Spiritual but not religious

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Waterlily

Mindfulness and meditation.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

What exactly does “Spiritual but not religious” mean?

A very large number of people here in America are describing themselves as “Spiritual, not religious.” There is a growing disconnect between religion and people’s day-to-day life.

As a result of this disconnect we are gaining some things, I hope, such as a wider appreciation of our differences, but we are also losing some things.

In secular programs, those run by government agencies, we try to accommodate people of all faiths and those with no faith. Sometimes this is a challenge. We have to ask people what their religious or spiritual belief is without implying that they need to have one or that the belief they have is not acceptable to the agency.

An example of accommodating faiths and other spiritual beliefs

There are a whole lot of people who are vegetarians, do not eat meat variety vegetarians, not because of religious or health reasons but because they view the killing animals for human food as morally wrong.

Our society seems to be doing a better job of accommodating this particular moral belief. More events are offering vegetarian meals.

It gets harder when we take into account that some faiths do not eat pork, some decline beef and some require particular diets as in kosher.

Beyond dietary restrictions, it gets progressively more difficult to accommodate other spiritual beliefs within our increasingly multicultural society.

During intake processes, we are supposed to ask about client’s race or ethnicity. An increasing number of clients are finding it difficult to answer that question. Some people are reporting 5 or more different ethnicities in their background.

When talking with clients I try to make it a practice to ask about their spiritual or religious beliefs.

Say the client reports that they are African-American. This tells me nothing about their spiritual beliefs. We need to try to stay open to all manner of possibilities.

More and more people are finding it impossible to answer questions about their faith. We have to tread lightly here. I do not want to imply that they need to have a faith or that any particular faith is preferred, but I do not want to completely disregard their spiritual practices in designing their treatment.

Those few who do answer are resorting to one of two responses. I am a Christian or Spiritual But Not Religious. Most who say Christian do not self-identify with any particular denomination. They are not Catholic; they are not Protestant and so on. Some few report attending Non-denominational churches.

Most who self-describe as Christians are reporting, at least in my experience that they do not attend any particular church.

A very large number are reporting as Spiritual but not religious.

So why does all this matter? From a practical standpoint those who self-identify as believing something do better in treatment than those who have no faith. This benefit includes those who self-identify as Atheists if they also report some particular higher law or principle, say right and wrong, that helps them guide their life and is reassuring in times of stress.

One of the gains from this spirituality moment has been sets of values that people take with them day by day in all areas of their lives. I am suspicious of any faith that requires you to be a believer for a couple of hours each week, while in a particular building, but you are free to spend the rest of the week on raping, pillaging and burning.

One of the things we are losing as a result of this increased emphasis on spirituality and the disconnect from religion is the loss of meaningful shared rituals.

Rituals give meaning to things which would otherwise be everyday actions.

Rituals are not solely the providence of the religious world. Court proceedings, with that robe, the bailiff, and the ritualized language, make the whole process seem more meaningful and as a result, are intended to increase respect for the law and the workings of the court. The ritual gives the process meaning. Occasionally the system debases the meaning when they do not follow the principles of justice these rituals imply.

Graduation ceremonies are a ritual we can all share to make the transition to another life stage. Marriages used to be a way to make the transition from being two separate dating people; to one committed couple. We still have the ritual despite the loss of meaning that a wedding has after having the parties have several children.

Funerals are also a ritual we all share that helps us negotiate the loss of a person who had some meaning in our life.

In places where there is one dominant faith, rituals are shared by virtue of people’s participation in that faith. With the decline of active participation in a particular religion and an increase in self-identified Spiritual But Not Religious, what has been missing are the rituals that used to accompany life events.

Creating new rituals.

People in recovery have resorted to creating new rituals that may help them to share the emotions and resolve the changes in status without invoking a particular religion.

Addicts may write a “Goodbye Letter” to their drug of choice. There are traditions of sponsorship that may replace the “rite” of confession in certain religions. People celebrate the anniversary of their embarking on the road of recovery.

