The Shamanic practice of Soul Retrieval incorporates vision questing and astral projection for the purpose of reuniting an individual with a part of their soul which has 'broken away' or detached. This loss of a piece of the soul is usually assumed to be the result of a trauma of some kind, during which the psyche may remove parts of itself or hide them somewhere less immediate than usual in order to avoid enduring the kind of emotional pain or disturbance that could be distinctly harmful. A great example of this comes to mind for me now. After the 7/7 bombings in London the survivors from the trains mentioned, in a documentary I watched, that they did not feel entirely present as they left the trains. They were witnessing the ugly aftermath of the blasts when having to step over dead and dismembered bodies, but they were in survival mode, concerned primarily with escaping safely, and so they were detached emotionally from what they were seeing. Suffering a mental breakdown at that moment would have hindered the process of reaching safety, so a lot of what they may have expected to feel simply didn't register with them at that time and was instead something to be dealt with later. This is a form of psychological protection which is evolutionarily useful to us, but when the detachment is prolonged it can cause difficulties.
The notion of soul loss comes into play when an individual is still detached after the experience and deeply feels that a part of them has broken away more permanently and cannot be accessed for emotional healing. A psychoanalyst would put a patient of this nature 'on the couch', as it were, and seek to peel back the layers in order to find the harmed part of the psyche and encourage the patient to acknowledge it. Compartmentalisation or dissociation are words used to describe this issue. I believe that soul retrieval is designed to address the same thing but in a more spiritual sense. I also believe that the two techniques -both psychoanalytic treatment and transpersonal/spiritual treatment- can be used together and compliment each other. In psychology the focus is on bringing the missing part back. In shamanic technique, equal focus is placed on where the missing part went, since shamans are invested with a belief in other realities.
Sometimes the lost fragments of the soul have to be sought purely from within the memories of the affected individual. This is when psychoanalysis might be logically understood to be the best tool to use. Those who offer soul retrieval claim to be able to link themselves into a sufferer's memory bank in order to restore breaks in the psyche. Another kind of soul retrieval centres around healing a trauma that occurred in a past life. For this, the soul retriever may enter into another realm or dimension in order to identify the essence of a sufferer's past life trauma, heal it and then bring the healed essence in line with the rest of the soul - rather like finding the lost fragment of a broken plate and fixing it back into place to make the object whole again.
The word 'soul', for my purposes, centres around the notion of life force, core energy or absolute being. It is separate from the notion of ego, although ego can certainly be affected by soul loss, but that's not the whole animal. That part of ourselves which lives largely beneath the surface of conscious acknowledgement but which gives us our vitality and allows us feelings of oneness or completeness is the part that's tied into the definition of 'soul'. Many shamanic cultures believe that illness and disturbance can be a direct result of soul loss, and that the soul flees the body in times of danger or trauma to avoid destruction, so it logically makes sense that it sometimes may have difficulty reuniting with the individual. If you look at it logically, soul loss is actually an excellent defence mechanism, but when it goes on indefinitely it can leave the sufferer feeling alienated from themselves, unable to move forward or rather like a jigsaw which is missing one piece.
There are many different techniques for performing a soul retrieval. The usual process is to ask the client to begin by going into a meditative state and imagining something positive and wholesome. This could be a place of contentment for them, such as a boat on a calm ocean or a quiet spot beneath a tree. If they have an animal or spirit guide, it might be suggested that they have it with them if they can. They may be asked to imagine something that's changing for the better in their location. So, maybe a flower in the hot sun that finally gets a rain shower, or a dark room which is being flooded with light as they open the curtains. Typically, the practitioner would then also close their eyes and imagine journeying into the client's psyche or body. They may ask the client for a picture of their spirit or the story of their history and as the client talks, the practitioner should find a pathway emerging to take them forwards. Searching for either a block or a void in the psyche, they will attempt to unravel, fill or rebuild it depending on what it is. There may also be objects to pick up on the journey, or objects to bury, hide, put in a pocket or destroy. Whatever seems to be unfinished or wrong in some way can be dealt with by the practitioner before they return into their own body. Some practitioners describe standing over the client while they are in deep meditation and using bells, drums etcetera to direct the client's journey into their own psyche. It really depends on personal practice.
People who practice soul retrieval often say that they sense the problem of soul loss when someone says, 'I feel lost', 'I don't feel that I'm fully here,' 'I'm broken' and similar descriptions of psychic loss or uncertainty. Others may assume that soul loss could be an issue through feeling a desperate or frantic energy which seems to lack a centre or territory. Soul retrieval should always be intended as a healing and nurturing process and most practitioners are serious about the need to prevent overstepping a client's boundaries or attempting to heal a part of the psyche that is not yet ready to be healed. Encountering resistance from an object or energy during shamanic journey work is usually a sign that it is not yet time to complete the retrieval. This realisation can only be the result of the practitioner's intuition, so they need to keep in tune with it at all times.