By Kimberly Anne Christensen, Ph.D. (c)
The purpose of this phenomenological study was to describe the connection between guided meditation and life purpose for those who use meditative practices.
In this study, guided meditation will generally be defined as the practice of using spoke words, music, or visual imagery to access information from the subconscious psyche, or universal intelligence of the collective consciousness. Life purpose will generally be defined as your soul’s unique mission to serve self, and others, from a state of unconditional love.
I believe that the phenomena of guided meditation is a waypoint, or bridge, that allows us to access the intelligence of the conscious and subconscious states of self, as well as the universal or collective consciousness of the group. The concept of using guided meditation to access data on life purpose, is one that I believe is essential if we are to honor ourselves as unique individuals who desire to live a meaningful, and meaning-filled life, using our innate gifts at the highest level for service to humanity.
Relevancy, or need for the study of life purpose, (Creswell, 2007) comes from several qualitative studies on calling and vocation in the journals of career assessment, happiness studies, counseling psychology, and vocational studies. One of the many research findings on calling and vocation, speak to the need of today’s workers to connect to something in their life, beyond better wages. Duffy, Dik, and Eldgridge (2009) report that:
Clients experiencing dissatisfaction in their careers often yearn for something that goes beyond better wages of more supportive supervisors. Many want to experience a calling or vocation. Increasingly, popular authors, and scholars have advocated reclaiming the constructs of calling or vocation in career and life planning. Such attention has helped raise awareness of these constructs and has catalyzed research and theory on their role in career decision making. (p. 626).
The use of the terms calling and vocation, although not found in the data of this study, do find representation within my study as something more that wants to come through you.
My philosophical paradigm is both transformative and participatory, with the goal of examining issues of power, and the underlying assumptions that guide our lives in which we are participants. John Creswell (2007) offers four key features of an advocacy or participatory practice that were relevant in my study.
Beginning with the first key, I believe that this study has the power to change how we participate and move forward in our career and life experiences, by looking within to find life direction. Second, through the process of connecting to the universal intelligence of the collective unconscious, I believe that individuals can be freed from the constraints of outside influences when making life and career choices as truths relevant only to themselves can be accessed. Third, by connecting with the subconscious self, individuals are able to emancipate themselves from mental and emotional beliefs that have limited self-development and self-determination. Fourth, by using a collaborative model, participants become co-researchers in the work. An example of this participatory model is that my definition for life purpose was built from the responses of the participants in the study (Creswell, p. 22).
This longing for intimacy, for reciprocity and the experience of aliveness and connection with other beings within a living landscape, is not surprising as the “natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong” (Berry, 1990, p. 81). We long for relationship and to feel part of the living landscape as co-participants in the unfolding inter-connectedness of life. Perhaps it is because “there is no such thing as human community without the earth and the soil and the air and the water and all living forms. Humans are woven into this larger community” (Raymond, 2010, p. 59).
These awakening experiences include moments when perceptions and awareness become more intensified and expanded.
In 1985, I proposed a new diagnostic category entitled Mystical Experience with Psychotic Features (MEPF) to identify intense spiritual experiences that present as psychotic-like episodes. In 1989, Francis Lu, a psychiatrist on the faculty at UC Davis, and I began collaborating on a proposal for a new diagnostic category for the then-in-development DSM-IV, which we saw as the most effective way to increase the sensitivity of mental health professionals to spiritual crises. The transpersonal movement supported this 4 year effort through publication of articles in JTP and presentations at ATP conferences to fine tune the proposal. Ultimately in 1994, the proposal for a new diagnostic category was accepted: Religious or Spiritual Problem. This is not listed as a mental disorder but a problem in living that requires some clinical attention.
Psychology and psychiatry have a long history of ignoring and pathologizing religion and spirituality. This DSM category has served as a foot the door which has opened the mental health field to a broader consideration of spirituality in mental health.
Today, within mainstream psychological theory and research, we are seeing the continued exploration of transpersonal issues in the attention to “religious coping” and “spiritual struggles.” Transpersonal psychology, starting with its founder Abraham Maslow’s focus on self-actualization and optimal functioning, has been the tip of the spear in this change. The early transpersonal work on distinguishing a spiritual emergency from a psychotic disorder which led to a diagnostic category for spiritual problems has laid the groundwork for this new work on spiritual competencies which recognizes spirituality as a resource for wellness and recovery and the value of spiritually oriented interventions such as mindfulness practices.
I have been teaching about spiritual competencies in graduate courses in Sofia University’s PsyD and GPHD programs. Class activities include writing a spiritual autobiography, conducting a spiritual assessment with someone outside the class, keeping a gratitude journal for a week, and other exercises from the book.
