People who find spirituality important often find that it can be helpful in conjunction with psychotherapy. Spirituality is not the same as religion; it is often seen as an essentially value-free experience and understanding of the world. Some religious individuals do connect their spirituality with their religious beliefs, while others are not comfortable with organized religion even though they are spiritual individuals. For many people, the important point about spirituality is the experience of connection to the world as a whole, to nature, to the universe or cosmos, and to themselves.
Although the practice of science and mathematics is often understood to be at odds with religion and spirituality, this need not be true. As Albert Einstein said, “The scientist’s religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law,” and as the mathematician Hardy (1940) said, “The mathematician’s patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s, must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colors or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way.”
In terms of psychology and psychotherapy, Freud held the position that spiritual feelings are a neurotic regression to an infantile state in which one feels taken care of by an omnipotent father, and blanketed by a sense of connection and belonging to a mother. Freud tended to place a negative value judgment on spiritual experience. On the other hand, Jung saw spirituality as anything but neurotic; instead, he saw it as a deep and inherently human feeling of connection and transcendence. He understood it to serve a positive function for growth and healing, and as a positive way in which people give meaning to their lives.
Psychotherapists often work with people who feel an inner void, a sense of being isolated, disconnected, alienated, empty, and alone. Though many individuals do not see spirituality as a viable tool for addressing their issues, a therapist would be remiss if he were not open to the idea that some people do experience spirituality as an important part of healing. People often do come to experience a deeper connection between mind, body and soul through the process of psychotherapy.
There are various spiritual methods which may be helpful in reaching the therapeutic goals of clarity, insight, openness, self-acceptance, and inner growth. Ideas from Buddhist psychology such as mindfulness and meditation can be useful. Meditation can stand as a counterpoint to blindly pushing emotions away or becoming over-reactive to them. The ability to sit with one’s emotions can lead to a position of clarity and calm, and lead to insight into oneself and the world. Some people feel prayer gives them a sense of connection to something greater than themselves. For some, the simple experience of solitude, often in a natural setting, helps give a sense of being part of a larger world and connection to it. For others, being involved in a group experience such as shared interest groups, 12-Step recovery programs, or religious groups, helps address the experience of isolation, disconnectedness, alienation, and loneliness.
It is imperative that a therapist never push his views and values on the person he is working with. At the same time, it is also important to avoid coming from a detached, overly analytical, purely “scientific” position that does not recognize the possible value of spiritual growth for people who find meaning in this way.