One remaining challenge has been how to create meaningful shared rituals that do not impinge on people’s particular religious faith and allow full participation in the ritual.

Whatever your spiritual or religious tradition, here is wishing you the best possible life.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Therapists have therapists – Who do pastors and priests see?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Church.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Who is helping the helpers?

Therapists are encouraged to go for their own therapy. Rather than being a sign that there is something wrong with this professional, having someone you can talk to about your problems is recommended practice, and for good reason.

This got me thinking, wondering, which professionals who help others are encouraged to get help for themselves and which are too embarrassed, ashamed or arrogant to get help for themselves.

Counselors need to have counselors. 

First, let’s talk about the counselor or therapist who goes for therapy and then we will inquire about other professions.

Beginning counselors are encouraged to see another professional both as a part of the training process and ongoing after they are licensed. Being a helper is a stressful job and you would have to be pretty arrogant to think that once you become a professional you will not need to see someone for your own stuff.

Clients sometimes ask about this. I see it in the search terms from time to time. There is no reason to avoid a therapist who is going for personal counseling and in fact, we think this is a good thing. Many licensing boards feel it is so important that the counselor work on their own stuff that they allow us to count a certain number of hours of personal counseling towards licensure. This process is so important there is even a bonus of extra credit for some hours of personal therapy.

Many schools require counselors in training to go for their own counseling. Doctors see other doctors. Teachers take classes from other professionals and it just makes sense to take good care of yourself.

Drug counselors need help staying sober.

Substance Abuse Counselors have recognized this for a long time. They are at high risk of relapse by virtue of spending all day talking about drugs with their clients. Sponsors should have sponsors and therapists need to see another mental health professional.

In substance abuse counseling it is common, almost universal for the counselor to be in recovery and often they are still attending meetings.

Mental health staff needs self-care also.

What we do not hear nearly enough about is the number of mental health professionals who are in some form of mental health recovery. Our professional schools are still too under the influence of those Freudian’s who never self-disclose anything to anyone. But a whole bunch of mental health professionals have told me privately that they have struggled with or are in recovery from some mental illness or other. If not them then they have a relative or friend who has that issue.

Why else would you want to work in this field if you or someone you knew had not had to overcome an issue?

Incredibly that mental health professional who entered the field because someone helped them create a happy life, once they are in the field, becomes too embarrassed to talk about their own issues. Some have even been threatened with loss of job or friends if they self-disclose this item. Peer counselors and members of self-help groups are at special risk to think that having “fixed” themselves they can now stop working on themselves and just help others. This is a relapse waiting to happen.

If you work in this field, as a professional, a peer or even a volunteer, you need to stay connected to a support system that can help your recovery and that may mean you need to continue to go to meetings or see a professional.

So what about other professions self-care?

It is Sunday, I wrote this on another day and scheduled it to appear later, but it is being posted on a Sunday. Which brings up the question – who – mostly works on Sundays?

The first thing that comes to mind is what about religious leaders?

One way of understanding churches and similar institutions is that they are hospitals for the spiritually sick. Many recovery programs include spirituality or religion as parts of the life that need to be included in your recovery plan.

So do religious leaders, pastors, priests, rabbis, Imam and so forth ever need spiritual guidance or are those guys and gals that close to spiritual perfection? Far as I know there are relatively few perfect people on earth and the ones who think they are there, that they have arrived at perfection, they are at the highest risk of taking a wrong turn into thinking that they need to take over and do the job of being God.

Does anyone out there know – do pastors see other pastors? They can’t very well go to church can they, what with having to work every single Sunday.

I know that some denominations have a hierarchy and that the local pastor or priest has to report to a superior. Mostly that looks like running a business. How many viewers did your sermon get and how much was in the collection? What about real spiritual guidance?

Given the number of cases of child sexual abuse and the affairs of the clergy, one has to wonder. Pastors and Priests do, for the record, end up in rehab. We can’t tell you which ones. That is about confidentiality. It would appear that religious leaders have the same prohibition on self-disclosure therapists are encouraged to observe. They just seem able to hide it better than depressed psychotherapists.

