Psychotherapy as Soul Work

By Alan Levin, M.A., LMFT

It is understandable that many people find the idea of psychotherapy to be strange. Paying someone to be able to come and talk for an appointed hour a week is unlike any other relationship we might have in this culture. So, it is a very good idea to consider carefully, why you would want to get involved in this. It is well worth considering whether you have issues or problems that can be addressed through psychotherapy and what kind of therapy is appropriate for you.

Since psychotherapy varies greatly amongst practitioners, I seek to let people know something about the kind of work that I do, so they can make an informed choice. Following, and in other writings on the Sacred River Healing web site, (, I offer my perspectives on life, it’s challenges, and the possibilities for healing, empowerment and living more creatively and with a sense of

purpose. I hope it is helpful in bringing a greater understanding of the psychotherapeutic process.

Most often, people enter psychotherapy because of emotional pain. Whether this pain is mild or acute, whether it takes the form of depression, alienation, fear, guilt, shame, anxiety or confusion, it is a motivator to seek help, to heal. In seeking help, one chooses to affirm the possibility of change in a postive direction, a movement into a healthier and happier life. This choice takes courage, and as a psychotherapist, I honor and respect each person coming to me, for taking this step.

The source of emotional pain can usually be connected to one, or a set of, specific issues involving relationships, employment, an addictive behaviour, a painful reaction to some tragic event, or an important life transition. This will naturally begin the focus of the
work of psychotherapy. However, we often find this “problem” to be a doorway to other issues of life that are part of the life-long learning of personal growth; integrating and balancing the whole person. It is part of the art of the psychotherapist to relate to the issue at hand and to also offer the opportunity to go further. For me, it is always
important to validate each person’s freedom to decide on just how deeply they want to pursue this journey and be respectful of their timing without judgement.

In this regard, it is helpful to look at the meaning of the word psychology. Most modern dictionaries define psychology as “the study of the mind and behavior”. The primary association of psychology with “the mind” is espcecially problematic due to the (mis)understanding that the mind is located only in the head – that the mind is the same
as the brain. Over the last several decades, different schools of psychology have expanded the field to place more importance on emotional intelligence (humanistic psychology), body awareness (somatic psychology), and spiritual experience (transpersonal psychology). These developments have helped bring psychology closer to its’ true meaning derived from, “psyche”, meaning “soul, spirit or breath” and
“therapy” meaning “healing”. One could say it is the art/science of healing with the soul.

Of course, people have different understandings of what is meant by soul or spirit, and that is part of the experiential inquiry of therapy. As a beginning, I suggest we think of soul as that aspect of our nature which is most essential and that contains our deepest
potentials. We can think of it as our inner source of healing, regeneration and vital energy that we need to live, as well as our source of will, purpose and creativity. In this sense, the therapist is an ally or guide who helps an individual to re-connect consciously with their own true nature. It can be said then, that the journey of therapy is the discovery of who we really are and learning to live this in day to day life.