Spirituality and religious practices are integral parts of most cultures, an inextricable part of childhood as they form the family's value structure, and color the lens through which people see themselves – even if they are no longer participating in the family, the culture, or the religion.
Divorcing these experiences from the therapeutic process or discounting them as irrational does a great disservice to patients who are struggling with major life issues, issues that are central to one’s identity and purpose.
Spiritual psychology is a 21st century approach to living - a blending of science and spirituality. It's a holistic approach that integrates both traditional and transpersonal psychology with any - and all - spiritual practices, and it's particularly focused on spiritual growth.
Inherent in the approach of spiritual psychology is the understanding that the patient is a spiritual being who is traveling his or her own particular path. The therapy supports the patients' abilities to explore and strengthen spirituality in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. Patients are also guided in identifying their own best qualities on their journey toward realizing their own potential.
The Path of Evolving Consciousness
Human spirituality is as diverse as humanity itself. Yet, despite the many variables, the structure of spiritual psychology provides a process and structure that enables patients to cogently consider their many – often conflicting - thoughts and beliefs. Sometimes this happens within the patient's own religious tradition, but often it leads to entirely new paths.
Spiritual psychology often proposes alternative spiritual perspectives as a way of delving deeper and getting to the source of troubling issues. These alternative perspectives include a wide number of spiritual concepts and experiences that take us out of our normal way of perceiving.
These experiences might involve non-ordinary states of consciousness during which patients might have “ah-ha” moments, engage in conversations with their higher selves – an aspect of their souls – or have other transcendent experiences that change their understanding in a profound way. Transcendent experiences put us on the path to self-realization as we become more aware of the non-physical aspect of “self.” For more information see transpersonal psychology.
Spiritual psychologists believe that as individuals evolve and increasingly identify with their souls, they begin to realize that uniting with the soul is the purpose of their journey. They start to understand “non-duality” - the end of feeling separate and alone – and the beginning of feeling one with God, the Creator, or the Universe.
A spiritual crisis shakes the foundations of a patient's life, requiring psychological as well as spiritual help. He or she might be suffering from floating anxiety, depression, anger, or fear – a feeling of being stuck and unable to see a promising future. These are all psychological concerns that often result from a belief structure that the patient has outgrown.
Rejection of one's childhood religion can result in an increasing sense of disconnection or abandonment as one grows older. Spiritual psychologists view this as an emotional hunger – a lack of spiritual nourishment – because they believe that patients haven't found a good way of engaging their spirits. An exploration of those early experiences in combination with more recent beliefs will bring reconciliation, setting the stage for a more satisfying attitude toward life.
For many people spirituality is more than just the backdrop of their lives – it's a frantic search for God and that ecstatic connection. Guilt, self-recrimination, and self-judgment often block that access and are resolved through a therapeutic intervention emphasizing self-forgiveness, compassionate understanding, and unconditional self-love. As these approaches support the patient's self-worth, the patient evolves from a needy child to a serious spiritual student.
Because of the influence of Eastern religions, meditation continues to be one of the most widely used therapeutic activities. Both Tibetan and Zen Buddhism have long traditions in the integration of spirit and mind, and have many time-tested meditations that help center out-of-balance spiritual seekers. Therapists are often trained in different meditative styles and coach patients in a practice of “going within” that opens up new levels of awareness.
Meditation quiets the mind and brings patients a greater sense of self-realization - the realization that they are not just the face they see in the mirror – they are something far greater. Spiritual psychology recognizes that this “ah-ha” moment helps patients understand how their constraining beliefs have kept them from realizing their own potential.
Another effective therapy is guided visualization. In these relaxing sessions the therapist guides patients into a mildly altered state of consciousness where they can explore their subconscious. Awareness exercises of this nature often result in emotional releases of long-buried sorrows. Acknowledging and releasing old burdens and stresses is relieving and strengthening to both mental and physical health.
Spiritual psychology engages all aspects of human experience. The goal of holistic balance in the body, mind, and soul of patients gives them a brighter outlook on life and a calmer, more peaceful inner life.
If you desire to help individuals with many of life’s challenges, and appreciate a spiritual focus in the resolution of workplace stressors, family life, career decisions, relationship issues, and personal growth concerns, consider spiritual psychology.
Spiritual psychologists must have a PhD in most states to practice, and certain licensing requirements might also apply. Contact schools for more information on psychology degree programs and entering the field of Spiritual Psychology.