Visions of Daniel

Treating Spiritual Issues
in Secular Psychotherapy


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Note: This article is reprinted with permission from Counseling & Values, Volume 45, Number 3, pages 163-189, copyrighted by the American Counseling Association. No further reproduction of any kind is authorized without the written permission from the American Counseling Association. That same issue of Counseling & Values included three full-length response articles. For Daniel's rejoinder to those severe and, indeed, outrageous responses, see Rejoinder and Clarifications on Helminiak (2001).



The author discusses spirituality as a human phenomenon that is essentially independent of, yet open to, matters of personal religion and belief in God. Although commonly expressed through religion and theist belief, spirituality is a universal mental phenomenon with an inherent "normativity"; it can, therefore, be legitimately addressed as a prescriptive aspect of psychology apart from theology and religion. Most fundamentally, spirituality entails concern for the felicitous unfolding of a self-transcending dimension of the human mind, whose hallmarks are the meanings and values, the visions and virtues, by which people live. An elaborated psychology of spirituality can help therapists focus the psychotherapeutically relevant and spiritual issues in the client's presentation; build on the client's healthy commitments and reinterpret or deflect the unhealthy; and, thus, foster the client's personal integration and, ipso facto, the client's spiritual growth. Examples are given, a contrast with pastoral counseling is made, and implications for therapists are discussed.


Treating Spiritual Issues in Secular Psychotherapy

Spirituality often enters psychotherapeutic concern as an addendum. Spirituality or "spiritual direction" (Barry & Connolly, 1982; Nemeck & Coombs, 1985) is what some people turn to after they have worked through their basic issues (Helminiak, 1992), or it can be what people in desperate need rely on to give them strength to face major therapeutic challenges. Such an understanding risks limiting spirituality to explicit attention to the "big questions" of life -- Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? What does life mean? What is worth living for? -- or identifying spirituality with religion and inspiration. But as Jungian, existential, transpersonal, and humanistic psychologies have argued (Assagioli, 1965/1976; Clinebell, 1995; Frankl 1962; Fromm, 1947; Moore, 1992; Wilber, 1995, 1996; Yalom, 1980), such an understanding can fail to recognize that attending to the big questions might make other facets of life fall into place.

Human healing and wholesome growth are concerns in both spirituality and counseling. Traditionally, religiously affiliated spirituality defined wholesome growth even as psychotherapy often does today. Thus, it seems that spirituality is inherently relevant to psychotherapy, and it has been argued that every therapy entails spiritual matters (Bergin, Payne, & Richards, 1996; Browning, 1987; Tjeltveit, 1986, 1996).

Major theoretical issues, therefore, are at stake in the discussion of psychology and spirituality - for example, recognizing and naming the spiritual in its many and varied expressions, showing how attention to the spiritual is a legitimate psychotherapeutic concern, and assessing the validity of various spiritualities in the face of differing religious claims and psychological expertise. I address these theoretical issues by summarizing a position on spirituality presented in detail elsewhere (Helminiak, 1987, 1996, 1998) and by providing specific examples of how a secular psychotherapist may legitimately respond to spiritual issues in counseling. A final section elaborates further considerations about pastoral counseling and the qualifications of secular therapists. Clinical examples have been disguised to protect client confidentiality.

A Psychology of Spirituality

The Challenge of Spirituality for Psychology

Spirituality is commonly thought to be a religious phenomenon or, for the nonreligious, a personal alternative to affiliation with an organized religion. Spirituality entails lived-out commitment to a set of meanings and values -- credo and commitments, vision and virtues, beliefs and ethics, cognitions and evaluations -- and traditionally, organized religions carry and foster these. Religion tells us what life is about and how we are to live it. This vision and its implementation in individual lives is spirituality; religion is the social vehicle that, at its best, proclaims and supports spirituality. In this sense, in addition to spirituality, religion also includes and connotes institutionalized doctrines, ethics, rituals, texts, traditions, and practices. Moreover, religions are many, and each presumes the validity of its own perspectives and emphases. Still, a common thread of spirituality may lie beneath these different emphases and to some extent may also flourish apart from institutionalized religion (Stifoss-Hanssen, 1999). Only in recent history has spirituality been differentiated from religion (Pargament, 1999; Schneiders, 1989). For example, modern psychology proposes an account of spiritual phenomena that is independent of theological explanations and grounded in the workings of the human mind itself (Hood, Spilka, Hunsberger, & Gorsuch, 1996; Paloutzian, 1996; Meadows & Kahoe, 1984; Wulff, 1997). Given the understanding proposed here, it seems doubtful that religion and spirituality could ever be fully separated, for almost every spirituality is a socially shared phenomenon, inevitably entailing some degree of institutionalization. Nonetheless, it seems legitimate and useful to distinguish spirituality within and apart from religion and to begin to treat spirituality in itself, especially if a common core of spirituality can be discerned within its multiple religious expressions.

The differentiation between religion and spirituality is far from clean. Most spiritualities, even when not attached to an organized religion, still center around belief in God (Bergin, 1980, 1991; Bergin, Masters, & Richards, 1991; Ellison & Smith, 1991; Kass et al., 1991; Moberg, 1984; Moberg & Brused, 1978; Paloutzian & Ellison, 1982). In the religious West, where Christianity, Judaism, and Islam predominate, the term religious is virtually synonymous with theist (Emmons & Crumpler, 1999; Zinnbauer, et al., 1997). Thus, writing for the secular nursing profession, Shelly and Fish (1988, p. 29) state unabashedly, "That we are spiritual beings means a relationship with God is basic to our total functioning." Likewise, Gillman (Wilkes, 1990, p. 71) explained, "I don't know what the word [spirituality] means, but to students today it means they don't want to be Jews or rabbis just for the rituals, just for the symbolism, but in order to come closer to God." Similarly, Emmons and Crumpler (1999, p. 19), though granting the word God a wide range of meanings, link developmental theory with theism when they insist that "a search for the sacred or for significance should involve an internal process that leads through a set of developmental stages, the ultimate goal being union with God." Fowler's (1981) elaboration of the final stage of faith development in terms of the Kingdom of God makes the same connection. Such emphasis accords with the finding that more than 90% of the U.S. population consistently professes some kind of belief in God (Gallup , 1985). Other approaches, even when attempting to be non-theist, still implicate theological issues (Assagioli, 1965/1976; Chandler, Holden, & Kolander, 1992; Hiatt, 1986; Wilber, 1996) -- because they rely on Eastern thought in which the identity of divinity with human consciousness or spirit is taken for granted.

In welcome contrast, the American Counseling Association Summit on Spirituality (Hinterkopf, 1998, pp. 103-104; Holden, 1996; J. M. Holden, personal communication, July 13, 1999) is deliberate in making no reference to "Allah, Buddha, or God" in its general treatment of religion and its description of spirituality. Likewise, Stifoss-Hanssen (1999, p. 28) recalls that "spirituality is expressed by atheists and agnostics, by people deeply engaged in ecology and other idealistic endeavors, and by people inspired by religious impulses not easily understood by classic religious concepts."

