Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

The Spirituality Group: A Search for the Sacred

Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

The Spirituality Group: A Search for the Sacred

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This paper addresses the issue of integrating spirituality with substance abuse treatment by presenting the workings of the "Spirituality Group," a therapy group for substance abusing veterans at a Midwestern Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Common themes from the group, case examples, and a discussion of working with group resistances are presented.

The last 100 years have witnessed a variety of different attitudes and approaches to spirituality within the mental health community. In the past, mental health practitioners have at times viewed spirituality as integral, antithetical, or irrelevant to treatment. Many recent writings have documented an increased interest among psychologists in religiousness and spirituality (Emmons & Paloutzian, 2003; Hill et al., 2000; Miller & Thoresen, 2003; Shafranske, 2002; Tan, 2002-2003; Zinnbauer, Pargament, & Scott, 1999; Zinnbauer & Pargament, 2004), and presented ways in which to integrate religiousness and spirituality with mental health treatment (Ferrer, 2003; Griffith & Griffith, 2003; Hutchins, 2002; Ingersoll, 2002; Jerry, 2003; Miller, 1999; Richards & Bergin, 1997, 2000; Shafranske, 1996; Vaughan, 1995; WeIwood, 2000; Zinnbauer & Pargament, 2000) and medical care (Cavendish et al., 2000; Krebs, 2001).

In the field of addiction treatment, spiritual elements or traditions have long been associated with the path to sobriety and recovery, and this association remains prominent today (e.g. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1976; Georgi, 1998; Gorski, 1991; Grof & Grof, 1993; May, 1994; Nixon, 2001; "Spiritus contra," 1987). Despite this professional enthusiasm, however, few examples of how spirituality can be formally integrated into existing treatment programs have been presented in the professional literature.

The purpose of this article is to present one such practical integration of spirituality with substance abuse treatment: The Spirituality Group. The specifics of this group will be discussed against the background of interest in spirituality within the fields of medicine and mental health in general and within the field of addiction treatment in particular. The group structure and process are similar to mainstream interpersonal therapy groups (e.g. Yalom, 1995), whereas the transpersonal approach described by Frances Vaughan (1979, 1991, 1993, 1995, 2001) has been used to interpret the group content and resistances.

A DEFINITION OF TERMS

To find a single consensual definition of spirituality remains elusive even within the communities of researchers and adherents. Rather than elucidate this debate (for a discussion see Zinnbauer, Pargament, & Scott, 1999; Zinnbauer & Pargament, 2004), for this article we will use Pargament's (1997) definition of spirituality as the search for the sacred. As such, it encompasses the various paths people take to find, conserve, and transform the sacred in their lives. As explained by Zinnbauer, Pargament, and Scott (1999):

the sacred refers to the holy, those things 'set apart' from the ordinary, worthy of veneration and reverence. The sacred includes concepts of God, the divine, and the transcendent. However, it is not limited to higher powers. It also includes objects that become sanctified by virtue of their association with, or representation of, the holy. (p. 907)

This definition does not resolve the debate over the content or function of spirituality, but it does have the advantage of remaining broad enough to include a diverse range of spiritual states and transpersonal experiences, while avoiding becoming so diffuse that it encompasses everything.

For treatment providers, therefore, it is important to recognize that the search for the sacred is an active process that is not reducible to other needs or desires. The alcoholic who strives for sobriety may also pursue a spiritual awakening, but this does not mean that sobriety is solely a spiritual activity nor does it mean that spirituality is solely a product of addictions treatment or recovery programs. …

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