SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLES IN PSYCHOTHERAPY
By Michael Isaacs
The introduction of spiritual principles by the therapist in the course of psychotherapy can, when appropriate, be of great benefit to our clients. Many clients never contemplated the possibility of spiritual answers to their problems and are grateful to be shown that there are alternative ways to cope.
Let us look at low self esteem and lack of confidence. Spiritual knowledge can bring the awareness that there is a universal goodness and love in the world. If we are one with this loving essence, then we are a beloved child of this creative and sustaining entity. We are heirs of that love. Accordingly a relationship and connection can be manifest with this loving presence and more self worth and assurance will follow.
Another problem often seen in psychotherapy is addictive behavior such as alcohol, gambling, smoking, and promiscuity. If clients (as well as all of us) have even a glimpse of understanding that the kingdom of God (good) is within, then the expectancy and reliance on external people, places, and things for happiness is minimized.
Many of my clients are upset by mood swings and excessive feelings. They feel helpless and controlled by these feelings. However, suppose they realize that their real spiritual identity transcends their feelings. There is an invisible entity that is the observer and witness of their feelings. More dominion over feelings is thus possible from a spiritual perspective because of awareness on a center that never changes.
Indeed, self-love, health, safety, joy, companionship, guidance, intelligence, creativity, supply, and peace of mind are but some of the attributes of spiritual discernment.
If clients are open to pursue spiritual matters in the psychotherapy context, how can we assist them to increase their awareness that they are invisible spiritual beings having a physical material existence rather than the opposite? And, how can we appropriately convey that knowledge of this spiritual dimension can accelerate their healing in very practical ways?
One way is through metaphor. For example, to illustrate our oneness with the universe, we have the image of the wave in the ocean; the life force in the branches of a tree, which invisible energy has moved up through the trunk from the soil and roots; and a section of a sculpture being the same substance and at one with the entire sculpture.
Another way is through spiritual stories. One that I like is the Indian yogic story of the lion who realized that he was not a lamb:
A young lion cub strayed from his family. The lost cub was spotted by a group of lambs who raised him. The young lion cub thereafter identified himself as a lamb, bleating and otherwise acting like them. One day he strayed again and met a lion who was horrified that a fellow lion was acting and speaking like a lamb. The astonished lion dragged the grown cub to a pond. He forced him to look at his own lion reflection in the water and thus convinced him that he was a powerful lion, a king of the jungle and not a meek lamb.
Over the years I have related this parable to certain clients whose parents are supreme narcissists. Their parents were totally incapable of fulfilling their basic emotional needs of respect, attention, and love. Moreover, many of the parents were nasty, cruel, and demeaning. The clients considered themselves to be seriously damaged as a "victims" of abuse, which they were in the human scene. They clung tenaciously to the helpless victim role for many years. They were stuck in this position, despite many years of therapy where they dwelled endlessly on their past hurts.
The parable was directed at raising their consciousness to their true identity as infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient soul. This awareness, if and when realized, could afford them strength and guidance to be free of their erroneous self concept as weak and helpless victims of their traumatic past. Armed the seed spiritual truth thought of their true identity as spiritual beings, the possibility of moving forward with their lives and realizing their full potential was enhanced.
I try to remember that there are different approaches to achieving the understanding of ourselves as spiritual beings. There are different ways to reach the state of love, compassion, and forgiveness. Frequently, I return to the words of the Indian saint Vivekenanda:
"Each soul is potentially divine.
The goal is to manifest this Divinity within…
Do this either by work, or worship or psychic control, or MY PRACTICE-by one, or more, or all of these-and be free…"
Accordingly, as psychotherapists we can play a vital adjunctive role in introducing spiritual concepts. When appropriate, we can plant the seeds of selfless service, devotional worship, meditation, and the intellectual quest for spiritual understanding.