Unless counselors and psychotherapists avoid issues of religion and theism while still respecting them, they risk overstepping the bounds of their professional competence in attempting to deal with spirituality (Stifoss-Hanssen, 1999), for matters of God fall to the domain of religion, and matters of religion fall to clergy and theologians. Thus, psychotherapists are not accredited in these realms (Tjeltveit, 1986). Of course, many psychotherapists already address these matters because they are central to people's lives and cannot be artificially excluded from the effective counseling session. Yet, unless therapists have pastoral credentials, they court violation of professional ethics when they delve into religion and theology, as such (Holden, 1996). Resolution of this dilemma requires delineation of what in spirituality may be proper to psychology and what is rather religious and/or theological.

The solution proposed here is to understand spirituality as an inherent human phenomenon and, thus, proper to psychology, but a phenomenon, nonetheless, that may naturally open onto religious elaboration and questions about God. That is, spirituality is understood to be a common human core that runs through all religions and cultures and might be expressed in theist terms (Holden, 1996). A coherent understanding of this spiritual core can help psychotherapists discern, respect, nurture, and purify it in any of its many religious and theist expressions or apart from institutionalized religion and belief in God. At stake here is the ideal of scientific explanation that is now extended to the spiritual realm (Feingold, 1994, 1995; Feingold & Helminiak, in press; Helminiak, 1987, 1994, 1996a, 1996c, 1998; Wilber, 1996). At stake is the attempt to propose a coherent psychology of spirituality. Such an achievement would delineate the structures, processes, and mechanisms inherent in human mental functioning that account for experiences that are called spiritual and, thus, allow psychotherapists to competently address such matters in their "applied science."

The Humanist Basis for Spirituality

A beginning point of such a psychology of spirituality is the assumption that, within in the human mind, there is a self-transcending dimension that can rightly be called spirit. Rather than God, Ultimate Consciousness (Wilber, 1996), or some other metaphysical principle, the human spirit would be the primordial basis for talk of spirituality. Accordingly, spirituality would be nothing other than the deliberate and lived-out commitment to the felicitous engagement of the human spirit. Such engagement requires on-going purification of the meanings and values that the human spirit generates. The use of specified practices, exercises, or disciplines has traditionally facilitated this purification (Bouyer, 1961; Johnston, 1976; Studzinski, 1985; Tanquerey, 1930; Trungpa, 1973, 1976; VanKaam, 1975). Psychotherapy may, as well. In this view, spirituality is the lived-out commitment to the ever further integration of the dynamism of the human spirit into the permanent structures of the personality. Simply put, spirituality is the committed pursuit to become the best one can be, and the presupposition is that the guide is within oneself (Vaughan Clark, 1977). A further suggestion is that cultivated openness to this inner spiritual principle would result in an on-going way of living, extraordinary experiences associated with enlightenment or mysticism, or both.

Plato (Voegelin, 1974) spoke of that self-transcending dimension of the human mind in terms of nous; Augustine (1963; 1991, chap. 10), in terms of memoria; Heidegger (1927/1962, pp. 171 & n. 2, 214, 401-402, 460), in terms of Lichtung (opening or clearing); Brentano (1874/1973, pp. 29-30, 127-129), in terms of the innere Wahrnehmung (inner perception); Trungpa (1973, 1976) in terms of Buddha Nature; and Lonergan (1957, 1972) in terms of consciousness and intentionality. Significantly, Lonergan (1957, p. 519; 1972, pp. 13, 302) and Frankl (1969/1988, p. 17; Institute of Logotherapy , 1979) also used the term spirit. Because of its clarity and architectonic elaboration, I have followed Lonergan's treatment in this article.

The Summit on Spirituality in Counseling (Holden, 1996; J. M. Holden, personal communication, July 13, 1999) also understands spirituality as "a capacity and tendency that is innate." But as is the unfortunate and supposedly insurmountable standard in spiritual discussions (Barbour, 1974; Browning, 1987; Helminiak, 1998; Wilber, 1996), the Summit participants chose to speak only in suggestive metaphors: "Spirit may be defined as the animating life force, represented by such things as breath, wind, vigor, and courage" (Holden, 1996). Like all myth and metaphor, which carry a "surplus of meaning" (Ricoeur, 1967), the root metaphor, life, is widely ambiguous. It derives most graphically from biology, where its nature remains controverted, but is also applied to both psychological and spiritual experience, among other things. A psychological treatment of spirituality, like any proposed scientific treatment, needs more technical precision, such as offered by the analyses noted in the previous paragraph and the one summarized below. Still, it is clear that, in general, the same reality is at stake throughout, for the Summit participants elaborates spirit with reference, among other things, to "knowledge, love, meaning,...transcendence..., and the development of a value system" (Holden, 1996).

According to Lonergan (1957, 1972), the human spirit is a self-transcending and spontaneous yet structured dynamism built into the human mind. It is spontaneous in that it is primordially characterized by wonder, marvel, awe, that expresses itself in formulated questions, in pondering, and in choice. Human spirit is self-transcending in that its spontaneity leads one continually to move beyond one's former self and into ever broader experience. It is dynamic in that it is a relentless movement that would rest content only in some ideal fulfillment of knowing everything about everything and loving all that is lovable. It is structured in that it expresses itself in four shifting and interacting foci. (a) It is empirical in that we are open to experience, aware and also aware of our awareness. (b) It is intelligent in that we question for understanding, arrive at insight, and formulate understandings as ideas, hypotheses, or theories. (c) It is rational in that we assess the sufficiency of the evidence for our understandings and, thus, make judgments, arrive at facts, and know reality. And (d) it is existential in that we deliberate and decide about choices to be made and values to be embraced in our everyday living.

Understood in this way, the spiritual dimension of the human mind is nothing esoteric or unusual. Its self-transcendent functioning is as ordinary as a child's unrelenting "Why," a lover's protest of eternal love, a scientist's endless experimentation, or a poet's silent rapture at the stars. Yet this dimension of the mind opens onto the universe of being. Because we are in part spirit, in the ideal we would understand everything about everything, embrace the whole, and in some way become one with all that is. Thus, this single principle, the human spirit, grounds an understanding of facets of ordinary living as well as of extraordinary experiences that could be called "religious" or "mystical."

The Normative Nature of the Human Spirit

That dynamic spiritual principle within the human mind includes its own requirements for unlimited unfolding. It has a built-in homing device geared toward its own fulfillment. Paralleling the four-fold structure of the human spirit, these requirements can be formulated as follows: (a) Be attentive, (b) Be intelligent, (c) Be reasonable, (d) Be responsible. Lonergan (1972, pp. 20, 53, 55, 302, 321) calls these "transcendental precepts." They are transcendental because they apply to anything and everything a human being does, yet they do not predetermine a specific concrete outcome. They do not determine the what of human activities, but the how. They require that, in everything, people act attentively, intelligently, reasonably, and responsibly. These precepts set the conditions for the possibility of the open-ended unfolding of human potential, and they are the guardians of on-going human development (Helminiak, 1987). They are inherent human norms for what is true, right, good, and wholesome. They specify the meaning of authenticity. One is authentic, one is a genuine human being, to the extent that one lives according to these precepts. Violation of them entails dehumanization, inevitably resulting in some shutdown of the open-ended human system, for what is grounded in close-mindedness, obtuseness, falsehood, or evil eventually self-destructs. In this view, the human spirit, itself, is the ultimate ground of epistemology and ethics (Lonergan, 1957); the criteria of the true and the good are built into the human mind.

