Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Quest and Spiritual Development Moderated by Spiritual Transformation

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Quest and Spiritual Development Moderated by Spiritual Transformation

Article excerpt

A relational model of spirituality and transformation (Shults & Sandage, 2006; Sandage & Shults, 2007) based on the dialectic of spiritual dwelling and seeking (Wuthnow, 1998) was tested in a sample of Christian graduate seminary students (N= 181). Spiritual dwelling was operationalized using a developmental measure of realistic acceptance (RA)(Hall & Edwards, 2002), and spiritual seeking was measured with the Quest Scale (Batson & Schoenrade, 1991a, 1991b). Results included modest positive correlations between Quest and Spiritual Instability, Spiritual Disappointment, and Mental Health Symptoms and modest negative correlations between both RA and Mental Health Symptoms. The report of a recent spiritual transformation moderated the curvilinear relationship between Quest and RA supporting the relational spirituality model. Implications are considered for future research on dialectical understandings of spiritual development and for training programs in the helping professions.


Empirical research on spirituality has intensified over the past decade. However, most of this research has focused on spiritual well-being rather than spiritual development or spiritual transformation (Hill & Pargament, 2003; Shults & Sandage, 2006). Spirituality is not only a possible source of well-being or stability in life but also a potential source of "deep and profound change" over the course of human development (Pargament, 2006, p. 11). William James (1902/1958) in his classic phenomenological work, Varieties of Religious Experience, describes both gradual and sudden changes in spiritual experience that can unify the previously "divided self" (p. 144) and result in a spiritual "firmness, stability, and equilibrium succeeding a period of storm and stress and inconsistency" (p. 147). Yet the empirical study of spiritual and religious change, such a vital part of the history of the psychology of religion, has languished until recent years. The area of adult development has been particularly under-studied since adult samples are often less convenient for data collection than late adolescent or emerging adult samples.

While literature on religion and spirituality in psychotherapy has been growing, research suggests that a minority of therapy training programs offer any explicit training on those issues (Worthington, Sandage, Davis, Hook, Miller, Hall, & Hall, 2009). There is a growing literature examining the process by which adult Christian graduate students in psychology training programs learn to integrate their faith with psychology as a discipline (Sorenson, Derflinger, Bufford, & McMinn, 2004). Sorenson developed a relational attachment model of integration, which he defined as "integrity," through studies with students at several graduate schools. His research focused on the roles of faculty and mentors and suggests that students develop in their capacities to integrate their spiritual faith and their professional discipline largely through relational dynamics of attachments with faculty and mentors. But according to Sorenson et al., the developmental process of integration often involves transitional periods of "disintegration," questioning, doubt, and seeking as spiritual transitions and changes emerge. While these studies of the relational spiritual development of Christian doctoral psychology students are informative, there is a need for further study using a broader array of trainees in the helping professions including ministry and therapy. The present study for this special section on Relational Spirituality and Training is intended to contribute to that need.

Defining Spirituality

Spirituality is complicated to define. Hill and his colleagues (Hill et al., 2000) offer a psychological definition of spirituality as related to "a search for the sacred." Shults and Sandage (2006; Sandage & Shults, 2007; Sandage, Jensen, & Jass, 2008) adapted the definition of spirituality offered by Hill and colleagues (2000) to fit a relational theoretical orientation by defining relational spirituality as "ways of relating to the sacred" (Shults & Sandage, 2006, p. …

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