When a counsellor says they take a spiritual approach to psychotherapy, it often needs further explanation as the word ‘spiritual’ may have different connotations for yourself and others.Let me begin by saying what spiritual psychotherapy is not. It is not religious. For me, there is a difference between religious – which I perceive as being based on a particular faith – and spiritual. Religious people may be spiritual, but spiritual people are not necessarily religious in terms of following a particular religion/faith.
So what is spiritual? The word itself indicates it is related to ‘spirit’. Again this can bring up different meanings and feelings for you. For me, spirit is simply a non physical part of our being which knows more about us than our everyday consciousness. It can also be described as the true self, the real self, higher self, supra consciousness, etc.
The original meaning of the word ‘psychotherapy’ comes from Greek, meaning ‘healing of the soul’ [psyche (soul) and therapeia (healing)]. I like this definition as I find it a great reminder of what therapy is about or can be about, which for me is healing at a deep level.
You may come across counsellors who have had training in transpersonal psychotherapy. ‘Transpersonal’ is a lovely way to describe that which lies beyond the ‘personal’, i.e. the ‘I’ and moves into the realm of the higher self nature. You may wonder if transpersonal and psycho-spiritual psychotherapists only deal with the spiritual aspects of the self. That is not so. Transpersonal psychotherapy training includes the major approaches to counselling and psychotherapy. As a result, transpersonal counsellors also work with recognising links and patterns from the past, with changing thoughts and behaviour and looking at the potential in each person towards growth, as well as working with the more spiritual aspects if appropriate.
So what does it have to do with psychotherapy?
If you want to make real changes to yourself, I think it is essential to connect with your true self. Who are you really underneath all the difficulties that you face? What are you learning? What qualities are you developing or need to develop? By connecting more with that core part of yourself you can have access to a part that can transcend the difficulties that you may identify with.
So how does this all translate into practice?
There are different ways that this can be used practically. Each person is unique and brings different issues and goals to therapy, so many counsellors take their lead from the person in how far the spiritual aspect becomes a direct way of working or not. Therefore, you do not need to feel spiritual or have any interest in spirituality to benefit from a psycho-spiritual approach to counselling and psychotherapy. You can experience great healing and relief from being able to share your story in a safe, confidential and non judgemental space. That may be all you want. Perhaps you simply want to learn strategies to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, relationship or family issues for example. Or you want to make more lasting changes to yourself that are underlying your symptoms, especially if you have recurring difficulties and patterns of behaviour that are limiting your life satisfaction.
Whereas most psychotherapies aim to help you to become a more balanced and integrated person, to help you manage stress and find more fulfilment in life, a spiritual approach also allows for a very positive way of understanding difficulties and connect with parts of yourself that you were unaware of. In addition, I find that the spiritual heart can help to reduce and clear many negative emotions and can help you to function from a place of loving kindness and compassion to yourself and others, which is fundamental to greater happiness.