Your spiritual beliefs can be your most powerful tools for positive transformation.
Psychotherapy based on the integration and amplification of spirituality is referred to as “transpersonal” — because the nature of spirituality is that it helps to bring us outside of ourselves, and to connect us with higher powers and higher realities. Transpersonal therapy often incorporates aspects of Jungian analysis, which focuses on understanding the archetypal forces playing out… not only in your unconscious mind but in the external world.
These concepts are not very popular with today’s science-minded psychological community. There are few studies, and few testable hypotheses or techniques. Regardless, I believe that spirituality is the original form of psychotherapy, and it still may be the most powerful.
Even when I’m explaining what I do in terms of scientific tools and medicalized interventions, in my own mind I think of what I do as shamanism. But, in a world where spirituality has become personal and individual — rather than the deeply shared beliefs of our collectivistic past — a shaman’s job is to work with the very personal myths and symbols that have taken root in each individual mind. Peer-reviewed science is only the current mythological system of our culture. For those who subscribe to it, I use empirically based treatments (with just a dash of magic).
But for those who follow the old religions, I prefer to use a more traditional style of treatment.
The induction and utilization of trance states has played a central role in treatment for thousands of years. The explicit practice of hypnosis goes back to the sleep temples of ancient Egypt and the shamanic rituals of all tribal cultures. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, with their emphasis on prayer, study, and meditation, have been no less reliant on trance.
Even the designs of churches and temples evoke states of consciousness congruent with the spiritual values of the sect they represent — from the humbling grandiosity of mosques and cathedrals, to the wooden stoicism of Lutheran chapels, walking into a place of worship generally triggers a sense of spiritual presence even for those who do not usually subscribe to the beliefs of that particular sect.
Spirituality is about finding a sense of meaning in life. And that sense of meaning, as told in the myths of every religion, imparts a supernatural ability to overcome life’s difficulties.
Every generation has numerous examples of miraculous healings by faith. Descriptions can be found in nearly every spiritual text and — although they are repeatedly discounted by reasonable, scientifically-minded people — they continue to take place all over the world. I believe that this type of healing is at least as accessible to us today as it was thousands of years ago.
For example, I recently worked with a double-amputee who was experiencing phantom leg pain. As he described his strong Christian beliefs, I realized that they were his strongest and most ready tool for overcoming his symptoms. As we talked, he came to trust in my openness enough that he was willing to share his faith with me and to show me how he prayed. After a month or two of working with him to strengthen his prayer by digging more deeply into his own most closely-held beliefs, his pain disappeared.
People usually seek help when they can’t understand the meaning of what is happening to them.
As their lives change, their beliefs no longer seem sufficient to explain their experience and connect them with the unknown. They experience depression, anxiety, obsession, darkness, and longing. I find that I am able to work easily with such people, because I have no beliefs of my own. A part of me believes everything.
I grew up steeped in fundamentalist Christianity, in which the deep symbolism of the Christian Bible was taken as literal truth. And a part of me still believes it is. But other parts have come to similarly subscribe to the truths of Buddhism (that all of life is an illusion to be transcended), of Hinduism (that life is a grand drama playing out between fragments of a single consciousness), of Catholicism, Wicca, Druidism, Spiritualism, Scientism, Illuminism. Parts of me have become initiated in secret magickal societies and experience the power of imagination to act upon the outside world. Parts of me experience the universe in ways that have not yet been named — as a series of quantum fields which can be consciously traversed.
So when a person comes to me for help living in a different kind of world, I create rituals that call that world into being. I help them experience trance states in which they can travel there — and realize that they have the power to choose which world they will live in.