Is God Allowed In Session?

Paraphrasing, a client I had several years ago remarked, “I am just so relieved that I am allowed to talk about God in here. I was sure you would think I was crazy.” When I first learned that clients were afraid to talk about God, religion, or spirituality in counseling, I was pretty surprised. As a counselor, I am trained to withhold judgment and focus on a client’s values, rather than my own. I assumed that all clients would know this and would trust me with all kinds of material. While talking about spirituality never seemed like an especially sensitive topic to me, I quickly learned that there are many people who feel quite uncomfortable talking about spirituality with mental health therapists.

It really shouldn’t have come as any surprise to me. The first time I met with a therapist when I was in high school (yes, it’s likely your therapist has been in therapy — at least I hope so!) I remember bringing up my own faith system. I remember mentioning to my therapist that I had been to a party with some other teenagers during which they started playing with a Ouija board. I remember it making me uncomfortable and afraid, so I ended up leaving the room. When I told my therapist about this, she inquired, “Why do you think Ouija boards scare you?” I replied, “I think they could be dangerous. What if it’s the Devil talking through them? Or a ghost or spirit?” My therapist was clearly not impressed. Instead of honoring my young spiritual inquiry, she tried to convince me about how unrealistic it was to believe there was a God or Devil, and that spirits certaily wouldn’t communicate through Ouija boards. I was certain she thought that I was really crazy after that session. I didn’t end up continuing much longer with her.

As an adult, I don’t know if Ouija boards really facilitate communication with another force of dimension. And, I really don’t pay much attention to thinking about it. However, I am mindful that perhaps many people have had experiences where a therapist has downplayed a numinous or spiritual experience, such that they are shamed into never speaking about it again.

In my counseling practice here in Denver, I make it a routine part of therapy to inquire about my clients’ spiritual beliefs or activities. Spirituality can look any number of ways, from believing in a tangible God, to feeling connected to the Earth through gardening or outdoor activities, or even participating in running or yoga. Spirituality takes many forms, and does not necessarily need to look like attending church or praying. And if it does, there is certainly nothing wrong with that. It is not an indicator of psychological dysfunction; rather, I believe it is a response to an innate, instinctual, or archetypal draw of the demands of a human psyche. When we honor or discover our own spirituality, our relationships are enhanced with others, our work performance improves, and we generally feel more satisfied with life.

Carl Jung, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud and founder of the analytical psychology movement, believed that spirituality also represented a human sense of our being connected to something greater. Although Jung did not call this “God,” he did refer to a concept of a collective unconscious that often contributed to social phenomena and World themes. This connection would sometimes show up in the dreams of his patients, as they dreampt about similar events that would eventually happen in actuality. He also observed a certain commonality in dreams among different individuals, such as the occurrence of mandala-type images, staircases, and the ocean. These common images, he believed, were evidence of a collective unconscious that unites humanity. Whether it was biologically built into the brain or part of a greater mind, Jung didn’t spend much time discussing.

What Jung did assert was that becoming one’s authentic self was the primary task of life. He also taught that there was an archetypal, or universal Self (capital S) that encompassed all of humanity. It wasn’t necessarily that he was advocating belief in a religious god, but rather a knowledge that somewhere in the human psyche was an archetypal presence greater that the ego self (small s). Whether this Self that Jung referred to was what some faiths call God is up for debate. Nevertheless, what Jung did contribute is the importance of finding our own spirituality, or our connection to Self. As I mentioned above, this doesn’t have to take place in a church or while reading the Bible, even though it can. One can even practice spirituality without a belief in God. That may be something that many haven’t ever considered.

Integrating spirituality into counseling and psychotherapy can be a rich and rewarding experience. In my counseling practice here in Denver, I welcome conversations about spirituality, dreams, and fantasies that are often windows into our own unconscious. These windows help us gain more self-awareness that ultimately leads us to individuation and a more satisfying life. To ignore spirituality is similar to trying to ride a bike with missing spokes. The wheel may turn, but it will be bumpy and become lop-sided. Spirituality is an area of life just as important as physical well-being, intellectual stimulation, work, and relationships. To avoid its discussion is to deny clients the right to become their more authentic selves. And what a shame that would be!

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Jeremy Savage, MA, LPC

2727 Bryant St. #104
Denver, CO 80211

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