The following is an introductory excerpt from Hunter Beaumont, PhDâ€™s Toward a Spiritual Psychotherapy: Soul as a Dimension of Experience.Â Beaumont, PhD., prefaces his exploration of Â ”attending to the soul” when healingÂ World War II and Holocaust survivors and their descendants.
As a psychotherapist I have been privileged to accompany many people as they examined extremely personal themes and searched for and found a path through the mundane and momentous events of daily lifeâ€”their joys and disappointments, affairs, births, deathsâ€” all the comings and goings we call life. I have often been amazed at the creativity and courage very ordinary people muster meeting their fates. They are examples of what we may call everyday heroism.
As an American psychotherapist who has lived and worked in Germany for thirty years, I have often been deeply moved and some- times shaken by my German clients. Through them I have come to understand what war really is, what it means for soul when the familiar world breaks apart and chaos and evil rule. Being moved and shaken by the stories from their lives has been an initiationâ€”and like every student, I am deeply indebted to these clients, my teachers. The sincere devotion to the quality of everyday living has become my most important spiritual practice.
It has also been my privilege to have taught and counseled in many different countries with different cultures and religious con- texts. I have at times been shocked, amazed, and confused by the huge variety of ways human beings have figured out for living their lives, and how very different strategies may work equally well. I have also been profoundly moved at the similarities of human beings in spite of these differences. In every land and culture and religion I have met parents who love their children and try their best to give them a good chance in life. I have met couples who love one another deeply and some who donâ€™t. I have met people who know joy and tranquility and those who suffer grief and defeat. These common threads of human life have made it possible to bridge cultural differences and to find constructive ways of working together.
The themes that are discussed in the lectures presented [inÂ Toward a Spiritual Psychotherapy] are the themes of life. I did not choose them exactly, but rather they were brought to me by my clients, by their need to deal in their daily lives with questions of birth and death, intimacy and loneliness, illness and hope. Of course I wanted to help, but what really helps when we wrestle with such weighty themes?
A woman well over seventy came to me when I was just starting my practice, asking for help with her grief following the death of her husband of forty-five years. I was full of ideas about what she was doing wrong and what she needed to change in order to get it rightâ€” me, barely thirty, who had never really been touched by the death of a loved one. The old woman was very patient with me; she seemed to have a soft place in her heart for me. Little by little, she helped me to emotionally grasp what it means after forty-five years of marriage to lose a partner and to begin to face the end of oneâ€™s own life alone. And as I slowly allowed myself to feel what it means for soul, I realized how clumsy and superficial my interventions had been. I had a sense of shame and remorse, and I told her that I had no idea if I could help her, or what would really help. She answered that she felt sure that her own heart knew what to do, that she only needed me to hold her hand. She was asking the most difficult thing of me: that I feel with an open heart what she felt while at the same time resisting the temptation to do anything to change it and to trust in some invisible dynamic of life. She was telling me in so many words that it would help if I were willing and able to be open to my own feelings of helplessness as she confronted hers. She knew something that I did not. She knew that there are times when struggle and effort are the course of choice, and there are other times when graceful surrender to lifeâ€™s natural unfolding is the better alternative. Freely choosing that course, when it is truly appropriate, requires trust.
The lessons learned with her and with other clients run through my life like a watershed, not a single turning point, but a line that runs between two possibilities: to be content with acting â€śas if,â€ť or to face with an inner nakedness what is really real in the dimension of human experience I have come to call soul. And continuing to walk this line has helped me to take seriously what I once so lightly taught: if we want to work deeply with other people, we need to open the depths in ourselvesâ€”open them both to the pain and suffering and to the beauty and joy.
Some people who seek psychotherapeutic counsel require clear suggestions, methods, and effective techniques in order to achieve what they seek. When that is the case, they have a right to get exactly what they need. For such persons the detour through their own past to uncover unconscious conflicts is often unnecessary. The methods of behavioral modification and hypnotherapy and other strategic psychotherapies are a true blessing for them. Other people need something else. For them, the methods and techniques to change behavior are not their primary interest, even when they are often greatly valued. They come with some intuition about where their own soul wants to grow, and they need a space in which they can discover what soul already knows. Thatâ€™s how it was with the woman I mentioned earlier. My suggestions, learned more from books than life experience, were annoying to her, an irritation, and they had the effect of invading her integrity. She required of me that I not allow myself to be intimidated by the inner feeling of helplessness in the face of one of lifeâ€™s tragedies, but to trust that her soul would find its own way. We all are confronted from time to time with unavoidable crises not of our choosing. Then we are not free to choose what happens. Difficult things happen whether we want them to or not. At such times our only freedom is to influence (but not control) how we deal with what life gives us.
The talks in [Toward a Spiritual Psychotherapy] document discoveries that people have made on their personal life paths. I understand my task here to be that of a chronicler who describes what has happened as best he can. At the same time, these lectures document in a certain sense the path that I have traveled in my life and in my work. They show how I slowly came to understand how the term soul can have meaning and power, how the word opens the inner work and expands it, how working with soul has changed my life and my understanding of the world, and how it has permitted me to better understand and serve my clients.