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Medicine for the Soul in the Wake of Abuse By Jean Chagnon

SHAMANISM IS GROUNDED in a cosmology, or way of understanding the world, steeped in how one’s soul is affected – positively or negatively – by life experiences. Further, a shamanic cosmology supports ancient healing techniques that can be used to help individuals heal from experiences that negatively impact the development of the soul. In other words, shamans help people reconnect with their true self. This is done by helping people eliminate what disrupts the flow of the true self and returning parts of the true self that have been lost. 

For these reasons, working to heal the impact of abuse, trauma, and violence – an experience that initially has a profound negative impact on the soul — is work that shamans have done for centuries. Shamans help individuals by recovering soul parts lost during trauma and releasing energies that became lodged in their energy field during or after the experience of trauma. Shamans help communities by holding ceremonies to restore harmony and by transforming generational trauma. Shamans support the land by clearing the imprints of war and violence.

Unfortunately, in our world today, there is no loss of work for shamanic practitioners. Some aspect of environmental degradation, community violence, and/or the personal experiences of abuse darken our news headlines nearly every day. We are also becoming more aware of the truth about the prevalence of childhood abuse. The National Center for Victims of Crime 2012 fact sheet reports that one in five girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. In related research, the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study indicates that two-thirds of adults report experiencing abuse, neglect, poverty, or other forms of adverse childhood experience. Our modern world is desperately in need of the healing gifts that shamanic practitioners can offer. 

Gratefully, shamanic practice remains very well positioned to offer healing for the myriad of individuals and communities who experience abuse and trauma. However, translating ancient techniques to the realities of modern practice can be a challenge for contemporary shamanic practitioners. This is especially true when working with clients who have a history of childhood abuse. Current psychological research has shown that the experience of childhood abuse is a qualitatively different experience than trauma experienced later in life. Abuse suffered in childhood interrupts the normal developmental process that almost always results in the fracturing of a child’s emotional, energetic, and spiritual body. This fracturing makes it difficult for people who experience childhood abuse to maintain clear boundaries or have a strong sense of self – wounds well served by shamanic practice.

We now understand through recent research that techniques and methods for treating trauma in adults must be modified when dealing with clients who experienced abuse in childhood in order to accommodate the unique aspects of this particular type of abuse. This is true for mental health and medical professionals as well as for shamanic practitioners. Thus, traditional shamanic interventions — soul retrieval, curse unraveling, and/or compassionate depossession – often need to be modified to address the particular and unique dynamics that arise when a client has experienced childhood abuse. When traditional shamanic techniques are modified by integrating what we have learned, through psychological research, we can offer deeper, more profound healing that moves with greater ease for ourselves and our clients. 


Simply put in the traditional understanding of soul retrieval, we believe that the individual sends away a portion of his or her soul in order to protect that aspect from the impact of abuse or traumatic experience. During a soul retrieval the shamanic practitioner travels into non-ordinary reality, locates the soul aspect of the client that is willing to return and that the client can integrate, retrieves this aspect, and blows this soul part directly into the client’s field. Single episodes of abuse – car accidents, heart attacks – are well served by this process. Likewise, abuse first experienced in adulthood, when the client’s sense of self is more well developed, are frequently healed by this traditional method.

For abuse that happens during childhood this traditional understanding often falls short. Childhood abuse almost always occurs repeatedly over a period of time. Thus there is a relatively good probability that some soul parts have experienced abuse before they went away and thus likely contain residual trauma. A simple modification to the traditional soul retrieval protocol can address this and make a profound difference when working with survivors of childhood abuse. Namely after retrieving the lost soul part, take the part to a healing space in non-ordinary reality. Here compassionate healing Spirits offer healing to this soul part – on all levels, all dimensions, and all realities. After the healing is complete, return the squeaky-clean soul part to the client as has always been done. This modification eliminates the possibility that clients will have to work through residual trauma that is unknowingly returned with the soul part because it existed in the soul part before it was sent away.


