Psychology + Faith = Spirituality

I have recently been blessed with the opportunity of providing spiritual guidance to people in a beautiful facility at Saint Charles Parish in Kansas City’s northland.  Though I have a degree in psychology and am fascinated by human behavior, through my years of priesthood my mind and heart shifted me to become more interested in spirituality.  Admittedly no mathematician, as I figure it, the equation of faith plus psychology produces a sum of spirituality.

Earlier this month, I began giving summer mini-retreats to individuals, couples, and small groups to offer them respite and ideas for spiritual development. The majority of retreatants enter the experience with a little anxiety because it’s something new, or they haven’t made a retreat in many decades, or they simply don’t know what to expect from the encounter and are cautious of what they might discover.  My hope is that they always discover, first and foremost, that God loves them beyond their comprehension, and that the brief get-away is an opportunity to identify their current location along the journey of life, recalculate their direction, and take a step or two closer to God whose hand reaches for them.

In this blog, I want to note some differences between psychological counseling and spiritual direction that might have significance for you. Psychology distinguishes various counseling fields, e.g., guidance counsel, rehabilitation counsel, mental health counsel, family counsel; they all involve analysis and strategies for improvement.  There are similar delineations in spirituality, e.g., spiritual counsel, spiritual direction, spiritual companionship, group spiritual development.  They, too, assess behaviors and present methods or avenues for healthier attitudes, actions, and habits.  Though spiritual guidance sessions follow a similar pattern to that of psychological counseling, the central focus is significantly different.

After psychoanalysis was introduced to the world in the late nineteenth century, “the self” became the central consideration for individuals when making personal decisions. Therefore, psychology and its various forms of counseling focus on the self with the objective of attaining greater happiness in this life.  In contrast, spirituality and its various forms of guidance and companionship focus not on our relationship with the self but on our relationship with God—where primary consideration is given to the common good and divine will—with the objective of enhancing society while pursuing heaven at journey’s end.

Both psychology and spirituality explore self-awareness, which usually leads to self-understanding, which can rapidly lead to self-betterment. While secular counseling will help individuals relate to the world and others through exploration of the self, spiritual direction helps individuals relate not only through self-awareness but also through awareness of our relationship with God; it helps to not only seek self-understanding but also a more in-depth understanding of God working in our life; and it helps not only to experience self-betterment but the betterment of our surroundings for the greater glory of God and the fulfillment of God’s plan for us.  Every person possesses a spirituality; it is the energy, passion, or desire that directs us onward.  Yet not many people, in our busy lives, give it a whole lot of attention.  Spiritual direction suggests that it is worthwhile attention to give because—at least for believers—it guides us to our ultimate destination.  Instead of mere dialogue with a counselor, spiritual direction employs discernment, or dialogue with the Holy Spirit.

Many people in the Kansas City area have a graduate degree in spirituality and are trained as spiritual directors; but at this point in history, spiritual direction does not have professional or legal structures as does the American Psychological Association; it’s primarily about people assisting other people along life’s journey. Some recent retreatants to Saint Charles include a parent and adult child, a group of new high school graduates, an engaged couple, a group of co-workers, a set of spiritual companions, married couples, individuals with lots of counseling experience, and others with none.  Each is unique, so these mini-retreats are flexibly designed according to the person’s (couple’s or group’s) place along the journey.  Since we are each somewhere on that path to fulfillment, you can think of these mini-retreats as spiritual check-up rest-stops.  Based on what you discover through the encounter, you can determine what will be your next step to enhance your spiritual health and well-being.

If you think you might be interested in making a “one-step-closer-mini-retreat” at Saint Charles, contact me at 816-436-0880 or you will soon be able to visit our retreat house website to learn more or register.