Spirituality and Loss in the context of Counselling and Psychotherapy

As mentioned elsewhere, Transpersonal Psychotherapy is not alone in encompassing spirituality into treatment. In the field of counselling and psychotherapy other modalities allow for the spiritual in their therapeutic approach.  However if you are involved in transpersonal psychotherapy your therapist will actively involve the spiritual element in the work.

So much of psychotherapy is concerned with loss and bereavement, whether it is our grieving for the tangible loss of loved ones, our past or indeed of our innocence.  Clients often enter psychotherapy usually on the back of a crisis and the stresses involved in everyday life that become overwhelming.

Some thoughts then from “Spirituality, Values and Mental Health” edited by Peter Gilbert and others  2007:

Peter Gilbert starts off by saying “When an individual reaches a point in their life where they are challenged by a major physical or mental illness, or a period of profound psychological distress ,then the search for meaning, which seems to be inherent in all of us, though possibly dormant all the time, becomes ignited.  It is then that human beings do something, which apparently no other animals do; we tell ourselves or each other stories.”

Neil Thompson writes in the same book about Loss: “Loss….raises a range of important issues in relation to spirituality….Spirituality can be seen as a form of meaning making.  A major loss in a person’s life can seriously undermine this process and the meanings that we have developed that help us make sense of our lives and give us a sense of identity…..A major loss can therefore be seen as a crisis of meaning”.

Loss, Neil Thompson reminds us, is not simply related to death:  “The field of mental health is a good example of how a wide range of losses that are not necessarily death-related can nonetheless prove very significant.  People with mental health problems are often stigmatised and discriminated against, and this can result in (or exacerbate) a range of losses: status and self-esteem, relationships, access to housing and employment and so on.”

Loss when it is accepted – this does not mean when it is trivialised – can be a force for transformation in our lives.  Grief is never a positive experience but, Thompson says, “within the immense pain and suffering of grief there can be a silver lining”.  He quotes  research by Calhoun and Tedeschi (1999, 2001) on “how loss and trauma in people’s lives can lead to developments in three areas:

A changed sense of self: people who have gone through the process of transformational grief report they have a stronger sense of who they are….

Changed relationships: an increased sense of connectedness to other people can be one positive result of a grief experience.

Existential and spiritual growth: while some people can be devastated by significant losses and never recover, for some people the result can be more positive  with an increased understanding and awareness of human experience”.

They claim that “the transformative dimension of loss can be seen as a process in which the lives of some people are imbued with an enhanced sense of meaning and purpose – that is, an intensified level of spirituality.”

The real work in therapy is to make conscious what is in the therapeutic relationship, to note the things that are just beneath the surface.  The job of the therapist, therefore, is to seek to uncover the story that is lurking behind the narrative that the client is bringing. It is critical, therefore,  to be aware of transference and counter transference and to be truly conscious in the therapeutic relationship.


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