The goal of the true spiritual psychologist is to live with purpose and to join with and
inspire others to do the same.
link to a pdf version of this post: http://www.transformationsusa.com/What-is-Spiritual-Psychology.pdf
What is Spiritual Psychology?
In a true, classical sense, the term “spiritual psychology” is redundant. The study of the
psyche–the personification of the human soul–must be spiritual, that is, “concerned with
the animating principle of life.” Since our Western scientific heritage (and traditional
psychology) has assigned the mind and body to the realm of the measurable and the
spirit to the domain of faith, there has been a split in our understanding and approach to
these essential aspects of the human phenomenon.
The advent of holism as a philosophical tenant in the latter part of 20th century heralded
a fundamental shift in consciousness, from linear or causal thinking toward systemic
awareness. We can no longer operate with a mechanical model if we are to understand
the inter-dimensional realities that allow us so much freedom and expansion of our
capabilities. It is critical that we have a psychology that not only admits the existence of
the human spirit, but also takes it fully into account in knowing and predicting human
behavior. Just as important is for us to have spirituality that incorporates the discoveries
we have made about the mind/body connection and how the mind and body mirror and
manifest our spiritual intentions. To keep the two realms separate is to keep us split and
severely limited in our understanding and treatment of the whole human being.
Spiritual psychology is not just a “new age” phenomenon. Each generation brings in a
“new age” of sorts, but the changing values during the 1970’s heralded a paradigm shift
in world view that got the label New Age – astrologically associated with the Age of
Aquarius. As often happens when a great departure from a former system (as in
adolescence), the swing is radical and in the beginning can be ungrounded. For
example, if accumulation of material wealth was a former value, then anything and
everything that is non material may be embraced and assumed to be of value. Hence
the bad rap for those claiming an nonintegrated “new reality.” These experiments over
time, however, have been part of a genuine integrated valuable advances in world
What do spiritual psychologists do?
A spiritual psychologist’s basic training as a therapist or counselor has been directed
towards helping clients get beyond reacting as victims of life circumstances. The
scientific approach for professionals is to find behavioral and emotional patterns which
lead to predictable results and to assist clients in redirecting these patterns. To have
these changes be more than situational, it is necessary to uncover core belief structures
which shape clients’ realities. This, of course is an art as well as a science, employing
our intuition, empathy and sense of timing as well as observational skills and theoretical
approaches. The ineffable missing element, however, without which all the empathy,
understanding, and technique will not suffice is the clients’ deep sense of purpose.
The ability to inspire this is perhaps the spiritual psychologist’s greatest gift. Although it
too is not sufficient.
To pretend that spiritual psychologists are neutral technicians of mental health
principles does an insidious disservice to clients and communities. It promotes the
illusion of the value free authority rather than the value honest leadership. This
highlights the potentially uncomfortable position that spiritual psychologists are in: their
values effect those they treat and the community in which they live and serve. This is
not only true when they are directly in the public view, it is also true in the more subtle
standard they bear as the professionals who bring troubled community members into
functional balance – from politicians and CEO’s in marital or legal trouble to the socially
disenfranchised. Setting themselves up as moral paragons or the “new religion” is
rightly repugnant to all. But to deny their values and their influence is equally
irresponsible. How do they sort this out and ethically conduct a practice in such a
pluralistic society? Keeping out of trouble by trying to stay safely within the limits of
current codes of ethics is reactive and ultimately defenseless. What is an empowering
proactive stance that does not require being a public crusader?
“Know thyself” is the pithy yet powerful rejoinder for all in the helping professions. If
spiritual psychologist know their values they can responsibly communicate them and
dialogue with their clients and community. This can result in appropriate referral when
their values are sufficiently different to be of disservice to their clients. It can also lead
to more effective intervention in circumstances that are laden with conflicting societal
The spiritual psychologist sees “reality” as a medium for creating rather than a source
of limitation, and it has four distinct levels. Translated into their work as therapists they
help their clients deal with: challenging daily events, chronic patterns of behavior,
underlying positive and negative belief systems, and personal life purpose.
