Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spirituality and Psychotherapy

When I was a young undergrad in the early 1970's, psychology and spirituality were not the best of friends. In fact, B.F. Skinner was the hero of the hour-- and spirituality and his theory of behaviorism had nothing to do with each other. Freud was pilloried on every available occasion by behaviorists and feminists, not that he was particularly spiritual, just that he was out-of-style, and supposedly anti-feminist. Truth be told, based on what I was being taught, and feminist that I was (and am), I didn't want much to do with Freud, either. Then, finally, 20 years later, I read his original works and lights went on like crazy. The old guy wasn't so dated, after all, though he was still very anti-religion.

Truth be told, there were guys like C.J. Jung and Carl Rogers, who were deeply spiritual in their own lives and believed that spirituality and religion had a lot to offer human beings. Both found ways to bring spirituality into their work with patients, however, they weren't the flavor of the hour and their theories and style of therapy were not being taught in the 1970's. They were buried under piles of dust by a psych department that believed that they were anachronisms at best, and dangerous at worst. I had to discover them on my own in my doctoral program.

Fast forward 38 years and spirituality is still trying to be understood by psychology, and religion is still being seen as a resource for clients, but a topic that therapists are better off avoiding with clients/patients. Yet, as those of us who have done this work for any respectable length of time know, religion and spirituality are important issues, even for patients who do not believe in religion or a Creator. I have found that at the bottom of most trauma issues that are brought into therapy there is the burning question, "If there is a God, where was He (or She) when all that was happening to me?" Yet, therapists are supposed to stay away from spiritual or religious issues? I don't know how to do that, so I dig in wherever the client is. I view it as marriage counseling between God (Higher Power, choose your name) and the client--and we work to improve the "marriage."

Here is a journal writing exercise that is intended to help you explore your sense of spirituality.

Describe your current religious or spiritual belief system and
how it is similar and/or different from that of your childhood.

There's more to come in future blog entries, as we follow this thread of self-discovery.

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