Stepping through different realities: a phenomenological hermeneutic study of psychotherapists' spiritual experience
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This study explores therapists' spiritual experience, personally and within the therapeutic relationship. It focuses on the lived experience of therapists and the different meanings made of what is experienced. The purpose of this research is to bring into the light spiritual experiences of therapists and how they are experienced in the therapeutic process. It contributes to current debate about spiritual experience in the day- to- day practice of psychotherapy. The methodology of phenomenological hermeneutics is chosen as it provides the means to study therapists' lived experience. The study is guided by the philosophical thinking of Heidegger, Gadamer and Van Manen.The findings of this study reveal different types of spiritual experience. These include non-ordinary states of consciousness where there is a feeling sense of being beyond the boundaries of linear time and space. Experiences involve noticing subtle body feelings before they manifest in everyday consciousness. They include hearing and seeing phenomena that may normally be overlooked or disavowed in psychotherapy. The findings show therapists' ability to notice, explore and utilize subtle body phenomena was a combination of their own capabilities, their spiritual practice, and years of experience as therapists. The therapist's body appeared to be like a doorway into experiences that had transformative effects on both therapists and clients. The meanings made of experiences reflected therapists' spiritual and cultural beliefs. These beliefs meant that therapists are attuned to something bigger than everyday identity that gave meaning and purpose to the work and was a rich source of wisdom and guidance, comfort and a sense of being held in the work. Specific attitudes and qualities of presence are revealed that reflect therapists' spiritual beliefs. Participants described experiences that emerged out of the context of the therapeutic relationship but could not be explained clinically. The findings show therapists' world views, their spiritual and cultural beliefs and capacity to experience the unknown, bring a richness and diversity of meanings to the therapeutic relationship that includes the wider contexts of culture and the environment. This study explores current thinking about spiritual experience in psychotherapy and its effects on the therapist. It raises issues for further discussion relating to the role of therapists' spiritual experience in contemporary psychotherapy.