Spirituality and Mental Health

by Sue Kamler, LPC

Health is often described as a state of well-being in body, mind, and spirit. The term “holistic” is often used when discussing these three aspects of a person. Many professionals in the physical and mental health fields view body, mind, and spirit as inextricably linked; the state of well-being of one aspect affects the other two aspects and vice-versa. Most of us have an understanding of what a healthy mind or body means, but what does a “healthy spirit” mean?

The spirit of someone can be described as the essence of who that person is. It is that spark, or light, or energy present at birth making one human being distinct from another human being. It’s what makes each of us unique. The “soul” is often referenced when talking about someone’s spirit. Your spirit (or soul) grows, develops, and changes over your lifetime just as your body and mind grow and change.

Our emotional health affects how we feel about ourselves, our interpersonal relationships, and our life in general. Emotional health is measured by your ability to cope with life’s ups and downs; it’s your flexibility or range of response when faced with life’s challenging moments. Another indicator is the level of satisfaction and connectedness you experience in your interpersonal relationships, as well as feelings of success, contentment, or happiness in your life.

Spiritual health refers to how I feel regarding my relationship with the Sacred, the Divine, the Holy – that transcendent being or reality many of us identify as God. Others may name this reality Eternal One, Creator of All That Is, Holy One, Source of Life, Allah, Yahweh, etc. (For the purpose of this article, I will use the term “God.”)

Just as we all experience physical and emotional wounds, so too do we experience spiritual wounds. Spiritual wounding occurs when someone’s essence – one’s spirit – experiences humiliation, shame, profound denigration, or disregard for one’s humanness and personhood. This wounding occurs regardless of one’s faith, religion or denomination. Whenever someone experiences physical or emotional violence and abuse, there is a high likelihood that at the deepest part of her/his being there are spiritual wounds.

How do we recognize someone who is spiritually wounded? This may be a woman having a personal history marked by sexual abuse who has experienced emotional healing, but still feels deep shame or guilt within herself regarding the abuse. It may be a man who experienced physical abuse in his childhood, and though able to function quite effectively in life, continues to feel deep despair. It may be a victim of crime, a soldier, a grieving parent, an isolated older adult, a child bullied in school, a clergy person, a healthcare provider, a friend or co-worker, yourself – anyone!

One way a person may express this wounding is in statements such as, “Why did God let this happen to me?” “If God really loved me, this wouldn’t have happened.” Some individuals feel God can’t possibly love her/him because: “I am damaged goods.” “I was my fault.” “I did nothing to stop it from happening.” “I deserve what happened to me.” If someone is experiencing ongoing worthlessness, self-denigration, or belief s/he is unlovable, there is a strong likelihood that spiritual wounds need to be addressed.

So how can someone experience spiritual healing? Many people seek counsel from their pastor, priest, rabbi, minister, imam, clergy-person, etc. Some discuss their spiritual wounding in therapy with a psychotherapist. Others seek out spiritual counselors, sometimes called spiritual directors, to work in conjunction with their psychotherapist to specifically address spiritual concerns. Similar to healthcare providers trained to care for your physical health, spiritual directors are individuals trained to care for your spiritual health. Spiritual directors are professionals with knowledge and experience in the areas of spiritual formation, development, and guidance. If you’ve been raised within a particular religious denomination or with a set of religious principals, a spiritual director helps you recognize your early understandings of God and how those understandings may or may not have changed over the years. If you don’t consider or associate yourself with any particular religious tradition, a spiritual director helps you explore and understand the concept of something greater than yourself. This “something” can be nature, love, or a life-source; it can be anything that you experience as Mystery.

One’s spiritual health can be easily misunderstood, overlooked, or considered unimportant to someone’s overall health and well-being. Addressing one’s spiritual health can sometimes be the key component to her/his physical and mental health.

Sue Kamler, LPC, is a member of The Therapist Group at Maria Droste Counseling Center. Her areas of expertise are adult psychotherapy and counseling, spiritual direction, and supervision for licensure.