Posted by: Brian | February 11, 2013

The Role of Psychology in Understanding the Provision of Spiritual Care

There are strong Rogerian and Jungian components to my clinical practice, as their theories, implicitly or explicitly, have a Spiritual component, and can even be viewed as expressing the fractal, self-similar, microcosm/macrocosm view of the human person that plays some greater or lesser part in so many of the world’s religions.  For this reason, I would like to follow up on my original post about Spirituality, with the role of psychology in my understanding of Spiritual Care.

Rogers entire theory is based upon the “actualizing tendency”, which serves as the built-in motivation present in every living thing to develop as much of its potential as possible and to make the very best of its existence.  Rogers applies this actualizing tendency to all living creatures.  He compares humans, actualizing their potentials by creating and manipulating society and culture, to animals and plants coevolving or exploiting particular niches in ecosystems.  Rogers even went so far as to systematically and rationally apply this understanding to ecosystems themselves.  The universal applicability of the actualizing tendency to all living beings, and even systems of living beings, is scientifically and spiritually compelling.  It is in harmony with evolutionary principles, as currently understood in the life sciences, and with the essential goodness of life, a principle upheld by most faiths. I see the actualizing tendency as a functional definition for Spirit, constrained by the empirical nature of the field in which Rogers worked.

Jungian ‘analytical psychology’ is more overtly Spiritual, as it often incorporates the broad spectrum of human spiritual experience, including the mythology and folklore of ancient and indigenous religions, to gain a deeper understanding of the human psyche.  It is also a branch of psychology that acknowledges spirituality as a necessary component of our over all well-being.

“[Jung] had established these two facts:

1. The human psyche has an autochthonous spiritual function.

2. No patient in the second half of life has been cured without that patient
finding an approach to this spiritual function.

It might be assumed that, after such findings, theologians would have flocked to Jung’s consulting room; but this has not happened…. [T]hey might have at least been glad that an experimentally proved theologia naturalis exists.”[1]

Despite showing the profound interrelatedness of religion and psychology, Jungian ‘analytical psychology’ draws criticism from both certain psychological and certain Christian schools of thought.  In failing to take sides, both sides find analytical psychology suspect.  The fact that spirituality is endorsed at all alienates secular or reductionist psychologies; and the breadth of spirituality endorsed alienates any version of religion where ideological entrenchment and ‘one-true-way’ thinking is normative.  Some Christian theologians commenting on Jung “have [even] argued that he should not have ventured into theology in the way that he did.”[2] In the negative responses of both secular/atheistic and narrowly Christian commentaries, the violation of self-imposed boundaries is predictably followed by a defensive response– often with the energised emotionality that would indicate a neurotic trigger.[3]

Other thinkers have benefited from a more synergistic relationship between analytical psychology and Christianity, though serious explorations of other expressions of living religion are usually left out of that line of enquiry.[4]  Despite this oversight, I find that exploring the Jungian/Christian dialogue relevant for me professionally, because many of the people I work with are Christian, and to the whole exploration of Spirituality generally, since it is the only in-depth dialogue of Jung and religion available.  Beyond that, it is important to note that not all modern theology is rooted  in, or exclusively made relevant by, Abrahamic scripture. Some of the concepts can shed light on Pagan and Celtic thought, either by comparison or by contrast.  I will touch on that again in future blog entries, with a particular attention to eco-theology, process theology, pastoral theology in a multi-faith world, and the epistemological notions of Bernard Lonergan.

Returning to my main point; despite the constraints placed on Spirituality by Rogerian language and shattered by Jungian language; I see these descriptions as pointing to the same thing chaplains describe when, “[b]y spiritual, we mean the fundamental capacity to have faith, to make meaning, to create community and culture, to long for and practice love, peace, and justice, and to be oriented toward wholeness”[5], or in the key words of my own practice, personally, clinically and in the pagan community: Spirituality is the principle and process of Being, Acting, and Knowing from a stance of authentic Connectedness, Meaning, Values, Purpose, and Becoming.

[1] Meier, 1989, p.127

[2] Watt, et al. 2008. p 294.

[3] Hollis 1996, p.9-10

[4] Watt, et al. 2008 pp. 295-298.

[5] Spiritual Caregiving in the Hospital, p3



  1. Fascinating post. I studied Jung in college, but from a more sociological perspective. I wonder if Buddhist schools of thought are more accepting of Jung’s ‘analytical psychology’. They seem to be more keen to adapting scientific theory to spiritual practices. I think modern Paganism could learn a lot from the way some Buddhist leaders are approaching science (particularly psychology), especially prominent folks like the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh. If you haven’t read “The Universe in a Single Atom”, it’s awesome!

  2. I really love this…as an ovate and a naturopath, I have studied the impact of religions and spiritualities on my patients, this is helping me a great deal to move forward into my studies, very well documented and highly uplifting…thank you so much ! HB, from France

  3. Very interesting. I’ve always found Humanistic psychology to be very compatible with spirituality, particularly Rogers’ and Maslow’s works.

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