A Spiritual Approach to Psychotherapy
Alan Levin, M.A. LMFT
When it comes to psychotherapy, many people feel that it is only relevant for times of desperation or intense emotional pain, severe addiction or depression. Spiritually oriented psychotherapy is, in fact, able to address these very painful experiences of life. However, it also speaks to the deep longing felt by folks who are ‘getting along,’ but have a sense that there are currents or issues under the surface needing attention and focus; perhaps that there are potentials for greater happiness and meaning in life that haven’t yet been brought forth. In truth, it may be these questions, left unaddressed, that lead to the more painful conditions.
As things go, there are things that we put on the shelf, the back burner, or stuff in a closet. It’s natural to do this. We are busy with the tasks that confront us, demanding our attention. Later, we are too tired to do anything else. We say to ourselves, “I’ll get to those things later.” Examples may be: healing hurts from the past; addressing difficulties in personal relationships; deciding what part of the problems of the community and world we feel called to serve; assessing the direction of our life; focusing on our sense of spiritual connection; facing the fact that we are going to die; taking time to open to the deep peace, love and joy that we know exist inside ourselves.
Any one or all the above issues can sit on the shelf or be tucked in the closet for years and never get our full attention. It’s not that we are completely unaware of having questions and concerns about these things. They may enter our thoughts or conversations; but when do we put them front and center and give them the full focus of our attention, the attention we know they deserve?
It often seems that it is the busyness of our lives that keeps us from focusing on our deeper questions. Yet, there is something else at work — fear. At the threshold of the doorway to facing the core questions of our lives is the ‘boogeyman’ standing there saying, ‘Don’t look here!’ We are not usually aware of this fear. Rather, thoughts come to mind: “I can’t deal with this now.”; “I just don’t have time.”; “I already have too much on my plate.”; “I can’t really figure this out anyway.”; “It makes me too uncomfortable to think about it.” Yet in moments of quiet, when the mind starts to open to these issues, there is that tightening in the belly, the shifting of the breath, an anxious feeling. Usually, we then divert our attention and change the subject.
Fortunately, most of us have been blessed by moments in which we feel the freedom from these fears. We have sensed the basic joy and goodness that is inside us. Even a glimmer of that awareness can give us the courage to face into areas of darkness. The trick is in marshaling that awareness and courage.
It seems that in the modern world, we need to carve out the time for this deep ‘work’ on the meaningful questions of life. Vacations, while a pleasant respite from the stresses of our ordinary routine, usually don’t do it. For most of us, taking the journey into our core concerns will only happen when we schedule it in, put it on our calendar (or smart-phone).
Along with honoring the need to devote time to this work, is the recognition of the need for help. We are not here alone on Earth and we don’t need to sort through the challenges of life by ourselves. Having an ally or guide can be helpful and sometimes necessary for staying focused, moving into and through difficult places, and learning skills for navigating into the future.
When I first became a licensed psychotherapist in 1985, it was after 15 years of deep study and practice of meditation and other spiritual disciplines. I believed then, as I do now, that human beings only really feel fulfilled and happy to the degree that they experience the presence of their spiritual nature, their more essential self, in their minds and bodies. How to help people move in this direction has been my lifelong study and practice. One thing I have learned, is that growth happens slowly, follows a different course for every person, and needs a safe and nonjudgmental atmosphere to go forward.
In my work with people, I try to provide this kind of atmosphere in which a more authentic kind of dialogue can take place. I also offer experiential practices, which include: focusing exercises that bring more awareness into the emotions and body sensations; meditation; and guided imagery. With encouragement, support and new skills, it becomes easier to focus on the important issues of life rather than push them to the sidelines. It becomes easier then to bring your full attention to the infinite possibilities of the present moment.
Please feel free to call to discuss my work and whether this would be a good time to embark on a journey with me.