by Anne Gill
I am grateful to Colm for beginning a much needed discussion in his article ‘Thoughts on a spirituality of psychotherapy’ (Inside Out, 69, Spring 2013), and to Maria Moran for her response (Inside Out, 70, Summer 2013). In my practice I offer both psychotherapy and spiritual guidance.
My own spiritual perspective is vital to me in my work as a therapist. It allows me to bear witness and hold on to hope. But why does it seem so uncomfortable to dialogue about this subject? For me it feels like opening up a deeply private part of myself and words do not come easily.
I quote from a chapter entitled ‘Spirituality and Inner Work’ in Tom Holmes’ book Parts Work, An Illustrated Guide to your Inner Life:
It seems that one of our most important roles as therapists is to assist clients in connecting to their spiritual sources of healing and wisdom. Many people experience this wisdom and guidance as coming from a source within themselves.
For others, it seems to come from a connection to sources of spiritual guidance outside themselves. If a person is able to find this kind of guidance, it has been my experience that the therapeutic process moves much faster, especially in cases where there was trauma in their earlier life experience. My understanding of the reason for this is that these sources of guidance have concentrated Self qualities. When guides enter the system they lend these Self qualities to the process. This means that when a person uncovers a part that is carrying the memory and pain of a traumatic experience, that part can be helped from a place of calm compassionate wisdom. Without such a spiritual resource the therapist must proceed slowly to bring Self into a leadership role before the system is ready to deal with the traumatized part. It can be beneficial for the therapist to explore a client’s spiritual experiences early in the therapy process, and to listen for cues that may indicate the presence of a guide. However the therapist should be careful not to impose such an idea on the client. It appears to me that the spiritual connections that emerge in parts work have an undeniable ability to transform the internal systems of clients.
(Holmes, 2007: 119-120)
I have found the above to be true both in my own work and in that with clients.
Another quote I found helpful is from the book Quest for the Living God by Elizabeth A Johnson:
Every era has its insights. The growth of atheism, the experience of unspeakable suffering, struggles for justice for poor people, women and racial and ethnic minorities, the global encounter of religions, and new ecological awareness of our physical universe – each of these contexts calls for new understanding and contributes clues as to how thought can proceed. In response, different theologies have been glimpsing God again, not in the sense of deducing all there is to know or uncovering the divine in all clarity – the Holy is not available to us in this way – but in the sense of illuminating and unlocking the unsuspected presence of the gracious divine mystery amid the ambiguity, suffering, justice making, and vast discoveries of our times.
(Johnson, 2007: 226)
Ivor Browne in his book, Steps Along the Road: the Evolution of a Slow Learner, has some helpful observations. In a paper on spirituality and new developments in science and the psychology of consciousness he writes:
Mainstream science and organised religion are blindly driving this planet towards destruction but, at a deeper level, spirituality and recent developments in science are converging. It is time to transcend religion and, if there is to be a new spiritual growth, to move towards a universal spirituality. Perhaps the modern world has lost its awareness of the deep mystical forces that are at work below the surface of a civilization that has gone badly astray. It is perhaps such an awareness of the extent to which this intangible web reaches the boundary of our individuality and involves us at all times in some greater unity that is resonating out across the world, and moving imperceptibly towards a truly human society.
How can we best walk with our clients for part of their journey? I believe a living spirituality can be a vital resource on the way.
Anne Gill is an accredited psychotherapist and supervisor with IAHIP and an accredited member of AISGA (All Ireland Spiritual Guidance Association). She works with individuals and groups in North County Dublin.
Browne, I. (2013) The Writings of Ivor Browne. Steps Along the Road: the Evolution of a Slow Learner. Cork: Atrium.
Holmes, T. and Holmes, L. (2007) Parts Work: An Illustrated Guide to your Inner Life. Missouri: Winged Heart Press.
Johnson, E. (2007) Quest for the Living God. New York and London: Continuum International Publishing Group.