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Spiritual Issues

Spirituality and Counselling – one would think that they do not seem to have much in common. But we are becoming increasingly aware of ways in which some aspects of spirituality can offer real benefits for mental health and visa versa.

This is obviously a vast, complex and somewhat subjective arena whether you have a faith or not.

On this page we just give general information and hopefully thought provoking ideas for anyone;

1.    Who has an interest in spirituality and mental health
2.    Wondering about how spirituality can help mental health.
3.    Is seeking personal or spiritual growth.

Much of what is written here is for people with or without a faith. You do not need to hold a formal religious belief, to take part in religious practices, or belong to an established faith tradition to read this or to experience spirituality.

What is Spirituality?

There is no one definition, but in general, spirituality:

•    is something everyone can experience
•    helps us to find meaning and purpose in the things we value
•    can bring hope and healing in times of suffering and loss
•    encourages us to seek the best relationship with ourselves, others and what lies beyond (what-ever that is).

These experiences are part of being human, they are just as important to people with intellectual disability or other conditions, such as dementia and head injury, as they are in anybody else.

Spirituality often becomes more important in times of emotional stress, physical and mental illness, loss, bereavement and the approach of death.

Also the quest to find one’s real self, i.e. the time in our lives when we realise that “stuff, things, possessions, money etc.” is just not enough and will not fill the hole within us. In the western culture we have become circumference people, (always living on the outside of our selves instead of from the inside). As the Dalai Lama put it “yet the rich West is experiencing an “ice age” of emotions”

All health care tries to relieve pain and to cure, but good health care tries to do more. Spirituality emphasises the healing of the person, not just the disease. It views life as a journey, where good and bad experiences can help you to learn, develop and mature.

How is Spirituality Different From Religion?

Religious traditions certainly include individual spirituality, which is universal. But each religion has its own distinct community-based worship, beliefs, sacred texts and traditions.
Spirituality is not necessarily tied to any particular religious belief or tradition. Although culture and beliefs can play a part in spirituality, every person has their own unique experience of spirituality, it can be a personal experience for anyone, with or without a religious belief. It is there for everyone. Spirituality also highlights how connected we are to other people and the world.

What is Spiritual Health Care?

People, whether with mental health or spiritual problems have said that they want:

•    to feel safe and secure
•    to be treated with dignity and respect
•    to feel that they belong, are valued and trusted
•    time to express feelings to someone who will listen and try to understand
•    meaningful activity, such as creative art, work or enjoying nature
•    the chance to make sense of their life, including illness, loss, direction and inner conflict.
•    permission/support to develop their relationship with God or the Absolute.

Someone With a Religious Belief May Need:

•    a time, a place and privacy in which to pray and worship
•    the chance to explore spiritual concerns
•    to be reassured that the counsellor will respect their faith
•    encouragement to deepen their faith
•    sometimes – to be helped with forgiveness (of themselves or others).

What Difference Can Spirituality Make?

Clients have said that they have gained:

•    better self-control, self-esteem and confidence
•    faster and easier recovery (often through healthy grieving of losses and through recognising their strengths)
•    better relationships – with self, others and with God/creation/nature
•    a new sense of meaning, hope and peace of mind. This has enabled them to accept and live with continuing problems or to make changes where possible.

A Spiritual Assessment.

Counselling4you will consider as part of every assessment, depression, personal history, family, support networks, substance misuse, mental history etc. Many issues can and do reflect a spiritual void in a person's life. This can be, a missing sense of real self, a sense of something missing or of not belonging, a restlessness and searching for something that you cannot quite put your finger on. We would explore and try to distinguish between a spiritual problem/issue/concern and a mental health issue. Very often these different dynamics overlap, (the difficulties can sometimes be compounded by having a faith, especially in people who have had a strict or over-powering religious background), we will work so that all of these areas are integrated into our work together.

The Past

Emotional stress is often caused by a loss, or the threat of loss. Have you had any major losses or bereavements? How has this affected you and how have you coped?   

The Present

Do you feel that you belong and that you are valued? Do you feel safe and respected? Are you and other people able to communicate clearly and freely?

Do you feel that there is a spiritual aspect to your current situation? Would it help to involve a chaplain, or someone from your faith community? What needs to be understood about your religious background?

The Future

What do the next few weeks, months or years hold for you? Are you worried about death and dying, or about the possibility of an afterlife? Would you want to discuss this more? What are your main fears about the future? Do you feel the need for forgiveness about anything? What, if anything, gives you hope?


What kind of support would work for you? How could you best be helped to get it? Is there someone caring for you, Counselling4you can help you explore all of your concerns and fears.

Spiritual Practices

These span a wide range, from the religious to non-religious. You may:

•    belong to a faith tradition and take part in services or other activities with other people
•    take part in rituals, symbolic practices and other forms of worship
•    go on pilgrimage and retreats
•    spend time enjoying nature
•    give of yourself in acts of compassion (including work, especially teamwork)
•    spend time in meditation, deep reflection or prayer
•    follow traditions of yoga, Tai Chi and similar disciplined practices
•    read scripture
•    listen to singing and/or playing sacred music, including songs, hymns, psalms and devotional chants
•    join team sports or other activities that involve co-operation and trust
•    spend time in contemplative reading (of literature, poetry, philosophy etc.)
•    appreciate the arts
•    be creative - painting, sculpture, cookery, gardening etc.
•    make and keep good family relationships
•    make and keep friendships, especially those with trust and intimacy.

Spiritually-Informed Therapies

Over recent years there has been increasing interest in treatments that include the spiritual dimension. Within our integrated counselling practice we offer integrated approaches such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for the treatment of stress, anxiety and depression (MBCT), compassion-focussed therapy and forgiveness therapy.

Spiritual Values and Skills

Spiritual practices can help us to develop the better parts of ourselves. They can help us to become more creative, patient, persistent, honest, kind, compassionate, wise, calm, hopeful and joyful. These are all part of the best health care.

Spiritual Skills Include:

•    being honest – and able to see yourself as others see you
•    being able to stay focused in the present, to be alert, unhurried and attentive
•    being able to rest, relax and create a still, peaceful state of mind
•    developing a deeper sense of empathy for others
•    finding the capacity for forgiveness
•    being able to be with someone who is suffering, while still being hopeful
•    learning better judgement, for example about when to speak or act, and  when to remain silent or do nothing
•    learning how to give without feeling drained
•    being able to grieve and let go.

Spirituality emphasises our connections to other people and the world, which creates the idea of ‘reciprocity’. This means that the giver and receiver both get something from what happens, that if you help another person, you help yourself. Many carers naturally develop spiritual skills and values over time as a result of their commitment to those for whom they care. Those being cared for, in turn, can often give help to others in distress.

Spirituality is deeply personal. Try to discover what works best for you. A three-part daily routine can be helpful:
•    a regular quiet time (for prayer, reflection or meditation)
•    study of religious and/or spiritual material
•    making supportive friendships with others with similar spiritual and/or religious aims and aspirations.

You can find out about spiritual practices and traditions from a wide range of religious organisations. Secular spiritual activities are increasingly available and popular. For example, many complementary therapies have a spiritual or holistic element that is not part of any particular religion. The internet, especially internet bookshops, the local yellow pages, health food shops and bookstores are all good places to look.



Adapted from