Humanistic, existential & spiritual: Psychotherapy in a larger context

What I call a humanistic-existential-spiritual approach is different from what is often called spiritual counseling. The latter is what happens when both client and therapist share the same spiritual beliefs, considering them to be the teachings of a transcendent authority.

In contrast, I invite you to bring your beliefs and practices into the process of therapy (including being an agnostic or an atheist). This enables you to explore how your beliefs may be coloring your life experiences. Most importantly, this exploration is done at an experiential level: that is, we explore what is actually happening as opposed to what doctrine says should be happening.

There is another dimension to this. For many people, spirituality is not as much a set system, as it is a quest. It is not so much a set of answers, as it is an attitude, or a felt sense.

For instance, here are some statements from people to whom I have asked this question:

“Spirituality means my state of being connected to others and myself, feeling a sense of purpose and practicing the skills, ethics, and principles that keep me connected, to others, myself, and continually evaluating my progress. Spirituality is living with purpose, desire, and gratitude.”

“Something of what I think of as my spirituality: It is when I have a sense of well-being which comes from being in balance with my body, mind, relationships and perspective or coping with my world. I feel centered and right even if it’s not a happy situation and in the face of challenges. My appreciation of small and large stimuli is activated. I have energy to give to myself and others and the strength to pursue what concerns me or necessary tasks.”

So it is very helpful for the therapy / coaching process to be in tune with the attitude of being on a quest: As we go through life’s challenges and learn from them about who we are, we also feel more connected to something larger than ourselves (i.e. lrager than our narrow definitions of who we are).

This attitude helps you integrate your deeper beliefs in a way that is personal and part of your life. Your spiritual side is not a separate reality. You experience it most profoundly by dealing mindfully with the concrete, mundane experiences of daily life.

Far from being separate from our everyday life, our spiritual side actually helps us deal with it, and make more of it. In this way, practical life and spirituality as two sides of the same coin:

  • The practical side is paying attention to what makes life possible.
  • The spiritual is paying attention to what gives life its meaning.

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

— C.G. Jung

We integrate spirituality in the process of therapy at a felt sense level, as opposed to something abstract:

  • If you think of Higher Self as an abstract metaphysical concept, you can talk about it, but you have no experience of it. How can one experience a concept?
  • On the other hand, if you have had the experience of feeling fully yourself while feeling connected to something larger than yourself, you can describe this as experiencing a state of Higher Self.