“Psychotherapy and Spirituality”, YOGA AND HEALTH,
(East Sussex, England: December, 1997)
Vol.22, No.12, December, 1997,
Michael S. Isaacs, M.S.W,  NCPsyA, San Francisco, CA.

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Psychotherapy and spirituality are both paths towards personal happiness.

This article will consider the similarities and differences between these two paths; how psychotherapy itself can be seen as a spiritual quest; and how those in spiritual life can benefit from psychotherapy.

My frame of reference in discussing psychotherapy will be analytic therapy, which model of therapy I am most familiar with. It is based on the three main schools originated by Freud, Adler, and Jung. That is, that there is an unconscious hidden world that exists in our minds. The more we can understand this phenomenon the more we can control our destiny.

For purposes of this article, I will define spirituality in a broad way. It is any belief and path that can lead to more love, compassion, freedom, truth, patience, joy, inner peace, beauty, gratitude, and forgiveness. Some further results of spiritual awareness are love of nature, love of children and animals; living more in the present moment; seeing the good in people and situations; feeling the presence of an invisible source of power, guidance, and knowledge; detachment from excessive need for person, place, or thing; a feeling of oneness with people and the universe; and living more in accord and in harmony with the laws that govern this universe.

It is important to understand that one need not be religious to be spiritual although one, indeed, can be both religious and spiritual. By the term “religion” I refer to organized religion, which embodies formal belief systems and rituals. Religion can prevent spirituality by demanding obedience and alliance with dogma or with the state. Religion does much good in the world, but, on the whole, it has failed to substantially bring out the love and compassion of its adherents. It has failed to elicit a sense of oneness and brotherhood among nations. True religion, in my opinion, is spiritual self-realization. It is that universal spiritual awareness that was awakened in the hearts of the likes of Mohammed, Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Jesus, Abraham, and Moses.

From my experience listening to clients and as a student and teacher of meditation, I have concluded that there are eight major sources of human suffering.

Both psychotherapy and spiritual ends are devised to help mankind cope with these problems. Although these categories are over simplified and sometimes overlap, nevertheless, it will be helpful to enumerate them as follows:


                        1. Physical pain. Example- a broken arm

                        2. Normal unpleasant emotional states such as anxiety, fear,
                             loneliness, resentment, sadness, grief, confusion, and feelings
                             of inadequacy. Example- normal anxiety and fear of public speaking

                        3. Excessive emotional states. Examples- grief that does not abate;
                             fears that lead to phobias and panic attacks; resentments that
                             become permanent bitterness and cynicism; inadequacy feelings
                             that build up to a pervasive and deep lack of self esteem and self worth

                        4. Lack and fear of losing basic survival needs such as food, water,
                             clothing, and shelter. Example-homelessness  

                        5. Loss of meaning and purpose in life. Example-a mother who
                             dedicated her entire life to raising her children, suffers depression
                             when they become independent and move away from home.

                        6. Self-destructive behavior caused by non-compliance with legal,
                             ethical, and moral laws. Example-a college student caught cheating
                             is evicted from school.

                        7. Loss of freedom due to oppression, tyranny, and economic exploitation
                             by governments. Example-Castro’s Cuba.

                        8. Invasion and harm to one’s body. Examples-rape, war, murder,
                            domestic violence, mugging, and torture.                                                    

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