Christian Transpersonal Psychology: Christian Meditation for Trauma

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Christian Transpersonal Psychology: Christian Meditation for Trauma

Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Therapy. Chanler (2017) advocated for the use of mindfulness as a tool to heal enmeshed interpersonal and family relationships. She used somatic awareness to help disentangled specifically from mother-daughter enmeshment. Ong (2021) and Ong et al. (2019) described trauma-sensitive yoga (TSY). This somatic healing method is specifically geared toward C-PTSD by increasing awareness, self-regulation, and healthy relationship with the body (Ong, 2021; Ong et al., 2019). Stockham-Ronollo and Poulsen (2012) found that integrating Reiki into couple’s therapy improved a couple’s success rate and brought greater intimacy to the relationship. West et al. (2017) stressed the common failure of traditional PTSD treatments to address the complex presentation of developmental trauma, which includes somatic complaints; they found TSY helpful, especially in this client group.

Creative Arts. According to Malchiodi (2012), trauma survivors can benefit from non-verbal approaches to healing trauma via creative arts. They can utilize dance, music, art, and drama to process and integrate experiences that are too much for words. Women who experience domestic violence significantly benefit from decreasing symptoms of hyperarousal through art therapies. Non-verbal interventions such as these can be constructive in self-soothing during episodes of dissociating. Art has been a healing modality for humans for centuries. Current initiatives are prioritizing the integration of the arts into psychotherapy. The expressive arts use multimodal approaches to access a variety of healing methods. Natalie Rogers was one of the foremost pioneers of expressive therapies. Her work was greatly influenced by her father Carl Rogers (Malchiodi, 2012).

Reiki and Biofield Therapies. Mangione et al. (2017) described the growing body of research verifying the safety and promise of biofield therapies in treating mental health. These are mind-body modalities such as healing touch and Reiki. Reiki, with roots in 3000-year-old Buddhist teachings, helps balance the parasympathetic nervous system. This study analyzed more than 30 studies on biofield therapies. The results showed that biofield therapies might help decrease stress and anxiety while increasing wellness and positive moods (Mangione et al., 2017). Davis et al. (2016) found mindfulness a significant moderator in reducing the negative impact of insecure attachment style on well-being.

Pastoral Counseling. According to Hook and Worthington (2009), differences exist between professional Christian counseling, pastoral counseling, and lay-ministry counseling. They explored the differences in outcomes between these three different types of counseling
and advised not lumping them all in the same category as Christian counseling (Hook & Worthington, 2009). Pan et al. (2013) found that dual relationships are encouraged in pastoral counseling settings. The goal of pastoral counseling is similar to clinical counseling in healing trauma, helping families, and overcoming problems. The disciplines differ in regard to the foundations upon which they are built. Pastoral counseling hopes to bring the client closer to God through Scripture and focus on faith. Furthermore, a relationship with God is viewed as healing in and of itself. This dynamic differs from clinical counseling’s focus on developing the self and personality as an end in itself (Pan et al., 2013).

According to Stone (1994), the role of the pastoral counselor is not to solve the world’s problems but rather to help the individual begin to solve some problems and stay faithful to the call of God. There needs to be a solvable problem that addresses the reason they decided to initiate therapy. The goal is to change the congregant’s view of their problems to help them realize they can be part of the solution. The role of a pastoral counselor does not involve lengthy sessions developing rapport or taking a long history (Stone, 1994). Agreements regarding the goals of therapy must be reached before beginning counseling. In family systems, the identified patient will emerge that presents with the symptoms of the entire symptom. The system will continue to function in ways that support the need of this identified patient. Often, a psychiatrist will warn that pastors simply are not equipped to help people with any emotional problems. This approach is incorrect. Although pastors should not function as untrained psychiatrists, they are well-equipped to help people with problems. The message from the mental-health community is that pastors are only capable of referring. This referral should only happen if the person is psychotic, suicidal, or homicidal; furthermore, if the person needs additional medical or legal help or long-term management of psychopathology (Stone, 1994).

Harris et al. (2008) explained that trauma impacts one’s belief in God, power, control, safety, and the self. Their studies found that some find God to be an essential source of strength in healing from trauma. They felt comfortable going to their faith community for additional support for healing their trauma. Others felt alienated by God, experience fear and guilt, or wondered if God was punishing them through their trauma. They might feel like God and their church has abandoned them (Harris et al., 2008). Historically, Freud and Jung have questioned the role of religion in mental health. A better question would be which parts of religion have positive or negative impacts on the mental health field. They recommend referrals to pastors, chaplains, and pastoral counselors for clients with high levels of religious strain. Their findings noted a profile of various relationships between Christianity and trauma coping (Harris et al., 2008). Reinert et al. (2016) found spirituality and religion to effectively improve mental health for survivors of childhood trauma among a diverse population sample.

