By Christine Peace, Behavior Coach
How would you define “spirituality”? Despite being an abstract, subjective concept, one general definition might be a recognition of and/or connection to something greater than your individual human experience. While, for some, this includes adhering to a particular religious system or beliefs in a specific god or deity, this is not necessarily the case. For example, some might describe their experience of “God” as being a connection to nature (the Great OutDoors, so to speak). Despite the significant diversity among peoples’ spiritual experiences, however, spirituality can be an important component in healthy human functioning and wellness.
As a counselor, I have had clients come inquiring about spirituality and my personal beliefs many times. While it is imperative to be genuine with clients (or students, for those working in schools), it is equally important to not impress beliefs upon them. Thus, at times it may feel like walking a tightrope of attempting to address this personal concept without offending or endorsing a specific belief system, while simultaneously providing appropriate self-information to facilitate an authentic and effective counseling relationship.
This may seem daunting, particularly as we often serve as authority figures and role models for our clients, providing templates for how to think and act. Luckily, there are components of spirituality that appear across belief systems that we, as counselors, can acknowledge to address and integrate spirituality into our work. Specifically, we will examine four universal principles for spiritual wellness.
In defining purpose, one may say it is the driving force in your life, the meaning for existence, or what gives your days value. For some, this relates to their career or vocation. For others, it may be their role in their family or community. Perhaps, it may not connect with other people at all, but instead be amidst nature in solitude. And for others still, purpose may be intertwined with a specific spiritual belief system. However, regardless whether one’s sense of purpose is big, small, personal, or communal, exploring what provides purpose can be an excellent tool for promoting wellness.
In spirituality, gratitude often is described as being connected to, and appreciative of, that which is greater than yourself (e.g., God, nature, community, etc.). By exploring for what they are thankful, clients have the opportunity to acknowledge what brings them joy and satisfaction, which can have a profound impact on their sense of well-being. In fact, research has demonstrated that the act of feeling and expressing gratitude regularly can result in the release of feel-good chemicals in our brains, such as dopamine and oxytocin.
Acts of service can look drastically different from one person to the next. It may mean taking an extra moment to hold open a door, or paying it forward with a cup of coffee. On the other hand, it may be volunteering or serving in the military. Perhaps, if a person’s spiritual wellness looks more like the Great OutDoors, it may be picking up trash along a trail. Regardless of its specific appearance, for many service is inseparably linked with their purpose. Therefore, examining how or why a client serves may promote their sense of self-accomplishment within their communities.
Interestingly, discipline can be applied to all the other spiritual principles. Contrary to some depictions, discipline does not mean to punish oneself. Instead, it means to develop and maintain habits and practices. Discipline may present as a person completing an act of service a day, expressing gratitude before a meal or meditation, or other ways. Through commitment and self-accountability, discipline demonstrates a person’s integration of their thoughts and beliefs into their life and actions. In this way, discipline can be profoundly impactful on an individual’s counseling journey.
These universal principles can serve as important factors to consider with clients who present with interest in spirituality. If you would like to go a step further in integrating these principles into practice, below are questions to consider for each of the four. These can be utilized as prompts for meditation, journaling, or discussion with your clients or students. Most importantly, these questions can facilitate self-exploration and open-minded conversation regardless of spiritual background.
Purpose: What does, or used to get me excited about life?
Gratitude: What is a time in my day or routine that I can practice gratitude?
Service: How am I currently being, or how can I be of service to someone or something else in my life?
Discipline: Where or when in my life have I demonstrated discipline?