Reflecting on the Intersection of Human Psychology and Religion

Posted by: Jessy Alam on February 14, 2014 3:05 pm

If I could title a passion that I have pursued consistently for the last 10 years it would be: The Intersection of Human Psychology and Religion.  And yet, that title would be very much inaccurate. In fact, I want so much to find an apt and concise description for the phenomenon that I have witnessed in every individual that I have ever encountered as well as with every client I have ever treated. But I can’t. This dilemma is both a hindrance and a revelation to the issue I have brought forth.  These two things, the human mind and all that is contained by the term “religion”, are both by their nature limitless. I would like to commit to writing about this topic in upcoming articles—not only because there is so much content to be covered, but to relieve myself of the weight I feel every time I try to approach this enormous subject. At times it can be too much for words.

Faith, or lack thereof it, in anything supernatural plays a role in how individuals make meaning of life’s most minute details. What we believe about ourselves, the world and those around us has been marinated in existential wonder about the spiritual world.  But many seasoned clinicians have a hard time with this topic during sessions, especially when the client shares a different set of beliefs. I face this struggle, so have my colleagues and so have my own therapists when hearing me share about my own experiences. So how do we effectively create the space for dialogue on this issue with our clients? (In another article I also what to discuss why I believe it is of critical importance to touch on this subject with each of our clients.) The first step is investing time and getting our own therapy where we can discuss the evolution of our spiritual and religious beliefs (or lack thereof) and actually experience this discussion through the eyes of a “client”. I think this is paramount – we just cannot afford to skip this step. The second step is examining multiculturalism in therapy and what sensitive and ethical practice looks like. I will write separately about these in following entries. I think these two first steps of self-examination create the foundation necessary to help our clients in fundamental ways.

Why are religion and faith important issues?  What if the client does not bring up these topics? Whether or not clients bring up religion, faith or even God explicitly, these concepts are woven into the stories of each our lives. No society was ever formed apart from a set of beliefs about human origins. I think as mental health practitioners, we can be of greater service to our clients when we open our ears to the more existential tones of our clients’ narrative.

Let me put myself out there.  As a psychotherapist I examine my thoughts and the nuances of my beliefs on a regular basis.  I have critically delved into the doctrines which were imparted to me by teachers and preachers. But is it enough to just ask myself what I know and how I learned it? To help myself and then to help others, I must go deeper than that. A good question to ask is how do we tread the layers of ourselves which were knitted so deeply into our identities and our very unconscious? Before we can understand how the intersection of psychology and religion manifests itself clinically, we must take a long and hard look at our relationship with our own faith and religious belief systems. That which generated not only from authority figures in our lives, but from the wonder we have about the world around us.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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