With more wellness centers offering classes in spiritual practices, meditation and mindfulness, are these programs an affordable alternative to therapy?

They are certainly convenient. You can take a weekend class and then practice on your own. The practices safe and easy to learn, and there have been many studies proving their effectiveness – more so than traditional therapy. According to Martin Seligman, Ph.D.’s insightful book, What You Can Change and What You Can’t, traditional psychotherapy can only effectively cure two mental health conditions.

Does this mean you can just skip the therapy and self-treat unhappiness with spiritual practices?

For people in a mental health crisis, such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, or substance abuse, the answer is an unqualified “no.” A therapist provides the support and expert guidance to evaluate and sort through the chaotic thoughts that can overwhelm us during a crisis. However, for people seeking to lower their stress and gain better emotional mastery, spiritual practices dramatically aid in the end of unhappiness habits.

Therapy is beneficial if the relationship with the therapist is strong and positive, and if the length of time in treatment is sufficient to solve the underlying problem. Unfortunately, therapy is an expense many people can’t afford and most insurance plans restrict the number of sessions covered to far less than what is needed to complete the treatment goals. Because medications provide quick relief of symptoms, insurance companies are shortening therapy time in favor of prescriptions, but the unhappiness problem underneath the symptoms remains. Spiritual practices can fill in that gap and support therapy goals.

Spiritual practices such as mindfulness, meditation and inner work have a profound effect on emotional healing because they acknowledge that humans are more than a personality. In every moment of our life we have the ability to choose how we are going to think. This power to decide what our thoughts and actions will be is commonly called free will. Spiritual practices help us to gain mastery of our thoughts to fully exercise the power of choice.

Learn more about how the healing power of the mind.

Traditional therapy protocols treat symptoms by teaching patients ways to modify self-destructive behaviors. More therapists are also including spiritual practices into their treatment plans because bringing the power of free will into the healing process increases the speed and depth of recovery. These practices keep your thoughts focused on the present moment avoiding unhealthy thought habits of worry, rumination, rationalization and self-recrimination.

Our thoughts govern our behavior and decisions. Unhealthy thought habits produce unhealthy behaviors. That’s how spiritual practices can help. They provide the structure for healthy, happier thought habits that result in a more fulfilling, happier life.

Learn more about mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).

The Positive Impact of Inner Work

We hear a lot in the media about meditation and mindfulness. What is not explained is that these practices are almost impossible to master without the mental preparation step. Inner work is the practice that readies the mind for meditation and mindfulness. It’s also being explored by both researchers and therapists. Inner work practices supply the structure to examine your thoughts and learn to recognize your unhealthy thought habits.

Spiritual guides have taught for centuries that our thoughts shape our lives. In the early 1960’s, world renown researcher and psychiatrist, Aaron Beck, M.D., confirmed this when he observed the terrible things his severely depressed patients said to themselves. He noticed that when patients changed their self-talk, their behavior changed and symptoms improved dramatically. He used his observations to develop a treatment for changing self-talk known as cognitive therapy.

Inner work helps us to identify unhealthy thought habits and see how they interfere with happiness. It helps us to change the internal dialog in our minds.

Our thoughts alter the shape and function of our brains. Since the mid 1990’s, neurologists such as Andrew Newberg, M.D.  and behavioral scientists such as psychiatrist Daniel Siegel, M.D. have studied the impact of spiritual practices on the brain. By changing thoughts, you reshape the function of your brain. This research sparked an interest in how spiritual practices can be further used to treat a variety of mental health problems that were previously thought to be treatment-resistant. Trauma recovery and PTSD are examples of treatment resistant conditions that are now effectively relieved with inner work, meditation and mindfulness.

Spiritual guides have also taught that no one changes their life until they make the choice to change. Our unhappiness habits end when we choose to replace them with happier, healthier thought habits. Spiritual practices offer the solutions, but, until we make the choice to end our unhappiness, neither spiritual practices nor traditional therapy will force us to change. It always comes back to the power of choice.

Extraordinary Happiness

You’ll find more about how spiritual practices can empower you to live a happier life  in Chapter Two (and elsewhere) of “How to Create a Happier Life with the Enneagram.”

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Learn More…

Does Religion Make You Happier?

Spiritual PracticesPeople of sincere faith, regardless of their religion, or lack of religion, are happier people. There are a number of studies that confirm that a belief in God makes you better able to handle stress, more content with life, and even lowers your blood pressure.

I know several atheists and agnostics who would argue that the happiness of a religious person is an illusion because it is not based in fact, but in a belief. I also know several religious people who believe happiness is only found in believing according to the teachings of their religion. I think both of these of views are missing the point.

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Studies show significant benefit in the daily use of spiritual practices. When we read a headline about how a research study showed some result, what does that really mean?

As an information writer, I spend a lot of time reading research studies on a variety of topics, and summarizing them into articles. It’s fascinating to me how studies are constructed to isolate very specific aspects of human behavior. Researchers strive to be as objective and precise as possible when they design their studies. But, life is not a research lab. In real life, human behavior can never be completely isolated to a specific point.

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