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August 19, 2015 / Articles

Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy


Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy and the Search for the Sacred
By Catherine Carstarphen, M.A., M.Div., D.Min.

Spirituality is “hard-wired” into our nature as human beings. The Latin word for spirituality is “breath,” meaning life force and connects us to each other and to God. In the 21st century, the paradigm of medical care is shifting to an integrative and holistic healthcare model. The mind, body, soul and spirit are beginning to be taken in to account in treating medical patients. Clients expect that their religious and spiritual concerns will be incorporated into treatment (Post & Wade, 2009). Many individuals, to foster their spiritual as well as psychological development, are seeking out psychotherapists. Recent research shows that spiritually integrated psychotherapy is now one of the five major forces in the field of psychology ( Standard, Sandhu & Painter, 2000).

Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy is an approach that addresses the spirituality of the client, the spirituality of the therapist and the process of change. Spirituality is defined by author Kenneth Pargament, as “the search for the sacred.” Spirituality is not a congealed or frozen set of beliefs, it is fluid and constantly seeking. Nor is it restricted to an individual’s relationship with the sacred understood traditionally as God or a higher power. Secular activities like the psychological, social and physical can also be imbued with sacred. I agree with his statement that that “the yearning for the sacred is a primary, irreducible aspect of human nature.” (Pargament, 2007)

The search for the sacred involves discovery, conservation and transformation. When one discovers something sacred (a manifestation of God or the Divine) in her life,whether it be in religion, nature, human virtues (forgiveness, justice, courage ) or a relationship, she embarks on a spiritual pathway (church involvement, meditation) to save or guard it. As life progresses, we face changes that threaten what is sacred and we struggle to conserve what we cherish. In times of grief, trauma and disappointment, spiritual disengagement may occur and a person may experience a separation from God or the Divine. However, in some lives, spiritual struggles lead to transformation that deepens one’s understanding of the sacred.

Through spiritually integrated psychotherapy people can draw from psychological, religious and spiritual perspectives to create and sustain a meaningful purpose in life. There is also space to examine spiritual disconnection and isolation to make meaning out of difficult life events. By facilitating a spiritual meaning making process, a therapist helps those suffering from chronic spiritual and emotional struggles. A client may choose to use music, art, poetry church, ritual, prayer, mediation and mindfulness to express their spiritual emotions.

Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy draws on the resources of a variety of traditions, depending on the needs of the particular client. The coping methods learned have been linked to create a greater resilience and well-being (Ano, G.A. 2005).

I believe that spirituality is a self-transcending process that leads to the development of one’s true self and the shedding of the false self that one develops to cope with emotional trauma. Spirituality is the animating force that moves us to love, meaning and connectedness.

Catherine Carstarphen- July 14, 2015


Standard, R., Sandhu & Painter, L. (2000). Assessment of Spirituality in Counseling. Journal of Counseling and Development, 78, 204-210

Pargament, K. (2007). Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press.

Ano, G.A. (2005). Spiritual struggles between vice and virtue: A brief psychospiritual intervention. Unpublished Ph.D dissertation, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH.