Achterberg, Jeanne

Jeanne Achterberg (1942–2012 ) One of a number of scholars who popularized a psychological approach to shamanism in the 1980s, focusing especially on the “inner” work of the shaman in effecting healing. Her volume Imagery in Healing: Shamanism and Modern Medicine (1985) details techniques including “guided imagery,” such as the visualization of the immune system fighting against illness, and presents evidence for the efficacy of the imagination in promoting health and “wellness.” In the vein of the “Mind Body Spirit” movement, Achterberg suggests that there is a necessary connection between the mind and the body and that human imagination is a powerful healing tool in its own right. While the power of the imaginal might be recognized, such psychologizing neglects many indigenous facets of shamanisms, from intimate relationships with other-than-human-persons (outside “the mind”) to the sorcery of dark shamans. Woman as Healer (1991) develops Achterberg’s interest in the way in which women have tended to be marginalized as healers by their male counterparts in some societies. While she argues that women persecuted during the medieval European witch trials were shamans, interpretations of these trials tend to tell us more about our modern prejudices (à la Margaret Murray) than about medieval sensibilities. After being diagnosed with cancer, Achterberg rejected Western medicine in favour of a holistic approach to healing, relying on social support webs, guided imagery, and the communal power of prayer (transpersonal medicine). Achterberg is professor of psychology and director of research at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, is a faculty member of the Saybrook Institute, and has been associate professor and director of research in rehabilitation science at Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Texas.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007