Therapists who focus just on life events and patterns of behavior may heighten clients’
awareness. An inevitable frustration ensues for clients, however, who can see their
patterns and even predict their cycles, but are unaware of the deeper structures which
keep them in place. Therapists who are self aware enough of their own belief systems
are able to help clients unearth self limiting mental models held in place by unresolved
emotional and behavioral reactions. They then can help clients choose and transplant
new foundational principles with the sensitivity of a gardener helping to tend to and
celebrate new growth. As exciting as this may be for both therapist and client, it too can
lack the juice to inspire clients to self direct and flourish. They know how to change, but
not why they are changing. By having the courage to unearth and tap into their own
purpose, they cannot guarantee their clients will. Nor can they have them feed off from
their purpose long before they both burn out. They can create the medium for clients to
explore their own whys for living, go through their dark night of the soul, and emerge
with their light in their time. This of course, is truly rewarding and one of those perks
that keep spiritual psychologists being counselors.
Even this ability to inspire can lead to disillusionment if we do not help clients go
through all the stages of their own self awareness – including a working mastery of their
patterns and underlying beliefs. This means teaching the tools to self search and
championing their courage to challenge structures of fear and limitation as a lifelong
mission. This requires an unflinching commitment to the truth, a willingness to
challenge internal and external systems that inhibit taking full responsibility of their life
and their membership in their community. It is not becoming a crusader or true believer,
but rather a purposeful, connected student and teacher of meaningful life values.
Spiritual psychologists deal with the why to live, not just the how to live. The outmoded
arbitrary division relegating the why’s to religion and the how’s to science has long since
shown its ineffectiveness and subsequent moral erosion. Spiritual psychologists are
called, I believe, to take the lead in admitting what they value, rather than being in
denial and communicating unrealistic ideals, i.e. the neutral human. Their ethical values
may include: respect for autonomy, non maleficence (avoiding harm), beneficence,
justice, fidelity, and veracity. They must know and understand their values and be
honest with the creative tension between that which they aspire towards and how they
currently operate. This is a more realistic leadership model for our current world of
advertising “hype” or cynical disbelief in anything.
Theirs is not to impose answers, but to help an honest soul searching inquiry into our
purpose as humans living in an evolving, diverse, sometimes scary, yet creative world.
How does a spiritual psychologist work in the community?
There are many examples of spiritual psychology being shared by holistic agencies and
practitioners in the community. I can speak most accurately about the work I do as an
example of aspiring to the goals of spiritual psychology.
It has been my life work, as an aspiring spiritual psychologist, to investigate all forms of
conscious growth personally and professionally. I examine and experiment with what is
being presented by others from ancient traditions and new discoveries. I then retained
those skills and practices which provided the most lasting grounded, results. This takes
fitting the appropriate techniques to the student or client at the right time to facilitate her
or his empowerment.
Spiritual for me signifies coming from the undefined spirit or animating force of life.
Religious signifies a particular body of teaching or dogma about the origins of existence
and/or living according to a proscribed moral standard. Some very “spiritual” (in my
definition) students and clients have been atheist or agnostic. That is they have a
profound respect for the individual point of view and the sacredness of life itself. Many
students came for personal healing (from religious or other abuse) and are at a
transition point in their lives. They were looking for an environment to foster self
knowledge, forgiveness and the joy of finding a path to their true hearts desire, rather
than someone else’s formula for a happy life. They are the people who do well with
spiritual psychology. Not everyone is willing to take on this level of challenge, but those
who commit themselves to a course of spiritual psychology have been almost
universally grateful and permanently changed.
Personal and professional are very interrelated aspects of a holistic perspective. It is
common that spiritual psychology students and/or clients make career shifts based on
greater clarity and sense of personal purpose as well as confidence in achieving their
My mission has been in the Milwaukee area where I directed the School of Integrative
Psychology and the Creative Consulting and Counseling Services from 1980 till 2013.
There is a very strong spiritual presence that is rooted deeply in our Heartland. The SIP
is just one example of spiritual psychology in the Mid West. There are many examples
throughout the country and world of such schools and counseling centers that are
growing in strength. If such an orientation calls to you, then follow your heart and find
the teaching and counseling that speaks to your soul.
Jim Morningstar, Ph.D. is still active in counseling and teaching therapeutic breathwork,
though he now spends more time in writing and mentoring in “semi-retirement.” He has
put the SIP courses online and they can be taken via self direction or with qualified