Although the term “spirituality” can refer to religious activity (attending formal worship services or believing in God), it can also describe a commitment to anything greater than oneself, including helping others or being attuned to nature. People can express spirituality through prayer, meditation, community service, or being mindful while hiking in the forest.
A therapist can reap benefits by encouraging a patient’s spirituality. One example is in the case of bereavement. If a person has a religious or spiritual belief in a higher power, the therapist can help them approach issues of grief from this vantage point. The therapist may help the client to process his or her belief that the deceased person still lives on. Even if the client does not believe in a higher power, the therapist can help them to think of ways in which the deceased person lives on through especially fond memories.
Another type of spirituality that might be useful in therapy is the belief that everything happens for a reason. Though this philosophy often corresponds to a belief in a higher power, it does not have to — it can also stem from a belief in a just universe, law of karma, or law of attraction.
If the client has experienced a negative event, the therapist can guide them through spiritual processes to find the silver linings. For example, helping them to feel more compassionate towards others who have a similar problem or disease, or becoming grateful for the discovery that they have more strength than they realized.
Spirituality can help clients make difficult decisions, using prayer or meditation to determine the choice that feels right to them.
If clients’ spirituality takes the form of helping others, this can be used as a way of treating depression. Clients may be encouraged to get involved in service as a way of becoming active and accomplishing tasks (which can help to cure depression).
Spiritual thought — a sense of meaning directed outside oneself – also eases anxiety, offering the comfort that there is a purpose to the universe or a benevolent higher power in control.
Spirituality in all of its forms can help clients to heal from hard life events, to make decisions, and to find meaning. Given these benefits, therapists who otherwise would find it awkward to approach the issue of spiritual or religious belief should openly and non-judgmentally explore this avenue, even if one’s philosophy differs from the client’s. The therapist might even refer a client to another practitioner if their needs could be better served by a more compatible professional.
IMPORTANT MESSAGE: If you are feeling depressed or think you might be suffering from a mental illness, the APA website offers a listing of therapists in every state. If you are feeling suicidal, or if you know someone who is, (warning signs include marked changes in sleeping or eating patterns, profound sadness or expressions of hopelessness, giving away belongings/saying goodbye to others, and a sudden and inexplicable lifting of depression because the person may mistakenly feel they have found “a way out”), please get help. Call the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)or 1-800-273-TALK (8255). There is help and hope available. You can get better- suicide is not the answer for your pain. Please call now.
(Top photo courtesy of Sun Star; additional writing, editing by Geri Weis-Corbley)
Cristina Frick has been a contributing writer and volunteer at the Good News Network since 2006. She is currently completing her Master’s degree in Clinical and Community Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and plans to gradute in December. View a list of all of Cristina’s articles here — including previous columns in her Mental Health Minute series.