeus, for example, and another cat who communicates with the goddess Bastet.
Obviously, I’m not her boss, but I’m starting to worry. My question is, what is the line between religious experience and self-discovery, and real mental health issues? My first thought when she told me about the dragon was that she is hallucinating and needs to be evaluated, but if I had to talk about it I think she would feel offended because according to her it is part of his spiritual and religious experience. I only brought up the question of personality because it started after this religious exploration and it also has religious aspects.
Am I trying to talk to her and suggest that she might need help? Should I talk to the family member she is married to and see what they think? Do I go straight to the intervention level? Or am I totally irrelevant here and it is in the realm of normal spiritual experience for people?
A: I don’t think this is “normal”. While her belief in a dragon spirit guide is arguably no stranger than praying to God and waiting for an answer, it is new and strange to her and therefore something to watch out for. But I don’t think it requires urgent action on your part. From what I understand (and I’m not an expert, I hope someone corrects me if I’m wrong) is that people are generally allowed to have the delusions they want, without receiving treatment. , until the moment when delusions make them dangerous for themselves or for others. That’s not to say that you can’t gently encourage her to seek help on her own, after checking with her spouse and making sure you send the same message. The fact that she self-diagnosed might offer an opening – you could suggest that she see a professional just to make it official, or define it as “It’s a lot of stuff to deal with at the same time – maybe you should. you tell someone about it. “
But the important thing is that she’s safe, and it looks like she is. For now, I would focus on staying in touch and listening to her, paying attention to whether any of the new beliefs are getting disturbing or causing her to want to hurt herself. And in the meantime, just be a friend. Whether it’s spirituality, the mental illness she thinks she is suffering from, or some other mental illness, the big change in how she sees the world seems stressful and she could probably need your support.