(Below is an article written by David Lukoff, et. al:)
Competencies for Psychologists in the Domains of Religion and Spirituality
Religion and spirituality are important parts of the lives of most people in the United States. Gallup polls between 1992 and 2012 (Gallup, 2015) reveal that over the last two decades 79% to 88% of Americans have said that religion is “very important” or “fairly important” in their lives. A full 92% believe in God, and nearly 70% report being either “very religious” or “moderately religious” (Gallup, 2011, 2015).
A recent Pew Research Center (Lugo, 2012) survey found that even among those who report no specific religious affiliation, more than half self- identify as a religious or spiritual person. More than a third of those who are unaffiliated (37%) self-identify as “spiritual, but not religious,” and about 15% to 30% of individuals in the general population report being in this category (Lugo, 2012; Marler & Hadaway, 2002; Moore, 2003).
Religion and Spirituality and Psychological Health
Research has shown that for many people, spiritual and religious beliefs and practices (SRBPs; Saunders, Miller, & Bright, 2010) are intertwined with psychological and emotional well-being. Spirituality and religion substantially color the way people understand themselves and the world around them, including their values, morals, and behaviors, their stance or orientation toward other people, their feelings of happiness and safety, their capacities for forgiveness and gratitude, their level of social support and engagement, and how they interpret the meaning of events and situations, including their approach to illness and death in themselves and others (Emmons & Paloutzian, 2003; Norenzayan, Dar-Nimrod, Hansen, & Proulx, 2009; Park, 2013; Schultz, Tallman, & Alt- maier, 2010; Tay, Li, Myers, & Diener, 2014; Vallurupalli et al., 2012).
Spiritual and religious beliefs and practices qualify as aspects of human diversity equivalent in importance to race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Based on the ethical codes that have guided our field for over a decade, psychologists should receive training in competencies related to religion and spirituality just as the field of psychology now requires for other forms of cultural competence.
For instance, according to the APA Ethics Code (American Psychological Association, 2003) psychologists should consider religious diversity as they do other forms of diversity such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation:
Psychologists are aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role differences, including those based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status and consider these factors when working with members of such groups. (p. 1063)
Furthermore, the APA Guidelines on Multi- cultural Education, Training, Research, Prac- tice, and Organizational Change for Psychologists (American Psychological Association, 2003) identify religion and spirituality as important aspects of multiculturalism that should be included in cultural competency training, defining culture as “the embodiment of a world- view through learned and transmitted beliefs, values, and practices, including religious and spiritual traditions” (p. 8).
In 2007, APA adopted a comprehensive “Resolution on Religious, Religion-Based and/or Religion-Derived Prejudice,” condemning prejudice and discrimination against individuals or groups based on their SRBPs and resolving to include information on religious/spiritual prejudice and discrimination in multicultural and diversity training material and activities (American Psychological Association, 2007a).
Attention to spirituality and religion as components of multicultural diversity is inade quate, with most of the focus in training on ethnic and racial diversity (Frazier & Hansen, 2009). For example, Nagai (2008) found that clinicians’ self-ratings were much higher for ethnic/racial cultural competence compared to their ratings of spiritual competence.
Avoidance of Religion and Spirituality in Clinical Practice
A survey of more than 300 clinical psychologists on a mailing list of randomly selected APA members who had a doctorate in clinical psychology and were practicing clinicians found that these psychologists discuss religion and spirituality with only 30% of their clients, and fewer than half address clients’ SRBPs in any way during assessment or treatment planning (Hathaway et al., 2004).
Why is this the case? It does not appear to be because of lack of interest. Psychotherapists indicate an openness to engage the topic of religious and spiritual issues with clients (Brown, Elkonin, & Naicker, 2013; Knox, Cat- lin, Casper, & Schlosser, 2005) and a survey of college counselors revealed that more than 70% were open to in-session discussions of religious and spiritual issues (Weinstein, Parker, & Ar- cher, 2002). Moreover, clients report that they would like to discuss religious and spiritual matters in psychotherapy (Goedde, 2000; Post & Wade, 2009). Most clients want to be asked about their SRBPs (Blanton, 2005; Diallo, 2012; Knox et al., 2005; Oxhandler & Parga- ment, 2014; Post & Wade, 2009). For example, in a survey of clients (N 74) from nine different counseling centers, Rose, Westefeld, and Ansely (2001) found that 55% of clients wanted to discuss religious/spiritual concerns with their psychotherapist and 63% thought it was appropriate to do so.
Avoidance of religion and spirituality in clinical practice may instead be attributable to the fact that most psychologists receive little education or training in how to ethically and effectively attend to religious and spiritual domains in clinical practice, or guidance about the extent to and methods by which they should incorporate this dimension into their work.
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Mental health systems in this country are undergoing a quiet revolution. Former patients and other advocates are working with mental health providers and government agencies to incorporate spirituality into mental healthcare.
