Identity, personhood, and working with soul across the lifespan were among the themes addressed at our annual BACP Spirituality conference held in Leicester in late November 2019. We heard from five excellent presenters who discussed ways soul is understood within philosophy, different religions and therapeutic approaches. Three of the speakers have contributed articles to this issue of Thresholds and I hope you will find them relevant and helpful in your practice.
During the whole-group discussion on culture and soul at the conference, one of the delegates found her voice to express her relief that here, finally, ‘Spirituality has come out of the closet!’ To be in a room of 90-plus people, all open to validating spirituality as an integral part of counselling, was experienced by her as a liberation. This turned out to be the keenly felt sense of many of the practitioners who attended the conference, whose contexts and settings do not allow space or openness to the reality and importance of the spiritual dimension of human existence. They were thus very appreciative that BACP honours spirituality and seeks to resource practitioners whose own work and worldview, or whose clients’ world view, is informed by a spiritual perspective.
Lifespan and soulspan
Since the conference, I’ve been pondering the relationship between lifespans and soulspans. The recent premature death of a close relative, attending to an ageing parent, and encountering a terminally ill child have all brought into perspective the transience of life, the inevitability of death and a question around what remains of the essence of personhood and presence when the body returns to dust. The word ‘soulspan’ is my attempt to describe the enduring melody of personhood that transcends chronos time, manifesting in cherished memories, in lasting influence, in valued inspiration, in bonds of love. Within my faith view, the promise of eternal life is real, and I hold hope of the affirmation of another dimension of soulspan. John Swinton captures this for me when he writes: ‘To be remembered by God is to endure in the present and into eternity… Our Identity is safe in the memory of God’.1
My experience of working with clients across the lifespan in therapy is that issues of identity, mortality and death anxiety can emerge, unsolicited, at any time in the encounter. Engaging with clients’ legacy of regrets, failures, loves, losses and hopes become the draft of their soulspan story. I seek to be receptive and hospitable to ways of responding therapeutically to their need with sensitivity and appreciation of their worldview, which may be vastly different from my own.
As the New Year begins, I offer you the poetic words from a Celtic blessing to nourish and inspire:
‘May the light of your soul guide you; May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart; May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul; May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work; May your work never weary you; May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement; May you be present in what you do. May you never become lost in the bland absences; May the day never burden; May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities and promises; May evening find you gracious and fulfilled; May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected; May your soul calm, console and renew you.’2
1. Swinton J. Dementia: living in the memories of God. London: SCM Press; 2017.
2. O Donohue J. To bless the space between us. London: Doubleday; 2008.