A case for Higher Power in psychotherapy

Written by Barry Herbach, LCSW

Americans are starving for a sense of purpose, a sense of being home.  This hunger is a void that never seems to get filled.  We can buy that new car, computer or meet the love of our life to relieve it. Yet is it any wonder that we have a credit card crisis?  All  retail therapy has achieved is that some of us have mortgaged our futures to credit card companies.  On top of that the divorce rate is at an all-time high.  All that happens is that the void temporarily feels smaller, but the space remains.  One way this thirst for belonging and being back at home can be quenched is by allowing a personal relationship with G-d as you understand Him, Her or It.

 “As Western medicine begins to incorporate a more holistic approach, we in mental health must recognize the necessity of identifying and honoring our patients’ strengths. Spirituality is what many people call upon when first encountering health concerns. Wanting to understand this relationship, major healthcare institutions–including those at Johns Hopkins and Harvard, as well as Sheppard Pratt–have begun to sponsor conferences on Spirituality and health”.

Martin, Marilyn. "Bridging the mental health/spirituality divide: appropriate spiritual interventions can aid therapists." Behavioral Health Management, November 1, 2003 

It is time for psychotherapists to stop competing with people’s beliefs, and instead work together with them.  I happen to have a strong spiritual foundation due to several incidents when I was very young.  This makes me sensitive to this need, but this does not mean therapists should push religion or G-d.  Rather, it means honoring this relationship, if it is there.  Spiritual Faith is a big part of the human experience and can make life easier and fuller.

It is this relationship with G-d that is important, not the religion. Religion, to me, is the language we choose to use to speak with and understand G-d. You can talk to G-d in Christianity, Islam, Judaism or any other religious language.  It is very important not to confuse the language with the relationship. This is one of the main tenets of Jesus’ teachings.

 “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Matthew 6:6-8

I believe that one’s relationship with G-d is very similar to relationships we have with other people in our lives.  The relationship can be endangered by expectations that we feel are not met. This relationship can also be damaged by a perceived abandonment in our time of need.

If you can heal this relationship and remove the obstacles that interfere with your faith, you can then allow  G-d’s love to touch and heal you. This in turn will make it easier for you to like yourself, and then love yourself. This is where it is the therapist’s job to understand and help.

I don’t view what I do as religious; rather I am a relationship specialist.  As a psychotherapist, I help others heal their wounds and relationships.  Having a strong faith in G-d, I believe that he can be a very healing presence. Using my skills coupled with my beliefs I try to help others reconcile their differences with G-d.  From there it’s up to you. I am not affiliated with any religion, and as I said, I only view it as the language you decide to speak.  You can decide to go back to your original religion, try a new one, or not use one at all.  My job is only to reconcile the relationship, if that’s what you feel you need.  Once the relationship is healed the rest is up to you and G-d, as you understand him to be.

Once again, it is not my job to push this relationship, but if it is there, to help nurture it.  So no worries that you will be pushed down this road; it is a road that is available.

“Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.”

Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), Indian political, spiritual leader. Non-Violence in Peace and War, vol. 2, ch. 77 (1948).