Understood in this way, authenticity is an inherent human requirement; therefore, insistence on it in no way derives from or invokes an external authority that impinges on people. Moreover, insistence on authenticity in no way imposes specific rules, laws, behaviors, or outcomes. Just as stages of development are defined by their structure and not their content (Fowler, 1981; Kolhberg, 1977; Loevinger, 1977; Piaget 1936/1963), authenticity is a purely formal construct; it regards how one functions and not in the first place what one does. Thus, authenticity is an absolute that is not absolutist. It cuts down the middle between modern certainty and postmodern relativism (Bernstein, 1976). If it requires unswerving compliance, it does not box anyone in. Only the "devil" would protest that the requirement of authenticity is narrow and restrictive or biased and skewed, for it requires only that one act in a way that best promotes positive and on-going growth overall. What this requirement means in any particular case remains to be discovered. Engaging in a process of honest discovery and then following through in good will is precisely the essence of being authentic. Finally, unlike the existentialist notion of authenticity (Heidegger, 1927/1962; Taylor, 1991), which could mean something as banal as obnoxiously "doing your own thing," this construct entails no danger of selfishness or solipsism. Here authenticity is defined by a self-transcending dynamism that is geared toward the universe of being, toward all that is objectively true and good. In Lonergan's (1972, p. 292) understanding of authenticity, objectivity and subjectivity coincide, for "genuine objectivity is the fruit of authentic subjectivity." Thus, this construct seems ready-made for application in psychotherapy. Its application is simply the therapist's and the client's open-minded, honest, and good-willed pursuit of the best life that the client could live overall, given the actual circumstances of his or her situation.

Talk here is of moral absolutes and objective truth and goodness. Though serious attention to spirituality cannot avoid these matters, such talk seems out of vogue and easily misunderstood (Bindeman, 1996; Bracken, 1997; Nelson, 2000). Readers should not assume that the present approach to spirituality would fit everyone into a prefixed mold. Although this approach is far from value-free, it is not imperialist. The only restraints that it entails are to be found, supposedly, in every individual. Readers inclined to object to this analysis are invited to criticize and rethink the matter and propose other formulations. But if they act in openness, questioning, honesty, and goodwill, then, in the very process of objecting, they would be implementing the requirements of authenticity as defined here. And their very procedure, if not their verbal objections, would accord with Lonergan's (1972) formulation, which simply attempts to capture primordial human awareness, open-minded critical thinking, and goodwill. It seems, then, that Lonergan's (1972, p. xii) analysis is "not open to radical revision" because the very act of opposing it generates evidence to support it. This state of affairs is peculiar and disconcerting. It challenges the cherished modern and post-modern supposition that we can be whatever we want, but it does so precisely by claiming to have discerned what we actually are. If correct, this analysis evinces an important breakthrough in conceptualizing the workings of the human mind. At the same time, it provides a base on which to build a psychology of spirituality that might claim some universal validity.

The Dual Structure of the Mind and a Tripartite Model of the Human

Yet there is more to the human mind than that spiritual dimension. Another dimension can be called psyche (Doran, 1977, 1981, 1990; Lonergan, 1957, p. 456), which includes emotions, imagery, and memories (Lonergan, 1957), which cohere to form personality structures (Helminiak, 1992, 1996a, 1996c) that support and constrain habitual patterns of response. Differentiation of the psyche and the spirit within the human mind refines the standard model of the human, replacing the bipartite model: body and mind, with a tripartite model: organism (body), psyche, and spirit (Institute of Logotherapy, 1979; Frankl, 1969/1988; Lonergan, 1957; Vande Kemp, 1982). Although the term psyche has a wide range of meanings, in this article psyche is a stabilizing dimension of the human mind. Its inclination is to sustain a comfortable homeostasis (Helminiak, 1996a). In contrast, the human spirit is dynamic, open-ended, ever unfolding, ever transcending. It fosters transformation, and its ideal goal is to attain, through continued adjustment, in an ultimate coincidence of subjectivity and objectivity, unity with all that is.

Seen in this light, psyche and spirit cohere in a dynamic and shifting balance that, in a healthy person, results in both personal growth and mental stability. Insofar as positive change results from adjusting the structures of the psyche to accord with the requirements of the spirit, this change is the meaning of spiritual development (Helminiak, 1987). On the other hand, the mental stability that is grounded in the fixity of the psyche is the meaning of psychological health or sanity.

The Human Core of Spirituality

The challenge of spiritual development is to integrate organism, psyche, and spirit in a way that meets the exigencies of all three. Whatever compromises may be required in the process, the human spirit's requirement of authenticity must always be respected, for the spirit determines the human animal as a person, and the spirit points the way to open-ended growth. Said in popular terms, however one meets the needs of his or her particular constitution, one must ever remain an honest and loving person. Otherwise, dehumanization results.

Since remaining an honest and loving person means respecting the requirements of the human spirit, this endeavor may rightly be recognized as the core of all spirituality. This understanding portrays spirituality as a fully human phenomenon and highlights its essence, namely, the commitment to the on-going integration of one's inherently self-transcending spirit. Of course, this spiritual endeavor cannot go on without behavioral expression and social support -- for it is human. It could be argued, therefore, that spirituality is inseparable from some form or other of "organized" religion (Pargament, 1999). Still, this nontheological understanding does elaborate a phenomenon that (a) qualifies as spirituality, (b) could be discerned in a variety of theist or nontheist religions and even apart from any organized religion, (c) can account for most of what people mean by the word spirituality, and (d) falls within the competence of human psychology (Helminiak, 1995, 1996a, 1996c, 1998).

Relationship of Spirituality and Psychotherapy

In the Great Religions, spirituality entails paying deliberate attention to personal growth and perfection. One supposedly attains enlightenment or becomes a saint by living as one's religion prescribes (Carmody & Carmody, 1996). Religions are not neutral as regards their beliefs, ethics, and practices but, rather, understand that spirituality deals normatively or prescriptively with the matter of human becoming. Even Hinduism's openness to many paths and many gods is, itself, a value-laden stance that the religion deliberately takes (Helminiak, 1998, pp. 281-284). Therefore, if the term spirituality is taken according to its already established meaning, acceptance of prescribed norms of some kind or other is precisely what spirituality entails. Accordingly, psychological treatment cannot advocate neutrality of beliefs and values and still claim to be treating spirituality. Attention to spirituality challenges psychology to abandon its self-image as "value-free" (Bergin et al., 1996; Bernstein, 1976; Beutler, 1981; Beutler & Bergan, 1991; Browning, 1987; Doran, 1981; Habermas, 1970/1991; Kelly, 1990; Myrdal, 1958; Richardson & Guignon, 1991; Taylor, 1989; Tjeltveit, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1996; Wolfe, 1989, 1993; Woolfolk & Richardson, 1984).

The present psychology of spirituality meets this challenge by discerning in human mental functioning an inherent “normativity” -- in the form of the transcendental precepts and the correlative notion of authenticity - and by insisting on this normativity. Accordingly, this psychology of spirituality necessitates an understanding of academic psychology that is very different from the standard notion of a neutral or objective (that is, noncommittal) science. This psychology of spirituality also raises questions for applied psychology that requires non-judgmental openness to every person's religion or spirituality while simultaneously requiring the therapist to foster what is best for the client (American Counseling Association, 1995; American Psychological Association, 1992; Holden, 1996; J. M. Holden, personal communication, July 13, 1999 ). What are therapists to do when the client's religious beliefs are dysfunctional or even pathological? And if it is not the role of therapists to assess the psychological adequacy of religious beliefs, how can therapists presume to know what might or might not be healthy in any case? Serious attention to spirituality requires a radical reorientation of the human sciences (Doran, 1977, 1981; Helminiak, 1996a, 1996c, 1998; Richardson, Fowers, & Guignon, 1999). Until psychology addresses the big questions about the meaning of life and about the nature of the true and the good - not necessarily resolves the questions but faces them openly and honestly as an unavoidable facet of human experience - psychology cannot pretend to deal with whole human beings, let alone with spirituality (Andrews, 1987; Assagioli, 1965/1976; Clinebell, 1995; Doherty, 1995; Frankl 1962, 1969/1988; Fromm, 1947; Koch, 1968, 1981; MacLeod, 1944, 1970; Menninger, 1973; Moore, 1992; Wilber, 1995, 1996; Yalom, 1980).

In contrast to other psychological treatments of spirituality that I know, the understanding that I have summarized in this article explicitly addresses these questions about normative meanings and values. The theoretical result is a conception of psychology that has normativity built into it -- and the presumption is that the guiding norms present in this article (the transcendental precepts) are essentially accurate and correct or, at least, that the present analysis legitimates an explicit and unavoidable search for such norms. Kane (1994, 1999) presents another analysis that arrives at similar conclusions. By insisting on normative values and by grounding the quest for them in an analysis of the human mind, the present approach differs seriously from the more prevalent one that would meet religious pluralism in secular psychotherapy by advocating openness to a range of client values (Bergin et al., 1996; Beutler, 1981; Beutler & Bergan, 1991; Kelly, 1990; Tjeltveit, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1996). A truly psychological and empirically grounded treatment of spirituality in a global society needs to complete the task that religions have traditionally addressed in their varied, separate, and sometimes conflicting ways, namely, to specify and foster the human good. The challenge is admittedly overwhelming, but it is essential to the current endeavor. Practical implications of such an understanding should be apparent in the applications that follow.

Relationship of Spirituality and Theist Religion

This psychology of spirituality appeals to an understanding of the human spirit as an inherent dynamism that is open to the universe of being. God is included within the universe of being when, in the mode of Western theism, God is understood to be a distinct existing being characterized as Creator, imminent as well as transcendent. Thus, this psychology of spirituality opens onto questions about God (Lonergan, 1972, pp. 101-103) and, without addressing theology directly, remains in harmony with theist religion (Helminiak, 1998).

Nonetheless, though God is the center of most Western religion as well as the focus of most people's spirituality, it seems that the human spirit itself, not God, must be the key to a psychology of spirituality (Helminiak, 1996a). As Thomas Aquinas (trans. 1961) stated repeatedly in his Summa Theologica, we may know that God is, but we do not know what God is. All explanation of God, if it is not mere dogmatic assertion, is but reasonable extrapolation from the finest and best that we find in our world and in ourselves (Lonergan, 1957, 1972). The concept creator is one such reasonable extrapolation, and there are myriad images of God, often less rigorously and less reasonably derived (Heller, 1986; McDargh, 1983; Rizzuto, 1979). We project onto God our own understandings. So focusing on God is actually focusing on an unknown, which can be made out to be whatever one might wish. Such a starting point can hardly lead to the clarity or widespread consensus that a scientific treatment of spirituality would require. Such a starting point also exceeds the limits of psychological competence (Bergin et al, 1996; Tjeltveit, 1986). These problems attend much transpersonal psychology, dependent on Eastern philosophy and widely influencing Western spirituality today. The archguru of transpersonal psychology (Rothberg, 1996; Walsh, 1996; Walsh & Vaughan, 1994), Ken Wilber (1980, pp. 75-76), states the matter unmistakably: "The core insight of the psychologia perennis is that man's 'innermost' consciousness is identical to the absolute and ultimate reality of the universe, known variously as Brahman, Tao, Dharmakaya, Allah, the Godhead." Thus, for methodological reasons, Wilber's (1995, 1996) approach and much transpersonal psychology are at variance, though not completely irreconcilable, with the present approach (Helminiak, 1998, pp. 213-292).

In contrast, the human spirit provides a starting point that, through its own self-awareness, is available to experience and, thus, amenable to various kinds of empirical investigation (Feingold, 1994, 1995; Feingold & Helminiak, in press; Helminiak, 1994; 1996c, 1998). Accordingly, the use of the term scientific in this presentation has its grounding. Moreover, as a facet of the mind, the human spirit lies within the arena of psychological competence. Finally, attention to the human spirit, in its inherent concern for the true and the good, opens onto questions about God, at least insofar as Western theism understands God as the fullness of truth and goodness (Aquinas, trans. 1961, I, q. 6, aa. 2, 4, q. 16, a. 5). Accordingly, this humanist psychology of spirituality does not preclude theist considerations, for those who want them.

Authenticity is a key construct in this psychology of spirituality, and its criteria have been specified. To account for human development and to set its goal, this psychology builds on a supposed inherent human inclination toward all that is true and good and, therefore, wholesome and healthy. Advocating such ends, and again taking God to be the fullness of truth and goodness, this psychology of spirituality could not be in opposition to God, and anything that is contrary to its emphases would seem not to be of God.

Thus, in the nomothetic mode of scientific analysis, this psychology of spirituality claims to cut across all religions and cultures and to formulate universally valid laws. This psychology claims to unearth the human core of the spirituality that the varied religions at their best carry and foster. If this claim can be sustained, this psychology of spirituality is not only open to theist extrapolation, but it also provides a basis for criticism of religion and religion's appeal to God (Helminiak, 1996b). Even as the deployment of other sciences has allowed for the purification and correction of religious beliefs -- astronomy, geology, medicine, psychiatry -- so a psychology of spirituality can react back on religion. On the basis of empirically validated insight, this analysis envisages a transformation of religions and cultures and suggests a humanistic foundation for building a coherent global society (see also Kane, 1994, 1999).

These are broad statements and bold claims, and full treatment of them exceeds the scope of this article. What follows is an application of this psychology of spirituality to some specific psychotherapeutic issues. It is my hope that this application will help clarify these statements and make the claims more plausible.

Three Responses to a Client's Spiritual Issues

Presuming the psychology of spirituality outlined above, the therapist can make a nuanced response to religious and spiritual matters. The therapist can respond by (a) validating various facets of the client's spirituality, (b) reinterpreting them, or (c) rejecting them outright. As is appropriate in each case, the therapist might discuss the rationale with the client, or the therapist might keep it private as part of the therapeutic strategy.

A principle emphasis of this article is its insistence on the validity of a nonreligious and even nontheist understanding of spirituality and on the appropriateness of such an understanding for secular psychotherapists. Thus, the possible legitimacy of nonreligious and nontheist spirituality can be taken for granted. The more challenging task is to show the legitimacy of this nontheist psychology of spirituality in the case of religious believers. Accordingly, the cases that follow are predominantly those of religiously committed clients. The point is to highlight the humanist core of spirituality within the religious presentations and, thus, to show how such cases are amenable to qualified spiritual treatment within nonreligious and nontheist secular psychotherapy.

Validating Aspects of Spirituality

First, the therapist can validate aspects of spirituality. As the psychology of religion makes clear (Bergin, 1980, 1991; Bergin et al., 1996; Bergin, Masters, & Richards, 1987; Ellis, 1980; Hood, Spilka, Hunsberger, & Gorsuch, 1996; Jones, 1994; Moberg & Brused, 1978; Wulff, 1997), much of religious belief and practice can facilitate psychological healing and personal integration. With judiciousness a therapist can usually support facets of a client's religion, for example, belief in a loving and caring God; the need to make some sense of life's happenings; commitment to honesty, compassion, and good will; requirements about repentance and forgiveness; membership in a supportive community; participation in moving and reassuring rituals; and practice of private devotions and meditative exercises (Clinebell, 1995; Patterson, 1992). Insofar as these beliefs and practices facilitate the integration of organism, psyche, and spirit in the client, a therapist's support of them is actually fostering spiritual growth.

Reinterpreting Aspects of Spirituality

Second, certain facets of a client's spirituality can facilitate authentic spiritual growth but only if they are purified and adjusted to actually do so. If the therapist understands the structures, processes, and mechanisms of spiritual integration, as previously described, the therapist can reinterpret aspects of a client's spirituality, thus, fostering the authentic spirituality that the client actually desires. Examples follow.

Prayer of Petition. Asking God for help -- petition, intercession, supplication -- may be the most common expression of prayer (Selby, 1986). Whether people recognize it or not, they often pray literally expecting a miracle. God is still the childhood fantasy of the Great Magician in the Sky (Woodward, 1997). Although sustaining hope in the face of hardship is an important facet of mental health, it seems irresponsible to build one's life around the sheer expectation of a miracle, especially if the work that could contribute to a needed outcome is neglected. One woman, for example, accumulated tens of thousands of dollars of debt, all the while believing firmly that it did not matter because she would soon win the lottery. In fact, continued borrowing and believing were the required proof of the firmness of her faith. Thus, against all reason, she continued to borrow and to rely on a win. It is clear that winning the lottery is not strictly a miracle, yet given the odds of winning, counting on it is already irresponsible -- all the more so, then, it is irresponsible to rely on miracles. But irresponsible behavior violates the transcendental precepts. Therefore, it entails misguided spirituality and prevents personal (and, thus, spiritual) integration, so the responsible therapist must discourage such behavior.

Nonetheless, such prayer and faith can be useful when reinterpreted. Petition can become a simple expression of trust that somehow one will have what one needs to resolve matters ( Appleton , 1983). Religion, itself, often fosters such a reinterpretation. It advises, for example, that one should not pray for specific outcomes but rather for whatever God knows is best. Or again, it is said, "You should pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you." Alternately, it must be acknowledged that praying sometimes allows people to let go of anxious concerns. This very result is beneficial in itself because it allows one to be open and attentive, as the first transcendental precept requires.

In his or her own mind and, if appropriate, also with the client, the therapist can reinterpret the client's belief in, and use of, petitionary prayer and, thus, support prayer as therapeutic. Without taking a theological stand on the validity of petitionary prayer or the occurrence of miracles, the therapist can understand the processes in the human psyche and spirit through which prayer sustains hope and trust and can legitimately affirm prayer as a practice that advances integration of the dynamic human spirit.

God and Images of God. Granted the theological presupposition that God exists, there is a difference between God and people's images of God (Heller, 1986; McDargh, 1983; Rizzuto, 1979). Allowing this difference, a therapist can recognize that many supposed God issues are really issues of the client's personal history.

Thus, a divorced and lonely woman might lose all faith in God -- which is to say, lose all hope and purpose in living -- for, as the woman unwittingly supposed, God made man and woman for each other, and there is a man for every woman. It turned out, however, that the woman in question was feeling obliged to replicate her mother's life, who, reflecting a former generation, had dedicated herself totally to the family. Then, God did not betray the woman. Only her personal expectations, projected onto God, were disappointed. This realization might not necessarily make the woman's situation easier, but it does at least disentangle God from the situation and, thus, makes the situation more amenable to therapeutic intervention. Equipped with a coherent psychological theory of spiritual growth, the therapist can competently effect such intervention.

In a similar way, surrender to "God's will" often actually means "towing the line" as regards expectations of family, friends, and one's local congregation (Rayburn, 1985). This supposed God is a social construction, requiring surrender of one's own better judgment. As one client phrased it, "Not to be 'selfish' was the biggest rot I learned in my religious upbringing." When God is distinguished from the personal and social construction of God and, in contrast to the criticism of humanistic psychology as "selfist" (Bergin et al., 1996; Vitz, 1977), when fidelity to one's authentic self is distinguished from petty egocentricity (Helminiak, 1987, 1996a), therapy can begin dealing with the self-transcendent meaning and wholesome purpose of life -- spirituality -- without needing to deal with God and religion.

Morality as Social Construction. Although they are really social constructions and expressions of the human spiritual capacity, moral requirements are often projected onto God (Helminiak, 1996b, 1999). Calling them social constructions is not to discount the possibility of objectively valid moral norms (Kane, 1994, 1999), and attribution of morality to God legitimately serves to insist that moral requirements are important and to suggest that these or those particular ones are valid. But when the validity of religious moral requirements honestly comes into question -- as in current debate regarding gender roles, sexual practices, or medical interventions, for example (Bergin et al., 1996; Crabb, 1975, 1977; Tjeltveit, 1991) -- the moral requirements can be sorted out from their association with God. This sorting out frees people to engage in the spiritual process of applying their honest and goodwilled judgment in the matter. That is to say, it allows people to rely on their own authenticity and to engage in the kind of "soul searching" that therapists are trained to facilitate in their clients. Thus, a religious or theological issue is transformed into a human one that lies within the competence of secular psychotherapy. At the same time, since authentic humanistic spirituality is open, as suggested earlier, to theological extrapolation, authentic moral judgments can be related back to God if God is understood as the fullness of truth and goodness. Competent psychotherapy and the enhancement of authentic spirituality again coincide and can proceed apart from, yet not in opposition to, theist religion.

Superego versus Conscience. Sorting out moral issues calls for another important distinction regarding morality. Freud's superego is not the same thing as conscience (Griffin, 1986b; Gula, 1995). Superego depends on internalized social expectation; it preserves the status quo. Conscience urges correct judgment about good and evil; it points towards personal enhancement, self-transcendence, and social responsibility, all at the same time.

