Soul of Psychotherapy
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched.
They must be felt with the heart.”
The Positive Emotions of Awe, Faith and Love
One of the areas that sparks passion for many (though certainly not all) psychotherapists is that of the positive spiritual emotions (such as awe, faith, love, compassion, joy and gratitude). But because of the controversy surrounding the word “spiritual,” this subject is not generally addressed in our professional settings.
The purpose of this website is to encourage a dialogue about the role of the positive spiritual emotions in the psychotherapy process—beginning with awe, faith and love. Hopefully we can bypass some of the controversy by viewing spirituality not as a belief system but instead as a source of poetic language—the kind that inspires therapists in the same way that our favorite psychoanalytic writers inspire us.
What is a Spiritually-Oriented Therapist?
Rather than thinking of therapists as trying to help clients become more spiritual (which is not typically the goal of therapy), we might think of spiritually-oriented therapists as those who are able to cultivate the positive spiritual emotions in the therapy process in a way that promotes healing and growth for their clients. The point is not whether the client or the therapist consider themselves spiritual, but whether awe, faith, love, compassion, joy or gratitude come alive in the therapy process.
Respecting the Dark Side
This does not mean that spiritually-oriented therapists just value uplifting emotional states. A spiritual orientation is also about how we deal with the darker side of life, when clients are experiencing hopelessness, despair, pain, loss or failure.
Psychotherapists are not trying to bypass or “fix” human suffering. Instead, the goal is to validate and befriend ourselves and each other in times of suffering. As therapists, we want to provide a special kind of “relational home” for our clients during the dark times—and, in doing so, it is often possible to transform some of the suffering.
The literature of contemporary spirituality is all about acknowledging that suffering is a necessary part of the human experience. We can recall the mythology of the hero’s journey and remind ourselves that we are the heroes of our own journeys, including our various trials and failures. We still belong in our darker moments, maybe even more so, even though we may not always be in touch with that sense of belonging.
This website was written by Elizabeth (Eli) Dickson, with photography and website development by Rose Dickson. A major source of inspiration has been Lynn Preston, director of The Experiential Psychotherapy Project (EPP) in New York City, and through her influence, the philosophy of Eugene Gendlin, the founder of Focusing. Many spiritual writers have also provided inspiration, but most important have been the writings of Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and unique spiritual leader whose website on gratitude is a wonderful resource for anyone looking to better understand contemporary spirituality.