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Spirituality in Marriage & Family Therapy

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The great malady of the twentieth century, implicated in all of our troubles and affecting us individually and socially, is "loss of soul." When soul is neglected, it doesn't just go away; it appears symptomatically ...

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The great malady of the twentieth century, implicated in all of our troubles and affecting us individually and socially, is "loss of soul." When soul is neglected, it doesn't just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning. - Thomas Moore

Recently, in various mental health professions there has been an increase in interest regarding the integration of spirituality, religion and clinical practice. On the shelves in bookstores you can find an increase of literature available that has shifted focus towards this new controversial topic - spirituality and therapy. So what are the benefits and/or necessity of reintegrating mind/body with spirit/soul?

Historically, there was not a clear distinction between the psychological and spiritual. The mental health profession began with less of a distinction between the spirits and mental illness and often patients that exhibited schizophrenia were considered possessed by spirits.

More recently, we have left the issues related to spirituality in the hands of religion, and the intellectual in the hands of the physicians and teachers. In an effort to change this dualistic view, many mental health professionals are urging clinicians to conceptualize persons as bio-psycho-social-spiritual beings. What this view offers to a therapist is the option to expand their view and see their clients as individuals with many different layers.

When a therapist ignores their clients' spiritual beliefs they are ignoring an important assessment tool. If spirituality can be useful as a tool in therapy clients will then be able to openly express issues in areas that otherwise would be overlooked. Thomas Moore believes that psychology is incomplete if it doesn't include spirituality and art in a fully integrative way.

So are all these mental health professionals headed in the wrong direction? Not according to a survey by Stewart & Gale (1994) where the majority of clients (66%) prefer a therapist with spiritual values; and an even greater percentage (81%) desire a therapist who would enable them to integrate their values and beliefs in therapy.

So what is soul/spirituality? How do we find it? Where is it hiding? Is there a need for it in therapy? Soul/Spirituality has been described in different ways and differently over time. However, all of these different definitions seem to have a common theme. All of these theories describe spirituality and soul as a way of experiencing everyday life and placing meaning to events and things in our lives that we might ordinarily overlook. Spirituality is a way of living and a way of seeing life.

In addition to the individual soul, what about the soul of a family? What does it mean when we say a family has a life of its own? Are we implying a communal soul? A communal soul gives a family unity and direction and offers love, support, and a sense of identity. Families are presented to the public as a place where traditions are upheld and the soul is created and nurtured. We expect that the family will provide us with love and direction. We also expect this love to be healing and whole.

The traditional image of the family only serves to protect us from the reality that family can sometimes be a comforting and, at the same time, devastating place. Families are always so concerned with how to succeed and overcome family problems. However, if we can learn to honor the family as it presents itself, with all of it's paths that seem to have a direction of their own, only then can we begin to understand what it means to find the soul of the family.

So is it vital to incorporate soul/spirituality in family therapy? I don't think a therapist can work with a client/family without it. A shift in our view of the family is in order. To recover the soul/spirituality of an individual or family, I believe we need to stop trying to fix it or become free of the problems associated with it, but instead look deeply at our daily experiences and live and feel every moment. When we try to avoid our experiences or troubles they reappear in our lives as symptoms of illness, emptiness, aggression etc. Through family therapy and the integration of soul/spirituality, the essence of soul can be recaptured. The tradition of family can be upheld and we can again expect the family to provide us with love and direction that can be healing and whole.

References and Resources
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