Ask a Therapist: Is There Room for Spirituality in Psychotherapy?
Integrating therapeutic and Spiritual Practices
Spiritual and religious perspectives might be an important aspect of your life. Some believe these are topics meant only for churches, faith communities, or other spiritual venues. However, I believe it is possible and even advisable to include these kinds of topic areas into your therapeutic work. You could make your therapy experience deeper and more individually resonant by integrating your personal spiritual perspectives, belief systems, and philosophies into the process. Our spirituality and religious beliefs are deeply tied to our personhood, and thus we should move to include more of ourselves instead of less when pursuing personal therapeutic growth.
Integration of spirituality into therapy must always occur sensitively and with profound appreciation for a diversity of viewpoints. Your religious perspective might differ from my own, even if we both identify with the same religious community. Or we could come from very different traditions with seemingly opposite beliefs systems. Regardless, it is imperative to create an open, curious, and respectful therapeutic space where the goal is not debating belief systems, but instead to help you connect to therapeutic concepts from your own unique context. When done with care, integrative therapy can allow therapeutic experiences to be especially memorable and fundamentally life enhancing. Although I will highlight an example below from just one religious perspective, keep in mind that you can use the same integration principles for any spiritual or philosophical tradition you subscribe to.
How can Integrative therapy Look?
In order to illustrate an example of how spirituality can be integrated into therapy, let us consider one spiritual concept belonging to the Judaeo-Christian traditions alongside a common treatment for anxiety disorders: deep breathing. Scholars from this religious tradition have suggested that the original name for "God" as documented in the Biblical Old Testament is YHWH or commonly, "Yahweh." Interestingly, the pronunciation of this name has historically been associated with the sound of the inhaling and exhaling of human breath. If you breath slowly and listen closely, you can discern the sounds that were the origin for an ancient culture's name for their supreme being (although the name was rarely if ever spoken out of fear/respect for their God).
Imagine you are a person a faith and struggling with anxiety, you might experience tremendous benefit from learning this historical fact, as it can deepen your experience during breathing exercises.
If we can connect with the concept that our deep breathing is both a source of life and also akin to uttering the name of God in perpetuity, the anxiety management technique of deep breathing now becomes more than a coping skill. It becomes a spiritual experience.
Your breath becomes a prayer that is said over and over again for as long as you draw it. The experience is now not merely about lowering heart rate, blood pressure, or promoting relaxation. It is engaging a meditative, reflective, a prayerfully sacred moment of re-balancing, healing, and peacefulness. In this way, therapy can become more than symptom management, but about life/spiritual enhancement. There are many ways to integrate spirituality into our therapeutic work and I believe the end result is a profoundly holistic engagement of our whole personhood.
To learn more about Dr. Joey Tadie's work at The Catalyst Center, give us a call at 720-675-7123
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