The Taunton Association for Psychotherapy annual conference was held on Saturday 18th March, with the title “Cutting Edge Connections Between Spirituality and Psychotherapy.’ Both these disciplines involve an investigation into what gives individuals meaning and purpose. In recent years the overlaps between the two have attracted more interest than was the case even thirty years ago.
In 1999 the Royal College of Psychiatry -a scientific body-formed a Special Interest Group (SIG) on spirituality and today it is the largest SIG. Mental health and spirituality used to separate and now there is more recognition of their connections. One of our speakers, Larry Culliford, who is both a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist, played a part in setting it up.
Other developments in the wider world have caused some re-assessment of that split. Near Death Experiences, of which we now have thousands of accounts, point to the possibility of consciousness existing apart from the brain.
Secondly, consciousness is thought by some scientists to be a factor in quantum physics in ways which are not yet fully understood.
The conference speakers addressed the relevance of the subject to practitioners.
The first speaker was Melody Cranbourne-Rosser, recent Chair of the Spirituality division of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, and a Senior Lecturer at the University of South Wales. Her presentation was called ‘Spirituality; Necessity or Nonsense.’ She explored the difficulties of defining the term, which involves the relationship to one’s inner self and reaches beyond the self and others in the transcendent realms of experience. She drew attention to the recent research; particularly the benefits of spirituality to mental health. There is, however, also a down side, such as the effects of ‘spiritual abuse’ experienced by some people in cults for example.
Spiritual expression can take many forms ranging from acts of compassion and yoga to meditation or faith based activities. It can take an important role at the end of life and it is important that psychiatric and medical staff are sensitive to the religious, cultural and spiritual needs of a diverse population. It is important to engage with the whole person but there is still a way to go before it becomes generally accepted.
Larry Culliford gave a rich presentation and tackled several forms which we can only indicate here. One was the role of suffering and the process of healing and growth. Secondly, he explained the research of James Fowler’s stages of faith and how it can change from simple responses to spiritual maturity and the problems of transition between the stages. Some of the fruits of spiritual maturity include living spontaneously and compassionately, putting values about material gain, an acceptance of people on the same path but from a different tradition. a sense of harmony and other things. It is a journey, not a destination.
The speaker presentations are available to download from our Annual Conference page HERE.
Our thanks to all the participants and those behind the scenes who helped make the day run smoothly. The subject for next year's conference is already under discussion, and if you have any thoughts please do get in touch.