What is Spirituality Therapy?
Spiritual wellness is an important part of overall mental health and quality of life. Although for some spirituality is connected to religion, spirituality can look many different ways. In general, spirituality is a sense of connection to something greater than oneself. And while spirituality is not often thought about in conjunction with therapy, in recent years, the gap between the two things has closed more and more. This is likely because therapists have begun to realize the value of spiritual endeavors on mental health and in making an individual whole. Thus, it is no surprise spirituality therapy was developed.
Being quite new, spirituality therapy is not recognized in most states. This does not mean that it is not valid or useful. It simply means that the state does not regulate the practices or certification requirements of spirituality therapists. Spirituality therapy focuses on all matters relating to spirituality and the individual and the application of spirituality into the day to day life. It is growing in popularity, and efforts are being made to get it formally recognized by the various professional organizations.
Methods Typically Used in Spiritual Therapy
Spiritual therapy falls under the umbrella of psychotherapy, also referred to as “talk therapy”. Some common spirituality therapy practices include:
- Hypnosis – hypnosis can help people “open the door” to their subconscious mind, connect body, mind, and soul, and gain a deeper understanding of themselves. Hypnosis helps bring individuals into a state of focused attention, decreased peripheral awareness, and increased ability to respond to suggestion.
- Meditation – meditation is practiced in a variety of ways, using a variety of techniques. A common aspect to almost all forms of meditation is mindfulness (cultivating an increased awareness of the present moment).
- Existential Questioning – exploring a client’s thoughts around the meaning of life, their specific purpose in life, death, the afterlife, etc.
The fact that it is not a regulated form of therapy in most states does mean though that there can be considerable variance in the methods used with little data documenting the effects. Oftentimes, the focus is on exploring the deepest and most hidden part of oneself.
Reasons for Hiring a Spiritual Therapist
Oftentimes, when people have concerns regarding their spirituality, religion, higher power, etc., they seek counsel from their religious leaders. Yet, some people (for a wide variety of reasons) do not, and thus do not know where to seek support. A spirituality therapist provides services similar to many religious leaders, but with a heavier focus on getting to know the client and forming the therapeutic relationship (through trust and empathetic listening). Spirituality therapists tend to be holistic in practice, focusing not only on spirituality but also the mind and body. They can assist in helping a client find balance in life, and reconnect with their higher power (whether that be God, the Universe, nature, etc.). Another common reason people seek the support of a spirituality therapist is if they are struggling with some level of doubt about their connection to a higher power, spirituality, and/or religion. For many people, this often occurs after the loss of a loved one and the resulting grief.
Aside from spiritual/religious concerns, people sometimes reach out to a spirituality therapist to better develop their personal ethical code. Others may want to resolve disagreements within their belief system, and others may need to deal with issues that have developed from their religious upbringing (religious trauma). Additionally, some seek spiritual support due to significant anxieties regarding death and dying.
Spirituality therapy can help individuals reconnect to their lives, re-establish (or establish for the first time) meaning and purpose in life, affirm and actualize their existence, and overall be at peace.
What to Look for in a Spiritual Therapist
When looking for a spirituality therapist, it is best to identify an individual who has been certified (if you are in a state that recognizes spiritual therapy). If the state in which you reside does not formally recognize spirituality therapy, then it may be important to reach out to several therapists and inquire about their experience and background as it pertains to working with clients around spirituality and spiritual practices. In many states that have yet to acknowledge spirituality therapy as valid, therapists who specialize in spirituality tend to identify themselves as some type of life coach. Because life coaching is not a regulated profession (not monitored by a licensing body), anyone (with any background) can call themselves a life coach. While this may mean you come across some unqualified spirituality life coaches, it does not mean all are. Thus, it is vital to learn about the background and experience of any individual you choose to work with.
If you are unable to find a therapist who specializes in spirituality, you may need to seek counsel and therapy from a religious professional in your particular religion. This is because while there are many other therapists, they are often over-booked and are not likely to give priority to individuals who are just seeking to understand their spirituality. One exception to this is grief counseling. In situations where you are looking for a spiritual therapist who will assist you in the grieving process, another alternative is a certified grief counselor from a religious organization.
Bear in mind that there is still strong disagreement over whether spirituality therapists are legitimate. While those who do practice spirituality therapy provide evidence of the benefits they offer, this does mean that your insurance provider may not cover sessions.
Dein, S., Cook, C., Powell, A., & Eagger, S. (2010). Religion, spirituality, and mental health. The Psychiatrist.
Kersting, K. (2003). Religion and spirituality in the treatment room. Monitor on Psychology, 34(11), 40-40.
Savage, A. (2001). Remarks concerning Erik Mansager’s article: Adlerian Psychology and spirituality in critical collaboration. Adlerian Yearbook., 17-19. London: Adlerian Society of the United Kingdom.