The Relationship between the Baha’i Experience and Psychotherapy

By Ann Hamilton

My religion is an integral part of who I am. It informs my attitudes, tempers my prejudices, focuses my thinking, shapes my world view and my view of human­ity. And since, as a therapist, I try to connect with my clients from my core, then I connect with them as the person I am.

Innate Goodness

Striving, as a Baha’i, to eliminate every sense of prejudice from my life, I find myself accepting of clients, regardless of their race, colour are beliefs. Believing, as a Baha’i, in the equality of men and women, not as an aspiration but as a fact, I find myself comfortable with and encouraging of clients of both sexes. Believing in the innate goodness of human beings, I find myself accepting of human falli­bility and non-judgmental in the face of human frailty. At home with my own spirituality, I recognise and welcome the spiritual nature of my clients.

Personal Morality

However, in my work, I constantly use what Patrick Casement in On Learning from the Patient calls the ‘internal supervisor,’ so that I monitor subtle client com­munications while at the same time monitoring my own response, conscious that my clear beliefs and personal morality may inform how I am in a session but should not dominate it, and may be unacceptable to my clients.

Truth

As a Baha’i I am urged to respect the beliefs of others so I consort with my clients whose religion is different to mine with love and amity. I am also charged with investigating truth for myself, and not to blindly accept ‘the knowledge of my neighbour’. Approaching the practical and spiritual value of this for myself, ‘the unfettered search after truth’, is a useful guide for me with my clients.

Though there are differences in approach, emphasis and technique among the various schools of psychotherapeutic thought, many are agreed on the basic aim of therapy: A process of self-recognition, self-knowledge, or self-realisation. “The person becomes what he is.” (Rogers); ” … to assist you to become yourself.” (Perls, Hefferline & Goodman); ” … a voyage in self-discovery.” (Lowen); while Jung speaks of the process of individuation in which the client is initiated into a “deeper self-knowledge and knowledge of humanity”.

Spiritual Mandate

All of these echo a teaching in the Baha’i faith which says that “True loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of his true self.” As a Baha’i psychotherapist I am thus equipped with a clear spiritual mandate. I take pleasure in exploring my spiritual and theoretical maps and finding where they overlap.

Unity is the fundamental principle of the Baha’i faith. Likening humankind to the plants and the flowers of one garden, Baha’i scripture says: “Diversity of hues, form and shape, enricheth adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof. In like manner, when divers shades of thought, temperament and char­acter, are brought together … the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest.”

Through its teachings the faith encourages unity at family and the personal level, as well as at local, national and international levels.

Unity

Brought into psychotherapy practice, unity is a natural principle for me to pur­sue. For example, I see the integration of unity of mind, body and spirit as not just socially or emotionally desirable, but as having profound spiritual implica­tions for the individual.

As a Bio-dynamically trained therapist, my orientation is to the body, calling the client into her body if she has fled from it through abuse or fear, affirming her in her physical reality, and helping her to access body memories and the unconscious, through a variety of bodywork techniques, such as massage or vegetotherapy.

Inner Temple

As a Baha’i, my understanding of the importance of the body is as “the throne of the inner temple (spirit).” The spirit is a ‘divine trust’ and through embodiment is enabled to acquire spiritual perfection while at the same time enlightening the world. To partially or totally disconnect from the body, therefore, is to deny our­selves the full enjoyment and experience of our spiritual purpose in life. I believe this to be the development of our inherent spiritual potential, leading to the love and knowledge of God.

Sacred Work

So, as a therapist and a Baha’i, if I can connect a client with her body then I see that as a profoundly spiritual act. Gerda Boyesen, the theorist behind Bio-dynamic psychotherapy, says of therapy that it is sacred work. I agree with her and believe this is one of the reasons why it is so.

As a reasonably well read though relatively new therapist, I have not yet come across any satisfying research into the intimate links between body, mind and spirit. However, my faith impacts on my view of, and gives me insight into, the body/mind link.

In my scriptures I read that the mind is the power of the human spirit. “Spirit is the lamp; mind is the light which shines from the lamp. Spirit is the tree, and the mind is the fruit. Mind is the perfection of the spirit and is its essential quality, as the sun’s rays are the essential necessity of the sun.”

Reality

Again, as a Baha’i, my understanding of the connections between body, mind and spirit is that my five senses are the tools of my body – sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste. My four inward powers of imagination, thought, compre­hension and memory are the tools or qualities of my soul, and are joined by the power of intellect which is common to both my inward and outward reality and connects them.

