Spirit, Psyche and Soul in 21st Century Psychiatry

Spirit, Psyche and Soul in 21st Century Psychiatry


Presenter: Dr Kobus van der Walt

Dr Kobus van der Walt argues that we need more nuanced and sophisticated models of psyche, soul, mind, and body to enable an integrated perspective on mental wellbeing where psychiatric practice can reflect the meaning of the word “psychiatry” (healing of the soul).


The profession of psychiatry shares its origins with other mental health-related professional disciplines in the lineage of the shaman. In Western medical science, there has been a rapid shift away from a view of mental illness as caused by spiritual afflictions to a materialist reductionist view favoring a neurobiological explanation of mental illness. The paradigm shift toward an emphasis on the neurobiology of mental illness has created a split from those who emphasize the role of spirit, psyche, and soul in the cause of and healing from mental illness.

Exciting innovative scientific research is radically confronting mainstream Western psychiatry with the importance of the realm of spirit, psyche, and soul in the healing process: the ancient spiritual technologies that have been explored with scientific methods include mystical experiences induced by psychedelics, meditation and prayer, religious ceremony, dreamwork, fasting, and near-death experiences.

Kobus van der Walt is a specialist general psychiatrist in private practice in Somerset West, South Africa. He completed his psychiatric training at the University of Cape Town (2019), his medical training at the University of the Free State (2004) and obtained a MPhil in Applied Bioethics at Stellenbosch University (2007). His interests focus on spirituality in psychiatry, and philosophical and ethical aspects of mental health and psychotherapy. Prior to qualifying as general psychiatrist, he worked in family and emergency medicine, and healthcare quality improvement programs.