David wanted to share his learnings from a new book [The Varieties of Spiritual Experience] he had read in recent months and this inspired him to offer this training to HACP members.

We were equally attended in person and online – once again live streaming the talk to meet the needs of all our members.

The word spirituality encompasses different meanings for many people, so we first explored,

  • what it meant to us,
  • versions of the words (eg religious, paranormal, awe, transcendence)
  • Which words we were each comfortable with
  • Words that are clearly religious
  • Words that likely have religious meaning but are disguised – eg numinous

Origins

In the early days of psychotherapy with Freud there was no space for spirituality. David hypothesised that the use of spirituality in theories of the psyche is likely to be dependent upon the beliefs and experiences (or lack thereof) the individual creating the psychological or psychotherapy model..

William James was one of the first psychologists to venture to write about varied religious experiences.  Maslow too embraced the idea of spirituality suggesting that we could reach a place of transcendence / enlightenment but prior to these felt one needed layers of consolidation as shown in his pyramid of hierarchy of needs.  Much of these can be subjective: ‘a safe home’ for some will mean owning a home, for others the freedom to roam will bring more of a fulfilled sense – from either place one may have a solid foundation for building upon.  Jung suggested that with the balance of the shadow sides, one could head towards transcendence.

David enquired who attending had experienced something that was ‘other worldly’ (my words)…that could only be explained as spiritual in some way.  For some that is seeing spirits, others it’s a feeling (for some a literal feeling of being touched, often experienced by those grieving), random items moving or ‘jumping’/falling {pots and pans}, a smell, a song or a sense of knowing.  More than half those attending had experienced something that fell into this category.

Whilst grief seemed to be a very common time for loved ones to experience something spiritual around the time a loved one passed or for the person passing to commune as they are close to dying – there are other triggers too – including prayer, psychedelic drugs, nature, meditation and sex.

We were invited by David to experience 2 relaxation/meditative experiences that might be used with clients – one hailing from psychosynthesis – founded by Assagioli, and the other from shamanism.

The first (which I loved) invited us to move from our thoughts, our feelings, our bodies and then just into a place of self awareness – this was very simple but incredibly powerful.

The second was a guided visualisation – which David used with a client who found it completely life changing.  This was much more of a descriptive journey.  I would like to say more about this – but to keep the humour that David dryly brought to the evening – I clearly didn’t like it and ‘left the space’ for a while.

As with all things in counselling and spirituality, there is no size that fits all and we each respond differently to these experiences.  David shared that a client who had come seeking enlightenment had the most profound experience during that experience and left the counselling room, more than fulfilled.  Later the client produced a painting representing the gift they were given in the meditation – it was beautifully poignant.

Had time allowed, I would have liked to work more about if and how we bring spirituality into the room.  As a spiritual person, there is often a hesitation about the place for it and what of ourselves and our beliefs we make room for in our sessions

Of course, the very next day I’m working with a client who announces they are worried about ghosts!.. Love the synchronicity.

Thank you David – look forward to learning more.

Sinead Mitchell