Congruent

To devalue or under-develop an aspect of oneself is to stunt, impede or ex­aggerate the growth and development of the others. All ten elements must be developed and work in harmony for spiritual, physical and emotional well-being. All of which is congruent with much of the current thinking in psycho­therapy on the body/mind link.

As a Baha’i, my view of sin and human fallibility is qualitatively and essen­tially different from the views of many others. I don’t believe in original sin. “Know thou that every soul is fashioned after the nature of God, each being pure and holy at his birth,” our scripture says.

Socially Radical

I don’t see sin as having an existential reality as a ‘stain’ that must be repented of, confessed or atoned for. Rather, I see it as a lost opportunity for growth. That is not to say that Baha’i’s believe there should be no retribution for wrong-doing. On the contrary, the Baha’i faith is socially radical but uncompromising in its standards of personal morality.

That personal morality is characterised by an individual relationship with God in which there is no mediator. We are responsible for our own spiritual wel­fare, and are answerable before God for our actions and omissions in this life. We have no concept of confession, there is no possibility of forgiveness through some outside agency. Though Baha’i’s lovingly accept the fallibility of human nature, we also believe in the corrigibility of humankind.

Putting those beliefs into the context of therapy, I find a spiritual basis for the concept of being non-judgmental, for separating the deed from the doer: “How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others?”

Self-Regulation

The spiritual concept of the individual relationship with god is mirrored by the therapeutic concept (identified by Wilhelm Reich) of self-regulation, in which the individual acts out of his primary or core personality because of an innate sense of the Tightness of things. He is not influenced by fear or by manipulation, and is a spiritually and emotionally healthy human being.

More than that, the Baha’i writings, time and time again, speak of the exalted station of humankind, so that we see not just the fundamental dignity of our fel­low man, but his potential as a creation of God. To quote Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith: “With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of my light.” And again: “Regard Man as a mine, rich in gems of inestimable value.”

Privileged Position

Knowing this – that in sitting face-to-face with a client – I am facing the essence of God’s light, a mine, rich in gems of inestimable value – keeps me ever mindful of the respect due to my clients, and the privileged position I’m in as a therapist. It enables me to see my clients’ essential nobility even when they are filled with self-loathing, and to hold that space for them until they can connect with it for themselves.

I find it difficult to define the “Baha’i Experience” mentioned in the title of this article. In a sense it is a simple yet profound spiritual act of connection with God. But of course in day-to-day living it is more than that, since the Baha’i faith comprises a broad range of teachings and concepts.

For This Age

As a Baha’i I believe I have access to the revealed word of God for this age in which we now live. Consisting of one hundred volumes written by Baha’u’llah over a hundred years ago, the extent of Baha’i scripture is unparalleled in the annals of revealed religion. Based on the premise that down through the ages God has revealed himself progressively to humankind through his prophets and manifestations, the social teachings of the Baha’i faith are radical and progress­ive, while the spiritual verities enshrined at its core are those self-same truths revealed by Jesus, Buddha, Moses and Mohammed.

Harmony

My life as a Baha’i and as a therapist is exciting. I constantly marvel at how the one informs the other, how my religion and my profession combine in a delicate minuet of balance and affirmation. Constantly, throughout Baha’i scripture, I find confirmation in my job, a rationale for the work of therapy: “… whatever is the cause of harmony, attraction and union among men is the life of the world of humanity, and whatever is to cause of difference, of repulsion and separation is the cause of the death of mankind.” If harmony, attraction and unity can be established at an individual level, then it is my belief that the benefits will be felt in the community as a whole, leading ultimately to global harmony.

Ann Hamilton is a member of the Baha’i faith and a practicing Bio-Dynamic psychotherapist. She can be contacted at Baha’i National Assembly of Irl, 24 Burlington Road, Dublin 4. 668 3150

Useful Reading

Abdu’l-Baha: Selections from the writings of Abdu’l-Baha, Haifa Baha’i World Centre.

Baha’u’llah: The Tablets of Baha’u’llah, Haifa, Baha’i World Centre.

Baha’u’llah: The Hidden Words, Haifa, Baha’i World Centre.

Casement. P. (1985) Learning from the Patient, 1991 edition, Guilford Press, NY.

Jacobi.). (1942) The Psychology of C.G. Jung, 1973 Yale UP.

Lowen. A. (1975) Bioenergetics, Penguin, London.

Perls, Hefferline, Goodman. (1951) Gestalt Therapy Souvenir, London.

Rogers. C. (1961) On Becoming a Person. Haughton Mifflin, Boston.