I went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting this weekend to fulfill a class requirement, and I couldn’t help but notice the influence of spirituality in these men and women's lives.
The role of the immaterial is unmistakable in AA's 12-step plan:
1. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction…
2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity…
To AA members, the belief in a Higher Power is foundational to the healing process.
In a recent article on Psychology Today’s Spirituality Blog, David Elkins seems to agree: “Spiritual interventions heal—sometimes when traditional psychotherapy fails—because they untie the mental and emotional knots that prevent the life force from doing its work.”
Such statements may sound strange coming from psychologists, who have traditionally viewed religion as a form of psychosis. However, the growing interest in spirituality cannot be ignored by even the scientific community.
A recent survey of family physicians found that 99 percent of them believed that meditation, prayer, and other forms of spiritual practice had a positive influence on health.
As Christian counselors, the idea that spirituality can heal is not incompatible with Scripture, but depends heavily on how the terms “spirituality” and “healing” are used. In class, we defined “spirituality” as the ability to interact and engage in the immaterial realm. It follows, then, that spirituality is not a uniquely Christian term, for AA’s “Higher Power” could be Jesus, Allah, Brahma, the Sun god…or any other diety.
How a counselor understands “healing” and “health” shapes the way they approach therapy. Is healing merely an amelioration of symptoms? Are stability of self and display of social interest the primary measures of health? Biblically, health is not grounded solely in self-satisfaction, but, more importantly, in personal transformation. Dan Allender describes healing as “the use of our past to draw us into deeper relationship with God and his purpose for our lives.”
It is quite possible to have a deep personal spirituality and even to be psychologically healthy, and not experience the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. In today’s world, spirituality is a relative term…and a slippery slope.
So…can spirituality heal? Ask any of the AA members I spoke with, and the resounding answer is “yes.” In fact, they would likely tell you that apart from their spirituality, they would not be sober. For many people, interaction with the immaterial realm helps them cope and gives them hope.
But can spirituality save? No. As a Christian, spirituality—experience with the immaterial realm—is not the end, but rather, the means to the end of knowing Christ and being transformed.