Spirituality and Mental Health

Spiritual practices can be one of our greatest resources, for finding comfort in difficult times. Marsha Linehan, founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, advocates prayer and meditation to support greater distress tolerance.  These practices can help clients get through a crisis, and create feelings of sustained well-being over time.  Mindfulness meditation has made its way into many empirically validated forms of therapy.  Researchers are beginning to realize that ancient spiritual practices do have validity for modern mental health care.

Religion, however, can be triggering for some people. Some of my clients have experiences of being rejected or isolated by religious institutions.  There are also clients who have difficulty with meditation.  For some people, mindfulness fosters a sense of open-heartedness, and calm.  If one is severely depressed or traumatized, however, some forms of meditation can actually make things worse.  It can be hard to observe one’s thoughts, if every other thought is about something painful.

I often see clients who long to fill a spiritual “void”, but have difficulty finding a practice that works for them.  Sometimes, I find that clients have difficulty trusting their own intuition, about their spiritual needs.  They may have experienced situations, in the past, where their intuition was not honored as valid.  My role, then, is to support clients to get in touch with their own “felt sense” of the sacred, rather than looking to others for answers.

This can often come serendipitously, out of therapy sessions.  A client will speak of a positive experience they have had, and express feelings of well-being.  I will encourage them to stay with those feelings, letting themselves settle into them as much as possible.  If I ask a client what they are feeling in their body, during those times, they often report feeling light and open.  Or, they might feel warm and secure.  If a client experiences these sensations as positive, I trust their intuition.

That one positive experience can be the seed of a budding spiritual practice.  If a client can summon the feelings of serenity that come from listening to the rushing waters of the creek, this can connect them to the universal source.  If someone can fully experience the nurturing embrace of a friend, this can lead to an experience of Divine love.  Meditations can be developed around simple things.  Rituals can be formed around any symbols or experiences that are meaningful to the client…whether they follow an established tradition or their own eclectic path.

I enjoy collaborating with clients to create their own meditations and rituals.  It is a fun process of co-creation…available to anyone who feels inspired to try it.