An Evolution of Perspective: An Academic Scientist, now Shaman, on Mental Illness

An Evolution of Perspective: An Academic Scientist, now Shaman, on Mental Illness

By Sarah Petruno, Shamana

For most of my life, and for 10 years formally, I was trained, primed, and prepared for becoming a top scientific researcher in my field.

My father was a scientist through and through, and as daddy’s little girl, I thrived on sharing this special bond with him. I loved our joint fascination with all things science and experimentation.

His specialty was chemistry, physical and material science engineering.


Biology, neuroscience and behavioral psychology.

I chose a college based on its reputation for top scientific research. Here, I participated in research as an undergraduate student, which later went on to be published in a major scientific journal.

Once I graduated, unsure of the field of which I wanted to make my life, I moved to San Diego, California where I managed two academic research labs, both conducting and designing research experiments in the fields of neuroscience and bioengineering.

Some of that research has also now been published.

Eventually, I settled on a graduate pathway to Behavioral Psychology and I applied. I was offered a fully funded graduate research position at one of the top Psychology graduate programs in the country. Several, actually.

Still, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Just that this one single track was the one that would lead me to become a top researcher in my field. And my father, now deceased, was definitely proud of me for living out his legacy.

Concurrent to my training as a scientist, something else was going on beneath the surface.

An Evolution of Perspective:  An Academic Scientist, now Shaman, on Mental Illness 

Over the course of these years, I had been diagnosed with 4 mental illnesses and was seeking and receiving traditional medical treatment for them. No cures are available for mental illness of course, just treatment.

Here’s the tally of my diagnoses:

Major depressive disorder.

Generalized anxiety disorder.

Social Anxiety disorder.

Bipolar disorder.

During my undergraduate career, my father, also became an alcoholic and died, quickly, from complications of that disease. I then racked up a new diagnosis.

Adult Child of an Alcoholic.

During that time, tried over 14 different combinations and types of medications at varying dosages and varying combinations, with my own side effects ranging from nausea, to some severely disturbing neurological symptoms.

None of them actually helped all that much with managing any of the symptoms from the diagnoses I had been assigned.

I jumped around from therapist to therapist, telling and re-telling my story, only to observe no treatment or solution, just more and more talking and no problem solving.

Eventually, I did find a therapist who taught me strategies about shifting my perception (otherwise known as cognitive behavioral therapy) and meditative breathing. Her name was Michele.

It worked. It was the only thing that worked.

Unfortunately, Michele switched jobs and moved from the area after only a year of us working together. But during that year - her strategies changed my life completely.

I would later learn that these healing strategies of perception shifting and breathing techniques - are shared, overlapping strategies with those that work in spiritual and non-traditional healing practice.

After she left, I sought out more therapists, more medications, and dropped and gained diagnoses and speculations on diagnoses. Nothing, however, provided much relief from my symptoms or any forward direction in treatment.

Eventually, against recommendations of the psychiatrist I was seeing at the time, I weaned off all medications I was taking. They weren’t working and on top of that, I wanted to have a baby. Some depression and anxiety medications are deemed relatively safe for pregnancy, SSRIs namely, but I had been taking one intended to treat bipolar disorder which was very much NOT recommended with pregnancy.

An Evolution of Perspective: An Academic Scientist & Shaman on Mental Illness

And also, I knew deep in my heart that it wasn’t working and I didn’t want continue on this dead-end path of traditional medical treatment only to have it continue to not work.

When I came off the medications, nothing bad happened.

It was an odd surprise, but I figured I was in “remission” and those mindfulness techniques I was taught really did heal me.

And as it turns out, they really did.

The only thing that worked for me were traditional spiritual practices, which were masked to me as scientifically tested, western medicine validated, therapeutic techniques; which they are!

Shifting perceptions and beliefs masked as cognitive behavior therapy.

Meditation and grounding masked as mindfulness and breathing.

Free of medications and seemingly all traces of mental illness, I now stood ready to start a Ph.D. program in Behavioral Psychology, while pregnant with my first child.

That pregnancy and birth, spurred a spiritual awakening.

Slowly, I started practicing energy healing and shamanic techniques on evenings and weekends, in between running experiments, analyzing data, and studying for neuropharmacology exams.

I wasn’t sure where I was going with this, or even what I was doing - I was just doing.

I started leading a double life.

Scientist by day, secret energy healer by night.

Throughout the course of this awakening, I slowly realized that science was no longer my path.  It hadn’t been for some time - I knew that - but it was the only path I knew.

I didn’t care about journal articles or neuroendocrinology in mice. Sure, it was interesting - but did I love it? Nope.

My heart was no longer in it. In fact, I wasn’t sure where my heart was - so I continued through the program.

I taught classes in experimental psychology. I took and attended graduate seminars in pharmacological actions of behavioral drugs, neurological epigenetics, and I assisted in teaching classes in abnormal psychology.

Otherwise known as, mental illness.

