I have been reading Spiritual Resources In Family Therapy edited by Froma Walsh and there is an article in the book by Lorraine Wright entitled, "Spirituality, Suffering, and Beliefs: The Soul Of Healing With Families."
Lorraine describes herself as a family therapist/nurse educator who works predominantly with families experiencing illness. She says some interesting things like:
The influence of family members’ spiritual and religious beliefs on their illness experiences has been one of the most neglected areas in family work.” P. 62
I wonder why that would be? What is the fear or the constraining beliefs that therapists have that would make it nonconductive to discussing clients' spiritual beliefs as part of the therapy?
Part of the contraints probably have to do with the split between the secular and the sacred, between science and religion, between evidence based practice and the clinical arts, between the psychological helper and the ministry.
I have been trained as a psychotherapist not as a pastor and our roles are different and yet without understanding and taking into account my clients' spiritual and religious beliefs especially when they are suffering, I am not likely to be of much help.
Thankfully, there is increased interest in the health care professions in the role that spirituality and and religion play in a person's physical health and mental well being. To describe someone as "broken hearted" or as having "killed their spirit" is to describe a person who is in need of some sort of spiritual uplift. There is a difference between a physical cure and a healing of the spirit.
My friend and colleague, Ed, recently died on June 30, 2008 at age of 56 of Esophogeal cancer. I last had lunch with him on June 18,2008. Even though physically he was having difficulty his spirits, as always, were good. I am not sure what Ed's religious and spiritual beliefs were, but he loved life, he loved people, and he lived every day up to his last to the best of his ability and for this I am very grateful to Ed for inspiring me with a great example of how to die.
Paul Pearsall, the neuropsychoimmunologist, who had four near death experiences himself, said, that no therapist can hope to be of much help to someone unless the therapist understands at least three basic things about the person's world view. The therapist needs to understand how the client would answer these three questions: Why was I born? What is the purpose of my life? What happens to me when I die?
I usually don't ask clients directly these 3 questions unless they come up in our conversation but usually by the 3 interview I have some good understandings of how they might answer these questions.
"I don't know. I don't know, and I don't know" are not good enough answers and people have to be pushed sometimes to a scarier and more difficult place, but if they trust the therapist enough, they usually can come up with some sort of answer that probably means more than they would like to believe.
The purpose of a healthy spirituality is to decrease suffering as both Jesus and Buddha and other spiritual masters have taught. This is the same goal of good psychotherapy.