I wrote the following as part of an academic requirement and yet it continues to guide my practice and my life in extraordinary ways. It is incomplete as a scientific theory and is ‘student’ work and yet I am drawn to share it here.
Authored by Leslyn Kantner 2008
Key Concepts and Contributing Figures:
Soul theory extends from many great thinkers, psychologists, and theorists. Through time, contributors to its theory include the ancient thinkers Plato (347 B.C.) and Aristotle (322 B.C.), Psychologists Carl Jung (1961), Abraham Maslow (1970), Victor Frankl (1997), William James (1910), Carl Rogers (1987), Ken Wilbur, and Stanislov Grof, as well as modern philosophers Alex Huxley(1945), Huston Smith (1976) and Jean-Paul Sartre (1980) It embraces humanistic, existential, and transpersonal theories as well as incorporates components from reality, cognitive, and behavioral approaches.
View of Human Nature:
In soul theory, it is postulated that an individual is comprised of not only body and mind, but also of soul. It is the soul’s purpose to guide the human existence on a journey toward the ability to experience complete unconditional love at all times. When the soul is in balance with the body and mind – in a state of love – behavior is normalized and absent of maladaptive patterns or pathology. The human experience of emotional states is the result of imbalance between the soul and one’s behavior or thoughts. Soul theory is based on the premise that the soul is connected directly to the divine and is all knowing.
It presumes that spiritual experiences and transcendent states are characterized by altruism, creativity, and profound feelings of connectedness which are universal human experiences. In order to experience “oneness” with the universe (often an unconscious desire), the soul must learn the ability to give and receive unconditional love. This is accomplished by moving the mind and body through life events in such a way as to challenge the soul. One may choose actions and behavior that are in accord with the soul or not, freedom of choice is always present. The choices we make in response to those challenges bring us more or less in balance with pure love which is within our soul and connected to the divine. Coincidence does not exist, but is instead, opportunity for examination and growth
As in humanistic theory, the journey is an on-going process (Corey, 2005), often with an ebb and flow movement as the human experience is transcended. Similar also to Rogers’s person-centered theory, the movement toward realization and authenticity is a key motivator for behavioral change (Corey, 2005). Soul theory builds on Jung and Maslow’s spiritual approaches to psychology proposing that transcendent experiences are accessible to all humans and the path to them resides within [our soul] (Kasprow & Scotton, 1999).
The Therapeutic Process:
The primary goal of therapy is for an individual to become aware of him or herself as a soulful being, and create a balance between thoughts, actions, and heart. As a person moves closer to the conscious awareness of his/her soul and becomes connected to the experience of unconditional love, behavior change occurs. Once a transcendent experience has been recognized, the goal of the individual is to find their way back as to obtain a more constant balance of the calm and love found in that occurrence. Conscious action is motivated and reinforced by the transcendent experience itself. The client aims to gain conscious awareness of choices and actions which bring them in unison with their inner desires.
Therapists Function and Role:
Central to the facilitation of soul therapy is the client-therapist relationship. As in person- centered, existential, and transpersonal therapies, the therapist is focused on creating a nurturing, attentive, and safe environment where the client feels free to experience him/herself as a whole being (Corey, 2005). The therapist acknowledges the client as an individual, albeit part of a greater whole, and helps to facilitate an understanding from the client of the connection between his/her mind, body, and soul. The therapist understands, but does not necessarily express, that the client and the therapist are part of the same divinity from which their souls originate, creating a relationship of equality. In soul theory it is imperative that the therapist uses his/her own knowledge of spirit, purposefulness, and lack of coincidence to see the client’s experiences as efforts to move toward integration of mind, body, and soul. The therapist does not use the therapeutic process to teach spirituality, but to allow an individual the opportunity to experience a sense of spirit or soulfulness within their own context.
The therapist understands that clients present themselves with various symptoms and behavioral discords which ultimately are the result of some underlying conflict of soul. The function of the therapist is to offer techniques which will give temporary relief to the symptoms a client is attempting to manage, but to work at helping the client identify the underlying incongruence. By balancing the root issue, symptoms will be alleviated.
Clients Experience in Therapy:
Clients come to the counselor in a state of imbalance. The imbalance is often expressed via physiological symptoms such as headaches, back pain, shortness of breath, numbness in extremities and psychological disorders including depression, anxiety, addictions, and various personality disorders. Because the soul is contained within, an individual is aware – at some level – of a discrepancy between where they are now and where they would like to be. Defining the “where” they want to be is the first step in helping them correct what isn’t working. The client is encouraged to retell his experience of life to this point in an effort to help him see that his experiences helped to create the person he has become. The past is not analyzed or criticized but used as an illustration of what has been learned. If clients can begin to understand that everything has a purpose, then they will understand that everything in their past was purposeful in its intention of leading them to the current point in their lives. The mistakes we make in life are teaching us about what we want or don’t want and the client is encouraged to discover for himself what he/she learned from each “mistake” or maladaptive behavior which is problematic.
