“Science, Spirituality and Social Therapy” is the theme of this quote from Fred Newman (from the book Psychological Investigations: A Clinician’s Guide to Social Therapy, Edited by Lois Holzman & Rafael Mendez).
I think there is a powerful and important connection between spirituality and human growth. For the bulk of this century, a lot of what orthodox psychology has done is try to understand change, development, growth and so on in purely behavioral terms, in purely quantitative terms. I think it failed in large measure because human growth is in some fundamental sense spiritual. I don’t mean by this to suggest any particular religious view. Rather, I mean that human beings grow in part by virtue of engaging in certain kinds of social life activities. Our nourishment as human beings is connected to our spiritual interconnectedness to other human beings and to the rest of the world. And if you stifle that, if you have what I would call an excess of individualism — which dominates our broader culture and dominates psychology even more so – then we have been deprived of this area of human life.
I don’t mean to be anti-religious, but I think religion hasn’t done terribly well either with advancing the notion of spirituality. So, religions don’t do it; the schools don’t do it; psychology doesn’t do it. I’m a strong supporter of the separation of church and state, but what we’re talking about here is not so much the separation of church and state, as it is the elimination of a whole component of human life which has to be dealt with somewhere or another.
For example, this might sound in some ways trivial and perhaps even unsophisticated scientifically speaking, but I think human beings have a psychological need to be giving. I don’t think it’s a moral issue. I think it’s an emotive issue. To be deprived of the experience of giving is stultifying of human growth. And yet we live in a broader environment where in many ways what’s reinforced constantly is to not be a giver but to be primarily a getter.
I think that no small part of what goes on in the therapy that I do is that people are learning something about how to give to each other and to give to the overall environment, and they come to see and experience what it means to grow in that kind of environment. That’s a spiritual issue. I think psychology has performed a great disservice by shying away from it. Yes, I realize that there are dangers in certain attitudes toward spirituality, but there are dangers in certain attitudes about everything—I don’t think we should shy away from the development of nuclear energy because there are dangers in it. I think we should find ways of doing things that are developmental and growthful.
Spirituality is one of those things. There has been a distinct misdirection in psychology in particular and science in general, away from spirituality. I think that is a cultural problem that ultimately needs to be corrected. Quite early in the 20th century there was a distinct turn in psychology in favor of the natural scientific model and away from things spiritual. And you could probably even make out a case that to some extent it was useful in certain kinds of ways. Some positive things came out of it, but much has been lost in my opinion. I think the spiritual is very much there in social therapy—with a small “s.”