A therapist, therefore, needs to treat a client's experience of guilt carefully. It is usually a mixture of what can be called "neurotic" and "objective" guilt ( Griffin , 1986a). Neurotic guilt results from the superego; it is learned discomfort about certain specified behaviors. Shame may be a synonym. Objective guilt results from conscience; it is spontaneous discomfort regarding real wrongs that one has done or intends to do. The discomfort is grounded in self-awareness and the capacity for judgment, which are constitutive of the human spirit. The awareness is both of what one has done (or plans to do) and of a discrepancy between this action and the spirit's inherent predilection for the open-ended promise that is attached to the true and the good. Awareness of the discrepancy shows in an emotional disruption in the psyche (Mackleburgh, 1992; Perry, 1970, p. 50) and perhaps even in physiological distress in the biological organism (Saxe, 1991).

The therapist must not only help free clients from neurotic guilt or shame but also help clients own their objective guilt, repent their wrongdoing, and reform their lives (Andrews, 1987; Doherty, 1995; Menninger, 1973). In twelve-step programs, such requirements are taken for granted (Dan, 1990). But they apply across the board in therapy. As matters of authenticity -- with or without a Higher Power -- they are matters of spirituality. They set the conditions for the flowering of the dynamic human spirit, and, as understood here, that means the possibility of human integration and healing.

These are examples of reinterpreting religious concerns. Reinterpretation takes the client's religious concerns seriously but teases apart their theological and their spiritual dimensions and thus focuses the issues that are amenable to psychotherapeutic, rather than theological, competence (Bergin et al., 1996). Although these religious concerns are most commonly expressed in terms of the client's relationship with God, reinterpretation discerns and highlights the psychotherapeutic issues at stake in the religious concerns. The therapist's psychological understanding of the dynamics of spiritual growth, as outlined above, guides the reinterpretation process. Without being religious or theological yet dealing with matters of the human spirit, this process is simultaneously psychotherapeutic and spiritual.

Rejecting Aspects of Spirituality

Finally, there are facets of some spirituality that the competent therapist needs to reject outright. They are antithetical to psychological healing, personal integration, and wholesome growth. They violate the transcendental precepts. On the basis of the above analysis of spirituality and regardless of their religious endorsement, they are expressions of a false spirituality and are pathological. As Tjeltveit (1986, p. 522) says, "A therapist who fails to attempt to persuade a client to adopt values conducive to improved psychological functioning would likely be judged incompetent."

Satanic control and hexes. The protest, "The devil made me do it," offers a first example. Such protest might be part of literalist biblical religion or any religion that believes in supernatural powers, hexes, and curses. The danger in such belief is that it eschews personal responsibility (Bergin et al., 1996). Thus, it short-circuits the possibility of personal integrity and, ipso facto, counters spiritual growth, as discussed in this article. To the extent that it does, the helpful therapist must somehow dismantle such belief. Without ever discussing the metaphysical questions, the therapist could suggest to a client that a hex can work only to the extent that individuals provide an opening for it. The therapist could then help the client think about the personal characteristics that made him or her vulnerable to outside powers. Thus, the therapist is able both to circumvent the therapeutic obstacle and to point an unknowing client toward a different spirituality. A discussion of the ethical ramifications of such covert maneuvers follows.

Prohibition against being angry with God. Another instance of dysfunctional religious belief is the notion that one must not be angry with God. When reinterpreted, anger with God is really anger with life in general; it is to feel the losses, disappointments, and hurts that are an inevitable part of life and to respond in aggressive protest against the whole lot. This reinterpretation reveals how incompatible this religious belief is with effective psychotherapy. This belief blocks emotions, and to block them is to prevent integration and healing. The caring therapist must oppose such a belief, for, in the name of religion and God, it hampers human well-being.

Entering into the client's worldview and using the client's religious symbol system but with a precise psychotherapeutic strategy in mind, a therapist can respond to this spiritual matter by giving the client permission to be angry with God. The therapist can note that others have done it and that God is big and loving enough to deal with the anger. Going further, a therapist can appeal to basic honesty: the client should be honest, especially with God. And since the client is hurt and angry and since God would already know that, the more honest approach would be to admit the anger, express its intensity, and discuss the matter with God. This, then, is the psychotherapeutic payoff: under these circumstances the client may be willing to admit and face pervasive frustration and anger about his or her life. Here, as elsewhere, the key is to draw out from the client's relationship with God its spiritual core, in this case, the client's anguished inability to find satisfaction, meaning, and purpose in life. This core, unlike the client's relationship with God, per se, is amenable to secular psychotherapeutic intervention.

Therapists will also be aware that, behind this religious issue of anger with God, is the issue of the client's own learned understanding of what is permissible in communication between intimates. An array of standard psychodynamic issues is tied up in the bag of one's relationship with God (McDargh, 1983; Rizzuto, 1979). For this reason, a ministry called "spiritual direction," devoted to fostering a person's relationship with God, can effect profound personal transformation by focusing almost exclusively on that relationship, however the client construes it (Barry & Connolly, 1982; Conn, 1989; Gratton, 1995; Nemeck & Coombs, 1985). In contrast, from the secular point of view, effective psychotherapy needs to sort out the theological and the psychological/spiritual issues of a client's relationship with God and to address the latter, whether in the client's own religious symbol system or in more standard psychological terminology (Bergin et al., 1996). To address these issues entails dissolving the humanly destructive facets of the client's spirituality, just as a therapist would help a client work through some other emotional issue. Understanding the mental structures, processes, and mechanisms of spirituality, as explained above, equips the secular therapist to do so.

Prohibition against questioning. Similar to the prohibition of anger with God is another facet of some religion, especially the fundamentalist type (Bawer, 1997). It prohibits questioning, inquiry, reading, and challenging thought, as well as exploration of inner experiences. In the face of such universal close-mindedness, which violates the transcendental precepts, therapy is unlikely to make much progress.

A secular therapist is unlikely to encounter such a believer, for in most instances the very use of secular psychotherapy would be contrary to such religion (Rayburn, 1985). But when such a client needs to approach secular psychotherapy, from the outset the therapist and client will have to come to some agreement about the challenge that will be part of the therapeutic process (Tjeltveit, 1996). This initial contract gives the therapist the opening needed to address the matter of open-mindedness when it surfaces in the treatment of specific issues.

Then, by entering the client's religious world with a clear psychotherapeutic strategy in mind, the therapist could invoke a variety of motivations to support open-mindedness: the client's religious commitment to honesty before God; the expectation that valid religion and true belief could sustain questioning; an acknowledgment that truth is one and, thus, there could be no real conflict between God's truth and human truth (Carter & Mohline, 1976; DeVries, 1982; Dueck, 1989; Farnsworth, 1982; Hill & Kauffmann, 1996; Jeeves, 1969; Vande Kemp, 1996); the consideration that God would not have given us questioning minds if we were not to use them; the realization that faith entails trust in the face of uncertainty and not simply adherence to ready-made answers; the recognition that, sometimes, the pieces of life simply do not all fit together neatly; the supposition that on-going experience would naturally reveal new meanings in valid beliefs acquired earlier in life; or the reassurance that others have arrived at deeper understanding without having had to abandon the essence of their faith. In some way, each of these motivations expresses the humanistic core of spirituality, as sketched above: openness, seeking, honesty, and surrender to the sources of self-transcendence that are built into the human mind.