Lay-Ministry. Garzon and Tilley (2009) explained that paraprofessional counseling has some proven benefits, but no clear evidence exists regarding the effectiveness of lay ministry. This issue is any ministry that happens in church settings without credentialing and training in mental health. This definition includes ministries such as Freedom in Christ by Neil Anderson. Other lay ministries include small groups, prayer teams, and friendships within the church community (Garzon & Tilley, 2009). Carter (1999) explained that Christians are often suspect secular therapists because they believe they will be irrelevant to the issues they face. Most Christian counselors have balanced training in psychology and theology. It is emerging as a legitimate specialty. Garzon and Poloma (2005) described a rapidly evolving inner healing movement sweeping evangelical Christianity, especially in the Midwest. They found that lay ministers were helping severely hurting people far beyond their training or credentialing. Moreover, they were needed given the state of mental health care today. The church is a needed place of ministry to those suffering who cannot obtain professional care. Complex disorders included alcoholism, dissociative identity disorder, and sex addiction (Garzon & Poloma, 2005).

Spiritual Direction. May (1974) described the modern phenomenon of pastoral counselors now losing a lot of their spiritual identity as they enter into the world of mental health. He found that many have become concerned that a pastor who begins clinical counseling training often makes steps toward leaving the ministry. May described the LSD and hippy movement that sought more profound mystical experiences, followed by the human potential movement. This movement led society to find spiritual experiences in the context of interpersonal relationships. He then chronicled the influx of a new age of modern spirituality that included yoga, meditation, faith healing, astrology, biofeedback, the Jesus people movement, and reincarnation. All these concepts point in the same direction of moving away from Aristotelian ways of thinking and invites us into letting down some of our religious defense mechanisms regarding authentic experiences of spirituality (May, 1974).

Fay and Gerner (2017) advocate for the integration of yogic psychology into the healing process. The default mode network (DMN), of the brain, is on constant alert to protect one from danger. Yoga and meditation can help deactivate this network to allow relaxation. Many people attempt to ascend away from their problems. Meditation and yoga can be powerful vehicles to bring up trauma for review. However, psychotherapy is a needed component to descend into emotional work. They define yoga as a sacred relationship with the self. In yoga psychology, the journey is about unwinding the knots of consciousness impacted by the pains of life. Attachment is the root of the practices in the rest of the book (Fay & Gerner, 2017). Rambo (2010) portrays trauma in the context of faith through the story of the hemorrhaging woman in the Bible. She noted that Jesus claimed that her faith healed her; he did not say that he healed her, although he had been healing many people. This dynamic contrasts with those who assert that one must only have faith to heal.

Bidwell (2009) described spiritual direction as a part of depth psychology with a different focus. In the spiritual direction, the goal is liberation from attachments and surrender to the discerned power of God’s will. Although spiritual direction is related to psychology, it is less primarily considered with one’s emotional blocks. Bidwell encouraged a more humanistic approach to spiritual direction, so the congregant can better discern the voice of God for themselves. Bidwell encouraged the theologically marginalized to speak up against the current dominant theological discourses found in depth psychology. Although an understanding of human relational dynamics is essential to a director, the director should avoid embracing a medical model in which they retain the power to pathologize the congregant with their inside and superior knowledge of the psychological phenomenon. Again, Bidwell (2009) noted the influence of transpersonal psychology on spiritual direction, focusing on making the unconscious conscious. He touched on the impact of family systems theory and the process of differentiation on pastoral care.

Christian Counseling and Family Incest. According to Langberg (2003), relational difficulties arise from sexual abuse, such as relational instability or a strong need to perform and be perfect. Often, girls get abused within their own families. The church is a vast resource for the survivor. They can help the survivor identify her gifts and recreate the needed social and family relationships lost during abuse. The church community is an important place for the survivor to observe healthy family dynamics and parenting skills. It is a place for her to build bonds with individuals and married couples. Survivors will often either idealize or devalue relationships due to their past hurts. Langberg (2003) explained that survivors need help building a solid support network, growing in their relationship with God, and supporting their marriage. The survivor often finds herself in multiple short-term chaotic relationships that mirror the emotional climate of her upbringing. She may be prone to revictimization and believe she may not make mistakes. She needs to learn a whole new set of relational skills within the context of therapy. Everything she learned was probably rooted in abuse. The church will be the primary grounds for her to build her new skills with safe people. In family systems, incest often occurs when the marriage is weak due to addictions or mental illness. The older children are expected to perform adult roles and raise themselves and their younger siblings. The trauma occurred in the context of the relationship, and therefore must be healed in the context of the relationship (Langberg, 2003).

