The Spirituality of Psychology

The spirit of science, or the science of the human spirit?

Posted Jun 10, 2020

There are still far too many people out there who believe that psychology is not a science, despite all the evidenced-based research and findings that prove that it definitely is a science. But is it possible that a discipline that is a science can also be very spiritual? This article will assert that it can be and is both. 

First, and most importantly, if a person really does the work of therapy, what often happens is that he begins to question all manner of things about his previous way of living—which might include his philosophy of life, his beliefs about life and/or his religion. If he continues in that work he may get in touch with the deepest aspect of his being—that part of us that we inadvertently call the spirit or the soul. 

People say “I mean this from my soul,” or “This is something that wounds me to my soul,” or “This place soothes my soul.” What do they mean when they say that? Well, we have given a name to that very deep and profound resonance within us that speaks to us of our deepest, truest, and most essential nature. We call it soul, or spirit.

Doing the work of therapy, doing the work of psychology has the potential of putting us deeply, keenly in touch with that essential nature. Of course, there are approaches to therapy that are largely behavioristic and so solution-focused that the outcome is more a single solution to a single behavioral problem. But even that can be a stepping-stone to further growth, in which the person begins to think more original thoughts and, thereby, get in touch with deeper aspects of her being. 

Andrea Mathews
Traversing the Inner Terrain
Source: Andrea Mathews

Now, there are many approaches that own the spirituality of psychology. For example, we used to just have Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). But now we have an addendum to that known as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Cognitive therapy has always facilitated the questioning of one’s own beliefs. Though these were not necessarily religious or spiritual beliefs, the questioning of one’s own belief system does force one to get in touch with what is more original (i.e, not introjected from other’s projections or internalized from other’s beliefs but coming from the deeper self—or soul) within so that the person can begin a process of deeper, more profound soul-searching. 

Mindfulness is a spiritual discipline that allows the participant to place full attention on what is going on in the mind, the body, the heart, and the spirit right now, in this moment. Now it is often recommended by the therapist as a practice that can be utilized by clients to deal with depression and anxiety and even dissociative disorders. It allows these clients to be present in the moment without judging themselves for what they are feeling or thinking and to work toward acceptance of what is. But when mindfulness first became known to the Western world, it was seen primarily as a spiritual practice of Hindu, Buddhist, and other Eastern religions. 

Meditation is now commonly used as a therapeutic tool to facilitate a deeper connection to one’s essential nature, where one finds relaxation, even peace. Meditation was first recognized in the Western world as an Eastern religious practice. But it has been found to be very therapeutic in its capacity to put one in touch with the more peaceful aspects of the deeper self, or soul.

This is just evidence of how the world of science has begun to understand the world of the human spirit. We don’t like to say it that way because it seems to both parties (science and spirituality) to take some power away from the purity of the subject. Science wants to be pure science and spirituality wants to be pure spirituality. 

But if science is really the exploration and understanding of the human being and his life here on planet Earth, then it is going to have to include the human spirit. And if spirituality is really all about the spirit of life, all of life, then it’s going to have to include science. 

Perhaps, it is time we stopped being afraid to talk about spirituality—the understanding of the human spirit—when we talk about psychology. Perhaps, we should be willing to provide full assessments that offer a pathway to treat the whole person when we invite a client into therapy. Perhaps, we are doing a disservice to our clients when we refuse to include in our assessments questions about their philosophy of life and come to understand their religious or spiritual beliefs—which may or may not occupy a large space in their psychology. Perhaps that would free up our clients to talk to us freely without worry that we will judge them for their beliefs.  Perhaps, it is even true that having to non-judgmentally accept our client’s beliefs—even if they differ from ours—forces us to have to get in touch with deeper aspects of ourselves—so that we begin to think more original thoughts rather than just regurgitating what we’ve been taught about religion, spirituality, or science.