The Psychotherapist’s Faith
“In befriending life, we do not make things happen according to our own design. We uncover
something that is already happening in and around us and create conditions that enable it.”
Rachel Naomi Remen from My Grandfather’s Blessings
Three Sources of Faith for Psychotherapists
If we were to ask beginning psychotherapists where they place their faith, certainly their knowledge base, theories and specific therapeutic skills would be cited as very important. But as we gain experience, it would not take long before most therapists would emphasize their faith in infinitely complex processes that appear to have a life of their own. The essence of the connection between psychotherapy and spirituality is that we as therapists rely so heavily on human processes that are, in fact, just as unfathomable, just as infinitely intricate, and just as mysterious as the universe itself.
Three of these human processes that I believe are essential features of experiential psychotherapy are 1) the “developmental thrust,” or the human tendency to move forward in the direction of healing and growth; 2) the healing power of relationship, and 3) the potential of loving compassion to bring about moments of transformation. Each of these three represent forces of nature that we very much need to work with, but they cannot be readily harnessed according to our wills.
We rely on the experience of actually feeling aligned with these healing forces, which is more than just an intellectual recognition of our good intentions. When we feel aligned with the natural healing forces and can sense and be guided by a kind of visceral knowing, then this becomes the ultimate experience of faith.
Our faith as therapists is no guarantee that we will always be able to access these healing forces. We also need to know how to be with our clients during those many times when the path is not clear and when our inner knowing does not feel sufficient to guide us.
Key to doing this is to remember that doubt is not some horrible enemy threatening to derail our process, but rather is something to be expected. After all, doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.
An important part of what makes psychotherapy feel like a spiritual practice is our role in keeping the hope and possibilities alive when the therapy is less expansive or when a client’s suffering cannot be readily transformed. With the help of our clients, we can continue to hold hope that something might emerge that will surprise us and open up unexpected possibilities, no matter how subtle, for carrying life forward.
For further discussion visit “Three Sources of Faith for Psychotherapists,” “Integrating Psychotherapy and Spirituality: The Role of the Positive Emotions” and “The Psychotherapist’s Doubt.”