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Health is often described as a well-being state of the body, mind, and spirit. In fact, the term “holistic” is often used when discussing these three aspects of a person. To be certain many professionals in the physical and mental health field do view the body, mind, and spirit to be inextricably linked. This indicates that the state of well-being of one aspect affects the other two aspects and vice-versa.
Now most of us do have an understanding of what a healthy mind or body means, but let us look at what does a “healthy spirit” mean?
The spirit of a person can be described as the essence of who the person is. It is that spark or energy present at birth that makes one human being distinct from another human being. It is what actually makes each of us unique. The “soul” is often referenced when talking about someone’s spirit. Your spirit (or soul) does grow, develop, and change over your lifetime just as your body and mind grow and change.
It is our emotional health that affects how we feel about ourselves, our interpersonal relationships, and our complete life in general. Emotional health is all about the measurement of our ability to cope with life’s rollercoaster ups and downs. It is the flexibility of the response when one is faced with life’s highly challenging moments.
Another indicator is the very level of satisfaction plus connectedness you do experience in your interpersonal relationships, as well as the feelings of success, contentment, or happiness in your life.
Spiritual health refers to the relationship you have with the Sacred, the Divine, the Holy that transcendent being or reality many of us identify as God. Many may name this reality as the Eternal One, Creator of All That Is, Holy One, Source of Life, Allah, Yahweh, etc. (For the purpose of this article, I will use the term “God.”)
It is interesting to note that just as we experience physical and emotional wounds, so do we experience spiritual wounds. Spiritual wounding does occur when someone’s essence that is one’s spirit experiences profound denigration, humiliation, shame, or complete disregard for one’s humanness and personhood.
This wounding occurs regardless of one’s faith, religion or denomination. In fact, when someone experiences a physical or an emotional violence and abuse, there is a high likelihood that at the deepest part of her/his being there are spiritual wounds.
How can we recognize someone who is spiritually wounded?
Let us look at some instances: It could be about a woman having a personal history which is marked by sexual abuse and has experienced emotional healing. However, she still feels deep shame or guilt within herself regarding the abuse. It could be a man who has experienced physical abuse in his childhood, and though he is able to function quite constructively in life, continues to feel deep despair and distress.
It may also be a victim of crime, a soldier, a grieving parent, an isolated older adult, a child bullied in school, a clergy person, a healthcare provider, a friend or co-worker, yourself basically anyone!
It is important to note that one way a person may express this wounding is in statements such as, “Why did God let this happen to only me?” “If God really ever loved me, this would not have happened.” Some individuals feel God cannot possibly love her/him because: “I am damaged and mutilated goods.” “I was my own mistake.” “I did not do anything to stop it from happening.” “I totally deserve what happened to me.”
Do consider when someone is experiencing ongoing worthlessness, self-denigration, unfair criticism towards themselves or strongly beliefs that s/he is unlovable, there is a very high likelihood that the spiritual wounds need to be addressed and looked upon with keen interest.
So, the next point to note is how can someone experience spiritual healing?
Many people do seek counselling from their pastor, priest, rabbi, minister, imam, clergy-person, etc. Some even go on to discuss their spiritual wounding in therapy with a psychotherapist. Others do seek out spiritual counsellors, sometimes referred to as spiritual directors, to work in conjunction with their psychotherapist to specifically address the spiritual concerns.
Please note they are similar to the healthcare providers trained to care for your physical health, spiritual directors are individuals that are trained to care for your spiritual health.
Spiritual directors are thereby professionals with knowledge and experience in the areas of spiritual formation, development, and also guidance. If one is raised within a particular religious denomination or with a set of concrete religious principle. It is the spiritual director that helps you recognize your early understandings of God and how those understandings may or may not have changed over the years.
It is also vital to note that if you never associate yourself with any particular religious tradition, a spiritual director will help you explore and understand the concept of something greater than yourself. Now this “something” can be nature, love, or say a life-source; it can also be anything that you experience as Mystery.
It is one’s spiritual health that can be then misunderstood, overlooked, or considered unimportant to someone’s overall health and even well-being. It is about addressing one’s spiritual health that can be seen as the key component to her/his physical as well as mental health. It is totally resistant plus hard to squeeze and force God under a microscope. The same is true for the air God breathes in through the space of spirituality.
Once must extract the noise to want to swim in all the rivers of spirituality. Once must hear all the voices that include the contemplative, liturgical, ceremonial, evangelical, biblical and social justice accents.
Stepping outside all the denominational boundaries while appreciating each as an important expression of faith one does open a treasure trove of unconsidered spiritual resources. One of the most fundamental doctrines in Christian theology could be considered either complete nor inerrant in my view.
The melodious sounds of classic Christianity began to see that the most prominent view of the atonement during the earliest centuries of Christianity was more like a relationship (which is a conversation, communion, consummation, and finally union) than a courtroom which is (justice and appeasement of wrath).
These three ideas do talk about the availability of the kingdom as an accessible realm plus domain of the “really real,” the practice of the spiritual disciplines as “crumbs” and “bubbles” of the transformation, and a total relational understanding leading towards salvation will cause one to desire towards transforming the relationship with God and gives one a professional permission to work with clients in a spiritually sensitive way. Again, this is my view.
