We often hear about “treating the whole person”, which is an acknowledgement that modern Western medicine and psychology has, in practice, separated human beings in disparate parts and treated those parts as if they exist in a vacuum, unconnected to the rest of the person. Medicine has become the domain of specialists, highly educated in a specific area of health. In many ways, psychology has also become the domain of specialists, and it can be difficult for clients and patients to untangle the different modalities and discover which treatment will best serve their needs.
It seems as if physicians treat the body and counselors treat the mind and emotions.
Spiritual practices also may have contributed to this separation, as they have often placed the person’s spiritual needs above and beyond the physical and the realm of emotional life, imparting the belief that one’s eternal soul is a more important concern than physical needs and health. Spiritual leaders often give up many quotidian needs in the service of their spiritual well being. However, Abraham Maslow recognized in his hierarchy of needs that one must have their basic physical needs met before being able to pursue spiritual goals.
It seems that science has taken us apart in order to learn about how we work, and that spirit calls out to put us back together.
How do we “put a person back together”, therapeutically?
Perhaps I have experienced childhood or adult physical or emotional trauma, neglect, or other life experiences that have taught me that life is to be feared and people, in general, not to be trusted. This may have taught me to “live in my head” by avoiding feeling my body and my emotions. It may have caused me to numb my feelings or misuse my body through drug or alcohol abuse, or by eating disorders, angry outbursts, or self harm. This dissociation from the body is also dissociation from my soul and my spirit. I might be living on auto pilot, disregarding physical symptoms or seeing them as unrelated to my thinking mind. I might struggle to articulate what I am feeling.
I may resist feeling at all.
It can be uncomfortable or frightening to allow myself to feel my body or to let myself acknowledge long buried emotions. Sometimes smothered emotions emerge as chronic depression, uncontrolled anger, physical illness, or ongoing anxiety.
Do I say to myself, “I wonder why I am feeling so sad much of the time?” Or “I don’t know where that panic attack came from.” It is as if I am stuck in a level of depression or anxiety and not willing to bring it up into the light and examine it. It could be that looking at is seems just too overwhelming. I might be caught and never be able to free myself from the despair, pain, or anger I am carrying in my body.
But the body and the heart never lie.
My mind can lie to me, because it may be filled with ideas, beliefs, mental habits, opinions, and negative cognitions that come from my family of origin, my culture, physical and emotional trauma, or my religious upbringing. They may not be my truths. By bringing these mental habits, the feelings and emotions I carry in my body, I can free myself from the weight of unexamined fears, memories, and experiences. I can bring my mind into alignment with my body, my soul, and my spirit.
This is true integrity, the integration of my being into living a life that manifests my deepest beliefs, values, and priorities. I am then able to know that my work, my personal relationships, my daily actions are expressing who I truly am as a human being, body, mind, and spirit.
Here is a list of some of my favorite authors on the subject of body, mind and spirit integration:
Faye Maguire, MA, LACC, is a People House private practitioner working with youth and adults, using a transpersonal approach to therapy. Counseling is her second career, after being a business owner for nearly 30 years. She enjoys working with people experiencing life transitions, grief and loss, depression, anxiety, trauma, addictions, relationship issues, and figuring out life’s direction, using a holistic approach. Please contact her at 720-331-2454 or at email@example.com for more information.