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Exploring the Psychology-Spirituality Link with Dr. Matt Welsh

Posted on 17 February 2020, 10:41

How does a clinical psychologist avoid conflicts between science and spirituality?  That was the first question I had after discovering Spiritual Media Blog, a website that features articles, interviews, reviews, and other posts about spirituality, psychology, and inspirational entertainment by Matthew Welsh, J.D., Ph.D., (below) a clinical psychologist practicing in the Chicago area. (spiritualmediablog.com)

 welsh

According to the website, Welsh created the blog after graduating from law school, his objective being to provide a source of inspirational content, media, and entertainment.  He began his career in Hollywood working for an entertainment agency, and then worked as a trial lawyer in Indiana before he decided to pursue his calling to become a psychologist. “My initial objective was to raise awareness for emerging conscious entertainment,” he explains.  “I started it after I left Hollywood, working for a major entertainment agency, because I felt like there were a lot of inspiring movies about consciousness and spirituality being made that were not getting the attention they deserved from Hollywood filmmakers and producers. I wanted to create a blog to raise awareness for these inspirational films. Over the years, after leaving my job as a lawyer at a law firm to become a clinical psychologist, my interest has expanded to psychology. Now, part of my blog’s objective is to also provide practical information people can use to help them develop spiritually and psychologically, as well as to raise awareness for inspirational movies. I do this by featuring guest posts, reviews, and interviews with some of the thought-leaders on topics related to psychology, spirituality, and inspirational entertainment.”

I recently put some questions to Welsh by email and he graciously replied:

How did you become interested in the subject of spirituality?

I was about 20 years old studying in college and very stressed and burnt out from life. I had been putting an extreme amount of pressure on myself at the time to make the best grades so I could get a good job after I graduated. That led me to experience a lot of anxiety, stress, anger, and unhappiness. So, I began to look for something else to find happiness, purpose and peace in my life. I started reading a lot about psychology, spirituality, philosophy, and personal development. One of the most powerful and helpful materials I found was a William James essay on four signs of a mystical experience and other teachings about connecting to God, our Higher Self, or some Ultimate Reality through meditation and our intuition. I began to practice meditation on a daily basis and listen to my intuition (which I believe is the voice of our Soul). Meditation and paying more attention to my intuition really helped me to become more connected to God and my soul/spirit. Since then, I have continued to read spiritual literature and incorporate a variety of spiritual practices into my daily life. When I connect with my spirituality, I feel a deeper sense of peace, purpose, practical guidance or inner knowing even if I am going through highly difficult external circumstances I don’t understand.

How do you define “spirituality”? In your introductory “10 practical tips for finding and living your calling” at your website, you refer to intuition, synchronicity, inspiration, internal values and other character traits.  I’m sure a humanist would agree with all those.  Does your definition go beyond what humanists accept?

I define spirituality as our connection, experience, or personal relationship with our Higher Power or some Ultimate Reality. Some may refer to this Higher Power as God or Spirit. So, yes, my definition of spirituality does go beyond what a humanist would accept. A humanist would likely define spirituality as a search for meaning and connection in our life. I respect that definition and people who have that definition of spirituality. But, for me, spirituality is a belief in something that transcends this physical or material world such as the soul, afterlife, or God / Ultimate Reality.

Let me reword the question I opened with:  Can one be “spiritual” and find meaning or purpose in this life without believing in a spirit world or a larger life beyond this one? 

I do believe a person can find meaning or purpose in this life without believing in a spirit world or larger life beyond this one. For example, love, connection to others, appreciation of beauty, a sense of adventure, personal growth, family, friends, work, or living a life of integrity may provide anyone with meaning or purpose in this life even though they do not believe in a spirit world. While these values and goals are noble and can provide meaning and purpose, I do not believe they are necessarily spiritual because in my opinion spirituality includes a belief in the spirit world or a larger life beyond this one.

You’ve quoted Carl Jung in some of your writing.  Jung said that “a man should be able to say he has done his best to form a conception of life after death, or to create some image of it – even if he must confess his failure. Not to have done so is a vital loss.”  Is such a belief acceptable to today’s mainstream psychology?  If not,  are you able to o incorporate it into your clinical practice without inviting professional sanctions or peer disdain? If so, how?

That belief is probably not acceptable in mainstream psychology. However, I can still incorporate Jung’s belief into my practice as I help my patients accomplish their goals by respecting, incorporating and working with their values and beliefs without imposing my values and beliefs on them. For example, psychological problems (e.g., depression, PTSD, anxiety, relationship problems, substance use, etc.) can be successfully treated without a belief in life after death or any spirituality. My goal as a psychologist is to help patients relieve their suffering, grow and develop as a person, or accomplish whatever goal they are hoping to achieve. It is not necessary to have any spiritual beliefs for me to help my patients achieve their goals.

However, even though it is not necessary to have any spiritual beliefs, I do believe incorporating my patients’ spiritual beliefs and practices into psychotherapy is helpful. Mainstream psychologists may not specifically endorse spiritual beliefs. However, most mainstream psychologists would encourage therapists to understand a patient’s values and religious or spiritual practices and then work with these beliefs and practices to help the patients achieve their goals.

