Newswise — Mental health experts estimate that about 80 percent of patients bring up their spiritual life during therapy but only about 15 percent of therapists are trained to work with that aspect of a patient's life to enhance healing. At the same time, more and more studies show that attention to this dimension can have an important impact. To help psychologists and other mental health professionals explore the role of spirituality in their personal and professional lives and that of their patients, Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP) has established a Spirituality Program and is holding its first major conference on December 3.
"It is an approach, a movement, whose time has come," says Dr. Stanley Rosenzweig, speaking of a growing trend in the profession to acknowledge and work with spirituality and spiritual issues within the therapeutic relationship. "Our goal is to build a community of like-minded people who see a role for this aspect of human nature in the personal and professional development of psychologists." Rosenzweig heads up MSPP's Spirituality Committee responsible for both the school's Spirituality Program and the December 3 conference, which is the culmination of several years of planning.
MSPP leaders believe that the Spirituality Program and the conference are the first attempts by a mainstream school of psychology in New England to forge alliances among experts advocating the use of spirituality to enhance the benefits of psychotherapy. The conference, called "The Connection between Spirituality and Psychology: Building a Community," will be an opportunity for mental health professionals to come together and talk about their own experiences and how they can help each other apply what works best in their practices.
"There are many psychologists who understand the spiritual aspect of healing and work with their patients' religion, philosophy and beliefs, but are still somewhat 'in the closet' about it," says Dr. Hilary Bender, an MSPP faculty member and clinical psychologist, who works with adults and children. "They are concerned that this is not professionally acceptable," he says, adding that the MSPP program and conference will be an open forum for discussing these concerns as well.
"The conference is also a possible first step in developing an actual course curriculum and perhaps even a credentialing program in spirituality and psychology," says Dr. Paul Lipsitt, an MSPP board member, who works at Boston University in the Behavioral Medicine Department, providing supervision to trainees and mental health services to students. .
Rosenzweig, Bender and Lipsitt formed the Spirituality Committee several years ago and enlisted others to join them, including Dr. David Arond, a pediatrician and Buddhist, who directs a spirituality program at Harvard's School of Public Health.
The committee's kickoff event in 2003 consisted of an evening with Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and author of "The Relaxation Response," who demonstrated that meditation and prayer lower blood pressure and reduce stress.
Last spring the MSPP Spirituality Committee held a summit for a group of clinicians involved in improving mental health by integrating the spiritual and spiritual practices with the psychological. That group--who spent a day sharing experiences and discussing applications-- is the same group that will lead the conference on December 3
Among them are notables such as Robin Casarjian, M.A., of The Lionheart Foundation, who is the author of "Forgiveness: A Bold Choice for a Peaceful Heart" and "Houses of Healing: A Prisoner's Guide to Inner Power and Freedom" and Sarah Conn, PhD, the co-founders of The Ecopsychology Institute of The Center for Psychology and Social Change. Also participating will be Nancy Kehoe, RSCJ, PhD, who directs Expanding Connections, an organization dedicated to teaching healthcare professionals about how to address spiritual and religious concerns, and Joan Klagsbrun, PhD, a clinician who is also co-chair of the Focusing and Medicine team for the Focusing Institute, and Rick Leskowitz, MD, a psychiatrist trained as an energy healer who directs the Integrative Medicine Project at Spaulding Hospital. To learn about other participants, go to
"We are very excited about this conference and view it as a major step in the evolution of the MSPP Spirituality Program," says Rosenzweig who adds that the committee will use the insights gained and the relationships strengthened by this conference to determine the Programs future form and direction.
To see more details about the spirituality conference or program, go to http://www.mspp.edu or call 617-327-6777.
Founded in 1974, MSPP has created and offered a unique approach to doctoral training for psychologists, focusing on the immediate integration of clinical experience with academic studies. Today the school's aim is to bring the benefits of psychological training to other areas of American society, including the schools, the workplace and the courts.