Help Patients Explore Mind, Body and Soul through Holistic Counseling

Thursday, March 28, 2013

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Naturopathic medicine students and others learn a distinct counseling approach that supports personal growth along with treating pathologies.

Sigmund Freud revolutionized psychology by emphasizing the subconscious and the ghosts that lurk in memory.

Exploring your inner depths can be a useful step toward wellness, but it's not the only step. People can also grow by looking upward and embracing their spiritual hopes, says Charles E. Smith, PhD, chair of Bastyr University's Department of Counseling & Health Psychology. He believes counseling can help patients better understand the "light" above along with the darkness below.

Charles E. Smith, PhD

"When people repress their spiritual dimension, that can be the root of much suffering," says Dr. Smith, who is also a faculty supervisor at the University's Seattle teaching clinic, Bastyr Center for Natural Health. "We work to put the psyche, or soul, back into psychology."

Counseling informed by spirituality is one of several styles students learn by studying psychology at Bastyr. Students in the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program and the master's-level counseling programs receive counseling training — in both the classroom and the clinic. Undergraduate health psychology students also learn a holistic philosophy that sets a foundation for future study.

The spiritual component is part of a broader focus on health psychology, an approach not just for diagnosing and treating mental illness, but also for achieving wellness and personal growth. Health psychology recognizes the connections among mental, spiritual and physical health, incorporating nutrition, lifestyle and exercise science along with traditional psychology.

"It's a psychology that helps expand the potential of the person," says Dr. Smith.

Gazing Inward and Outward

Dr. Smith grew interested in whole-person psychology through the Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli, who emphasized the multiple dimensions of the self that must work in harmony. Where Freud once said, "I am interested only in the basement of the human being,” Assagioli responded that he was interested in the upper floor too — and he wished to add a terrace for looking at the sun and stars.

That image appeals to Dr. Smith, who incorporates multiple spiritual traditions into his teaching.

"When I was a child, I felt there was something larger than the ego," he says. "By whatever name we call it, it's helpful for patients to consider the spiritual dimension."

At the Clinic

At Bastyr Center, graduate-student clinicians meet with counseling patients under the supervision of faculty like Dr. Smith. Bastyr Center's counseling services offer an introduction to holistic counseling and are ideally suited for short-term treatment (typically 12 sessions or less).

Student clinicians learn to offer support for depression, fatigue, seasonal affective disorder, work-related stress, relationship issues, life transitions and other chronic health conditions — as well as holistic growth.

Techniques for Growth

At a recent public talk at Bastyr Center, Dr. Smith described three methods counselors can use to help patients achieve holistic growth.

Guided Imagery

Imagining a scene with the help of a counselor — such as a chance to say goodbye to a loved one who has died — can help people "see" longings that were previously unknown to them. "The therapist can be a guide, someone who has been through this territory who helps a patient find their own path," says Dr. Smith.

Dream Work

Learning to remember, record and interpret dreams is another way to understand subconscious desires, either constructive or destructive, says Dr. Smith. Start by "asking" for dreams before bed and recording them at the first moment of wakefulness. Talking them over with a counselor or trusted friend can help reveal their meaning.

"This is the easiest path to the subconscious," Dr. Smith says.

Parts Dialogue

When people say things like, "Part of me wants ...," we might see it as an indication we're comprised of multiple "parts," each with different ways of caring for the self. Examining and listening to those parts with a counselor can help bring them into a cooperative dialogue and ensure that every part is heard, says Dr. Smith.


Learn more about studying counseling in Bastyr's Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine, Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology and Master of Science in Nutrition & Clinical Health Psychology programs.