Current uses of the word spirituality differ greatly. Some describe it as a search to “know who you are,” to understand the “meaning of life,” and to find ways of reducing suffering, getting along with others and having a sense of “inner peace” and happiness. It seems generally to involve ethical or moral guides for behavior, beliefs about the nature of consciousness (and what happens to consciousness after death), and some clues about a path to contentment. The word “spirit” comes from the Latin spiritus and is related to the verb spirare which means “to breathe.” Thus, when we use the words spiritual or spirituality in a literal sense, we are really referring to the very essence of what it means to be alive. Our breath is the unifying link between our mind, body, and emotions. It is also what connects us to one another.

Expressions of Spirituality

For some, spirituality involves performing rituals in one tradition or a combination of traditions. Others may express spirituality within the context of a particular religion with varying degrees of commitment and involvement in that specific faith. Often the choices of a particular religion are handed down from one generation to the next. In addition, there are many people who for a whole host of reasons gravitate to one religion or another and so choose it of their own volition.

Spirituality may also include attention to one’s well-being and the well-being of others. Spirituality can include values, beliefs, group associations, music, dance and art, charity and volunteer work, pilgrimage, acts of worship, yoga, meditation, use of plant medicines, family arrangements, scriptural study and a sense of purpose in one’s work and life. ~Excerpt edited by Kalila Borghini

Spirituality in Psychotherapy

While therapy has always focused on many of the same areas of life as “spiritual” pursuits, it has not usually been regarded as a spiritual endeavor. Historically, it was Freud who wished to have others view psychoanalysis as a science (even though he was a spiritual man and fully appreciated the “art” of psychoanalysis). Nevertheless, for most of its relatively short history, therapy has utilized a medical model of healing. However, recently, the need to address issues of spirituality as more than just expressions of neurosis has been recognized. Indeed, though there is still some disagreement and no widely shared approach to the matter, spiritual beliefs are now believed to be a part of a person’s healthy coping skills, offering a social support system, the ability to find meaning and purpose in life, providing comfort in times of grief, and a strong ethical code.

Therapists may inquire about a client’s spiritual beliefs and encourage clients to connect with their spiritual communities. They may also point out areas where spiritual beliefs, practices or relationships seem to be causing, not relieving unnecessary suffering, or seem to contradict a value, goal or belief the client has expressed.

Many therapists are also able to assist clients seeking to clarify or discover their spiritual selves. This is not a matter of a therapist teaching a particular spiritual or religious model. Rather, the process of therapy involves the client in an ongoing inquiry into his or her own nature, the nature of the conscious and unconscious mind, the perceptions and realities of the client’s environment, the client’s choices, and the motivations for and consequences of those choices for the client and for other people. That’s essentially what therapy is, so if spirituality means no more than that, therapy can provide one part of a spiritual life. ~ Excerpt edited by Kalila Borghini

Spiritual Therapy

Spiritual Therapy is a rapidly growing approach to treating the whole person, body, mind, and soul. Many people believe in a higher power. Regardless of religion, people who believe a universal presence guides them can benefit greatly from spiritual therapy. This form of therapy focuses on tapping into the core belief system of an individual. Someone suffering from depression may undergo spiritual therapy and find that they are experiencing a moral conflict in some area of their life. A person who is struggling with anxiety may discover that they are sabotaging their efforts to become the person they were intended to be. Communing with nature, meditating, focusing on particular selections of music and other non-traditional techniques are often employed during this type of therapy as a method of exploring the deepest part of the self. Spiritual therapy strives to connect the body and mind with the soul and to create a sense of oneness between all three so that the individual may live in harmony with the universe.

Grieving Religious Mother in Therapy - Case Example

Doris, 42, enters therapy for grief counseling after the death of her mother from cancer. In the course of therapy, she reports that her mother was religious but she is not. As the therapist inquires more deeply, Doris reveals that she resented her mother’s piety, which her mother pushed on her. However, she also secretly fears her mother is right and she is “in trouble with God”. Therapy helps Doris express her grief about her mother in the context of other complex feelings. Therapy also helps Doris clarify her own spiritual beliefs, including an exploration of questions about life, death, and her place in the universe.

Catholic Man Discerning Meaning of Spirituality in Life - Case Example

Jason, 24, seeks help understanding his “spirituality.” He is a self-described Catholic but isn’t comfortable with some of the positions of the Church. Still, he attends church, but not regularly. He believes in God but isn’t sure about much more than that. The therapist asks him why he chose to seek therapy, rather than speak to a priest, read the Bible, take a class in religious studies, talk to friends or family, pray and meditate, or something like that. Jason discloses he feels very anxious about “not knowing where to turn” and wants help with his fears. The therapist helps Jason identify the values, practices, and sense of community he enjoys in Catholic Church, as well as his complaints. By allowing Jason to express his concerns and clarify his motivations and values, therapy helps Jason decide to continue as a Catholic, while advocating from within for doctrinal changes. Jason also overcomes his feelings of guilt for questioning doctrine, deciding that his value system allows for such actions and seeing his Catholicism as an imperfect choice, rather than an obligation or ideal.


Last updated: 07-03-2015

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