That list of motivations suggests the precarious and far-reaching nature of engaging a person's spirituality. At stake is a fundamental shift in worldview, philosophy, belief, religion. The shift is from reliance on an external authority that provides an all-too-clear picture of life to reliance on an internal process that continuously self-adjusts to find a fit between internal and external reality. This shift implicates not only one's personal world of meaning and value but also the social world of affiliation and support.

In purely psychological terms developmental theorists have focused on that very shift (Fowler, 1981; Helminiak, 1987; Kohlberg, 1977; Loevinger, 1977). A number of the implications of the shift follow. A matter that is presented in religious terms contains a core of developmental issues. Thus, working through the religious issues in a religious context effects psychological growth; conversely, one can treat psychotherapeutically the developmental issues that are at the core of the religious issues. When it is recognized that the human being is inherently spiritual, psychological growth in anyone, religious or not, can rightly be affirmed as a spiritual process. In the religious person, therefore, mature religion and psychological health should coincide.

These considerations help elucidate the intent of this article. When the spiritual is understood as, in the first place, a generic human reality, and not necessarily something specifically religious or theist, on the one hand, all competent psychotherapy is seen as actually effecting spiritual growth. On the other hand, a client's religious or theological concerns, which are often expressions of psychological/spiritual issues, can fall directly under the competence of secular psychotherapy. As academic disciplines, adequate psychology and spirituality are one and the same.

Equating inner peace with the will of God. One last example, which lies on the opposite end of the religious spectrum, is the case of a client who was familiar with spiritual writings and in some regards was deeply sensitive to inner experience. Rather than be locked into external social or religious requirements, this client appealed to his own inner peace as the final indicator of the will of God and in so doing had the support of many a classical spiritual writer (e.g., Ignatius of Loyola, 1964). This one-sided criterion might have been sufficient if the client were a hermit in the ancient desert. In fact, the client identified with the desert tradition of spirituality (Bouyer, 1969; Gannon & Traub, 1969; Holmes, 1980). The only problem was that he was married and on the verge of divorce, had children and a job, and lived in a late-twentieth century metropolis.

Counseling revealed that the client had a severely narcissistic personality and carried a burden of isolation and abandonment from growing up in a large middle-class family in which practical needs for survival superseded personal needs for belonging. The desert spirituality of "peaceful presence with God" served to meet the needs of his deeply aching heart and, through isolation, protected him from further hurt.

Of course, that client's understanding was a grossly romanticized portrayal of the desert experience, which actually requires facing oneself quite nakedly, a challenge that is similar to contemporary psychotherapy. Although needing to proceed with utmost care, a therapist would be irresponsible to allow that counter-productive spirituality to stand completely unchallenged. But it must be left to the creativity of experienced therapists to determine how they would deal with this case. It is introduced to challenge an overly simplistic understanding of spirituality that would assume that cultivation of inner experience is the universal key to spiritual growth. Cases of psychosis make the same point in the extreme (Grof & Grof, 1989). Even though spiritual practices are geared toward enhancing inner experience, mere richness of inner experience is no guarantee of spiritual and psychological health. An understanding of these matters on the basis of known human mental processes compels the competent psychotherapist to take a stand, even if only in his or her own mind. The therapist can then build on the positive elements in the client's religious beliefs and practices and direct the client away from those that are self-debilitating.

Further Considerations about Spirituality in Psychotherapy

Making Judgments and Prescriptions about Religion

I have discussed three approaches to addressing spirituality in psychotherapy: validation, reinterpretation, and rejection. The treatment may appear facile or even irreverent. Breaking a taboo in U.S. society and psychotherapeutic circles, this treatment has freely arrived at judgments and prescriptions about people's religion and spiritual life. This treatment claims the right to make such judgments on the basis of an elaborated account of spirituality.

Once the core of spirituality is discerned and formulated normatively, a powerful tool is available. It not only allows the competent treatment of spiritual matters in secular psychotherapy. It also allows incisive criticism of spiritual matters that are attached to religion. Developments in the medical field provide an analogous case. An understanding of infection allows not only the prescription of appropriate antibiotics but also the criticism of hallowed folk practices that are unhygienic. Similarly, a breakthrough in the understanding of spirituality reconfigures the relationship between psychology and religion. Such a breakthrough is what Lonergan's (1957, 1972) analysis of the human spirit seems to allow, and it is the foundation of the present attempt to develop a psychology of spirituality.

Psychotherapists are always making and acting on assessments of spirituality; that is to say, they are always facilitating the adjustment of the meanings and values that structure people's lives (Andrews, 1987; Assagioli, 1965/1976; Bergin et al., 1996; Beutler, 1981; Beutler & Bergan, 1991; Clinebell, 1995; Corey, 1996; Doherty, 1995; Frankl 1962, 1969/1988; Fromm, 1947; Helminiak, 1989; Kelly, 1990; Koch, 1968, 1981; MacLeod, 1944, 1970; Menninger, 1973; Moore, 1992; Richardson & Guignon, 1991; Taylor, 1989; Tjeltveit, 1991, 1992, 1996; Wilber, 1995, 1996; Yalom, 1980). Every psychotherapeutic system entails an implicit metaphysical worldview (Bergin et al., 1996; Browning, 1987; Tjeltveit, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1996; Woolfolk & Richardson, 1984). The present approach is merely quite direct about the matter, quite explicit about the criteria of assessment it uses, and quite bold in claiming a unique validity for its criteria. This forthrightness makes judgments relatively easy, but granted the overall analysis, the conclusions are far from superficial.

The key to the matter is the articulation of a coherent and comprehensive psychology of spirituality (Helminiak, 1996a, 1998) -- including (a) the differentiation of psyche and spirit within the human mind, (b) the elaboration of spirit as structured on four levels, (c) the normativity of spirit as expressed in the transcendental precepts, (d) the on-going integration of spirit and psyche as the substance of spiritual growth, and (e) the self-transcending nature of this process that is open to theist extrapolation and to elaboration in a wide range of religious formulations. There is the further consideration that anyone who would oppose this approach in the name of genuine openness, tolerance, and pluralism, is in practice only demonstrating its validity and exemplifying its intent by urging further discussion toward a shared, correct understanding (Kane, 1994, 1996; Lonergan, 1972, pp. 16-20).

Comparison with Pastoral Counseling

Much of what I have presented may appear to be covert pastoral counseling, but there is a difference. Pastoral counseling is psychotherapy that goes on within the explicit context of the shared faith of an organized religion (Clinebell, 1995; Crabb, 1975, 1977; Rayburn, 1985; Wicks, 1985). The shared religion has a tradition of beliefs, symbols, rituals, ethics, and texts. Sharing this tradition with the client, the skilled pastoral counselor may easily use any of its elements to make the therapeutic intervention. For example, knowing the Gospels, the therapist can cite the example of Peter, who repented of denying Jesus, to cancel a client's identification with Judas, who hung himself after betraying Jesus. The pastoral counselor uses the client's religion to effect wholesome change. Thus, validation, reinterpretation, and rejection of spirituality proceed within the boundaries of the mutually accepted religion.

