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Can we change? Do we heal?

Combining therapy and spiritual practice

10th November 2018

I’ve been interested in personal healing through therapy and spiritual practice for many years and I’m certain there are no quick fixes. Many people come to therapy with a sense of something deep that has wounded them and is still preventing them from living a full and rewarding life. I see every person as a unique human being — an embodied spirit in search of an experience that is going to fill what can sometimes feel like an emptiness within or a yearning for something more. Everyone has a different story and so as I gradually get to know a person, together we discover what the formula is going to be for them. I do believe that psychotherapy works but it’s not a magic wand, it is a process that unfolds gradually over time and so it requires a commitment to stay with the process.

The main thing that therapy has to offer is a secure relationship of trust and depth that completely honours the uniqueness of the soul. It is a very different kind of relationship because it is highly reflective and open and over time hopefully a person reveals why they are really reaching out for support. Like any relationship there are highs and lows, uplifting sessions and really tough ones where it feels really quite difficult. And yet there is something beautiful about feeling long lost feelings in the company of someone who is focused on you and what’s happening in the moment. That in itself can be transformational especially if those feelings have been too shameful or painful to share.

We live in a time where our ‘true selves’ are suffocated by the pressures of modern living and a pace that is unnatural. Therapy provides a harbour from the storm and an anchor to help a person connect to parts of themselves perhaps they have lost touch with or that may be in conflict. I like to think the purpose is to experience a unifying centre inside that when accessed brings all the parts of the self into balance again. If you find the right therapist for you, someone that ‘gets you’ as best they can, the safety somehow becomes a catalyst for the psyche to reveal and re-align itself resulting in a gentle acceptance. The healing happens when the client feels safe and ready and you cannot predict or guarantee that. What the therapist provides is an environment that allows a person to be exactly where they are, where emotions are welcomed and not judged. That in itself is a remarkable and rare experience.

So what does spiritual practice offer that therapy cannot provide?

Spiritual practice is also powerfully transformative but unfortunately at this time in the world needs to be approached with caution because often it isn’t taught by people who really understand the dysfunction and wounding people have inside. I advise people to find a teacher who is experienced and above all else human, not sitting in the ivory tower of ‘having arrived at enlightenment’. The real teachers don’t even speak about their attainments, they role their sleeves up and live in quiet humility.

People come to therapy of faith and no faith, some people already have a spiritual practice and others could be dabbling in a bit of meditation. The complexity of what different practices and faiths provide is too vast for me to describe in this blog however what I can say is that if a person has found ‘the right’ practice for them they feel held and supported on an existential level as if their soul has found a sanctuary that supports them spiritually and this can be very helpful because it provides additional containment for overwhelming feelings. Sometimes people hate themselves and life so much they cannot believe that they have a ‘higher self’ and they just need to walk in the shadows for a while — after all some plants grow best in the dark. For me therapy is about deeply respecting where they are. One thing I know for sure is that there is no one ‘truth’ and if you think your spiritual practice is the one size that fits all…you have missed the mark entirely.

We are all growing in multiple directions and the work of a psychotherapist is to sense which direction a person is growing and to support them to experiment and find the right support. Spiritual practices provide different safety nets on the journey and everyone experiences each practice in a unique way. For example mindfulness meditation for some strengthens the witnessing self and integrates right and left brain, singing in church can heal the heart supporting someone to find their joy or express their grief, silent meditation may bring clarity and insight and transcendent meditation gives power back to those that feel powerless or it provides experiences of higher consciousness that may bring a new worldview. Everyone is going to need something tailor made for their soul and so therefore the work of therapy is to explore and allow space for experimentation and learning. This also includes permission to hate spirituality and spiritual people with a passion...which could be really important!

Change comes with great patience when a person feels their beauty and human wounding is being held with compassion and that the therapist is also wounded and learning just perhaps a little further ahead having done work on themselves. I have seen that sometimes people are disconnected and isolated and so tapping into a spiritual resource really does help them to break out and come into human relationship or spiritual connection again. Ultimately we are all searching for connection and love and some people just can’t get that through human relationship alone because it has just been too painful for them. Even the most logical people have experienced forces outside of themselves at some point in their lives. Great therapy will tap into those experiences in service of the soul and over time the client learns to just trust the natural unfolding that occurs.

Combining therapy with spiritual practice is bringing two disciplines together that historically have been in conflict. Isn't that the way most brilliant ideas are formed.......when two opposing ideas collide? Whether you need to grow up, down or sideways both therapy and spiritual practice have something to offer but you know what's best for you and the best thing is to trust in your instincts and experiences......not what anyone else tells you including me :) If you are interested in working on yourself in depth with someone who is walking the path, please do get in touch.

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