If you were asked to share your spiritual autobiography what kinds of things would you include? This came up for me recently in a class I taught on Spirituality in Psychotherapy. In the area of spirituality, as in so many areas, the self-awareness of the clinician is key to our ability to handle sensitive information from our clients with tact and grace. As such, I found myself reflecting on my own spiritual journey and how it interacts with the journeys of my clients. Often, it provides a powerful point of connection and identification – yes, I know what it is like to be angry with God. Yes, I know what it is like to have religion stuck in the middle of messy family situations. Yes, I know what it is like to have terrible things happen in your family and wonder what in the world God was doing while this was going on.
At other times I have to sit back and let my client be my teacher. No, I do not know what it is like to belong to a non-Christian faith… teach me about yours. No, I do not know what it is like to have parents who came from radically different religious viewpoints… what was it like for you? No, I do not know what it is like to feel like God was simply never available to me… how did this effect you? So I sit with my clients and help them try to find words for these experiences. Sometimes conversations go like this:
Me: “Give me a word picture.”
Client: “What do you mean?”
Me: “Give me an image that helps me understand what it is like to be you in this experience.”
Client: “It’s like knowing you have something deep and real to fall back on when nothing else seems to make sense” or “It’s like being left alone in a locked and empty room” or “It’s like two people both pulling on you so hard you feel like you’re going to be torn in two.”
Sometimes conversations with Christian clients go like this:
Me: “If Jesus were here right now, what do you think he would be doing?”
Client: “I have no idea” or “I think he would disagree with the idea that I have no value” or “I think he would be inviting me to come sit in his lap.”
These are not exact replicas of conversations. They are reminiscent of conversations I have had. They remind me again and again of the sacred trust that is included in this work. I was also enriched recently by another clinician’s reminder that the point is not to share “the Gospel according to Rachel.” No matter our faith viewpoint, it is always tempting to guide clients to the answers that have been right for us. But increasingly as I grow in trust, I find myself able to sit back and let the Holy Spirit do the work instead of trying to do it myself. As I encourage clients to deepen their encounters with God, I trust God to show up and teach them what they need to know about who He is. And the results are worth seeing. What a privilege. What a challenge. What a calling.