An Integral Psychology Response to Helminiak's (2001) "Treating Spiritual Issues in Secular Psychotherapy"

By Marquis, Andre; Holden, Janice Miner et al. | Counseling and Values, April 2001 | Go to article overview
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An Integral Psychology Response to Helminiak's (2001) "Treating Spiritual Issues in Secular Psychotherapy"


Marquis, Andre, Holden, Janice Miner, Warren, E. Scott, Counseling and Values


This article is a response to D. A. Helminiak's (2001) "Treating Spiritual Issues in Secular Psychotherapy" from the perspective of K. Wilber's integral psychology. The article consists of 3 sections: (a) a selective summary of integral psychology, including the perennial philosophy, 10 levels of development, lines of development, temporary states, types of orientations, the self, and the 4 quadrants; (b) various conceptual issues; and (c) usefulness to mental health practitioners (MHPs). Although D. A. Helminiak's endeavor to formulate a clear and functional definition of spirituality is commended, his claim of novelty is shown to be unwarranted. It is argued that K, Wilber's integral model is more comprehensive, clear, coherent, and helpful to MHPs.

Helminiak's (2001) "Treating Spiritual Issues in Secular Psychotherapy" is a noble effort to address some of the most perplexing issues of psychology and psychotherapy today. In this work, he attempted to formulate a lucid and functional definition of spirituality. Building upon this definition, which he identified as humanistic in orientation, he presented a psychology of spirituality and offered a means by which it might be implemented in psychotherapy. We share Helminiak's desire to find a model of spiritual psychology that can guide mental health professionals in both their thinking and their practice, and we commend him for turning that desire into years of work aimed at developing a viable model.

A noteworthy aspect of Helminiak's spiritual psychology is his admonition that therapists reinterpret or reject outright certain pathological aspects of clients' religious beliefs. We applaud Helminiak's courage in this regard. The mental health profession's need for criteria to critically evaluate clients' spiritual material cannot be overemphasized. A spiritual psychology that wades in a mire of pluralistic relativism and unreflective acceptance seems destined to drown, immobilized by internal contradiction and indecision. We agree with Helminiak that the current flood of cultural pluralism and relativism in academia and the culture at large, in which all value judgments are eschewed (except, with ironic inconsistency, the valuing of not valuing over valuing), is anathema to any comprehensive understanding of what it means to be human. Values are an inescapable aspect of existence, and all values, worldviews, and cultures are not equal. If all values were equal, as Wilber (1995, 2000) has pointed out, the actions of Adolf Hitler, Ted Kaczynski, and the Ku Klux Klan would be affirmed equally with those of Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King. We doubt the mental health profession is prepared to take this stand.

Helminiak asserted that before the mental health field is able to competently offer the services he proposed, the human sciences must undergo a "radical reorientation.... Until psychology addresses the big questions about the meaning of life ... psychology cannot pretend to deal with whole human beings, let alone with spirituality" (p. 171). We agree. We depart from Helminiak in our belief that the basis for such a reorientation has already been offered in the professional mental health literature in the work of Wilber (1999c), to whom Helminiak pejoratively referred as the "archguru of transpersonal psychology" (p. 172).

Thus, our appreciation and respect for Helminiak's efforts to develop a spiritual psychology for the mental health profession are outweighed by our overriding reaction that his modet provides a far less comprehensive approach than does Wilber's (1999c) integral psychology model. We came to Helrniniak's work with a background in integral psychology, and we approached his work with the question of whether it added to, or even might more comprehensively substitute for, the integral perspective. Our answer on both accounts is essentially no. Whereas Wilber's (1999c) integral perspective encompasses, clarifies, and affirms Helminiak's views as well as numerous phenomena that Helminiak addressed incidentally or not at all, Helminiak's (p.

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