I have been inspired to write this article because I am passionate about bringing counselling and spirituality together. I have witnessed some of the challenges counsellors have faced when integrating spirituality with their counselling practice. I also refer to my journey and experience when I kept my spiritual beliefs to myself, as I used to feel they were something to keep separate from counselling.
I strongly believe that spirituality and counselling go hand in hand, and for true healing to take place with a client or for ourselves, we must consider the mind, the body and the soul. We must create a balance and take care of our emotional/psychological, physical and spiritual needs.
The ‘soul’ is a term I have (until recently) been hesitant to use within the counselling profession. It is not a medical term, and, generally speaking, from my own experience, does not hold much regard in counselling and therapy services, other than among individuals who also consider it as significant. From my experience, observations and feedback, I have discovered that therapists have struggled to find a voice to express their spiritual views in relation to therapy. Seldom is a space created for such reflection and consideration of the soul.
If the service or organisation that you work for does not create time and space for the soul, or exploration of it within therapy or the therapeutic relationship, then, as a therapist, where do you take this? Supervision, ideally. What if your supervision does not hold the space for such concepts to be explored either? Could it be that you feel cautious about instigating such a conversation with your supervisor because you are not sure how they might respond? Maybe you test the waters first. If you don’t give your supervisor the opportunity, how will you know? It could also be that you rule it out entirely and therefore disregard an aspect of yourself. Do we beat around the bush with spirituality?
Later in this article, I refer to a case study about my experience of supervision in the role of a supervisor.
Through my own personal journey and experience(s), I define spirituality as the process of reconnecting with the lost parts of the self, as beginning to ‘remember’ who I am, detaching myself from the expectations of others and society and beginning to return to the ‘soul’. My counselling approach is grounded in psychodynamic theory, which allows for a deep exploration of the unconscious and how we may be influenced by past experiences in the present moment. I have, for years, helped clients to explore the hidden and unseen parts of the self, but what if there is something beyond the unconscious? What if what is impacting on a client now is not from this lifetime? What if it exists beyond the layers of our understanding of the unconscious? Beyond our mother’s womb? What if it exists pre conception?
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My current personal view is that the soul has lived many lifetimes. I say this from personal experience of recent past-life healing. I believe the soul is the true essence of who we are, and that it is eternal, has always been there and is a constant presence. I believe that our soul holds the information, memory, trauma and strengths of all the experiences it has accumulated over all its lifetimes. Again, through personally studying holistic therapies, such as reiki and numerology, I have become more open to such concepts.
Coming out of the closet
Rebecca Campbell refers to the concept of the ‘spiritual closet’ in her book, Light is the New Black.1 Writing this article feels somewhat risky, as it would in relation to someone coming out of any ‘closet’. It might be considered an act of bravery, as it takes great courage to do something ‘risky.’ Some people may live in the closet for many years and sometimes even forever, which means that an important part of them remains hidden from others and somewhat denied. Why is it so risky to show others the parts of the self that reside in the closet? Fear can be a significant factor. The fear of being judged by others, being misunderstood to the point of rejection, and even being ridiculed. However, there may also be a more resilient and hopeful part of the self that desires to be living the truth – its truth. This part may no longer want to hide, be conflicted, or feel ambivalent.
What would happen if the true self were to be revealed to the world? This could feel like undermining a stable foundation in life, which can evoke a sense of unsafety and uncertainty. Stepping into the unknown can be frightening for so many, especially if it is attached to revealing a part of the self that may be rejected. Again, a part of the conflict is that, despite the fear, there is also a known sense of subsequent liberation that will follow as a result of no longer having to carry the burden of suppressing parts of the self.
Staying in the closet can be painful. Coming out the closet can also be painful. However, the pain of the latter will be temporary and probably not as awful as imagined. The risk of staying in the closet will potentially have more impact on mental health and emotional wellbeing than would coming out. The longer-term impact of living in ‘dis-connect’ with the true self over a period of time, in my view, should not be underestimated.
In the last five years, I have begun to search deeper within myself through meditation, journaling and contemplation. This has allowed me to be honest with myself, become aware of some true feelings, come face to face with some shadows and make significant changes in my life. During this time, I stumbled across reiki: ‘universal energy’ that is channelled through the practitioner to the client, who generally lies on a couch, receiving the energy. Reiki is said to intuitively flow to areas of the body in order to unblock stagnant energy that is causing physical and emotional symptoms.
My scepticism and ignorance of such healing treatments was overridden after one reiki session. The practitioner picked up on my emotions just from scanning my body, by hovering their hands over my chakra points, seven energy centres. I had been a psychodynamic counsellor at that point for over 10 years; I really was surprised that what could take weeks with a client in counselling, took one reiki session for me. Now I work as a reiki practitioner and my reiki clients have reported how different they feel after one session.
