At the Threshold: An essay on transformation within the internal culture of the artist.

Diane-Meyer-header-680x167About the Author

Diane Lucille Meyer, PH.D. received her doctorate in psychology with a concentration in Transpersonal Psychology and a Certificate in Creative Expression in 2013 from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University.  Her dissertation research focused on transformation through the creative process. 

Diane’s  evolution as an artist began at the very early age of 4 with dance, moving on to theater, and finally painting at the age of 22 with water and watercolor. It was 1975 when that creative urging, and what [Professor Emerita at Sofia University] Rosemarie Anderson (Anderson & Braud, 2011) calls “beloveds”, (art) found a home in me. “Beloveds” are not only intimates but those occurrences, places, and curiosities in life that claim a person before he even knows them well. This yearning to understand is Eros or love in pure form because the intuitive inquirer wants to know his beloved topic fully. (p. 16) The article below was partially reposted from her blog here Diane Lucille Meyer, Ph.D.


At the Threshold

“It seems one can pick up the art of a village through one’s bodily participation in its ceremonies” (May, 1985, p. 15). This quote speaks to the holistic and multimodal nature of culture as it connects to psychology and religion in that the experiences within these cultural frameworks are “socially shared illusions” (Belzen, 2010, p. 50). I would take this one step further and say that the experience in an artistic cultural framework is the same. Matsumoto (2001) contends that within the cultural psychological perspective, mind emerges in the joint mediated activity of people co-constructed and then passed on by the culture (p. 19). Culture emerges from individuals interacting with their natural and human environment. This is reflected in the art, music, architecture and literature as byproducts of this emergence.

street-art-1183812_1920A work of art carries the distinction of the artist’s internal culture. The artist’s internal environment is comprised of systems and beliefs developed and acquired through personal crises, and with that at play becomes the primary motivation to most creative endeavors.

Internal Cultures

With the understanding that mind and culture are in constant dialogue, the illusive and ever changing nature of culture comes to light. Culture is continuously developing in context and meaning as we advance as humans, and within each individual culture there exists constant change and evolution. It is in this movement toward individual culture that an artist evolves. In other words, within larger and colliding cultures individuals sculpt their own deeply personal internal cultures.

John Stuart Mill (Goldstone, 2006) believed that the ‘internal culture of the individual’ was ‘among the prime necessitate of human well-being’ (p. 1). Mill was a British philosopher, economist, moral and political theorist, and administrator. He is considered the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the 1800’s. His writings are considered among the deepest and certainly the most effective defenses of empiricism and of a liberal political view of society and culture. His father, also a philosopher, who kept him home and isolated from other children, rigidly raised Mill. Emotion was regarded with contempt; Mill was confined to an environment of extreme detachment.

  • I thus grew up in the absence of love and the presence of fear: and many & indelible are the effects of this bringing up, in the stunting of my moral growth (Mill in Stillinger 1961, as cited in Goldstone, 2006, p. 2).

In Mill’s childhood there was no room for emotion. The immediate culture in which he lived was difficult, he grew to understand the value of developing his own internal culture, to turn his attention inward toward the cultivation of character. In doing this he recounted:

  • I found the fabric of my old and taught opinions giving way in many fresh places, and I never allowed it to fall to pieces, but was incessantly occupied in weaving it anew. I never, in the course of my transition, was content to remain, for ever so short a time, confused and unsettled. When I had taken in any new ideas, I could not rest till I had adjusted its relation to my old opinions, and ascertained exactly how far its effect ought to extend in modifying or superseding them. (Goldstone, 2006, p. 5)

Mill’s account of his process of creating a new and deeply personal internal culture perfectly illustrates this experience as it would happen for an artist.

Konner, (Kitayama & Cohen, 2007, p. 77) reminds us that no human child can develop without culture. Culture seems to be intimately connected to the life force on the planet. As life force being creative force, we then understand that creativity and art are the life force of culture.

Matthew Fox (2005) makes the point that creativity existed before humans, “[it] is not a human invention or a human power isolated from the other powers of the universe” (p. 30). Creativity is the universal energy that is activated by the provoking and prodding of life.  When we are confronted with sorrows and joys, as “deep heart” experiences (p. 45) we are broken open and made available creatively.

