by Dr Kennan Taylor
What is the Soul?
Soul has become obscure, denigrated and even lost in the modern era; yet it has never completely gone away, neither as a concept or in fact. Soul can be expressed in diverse and indirect ways, such as describing music, domestic animals, or hidden in terms like 'mind' and 'psychology'. In this present discussion I have chosen not to give soul this indirect expression it commonly receives, as some sort of historical concept that we believe we have evolved beyond, as I know it requires clear and overt expression on its own terms.
The soul can be conceived of as that part of the universal energy field that is unique to the individual and which expresses itself in the various components of our being; body, emotions and mind. The soul is the integration of these facets in a conscious manner as we mature through our life's journey. Yet as an expression of the universal energy, soul is also what connects us back to our spiritual source.
In a healing and creative sense, our disconnection from this source can be seen to express itself in illness and disease, both physical and mental. In an effort to address issues and problems related to the soul, a number of techniques have been developed to assist in the recovery process. These extend beyond the more familiar symptomatic and palliative approaches that, whilst alleviating pain and distress, can be seen as perpetuating this disconnection, unless this deeper and more 'soulful' perspective is undertaken.
Development of Soul Therapy techniques
Psychotherapy is the term that has been adopted in the West for all manner of therapies that deal with what has become known as ‘mental health’. But the term is a misnomer, as ‘psyche’ actually means soul – borrowed from the Greek – and not the limited concept of mind that in western medicine is seen as a some sort of mechanical appendage to the body and located in the brain.
From this perspective, psychotherapy will inevitably be somewhat mechanical and limited to a world-view based on adjustment, conformity and predictability. Its aim is to reduce, limit and eradicate mental distress and, if on its own it fails to do so, then the pharmaceutical arm of the profession comes in with its battery of drugs to ‘normalise’ the sufferer, although we should maybe ask from whose viewpoint?
In psychological terms this is therapy for the ‘ego’ and it is based on and synonymous with a Newtonian world-view that is now well over a century out of date. The Einstein world-view is more fluid and relational, energetic rather than mechanical. So, maybe a better term may be ‘psycho-energetic therapy’, where a therapeutic approach then engages the mental and emotional realms on their own – fluid, creative and energetic – terms.
Yet a quick scan of the marketplace will show that this definition readily drifts into Eastern mysticism. So, maybe it is time to resurrect a more authentic term for ‘psyche’, and this is ‘soul’. Familiar to the music industry, even those of an Eastern disposition have started to adopt it as a therapeutic term. Yet soul is fundamentally a Western expression, a term derived from the German 'seele' and one familiar in our own spiritual heritage.
What does a therapy of soul look like?
If we consider the soul to be a greater reality than our limited, separate and extraverted presence in the world, for which ego is a maybe a more accurate term, then we need to get beyond our limited bio-mechanical outlook, which disciplines such as medicine and psychology still adopt. As indicated above, we need a more fluid and energetic perspective and one that engages the facets of the soul – body, emotion and mind extending to spirit – on their own terms in a relational and interactive manner.
It is small wonder that Eastern practitioners have moved into this domain. They have a more energetic approach to the physical and emotional realms, seeing the body as fundamentally energetic and using approaches such as breathwork and yoga to work with it therapeutically. In the West we have at least one equivalent approach – the bioenergetics of Wilhelm Reich and his followers – although this body of work has yet to be fully appreciated. This perspective inevitably includes sexuality, with which the West is still not entirely comfortable, yet its integration is essential for all true healing.
The mind is best approached on its own terms, which means not seeing it as a mechanical offshoot of the brain, but as an entity that far transcends the physical brain and body, yet includes them. In this respect we need to listen to how it expresses itself beyond our routine thoughts in and of the world, which many see as an adaptive function, not unlike the other sensations of touch, sight etc. This expression is more in the realms of creativity and dreams, higher intellect and our spiritual relationship... heady stuff indeed.
