The Psychospiritual Perspective

As noted in the Author's Preface, I am presenting here the story of my life – my diary, one could say. But I will also be sharing some conclusions, based on my experience, about mental health, psychotherapy and spirituality. So a brief preview of what I call here the “psychospiritual perspective.”

There are two ways of looking at mental health. Under the “categorical” approach, which is closely tied to the medical model, the patient either has or does not have a particular disorder, depending on the number, combination and duration of the presenting symptoms. But under the “dimensional”approach, mental health is seen as a continuum, with “normal” somewhere in the middle and our highest cognitive and emotional potential at the positive end. Indeed, the phrase “positive psychology” has been coined to capture this idea. With its focus on our potential rather than our pathology, positive psychology promotes personal growth for the already well-adjusted.

I was drawn to this approach even before I heard it articulated. And in my coursework to become a counselor, I was further struck by the proliferation of books and articles linking psychology and spirituality – as if somewhere along that growth continuum, the former blossoms into the latter. In this book, I will go a step farther to propose the full-on integration of psychology and spirituality all along that mental health spectrum.

I start with the observation that absent acute psychic distress, people tend to focus more on what their five physical senses are reporting at any given moment than on their feeling or emotional state. But that doesn’t mean the latter isn’t affecting their subjective quality of life (and ultimately, their behavior and relationships). So in this book, I will be using the undifferentiated term “sensation” to encompass that subtler and ever-fluctuating emotional field right along with the more obvious stream of physical data pouring in through the five senses.

I lump those physical and emotional inputs together precisely to distinguish our holistic but individual experience from its relational consequences. So “sensation” will address our moment to moment, sensory and emotional status, regardless of what we may be doing or with whom we may be doing it. “Relation” will capture the interpersonal repercussions of that individual experience (depending, to be sure, on what we do with it).

And of course the “what” and the “with whom” certainly influence our emotional state, creating a constant feedback loop between sensation and relation. Just how that works, how our relationships affect our emotions and vice-versa, is what this book is all about.

My second, more argumentative thrust is that as personal process hardly occurs in an interpersonal vacuum, those who clinically attend to the individual side of the equation should take some cognizance of the consequences of their work for the absent but no less impacted spouse. Call it a “conditional positive regard” if you will – I realize that client confidentiality makes this a thorny issue; and that the nature and scope of any such spousal consideration is hard to flesh out. But I hope my experience serves at least as a cautionary tale, reminding practitioners that as we furrow along the topsoil of a married person's conflict, we are no less excavating upon the marital estate. 

My main hypothesis, though, is that our significant others provide the relational laboratory and spiritual catalyst for both our emotional healing and our personal growth. Indeed, I believe our psychological process is the very linchpin (and our conduit) between the material and spiritual worlds; that it is in relationship that we find and raise up those scattered kabbalistic sparks; and that our love for those we hold most dear – when we allow ourselves to fully feel and express it – is the still imperfect lens through which we glimpse the face of God.