Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Exploring a Fourth Dimension: Spirituality as a Resource for the Couple Therapist

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Exploring a Fourth Dimension: Spirituality as a Resource for the Couple Therapist

Article excerpt

This article explores ways in which the therapist's own spirituality can serve as a resource in couple therapy. Spirituality is defined as subjective engagement with a fourth, transcendent dimension of human experience. This engagement enhances human life and evokes corresponding behavior. Spiritually based therapy may be influenced by three assumptions: that God or a Divine Being exists, that humankind yearns innately for connection with this Being, and that this Being is interested in humans and acts upon and within their relationships to promote beneficial change. In therapy these assumptions affect how the therapist listens and responds throughout sessions. The authors incorporate a case example illustrating the application of this fourth dimension in couple therapy.

Until recently, the idea that spirituality could be a positive resource for the couple therapist would have been dismissed as a foolish notion. Prest and Keller (1993) said in JMFT that in our field spirituality may be more taboo than sex and death. Berenson (1990) stated that "the most underutilized resource in family therapy today is God" (p. 50). And a survey of 3,615 articles in family therapy journals revealed that religion was dealt with in a major way in only 1.3% of the articles and was viewed positively in only half of those (Kelly, 1992).

Lately, however, evidence has arisen of a growing interest among marital and family therapists (MFTs) in spirituality as a potential asset in their work. The Fall 1994 edition of the Journal of Systemic Therapy was devoted to this topic. Two recent books by Moore (1992, 1994) made the New York Times best-seller list and have been read and discussed widely by therapists. Butler and Harper (1994) have lately explored the relationship of God and the couple as a triangulation process and suggested marital therapy interventions for religious couples. A book devoted to spirituality and couple therapy (Brothers, 1992) and one applying religious resources to family therapy (Burton, 1992) have also appeared. Additionally, the increased number of workshops on spirituality and therapy, and attendance at such workshops (including the AAMFT national conference), further indicate a growing interest on the part of MFTs. The works just cited suggest a variety of ways to conceptualize couple relationships. They even make some clinical applications. However, little attention has been paid to how spirituality in the person of the therapist may serve the process of couple therapy. Prest and Keller (1993) made the intriguing suggestion that the spiritual self of the therapist is always being shared in the therapy hour. They invited further exploration of the role of the therapist's own spirituality in the therapeutic process. The intent of the present article is to respond to their invitation by exploring the spirituality of the therapist in the practice of couple therapy. SPIRITUALITY: A FOURTH DIMENSION OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE

Different therapies pay attention to different dimensions of human experience. Three dimensions of experience addressed by most therapies are time (events occurring in sequences), space (experience organized through the structure of relationships), and story (the use of language to shape what has occurred in time and space into structures of meaning). The latter includes stories told inside our heads, stories told to others with whom we interact in time and space, stories that families construct and pass on over generations, and stories constructed by societies and cultures. Strategic therapies emphasize the time dimension, and structural therapies the space dimension. Story is a central interest of intergenerational family therapies and those therapies in the postmodernist/social constructivist tradition. Therapies preferring attention to time and space take an interventionist form; those preferring story, a conversationalist form.

Proponents of these different therapeutic approaches attend to different dimensions of experience because they operate from different basic assumptions about human nature and interaction, and about how change happens. …

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