Spiritual psychotherapy is a type of counselling that focuses on a person's spiritual side. There are a several reasons why a person may consider spiritual counselling. However, I have found that most people seek out spiritual counselling in order to explore or solidify their own personal spiritual beliefs and to experience inner peace.
Spirituality is usually the search for the meaning of one’s existence or the belief in some sort of greater existence outside of humankind, and it can be linked to religion, but the practice of spirituality is generally considered to go beyond religion.
Both the therapist and client seeking treatment may hesitate to include spirituality or religion in the practice of therapy, due to the potential of differing beliefs and the possible controversy of the topic. But research suggests a therapist's inclusion of an individual's spiritual beliefs may assist in therapy and in the process of healing.
Spirituality is generally considered to be broader than any religion one might practice, as it takes into account cognitive and philosophical areas of thought as well as aspects of emotions and behaviour. Some might describe spirituality as the attempt to understand one's nature or the meaning of one's existence, but spirituality is also linked to one's path to internal awareness and happiness. Many cultures and belief systems hold that one's spirit is the essence of one's existence, and thus, spirituality may also describe for some people their connection to each other and to themselves.
Though some may describe themselves as spiritual without adhering to the principles of any religion or even having any religious thought, for others, religion is the manifestation of their spirituality. This manifestation may involve the performance of rituals—in one tradition or in some combination of traditions—with varying degrees of commitment and involvement in that faith. Spirituality may also describe the attention people pay to their own well-being and that of others. For many, the practice of dance, yoga, meditation, or volunteer work, among others, are outlets in which to express spirituality.
Spirituality in Therapy
People often turn to religion to seek help and counsel for many of the concerns that lead a person to seek therapy, and a person who is spiritual or religious may utilize both fields in the pursuit of healing or well-being. Therapy, a model of treatment for mind and body, is considered to be a more scientific or medical approach. Spirituality, which encompasses the spirit and other immeasurable aspects, is generally believed to have little place in the field of psychoanalysis, and with the exception of pastoral or religious counselling, therapy does not often include discussion of religion or spirituality, although a therapist may inquire about the beliefs of a person in therapy and encourage that individual to connect with others in the religious or spiritual community.
An ethical therapist will not attempt to push personal beliefs on a person in therapy or otherwise attempt to change that individual's spiritual or religious beliefs. However, if it becomes apparent in therapy that a person's beliefs are causing unnecessary distress or if the person expresses difficulty reconciling contradictions between personal values or goals and the constraints of spiritual or religious belief, the therapist may draw the individual's attention to this area. In this case, the therapist may put forth the effort to assist the individual in the process of clarifying what is essential for that individual to achieve optimal well-being.
When a person obtains benefit from spiritual practices, a therapist can also assist in the process of more deeply understanding the person's spiritual self. This does not involve any particular teaching on the part of the therapist, but rather, encouragement to inquire into the individual's nature, conscious mind, unconscious mind, surroundings, and so on. A person's choices and the motivation for and consequences of those choices might also be discussed, and a therapist may ask people in therapy who have expressed religious or spiritual beliefs how those beliefs impact choices they have made and what they believe a higher power might want from them.
However, discussion of religion and spirituality in therapy, even to this extent, is still controversial, and many people believe the inclusion of religiously guided treatments may bring about more harm than good. Some research indicates discussions of spirituality and religion in therapy may be challenging for individuals coping with certain issues. However, because spiritual distress may manifest with both mental and physical symptoms, a therapist who addresses these topics may be able to provide greater healing and support.
Spirituality as a Coping Mechanism
For many, spiritual beliefs play a significant role in the ability to cope with adverse events in life. Spiritual practices may offer social and emotional support, help people find meaning and purpose in life, provide comfort in times of grief, and provide ethical and moral guidelines that many choose to live their lives by. Individuals who gain strength from their spiritual faith may find it difficult to achieve progress and healing in therapy when unable to address and incorporate all dimensions of who they are.
Prayer, religious meditation, or some other aspect of spiritual connection may form part of an individual's self-care routine, as might church or volunteer work in the community. Some individuals or families may be deeply committed to their faith and base much of their lives around spirituality or religion. When a person who is religious or spiritual seeks treatment, sensitivity on the part of a therapist may be beneficial to treatment because it may lead to a broader evaluation of the person seeking treatment and allow the therapist to explore a wider variety of treatment solutions. Therapists who are aware of therapeutic strategies based in spirituality, such as spiritual journaling or forgiveness protocols, may also be able to provide people in therapy with resources on these topics, whether or not they are able to address them personally.
Many 12-step programs base their principles on belief and trust in a higher power, though this power may not be named specifically. One recent study found the spiritual beliefs of people in therapy impacted their levels of worry, stress, and tolerance of uncertainty. Those participants who trusted in a higher power were found to be more trusting and to have lower levels of worry, stress, and intolerance. Other studies have determined spiritual therapy may be helpful for those experiencing substance abuse.
Spiritual therapy is a form of counselling that attempts to treat a person's soul as well as mind and body by accessing individual belief systems and using that faith in a higher power to explore areas of conflict in life. People who believe in a guiding higher power may find spiritual therapy helps them achieve a deeper connection with this power. Through spiritual therapy, a person who is experiencing depression may find a moral conflict is present in some area of life. Anxiety may result when a person is unconsciously engaging in acts of self-sabotage. Spiritual therapy is only one method of uncovering and addressing areas of conflict and possible mental health concerns that may arise in life, but some people may find it to be a beneficial model.