Christian Spirituality and Complementary Therapies

            Eastern and Western Attachment Theories. Bidwell (2001) compared and contrasted pastoral understandings of the self-verse transpersonal and Buddhist concepts of the self. This dynamic seems to be an underlying conversation few theologians are willing to tackle. Nevertheless, this is paramount to understanding whether or not Christians should integrate Eastern-originating practices and concepts into conservative faith. Pastoral counselors are faced with non-Western spiritual theories in regard to healing trauma and attachment. Sahdra et al. (2010) correlated the Buddhist concept of nonattachment with Western attachment theory. They found that nonattachment correlated with reduction of suffering, higher functioning, and healthy maturity. They found that non-Buddhist religious activities that promote introspective inquiry to release negative mental fixations also helped develop nonattachment (Sahdra et al., 2010).

Complementary Therapies in Christian Ministry. This dynamic begs the question of Christian adaptability and compatibility of such practices if they prove beneficial to mental wellness. Snyder et al. (2012) found mindfulness effective in increasing emotional regulation and decreasing stress in parents. They correlated these findings with fostering secure attachments between children and parents. They found that mindfulness promotes healthy relating. Charkhandeh et al. (2016) tested cognitive behavioral therapy and Reiki on depression and found both compelling, with CBT being more effective than Reiki. Gulden and Jennings (2016) found yoga helpful in fostering spiritual growth and regaining mental health after interpersonal trauma. McManus (2017) explained that Reiki activates the parasympathetic nervous system to heal the body and mind and reasonably supports that Reiki is more effective than a placebo. Jain et al. (2015) found evidence for the effectiveness of biofield therapies in treating PTSD. Given this intersection between spirituality and healing, how can pastoral counselors afford to continue to evade the issue of complementary therapies in healing ministry?

Not all pastors are excited about the emerging healing benefits of CTs. Metropolitan Maximos Aghiorgoussis (Maximos, 1999), a bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church, detailed orthodox positions regarding the influx of new-age practices arriving in the West. He encouraged orthodox Christians to adhere to the church’s authority to denounce all such practices as heresy and blasphemy. To Maximos, all pagan branches of Hinduism and Buddhism are rooted in the false belief that humans are gods. Therefore, there is absolutely no theological room for Christians to embrace any practices of Eastern origin regardless of perceived health benefits. Furthermore, he denounces the Toronto Airport Blessings Revivals and all charismatic renewals as unacceptable to the discerning Christian (Maximos, 1999).

Vazquez and Jensen (2020) touched on the ongoing debate regarding the suitability of CTs for evangelicals. They cited building empirical support for Christian contemplation practices in contrast to Buddhist meditation. A primary concern of evangelicals is that the goal of the Jesus prayer is to unite with Christ. This process is not intended to become a god in a pantheistic way, but rather to become entirely given to Christ in heart and fully abiding in him. The Jesus prayer was a practice of the desert fathers, only to be used under the direction of a spiritual teacher. This process was to help the practitioner as they became increasingly aware of their dark corners. Vazquez and Jensen (2020) noted the differing intentions between Christian contemplative traditions and Buddhist meditations. Buddhist meditations primarily focus on the goal of nonattachment, whereas Christian contemplative traditions focus on increasing intimacy with God regardless of suffering. They contrasted Christian-adapted mindfulness that involved awareness of God instead of the breath with this biblically conventional approach to building support. Finally, they pointed to the APA’s encouragement to integrate multicultural spiritual and religious interventions into clinical settings (Vazquez & Jensen, 2020).

Liu et al. (2018) described integrative body-mind-spirit interventions (i-BMS) as another form of CTs; they found acupuncture, yoga, and meditation as high-quality CTs to treat PTSD. Nguyen-Feng et al. (2019) found trauma-sensitive yoga incredibly impactful for women who had experienced family trauma. It also proved to catalyze spiritual healing. Jindani and Khalsa (2015) confirmed yoga as therapy for PTSD, along with a catalyst for spiritual healing. These findings point to the reality that the spiritual component of CTs is indeed a central theological issue for discerning Christians hoping to integrate the practices. The benefits are gaining support at a rate theology must keep up with to stay relevant.

