Archive for Spiritual Counseling Theory

New Study Shows Belief in God(s) Helps Mental Health

From the “we already knew this” department:  A new study in the Journal of Affective Disorders shows that people with high or moderate levels of belief in God do better in short-term psychiatric treatment on measures of well-being, intent to hurt themselves, and depression.

I can’t find a link to the original study — here is a short article from psychcentral.com.

It would be nice to see some studies on Pagan beliefs and psychiatric outcomes.  Still — I will take what I can get.

I post this here because I have been thinking about ways in which Pagan clients can better help their counselors be comfortable with spiritual and religious beliefs.

Studies that show that people believing in “God” — and I am going to assume for the moment that this would generalize to gods and goddesses — are mentally healthier would seem to me a positive step towards convincing the mental health profession that spiritual people are onto a good thing.

Mentioning such studies might be a good strategy if you encounter a therapist hesitant on the whole spiritual thing.

 

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Association of Pagan Therapists

There is a new Association of Pagan Therapists forming — so far through the use of a Meetup group.  You can click here to see their webpage:

http://www.meetup.com/Association-of-Pagan-Therapists/

This group is growing out of the recent Pantheacon conference.

The initial focus would seem to be on growing an association of Pagan professionals, advocacy, and perhaps developing tools for other therapists and the community.  This discussion of what the association should be is ongoing.  I’ve joined to participate and check it out.

The focus of the separate and pre-existing Pagan Professional Counseling Yahoo Group has so far been more on case consultations, and peer support for fellow Pagan therapists.

Hard to say if these will remain separate in focus or come together in some way.

— Michael

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Paganism, Sobriety, and AA

I found an interesting take on AA today on CNN’s religion blog.  Click here to see it — it’s entitled My Faithlessness: The atheist way through AA.

The author talks about the difficulty of being an atheist in a room full of Jesus.  She acknowledges the reputation AA has for being kind of a cult in and of itself.  Towards the end she states:

“I believe that the most important spiritual principle of AA is humility. The recognition that we are flawed, that we can and must change and that our purpose not only in sobriety but in life is to be of service to others.”

So she has found a way to spiritually connect in the end — through humility and service and a recognition of flawed nature.  I’m glad for her.

I’m not sure this will work for many Pagan alcoholics.  My Pagan clients are especially annoyed with the emphasis on surrender of power. They tend to think that they need to take back personal power and personal responsibility in order to rebuild themselves. They feel oppressed by the assumptions of one male deity.  They DON’T want a nonspiritual alternative.

See:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pagans_In_Recovery

There are a number of alternative 12- and 13-step Pagan programs.  Here is one such system I like which was created by Circle Sanctuary priestess Selena Fox as part of her counseling master’s degree thesis at University of Wisconsin-Madison entitled “When Goddess is God: Pagans, Recovery, and Alcoholics Anonymous”(1995):

PAGAN TWELVE STEPS

1. We recognize that we have given away personal power by addiction to substances, that this has resulted in dysfunctional living, that it’s time to reclaim our power and restore balance to ourselves and our lives.

2. Came to acknowledge that the Divine Power within can bring about healing change and harmony.

3. Chose to allow the Divine within of our own personal path to be the central guiding force in ourselves and our lives.

4. Examined ourselves deeply and honestly on all dimensions, physical, mental, behavioral, emotional, and spiritual.

5. Acknowledged to the Divine, to our egos, and to at least one ally, what is
unhealthy and unbalanced in our bodies, thoughts, emotions, behaviors & souls.

6. Were ready for the Divine within to work transformation to restore balance to ourselves and our lives.

7. Sincerely invited the Divine within to dispel barriers to change, and to facilitate transformation.

8. Made a lists of all beings we have harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such beings as much as possible, except when to do so would cause harm to them or others or make a difficult situation worse.

10. Continued our process of self-examination, acknowledging our strengths as well as our problems, promptly acknowledging our mistake & successes when they occurred.

11. Sought through spiritual activities such as rituals, meditations, chanting, dancing,
rhythm making, invocations, prayers, vigils, nature walks, journal writing, and other practices, to strengthen our relationship with the Divine within and to allow this dimension of ourselves to be the guiding force in our lives.

12 . Having had a spiritual rebirth as a result of this process of healing transformation, we continue to work with these principles and are willing to share our story with those who come to us in need.

