It’s a new year. It’s also a new quarter for me at the university. While preparing for my next round of courses, I thought about a discussion I regularly have with the students in psychology. The conversation is about a therapist’s theoretical orientation. Let me explain.
Therapists are encouraged to understand the theoretical orientation they bring into the clinical setting. While treatment plans are based on the needs and goals of a client, each therapist has a natural tendency to understand people from a particular perspective. One way to think about it is the old nature versus nurture debate: is it nature or nurture that makes us who we are? Depending on the way a therapist answers this question, a therapist will interpret the client’s presentation of problems from a particular perspective or orientation. Knowing and understanding one’s theoretical orientation is very significant. On the positive side, a clinician’s theoretical orientation is a way to organize the therapist’s thinking about a client’s problem. On the negative side, a theoretical orientation can lead to bias – so it’s best to understand what it is in order to minimize that bias.
When teaching courses on theory, I always ask my students to explore what it means to be human. What is being human all about? Are we the product of genetics, or the environment, or are we limitless potential? How do people grow and develop? How do people change? The answers to these questions are part of a clinician’s theoretical orientation.
As I’ve thought about these questions, I’ve realized that the same questions lead us to an understanding of spirituality. An individual’s understanding of spirituality is based on beliefs about what it means to be human. Who are we? What’s life about? How do we grow? How do we change?
As I think about these questions, I return to the Judeo-Christian tradition. At heart, I believe human beings are a reflection of the Divine. The Hebrew book of Genesis begins by explaining that humanity was made in the image and likeness of God. Using a wonderful metaphor, another creation story (yes, there’s more than one creation story in the Bible!) from the book of Genesis describes the Creator breathing Divine life into the first human being. In other words, the life of God becomes the life of each person.
I believe that the foundational aspect of being human is that human beings share the life of Divinity. This says a great deal about the dignity and fundamental goodness of each person. It is also an affirmation that our existence is based on a relationship with something beyond ourselves. Our very being is sustained by the relationship or interconnection we share with other people and with the other aspects of creation. Yes, because the breath of the Creator is our breath, we are fundamentally interconnected with everything in the universe by the Creator’s breath of life. For me, this is the foundation of sustainable spirituality.
Understanding sustainable spirituality means that we begin to consider the essence of humanity as being interconnected with all that exists. Sustainable spirituality recognizes that spirituality isn’t just about “my spirituality” but is rooted in the interconnection we share as human beings with the universe. This interconnection draws us out of the self-preoccupation sometimes associated with spirituality to a realization that we are sustained in and through a web of relationships with everyone and everything.
While it’s important for my students to consider their theoretical orientation as psychologists, it’s vital for us to consider what we believe about the nature of life and humanity. It’s those beliefs that form the foundation of an understanding of spirituality. To that end, I affirm that my life is fundamentally connected to and sustained by the web of relationships that form that universe. That’s part of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of the Divine.
© 2011, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.