While the significance of spirituality in substance abuse treatment has been acknowledged for many years due to widespread recognition of the therapeutic value of 12-step programs, this is a new development in the treatment of serious mental disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
The incorporation of spirituality into treatment is part of the recovery model which has become widely accepted in the US and around the world. In 1999, the Surgeon General, in a landmark report on mental health, urged that all mental health systems adopt the recovery model.
The medical model tends to define recovery in negative terms (e.g., symptoms and complaints that need to be eliminated, disorders that need to be cured or removed). Mark Ragins observed that focusing on recovery does not discount the seriousness of the conditions:
“For severe mental illness it may seem almost dishonest to talk about recovery. After all, the conditions are likely to persist, in at least some form, indefinitely. . . The way out of this dilemma is by realizing that, whereas the illness is the object of curative treatment efforts, it is the persons themselves who are the objects of recovery efforts.”
Recovery from a mental disorder is experienced by many people as part of their spiritual journey. This was eloquently expressed by Jay Mahler, Program Director of the Mental Health Division of Contra Costa County:
“The whole medical vocabulary puts us in the role of a ‘labeled’ diagnosed victim. . . . But as they go through trial and error to control your symptoms, it doesn’t take a genius to realize they haven’t got the answers. No clue about cures! And oh boy, those side effects! I don’t say medications can’t help, or that treatments won’t have value.But, what I do say is that my being aware that I’m on a spiritual journey empowers me to deal with the big, human ‘spiritual’ questions, like: ‘Why is this happening to me? Will I ever be the same again? Is there a place for me in this world? Can my experience of life be made livable? If I can’t be cured can I be recovering, even somewhat? Has my God abandoned me?’ We who have it have to wonder whether what remains constitutes a life worth living. That’s my spiritual journey, that wondering. That’s my search.”
Sally Clay, who was hospitalized at the Hartford Institute of Living with schizophrenia, writes: “My recovery had nothing to do with the talk therapy, the drugs, or the electroshock treatments I had received; more likely, it happened in spite of these things. My recovery did have something to do with the devotional services I had been attending. . . I was cured instantly— healed if you will—as a direct result of a spiritual experience.”
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By David Lukoff
My initiation into spirituality both personally and professionally began with some lived experience in my early 20s that provided me with both a mental health challenge (during which I benefitted greatly from a 5-year course of psychotherapy with a psychologist figuring out what led me to believe for 2 months that I was a reincarnation of Buddha and Christ writing a new holy book) and a spiritual awakening that led me from being an atheist to becoming a spiritual seeker. As Beebe (1981) pointed out, “Psychosis introduces the individual to themes, conflicts, and resolutions that may be pursued through the entire religious, spiritual, philosophical and artistic history of humanity” (p. 252). I read Jung and Joseph Campbell to understand the larger cultural and psychological context of my non-ordinary experiences (Grof, 1993). I started a meditation practice and attended retreats with Lamas and Zen Masters, took qigong courses, and studied Medicine Wheel teachings and ceremonies with Wallace Black Elk, a Lakota Medicine Man. Ultimately, this spiritual quest led me to fulfill the archetype of a wounded healer by becoming a clinical psychologist (for a fuller account see Lukoff, 1991, 2013).
In my American Psychological Association approved graduate psychology program in the mid 1970s, I was told that if clients wanted to talk about religious issues (the term spirituality was not in common use back then), we should refer them to a pastoral counselor or religious professional. This was an appropriate approach for meeting APA ethical standards pertaining to competence since at my school, as is still true of most schools, students were not prepared to work with religious and spiritual issues (Vieten et al., 2013). However, I had already begun a meditation practice and taken courses in Qigong before starting graduate school. When it was time to choose a dissertation topic, I designed a study of a holistic health program for patients with schizophrenia that included meditation and yoga as well as sessions that focused on comparing the experiences of group members with those of shamans, mystics, and artists (Lukoff et al., 1986). Early in my career I identified as a transpersonal psychologist because of my interest in spirituality and mindfulness practices that were absent in mainstream psychology at the time. Currently I am the co- president of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology.
My introduction to formally assessing spirituality came 10 years later when, as a psychologist at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, I began leading a dual diagnosis group. The patients were required to be in a community 12-step group, but in the group therapy sessions, it became clear that many of the patients had not made any connection to a higher power or other key elements of the 12-step program. They attended only to comply with the mandate of the program.
I initiated a group called Finding Your Higher Power co-led with the VA chaplain, a Lutheran minister, and offered individual sessions to patients who wanted to look at prior religious wounds or explore options for new spiritual paths. To conduct the individual psychotherapy, I felt the need to make a more thorough spiritual assessment. In 1988, psychology did not have much to offer in this area. I was able to obtain a copy of the pastoral counseling Spiritual Needs Assessment from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital (Washington, DC). There were also some models from the nursing literature (Stoll, 1979) and pastoral counseling literature (Hay, 1989) that were useful in creating a spiritual assessment that included family of origin religious history, current beliefs and practices, and important spiritual experiences. Because it was only a composite of other interviews, I have not included it here.
