Mental Health and Spirituality

Spirituality involves beliefs and practices that aim for inspiration, reverence, awe and meaning. It’s an important component of mental health, and often comes into focus during times of emotional stress, physical (and sometimes psychological) illness, loss or death. It also brings into focus questions about the infinite.

For some people, spirituality is tied to religion, and their faith community. Others think of spirituality in non-religious terms, and engage in activities that help them feel connected such as meditation, yoga or spending time in nature. Some people call these practices “spiritual.” Other people refer to them as “mindfulness,” or the practice of noticing and appreciating what is occurring in the moment.

Regardless of what is called, most spiritual practices involve some type of ritual. Rituals may be formal, but they can also be quite simple. For example, some Buddhists meditate on the sound of water or a flower petal. Other spiritual traditions focus on recognizing signs of Spirit in the ordinary: Goddess religions invest nature and the body with sacred value; Native Americans look for God in their encounters with animals, and groups within Judaism emphasize taking the everyday and making it holy.

It’s important for therapists to understand that spirituality is a complex matter and to respect each patient’s religious or non-religious beliefs. For this reason, I often use tools such as lifemaps where patients depict their spiritual journey; genograms, where therapists and patients chart the role of spirituality across several generations in the family; and eco-maps, where patients explore their current relationships with spirituality.