Spiritual Intelligence: What is it and 4 approaches to cultivate it through psychotherapy


GoodTherapy | Spiritual Intelligence: What is it and 4 approaches to cultivate it through psychotherapy

You may be hearing increasing mentions of spiritual intelligence in the media, not least because there is a growing body of research pointing to how we can cultivate this mindset to support happier and more fulfilling experiences in life. Spiritual intelligence refers to a personal awareness of our own unique sense of purpose, and to a connection with something bigger than our daily existence. It is becoming popular in therapy as a practical approach to connect us with our values and priorities.  

The term ‘spiritual intelligence,’ can be confusing, not least because it sometimes is mistakenly conflated with religions in the US. So let us start by defining the term. It is not a theological or religious concept, rather it simply involves tapping into one’s inner wisdom, intuition, and values to navigate life’s challenges with resilience and compassion. It is an approach to life that celebrates the personal search for meaning and purpose, for example knowing what motivates and fulfills us in our careers leads to enhanced resilience and energy levels. The concept can best be summarized by Victor Frankl’s simple remark that “if we know the why, we can withstand the what.”  

Research supports the relevance of spiritual intelligence in facilitating personal growth. Studies have shown that individuals with higher levels of spiritual intelligence exhibit greater resilience, lower levels of stress and anxiety, and a greater sense of life satisfaction. Furthermore, spiritual intelligence has been linked to enhanced interpersonal relationships, increased empathy, and a greater capacity for forgiveness and compassion. It also holds promise for the treatment of mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and trauma, not least because it encourages us to look beyond how we behave when faced with these mental health conditions and look deeper into how we grow and evolve through these experiences. 

4 Approaches to Cultivate Spiritual Intelligence

But how exactly do we cultivate this in our daily lives? The approaches to it are surprisingly simple and accessible:

  • Mindfulness-based techniques, which encourage us to cultivate present-moment awareness and connect with our inner selves. Mindfulness practices such as meditation, breathwork, and body scanning help individuals develop greater spiritual awareness and insight into their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. When your therapist asks you how you are feeling right now, or where in your body you are feeling it, they are supporting your development of this awareness;
  • Another approach is to become curious about the idea of what we can learn from the experiences we have in life. What can an experience of joy or pain teach us? By thinking this through and applying a learning mindset we can also gain a deeper understanding of our core values and beliefs, which in turn provides us with an anchor in times of crisis. Clients are often curious to explore what learning and growth experiences are available from whatever hardships clients find themselves in. 
  • Reflect on the choices that are available to you across your life (career, health, relationships), and explore what choices you can make to live a more authentic life, more closely aligned with your personal values. This is a highly personalized assessment, and taking the time to align our outer lives with our inner values is a highly effective way of increasing fulfillment over time, even if the journey starts with just the smallest of steps. 
  • Explore the unique contribution you have to offer to the world around you. JFK famously encouraged us in his self-penned inaugural Presidential address to think less about our egoic needs and more about what ‘you can do for your country’.  The point here is that reflecting on what contribution we can make towards, and how we can support the needs of those around us, is a highly effective way to connect with our deeper sense of meaning. This is not about grandiose gestures, rather it is as simple as reflecting on our natural talents that lighten the loads of others.  

In conclusion, spiritual intelligence represents a promising frontier in psychotherapy that holds the potential to transform the way we understand and address mental health concerns. Integrating spiritual intelligence into therapy is best approached by starting small, reflecting, and taking a few gradual steps to align our life choices with our values.  Gautama Buddha summarized it most eloquently with his observation that “[our] goal in life is to find your purpose and give our whole heart and soul to it.”   


Emmons, R. A. (2000). Is spirituality an intelligence? Motivation, cognition, and the psychology of ultimate concern. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 10(1), 3-26. 

Worthington Jr, E. L., Hook, J. N., Davis, D. E., & McDaniel, M. A. (2011). Religion and spirituality. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67(2), 204-214. 

Pargament, K. I. (2007). Spiritually integrated psychotherapy: Understanding and addressing the sacred. Guilford Press. 

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