Value and meaning are very important concepts in both psychotherapy and in religion. In recent years religion has lost its central place in the lives of substantial numbers of people in the developed Western World. In other parts of the planet religious affiliation is burgeoning, this is especially true of Islam and Christianity. In theologies that see God as essentially outside the ‘normal’ experience of people it is not surprising that many now find it difficult to accept the idea that everything, good and bad, joyful or tragic is the “Will of God”.
There is an argument that counselling and psychotherapy are replacing the confessional and consoling aspects of religion. Indeed, Sigmund Freud, who is often referred to as the ‘Father of Psychoanalysis’, believed atheism was necessary to his form of therapy. In the world of the late twentieth century where once belief in God was enough to explain life’s suffering and tragedy, and to satisfy great numbers of people in their search for reassurance of the value and meaning of their lives, now more and more people look to the therapist to help come to terms with their lives. It is unclear how widespread or pervasive the tendency in people to look to developing their own personal spirituality has become. There is, however, evidence that the perceived ’emptiness’ of religious institutions does not meet the spiritual need for some in terms of personal spiritual development and belonging to a community of faith.
It seems that personal development and personal support groups are offering a sense of belonging and common purpose that was once the (almost) sole domain of the churches. That is not to say that the churches are dying; it is to simply acknowledge that a change has taken place in people’s consciousness.
In this issue of Inside Out we look at religion and psychotherapy from different points of view to try to understand where they meet and where they diverge from each other. We do not pretend that the sample of work between these pages reflects all religious thinking or that it represents the formal positions of churches. On a personal level there is often no conflict between the individual with their religious beliefs and their involvement with psychotherapy because it is possible to integrate concepts like ‘personal growth’ with a religious faith in God.
This is described by several of the contributors to this edition who speak about the enhancement they experience when they bring their religious faith to bear on their psychotherapeutic practice. Other contributors have questions about the validity of links between religion and therapy at an organisational and doctrinal level and explore these reservations. Religious faith and therapy are not incompatible but it is important to the dignity and integrity of both that indiscriminate importation of ideas one to the other, to the detriment of both, does not take place.
As always, we welcome comments on the material published in Inside Out and look forward to your reaction to the current issue. The Spring 1996 issue of Inside Out will be on the theme of ‘Parenting’. If you would like to contribute an article or review to Inside Out, why not call us or write to us at the address on the inside front cover?