Hello, dear souls! I hope you’re having a wonderful week and finding what you need. I’ve been taking care of myself by spending a lot of time outdoors. The weather has been nicer and all I want to do is hike and watch animals (geese, groundhogs, deer, ducks, whatever I can see). Today I wanted to tackle a topic that seems sticky but doesn’t have to be. It can be an ethical issue, but a skilled clinician is able to navigate their responsibility to let clients set the tone while also encouraging them to use their strengths and nourish all parts of their self-care. I’ve had great experiences with spirituality in therapy and rough experiences with spirituality in therapy.

When I was in college and questioning my own faith and beliefs, I had a therapist tell me I’d never recover from depression with Christianity. That is NOT where spirituality belongs in therapy. I would never dictate what a person needs to believe. For the record, I didn’t call the therapist out on it and instead just stopped seeing him. I was heartbroken and remember crying walking home from the session. I felt more lost than before I went in.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve had clients who practice Catholicism that (once I know are active in the church) I’ve encouraged to use clergy members as supports, have specific saints to pray to as part of their crisis plan. I also make sure that I know my role. It is outside of my scope to provide religious advice- I don’t know enough. I haven’t studied any religious text to the extent that religious leaders have. When clients have a question about their faith, I can help them explore, but I won’t offer advice.

Not synonymous

It’s also important to remember that religion is a form of spirituality; the two are not synonymous. That time outside watching animals is, to me, spirituality. Time with my cats when they’re purring and soliciting pets is spirituality. Attending a concert can be spirituality.

Y’all are going to get sick of me mentioning Brene Brown but I figure it’s important to show your sources and know your role models. Her research tied down a definition of spirituality that makes sense to me:

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives”.

That connection to others is vital to feeling like a whole person. Recognizing the humanity or soul in others makes us happier people and I can’t cite that, I speak only anecdotally but I feel it in my bones. However, you connect, letting a good therapist know how you acknowledge and celebrate a connection to others can help them encourage your strengths.

When I worked for community mental health, we’d do an annual assessment where we’d help clients set goals by looking at all areas of their lives and thinking about what they’d like to change. One of the boxes was spirituality and I always found joy in learning about all the ways that people define and practice spirituality. It is an honor to help people connect to such a deep part of themselves.

Spiritual component

Oftentimes therapy is necessary because we’re asking ourselves big questions that we’re having trouble seeing an answer to. Sometimes those questions are things like “who am I?” or “what makes me worthy?”. Those have a spiritual component, in my mind. And it’s not always about religion but it is about questioning your place in the universe. That’s some really deep soul-searching and a therapist can help you examine your beliefs and thoughts about it in a nonjudgmental space. But a good therapist won’t push their beliefs on you.

Take some time this week to explore what spirituality means to you. It’s tempting to deny our connection to other human beings (or animals) when they disappoint us or don’t follow “our rules” (“you shouldn’t have cut me off in traffic!”) but we’re all living on the same planet and going through many of the same struggles. We have the same basic emotions and cells and etc., etc., etc. Celebrate that connection. In fact, there’s some research to suggest that attending concerts can extend your life So enjoy your connection to others! Enjoy that we’re all in this together. And until next week, take care, friends.

Kayla Valley is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) who works at the Highland location of Perspectives Therapy Services. She became a therapist to help people struggle with the depression and anxiety that she understands intimately. She loves being a Michigander and is an avid sewist who loves spending time with her cats and sugar gliders.

Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.