In 1994, I was one of the coauthors of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition (DSM–IV) category Religious or Spiritual Problem (American Psychiatric Association, 1994; Lukoff, Lu, & Turner, 1992, 1998) that served as one of the openings in the field for integrating spirituality in mental health. I began receiving requests to conduct training related to spirituality. My workshops have always incorporated training in spiritual assessment as the first step to including, or even knowing whether to include, a spiritual component in a client’s psychotherapy, wellness, or recovery plans. I initially used the spiritual assessment interview from my dual diagnosis work, but clinicians often expressed concern that they did not have time to do such a comprehensive spiritual assessment during intake sessions. Although there are a number of well-validated instruments for measuring specific dimensions of religious and spiritual coping, well-being, and qualities such as intrinsic versus extrinsic, none are designed for routine clinical use (Hill & Edwards, 2013).
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ABOUT THE BLOG: Sofia University has been training clinicians, spiritual guides, wellness caregivers, and consultants who choose to apply transpersonal principles and values in a variety of settings for over 40 years. Our students, alumni and faculty have a wealth of information to share. Please enjoy this topic that highlights some of the teachings featured at Sofia University.
Shamanic techniques as a model for Earth-based psychospiritual interventions
PsyD graduate student David Christy wrote a scientific scholarly paper about shamanic techniques as a model for Earth-based psychospiritual interventions. Spiritually oriented psychology seeks to foster mental health and overall wellbeing using techniques derived from clients’ faith traditions (Richards & Worthington, 2010). Most of the research in this field has focused on interventions rooted in Abrahamic traditions or on increasing spirituality in general (Hook et al., 2010). This paper argues that culturally congruent psychospiritual interventions are needed for people with earth-based belief systems. It then presents shamanic techniques as examples of interventions well suited for psychotherapy with these populations. This paper provides (a) an introduction to spiritually oriented psychology; (b) proposes that there is a need for earth-based psychospiritual interventions; (c) examines shamanic techniques and associated health outcomes; (d) overviews psychological mechanisms that may underlie these practices; (e) examines areas for future research; and (f) discusses ways these techniques could be integrated into a spiritually oriented therapeutic practice.
According to Gallup (2002) polls, the U.S. population is becoming increasingly spiritual and religious: approximately 95% of the United States population reported belief in God, and more than half believe in an after-life. The religious and spiritual beliefs of the public are also becoming increasingly eclectic – 24% of the overall public indicated they sometimes attend religious services of a faith different from their own, and nearly half of the public has reported having had a religious or mystical experience, up from 22% in 1962 (Pew, 2009). Psychologists have studied the roles religion and spirituality (R/S) play in people’s lives for some time; recently the field has begun to pay greater attention to how R/S can positively impact mental health and facilitate growth. In an early article arguing for this scientific examination of R/S, Miller and Thoresen (2003) linked R/S variables with health outcomes, discussed how to operationalize the terms and advocated for further research into this area of psychology.
Miller and Thorsen (2003) described spirituality and religion as distinct but related constructs, characterizing religion as a primarily social phenomenon and spirituality as an individual’s engagement with the sacred. Miller and Thorsen’s article presented an objectivist approach to studying R/S. This approach assumes that the phenomena studied (e.g. religious and spiritual beliefs) can be examined as external objects independent of the observer. The approach also assumes that a systematic analysis of R/S phenomena will lead to universal conclusions. Objectivist approaches are often contrasted with constructivist approaches. Constructivist approaches study human behavior within the contexts and relationships in which it occurs, assuming that that the phenomena studied cannot be separated from the observer (Parks, 2003). Many authors have advocated including constructivist approaches to working with spiritual and religious issues, especially when working with people from religious and ethnic minority groups (McCabe, 2007; Parks, 2003; Yeh, Hunter, Madan-Bahel, Chiang, & Arora, 2004). Harley (2006) discussed the need for health care models that embrace both paradigms, noting that the biomedical model is “not well equipped to analyze the experiential or political dimensions of health, especially those of indigenous healing knowledge embedded in alternative epistemologies” (p. 436).
Therapists working with these populations, or with clients holding earth-based and eclectic R/S beliefs need to be able to provide culturally congruent interventions. Counselors should be aware that clients who embrace shamanic techniques may also utilize other spiritual practices, rituals, and work with faith healers as a part of their healing. Therapists who wish to understand the belief systems of such clients might look to the theoretical framework of participatory empiricism as a way of understanding how energy work, rituals, or shamanic journeys done by others may help their clients in their healing process.
Research is beginning to show that using these techniques on their own can result in increased health outcomes. To date the studies examining the efficacy of these techniques have been small and these findings should be seen as tentative until more research has been conducted.
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