Shamanism is not therapy, and I do my best to remind clients that I’m not a therapist. But in our culture, we all know at least a little of the language and concepts of psychology. I believe that that psychology is America’s actual mainstream religion (and that money is our actual holy scripture and shopping malls are our actual churches, but I digress). The temptation to mix shamanism with western therapy is great, and some people are trained in both. My training is shamanism, formal academic theology, theatre, myth and creativity, but not psychology.
The great archetypal psychologist James Hillman said, "Of all psychology’s sins, the most mortal is its neglect of beauty."The “father of modern psychology”, William James, was grounded in the philosophy of pragmatism: the function of thought is to solve problems leading to practical actions. These two ideas point to my view of the difference between shamanism and therapy.
Psychology began inside the western medical model that espouses a mechanical universe, including mechanical human bodies. Psychology is grounded in a basic goal to help the patient (the sick person) return to functioning smoothly in society. In other words, you are sick because you have fallen out of being able to function in society. The medicine (therapy) makes you well, and able to function once again in society.The trouble is, what if you are returning to a sick society? (By society, I mean the larger society and also the more intimate one of family, marriage, and personal expectations for "success" and "happiness.") Is it really the goal to funcion better in an unhealthy system? Is it your goal to live happily in “the system of economics [that] promotes its communal senselessness by substituting "more" for "beyond.”?
Shamanism’s goal is, of course to transform suffering, to bring peace to the body, mind and spirit, to help improve your relationship to yourself, your life story and to other beings. But the core goal in shamanic healing is not necessarily to return you to society to function smoothly. Its goal is to return you to functioning as a member of a sacred world. Shamanism’s goal is to restore beauty. Shamanism’s goal is to help you become a “walking blessing” who feels blessed and who blesses others. In a society that has forgotten that beauty is a fundamental nourishment to our species, that actively disdains beauty as a waste of time and resources, or as dangerous to the power structure, becoming someone who "walks in beauty" is not an act of functioning smoothly in society.
Therapy is grounded in reason - rational analysis separates, tosses away the useless, then labels and fixes the problem. Therapy is also boundaried by the human mind and human experience. Our problems are contained inside our mind and inside the timeline of our life. “Childhood has been declared the source of our disaffected behavior…every therapy session searches memory for traces of unhappiness...bad mothers, absent fathers and envious siblings are the demons and ogres in psychology’s fairy tale.”
Shamanism’s geography is more expansive in its reach, and it is founded on the irrational, the mythopoetic and mysterious – the realms that reason says do not truly exist. Shamanism says that our current issues may come from outside of the human mind and from well beyond the confines of our biological, linear life span. Where psychology acknowledges and addresses family patterns, shamanism says it can heal and nourish the ancestors, and that will affect our daily life here and now. Psychology can acknowledge the impact of our DNA and our parenting, but shamanism says there is a spiritual DNA embedded in us that no machines can detect, and we are actively parented by the Unseen. Shamanism acknowledges that our symptoms may be a form of communication to us from the gods.
Shamanism throws its arms open to metaphor: the strange, the wondrous, the frightening, the ridiculous, the poetic, the emotional, and the mythic. In shamanic healing, “beauty is itself a cure for psychological malaise.” Beauty is a holy power, the breath of God, it is the energy found at the Source, the life-force animating the quantum flux. Shamanic healing gathers this energy, condenses it, and directs it toward the issue at hand.
Shamanic work does indeed heal - in ways unexplainable by the rational mind. A million more words written here won't help you grasp intellectually why shamanic healing actually works. Check your heart and belly right now to feel if anything said here sounds right to you. If you want more words, a decent place to start is with this collection of articles by Stanley Krippner, PhD.
 There are nearly uncountable books and articles that delve into the blend between shamanism, western medicine and therapy. For a good starting resource I recommend Cecile Carson, Editor, Spirited Medicine, Otter Bay Books, 2013. It’s put out under the auspices of the Society for Shamanic Practitioners, Buy it here:
 James Hillman, The Soul’s Code, New York: Warner Books; 1996, 35
For more on this see James Hillman and Michael Ventura,We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy--And the World's Getting Worse, HarperOne; 1993). Buy it here.
 Hillman, The Soul’s Code, 82
 I’m indebted to José Luis Stevens for this phrase. See his book Awaken the Inner Shaman, Boulder, CO: Sounds True; 2014. Buy it here.
 James Hillman, A Blue Fire, New York: Harper and Row; 1989, 234
 Hillman, The Soul’s Code, 38. This is a quote from Aristotle.