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The Psychology of SpiritualityReview - The Psychology of Spirituality
An Introduction
by Larry Culliford
Jessica Kingsley, 2010
Review by Cynthia L. Pauwels
Aug 30th 2011 (Volume 15, Issue 35)

Intended primarily as a guide for healthcare professionals, social service providers, students, and chaplains, Dr. Larry Culliford's The Psychology of Spirituality is an accessible introduction for anyone seeking spiritual growth, with or without the trappings of religion. Culliford is a psychiatrist by profession, but he is one of the rare but growing number of practitioners welcoming the emergence of what he calls "the psycho-spiritual paradigm."

Throughout the volume, Culliford stresses the importance of moving beyond the age-old dualism of mental versus physical health. Noting that the components of good mental health encompass molecular, biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors, he quotes Victor Schermer's belief that dualism is "a source of the collective neuroses and psychoses of humanity." This psycho-spiritual paradigm seeks to correct that flaw by reuniting the ego and the self. Only by approaching life holistically, when "Painful emotions... are transformed by catharsis," can one be completely healthy.

Culliford begins with a detailed explanation of why spirituality is important in a mental health. While giving a polite nod to those psychiatrists who would disagree, he offers a summary of professional writing, research, and education centers that support his theories. He begins with those who study childhood development, finding that while many studies show distinct childhood experiences in spirituality, the results can be difficult to interpret objectively. Add in a child's limited language skills and possibly strong adult discouragement from discussing such matters, and the constraints on such research are obvious. However, Culliford is broad-reaching in the studies he presents, and the overall results consistently show plausible signs of early spiritual experiences.

Moving on to adolescent and adult development, Culliford examines works as diverse William James' definition of religion, to Jung's archetypes, to the "Five Challenges," a list of questions addressing the "mystical view of the mental life" which Schermer poses to any professional who scorns spirituality from fear of imposing personal opinions on treatment. Throughout his survey, Culliford seeks to calm the fears of those who cling to the separation of religion and science, positing, "Science has simply been giving us a new allegory" for the origins of humanity.

In support of his push for an "attitude change…from an illness model to a health model," Culliford quotes researchers (David) Neely and (Eunice) Minford, who state, "A patient needs to be treated as a 'whole person,' and not just a condition or disease.'" He outlines a number of professional organizations and medical schools who are embracing the bio-psycho-socio-spiritual dimensions of humanity, such as the Institute of Noetic Sciences founded by Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell in 1973, the John Templeton Foundation, and his own Spirituality Special Interest Group (SIG) of the Royal College of Psychiatrists which now boasts over 2,500 members.

Culliford stresses the importance of a balanced review of both the positive and negative aspects when a spiritual component is included in health treatment; however, positives are repeatedly referenced, few negatives are specified. Most disturbing to any forward-thinking layman is the contention that "almost" four out of five "westernized" adolescents and adults have not advanced past James Fowler's Stage 3 Synthetic-Conventional Faith (what Culliford calls "conformist stage") into true spiritual maturity (later he gives the figure of eight percent as having moved on). Such stunted growth is evidenced in modern society when Culliford states, "There is no place in a spiritually attuned world for the aggressive use of knowledge, advantage, and power. There is no place either for greed."

To assist individuals and caregivers in raising that percentage, Culliford offers a number of tools beginning with a "spiritual history" questionnaire used at the aforementioned Spirituality Special Interest Group (SIG). For personal growth outside the healthcare system, he encourages spiritual education in schools with a four-point plan for teachers; meditation practice such as that expounded by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others; and "Ten Ways of Giving," from Post and Neimark's Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving. Spiritual practice itself rather than specific religious rituals are the focus as he notes that research showing benefits from church attendance found "To belong to the group and participate socially were sufficient" to reap psychological benefits.  

Culliford ends with a quote from Joseph Campbell's Myths to Live By: "The ultimate aim of the quest must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and power to serve others." He adds, "Let (this book) not be the last word" on the emerging paradigm, rather a stepping stone to healthier, more spiritual future. "Freedom, truth, wisdom, compassion, love…and joy: these are among the precious rewards of spiritual enquiry…And they are to be shared."


© 2011 Cynthia L. Pauwels


Reviewer Cynthia L. Pauwels holds an MA in Creative Writing and a BA in Humanities with a World Classics certification from Antioch University McGregor in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She works as a freelance writer with numerous short fiction, non-fiction and technical writing credits.

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