In viewing culture as an ethos of an organism, an outcome of process, dialogue, and emotion it is easy to see how these dialogues flow and evolve outward into the art and symbols that are reflected within the indigenous environment. Returning to the concept of a socially shared illusion, a vision of visions (Belzen, 2010, p. 50), and emerging from history and narrative, I am tempted to envision the comparative analogy of a painting environment. Each stroke of paint, containing color, weight, emotion builds up the surface until a culture, in a sense, is compiled. Within that environment a dialogue takes place, stroke responding to stroke, artist to image and memories, and emotion to human spirit.

It is the dialogue between culture and emotion that is the essence of our artistic inquiry, and externally expressed to create further dialogue. Within these dialogues we examine nature of beauty and the essence of the human spirit, Maja Rode (2000) offers that “it is our willingness to continue asking, to continue inquiring that provides the fertile ground for these repeated, deepening insights” (p. 70). Our concept of beauty evolves with culture and human emotion through our willingness……….

The creative break

  • People scream and gasp at horror movies, cheer when the underdog clobbers the evil power, cry when the lady dies bravely. If you ask people whether what is happening on the screen is really happening, most of them will look at you askance and say, “Of course not!” (The intellectuals will ask what you mean by “real.”) Cognitively, they “know” that no one was hurt, that the monster was just a special effect, yet their emotions seem real. Their own well-being as never at stake; they do not need to cope with the perils before them; they are sitting in chairs in a comfortable environment surrounded by other people sitting in chairs. How can they be experiencing emotion if they lack the essential cognitive appraisals? (Ellsworth, 1984, p. 192)

woman-2526183_1920Phoebe Ellsworth (1984) presents an interesting phenomenon when she discusses the emotional responses we experience when we view films or listen to music. Ellsworth views emotion as a process that begins with a distraction or a change, registered at the point of entry into the body (i.e. listening, seeing, physical sensation, or smell). She refers to this as the “state of preparedness,” “alert attention,” or the beginning of emotion (p. 193). Once the change is recognized and named (culturally or contextually) the feeling is changed. Ellsworth maintains that emotion begins at the precognitive level and is a process that takes place over time. So by this we are led to suppose that emotion originates in a pre-rational, suspended state only to be sorted out by cultural explanations, expectations, and experiences:

  • One’s answer to the question of minimal cognitive prerequisites depends on one’s definition of cognition and on one’s definition of emotion. . . If sensory information processing is considered cognitive, then most if not all emotions will show some “cognitive” contribution. If one defines cognition as involving conscious propositional analysis, then a larger proportion of emotional experiences will be defined as noncognitive, at least at their onset. (Ellsworth, 1984, p. 193)

Some would argue that emotions are based on appraisals, or cognitive associations and values instilled in an individual through cultures, environmental factors, memories; Ellsworth presents that there is also evidence against the proposition that there are any cognitive prerequisites to emotion. Although I believe both are true, for the artist and one experiencing art of any medium, emotion begins at a level where one agrees to suspend their cognitive prerequisites, agrees to accept the “distraction or change” in an open and minimally systemized pre-rational state, in other words, a cognitive process to suspend cognitive rules or patterns. At that point, the work of art sets the “cultural rules” the allowable appraisals evoking emotion through the artistic environment. We can then participate using the cognitive processes we use in “real” situations.

Where appraisal theorists have difficulty is in coordinating passages in music with particular emotions (Ellsworth, 1984, p. 195). We know people experience emotions from listening to music such as “sad,” “fearful, “ “triumphant,” and “happy”. Ellsworth suggests that these responses would not be accounted for by appraisals of the music, that stimulus appraisals do not cause the emotions, but become part of the emotion. She suggests that eventually there may be a way to find cross-cultural commonalities in emotion by looking at pre-appraisal responses.

As one who experiences art, we can validate the influence of deliberately employed appraisals, but as one who is making art this presents a greater mystery.

Did you find this section of her paper intriguing? You can read the full article on Diane’s website blog.


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Since 1975, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University has continued to be an international leader and pioneer, moving humanity forward in the areas of transpersonal research and transpersonal education. training clinicians, spiritual guides, wellness caregivers, and consultants who apply transpersonal principles and values in a variety of settings.  The ITP/Sofia educational model offers students not only a solid intellectual foundation, but an extraordinary opportunity for deep transformational growth and personal experience of the subject matter. How does the University accomplish this? The university builds upon its strong, whole-person psychological foundation to give students a greater understanding of the human condition. Learn more about our university


What’s the Most Effective Way to Reach Enlightenment? Dr. Jeffery Martin has an idea.