Emotions are like the glue that holds the other facets together. Related as they are to the instincts, they demand a close attention on their own terms in both body and mind. Emotion is the ‘vehicle of the soul’ and feeling its expression, without which we remain confined to the material world and not able to see beyond it. Yet in our time our experience of emotion is often mis-read as fear or anxiety, then judged and treated as mental distress.
Different approaches to Soul Therapy
Some I have outlined above, whilst others, such as Jungian therapy, have yet to be fully evaluated, yet their inclusion of dreams makes them valuable. Eastern approaches touch the spiritual more than those in the West, but underrate the position and value of soul in the psychic economy. In my opinion, we have yet to have a unified picture in the West as to what a therapy of soul looks like, and this is one purpose behind this essay.
Yet in our traditions there are strong leads. Shamanism is an all-embracing perspective that includes soul, even in a fundamental manner, by defining its loss as being the core of illness. Alchemy is another discipline and art that gives more definition of our journey in and through the world from the soul’s perspective. Even other disciplines have significant input: those more therapeutically-inclined from the East have been touched on, but modern disciplines, like physics, and the arts, should not be forgotten. However, it is a sad and even defining factor that our traditional monotheistic religions, supposedly the custodians of the soul, do little serving it in a therapeutic manner.
Mention has also been made of dreams; I consider their importance to have yet to be fully evaluated. As a guideline for the soul they are indispensable, although guidance in how to use the dreaming process creatively and purposefully, rather than simply as a problem-solving tool, is an art is itself. As is extending this art into a journal or some sort of equivalent reflective process that includes an avenue for spirit to communicate.
Additional to this, tools of divination – of which dreams are one – and creativity in general are important; poetry is, after all, considered a gift of the gods in our traditional culture. Eastern approaches such as breathwork and yoga do have a history in the West; although we have to scratch the surface of our non-monotheistic traditions to discover them.
A full and honest understanding and exploration of our sexuality is integral and a vast arena of itself. It is sad inditement of the West that the East still has sexuality integrated into a spiritual orientation to life, when we see it as a simple instinct, and both fear and demean it.
I believe there is a place in our Western culture for a proper examination of the magical arts, particular with reference to health and healing, and hence a therapy of soul. Rather like sexuality, with which the magical arts are commonly associated, we are psychically separated from these dimensions in at least healing and creative functions; and hence their indispensability to the journey of the soul.
Where does the Soul Therapist fit in this?
The therapist sits in a complex of issues around the therapeutic relationship, most important of which is the relationship itself. The therapist should engage emotionally and there be an empathetic rapport. If this is not the case, then it will not be a healing relationship. This demands that the therapist is open to the same process as the client, and that is the spiritual realms ‘talking’.
The health orientation should be of a compatible philosophy or at least the therapist have respect for that of the client. It is my position that this would be unashamedly Western with those clients of a similar background and heritage. Not that we are not now global and able to draw on other disciplines from other cultures, but this background must be in place. Also the setting in which the relationship is conducted should be conducive to healing, with the adornments reflecting this and the therapist’s orientation, as well as containing any ‘tools’ he or she may enlist in the encounter.
But, above all, the orientation is one of healing, which is fundamentally a spiritual process mediated through the soul. If the client is disconnected from his or her soul, then it is a first task to retrieve this and restore the relationship. Then to develop the tools that enable the client to relate to themselves through the soul, rather than the ‘ego’. This demands a reconnection with some of the tools and approaches, mentioned above, that the therapist can help the client familiarise themselves with. It also is a path of courage, as the demands of healing are to move through distress and not to obviate it.
The healing journey is open-ended. The task of the soul therapist is to help the client gain the right perspective and open the channels for their own understanding and appreciation. The therapist should also be guided by the process of and in the relationship itself, with any outcomes being a product of what emerges in the relationship and not any preconceptions and expectations of outcome.
