There are as many ways to define spirituality as there are individuals to experience it. Spirituality is the balance that we achieve between introspection and connection. This means that the heart of spirituality is linked to our mental and emotional health.
When we try to describe our spiritual lives, we often talk about our values, our beliefs, our our relationship with a higher power. Often, spirituality is an essential guide in the ways we develop meaning, purpose, and direction in our lives. When we make the choice to think about ourselves spiritually, we can develop a greater sense of connection with ourselves and others.
Although the role of spirituality in clinical practice was ignored for many years, it is now acknowledged as a powerful gateway for healing and self-development. Mental health professionals are becoming more culturally and spiritually sensitive, as are the people seeking out support.
According to the European Commission’s EuroBarometer for last year, over 70% of people in the EU practice some form of spiritual or religious path. As a Maltese, European, and global community, there are positive signs that we are growing more aware of the importance of spiritual beliefs in society. We are also taking more seriously the increasing evidence, which suggests mental health benefits related to including spirituality as part of therapeutic support.
Working with spirituality during a therapeutic session can be as simple as exploring and seeking to understand the religious and spiritual values that are already embedded in many of our lives. The therapeutic relationship provides a safe space in which to acknowledge the darker side of our spiritual values, while also incorporating positive aspects into the way we care for ourselves and our loved ones.
Research related to spirituality and mental health suggests that the relationship between them is a positive one. Other ancient practices, like yoga and meditation, have been associated with improvements in mental health and anxiety reduction. Spirituality expressed in various ways, as part of a therapeutic journey or on your own, can produce long-term positive effects on mental health.
One way to begin a spiritual journey would be to give ourselves some quiet time, and ask a few questions. “Would I say I am spiritual or religious in any way? How? What gives me hope? What keeps me going in difficult times?”
Giving ourselves the space to be open-minded and patient as we search for answers to such questions is essential. Not only can the exploration of our spirituality can be healing in itself, it can also be deeply transformative. The commitment to follow spirituality is a promise to ourselves, to be fully aware and deeply present in the world.
Working with a therapist, or with your own resources, the spiritual lessons discovered in this way can then be incorporated into the healing process. Guidance emerges as part of the work being done, within our own hearts. Spirituality is a process, unfolding over time, and inviting us to carry our values, beliefs, and attitudes with us, as a source of strength and compassion.
Pete Farrugia is a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist. In his profession he explores the intersection of psychosocial wellbeing, spiritual development, and creative expression.