Does Spirituality Fit Into Therapy?


Does Spirituality Fit Into Therapy?


Spirituality and therapy have been intertwined since before psychotherapy became a respected field of study. Explore some of the complexities at the intersection of spiritual life and therapy.

Since psychotherapy was essentially invented by Sigmund Freud in the 1900s, the therapeutic industry has tried to present itself as hard science; as something that can be studied and that can produce predictable results. This idea has been touch and go, with some therapies showing great promise in scientific settings, and others falling flat.

Ultimately, it’s a difficult profession to study because there is so much mystery within the relationship between the individual therapist and the individual client. Some of these same studies have shown that the relationship between these two human beings might be the ultimate key to healing.

The History of Spirituality and Therapy

While some therapists and counselors are certainly open to talking about spirituality, many are not. This is usually either because they don’t want to be seen as unscientific or because they’ve been trained not to talk too much about their own personal beliefs and experiences. So, can spirituality have a place in therapy?

Of course it can. Spirituality was the first therapy, before Freud professionalized it. For many people throughout history, the only option for mental and emotional support was their local priest, shaman, rabbi, or confessional box.

And yet, in today’s world, many people have left organized religion behind in exchange for a more personal, intuitive experience of spirituality. We pray or meditate, we learn about god and goddess archetypes from religions all over the world, we read tarot cards, we talk to spirit guides, and we connect, even if it’s not under the roof of a church or temple. Maybe it’s because these more intuitive forms of spirituality aren’t organized that they feel dangerous to talk about within therapy. But they can be a major part of how we heal.

Incorporating Spirituality Into Therapy

I work with my clients in a style that is very intuitive and body-based. I’ve discovered that the body often leads us directly to the spirit. When we listen to the body, it speaks to us in metaphors and images, and suddenly we are encountering the spirit of someone’s deceased loved one or feeling a benevolent goddess energy guiding us. I don’t know for sure whether these are simply useful metaphors found in the deep basements of our minds or if they are literal, actual spiritual beings, but it doesn’t matter. Either way, it helps.

I think this is partly because so many of our deepest issues are held in the non-rational parts of our brains. Studies on trauma have shown that traumatic memories are held very differently from other kinds of memories. They tend to be less narrative, less literal, more visual, and more emotionally charged. Talk therapy can be very effective for some people in some situations, but there are places in our brains, our hearts, and our histories that are simply not touched by logical conversation. When we use imagination, which is the seat of spirituality, we are tapping into a whole different world of potential healing.

Can You Be Your Fullest Spiritual Self in Therapy?

I’ve been surprised at how many people come into my practice and tell me that I’m the only person they can talk to about their spiritual beliefs. Especially if our spirituality exists outside of organized religion, we can feel judged and shamed for it, as if our beliefs mean we must not be intelligent, rational people.

There is an echo here of the shame and punishment many women (and others) were subjected to during the times of the witch hunts and the rise of patriarchy: In general, people who refused to convert from their pagan, earth-based religions to Christianity were harshly and publicly punished, tortured, and even killed. While we may technically have the freedom now to believe and practice however we wish, there’s a deeply held fear in our bones (maybe even in our past lives?) that causes us to fear sharing it.

Our spirituality is a fundamental part of who we are, however we practice it or whatever the specifics are of what we believe. When we can find a therapist or counselor we feel connected with and safe enough to share our spiritualities, we may find profound new healing there.

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Does Spirituality Fit Into Therapy

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