Non Dual Awareness, Enlightenment and Mystical Experiences – They’ve Been Around for A Very Long Time

“A category of human experience has been reported in the writings of philosophers and mystics since antiquity (Hanson, 1991; Stace, 1960). It goes by many names, including: nondual awareness, enlightenment, mystical experience, peak experience, transcendental experience, the peace that passeth understanding, unity consciousness, union with God, and so forth (Levin & Steele, 2005; MacDonald, 2000; Thomas & Cooper, 1980). These types of experiences, referred to collectively in this paper as Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience (PNSE), are often reported in spiritual and religious individuals; however, atheists and agnostics also report them (Newberg, d’Aquili, & Rause, 2001; Newberg & Waldman, 2006, 2009).

Virtually all information about these experiences comes from highly variable self-report data (McGinn, 1991; Stace, 1960). These types of experiences have traditionally been regarded as very difficult to examine scientifically. ” Jeffery A. Martin, A Continuum of Persistent Non-Symbolic Experiences in Adults, 2013

How Do You Get There?

In the video below, Dr. Jeffery Martin shares the scientific research with over 1,000 people who experience various forms of persistent non-symbolic experience have taught us about enlightenment, nonduality, and awakening, and how we’re able to help over 70% people reach these types of ongoing experience.

More information is at,, and

About Dr. Jeffery Martin

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-5-22-16-pmDr. Jeffery A. Martin is a faculty member at Sofia University, as well as a CIIS and Harvard trained social scientist who researches personal transformation, and is a leading expert on non-symbolic consciousness (extraordinary well-being, enlightenment, nonduality, mystical experience, etc.). He specializes in bringing rigorous empirical research and testing to transformational techniques and theories that have previously been supported anecdotally. Jeffery’s academic focuses include: technology, psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, and transformative studies. A bestselling author and award winning educator, he has co-edited, authored, or co-authored over 20 books and numerous other publications; appeared in a wide variety of media; and lectured broadly in both academic and public forums.

In addition to his research and academic interests, Dr. Jeffery A. Martin is a successful entrepreneur, technologist, and business leader who has founded and sold companies in the technology, media, real estate, and wellness sectors. He currently serves in a variety of equity-based advisory positions for a range of companies within these industries.

Exploring Persistent Non-Symbolic Experiences


Excerpt from Clusters of Individual Experiences form a Contiuum of Persistent Non-Symbolic Experiences in Adults by Jeffrey A. Martin of Sofia University’s Transformative Technology Lab

Persistent forms of nondual awareness, enlightenment, mystical experience, and so forth
(Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience) have been reported since antiquity. Though sporadic research has been performed on them, the research reported here represents the initial report from the first larger scale cognitive psychology study of this population.
A category of human experience has been reported in the writings of philosophers and mystics since antiquity (Hanson, 1991; Stace, 1960). It goes by many names, including: nondual awareness, enlightenment, mystical experience, peak experience, transcendental experience, the peace that passeth understanding, unity consciousness, union with God, and so forth ( Levin & Steele, 2005; MacDonald, 2000; Thomas & Cooper, 1980).
These types of experiences, referred to collectively in this paper as Persistent Non -Symbolic Experience (PNSE), are often reported in spiritual and religious individuals; however, atheists and agnostics also report them (Newberg, d’Aquili, & Rause, 2001; Newberg & Waldman, 2006, 2009).
image source: unknown
Virtually all information about these experiences comes from a highly variable self-reported data (McGinn, 1991; Stace, 1960). These types of experiences have traditionally been regarded as very difficult to examine scientifically. Given the number and range of research tools available it seems increasingly possible to rigorously examine these types of psychological claims. The present research set out to determine testable claims and collect detailed first person data in a way that side-stepped the religious, cultural, and other contextual ways in which PNSE is often described. Questions were asked that related to: sense of self, cognition, emotion, memory, and perception. The results suggested that similar psychological claims, in distinct groupings, were present across individuals self-reporting PNSE. These distinct groupings each appeared to offer a specific flavor of the experience.
Defining the Phrase: Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience (PNSE)
It was difficult to gain cooperation from this research population. They generally believed they would not and could not be understood scientifically. Finding language that did not push them away during their initial introduction to the research program was extremely important. Over the course of the research I tested a wide variety of words and phrases to find one that wold be widely accepted by them.
image source: Alex Grey
The term non-symbolic was derived from Cook-Greuter’s (2000) research involving ego development and transcendence. While she generally favored the word postsymbolic, she used a term related to non-symbolic in a 2000 paper, in the following context:
Eastern psychologies have often pointed to the nonsymbolically mediated, or immediate ways of knowing as the only kind of knowing that can lead to enlightenment or true insight into human nature. In fact, they cnsider our additiction to language-mediated, discursive thought as a major hurdle in realizing the true or divine Self, or union with the Ground. (Cook-Greuter, p.230).
To read more of this article, click here.

