Jan 20, 2021

Spirituality in Recovery, Healing

Lane Fischer, PhD, LP
What You'll Learn
A brief history: spirituality and psychotherapyWhat about now?A working definition of spiritualityReferences

“Spirituality is the consciousness of victory over self and of communion with the infinite.” What role does spirituality play in healing and recovery?

A brief history: spirituality and psychotherapy

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was a pioneer in recognizing a higher power and the spiritual nature of recovery from alcoholism (AA, 1952). Most 12-step recovery programs now include AA’s “higher power as we understand it”. As a non-professional fellowship that was separate from the mainstream of traditional psychotherapy, AA was freer to address the lived experience of people’s recovery without theoretical blinders.

Historically, models of psychotherapy eschewed religion and spirituality, and some theories even blamed psychopathology on religion.  However, within the last forty years, psychotherapists have recognized religion and spirituality as viable components of treatment (Bergin, 1980). We have acknowledged that most clients have religious or spiritual experiences and that including those processes in treatment addresses the whole person (Berrett, Hardman & Richards, 2010; Walker, 2013).

What about now?

Despite the recognition of the role of spirituality in people's lives and treatment, there is a nuanced process involved in allowing religion and spirituality in psychotherapy. On the one hand, therapists do not impose their values on clients (Fischer, 2005). On the other hand, there is no value-free work in recovery and healing - values play a significant role in recovery. Similarly, therapists do not engage in crypto-proselyting by secretly indoctrinating clients to their own belief systems. And yet, our own lives are often guided by cherished belief systems that color how we see the world and which we trust (Jackson, 2017).

No matter what your mental or physical challenges, it seems that the key to integrating spirituality and recovery is to:

~ humbly acknowledge our own beliefs and values,
~ respectfully engage with others’ values, and
~ gently explore how those values, beliefs, and experiences function in our lives.

Without compulsion, religion and spirituality are very much “on the table” in the recovery process. As a person seeks to understand her/himself and work through challenges of mental health, trauma, or addiction, for example, the role of spirituality can in fact be key to healing.

A working definition of spirituality

A definition of that seems to acknowledge diversity and free us to work together while integrating spirituality is from David O. McKay (1965).

Spirituality is the consciousness of victory over self and of communion with the infinite

There are three major components within that definition. Spirituality is a consciously chosen path of self-discipline that allows a higher power to accompany us on our path. It seems that a healthy spirituality always has those three components. It is consciously chosen. It involves some guiding discipline. It accepts something greater than self as a partner in the journey.

It is helpful to consider those three components in our own lives. Sometimes it also helps to consider corollary questions.

What is my history with the infinite (higher power, Deity)?

How do I conceive of the infinite?

How do I experience the infinite?

The psychoeducational groups at Hope Recovery and Healing explore these kinds of questions and can support your other therapeutic and recovery experiences during treatment. Regardless of where you are on your path to healing and what challenges you are experiencing with your mental and physical health, spirituality can play a key role. It can be deeply beneficial to explore the spiritual component of your path to recovery and healing.


Alcoholics Anonymous Worldwide Services Inc. (1952). The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Bergin, A.E. (1980). Psychotherapy and religious values. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 48 (1).

Berrett, M.E., Hardman, R.K., Richards, P.S. (2010). The role of spirituality in eating disorders treatment and recovery. In Maine, M., McGilley, B., & Gunnell, D. (Eds.), Treatment of Eating Disorders: Bridging the Research – Treatment Gap, Academic Press, London.

Fischer, L. (2005). The nature of law: Universal but not uniform. In Jackson, A. & Fischer, L. (Eds.), Turning Freud Upside Down: Gospel Perspectives on Psychology’s Fundamental Problems, Provo, UT, BYU Press.

Jackson, A. P. (2017). Truth and values in counseling: Beyond positivism, relativism, values

clashes, and crypto-proselytizing. In Fischer, L. & Jackson, A. (Eds.), Turning Freud Upside Down II, Provo, UT, BYU Press.

McKay, D.O. (1965). Something Higher Than Self. Address given at Brigham Young University, October 12, 1965.]

Walker, D.F. & Hathaway (2013). Spiritual Interventions in Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy. American Psychological Association, Washington D.C., United States.

Back to Top  
Lane Fischer

Lane Fischer is an associate professor of counseling psychology and special education. He is department chair of the Counseling Psychology and Special Education deparmtent at Brigham Young University. In his academic work he has focused much of his writing on the spiritual aspects of psychotherapy.

Sign Up for More Healing Articles
We promise to not spam you and keep your email safe.
© 2021 Hope Recovery and Healing.  This website provides information of a general nature and is designed for information and educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or legal advice.