In the West there are unprecedented numbers of people presenting themselves as depressed, addicted or over-anxious. Our understanding is that this is as much a social, existential and spiritual crisis as much as medical. In such conditions traditional medical models do not always work, indeed, they may often contribute to the crisis. This article argues that we need to take account of both the spiritual and the psychological in the therapy room. It goes on to describe some of the fundamental principles of Core Process Psychotherapy, a psychotherapy developed by Maura Sills at the Karuna Institute in Devon which is underpinning by an understanding that the spiritual and the psychological ‘co-arise’. One of the key differentiating features of this approach is the Buddhist understanding of personality – such that the therapist is not engaged with developing a higher, or more integrated self, but is engaged in a process of joint inquiry into what is arising in the moment. It goes on to explore the notion of therapy as a spiritual journey, and finally suggests some meditative approaches which underpin CPP training.
'… we are kept there [ in the psychotherapeutic session] by that sense of wanting something deeply important, which is never identifiable with what we believe we want. Moreover, this inarticulate desire makes us feel a woeful inferiority. We feel inferior because we simply can't grasp why we are engaged in psychotherapy, what it is, whether it is going well or even going on at all, or when it is over. And since we know so little, we rely so much on positivisms, the positive sciences, the positivities of spiritual teachings, the moral positions of ideologies. We clutch at these bright and rigid straws because the base on which we stand, the soul, is endless and unfathomable. (Hillman,1983, p. 86)
Inviting the spiritual into therapy
As our lives become more fragmented by its ever-increasing speed, by the incessant clamour of consumer capitalism in its drive for more experiences to satisfy our longing souls, by the cluttering of the ether with electronic communication, more and more people are becoming depressed. The recent Layard report in the U.K. showed, disturbingly that more than one in 6 workers is depressed. Doctors’ waiting rooms are full of people not knowing which way to turn, and showing up with strange, unclassifiable diseases. As medicine and pills do not work then doctors turn to what are known as the ‘talking therapies’ for help. Indeed, in an unprecedented move, the government has just allocated £170 million to increase the availability of such treatments on the National Health Service.
One of the reasons for the increase in depression and anxiety is because of the lack of ‘soul’ in our lives, and the lack of a collective and individual belief in our connection with our deeper selves, with other people, and with the universe that surrounds us. The dominance of reason has banished the irrational, the emotional, the spiritual to the shadows, bringing with it the intense alienation of the post-modern age. Many of the illnesses with which the psychotherapist is presented are largely due to the inability and lack of context in which to express this intense longing, this very sense of what it means to be human. We have lost connection with our bodies, with our ancestors, with our souls, with one another, and with the universe that surrounds us.
Where before we may have had shamans, priests, teachers, doctors, artists to help bring us back to ourselves, today each of these different roles have become appropriated , one by one, by the long-reaching tentacles of consumer capitalism which have often professionalised and abstracted many of these organic and crucial elements of what it is to be part of a human collective.