The quest for fulfillment is as old as humankind. When a caterpillar undergoes its metamorphosis into a butterfly, it must release its limited earthbound form. Human transformation proceeds in similar fashion.
The catalyst for our own personal metamorphoses is often a "dark night of the soul." Whether it’s heartbreak, failure, a health crisis, loss, depression, obsessions, or anxiety, we unwittingly find ourselves in a state of great pain and suffering. At first, we may seek solace in familiar theories, people, and experiences. If these do not work, we eventually find our way inside ourselves. We reclaim our authenticity and reconnect with our own soul. After all, it is within the depths of our soul that our greatest wisdom lies.
They never taught me about souls in medical school.
I began learning about them only several years after I was already a psychiatrist. In much of medicine, there is an unfortunate split between science and the soul. Science is always searching for that which is objectively measurable, testable, and repeatable. In contrast, the soul is subjective, immaterial, transcendent, and therefore impossible to quantify.
While the mind gives us access to science, the soul gives us access to spirituality and faith. Or to put it another way, our soul awakens our sense of connection to something "more," to something beyond oneself. To some, this is a Higher Power or the Universe. To others, it’s a more general sense of the sacred, or a collective consciousness, a shared global purpose, or the interconnectedness of all life. Whatever your "more" is, it is usually concerned with matters of truth, meaning, and purpose.
From a scientific perspective, one of the most important things about spirituality is that it heals. It has been shown, time and again, that spirituality improves physical health, mental health, and subjective well-being while reducing addictions, psychological distress (like anxiety and depression), and suicidal behaviors. More than 90 percent of Americans believe in God, and 70 percent of them identify religion or spirituality as one of the most important influences in their lives. It is therefore not surprising that many patients come to me wanting to incorporate spirituality into their healing work.
My own personal life and my work with more than 1,000 in New York City has taught me something very important about the healing process: True healing and lasting fulfillment require a spiritual transformation as well as a clinical outcome.
But what steps can one take to harness the power of spirituality in the service of healing, growth, and personal transformation?
With my patients, I begin this process by helping them shift three core beliefs that can be universally limiting: