Spirituality and religion are interlinked. Spirituality is a broad concept and is the process of connecting to the divine. When we relate our beliefs and cultural system to a supernatural power like God, we are considered to follow that religion. Counseling is a collaborative process where a counselor assists and guides the patient to resolve personal, social, or psychological issues in a one to one interaction. Due to their inherent attributes, the role of spirituality and religion in counseling and psychotherapy will prove to be very effective.
Spirituality and Religion
Spirituality helps in finding the meaning of life. Some people think that their spiritual life is associated with their place of worship, while others feel comfortable in a personal relationship with God. A few also believe that spirituality is a connection with nature or art. The understanding of spirituality may change throughout life based on experiences and relationships. Spirituality is not a specific practice. It is a way of managing body, mind, emotions, and energies in our life.
Our spirituality and religious beliefs start developing in the early stages of our lives and slowly mature as we grow. It helps in decision-making and reflects in our social interaction with others. Our beliefs also affect our mental health.
Religion creates a base for our morals and values. This, in turn, helps us decide what is right or what is wrong and makes us a religious person.
Everyone faces challenges in life. Challenges bring down our morale, physical level, and spiritual level. Technically speaking, a counselor is an ‘adviser’ who works with the patient to solve the latter’s problems. For example, spiritual guidance or financial planning is also a type of counseling. The collaborative effort provided to that person by helping him understand his problem vis-à-vis his inner self to come out of that situation is counseling. In the process, that person tries to analyze his problem himself keeping in view his strengths and weaknesses. He looks into the future, chalks out a plan for himself, and gets back to his everyday life.
‘Bhagwad Gita’, the holy scripture in Hindu mythology, is the most remarkable example of counseling. As the story goes, the Pandava Arjun decided not to fight against his own relatives and revered teachers. That’s when lord Krishna counseled him in the middle of the battlefield. Krishna explained to him what is right and what is wrong in life. The sermon of Krishna made Arjun realize the truth. Arjun got ready to perform his karma of fighting for justice, even though it was still against his relatives and teachers.
Counseling is a broader term, whereas psychotherapy is a psychological process. In psychotherapy, a professional helps a person through talk therapy to help him understand his feelings and emotions and other related problems. The patient gets equipped to overcome his present difficulties and get ready to face future challenges.
Broadly during this process, the professional relates to the patient’s psychological problem. The professional tries to understand his situation by helping the patient to speak more and more. This way, the patient also gets aware of the issues himself. When both arrive at a conclusion, the professional suggests methods to overcome the problem. It leads to personal growth.
In counseling, the patient is treated for a long-term specific problem, like an addiction. It helps the person to strengthen his mental health and also to come back to a normal routine. As compared to psychotherapy, counseling is a shorter process.
Where is the world heading?
Mankind is getting greedy, selfish, and jealous. It is leading to frustration and animosity throughout the world.
The fundamental question is how to slow these increasing negativities in society?
Efforts can be made to reduce the negativities so that impacted human beings can come back to everyday life to realize their goals.
As discussed earlier, the two instruments, counseling and psychotherapy, can help individuals face their challenges and overcome them. The role of spirituality and religion in counseling and psychotherapy is quite evident.
Role of spirituality and religion in counseling and psychotherapy
When we look into the basic tenets of spirituality, we find that spirituality helps build the individual’s overall inner well-being. It strengthens the body, mind, and soul, which are internal to any individual. Are we not doing the same when we help the persons in distress to come out through counseling?
As a part of treatment, the patient goes for prayer, joins a religious community, reads sacred writings and journal writing, etc. The patients can also meditate to know their inner selves.
There is an overlapping of understanding of spirituality and religion. Spirituality is one level above religion in terms of human values. All religions propagate the same message of love, compassion, and forgiveness as essential values for our survival. For them, compassion and God is the same. Spirituality is an attitude that makes people calmer, happier, and more peaceful. Spirituality addresses the mind, body, and spirit through counseling and plays a significant role in human life.
Spiritual leaders have shown evidence and ways to find the purpose of our lives on earth. It helps us regain one’s own powers of thinking, feeling, deciding, willing, and acting. Religion helps to nourish the spirit of human beings and reduces conflict and suffering in the world. The outcome is creating belongingness with others and their acceptance, leading to hope in difficult times. The religious and spiritual way of life helps live life fully. It motivates us to turn our beliefs into action.
Counseling helps the individual to gain insight into their inner strength. This allows them to look into and resolve their problems.
Keeping in view the role of spirituality and religion in counseling and psychotherapy, there is a need to integrate them up to the clinical level. Although psychotherapists have realized the use of incorporating religious values in their treatment, they move with a note of caution because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Further, it requires a focused training of the professionals in this area. Although this article focuses on spirituality and religion in counseling and psychotherapy, therapy also helps an atheist.
How it works?
In real life, for everyone, things are not easy and straightforward. Everyone has to face challenging times like losing a loved one, chronic illness, fear of rejection, etc. To nurture a child and later as an adult to wade through those difficult times, s/he requires a healthy body and mind. Whether this nurturing process is related to spirituality and religion?
Studies have proved that spiritually strong and religious people are less depressed. These characteristics make changes in the brain with the production of increased Serotonin levels. It also decreases the thinning of the Cerebral Cortex. Further, people who attend religious services are less prone to suicidal deaths.
Let’s take the example of a person who is in distress. Assuming, he got into such a mental state because he lost a loved one or was asked to quit his job.
This mental state has brought down his motivation and self-esteem to a very low level. He doesn’t take care of his health, finances, relationships, etc. Such a person can come out of this situation if he takes care of himself. But due to his low motivation level, he does not take any action to get well, and his health does not improve.
A counselor helps him to come out of this vicious circle. The counselor refers to examples of spirituality and religion.
Here it is worth mentioning the crux of Hindu spirituality, which can bring back that person to the mainstream of life. There are four principles of Hindu spirituality which work based on the law of karma:
1. Whatever happens had to happen that way. Nobody can change it. With hindsight, we can say that we would have done it differently or better. But given those circumstances present at that time, it was the best action.
2. Whomsoever you meet, you meet that person with a purpose and not by chance.
3. Whatever has to begin at a certain time, it will begin at that time. Neither before nor after.
4. ‘What is over’ is over. Do not carry guilt or regret because guilt reduces your inner strength.
A spiritual counselor guides people on all types of related matters. He can help his patient to achieve a unique source of strength and resilience through these principles for coming back to a normal life,
As a natural part of evolution, there is a tremendous increase in negativities and decreased human values. It leads to more and more people getting into the trap of distress and depression. Counseling and psychotherapy is the answer to these problems. Spirituality and religion guide human beings to live a happy life. Thus, the role of spirituality and religion in counseling and psychotherapy is imminent for society’s development.