There actually used to be a Pagan AA meeting in office space I rented on Saturdays before the local Pagan shop Mystickal Voyage shut-down.   I’d love to know if they managed to relocate somewhere nearby.

I will comment that vanilla AA is often effective. I’m frequently glad it exists.  I think most of the problems are as much a result of local failings and local members as of the AA system itself.  Few groups run perfectly as intended.

My occasional objections to it are along the lines of AA as its own religion, the 12-Steps and the program being  inviolate and those questioning are “in denial”, and of course the emphasis on surrender to higher power.  Again — much of this depends upon how the local meeting is run.

Here are a few of the other variants I hear from my clients (Pagan or not):

1) Frequent complaints by high IQ clients that it seems simplistic and not open to intelligent challenge.

2) Frequent complaints of hypocritical/relapsing sponsors.

I’m not sure there is a summary point to this posting — I guess maybe that some flexibility is needed in finding a path to sobriety and to the Divine.  Also that such flexibility is being created by Pagans and atheists and others who need the help while stuck in our mainstream culture.

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Wonderful Sacred Space Conference

Just finished a wonderful weekend at the 2011 Sacred Space Conference.   I’d like to thank Caroline Kenner for asking me to submit classes as well as the whole host of other event planners.

I presented a class on healer ethics — which was a very broad class concerning common ethical considerations across a wide variety of healing professions from the more medical (professional counseling, acupuncture) to the alternative (Tarot readers, energy healers, etc.).  We had a small but very enthusiastic group and the class about ran itself with all the examples and questions.  I was very pleased with how it went.

I also presented a very well attended class on trauma spectrum disorders with the goal of educating group leaders about what different disorders entail, how to spot them, and possible effects on their spiritual groups.  Another good discussion.

The conference was fantastic — I got to go to several sessions from other presenters I really enjoyed.

I missed Jonathan White’s class on “Ceremonial and Counseling Work with Anger” which combined Pagan ceremonial methods for working on anger with counseling.  Likely was a good class — his always are.

I’m happy to see several classes on mental health popping up at Pagan spiritual conferences and even happier at being invited to help teach them.

— Michael

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Staff of Asclepius: Pagans With Disabilities & Health Conditions

I added a new blog to the Pagan Counseling links section (scroll down on right-hand side).   Staff of Asclepius is an attractive blog mostly about Pagan health issues.  The main author Masery posts an interesting mix of Pagan health news (much of it mental health-related), interviews, and personal observations.

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New Pagan Psychology Blog

Dr. Valerie Cole,  the Department Chair of the Pagan Pastoral Counseling program at Cherry Hill Seminary, has started a new blog.

Dr. Cole’s blog is mainly for “psychotherapists, psychologists, helping professionals of all kinds, scientists and others who would like to discuss how a pagan perspective informs our understanding of the human psyche.”

Her first promising post is entitled “What if We are All God?”  Her blog can be

http://paganpsychology.blogspot.com/ 

I'm looking forward to it.

-- Michael

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PCP Episode #108 is Online!

Pagan Centered Podcast (PCP) episode #108 is now online.  As I discussed in earlier posts here and here, we discuss several topics related to therapy and Paganism for a bit over an hour.  It’s been online for 3 days and already has 424 downloads — I’m psyched! (Bad pun intended.)

Amber and Dave at PCP also posted a nice outline of the show online so that if you are interested in a specific topic you can jump right to the portion of the show that it’s discussed.

The outline of the show is here.

The actual .mp3 file is available for download here.

This show is also available through iTunes.

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Pagans in Deep in the Mental Health System

I got to visit the grand re-opening of a drop-in center on Friday.  A drop-in center (sort of like the name implies) is a facility, usually run by other mental health clients, for the benefit of mental health consumers.  They play games, watch movies, generally hang out, and frequently get involved in educational and job-related activities as well.

Anyway, I walked into this drop-in center and shortly noticed 4-5 clients all wearing pentacles, dragons, tattoos, and all the usual status stuff that marks Pagans as Pagans.

This was interesting as I don’t generally encounter lots of Pagans in the more serious mental health settings.  (While not always true, people who choose to hang out with other mental health clients on their free time are often among the more seriously mentally ill.)