In distinction from the spiritual direction, psychotherapy is the very treatment of mental and emotional disorders using the psychological methods which usually involve an intentional program for producing change of behaviour, thought, emotional response, or a relationship from maladaptive leading towards the “normal.”
What Is Psycho-spirituality?
This term refers to the interdependence of psychological and spiritual processes in health, pathology, and growth. A positive change in any area may have profound impact in other areas as well because of the interconnectedness of the person, it seems highly unlikely to be otherwise.
What are the contributions of spirituality to the counselling process?
If healthy spirituality does result in enhanced awareness of God, improved connectedness towards love, hopeful openness towards the power and presence of God, and transcendent meaningfulness, leading to the spiritual development one must enhance the process of counselling and psychotherapy, potentially impacting each component of the person in a highly helpful way.
Please note that Spiritual Direction and Psycho-therapy addresses the potential which is great for deep blessing, greater wholeness and shalom for who freely chooses therapy that aims for psychological and spiritual growth as well as the reduction of psychological distress.
It is pointed out that the potential pitfalls of integrating spiritual direction into psychotherapy are numerous and potentially devastating too. It is where counselling that has most concerns can be addressed through humility that leads to further education (which is intentionally developing dual competencies in psychotherapy and spiritual formation practices).
It is respect (not imposing beliefs or values on the client) and meticulous use of informed consent that makes a difference (by providing sufficient information to the client concerning the therapist’s approach to psychotherapy and the role given to spirituality and spiritual practices).
Intake and Assessment
Spiritual assessment can be conducted at varying levels. Often the variables that are considered are nominal that are religious and denominational orientation, church attendance, etc. While this is highly useful, it must be stated that wearing the label “Christian” does not mean a person experiences connectedness towards God and the transcendent meaning. Spiritual assessment must address important issues such as a person’s God view, awareness of connectedness towards the divine, and finally addressing the barriers to experiencing God’s love.
Treatment to be undertaken
Following are the broad strategies for integrating spiritual issues in therapy:
1. A psychotherapist working under many constraints imposed by setting and third-party reimbursement criteria must strive to employ spiritual interventions with proven treatment effectiveness for the client’s specific presenting problem that is often documented in the small but growing body of psychological outcome literature.
If it is desired by the client, the therapist may also help the client explore how his/her religious and the spiritual background do impact psychological functioning.
2. In situations with greater latitude, the therapist can go on to increase use of spiritual practices to facilitate the attention towards spiritual awareness, deep longings for transcendence, and openness leading to the connectivity to God. It may be highly beneficial for clients to explore the impact of psychological functioning on spiritual well-being.
3. All Christian psychotherapists should keep in mind that those who are best prepared to help people are not only highly trained in counselling theory and techniques. Also, not only in theology but also personally trained to reflect Christian character inside and outside the counselling office.
Now this character cannot be credentialed with graduate degrees or even the learned in the classroom; it comes from years and years of faithful training in the spiritual disciplines by way of prayer, studying scripture, solitude, fasting, corporate worship, and so on.
The best spiritual interventions for increasing the spiritual awareness and connectivity flow from the spiritually aware and more so connected psychotherapist.
The Bottom Line
We can easily miss the fact that the most essential integration occurs within the individual: a synthesis that is very optimal when it is grounded in an ever-deepening and transforming experience of the divine.
Can professional psychotherapy ever embrace practices that seem more at home as the spiritual direction?
Were the two disciplines ever really separate, or did it just appear that way during the time modern psychology had its lens too close to the glass?
The difference from psychotherapy lies in how the teacher or guide actually responds. The spiritual guide may take on more of the role of “coach”, actively engaging in the recommendation of readings or techniques to enhance one’s spiritual life.
Often, it is seen that the sacred texts of the one who is seeking guidance are used and readings from it are recommended for reflection plus discussion. In this relationship, the deeply spiritual part of the seeker’s life is the focus of the discussions and not an adjunctive, as it might be in a foreseen psychotherapeutic relationship.
Depending on the seeker’s needs, the shared prayer may also be part of the time spent in any spiritual direction that is something which is seldom done in classic mental health therapy sessions.
Spiritual direction can be beneficial to someone who is in psychotherapy but also wants to give more specific focus towards their spiritual side. It is noted that those looking to recapture an enriching childhood relationship with the Divine will also benefit from the addition of spiritual guidance in their sessions. What has once been sustained and what has brought great joy may have been lost and can often be re-awakened with some nurturing and spiritual guidance.
This is, certainly, the case for any person who has a deep and dedicated relationship with the Divine and simply wants to deepen it and enrich it with more expert guidance.
Trishna Patnaik, a BSc (in Life Sciences) and MBA (in Marketing) by qualification but an artist by choice. A self-taught artist based in Mumbai, Trishna has been practicing art for over 14 years. After she had a professional stint in various reputed corporates, she realized that she wanted to do something more meaningful. She found her true calling in her passion that is painting. Trishna is now a full-time professional painter pursuing her passion to create and explore to the fullest. She says, “It’s a road less traveled but a journey that I look forward to every day.” Trishna also conducts painting workshops across Mumbai and other metropolitan cities of India.
Trishna is an art therapist and healer. She works with clients on a one-on-one basis in Mumbai.
Trishna fancies the art of creative writing and is dappling her hands in that too, to soak in the experience and have an engagement with readers, wanderers, and thinkers.