As I sat in these lectures, I felt out of place and detached. And through my new found spiritual awareness, I was able to see the flaws in this science. The HUGE, GAPING holes where science has absolutely no clue how drugs act or why, or the causes and treatments of many mental illnesses.

There’s lots of speculation. Lots of testing hypotheses on completely healthy undergraduates. And most importantly, a complete lack of recognition of anything going on besides the tangible, physical, and measurable by science. And still, very little understanding.

Now, here I was, grad student and secret shaman, I could see and communicate with the deceased.

An Evolution of Perspective:  An Academic Scientist, now Shaman, on Mental Illness 

As I made my class copies late at night, they watched me. They talked to me. They came to my house. I saw them lingering in the treatment clinic. I saw them following students. And my students, even mentioned that the building was “creepy” and “felt eerie” at night. I agreed, often without telling them my true thoughts as to why.

I learned about the existence of Attachment Spirits, those who die and do not cross over, only to attach themselves to the energy to the living for support of their continued existence.

I saw the effects of these spirits clearly and as I counseled struggling, ill students - behind them, stood several disembodied Spirits.

I slowly put the dots together, as I sat in my lectures and ate my morning bagels.

Science has no idea what’s going on with mental illness.

They have a list of diagnosable symptoms which have been grouped into categories that point to one illness. They have drugs that mask these symptoms but do not cure them, often causing severe, irreversible neurological damage.

The symptoms of mental illness are real. There are physical symptoms that exist and cause an individual great distress at best, and severe lifestyle impairment and death at worst.

But they are symptoms. There is in many cases, no identified physical cause.

And there’s no consideration of the other elements of what make us who we are.

We have a physical body.

We have a spiritual body.

We have an energetic body.

To ignore, the existence of the other two bodies in the treatment of any problem is ignorant and potentially irresponsible. And furthermore, without an identifiable physical cause, it is only rational to look to other locations for a cause - such as a spiritual and energetic realms.

The three are completely interlinked and intertwined. There is no separation. A problem with the Spirit, which includes thoughts, feelings, emotions, experiences, life perspectives, and events past present and future, can and does often manifest in the physical body as symptoms.

A problem in the energetic body, the energetic field that arises from our core make up as particles of energy, can and does manifest in the physical body as symptoms.

Physical symptoms, such as behaviors, neurochemical imbalances, and the like, are symptoms and indicators of another problem, somewhere else.

An Evolution of Perspective:  An Academic Scientist, now Shaman, on Mental Illness 

I’ve learned, through working to heal clients of mental illness myself, outside of traditional psychological methods, that there is often no such thing as a purely physical illness.

No. Such. Thing.

Mental illness, one of the largest black boxes of our physical existence, is perhaps the biggest example of this. There are unseen Spirits that can attach to us and influence our actions and behavior. Those in Spirit can also speak to us in our mind to interject thoughts. Not all of them are good Spirits of the Light, many are bad, especially those that prey on the physically and spiritually impacted. But still, they exist and can have an influence on your mental peace of mind.

There are several theories on how chemical imbalances and genetic mutations arise, at the supposed root cause of many mental illnesses, with not as of yet tangible, solid physical reason of why these things happen.

I have learned that being visited by Spirit can feel like anxiety - read more on that here.

Hiccups and burping also have a Spiritual cause. As can hearing voices. Nausea and Indigestion. Headaches. All examples of symptoms with spiritual and energetic causes. The list is endless.

And 10 years ago, these words would have never come out of my mouth.

In fact, I would have laughed at the idea.

Until I was given the opportunity to see Psychological phenomena from the inside - as a spiritually awakened scientist, attending graduate school at one of the top research institutions in the country.

Recently, I voiced my beliefs to my sister, a Medium and also an ex-scientist, and she told me that a few years ago, while on a research field trip in South America to help sustainable farmers grow better food, she traveled to a village deep in the Amazon forest of Ecuador.

It took well over a days journey by a motorized canoe and riding on the back of a truck on unpaved roads. When she got there, she landed in a village of Shaman, who were also sustainable cacao farmers for the Rainforest Alliance. Pressed, they were asked to think of a physical illness that was purely physical in nature.

They couldn’t.

They too believed there’s no such thing as a purely physical illness, that everything is spiritual and energetic at its core.

Having seen things from the other side of the spectrum, far away from a remote village in South America, and deeply enmeshed in the academic research institution of the United States, having myself been diagnosed with several disorders - I can now say, that I completely agree.

I have long hesitated to share my story, my perspectives, and my outlook, primarily for fear of backlash from my once community. And I am aware that it may come, but I am also aware that I am not alone.

That there are millions of people out there, just like me, who were not helped and have not been helped by a purely physical treatment of mental illness and a million other illnesses with physical symptoms.

That’s why I wrote this.

I write this for you.


With love,


Note: This is not an argument for the non-existence of mental illness. The symptoms are very real and can be very dangerous if not treated and/or a resolution found. However, I acknowledge and respect that the treatment and solution that is ideal for each individual suffering will always manifest in a unique way. 

LAST UPDATED: December 26, 2014

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