I do this by asking patients if they have a religion or spiritual beliefs. If they say no, then I do not try to impose or incorporate spirituality into my work with them. However, if my patients do have a spiritual belief system, then I work with the patient to help them draw upon these beliefs to find greater peace, meaning, purpose, motivation, or relief. For example, if someone is grieving the death of a loved one and believes in an afterlife, then I may ask them if they believe their loved one is watching over them. Then, I may ask them how they can live their life to honor that loved one or bring their loved one peace in the afterlife, knowing their loved one is still watching over them. Further, I will also talk to many of my patients about how their faith, religion, or spirituality can help them cope with anxiety, depression, or trauma in their life. For many, their spirituality and religion provide helpful coping skills to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, decrease substance use or find more strength and resiliency during tough times.

The humanist claims that one can lead a fulfilling, productive, balanced, and mentally hygienic life while not believing that there is anything beyond this life, but William James didn’t agree.  As he put it,  “The moralist must hold his breath and keep his muscles tense; and so long as this athletic attitude is possible all goes well – morality suffices.  But the athletic attitude tends ever to break down and it inevitably does break down even in the most stalwart when the organism begins to decay, or when morbid fears invade the mind.”  Does your experience disagree with Professor James?  

I disagree. I do believe that it is possible for someone to lead a mentally hygienic life while not believing that there is anything beyond this life. I think spirituality and a belief in the afterlife does help someone lead a fulfilling and mentally hygienic life, but it is not necessary.

Back to Jung, he said that most of his patients were people who had lost their faith and could no longer find meaning in life.  I suspect that a clinical psychologist today would not want to dig that deeply.  Does a modern-day clinical psychologist get into this at all? Is it possible to explore spiritual matters without getting into religion?

Yes, many psychologists attempt to incorporate meaning and purpose into their therapy and explore spiritual matters without getting into religion. For example, Victor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor who eventually founded existential psychology and wrote Man’s Search for Meaning. Many psychologists incorporate his teachings about existential psychology to help their patients find more meaning in their life. One of the easiest ways to do this is to ask patients what their values in life are or what gives their life meaning and purpose. Further, if the patient says that spirituality is one of their values or gives them meaning or purpose, then it can be very helpful to have a conversation with them about their spirituality. That can be especially useful for patients who are thinking about suicide, have experienced trauma, or have lost loved ones.

Does your clinical practice involve treating people grieving the loss of a loved one?  If so, what is your basic approach to this?

Yes, my basic approach is to give them the space to experience, express, and process their emotions. This may range from guilt, regret, anger, depression, or anxiety about their own death or their loved one’s death. One helpful exercise is to ask them to write a letter to their loved one expressing any thought or emotion they would like to communicate. Or, I may ask them what their loved one would say to them now.

Giambattista Vico, an 18th-century Italian philosopher, wrote that men first feel necessity, then look for utility, followed by comfort, then pleasure, and finally luxury, after which they finally go mad – when “each man is thinking of his own private interests.”  In that pursuit of pleasure and luxury, there is, according to Vico, a certain social disconnection, which involves moral, intellectual, and spiritual decline. Do you think such a mindset might account for the chaos and turmoil in today’s world?

Yes, it is often difficult for people to find a balance between self-care and making a contribution towards others. When we are too focused on helping others, we often neglect our basic needs, such as sleeping or taking time for ourselves. However, when we are overly focused on our own wants and needs, we risk trying to take other people’s energy, money, power, etc., and that does cause social disconnection.

How do you integrate spirituality and psychology into your life?

For me, spirituality and psychology compliment each other and have both been helpful throughout various challenges and stages of life. Psychology helps me stay grounded by better understanding and expressing my authentic emotions in a healthy manner, or identifying unhelpful thoughts or behaviors and replacing them with more helpful ones. However, my spirituality provides me peace, faith, purpose, and direction when I am facing circumstances I don’t understand or asking questions that transcend psychology and the material world. Without spirituality, my life would lack peace, faith, and purpose. But again, psychology helps me stay grounded and deal with my human emotions, needs, and experiences in a healthy manner.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.


Next blog post:  March 2


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Titanic Victim Reported on After-Death Experiences

Posted on 03 February 2020, 9:35

William T. Stead is not listed among the 334 victims of the Titanic whose bodies were recovered as they floated in their lifejackets.  Indications are that he was struck on the head, possibly by a falling ship’s funnel, and sent to the bottom of the ocean.  However, the evidence strongly suggests that Stead did “survive,” though not in the flesh, as he began communicating through a number of mediums in the weeks and months following his physical death.

Stead, (below) a renowned British journalist, editor, author, social reformer and pacifist, was on his way to New York City to give a speech on world peace at Carnegie Hall when he became a victim of the Titanic.  On May 6, 1912, some three weeks after the tragedy,  Stead communicated with his daughter, Estelle Stead, at a sitting in Wimbledon with direct-voice medium Etta Wriedt.  Retired British naval officer turned psychical researcher Vice-Admiral William Usborne Moore was present and reported that Stead talked with his daughter for at least 40 minutes.  Moore described it as the most painful but most realistic and convincing conversation he had heard during his investigation of mediumship. (In the direct-voice, the voice comes through independent of the medium.)

stead

A week or so later, General Sir Alfred E. Turner hosted a private sitting with Mrs. Wriedt at his home, reporting that Stead spoke in a voice that was unmistakably his while telling of the events just before the giant ship sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic. (More about Stead and his early contacts from the Other Side can be found in my 2012 book, Transcending the Titanic, published by White Crow Books.)