The approach I have described is similar because it sometimes also appeals to various facets of religion to reinterpret or reject certain other facets. This approach presupposes more knowledge about religion than has been indicated. Nonetheless, therapists can learn the intricacies of a client's religion by asking, listening, and reading (Lovinger, 1984, 1990; Shafranske, 1996; Stern, 1985).

Knowledge about someone's religion is not the key issue. More important is a psychological understanding of spirituality within which to situate the specifics of the client's religion. To supply this understanding as a generic, humanist, and normative analysis is the novelty in the approach I have described. This novelty allows three dimensions that pastoral counseling does not: (a) sorting out and interrelating the theist and humanist facets of the religion; (b) conceptualizing the religion's spiritual wisdom in humanist terms -- which is to say, coherently integrating psychology and religion; and (c) identifying and correcting pathological facets of the religion. Psychotherapy that addresses spirituality only on the basis of openness to, and respect for, every client's religious beliefs (Bergin et al., 1996; Beutler, 1981; Beutler & Bergan, 1991; Kelly, 1990; Tjeltveit, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1996) functions, in effect, as pastoral counseling does, which is ultimately self-constrained by the worldview that the religion in question requires.

Respecting a Client's Religion

The client's religion must be respected. Modifying it is a delicate undertaking that calls for sensitive care (Bergin et al., 1996; Beutler, 1981; Beutler & Bergan, 1991; Kelly, 1990; Tjeltveit, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1996). Treating spirituality in psychotherapy involves adjusting the client's credo and commitments; it involves revamping a client's meaning-and-value system. Of course, by its very nature, psychotherapy does so all the time. Naming the matter merely highlights the sacredness of the psychotherapeutic project.

Dismantling people's meaning systems means leading people, at least temporarily, to face the void. It means turning them toward the existential angst of open-ended freedom (Yalom, 1980) and helping them in the face of this angst to find new meaning and purpose in life. This is challenging and scary stuff.

Religion usually provides the compass and comrades for life's journey. Disqualifying people's religion by transforming their spirituality is a dangerous enterprise. As long as a client's religious worldview is not a threat to self or others, the therapist ought not challenge it, unless, of course, there is reasonable assurance that something better can replace it. In spiritual matters as in all others, good clinical judgment requires that one not push clients where they do not want, or are likely unable, to go.

Requirements for the Therapist

In these matters the successful therapist will be more than psychotherapeutically trained, at least if psychotherapeutic is taken in the standard sense of the term (Tjeltveit, 1986, 1992). The analysis here, transforming the meaning of spiritual, suggests that good psychotherapy includes spirituality at its core. Psychotherapeutic training must, therefore, include what the religious traditions have called spiritual formation. Without it, the therapist can treat people only as one fixes machines. This approach might work to help clients meet the minimalist mental-health standards of appropriate demeanor and employability, but it is not sufficient for internal healing, core personal stability, and a life worthy of a human being.

Addressing matters of spirituality, therapists themselves must be on the spiritual path (Clinebell, 1995, pp. 50, 92, 156; Tjeltveit, 1986, p. 526). Revamping a meaning-and-value system is a frightening and precarious enterprise. If therapists have never lived with loss, uncertainty, and emptiness, if they have never peered into the void, not only will they not understand the client's pain, they will run from these issues as from brush fire. This is not to say that every therapist must have passed through the classic "dark night of the soul" (Conn , 1989, pp. 128-136; Williams, 1982). It is to say that, to the extent therapists have actually faced life's big questions, they will be better able to help others who are facing these same universal human questions.

The capacity to live with openness, ambiguity, and uncertainty is a measure of advanced development (Loevinger, 1977). Only a person with this capacity can be quietly and securely open to another human being who is facing these same monsters. Only a person of advanced integration (i.e., spiritually developed; Helminiak, 1987) can effectively facilitate such integration in others. As the Scholastic axiom had it, Nemo dat quod non habet: No one can give what he or she does not have. The work of psychotherapy is really a ministry of spiritual healing.

By the same token, if therapists are going to do more than sit smugly with anguished clients and then send them on their way, the therapists themselves must be genuine models of the new vision of life proposed to the clients. Spirituality does not flourish in isolation; people on the spiritual path need fellow travelers. This is not to suggest that the therapist become friend and family to the client, but as the guru, spiritual leader, or saint functions in religious circles, the therapist will almost inevitably become the initial embodiment of an ideal that the client will want to follow (Corey, 1996, p. 16; Rogers, 1961, pp. 33–35, 1980, pp. 114–117; Sharf, 1996, p. 60). Value convergence between therapist and client is a documented fact (Beutler, 1981; Beutler & Bergan, 1991; Kelly, 1990). So the therapist, at least in his or her professional encounters, must genuinely be a model of enviable serenity that paradoxically, but understandably, only in discrete self-disclosure (Corey, 1996, pp. 32-33; Rogers, 1961, p. 33, 1980, p. 115) invites not adulation but personal independence (Rogers, 1961, pp. 36, 119-122, 1980, pp. 18-19; Walborn, 1996, pp. 12-16, 169–173). In many ways, this is the model that much standard psychotherapeutic theory has already projected. The present discussion merely highlights the far-reaching implications of psychotherapeutic practice.

This article makes it clear that the more effective psychotherapist will be the one who is more deeply authentic, more spiritually integrated. That is, the effective psychotherapist is honestly open to marvel and question, sure of where he or she stands on this matter, and securely committed to wholesome values. This is not just a professional facade that would allow one to deal with clients cleanly and efficiently and to collect one's standard fee. Jesus' contrast (John 10:11-13) between the hireling and the good shepherd provides a relevant image. Appeal to this religious image suggests once again what is at stake in this whole discussion: the radical transformation of aspects of traditional religion into a secular form that respects the distinctiveness, while embodying the humanist core, of the engendering religion (i.e., the psychology of spirituality; Helminiak, 1996a, 1998, 1999). Psychotherapists' low ratings on measures of religiosity may be another matter (Shafranske & Gorsuch, 1984; Shafranske & Malony, 1990), but their commitment to lived spirituality is a sine qua non.


In discussing the role of spirituality in psychotherapy, I have summarized a fully psychological theory of spirituality, applied it in specific examples, and discussed its implications. Thus, I have suggested ways in which an integration of secular psychotherapy and spirituality might be achieved without exceeding the professional competence of secular therapy or diluting the meaning of the term spirituality. I have clarified the humanist core of spirituality as it relates to, and is operative in, effective psychotherapy. This clarification may be helpful, for people tend to function more effectively when they know what they are about. In the case of psychotherapy, I have used the term effective to imply facilitation of lasting and wholesome change in people. Understood in this way, psychotherapy cannot be effective unless it attends to spiritual matters.




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