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 Tahoe Sunset 2005



  •  Spiritual Psychotherapy

  • Spiritual direction: individual or group

  • Creativity Coaching 

  • Retreats: by invitation, custom-designed for the group
  • Workshops, groups and classes


 Q& A


What is spiritual psychotherapy?


Spiritual psychotherapy is an approach to therapy which begins with the basic premise that spirituality and/or faith traditions, religious background and beliefs fundamentally impact one’s world view.   Spiritual psychotherapy is sensitive to multi-faith traditions, cultures and experiences. Therapists do not impose their beliefs on clients. Treatment utilizes spiritual strategies in conjunction with other well-established multidimensional treatment modalities, such as cognitive therapy.  For those individuals who desire to include this part of their lives, it places the work and process of therapy explicitly in the context of the transcendent.


What is positive psychology?


Positive psychology is the study of  optimal functioning, of positive emotions, traits and abilities and of institutions which promote or enhance positive emotions and traits. The research developments in recent years are impressive.  Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson have published extensively in the areas of character virtues and optimism, including a well-developed list of traits which can be cultivated, that are admired and respected across cultures and religions.   Included in this list of “signature strengths” are traits such as wisdom , appreciation of beauty, kindness, curiosity, gratitude, justice, transcendence.  Positive psychology is also often about learning to forgive, and fundamentally about finding meaning and satisfaction in life.  A key strategy found to enhance wellness and life satisfaction is the practice of gratitude.


What is play therapy?


Play therapy is designed for younger children, but elements of play therapy may be used up until the age of 10, particularly through art.  The premise is that young children work on their emotional experiences through the familiar process of play with toys, games, art or “pretend” role play.  This play, particularly in the context of the accepting, focused attention of a therapist, allows not only the expression of perception and experience, but offers possibility of integration and healing.  My approach to play therapy is generally non-directive, in that I follow the lead of the child in her play, creating a safe space for the process.  I reflect back what the play seems to be about, offer words as appropriate, participate by invitation.  The child plays out what he knows, what he feels, what he wishes, what he needs. 


The process begins with a thorough diagnostic interview with the parents, and it is assumed that parents will meet regularly with the therapist in order to support the child’s efforts.


What is spiritual direction? 


While there are several models of spiritual direction or "spiritual friendship"  to draw on in the Christian tradition, the particular approach I use may be described as  “walking” with a spiritual companion, engaging in contemplative action,  "practicing the presence of God" in all things. It is a non-hierarchical, covenant relationship rooted in scripture.  The content of our conversations is found in the stories the directee chooses to share.  Together we  listen for God's presence in the rhythms of daily life.  There are several basic premises in this approach:


  •  Belief that God is present in all aspects of life and is always inviting  us into relationship
  •  Belief that discernment of God is a careful, reflective process that may be enhanced by a contemplative approach, e.g. careful noticing of life and God’s engagement with all of creation.   The discernment may be experienced in the encounters of everyday life, in nature, in prayer, worship, service or through a myriad of other types of experiences and spiritual disciplines, including expressive arts.
  • Belief that an active prayer life is a dialogue with God that takes many forms, from quiet listening, to expressive arts and movement,   to prayer shared in community gatherings of all sizes, to attentive actions on behalf of others 
  • Belief that a growing relationship with God is transformative and  outwardly manifested in relationships with others, in work, in self-care, in small and large acts of justice and mercy, love and kindness.


How is spiritual direction different from spiritual psychotherapy?


Sometimes, the differences may not seem too great.   However, the following may help distinguish these two ways of working on one’s life experiences while recognizing and engaging one’s beliefs in the transcendent.


Spiritual direction is a  process “set aside” for the purpose of coming to know and increase understanding of the spiritual journey and relationship with God.  The  director offers companionship and presence to support the journey,  with no aspirations to spiritual authority.


In contrast---

While people may move in and out of psychotherapy over time, the purpose for most is usually goal-focused, i.e.,  to deal with specific life issues, whether that be a particular problem, a transition or loss, desire for more self-awareness and growth, making a particular decision, healing from past wounds, or dealing with patterns of emotions and behaviors that create obstacles in any aspect of life. The hoped-for outcome of therapy is essentially about envisioning and creating the changes that one desires to make---or about managing reactions to unplanned changes. In a supportive, encouraging environment, the therapist offers  knowledge and expertise from the field of psychology, while the client brings expertise in his/her own life. The collaboration creates a space for possibility and change.


Spiritual psychotherapy is structured the same way as most types of therapy, with the additional focus of talking about and understanding how spirituality and/or religious beliefs and communities may enhance the process of change, provide support during life changes, or otherwise impact the process.  Such beliefs and experiences are quite varied,  change during a  lifetime, and impact individuals differently.   






For more information  (see also Bibliography page of this site):


Richards, P.Scott and Bergin, Allen E.  A Spiritual Strategy for Counseling and Psychotherapy, 2nd ed.  American Psychological Association, Washington D.C., 2005.


Seligman, Martin.  Authentic Happiness: Using the new Positive Psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment.  Free Press, New York, 2002.


Guenther, Margaret.  Holy Listening: The art of spiritual direction.  Cowley Publications, Cambridge/Boston,1992.


  original images and text (excluding template graphic) Copyright 1998-2008  Carol  A. Stalcup, Ph.D.

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