I know this sounds like an odd question. But, it’s one that I often ask at the beginning of therapy with a new client. Before I get into why I ask this question, let me share with you my own bias and experience. Simply stated, the world is always bigger, more complicated, and surprising than my story about it. When I was 19, I woke up one day only to realize everything I knew about life was wrong. It was a frightening experience. But, I was resilient and survived. When I was 27 years old, again, I realized that everything I knew about life was wrong. Since I experienced something like this before, I knew that I had survived. While the experience was difficult, the process of regaining my emotional equilibrium was less frightening. Again, the same thing happened when I was 38. But having experienced this twice before, I began to become intrigued. Now, I’m in my sixties, and I’ve come to realize that if every seven years or so I don’t come to a point in my thinking where everything I know is wrong, I’m probably not paying attention.
Psychological theorists and researchers believe, as I do, that there are a number of dimensions of human development that are possible. Both psychoanalysts and behaviorists talk about human development along the lines of emotional, cognitive, personality, sexual, social and even emotional maturation. But, there are also theorists like William James, Jung, Assagioli, Meisner, and Kohlberg who examined the spiritual and moral development of humans. And so, I routinely ask my clients “What is your relationship to the universe? Are you an atheist? Agnostic? Spiritual person? Do you believe in a particular religion? When I ask this question, I find it’s essential to clarify what the client actually believes, not what their family or clergy required them to believe. By understanding my client’s answer to these questions, more often than not, we can quickly get to a better understanding of the client’s core beliefs about their world, their values, their emotional, moral, ethical and spiritual strengths. This often comes as a relief to my clients because they don’t feel like they have to hide the core of their beliefs from me.
Many of my clients are curious about my own spiritual beliefs, often wondering if I am there to influence them into any particular direction. For the last 45 years, Judaism has been my personal path. However, since the world presents us with a story that is always bigger, crazier and more unexpected than I can ever conceive; as a psychotherapist, it’s my job to challenge my clients to become more authentically who they are and to challenge their stories about the world that are too small to fit the realities they live in. So, if someone walks into my office and they are not a better atheist, agnostic, eclectically spiritual person, Christian, Buddhist, (you name it) when they leave, I haven’t done my job as a therapist.