Well, apparently several of these Pagan folk attend the psychiatric rehab program (PRP) across town (ironically they don’t attend mine — where the management is Pagan).  Pretty soon I was hearing stories of astral battles, shamanic banishment of astral nasties, and the ways in which their PRP was now cleansed, warded, and protected courtesy of the Pagan clients.

All in all a rather normal Pagan conversation.  Except for the setting.

Which put me in both a state of cognitive dissonance and a thoughtful mood.

Cognitive dissonance because half of me approved and the other half of me was evaluating for possible delusions.  Thoughtful because of all the ideas and questions that came to me.  A sampling:

  • How exactly would the typical psychiatric center staff react if they caught a banishment ritual going on?  How should they react?  Do they dare even consider allowing it?
  • In a traditional culture (or a Pagan discussion environment) this problem would not even arise.  The shaman (or Pagan) would of course be allowed to proceed with the banishment.  It would not matter if he/she was really banishing nasties or just hallucinating it — the community support would make it no big deal and possibly be healing to the individual.
  • But in a serious mental health center, when do you let clients run free with their paranormal experiences — especially if they are involving other clients?
  • Hmmm… maybe I should ward and cleanse my PRP better too…

I’m intrigued how this all fits together.  I suspect these Pagan folks just quietly do their thing, with the psychiatric staff none the wiser.  Perhaps the staff overlook a certain amount of odd behavior.  I think there would need to be a treatment team ethic in place something to the effect that its healthy to allow clients to work through their own delusions if no one is being hurt.  (And of course, maybe its not delusion and the center is the safer for it…)

I’d be real curious to know how this balancing act plays out at their PRP — but of course if I ask I might upset the apple cart.

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Interview Went Well

Wednesday I got to hear an advance copy of my interview with PCP: Pagan-Centered Podcast.  I was very happy with it, apart from some sound quality issues.  They did a good job cleaning up my “ummm..” and awkward pauses.

Self-promotion aside, I think this is a worthwhile interview to listen to if you are hesitant to see a therapist and want to know how to approach a therapist with Pagan beliefs.  I also cleared up misconceptions on being involuntarily hospitalized, drugged without consent, labeled schizophrenic for paranormal experiences, and a host of other concerns.  I was quite happy with it.

I believe it will be posted as episode #108 in a few weeks.  You can get it off of iTunes, or visit their website for other methods.

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Religion Tightrope Walk

I sent the following memo out to my staff at a psychiatric rehabilitation day program today.   What are your thoughts on the proper role of religion and/or spirituality in a state-funded psychiatric environment?  When does it help with recovery?  When does it hurt?  Does the presence of ANY religion pressure nonbelievers?  Does its absence leave believers with a hole in their heart?  What if they don’t have the means to get out to their religious or spiritual community?

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Religion and spirituality has always been a touchy subject in mental health.  I’ve been sending strong signals lately that some religion and spirituality in the program is fine. Here’s why:

  • Our institutional population is often not able to get to church or other religious activities and so are missing out on the spiritual/religious aspects of their lives.
  • I believe in a holistic program approach encompassing mind, body, and spirit.  We bring in everything else the clients need.
  • There are now several studies in the psych literature that show a link between spirituality and recovery – especially for depression and for drug/alcohol issues. (See Keating & Fretz, 1990; Propst et al., 1992; Worthington, Kurusu, McCullough, & Sandage, 1996).

 However, at the same time this is a secular, state-funded program which provides equal services to all clients – religious or not. 

 So a balance is needed – a way to provide spiritual and religious programming but in a totally optional way that pressures and evangelizes no one.

Here are the rules I’m flying by for spiritual and religious classes and activities:

  • They are appropriate only if there is absolutely no pressure whatsoever on clients to attend.
  • They are appropriate only when there are other attractive activities in the same timeslot of a secular nature.
  • Spiritual/religious activities will usually be held in a side classroom rather than the community room in order to further emphasize that attendance is optional and so it does not by default grab up folks who just sit in the community room.
  • There must be enough client interest to justify the programming strictly on client need (not evangelism).   This is pretty clear for Christianity right now.  For other religions like Buddhism, etc. I’d theoretically be just as happy to have classes if there was a need.  I suspect given smaller numbers of interested clients, such could be accommodated by client-run clubs.

 This is verbose, but I hope clear – please feel free to hit me with questions individually or at staff meeting.

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