Not in Kansas Anymore:  A Lesser Known Approach to Altered and Extreme States

– A keynote presentation at the 2019 Peer River Rendezvous Conference in Boardman, Oregon
August 6, 2019

Are unusual experiences a sign of mental illness?  Or are they a gateway into a more colorful, interesting world?  Are unusual beliefs merely delusions?  Or are they true on a symbolic, metaphorical level?  Are voices and visions something we need to extinguish?  Or are they a gift for ourselves and the planet?

Together we will pull the curtain back on ideas in “mental health” many take for granted — revealing a very different way of viewing, approaching and experiencing out-of-ordinary states of mind.  We will embark on a *non-pathologizing* adventure — one that does not assume illness — weaving together my favorite ideas from the Hearing Voices Network, Process Work and most of all, personal lived experience with extreme states, involuntary treatment and finally, liberation.


Unhinged: My Relationship with the Concept of “Mental Illness”
A Tour of the Most Useful Ideas in my Escape from the Big Lie(s)

A keynote address at the Alternatives Conference in Washington D.C.
July 11, 2019

For 15 years I’ve been fascinated by matters of trickery, deception, and propaganda. Dictators and advertisers alike know that colossal untruths have a way of becoming accepted facts when repeated enough times. I never imagined this understanding would play such a crucial role when liberating myself from the mental health paradigm. Join me as I break apart misleading messages that silence voices and shorten lives—replacing them with stronger ideas!



Coping and Engagement Strategies for Altered and Extreme States of Consciousness

A workshop at the Peerpocalypse Conference in Salem, Oregon
May 20th, 2019




Fun with a Pattern of Everything

January 25, 2019

This workshop is about more than just Process Work and extreme states. It’s about bringing useful ideas from the mystical world back to planet Earth. When I entered an extreme state in 2012, I experienced reality from a very different perspective. I suddenly expressed new curiosities and asked the universe big questions. It replied with a series of memorable lessons. One of those lessons was a Pattern of Everything – a pattern that shows up in all sorts of phenomena and situations. This pattern has direct applications to Porcess Work — providing a new framework for understanding signals, edges, states and relationships. The Pattern of Everything is one of the greatest gifts from my encounter with madness. Once I noticed this pattern, I couldn’t stop noticing it. It shows up everywhere. We will use the Pattern of Everything to explore many things, from the nature of reality to common assumptions about extreme states and psychiatric labels. We will also ponder the question – how can you receive messages from the universe without losing your mind? Let’s safely bring the magic of psychosis into our daily lives!


The Hearing Voices Network:  A Human Rights Movement

On March 15th, 2019 I delivered a keynote address at the Southeast Idaho Peer Connection Conference in Pocatello, Idaho.

In this presentation I use the lens of the Hearing Voices Movement to examine important questions around power, medical abuse and human rights in connection to people who experience voices, visions and extreme states. I tell my personal story of how I first encountered HVN, introduce the values of HVN to a new audience, and for the last few minutes, offer pointed criticism at the conference’s primary sponsor.

In retrospect I exercised each of the 4 freedoms we have in Hearing Voices groups.

1.) We are free to interpret our experiences however we choose.
2.) We are free to challenge social norms.
3.) We are free to talk about anything.
4.) We are free to change our minds at any time.

Admittedly this talk is a little darker than some of the others I’ve given. I was advised by conference organizers that I should keep it light, positive and uplifting, which was precisely the reason why, during the 48 hours preceding my talk, I chose to go down a darker road and gave a different presentation than expected.

I honor my darkness — it has brought value and purpose to my life and is an important part of how I survived my encounter with involuntary mental health “treatment” and multiple psychiatric drug withdrawals. Darkness is part of spiritual warriorship.

I consider this talk an important milestone in my own healing from a traumatizing encounter I had with my local mental health system in 2012. Back then, a company called Optum Healthcare ran the Regional Support Network in Pierce County, overseeing various facilities including the Recovery Response Center in Fife, Washington. It was in this facility that I had some of the most traumatizing (and memorable) experiences of my life. When I was wheeled into that building against my will six years ago, part of my soul never left. I have been working every minute since then to recover the rest of myself from that prison.

Part of my recovery process has been speaking back to the powers that thought I was crazy, who thought my experience was meaningless junk — mere fodder for psychiatric diagnosis, involuntary treatment, reduced expectations and a shortened lifespan.

This talk is a message to those who thought I’d forget what I saw behind the double-walled doors of the mental health system. It’s also a message to those who attempt to control our stories. Finally it’s a message to my brothers and sisters who live with unusual experiences and are looking for a more useful message than the same old song and dance about psychiatric disorders and mental illness.



