The Spiritual Realms of Therapy

Another post from the past:

The Spiritual Realms of Therapy

Santa Cruz CAMFT Newsletter, Nov/Dec 1995, Therapists for Social Responsibility column

The path that led me into my work as a psychotherapist from the movement and dance teaching I had focused on for many years took me through a period of teaching movement awareness and yoga in an addictions treatment program. Residents there would often tell me that the experiential work we did gave them a glimpse of what the treatment program staff and counselors meant when they talked about spirituality and meditation. My prejudices about the world of psychology included the idea that there was no room for spirituality in that mode of facilitating people’s growth, but here was an orientation (the addictions model) that included, in fact emphasized, spirituality as part of the process.

I had studied transpersonal psychology, but it seemed somehow removed from the lives of most people in this culture. I wanted to be able to include spirituality in my work with people who didn’t already know about Carl Jung or the many thinkers and writers who have built a theoretical base for the synthesis of psychology and spirit. Recognizing the acknowledgment of spirituality as an essential ingredient in recovery in the growing field of addictions treatment inspired me to take the plunge into the world of clinical psychology.

Once I entered this realm, I found that there is plenty of room for those of us who have trouble finding the line between psychology and spirituality. Perhaps this is a reflection on the company I keep, but many of the therapists I know seem to agree with me that the quest for psychological health overlaps the spiritual journey towards consciousness. Whether or not we include direct verbal acknowledgment in sessions of the spiritual aspects of the work we’re doing depends on the client and on our orientation, but we can honor that awareness in ourselves and share it with each other.

Even in cases where the word “spirituality” is unlikely to pass through my client’s lips, and it is clear that this is not a topic they feel drawn to discuss, this doesn’t mean that my own spiritual growth gets left outside the therapy room door. My own spiritual work continues in my interactions with that client and my commitment to bring consciousness to my own process with them as far as I am able. In fact, this is where even the Board of Behavioral Science Examiners might see the wisdom of what I’m saying. This very consciousness that I consider part of my spiritual path is what helps keep me out of ethical binds with clients. When my own issues enter into the relationship, my commitment to maintaining awareness enables me to recognize and deal with it quickly.

Coming at this from the other side, I think about how my understanding of psychological issues informs my perspective of who I am in the world and my vision of the bigger picture that frames my personal life. As I learn about myself and the political, social and environmental context within which my personal story unfolds, my vision of that bigger picture becomes clearer. Seeing the many variations of context that exist in the world (as well as the commonalities between them) continues to broaden my understanding.

For me, this is an ongoing process of expanding my knowledge and wisdom, a continuing exploration of myself and the the amazing world we live in. The larger my perspective, the more I am able to avoid getting lost in the details and experience the wondrousness of it all. I may not have all the answers, but I am certainly excited and inspired by the questions, and that’s what keeps me walking on this path. That I happen to use the word “spiritual” to describe it may only be a matter of semantics. I recognize many fellow travelers along this road who don’t use that word – but we’re walking together nonetheless.