Spirituality in Clinical Practice: Incorporating the Spiritual Dimension in Psychotherapy and Counseling

By Porter, Kenneth | American Journal of Psychotherapy, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Spirituality in Clinical Practice: Incorporating the Spiritual Dimension in Psychotherapy and Counseling


Porter, Kenneth, American Journal of Psychotherapy


LEN SPERRY: Spirituality in Clinical Practice: Incorporating the Spiritual Dimension in Psychotherapy and Counseling. Philadelphia, PA: Brunner-- Rutledge Press, 2001, 203 pp., ISBN 1-58391-067-0 (paper).

Even a cursory view of the daily media reveals that America is undergoing a renewed interest in spirituality today. Historians tell us this is a periodic phenomenon in American history (the Transcendentalists of the mid-nineteenth century, and the 1960s more recently come to mind), but in the aftermath of the September 11th tragedy, it seems even more pronounced.

Interestingly, the entry of spiritual concerns into psychology occurred almost contemporaneously with the birth of psychoanalysis. Within a decade of Freud's seminal Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, two European analysts (Carl Jung and Roberto Assaglioli) had already begun to explore the integration of spirituality with analysis, while on this side of the ocean, in his now famous lectures (which actually occurred at Edinburgh but became the basis for Varieties of Religious Experience), the American philosopher William James began the scientific exploration of spiritual experience.

But it was not until the Japanese Zen scholar D.T. Suziki's famous seminar at Columbia University in the 1950s, attended by, among others, Erich Fromm, Karen Homey, and John Cage, that spirituality began to truly enter the world of mainstream psychotherapy. This was followed by the birth of what became known as the transpersonal psychology movement on the West Coast starting in 1969, associated with such names as Abraham Maslow, Miles Vich, Stan and Christina Grof, Ken Wilber, Frances Vaughn, Roger Walsh, Seymour Boorstein, among many others. Meantime, the mainstream world of psychoanalysis had started to take notice (James Jones, William Meissner, Ana Maria Rizzuto), and a number of Buddhist psychotherapists began to share their knowledge as well (John Welwood, Mark Epstein, Diane Shainberg, Jeffrey Rubin, Mark Finn). More recently, a number of therapists have begun the long-awaited task of a fuller integration, among whom the work of Byram Karasu and Brant Cortwright stand out.

Into this climate comes this excellent and much-needed book by Len Sperry, which brings together in a skillful way most of what is now known in this burgeoning field. Sperry, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Medical College of Wisconsin and author of 30 books, also has two other major advantages-a Ph.D. in psychology, and (often lacking in books of this nature) a very rich familiarity with the Christian literature on psychotherapy and spirituality. His clearly thought-out book explores many themes.

First, he carefully delineates some differences between spiritually oriented psychotherapy, pastoral counseling, and spiritual direction. This is followed by a brief historical review of the field, and an exploration of the different dimensions of human and spiritual experience. …

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