What is up with us not wanting to admit that the caregiver sometimes needs help and that needing help sometimes does not disqualify you from being of service to others?

Related articles

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Afraid to say pray? Spirituality, religion and a happy life

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Praying.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

The role of Prayer, spirituality, and religion in creating a happy life.

Higher PowerI have held off on discussing this topic as long as I can. It is with great trepidation that I even put the keywords, prayer, religion, and spirituality into my blog.

But there is a connection between what you believe and your ability to have a happy life. We find that people who have a spiritual belief are more able to create the changes needed to improve their life. Having friends is helpful and having somebody with a whole lot of pull in the universe would be even better.

Nothing has been so effective in human history at dividing us up into in and out groups and becoming an excuse for a war or general mayhem, then what we call our particular spiritual belief. If you have a particular aversion to Religion in general, please read on, I believe that for you, recovery is possible also and you don’t need to sign on for my particular religious belief system in order to have a happy life.

I, like so many others, have from time to time referred to myself as a recovering —— (fill in name of several religions here.) I came from a region where at one time the “Regular” Baptists and the “Separate” Baptists used to get guns and shoot at each other. It was the 60’s, the 1860’s. But the idea is still in play.

Further north and a little east of there some of my ancestors tried to kill each other and then had to flee because somewhere Catholic and others were Protestants. Descendants of these faiths and a whole lot of others end up marrying each other and I am one of those results. I find it increasingly difficult, no impossible, to take sides in all these sectarian disputes.

So what does that have to do with recovery?

The hard part for many people in recovery, recovery from any and all of life’s problems, has been to separate those old religious rituals and dogmas from reconnecting with some sort of deeply felt beliefs.

Prayer is one of those useful beliefs.

Now it would appear that there are a whole lot of different understandings of who we pray to and what prayer is, but the results tell me that those that pray have better and happier lives.

Twelve-step groups in their early days had to come up with a solution to this God and belief problem. They use the term “God as you understand him” So that includes all the various denominations as well as the various other names by which people may call their “higher power.”

I will try to avoid those old sectarian disputes, though at this point I suspect I have already wandered into the minefield and shortly my comments and inbox will fill with comments from people saying “If you don’t pray the way we do at the First Church of —- then God hates you and you are going to —.”

Prayer is too important to our recovery from unhappiness and a whole lot of other issues to be left out of the equation.

Wholly sectarian philosophies often incorporate practices that look and sound suspiciously like prayer. Creative visualization, meditation, the law of attraction, all these things try to put us in touch with something greater than ourselves. So does “wish-craft” and psyching yourself up to create better performance.

As we take this journey towards our happy life, whatever you may define that as being, we will need to talk about the role of faith, belief, prayer, and meditation. I don’t expect to write anything that intentionally offends anyone and I do believe that what I say will not contradict anyone’s current religious practice.

I have not studied religion in any professional capacity and don’t presume to tell anyone what they “should” believe. What I do know based on my training in counseling and psychotherapy is that believing in something is helpful in creating a positive, mentally healthy life.

This raises a bunch of questions we need to consider.

Does God, your higher power, the forces of the universe or whomever, hear and answer your prayers? Even if it is your own subconscious that hears and responds, what might be the advantages of giving some prayer a try?

Why do some people say they get answers to their prayers and others say they don’t? What improves the chances that you will get an answer? How many different ways could your prayer be answered?

What is all this meditation stuff and why do people talk about “prayer and meditation?” Don’t you do one or the other?

This material on prayer, meditation, and spirituality will get sprinkled throughout the year so as to avoid giving anyone spiritual indigestion.

From personal experience, I have concluded that my Higher Power (as I understand them) has not one or two ways to answer my prayers. I am quite convinced that I have received at least four different answers to my requests. Your answers to prayer may vary from that number depending on your actual situation. I have also learned that I was not very skilled at praying. I have needed to change the technique I use.