Prior to finding reiki, I was searching for a counselling approach to fit better with my desire to work more with the soul. I looked into transpersonal counselling and was also introduced to psychosynthesis at a BACP Spirituality Networking meeting in 2015. My own personal experience of reiki was a turning point for me, and I embarked on what I refer to as my ‘spiritual journey’, the highs and lows of which I connected with the lost soul part(s) of myself; the part(s) that, due to the expectations of others, I kept hidden. I had suppressed my soul. I found that reiki session so powerful, and it kick-started the beginning of me re-integrating parts of myself. From that point onwards, I was drawn to learning and training in holistic therapies such as reiki, crystal healing and, most recently, numerology, as well as developing an increased interest in quantum physics and energy work. I was reminded that a lot of psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s work was around collective consciousness and synchronicity.
Coming out of my spiritual closet
A dilemma presented: how do I now come out to my colleagues about what feels like a new way of working? I was in contact with many counsellors on a daily basis, so I gradually tested the waters. My fear was that bringing holistic therapies, which are somewhat ‘soul led’ and based on the idea of ‘universal energy’, into the counselling profession would be scrutinised.
I started to be more open about my beliefs and noticed that others began to be too! My intent was (and is) to give people the permission to bring the words ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ into their therapeutic environment, without feeling like they have said something wrong. To my surprise, I found many therapists welcomed such concepts, but there was still a sense of exploring this in ‘secret’. These themes were not being widely discussed. Some supervisees were relieved that they could bring their beliefs and experiences into the safe space of supervision.
Working with a particular supervisee was a turning point for me. Simultaneously, other synchronistic events were also occurring. My supervisee told me they had just done their Reiki master’s (level 3 in Reiki), and at that point I didn’t know much about Reiki. They had also, in a previous session, taken the risk of telling me that they had mediumship skills: an ability to sense energies and spirit. I did not judge my supervisee for this, and they later informed me of their sense of relief at not being labelled as ‘crazy’. We developed a good, trusting relationship in which my supervisee flourished in their work. I created space in supervision to explore ways in which my supervisee could ground themself so that the presences did not impact negatively on the therapeutic work, ensuring the client remained the focus, and potentially using any experiences to inform the therapeutic work. We talked about maintaining role boundaries in the client-counsellor relationship. Openness in the supervisor and supervisee relationship gave a platform for my supervisee to share something they would usually keep hidden. This supported my supervisee to create a safe space in therapy when working with bereaved clients who were comfortably able to speak more openly about their spiritual experiences after losing a loved one. My supervisee introduced me to the book, Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander, a neuroscientist who did not believe in life after death until he experienced a near death experience (NDE).2
A synchronicity was that other people, unrelated to my supervisee, randomly suggested books on NDEs, such as Anita Moorjani’s, Dying to be me.3 I was instantly drawn to the title, and thought it might relate to a woman’s journey of finding her true self. The book was in fact about Anita’s journey towards becoming her ‘magnificent’ self, but was also followed by her very own experience of an NDE – she writes about the glimpses of the afterlife she was exposed to. Both authors reflect on how their medical and scientific views were challenged at that time. Months later, a dear friend of mine told me she had experienced an NDE that indicated an afterlife; another dimension, a higher power, an angelic realm. I am not at all discounting science, merely bringing in other perspectives that relate to experiences which support my personal views.
I started to embrace being open about such spiritual concepts. It is nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s not worth worrying about others’ judgments. I realise now that, due to others’ fears and strong views against such concepts, what I truly believe in took a back seat. This was disempowering for me and others. If I (or you) allow external factors to stop us from sharing what we truly believe in, then how is that authentic? How can I possibly empower others to be true to themselves, if I am not true to myself?
This learning for me was huge. I have since been open with colleagues within the counselling profession and also those I work alongside in noncounselling roles. I have found this to be risky at times, and fear has still risen to the surface around being judged and seen as ‘unprofessional’. However, that other part of me has given me strength to use my voice.
I am now excited and pleased to inform you that I am setting up an East Midlands BACP Spirituality Networking group to create a space for counsellors to share their voices and experiences with like-minded colleagues.4
1 Campbell R. Light is the new black. London: Hay House; 2015.
2 Alexander E. Proof of heaven. London: Piatkus; 2012.
3 Moorjani A. Dying to be me. London: Hay House; 2012.
4 www.bacp.co.uk/events-and-resources/ bacp-events/ (accessed 10 February 2020).