What happened to the Soul in Psychology? II By Elani Engelken MA, MFTC, LPCC

I vividly remember being in my graduate program for a Masters of Counseling psychology and having our professor break down the origin of the word psychology. “Psyche” translates to soul and “ology” is the study of. I was in a graduate program getting a masters in the study of the soul and had no idea…. 

Why had I not yet made that connection for myself? It felt right, this is exactly what I wanted but I hadn’t realized I had enrolled myself in a spiritual program! As I began to learn more about the roots of this field, I also began to understand the reason behind my naivete. To understand the Western therapeutic approach, it is important to look at both the professional and academic history of psychology, and the current relationship with religion in Western culture.

            Europe was the leader in the early days of psychology as a field of study and practice. When World War II ravaged much of Europe, both the practice and advancement of psychology was halted, leaving the United States to take the lead. During this time, the only people allowed to practice therapy in the West were medical doctors. We still see a widespread clinical and scientific impact on psychological practice in the West.

Further exacerbating the division of soul and psychological practice, was the translation of Sigmund Freud’s work from German to English. Freud, a psychological leader in Europe, had little regard for America and was not fluent in English. When his field froze in Europe, English translators were left to interpret nuanced psychological text from German to English. In much of Freud’s work he refers to the soul or the unknown but in English translations soul became the “mental apparatus.” What was once attributed to mystical or divine now became a function of the human brain. What was unknowable and expansive became human and limited in scope. 

            This set the stage for what I will refer to as the sterilization of Psyche, or Soul…

Fast forward to today, I am seeing a common thread of what many refer to as religious trauma in my private practice. Clients that choose me as a practitioner typically refer to themselves as spiritual rather than religious. It is important to define the difference between spirituality and religion as many use the two interchangeably. 

            Religion is a “set of practices or beliefs” that can be applied to spirituality or any life area. Daily toothbrushing would be a religious practice as it happens ritually. Spirituality is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.” Because religion is often a set of practices and beliefs applied to spirit and soul, many have rejected the religious practice and sometimes Soul will be thrown out with it. 

I find this particularly striking in the millennial generation and younger. Many in this generation have rejected the dogma that they saw or experienced in previous generation’s religious practice and/or reject organized religion as these practices have become more politically aligned and isolating. Many of my clients do not find themselves wholly aligned with any one religion and thus feel lost in spiritual exploration or practice. So where does psychology, the study of soul fit into this cultural and historical reality? I will explore this further in my next post. 

Elani has been working as a life coach since 2012. She began working in this field after completing personal self-development and mindset work that helped her work through her own eating disorder and anxiety issues. When she found herself feeling incomplete with the mindset approach she began working with a yoga and Daoist mentor in New York City and was fascinated by the way our psychology mirrored our physiology and vice versa. Elani would later bring this training into her graduate thesis work and as well as her work with therapy clients. Around this same time, Elani also began working with a spiritual mentor and iridologist. This study led to the inclusion of meditation in both her personal and professional practice.

In 2016, Elani realized she had a great deal to learn about human psychology after witnessing a psychotic episode in a close family member. This experience caused her to seek out her own therapist and through that journey Elani chose to return to school for a masters. She completed her degree in Counseling Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2021. Pacifica is a graduate school based in the depth psychological approach and this orientation informs Elani’s work with both therapy and coaching clients. She is currently working with individuals, families and couples in Colorado. You can read more about depth work and Elani by visiting her website at ElaniNicole.com. She also offers a complimentary consultation to anyone interested in the potential of working with her and you can book that using this link: https://elani-engelken.clientsecure.me/