The spiritual dimension can surface most unexpectedly. The change process seems to invite it.
People come to therapy because they perceive, at some level, that something about their inner lives needs to change. This sense of impending change can be frightening and confusing. It may involve specific changes one is aware of, such as a difficult choice about staying in a relationship or leaving it; it may involve changes beneath the level of awareness, such as a change of self image that makes it possible to heal from grief, or return emotionally from a war zone, and begin a new phase of life.
Therapy is a type of conversation that helps people figure out what change will mean to them: it can help people bring their vague distress into focus, and express it in the form of a problem. Perhaps a lingering depression is about shaming thoughts, or perhaps it is about neglecting to make time for music. The role of therapy is to help find words for the problem in the midst of the chaos, and to help recognize possible solutions. However, the change process does not always feel like an unstated problem awaiting a solution; sometimes, in the midst of our work, the spiritual dimension is more urgent.
Change becomes a spiritual experience when it is experienced, not only as the work of weighing options or revising thoughts and lifestyles, but as a sacred moment at the edge of personal transformation. At such times, people may wonder, Who am I now? Scary as they may be, moments of transformation do not lend themselves to problem solving strategies, and insisting on using them can feel devaluing.
Instead, a different sort of response is called for, one that responds appropriately to the spiritual dimension of the person’s struggle. Moments of transformation often require people to suspend some trusted assumptions about their lives, without knowing what will replace them. From there, a person must wait for the process of growth to unfold. Perhaps it is a moment when a person realizes they are now living in a foreign land, literally or metaphorically; or perhaps it is the awareness that they are now the older generation, or a pregnancy is detected, or a medical diagnosis is given, or the reality dawns that a relationship is over.
Such moments can take on a numinous quality, a sense of the sacred, and become a landmark that will be forever remembered. This happens whether the people involved are religious or not; everyone has a spiritual life, in this broad sense, and everyone has moments that become more than just the unfolding of a story, but an invitation to a spiritual journey.
Sacred moments have much to teach, even when they are difficult moments. Our role in the healing professions, then, may be to help the person discern when something is a problem, and when it is a challenge to which we must first bear witness, before we interrupt something valuable. Life transitions, the moments at the edge of something new, are spiritually significant. Becoming awake to this significance may require spiritual support. On the other hand, the threshold can be a lonely place to get stuck, and a therapeutic response can be very comforting. The spiritual and the therapeutic relationships can happen together, but they should not be confused.
© Copyright 2010 by Lynn Schlossberger LPC, therapist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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