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Case Study: Counselling, Psychotherapy and Spiritual Healing

by Patsy Wright(more info)

listed in case studies, originally published in issue 92 - September 2003

Could counselling and psychotherapy methods benefit from the inclusion of spiritual healing? In 1993, whilst carrying out research for a PhD, this question led William West to form the PsychoSpiritual Initiative (PSI):

“In order to study the interrelation between therapy methods and spiritual healing, I decided to bring together a group of people who had expertise in both areas” Dr West explains. “Until about five years ago, the word ‘spiritual’ was hardly mentioned in training or text books, so we were breaking new ground.”

Dr West placed advertisements in relevant magazines and, after interviewing 30 people, the original group of seven emerged from as far afield as York, Manchester, Nottingham, Winchester and London. Dr West is currently a Senior Lecturer in Counselling Studies at Manchester University. He is also an author of two books and a number of papers on psychotherapy. He recollects the time when the group had fulfilled its research role:

“We had developed a strong support group with a shared spiritual understanding. Even though the initial purpose for our gatherings had been purely for research purposes, we agreed that we should continue to meet up to provide integrated consultations.”

Since that time, PSI have got together quarterly, although only four of the current six are from the original group. Nowadays, meetings take place alternately in members’ homes around the country. In the majority, consultations are a one-off event. The entire process is deemed to be sacred, with the idea that each person within the group enters into an equal state of openness and vulnerability in order to create a healing presence.

Ten years after the group formed, I have come to a private house in Hampshire to experience the effects at first hand. I join the PSI members in the living room, and settle into an armchair. As soon as the introductions are complete, I am given a brief explanation of what is likely to happen, after which we ease our way into a silence. I have trouble settling and feel slightly awkward. During this time, and regardless of my tension, the group are using their intuitive powers to connect with me and my needs, picking up thoughts and insights. Before long, I become conscious of two members who are jotting down words and drawing images.

After about 10 minutes, I am invited to put forward the personal issue for which I have come to seek guidance. Following this, the three men and three women tell me what has come into their minds. Some of the observations are startlingly meaningful, whilst others are more obscure.

I have come to get help over my deteriorating relationship with my disabled mother, for whom I have been a full time carer for nearly three years. Far from being compassionate, I am full of anger, resentment and frustration. As a result, I am also full of guilt.

One of the members of PSI, Marie O’Brien, shows me her drawing and tells me that she thinks the vertical but squiggly line on the sheet of paper represents a spine, and that the two shapes above it are hemispheres of the brain. These hemispheres, she points out, are not connected.

What I have not told the group, up to this point, is that my mother has severe arthritis of the spine. Her back is bent and twisted and she is in constant pain.

Nor have I told them that the main reason I find her so difficult to live with as a character is what I see as a total lack of empathy. For me, there is a particular significance in the drawing, as I remember reading that empathy relies on the development of healthy connections between the two hemispheres of the brain.1

For some reason, seeing the sketches on paper makes me more accepting, as if providing credibility for the status quo. I feel vindicated in my experience and yet, paradoxically, more understanding. After all, if my mother does not have the necessary brain connections, how can I expect more of her?

Over the next hour we work together as a group to explore the issues in depth. Throughout this time, the members continue to use their perceptive senses, adding new insights as they are received.

Some illustrations of my mother’s behaviour are turned around so that I can see the funny side, and we end up roaring with laughter. As I enjoy writing, the group encourages me to jot down such examples as they arise so that I can use them creatively. In this way, potentially explosive situations can become opportunities as I store away yet another gem for my future TV sitcom (I trust they will not sue for a share of the royalties).

I must take some responsibility for the situation myself though, and I am helped to see the reasons behind why I volunteered to care for my mother. Rather than being entirely altruistic, it was a pattern developed in childhood. This is something I am already aware of, but I am shown how and why I have carried this through into adulthood and continue to act it out. 

I am impressed by the apparent psychic abilities of some of the PSI members. O’Brien tells me that the word psychic can give the wrong impression, but allows for the fact that, within a spiritual discipline, the group is sometimes able to get readable information from the aura of a visitor.

“The power of our work is stronger when we are together”, says West. “Also, we can make sure that it is for a higher purpose. There is a real danger of attaching the work to the ego. Being in a group helps to keep a check on that.”

Revelation is not necessarily cosy, and my visit involves being scarily honest and facing some uncomfortable truths. The PSI members are careful to give me the appropriate emotional and spiritual tools to help me deal with what has been disclosed.

Because of the collective skills of PSI, and the intuitive input, I am convinced that I have reached a depth that would not otherwise have been possible in such a short time. This does not mean that my problems are over, but I feel more self-accepting and resolute than I have for a long time.

To end the session we share a further short period of silence during which the focus is on healing.  By now I feel more at peace in the quiet. As I say my goodbyes, I am aware that, with the group’s help, I have opened a door in my awareness, and with my hand firmly held, I have stepped through.

For further information contact william.west@man.ac.uk

References

1.    Biddulph S. Raising Boys.Finch Publishing, 1997, Harper Collins, 2003.

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About Patsy Wright

Patsy Wright lives in Hampshire

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