Dissertation Title:

On the Psychology and Pathology of Extraordinary Experiences


Denise Maratos

Date, Time & Place:

August 25, 2022 at 1:00 pm


Qualitative interpretive phenomenological analysis was used to explore the phenomena of extraordinary experiences, otherwise known as transpersonal, numinous, transcendent, alternate states of consciousness, mystical or spiritual experiences, peak experiences, extreme states, etc., and their emergence within the mental health system, often labeled as “psychosis” and/or other psychiatric diagnoses. The impact of pathologizing such experiences and possible misdiagnoses was examined by conducting semi-structured interviews with eight participants who experienced extraordinary experiences and were labeled with psychiatric diagnoses. These personal interviews explored each individual experience and the themes that emerged. The research questions engaged the participants with their own personal experiences as phenomena that are not easily understood by many current mental health professionals, family members, and society. While working within a societal context where these experiences are often pathologized in the Western biomedical model at the conscious level, the researcher explored the effects these experiences had on the individuals and how they each perceived themselves within their families, communities, and society. The findings bring awareness and knowledge to clinical psychology by exposing extraordinary experiences as experiences not fully understood by the mental healthcare industry. As the results indicate, it is necessary to comprehend the nature of such individualized extraordinary experiences by carefully listening to unique personal stories to understand emotional distress, to clarify the meaning of psychiatric diagnoses, and to provide the appropriate healing in the therapeutic process.

  • Program/Track/Year: Clinical Psychology, A, 2013
  • Chair: Dr. Lionel Corbett
  • Reader: Dr. Dana White
  • External Reader: Dr. Noël Hunter
  • Keywords: Extraordinary Experiences, Numinous, Exceptional Experiences, Phenomenology, Transpersonal, Collective Unconscious, Pathologizing Distress, Psychosis, Schizophrenia, Extreme States Of Consciousness, Peak Experiences, Misdiagnosis