Study Reveals Benefits of Vacation and Meditation

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 6.04.02 PMThe meditation program included in this study was designed by Deepak Chopra, MD, who did not participate in data collection or analysis. Dr. Chopra was recently appointed Professor of Consciousness Studies here at Sofia University. The study below was funded by the non-profit The Chopra Foundation, and Marc and Lynn Benioff.

Scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the University of California, San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School used a rigorous study design to assess the biological impact of meditation compared to vacation.

They examined the effect of meditation on gene expression patterns in both novice and regular mediators. The researchers found that a resort vacation provides a strong and immediate impact on molecular networks associated with stress and immune pathways, in addition to short-term improvements in well-being, as measured by feelings of vitality and distress.

A meditation retreat, for those who already used meditation regularly, was associated with molecular networks characterized by antiviral activity. The molecular signature of long-term meditators was distinct from the non-meditating vacationers. The study was published today in Springer Nature’s journal Translational Psychiatry.

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The study involved 94 healthy women, aged 30-60. Sixty-four women were recruited who were not regular meditators. Participants stayed at the same resort in California for six days, and randomized so that half were simply on vacation while the other half joined a meditation training program run by the Chopra Center for Well Being.

For greater insight into the long-term effects of what scientists dubbed the “meditation effect” compared to the “vacation effect,” the team also studied a group of 30 experienced meditators who were already enrolled in the retreat that week. Researchers collected blood samples, and surveys, from all participants immediately before and after their stay, as well as surveys one month and ten months later.

“In the spirit of other research efforts we have pioneered with other groups, this work underscores the importance of studies focused on healthy people,” said Eric Schadt, PhD, senior author on the paper and the Jean C. and James W. Crystal Professor of Genomics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Founding Director of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology. “By combining an interrogation of gene networks with advanced data analysis and statistics, we have generated clinically meaningful information about stress and aging that is relevant to the broader population.”

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 5.57.44 PM

The research team examined the changes in 20,000 genes to determine which types of genes were changing before and after the resort experience. Scientists performed an integrative transcriptomic analysis, comparing gene expression networks across all three groups of participants and finding unique molecular profiles and pathway enrichment patterns.

Study results show that all groups — novice meditators, experienced meditators, and vacationers — had significant changes in molecular network patterns after the week at the resort, with a clear signature distinguishing baseline from post-vacation biology. The most notable changes in gene activity were related to stress response and immune function.

Researchers assessed self-reported measures of well being. While all groups showed improvements up to one month later, the novice meditators had fewer symptoms of depression and less stress much longer than the non-meditating vacationers. The psychological effects appear to be enduring and it is unknown how much of this longer lasting benefit may be due to continued practice or lasting changes in how people view events in their lives.

“It’s intuitive that taking a vacation reduces biological processes related to stress, but it was still impressive to see the large changes in gene expression from being away from the busy pace of life, in a relaxing environment, in such a short period of time. These findings will have to be replicated to see if the changes are reliably invoked under the same circumstances, in future studies, and compared to an at-home control group,” said Elissa S. Epel, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco and first author of the study.

“Based on our results, the benefit we experience from meditation isn’t strictly psychological; there is a clear and quantifiable change in how our bodies function,” said Rudolph Tanzi, PhD, the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Meditation seems to provide relief for our immune systems, easing the day-to-day stress of a body constantly trying to protect itself. The prediction is that this would then lead to healthier aging.”

About the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is an international leader in medical and scientific training, biomedical research, and patient care. It is the medical school for the Mount Sinai Health System, an integrated health care system which includes seven hospitals and an expanding ambulatory network serving approximately 4 million patients per year.

The School has more than 1,800 students in MD, PhD, and Master’s programs and post-doctoral fellowships; more than 5,600 faculty members; over 2,000 residents and fellows; and 23 clinical and research institutes and 34 academic departments. It is ranked among the highest in the nation in National Institutes of Health funding per principal investigator. The School was the first medical school in the country to create a progressive admissions approach for students who seek early assurance of admission through the FlexMed program.

The Graduate School of Biomedical Science trains PhD and MD/PhD students, and offers master’s-level programs in areas such as genetic counseling, clinical research, biomedical sciences, and public health, and an online master’s degree in health care delivery leadership. The seamless connections between our medical school, graduate school, and hospital campuses provide an extraordinary environment for translating scientific discoveries into clinical treatments.

For more information, visit or find the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

Paper cited:

Elissa S. Epel, et al. Meditation and vacation effects impact disease-associated molecular phenotypes. Translational Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1038/tp.2016.164

The Benefits of Communing with Nature

from Intentional Kayaking: Awakening to Intimacy Within the Natural World by Nancy Rowe, Ph.D.

Intimacy Within our Earth Community: An Introduction to this Exploration

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 2.21.01 PM

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).

Perhaps we are searching for our true home, our place within “the family of things” (Oliver, 1992) or for a wholesome connection to our outer landscape that embraces both individual and planetary life. As Linda Hogan (1995) expressed in her book, Dwellings,
We are looking for a tongue that speaks with reverence of life,
searching for an ecology of mind. Without it, we have no home,
have no place of our own within creation. … We want a language that… returns us to our own sacredness, to a self-love and respect that will
carry out to others. (p. 60)
This article blends personal quest with scholarship from transpersonal psychology, spirituality, nature writing, and philosophy. It highlights the results of a thematic
content analysis of journal entries made during a week of kayaking with the expressed intention of being in better relationship with a specific lake community. I share how this act shifted my lived experience of being part of the lake community and how this contributed to a more transpersonal and conscious engagement with my immediate environment. Finally, I make the case that we can all achieve this intimacy by cultivating what Maslow (1970) referred to as the plateau-experience, and by incorporating the wisdom of mystics and nature writers.
11215741555_cebfb17859_bPeak Experiences in Nature
What are peak experiences and how do they contribute to awakening to intimacy within the natural world? Peak experiences have been described as feelings of love, well-being, awe, wonder, unity, awareness, and higher consciousness. They come on suddenly and last only a short time, although their effect can last a life time (Maslow, 2011). These transpersonal moments can be triggered through a variety of experiences, such as sports, sex, meditation, nature encounters, creative exploration, and meditation (Taylor, 2012). They have been characterized by “euphoria, noesis, harmony or union with the universe, a profound sense of beauty and love, and ineffability” (Davis, 1998).
Peak experiences often result in increased clarity and compassion as well as refined levels of beauty and truth (Swan 2010). People who have been awakened in these sudden ways sometimes report an increased love of nature, fresh life perspectives, and transformed lives (Coburn, 2006;  Laski, 1962; Swan, 1990).
Poets have often portrayed peak experiences as moments of ecstasy and deep mystical experiences (Frager & Fadiman, 2005). Many scholars believe that peak experiences cannot be created but can be triggered by an experience such as an intense, inspiring occurrence (Frager & Fadiman, 2005; Goswami, 1993 ) or amplified by places such as sacred sites (Swan, 1990). Taylor (2012), who has preferred to use the term “awakening experiences” (p. 74), suggested that certain conditions are conducive for having peak experiences and proposes a psychological-energetic theory of awakening.

These awakening experiences include moments when perceptions and awareness become more intensified and expanded.

Five key themes—harmony, connectedness, intention, aliveness, and reciprocity of process—emerged from their phenomenological study, and they proposed that these themes might be true in other encounters with cetaceans and possibly universal to all wild-animal- triggered peaks. They concluded that “connecting with another being, and ultimately, being fully connected with oneself, is the underlying desire of the cetacean-
triggered peak experience” (p. 169) and that this experience can bring a sense of reciprocity, harmony, aliveness, and connectedness to the human participant.
About Nancy Rowe, Ph.D.: Nancy Rowe is the chairperson for Sofia University’s Global Master of Arts in Transpersonal Psychology program. In addition to teaching, Nancy’s research has led her to develop the curriculum for the new Eco-Psychology specialization within the Global MA in Transpersonal Psychology program.

Could Spirituality Help People Recover from Serious Mental Disorders?

By David Lukoff, PhD.

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 incordavid-lukoff-222x196.jpgporate 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.

images-1.jpegThe 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.images-2.jpegBut, 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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From personal experience to clinical practice to research: A career path leading to public policy changes in integrating spirituality into mental health.

By David Lukoff

images.jpegMy 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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