I am often asked by prospective clients what it means in practical terms that I work from an African spiritual perspective and, in general, that I include the spiritual in my approach to psychotherapy. Because it seems to be a question that many people have, and because it is a good question, I decided to write a blog post in answer to it.
There are three ways in which my clinical practice is informed by an African spiritual perspective.
Therapists are informed in their practice by different theoretical approaches. How a cognitive behavioral therapist addresses the issues presented by one client, will be different from how a psychoanalytic psychotherapist would address the same issues in the same client, which will be different from how a humanistic psychotherapist would approach them, and so on. We view our clients and the challenges they bring through the lens of the theories we embrace. Transpersonal psychology is the theoretical basis for transpersonal psychotherapy and the branch of psychology that acknowledges and works with the spiritual dimension of being. Even so, the transpersonal view does not include African spiritual thought in its application of psychospiritual theory. It does, however, offer me a framework within which to translate African spiritual thought into psychotherapeutic practice. This is the first level at which African spirituality operates in my practice, by providing me with a lens through to see you. It is a very basic aspect of my practice and is present irrespective of the client.
The second way that African spirituality influences my practice is in the way that I prepare to go into a session with a client and the forces that I feel help me in my work. Many therapists have their own rituals to prepare for sessions, mine is to pray to my Ancestors and ask for their guidance in the session. In traditional psychotherapy, we talk about concepts such as ‘felt sense’, ‘projective identification’ and ‘intuition’ to describe and understand intangible phenomena or invisible energy transfers at play in the therapeutic exchange. Similar concepts exist in African spiritual thought that feel more natural to me and which I embrace and put into practice in my work. One such concept is the idea that our departed loved ones (Ancestors) as far back in time as we can imagine and beyond, are here to help us. I choose to make this a part of how I work, and I feel the impact of this way of working. This, again, is a technical aspect of clinical practice and is not visible to you, the client, nor does it require anything from you.
The third and final way that African spirituality informs my practice is in supporting the spiritual development of my clients. Some clients actually want to develop their own African spiritual understanding and practice, and I can help them explore it. I make room in my practice for you to explore your own, personal spirituality if you so desire. That includes us exploring together through talk and me suggesting reading and other learning resources to you. It also includes me offering you an alternative understanding of the situation you are going through, from an African spiritual lens, which you can accept, reject, or amend. This level of exploration comes from you, the client, and we only go there if you ask for it.
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