Transpersonal Psychology. One field that pays close attention to wisdom and mystical, spiritual traditions is transpersonal psychology. Transpersonal psychology (TP) is somewhat of a sister science to pastoral counseling. Siegel (2018) described transpersonal psychology as the fourth force of psychology. TP expands the existing range of psychology to include concepts like profound religious, mystical experiences, and non-ordinary consciousness states (Siegel, 2018). Transpersonal psychotherapy takes TP a step further than simply healing trauma. Instead, the goal is to awaken the client’s highest potential. TP mixes Western psychology with spiritual and wisdom traditions. The theory was initially founded by William James around 1950 and has since included thought leaders like Ken Wilber, Stan Grof, Ram Dass, and Carl Jung. Psychosynthesis is under the umbrella of TP. The field focuses on the spiritual integration of Eastern concepts such as mindfulness, meditation, and awakening. TP is contraindicated for highly dissociated or psychotic clients (Siegel, 2018).

Universal Life Force. Bidwell (1999) voiced pastoral critique for the emerging field of transpersonal psychology. He noted the general trend of pastors completely ignoring the field despite its prominent spiritual intersections with pastoral care and counseling. Bidwell described the field of TP as the first to attempt to synthesize psychology and spirituality. He pointed out that TP attempts to address the contemplative sciences of meditation and prayer as central to a non-religious approach to God. A transpersonal therapist draws from Eastern and Western concepts of the divine in integrative psychology. A TP therapist might note that a client with a borderline personality disorder may be further destabilized by spiritual practices that attempt to destabilize ego strength. A common claim of TP is that the church has made an error to place beliefs about God above the experience of God. TP does not place Christ in a central place, yet TP’s transpersonal experiences appear in well-documented writings of the Christian mystics. Mainly, TP has led the advancement of meditative and contemplative disciplines as effective modalities in counseling work (Bidwell, 1999).

Bidwell (2000) noted that Jung was a pastor’s son disillusioned with Christianity through his father’s pastoring experience. However, Jung and TP as a whole continue to posit themselves as the psychology of religion. Jung believed in the transcendence of God and the shadow sides of the human psyche. Bidwell advocated for pastoral theology, pastoral psychology, and TP to expand on Jung’s work. He urged the field of pastoral counseling to begin taking TP seriously (Bidwell, 2000).

New Age Spirituality and Perennialism. Hartelius (2017) described the transpersonal concept that spiritual experiences could occur outside the context of organized religion. He noted the modern phenomenon regarding the dominance of science over spirituality. Many spiritual teachers now work in psychology, but he warned of the danger of over spiritualizing the science of psychology. His rationale is that metaphysics is by very nature untestable, and therefore unable to be submitted to the boundaries of psychology via the scientific method. This issue is especially pertinent to practitioners of transpersonal psychology who sometimes offer speculation as an explanation of psychological experience. Perennialism asserts that there is a single source of spiritual truth and that all religions with different views are wrong to the extent they differ from this correct view. Hartelius (2017) cited a definition of the new age religion as a universal spirituality full of appropriation that includes a blurring of psychology and spirituality based on subjectivity, mysticism, and the goal of a new age of human development. He warned of the danger of mixing religion and psychology by hiding new age spirituality under the guise of perennial academic thought. Instead, it would be better for perennials to act as a vehicle for the psychology of spirituality in protecting the field of transpersonal psychology (Hartelius, 2017).

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Brees, Amanda Lynne, “The New Age of Christian Healing Ministry and Spirituality: A Meta-Synthesis Exploring the Efficacy of Christian-Adapted Complementary Therapies for Adult Survivors of Familial Trauma” (2021). Doctoral Dissertations and Projects. 3168.

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Contemplative Neurotheolgian, Yoga therapist, pastoral counselor

Hi, I'm Dr. Amanda -
Yoga Therapist & Pastoral Counselor

I'm here to help you streamline the work of trauma healing using faith-based contemplative methods grounded in science. Working exclusively with brokenhearted adult women means I already speak your language & know what's working in the world of recovery. 

Every client I work with is anchored in 10+ years of higher education & practitioner experience, which means things don't just look pretty & sound good - they actually work!

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