Spiritual experience is based in the person’s search for what they hold sacred in their lives. Religious experience is based in organized beliefs oriented toward the sacred. These ideally complement one another and integrate with the person’s broader life experience. A psychotherapist has an ethical responsibility to have at least a basic understanding of both, and to respect the person’s experience of the sacred whether it comes up in therapy or not. A psychotherapist also has a right to have their experiences respected and a responsibility to be self-aware of how these influence their work.
Spiritual Trauma and Psychotherapy
At Strength and Healing Counseling, we validate religious orientations, while directly integrating a person’s spiritual experience into therapy – when that is desired and productive. Spiritual and religious trauma is all too common, and most frequently overlooked or misunderstood in therapy. Traumatic experiences often occur in the name of religious beliefs, at religious institutions, in families, and cause severe harm within a person’s spiritual identity. This is difficult territory and can be complex. If you are needing therapy to address trauma related to your spiritual or religious experiences, this needs to be handled with great care.
Spiritually Informed Psychotherapy
When a person’s experience brings them to therapy, it most often involves the need for healing. This can be emotional, relational, somatic, sexual, physical, and spiritual. Your trauma may be directly associated with your religious community or spirituality. And yet these places may also be the greatest sources of healing and support. You need a therapist who can assist you with healing, finding clarity in what safety looks like and feels like, and supporting you in integrating your spiritual experiences into the transformation that can occur during therapy.
Questions To Ask Your Therapist
“Are you spiritually informed and what does that mean to you?” Expect a sincere answer. Honesty and openness are more important than expertise.
“Do you have any specializations in this area?” Again, expect a sincere answer.
“How does your spiritual and religious experience influence how you do your work?” Expect openness and boundaries.
Your experience is valid and needs to be respected. Psychotherapy can include your spiritual experiences. If you have experienced religious trauma, you need a therapist who understands this, knows their limits and their abilities. They can either directly provide therapy in this area or assist you in finding a therapist who can. It is important that you feel validated, respected, and safe when speaking with a potential therapist or beginning therapy.