The Hearing Voices Network:  From Portland to the Pacific Rim

On March 5th 2019 I had the pleasure of speaking about my work with the Hearing Voices Network to a MAAPPS meeting at the 4th Dimension Recovery Center in Portland, Oregon. What a warm and lively audience! Thank you Eric Martin, Joan Ridout Ayala and Tony Vezina for making this opportunity possible! In this talk I use the values of the Hearing Voices Movement to shed much-needed light on unusual and extreme experiences that often get called “mental illness.”

Why are some experiences diagnosed as mental illness while others are viewed as meaningful and significant?

And how can so-called psychosis actually *save* someone’s life? In this presentation I go into some personal details about where my life was headed pre-2012, and how losing my mind may have kept me from going down a dangerous and deadly road.

I take questions and comments from a thoughtful group of people with lived experience around matters of addiction and altered states. This talk is quite funny at times while also holding down serious and important ideas.

I also provide an overview of the values of Hearing Voices groups, the history of HVN, some philosophical forks in the road, and the goals of 3-day HVN facilitation trainings.


Meaningful Experience or Mental Illness?  Process Oriented Approaches to Altered and Extreme States of Consciousness
– An ISPS-US Webinar 

Are you looking for better ideas about unusual states of mind than the same old talk about “mental illness”?

Would you like to have some tools for understanding people who appear to be in a reality that’s different from yours and mine?

Last week I hosted a webinar for ISPS-US about Process Work and Process-Oriented approaches to altered and extreme states of consciousness. Thanks to Ron Unger for the generous invitation! In this webinar I combine my personal lived experience with the material I learned in grad school. Process Work is powerful stuff!

Recorded August 17, 2018 (2 hours)


Process Work (also called Process Oriented Psychology) has an innovative and non-pathologizing view of altered and extreme states of consciousness. Rather than dismiss such states as mental illness — as something to be discarded — Process Work takes the position that such states contain something meaningful and important that is trying to emerge.

This workshop takes you on an aerial tour of key Process Work attitudes, concepts and vocabulary as they relate to out-of-ordinary states of mind. Unusual states are framed in terms of internal conflict and field phenomena rather than as diseases and disorders. Viewers will get a sense of how to map “process structure” — what is familiar, what is emerging, and the barrier between the two. Also examined are channels of awareness and how to reach someone who appears to be unreachable.

Practical skills are then discussed which you can use to understand and communicate with themes that emerge in altered states. The idea is presented that unusual beliefs (often called delusions) are actually metaphorical expressions of something that wants to become better known; not just for the experiencer’s benefit but for the benefit of the broader group.

Finally the presentation explores the four phases of conflict — different postures we can take toward things that bother us. Identifying and moving between the four phases is key for those wondering how to approach people who strongly identify with psychiatric labels and the medical model, as well as people who don’t believe in the psychiatric framework at all.

John draws from his training in Process Work, personal lived experience with out-of-ordinary states as well as his time as a psychiatric patient to offer a candid, funny, interactive and educational presentation.


Hearing Voices Network USA:  A Personal Journey

Facilitator and advocate John Herold gives a presentation at the SW CHAPS (Southwest Washington Community Health Advocate and Peer Support Network) meeting on June 21st, 2018.

The topic: John’s personal journey that brought him to the Hearing Voices Network, as well as his current work as group facilitator and trainer.

John will share his personal history with an extreme state and involuntary psychiatric hospitalization in 2012. He was deeply disappointed to discover his community’s mental health resources were missing something important: a welcoming attitude — one that embraced the reality, meaning and significance of his experience. John’s life improved dramatically in 2014 when he learned about Portland Hearing Voices. He drove two and a half hours each way to attend meetings and found the trips to be totally worthwhile. He has now co-facilitated Puget Sound Hearing Voices in Tacoma for three years and trains peers and professionals to facilitate HVN groups throughout the Northwest.

(68 minutes)


Sources of Madness:  How I lost my mind and what I gained in the process

On June 6th, 2018 I had the opportunity to deliver a new presentation titled “Sources of Madness: How I lost my mind and what I gained in the process” for Rethinking Psychiatry in Portland, Oregon. This talk was deeply personal. I describe the factors that led to the extreme state of consciousness that landed me in a psych hospital in 2012. This experience was more than just crazy, though. It was also mystical and profound.

But where did it come from?

In this talk I use the Process Work “Ice Cream Cone Model of Reality” to explore different possible causes of this experience — biochemical, psychological and spiritual. I also employ values from both Process Work as well as the Hearing Voices Network to describe my journey from one-sidedness to fluidity around matters of unusual states of mind, psychiatry and diagnostic labels.

Finally I discuss the metaphorical meaning behind some of the unusual beliefs I had during the extreme state. Maybe I’m not the next Dalai Lama in consensus reality, but I strongly believe that theme (and others) stood for something important that might be worth considering on a more symbolic level.

(74 minutes)




What is Reality?