In the broader context the therapy should extend to an educational perspective and employ a broader social framework, such as further contacts individual, social and collective. Group work can have its place and sometimes be invaluable. The role of ritual and ceremony, both in the relationship and beyond, must be appreciated and employed. Essentially, if there is a goal in soul therapy, it is of providing a vehicle and tools for an integrated transformative process that maximises our human potential and journey.
Healing of the soul requires the therapist to understand:
1. The Complaint
We are accustomed and taught to see a problem or illness in either psychological or medical terms.
However, if we accept that the soul is an expression of the spiritual reality expressing itself in the physical, the therapist must appreciate metaphysical dimensions such as moral issues (errors of judgement), including those of the family and beyond (that is, perspectives such as past lives and reincarnation).
This world-view also appreciates that the soul can be lost and the client prey to other metaphysical forces, such as discarnate entities (spirits).
2. The Client
The nature of the client can be appreciated in the routine manner of a medical and/or psychological assessment.
This will extend to a perspective that includes intuitive and other learned skills the therapist employs to ‘read’ both the client and his extended circumstances within the family and social network.
3. The Setting
There is commonly a routine place of meeting in which the therapeutic encounter is routinely conducted.
However, this can extend to other settings, particularly within nature. Also, provision should exist to take the client into specific places of power in the environment, and have the capacity to conduct rituals.
Extending from modern physical and drug approaches are natural medicinal treatments that accord more with nature and tradition.
Treatment is also employed in a magical manner, with appropriate techniques such as divination and journeying, as well as an appreciation of the mystical influences within illness states.
• From the above description, it can be readily seen that the soul therapist’s perspective includes what we commonly expect of the practitioner operating exclusively in our mundane day-to-day reality.
• But significantly this perspective extends beyond into the non-physical and energetic domains.
• In other words, the soul therapist’s approach is inclusive of routine western medicine and many alternative approaches, but not the other way around.
The principles of healing employed by the soul therapist include:
1. A shared world-view
A shared world-view is one that provides definition, meaning and a common belief system.
In this perspective disease is appreciated as malfunctioning of the individual at either the physical or psychological levels, whereas illness is the psychosocial experience and meaning of the disease.
Appreciation of the former only may lead to a cure, but the wider dimension of healing – that extends to the emotional, mental and spiritual domains – may not occur unless the wider ramifications of illness are also appreciated.
2. The qualities of the practitioner or therapist
Beyond authority and knowledge, the therapist embodies prescience and power.
This wider definition indicates imaginative resources and capabilities, with the ability to appreciate and utilise the healing power of the mythological, metaphoric and symbolic worlds.
The therapist is seen within the community to be successful in the art of healing and has commonly had to negotiate their own illness, often of a life-threatening nature.
3. Positive expectations from the client
These include qualities such as hope, faith and trust, but extend almost definitively to emotional arousal.
In the modern idiom, much of the enigma and paradox of the placebo effect is appreciated when this expanded metaphysical view of health and healing is appreciated.
4. Mastery on behalf of the client
This is probably the least considered quality in most modern therapies, which are usually conducted in a prescriptive manner.
Providing methods to the client leads to mastery of illness and personal control, and can be as obvious as control of diet and exercise. Within the expanded view of a therapy of soul this extends to rituals and other psychosocial acts of empowerment.
• Whilst there are similarities of soul therapy to psychotherapy, the differences are sometimes appreciable.
• In general there is a greater affinity with nature, the body and emotions, and spiritual welfare and growth.
• There is encouragement in making life decisions that reflect ideals such as harmony and knowledge and that heal the connection with the environment, as well as the divisions between body and mind, the secular and the spiritual.
Within the discipline of shamanism, soul retrieval is fundamental to overcoming illness and disease. The recovery and reinstatement of soul is not only a priority to face the challenges around health, but in a collective sense so that the healing arts and sciences may undergo the changes necessary to meet the demands of modern living.
In the West our connection with ourselves as spiritual human beings is, at best, tenuous and, at worst, absent. It is the retrieval of the soul in both an individual and collective sense that provides the bridge and relationship to this greater reality.