Clients are encouraged to examine what is good in their lives and are taught to recognize the resonation of what is good with the feelings they have within. Clients recognize that when we are acting or thinking against our true nature (our soul’s desire), feelings of despair, anxiety, and low esteem are the results. As in cognitive therapy, they will question whether their thoughts feel in congruence with their ‘inner’ self (Corey, 2005) and realize that their “self-talk” is creating symptomatic discrepancies because it is not in balance with their soul.
Relationship between therapist and client:
The relationship in soul therapy is similar to both person-centered therapy and reality therapy in that it is a warm, attentive exchange filled with unconditional positive regard, by the very nature of the therapist’s ideology and it is challenging to the client to become self-evaluative (Corey, 2005). The therapist must illustrate a personal ability to unconditionally accept the client in his/her current state and acknowledge that the client is on a personal soul journey, the path of which brought him to ‘this’ therapy at ‘this’ time. The therapist uses cognitive therapy’s technique of Socratic questioning to help the client examine their issues in detail and discover the answers that are already “within” (Corey, 2005).
Therapeutic Techniques and Procedures:
Soul therapy is a true integration of new and established theoretical approaches from the counseling and psychological fields. Restructuring of self-talk, similar to cognitive and reality therapies (Corey, 2005), is taught to help the client become more internally aligned with his ‘self’. An existential technique, “mirror therapy” is used to help a client “see” himself and discover the conflicts that he/she attempts to avoid (Corey, 2005, p. 147). Behavioral techniques are employed by giving the client homework assignments such as writing in a journal for 10 minutes each day, reciting an affirmation they’ve created in the session, or learning to meditate. Writing forgiveness or gratitude letters to people in the client’s life who have caused pain or initiated joy, is a technique derived from the positive psychology movement.
Closely associated with soul therapy and gleaned from transpersonal theories is the use of altered states of consciousness (ASC’s) (Kasprow & Scotton, 1999). It is in this ASC that the client is often able to touch thoughts and internal concepts which are blocked from normal conscious states. Whether through guided imagery, meditation, or hypnosis, these ASC’s offer the therapist and client another set of tools which have been shown to help create focus to alleviate pain, retrieve forgotten memories, and eliminate anxiety (Kasprow & Scotton, 1999).
Strengths and Limitations:
Many techniques of soul theory may not be conducive to clients who have psychotic pathology. ASC’s are not without risk in individuals with weak ego structures or recent trauma experiences (Kasprow & Scotton, 1999). Severe psychologically disordered clients may not respond to non-directive therapy in any form. Clients who are not voluntarily in therapy may not find the motivation to formulate change. These limitations may limit the effectiveness of soul therapy in certain population segments.
For individuals who experience medically unresponsive physical symptoms, or those who have anxiety driven disorders including depression, soul therapy offers an opportunity for intense personal growth and alleviation of physical and psychological symptoms. Many of the processes and techniques used in this therapy, to include ACS’s, “create the possibility of individuals experiencing their circumstances from new and potentially helpful perspectives” (Kasprow & Scotton, 1999, p. 18).
Developing and/or reaching an awareness of one’s spirituality is viewed as a universal phenomenon that can act as a powerful psychological change agent (Ceasar & Miranti, 2005). Generally speaking, research has suggested that more positive spiritual functioning is related to more positive functioning in a variety of dimensions of psychological health (Simpson, Newman, & Fuqua, 2007). When an individual is aware of the soul’s connection to the divine and incorporates that connection to the behavior of mind and body, a deep sense of spirituality ensues, promoting a more fully functioning and eudemonic life.
Multicultural considerations are imperative for the therapist to acknowledge when applying soul theory. First and foremost, spirituality and its importance for an individual client must be addressed to determine if the client will be tolerant or open to the concepts behind the approach. Secondly, many organized world religions may have doctrine opposed to the theories supporting soul therapy. Additionally, moving a client from his/her current perspective on life to one that is more inward oriented may cause a change in external relationships which may alter the circumstances in the client’s immediate environment. The therapist must demonstrate consideration for any of these changes which may occur. Finally, soul therapy offers a universal opportunity for human connection of all three components (mind, body, & soul) of one’s being and ultimately can help to affect positive change and an elevation toward self-actualization.
Corey, G. (2005). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Learning
Ceasar, P. T. & Miranti, J. G. (2005). Counseling and spirituality. In D. Capuzzi & D. Gross (Eds.), Introduction to the Counseling Profession (pp. 333 – 356). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon
Kasprow, M. C., & Scotton, B. W., (1999). A review of transpersonal theory and its application to the practice of psychotherapy. Journal of Psychotherapy Practice Resources, 8, 1, 12 – 21.
Simpson, D. B., Newman, J. L., & Fuqua, D. R. (2007). Spirituality and personality: Accumulating evidence. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 26, 1, 33 – 44.
This theory is a combination of ideas derived from a lifetime of reading personal interest books from different authors including Dr. Brian Weiss, Neale Donald Walsh, James Redfield, Ken Wilbur, Eckhart Tolle, and Deepak Chopra, to name a few.
Any similarity in my theory with the concepts derived from those other authors is a result of my readings and a constant search for clarification of my own philosophies.
All reference material specifically used in the preparation of this paper are duly noted.