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Spirituality, Faith & Psychology

In the early 1970's, I had the pleasure of studying with several pioneers in psychiatry and psychology. As part of the training, I studied at the Moreno Institute in Beacon, N.Y. where the world’s finest psychodramatist and group psychotherapist were being trained by Jacob Levy Moreno, M.D., creator of psychodrama, sociometry and group psychotherapy and a younger contemporary of Freud, Adler and Jung, and his wife, Zerka. At that time, professionals studying psychotherapy would complete a two years training program which required practice, personal therapy and a thesis to become certified. While completing my training, I had the opportunity to work with individuals who had been through extreme trauma (including having survived the Holocaust). Some of these individuals, because of the trauma they endured, had a major interpersonal conflict with God. When we are angry at our Creator, it constitutes one of the most primary, core relationships we have while living on this small planet.

People who have a belief system which includes a Higher Power need to be able to place their faith in something when events occur which are beyond their control. If one has a "gripe with God," it makes this the ultimate in an approach/avoidance relationship. I have known many psychologists in today’s world who avoid spirituality and religion sometimes proudly stating that faith is not in their venue and that outcome-based treatment is enough. Although I would encourage the use of outcome-based research to help guild a profession, there are times that our dependence on scientific and research based approaches may inadvertently preclude topics. If an individual is to cope with struggles in life where one does not have control, consideration of the individual’s faith is essential. 

Professionals practicing psychotherapy need to be prepared to address or refer these cases to other professionals to working on resolving these topics. Helping the individual (and if appropriate, in coordination with their clergy) to work through the emotions relating to their faith is a part of psychological practice. With the research regarding the positive impact of faith on health and emotional well-being, the psychological community can not ignore this transcendental interpersonal relationship. 

In studying belief systems, celebrate the similarities and respect the differences.

Since the power of beliefs are so strong in healing, studying different belief systems should be a requirement of all in the health professions.

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