Survivors of abuse are prime candidates to pick up suffering beings because their fields are very porous as a result of the abuse. Given this and the prevalence of childhood abuse, shamanic practitioners who provide psychopomp work are quite likely working with individuals who experienced childhood abuse. For some of these individuals, their sense of self and psychological make-up is quite fractured. It might be fractured enough that aspects of their inner world feel foreign to them. Even more likely there might be aspects of their inner world that they want to eliminate.

For example many individuals who grow up in physically violent homes grow up in an environment where anger – a natural human emotion – is confounded with violence – an unacceptable behavior choice about how we express emotions including anger. As such, when they experience their own natural anger, they fear that they might become violent. To prevent this from happening, they suppress their anger. Over time, clients can become profoundly disconnected from this aspect of their inner world – their feelings of anger. Because of this profound disconnection clients’ anger can be experienced internally as a “foreign” or “unwelcome” aspect of themselves.

Shamanic practitioners, when working with survivors of childhood abuse, must be careful. A basic ground rule that no parts that belong to the client can be removed must be established with clients and helping Spirits. It is also important to learn a process of working collaboratively with helping Spirits to discern when “foreign” parts are entities that do not belong to the client and when they are dissociated aspects of the client. Once a clear process of discernment is established, until this process is applied and one is certain they are working with parts that do not belong to the client, psychopomp work should be delayed. 


Traditional shamanic practice is often confined to work in non-ordinary reality. By working in non-ordinary reality healing is achieved for the soul of an individual, a community, an animal, or the land. Because our human experience – body, mind, energy, and soul – are well integrated healing on the soul level has a “trickle down” affect bringing balance to other aspects of our experience. This trickling down of healing from the soul dimension to the energetic and psychological dimension is more difficult for clients who experience childhood abuse. Because of the fracturing caused by the experience of abuse, it can be difficult for client’s with a history of childhood abuse to realize the desired and anticipated trickle down of healing from the soul level to other dimensions.

Integrating simple somatoenergetic interventions can support clients in more fully integrating the soul level healing that shamanism offers. Integrating chakra clearing as part of curse unraveling can deepen the soul level healing that happens. In chakra clearing, the client’s seven chakras are scanned, while holding the intention to identify energy related to the recent curse or contract unraveling. The scan is looking for the presence of grey or congested energy. When any grey or congested energy is located it can be cleared using healing with spiritual light. 

The addition of a chakra clearing is particularly helpful in situations where you are clearing something that has been said repeatedly to a client in this lifetime and ultimately functions like a curse. For example, “you are so stupid” or “somebody will get hurt if you tell.” These spoken words ultimately function like a curse on the soul level and leave grime and slime in the client’s energy field. When doing a curse unraveling protocol in these situations, the addition of a chakra clearing deepens the work and supports the client in clearing additional unhelpful layers of trauma.

     Shamanic practice, as it has for many centuries, offers profound healing and hope for individuals who have been impacted by trauma and abuse. Based on current research, two out of every three people seen by a shamanic practitioner experienced some sort of adverse event in childhood – abuse, neglect, poverty, etc. Moreover for one in five women and one in 20 men, that adverse childhood experience was likely to be some form of childhood sexual abuse. As such, many of the clients that modern shamanic practitioners work with are quite likely survivors of childhood sexual abuse or some other adverse experience. It behooves us to learn how to modify traditional shamanic interventions to account for the unique ways that childhood abuse impacts development. Implementing these modifications allow shamanic practitioners to offer profound healing with greater ease for clients who suffered abuse in childhood. When this happens shamanic practice can offer medicine for the body, mind, and soul. May it be so.

Jean Chagnon, Ph.D., LP is a licensed psychologist and shamanic practitioner. She is committed to introducing soul level healing within the psychological community and helping shamanic practitioners build their capacity to work more deeply with survivors of childhood abuse. For further information about Jean or the work she does go to www.anamaura.org. For information on an advanced shamanic training on these topics go to http://cindyoconnor.net/medicine-for-the-soul-in-the-wake-of-abuse/

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