Let me tell you in a future post about those four different answers you may receive and why we may all be amateur prayers.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Mindfulness on a full brain

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Waterlily

Mindfulness and meditation.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

What is all this mindfulness stuff?

And how can I possibly include that in with my cognitive behavior therapy?

Problem-solving in mental health as in life has always been pretty straightforward for me. If we are applying the wrong formula to a problem then we keep getting the wrong answer. Once we learn an improved formula all we need to do is turn the crank and out comes an answer.  Get a head change, a new way of seeing things and the problem changes from unsolvable to a manageable size. So we work on core schemas, automatic thoughts, irrational or dysfunctional beliefs. And we work on acceptance – radical acceptance. So the whole mindfulness thing troubled me—until-

There have been a lot of articles recently on mindfulness. Now I feel that this has its uses. Religious and spiritual practices have their place. And I am as much in favor of candles and herbal scents as the next person. All this has its time and place. And we know that if the client believes in something it will probably help. But do mindfulness techniques have a place in modern scientific, best practices, forms of treatment. Then I read some things that made me think.

Siegal has written and talked about mindfulness and recently I happened to read some things he had written on the subject. They made sense to me from a logical rational perspective.  Let me try to explain this as I get it and hope not to do too much violence to the science.

Scientists have discovered mirror neurons in the brain. Now if all they did was see someone else doing something and result in us knowing how to do the same thing that would be the end of it, one more way to learn stuff.  But these mirror neurons detect patterns that allow us to infer why someone is doing what they are doing. Learning these patterns makes our world a more secure and predictable place. This has a lot to do with understanding attachment theory.

If when we reach for more food at the table we get slapped – we learn to not reach but ask which may be a valuable learning experience for a young unsocialized child. But if the response varies depending on the amount of alcohol mom has consumed, what we may learn is the pattern that the world is a scary and inconsistent place. The pattern of asking may be adaptive and is quickly forgotten if we encounter a situation where it is not expected. The pattern of seeing the world as a frightening place is likely to last a lifetime.

So the mirror neurons help to explain how we learn basic core ways of relating to the world.

But there is more.

Mindfulness teaches the practice of paying attention to how we feel inside. As we come to recognize how we are feeling it becomes easier to recognize feelings in others. This is sometimes called the “expert” effect. If you are an expert on antiques you will spot them and probably will notice the cheap reproductions also. If you are not an antique expert you will see things you like or don’t like but lots of stuff will go unnoticed in the piles of other stuff. Same thing with feelings and empathy.

Seeing people express love will teach you the pattern of love.  But if the people you live with don’t show love or show it inconsistently then you may be unable to recognize the pattern and to replicate it. This does not mean that people whose early caregiver did not love them as much as they wanted will be unable to love. What it does mean is that it may be harder to recognize and express love in later life.

Lots of people in recovery, from drugs, alcohol, mental illness or dysfunctional caregivers report they have difficulty with trust issues. Most came from situations where it was not safe to trust on a regular basis so they never learned the pattern.  Some recovering people have spent so much time being deceitful to cover up and continue their addiction they no longer recognize the truth when they hear it. Their mirror circuits have not had trust images to reflect back and incorporate into their catalog of patterns.

So how will mindfulness techniques help someone who has trust issues, attachment problems or dysfunctional behaviors? How might these approaches help counselors in helping clients?

By becoming aware of our inner feelings and thoughts we can begin to dispute dysfunctional beliefs. We can learn new more functional patterns of meaning in life. We can recognize our feelings of anger, mistrust, and fear and test these feelings to see if they have a basis in reality. And we can learn from recognizing our own feelings to have empathy for others.

Counselors can especially benefit from mindfulness techniques by becoming better able to present an empathetic other who can participate in a corrective emotional experience with the client.

More to come as I research for that book I am writing on resilience.

Wishing you all the mindfulness you care to have. Hope to hear from some of you.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.