“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”
“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” This insightful piece of wisdom was shared by Jedi Master Yoda in the Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back. It in, a sense, encapsulates what spirituality actually means to me. Spirituality is not about religion, it is about the recognition and understanding we are more that just a mechanical being.
I am of a rather scientific bent, I like my iphone, I totally love space exploration, archeology, palaeontology, psychology and neurophysiology. I do not believe anything, other than science should be taught in science class rooms. That said, I do consider myself a spiritual being. And, I do not need science, or anyone else for that matter, to agree with my personal spiritual view, to either prove or disprove it. There is no proof other than personal experience and, for me, that is enough.
Yes, it is totally unscientific stance, but so what? Love is totally unscientific and illogical, but in many ways love has driven human growth and movement. So too spirituality… to those who choose to see themselves as spiritual, it provides various mental health benefits and means to deal with various life situations.
“The therapist’s personal spirituality should NEVER matter in therapy.”
As a counsellor in Malaysia, I regularly see clients from many faiths including the major religions of Islam, Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism. I have had clients with no particular faith or whom are active atheists. So the question is…when does spirituality matter in therapy?
The answer is two fold. In therapy, there are two aspects to spirituality, the therapist’s personal spirituality and the client’s spirituality. The therapist’s personal spirituality should NEVER matter in therapy. What I personally believe is of relevance to precisely one individual – me. The client’s spirituality matters…when it matters to the client.
Spiritual counselling should be done from the client’s perspective. If a client has a spiritual belief, engaging in the belief allows the therapist better access to the client’s inner worlds. The client’s spiritual system may be a source of strength to the client and equally religion may be a source of pain and persecution.
In dealing with spirituality as a source of strength, the therapist’s knowledge of the clients spiritual and religious beliefs can be very important. We can gather knowledge from the client and use it to support them further.
The difficulty for therapists is when the client’s own spirituality and religion is a cause of their pain and problems. Probably the most obvious examples would be sexual or abuse issues and clients from conservative focused religions.
“Probably one of the best compliments I received from a client was…”
When a client has raised the topic of spirituality and religion, I approach therapy from their perspective. Therapists need to keep in mind there are many different interpretations of religions and having information on the major interpretations allows clients to accept their situation better from within their personal framework. This allows therapists to support the client as their make decisions about what they choose to believe.
Yes, this method requires therapists to do a great deal of homework. Peer consultations with therapists of various faiths is the best way of gaining practical information on various approaches that may be used in therapy.
Probably one of the best compliments I received from a client was when they asked me what church/mosque I went to, when in fact I’m from a totally different religion. It takes work and a lot of information to be able to counsel a client from their faith base, but the satisfaction of having the client more at peace with their belief systems is immense.
“No one has a right to impose their belief systems on others…”
So as to, does religion cause problems? Some would argue religious spirituality is false and imaginary and is best ignored. For those individuals, there is no need for them to be in an organized religion or have any spiritual belief to be mentally healthy. Just like some people prefer to be single. Its a choice and I actively support it as the best choice, for them.
For individuals who have a religious belief system, this argument is totally false. Firstly everyone has the right to choose what to believe on a personal level. And, no one has a right to impose their belief systems on others… especially in therapy.
Second, and probably my strongest reason for supporting a client in their belief system is, spiritual beliefs give hope in the face of hopelessness. When Pandora’s box opens and every kind of negative emotion bombards an individual, faith in the transcendence of the human mind and soul gives hope and perhaps even a reason to take a step forward and not be stuck in the miasma of current despair.
“Many factors…contributed to Malaysian resilience in this situation.”
I saw this during the MH370 and MH17 plane disappearances. More so in the MH370 incident. The catch phrase, still being used today, is “Pray for MH…” I was actively involved in counselling during the MH370 fallout.
What can you tell a mother, a father, a wife, a child whose loved one has disappeared? And, not the combined forces of all the technology in the world has been able to find them so far? When the whole world seems to be blaming your family or your country for the disaster? The sense of despair, hopelessness, helplessness is actually beyond my ability to articulate. What is hope in a situation where you are powerless and helpless? A common option is prayer.
Many sessions ended with counsellors and clients of various faiths just praying. The result…it kept us going. There were no attempts by Malaysians to commit suicide during the crisis. Please understand, I am not judging the reasons of suicide attempts by non-Malaysians. The situations is complex and cannot be fairly compared.
However, given the situation which we faced, and are still facing, ambiguousness (uncertain of the actual fate of the loved one) AND disenfranchised loss (being blamed and held responsible for the loss in some way), some suicide attempts may have been expected.
Many factors I am sure contributed to Malaysian resilience in this situation. One factor is perhaps the ability of everyone to maintain hope in such a tragic situation. Everyone prayed regardless of belief system, religion and faith, people came together. And somehow we are still praying.
“Believe what you choose to believe…”
Spirituality and religion are neutral, on their own, they neither hurt nor harm. As with everything, it is human intention and human action that determines the application of Spirituality.
Believe what you choose to believe, that is best for your mental health and spiritual growth. FIGHT for the right of others to believe what they choose to believe without imposition or coercion, that is best for their mental health and collective spiritual growth.