Monday, April 7, 2014

Spirituality and Religion in the therapy room

For most of us in India, irrespective of our religious affiliations, rituals and other spiritual practices have been a large focus of every festival and for many an inevitable part of their day. It has shaped our views, bound us to prejudices and for some, liberated us from the race to be at the top.

As adults, most of us follow some rituals, at least partially. Sometimes to seek comfort in the nostalgia, often from force of habit and sometimes succumbing to the demands of the extended family. A small percentage of us have felt disgusted by the superstitious or irrational processess and have completely shunned any spiritual practice. But, whatever the reason, it is difficult to escape the influence of the Higher Power.
The influences of the superego and the resultant dynamics are shaped in some part by our spiritual and/or religious experiences.  Our behavioral responses are often rooted in it. And yet, surprisingly, it took counselors many decades to start using it for and in therapy. The journal of American Psychologists Association, recently had multiple articles based on Religion and Spirituality. It couldn't have come sooner.

Let me tell you a story about a woman. One of the biggest influences in her life ( let's call her Preeti)  was her time with her grandparents. Both of them spent the early morning hours in devotional rituals in the family temple. Preeti, as a young child would often join them, without brushing her teeth or finishing her morning ablutions. A sacrilege for a Hindu:) Being the favorite grandchild, she had a lot of equity with them and was indulged. This shaped a lot of her concepts of right and wrong. Her grandpa bumped her ahead on the Kohlberg scale- "Rules could be changed  under certain circumstances", by just allowing her to sit in on the rituals without the prerequired hygiene rituals. As a result her relationship with the Higher power was not defined by a strict set of rules that she needed to follow. Preeti thinks of God as her friend Who she confides in, Who helps her through her downs and most importantly who does not stand over her in judgement. Over the years this has influenced so many other areas in her life. Her ability to think outside the box and look for alternative solutions at her advertising job is partly a result of her religious experiences. In her personal life, Preeti is flexible about making changes and very tolerant of friends and family who are different from her or who hold contradictory world views. Because she knows that there is more than one way to look at life. She accepts that there is no single set of rules to accomplish a task but that you can make your own rules as you go along.

I very strongly believe in using spirituality in my therapy practice. I certainly make an effort to understand the client's spiritual leanings. While I will not bring up the discussion unless the client prompts it, but if he does, I do like to spend some time on understanding the client's perspective of it. It is always a welcome input for me as a therapist because it helps me to understand the underlying inflences and resultant associated behavioral tendencies. It helps me make sense of the client's  motivations, guilts and other components of the his mind. Like I said, I am glad about APA endorsing it. It is one more tool in the therapist's arsenal.

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