Psychology is treatment, spirituality is experience
The difference between psychology and spirituality can be at first sight difficult to detect, since both are involved in human interiority, its contents and its dynamics, or they even are human interiority. One may wonder, for example: is feeling uncomfortable, because we cannot find a meaning to our lives, a mostly psychological matter or an essentially spiritual one? This question can guide us to distinguish psychology from spirituality. It contains two main references: meaning of life and discomfort. In front of it psychology will address how to resolve the state of discomfort, while spirituality will address the inner experience created by relating ourselves with the sense of our lives. I point out that I did not say that spirituality tries to understand the meaning of life: I have already had occasion to observe, in fact, that spirituality is not so much reflection, but experience above all; it does not deal so much to understand what the meaning of life is, but rather to live the inner experience that the meaning of life arouses within us.
Coming back to our discussion on finding the differences, it comes up that psychology is not about finding a meaning to life: this is a job of philosophy; psychology does not bother to pay attention to the inner experience as such; it is more concerned about the distress and the well-being of the person. In this sense it is helpful to note that, from the point of view of research they make, psychology is a child of medicine, while spirituality is child of philosophy. Freud, who is considered the father of psychology, was at first a neurologist who treated his patients and tried to restore their inner well-being.
Unfortunately we can very easily run into people or texts that deal with spirituality, presenting it primarily as a way to welfare and happiness. At this point we understand that precisely this is a clear sign of deception, ignorance, falsehood. If the cultivation of a certain spirituality takes as its fundamental objective happiness and well-being, it means that it lacks critical sense, which means that we are not dealing with a child of philosophy. Spirituality, in this sense, is quite comparable to the literature, music, arts: they are practiced first not for research of health or happiness, but because they are appreciated as opportunities for growth, enrichment, knowledge. In this sense, it may well happen that artistic experience even causes discomfort, pain and nevertheless is chosen and practiced because it is considered a source of cultural enrichment. We may think, for example, to certain pessimistic texts on the meaning of life, as the books written by the philosopher Emil Cioran. This subject could be bended arguing that texts of this kind are read while still in sight of that certain inner well-being caused by the awareness to get closer to what we believe the truth; however, this is nothing but the result of the fact that any speech can always be bended so as to fit it into a perspective. In our present subject, also, on the difference between psychology and spirituality, we are aware of moving still inside perspectives; the difference here is that we maintain an awareness of the relativity of any perspective. In fact we do not claim to separate with a clean break psychology from spirituality, but to take advantage of our question to know them better and make a better experience of them.
Psychology and spirituality can also weave in order to give rise to psychology of spirituality and, conversely, spirituality of psychology. In the first case we have the study of how the practice of spirituality can create well-being or problems to the person, in the second case we will have a research on how attention to psychology can be an experience that can enrich our inner life and give it gains in terms of meanings of existence.
It should be noted that psychology not only deals with those who are ill: it is also able to deal with the internal dynamics of people, regardless of the research on how to make them feel good. For example, psychology studies certain mechanisms that are triggered by being children of a father and a mother, regardless of consideration about connected comfort or discomfort. From this point of view, actually psychology and spirituality are, as a minimum, very closely intertwined and difficult to disentangle each other; I see no difficulty, in this regard, to admit that, for some particular senses, psychology and spirituality are completely melted, they are precisely the same thing; obviously the differences emerge once the search is more detailed: psychology will take, for example, the way of deepening certain behavioral dynamics linked to being children, while spirituality could be interested in how being children can be occasion of meditation, silence; in any case it seems clear that, as with everything in this world, between psychology and spirituality can also be specific, specific contact points where they merge till become exactly the same thing.
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Last update: 12 June 2016.