On Tuesday April 10th I delivered my “What is Reality?” workshop for the first time to an audience of over 100 at the Peerpocalypse Conference in Seaside, Oregon. The audience was engaged and asked great questions! We explored and learned together about reality – the most important yet ignored idea in all of “mental health.”

What is Reality?

A Workshop at the Peerpocalypse Conference
Seaside, Oregon
Tuesday, April 10th 2018
(88 minutes)


Anyone who’s been accused of being crazy has probably asked themselves whether they are in touch with reality. This question has a way of attracting more questions. What is reality? If I’m feeling, seeing or hearing things that others aren’t, does that mean those things aren’t there? If it’s real for me, then isn’t it real?

Most notions of mental wellness imply that there’s an objective thing called reality in the first place. Those of us who don’t always experience that fixed, hard, unchanging phenomenon are assumed to be sick – often branded with psychiatric labels like psychotic, delusional, bipolar or schizophrenic.

People who live with experiences of unshared reality are given little attention and in many cases, are deeply marginalized.

In this humorous, transparent and thought provoking workshop we explore the nature of reality and the resulting implications for what is currently called mental health.

My logic: before we diagnose people as out of touch with reality, we should better understand the properties of reality and how it works.

We will grow more sensitive to the concept of reality, uncovering common assumptions so basic you might have missed them. We will explore reality as a multi-level phenomenon instead of a singular, hard object.

We then examine the question: Is the universe weird or is it just me? Mainstream culture assumes that the universe is normal and that psychosis is an experience reserved only for the mentally ill. But what if our universe itself behaves in a psychotic manner in its own way? Might the existence of a weird universe make us re-think who we label as weird down here on Earth?

Finally we will dive into the basics of quantum mechanics and how the implications of the “double slit experiment” might be important when considering how to approach out-of-ordinary experiences.

The audience engages with thoughtful questions, clearly showing that the nature of reality is not only relevant to mental health, it’s something we can all understand.

Process work + simulation theory + altered states of consciousness = mind blowing ideas!



Madness:  It’s Complicated – Version 2.0

Guest talk at the Franklin S. Dubois Center in Stamford, Connecticut January 12, 2018
(87 minutes)

Are unusual states of mind junk? Or are they important and meaningful?

Is “shell shock” a chemical imbalance? What about Beatlemania?

How do people get trapped by psychiatric drugs?

How is “mental illness” like the fake cake at Sizzler restaurants?

And how can a “pattern of everything” help us understand the jam we’re in with diagnostic labels and disorders?

Facilitator and advocate John Herold ponders these questions and more in Madness: It’s Complicated – Version 2.0. This presentation was delivered at the Franklin S. Dubois Center in Stamford, Connecticut to a diverse group of mental health professionals, consumers of psychiatric services, and members of the community.



Madness:  It’s Complicated

Guest lecture at Portland State University on November 15, 2017 
(80 minutes)

Facilitator and advocate John Herold gives a guest lecture at Portland State University on alternatives to mainstream attitudes around unusual states of consciousness (often called “mental illness”) as well as responses to common assumptions in the field of psychiatry. John shares his personal story as a psychiatric survivor and offers insight into how fully buying into diagnostic labels can hypnotize our identities and shorten our lives. He also gives a brief introduction to the values of the International Hearing Voices Network.



Life is a Dream:  Process-Oriented Approaches to Altered and Extreme States of Consciousness

Workshop at Peerpocalypse on April 26, 2017
(90 minutes)

Facilitator, peer and advocate John Herold leads a 90 minute workshop on Process Work and Process-Oriented approaches to extreme states of consciousness, often labeled as psychiatric disorders and “mental illness.” Founded by Arnold Mindell, Process Work has an innovative set of theories and approaches to understanding and interacting with people who are in far-out states of mind. Process Work has a *non-pathologizing* approach, that is, one that does not assume illness when working with someone whose behavior might be considered crazy by mainstream standards. John distinguishes between altered states and extreme states, and describes what sorts of situations tend to bring us into unusual frames of awareness. This talk is relatable, insightful, humorous and easy to understand.


Keynote Speech:  Moving From Recovery to Discovery

Delivered at the Peerpocalypse conference in Seaside, Oregon April 25, 2017
(50 minutes)

Facilitator, peer and advocate John Herold delivers a keynote speech titled “Moving from Recovery to Discovery” on April 25, 2017 at the Peerpocalypse conference in Seaside, Oregon. John tells the story of his extreme state of consciousness of 2012, his subsequent psychiatric hospitalization as well as his evolving attitudes about what is often called “mental illness.” Humorous and transparent, his story will be inspiring to anyone looking for a different approach to diagnostic labels. John also gives us his “keys to discovery” he used to escape a life of psychiatric torture and reduced expectations of his life’s purpose. He also introduces us to Process Work or Process-Oriented Psychology.