Part 2 How to Foster a Spiritual Focus in Therapy
Getting answers to questions is a significant part of coming into therapy. The process of healing in therapy can also be an introduction to a new spiritual path that is reintroduced to you.
I want therapy to be an entry point to both healing “everyday” concerns and entering a spiritual practice that works for you.
The following are questions to explore when it comes to the relationship of therapy and spirituality. It highlights practical activities to bring into your therapy practice that may prompt a spiritual conversation with your therapist.
Questions and topics to explore
· What are your sources of hope, strength, comfort, or peace?
· Are you part of a spiritual community?
· What spiritual practices do you find most helpful?
· Are there any specific practices or restrictions your therapist should know about when providing support?
· What new spiritual practices are you moving towards?
Active therapeutic spiritual practices
Bringing activities into your therapeutic work is a vital way to continue the healing process outside of the scheduled session. It can be expressed in everything from writing to yoga. The goal is to explore a variety of activities to help you formulate and integrate the therapeutic session. Below are a few suggestions.
· Write – This is a spiritual process that involves being able to formulate the verbal expression of what you talk about in therapy into words. I encourage my clients to journal, write, scribble and process with “old school” pen-to-paper. Personally much of my writing is initially started through long-form writing on paper. Ones handwriting, pens, tone and language are so intimate to a person. The action is very expressive and uses many different senses to express.
· Create Ritual – Right before a therapy session, and directly after a session I encourage my clients to build an active ritual. This can take many forms, from elaborate altars and prayer before and after sessions to using cleansing water to purify your body and spirit. The key to creating a ritual is making it work for you. The key elements to ritual building are starting with your values and incorporating a physical expression into the ritual.
· Move your Body – Yoga, walking, dancing, drumming, jumping jacks anything that gets you into your body. I once was in a conversation about self-care and integration with my mentor Stanislav Grof and he said, “Ryan, if every time someone is mad, sad, happy or glad and they do the same thing to process, it can be a problem. If you only mediate for all emotions that come up, it becomes limited.” We can’t use one activity to solve for all emotions and processing. I immediately took his advice and bought a djembe drum. I never drummed before and immediately loved it, falling right into my body, and started to integrate it into my self-care practice.
· Be Gentle – Anyone that has spent a minute with me has heard me say “Be Gentle”. These two words sound so basic to hear… Yet it is mandatory for me to remind people of this phrase because we are our strongest critics. The spiritual act of being gentle is not passive, rather it is a daily request you can put into your life. It can manifest by taking 5 minutes of time after therapy to breathe and compose yourself before you dive into the next thing. Or it can be an incremental process of introducing a new lifestyle like eating different. Keywords: Harm reduction… Please be gentle and give yourself grace. Mantra: Progress not perfection.
Self Care and Spirituality
Developing my spirituality has tremendously helped me personally and professionally. While I grew up within a religious context, what was missing was a personal connection to spirit. In my quest to reduce suffering and stress I learned about Buddhism, Hinduism, tarot, astrology, psychedelics, and energy healing. And the most important thing I continue to do is to follow my intuition.
Throughout my therapy, we regularly meditate or go into a guided imagery. Meditation allows us to quiet our minds and more deeply connect to ourselves, to feel the subtle sensations that informed us of where the energy was flowing in our bodies or where it was blocked or excessive. Meditation gives us the space to bond with the life energy within and around ourselves — the spirit. Slowing down to explore your intuition and direction is self-care.
Connecting more deeply with my spirituality has helped me explore and surrender the outcome to a higher power. I let go of my attachments of what I think should be the outcome for my practice, my family and my life. I’m still practicing and… Yes, I want the best for them and will work hard to listen, support and “hold space” for them to achieve their goals.
However, I now know there is the “other’s will” and a “higher will” at play creating the experiences, meant for anyone to have for their personal development and spiritual growth. A person’s pain or suffering can lead to healing, joy, gratitude, or reorientation in life.
My clients, my wife and my children are my biggest teachers. Spiritual teachers would say that the people we encounter are the ones that stimulate our own personal development and spiritual growth. I believe that more than anything.
Dr. Ryan Westrum is a licensed marriage and family therapist and focuses his practice and integrating clients with spirituality. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by going to his website healingsoulsllc.com to schedule an appointment.