At the time of the disaster, Estelle Stead was on a tour with her own Shakespearean company.  One of the members of the touring group was a young man named Pardoe Woodman, who apparently had psychic abilities.  According to Estelle, a few days before the ship went down, Woodman told her over tea that there was to be a great disaster at sea and that an elderly man very close to her would be among the victims.  Some five years later, in 1917, Woodman developed as an automatic writing medium and began receiving messages from William Stead, who told of his initial experiences on the Other Side.  Estelle Stead noted that Woodman wrote with his eyes closed and that the writing was very much like her father’s.  Moreover, the writing would stop at times and go back to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s” a habit of her father’s which she was sure Woodman knew nothing about.

Stead also had the ability to do automatic writing when in the physical body.  In 1909, three years before his death, he authored Letters from Julia, a series of messages coming through his hand from Julia T. Ames, an American newspaperwoman, intended for her friend, Ellen, during 1892-1893.  “Automatic writing, I may explain for those unfamiliar with the term, is writing that is written by the hand of a person which is not under control of his conscious mind,” Stead explained in the 1909 book. “The hand apparently writes of itself, the person to whom the hand belongs having no knowledge of what it is about to write. It is a very familiar and simple form of mediumship.”

Considering the research suggesting that some of the information recorded by automatic writing mediums is “colored” by the medium’s subconscious, Stead wrote that he could not believe that any part of his unconscious self would deliberately practice a hoax upon his conscious self about the most serious of all subjects, and keep it up year after year with the most sincerity and consistency.  “The simple explanation that my friend who has passed over can use my hand as her own seems much more natural and probable.”

The messages coming through Woodman’s hand, as Estelle Stead sat with him to provide a sympathetic link with her deceased father, were set forth in a 1922 book, The Blue Island, just recently republished by White Crow Books. 

In his initial communication through Woodman’s hand, Stead recalled the “indescribably pathetic” scene he witnessed after the ship went down, as hundreds of souls hovered over their floating bodies, some of them not comprehending their new state and concerned with having lost their valuables.  After what seemed like a few minutes, they all seemed to rise vertically into the air at a terrific speed. “I cannot tell how long our journey lasted, nor how fast from the Earth we were when we arrived, but it was a gloriously beautiful arrival,” he communicated to his daughter through Woodman. “It was like walking from your own English winter gloom into the radiance of an Indian sky. There, all was brightness and beauty.”

Nevertheless, Stead continued, the presence or absence of contentment among the new arrivals was based on the quality of the individual’s earth life.  He referred to what is today called a “life review,” in which the individual judges himself based on the character formed, the opportunities taken and lost, the motive of his or her actions, the help given, and the person’s overall mental outlook. “To sum all these up,” Stead explained to his daughter, “it is the quality of mind control over body versus body over mind.  Mind matters and body matters; it is in your keeping entirely and is in whatever state you have made it by your life.  On your arrival here the degree of your happiness will be determined automatically by the demands of your mind.” 

Stead added that everything seemed to have a blue tinge to it, as if it were a blue island. He later referred to it as a “blue atmosphere” and explained that it was a temporary rest spot where adjustments were made before moving on to the “Real World.”  He stressed that it does not resemble the earth life; rather, the earth life is a reflection of it. 

The initial objective, he further explained, “is to get rid of the unhappiness at parting from earth ties, and therefore, for the time being the individual is allowed to indulge in most of earth’s pleasures.”  He said that that there are libraries, music halls, and athletic arenas, that one can ride on horseback, and swim in the sea.  The clothing, he said, was practically the same as people were accustomed to on earth.  Thought, he dictated, is the force that drives everything and everything has to be mental before it becomes physical.

The mysteries of life, Stead communicated, are not revealed to the person upon arrival.  “I want you first to realise that by the change of death you do not become part of the Godhead immediately,” he cautioned his daughter. “The mysteries of life are not revealed to you as a kind of welcoming gift on your arrival here. You must not think that I, or any, have full knowledge on all subjects, profound and trivial, the moment we come to spirit life.”  Understanding, he said, comes slowly and it is difficult to communicate because the conditions are so different than those experienced in the material life.  “I am only a little way on my journey, but just far enough to grasp the intense beauty of life, and in life.” 

“We are only a very little way from Earth, and consequently up to this time we have not thrown off Earth ideas,” he went on.  “We have gained some new ones, but have as yet discarded few or none.  The process of discarding is a gradual one …We get to the state of not desiring a smoke, not because we can’t have it, or think it not right, but because the desire for it is not there.  As with a smoke, so with food, so with many a dozen things; we are just as satisfied without them.”

Stead eventually moved on to a higher (in vibration) realm, but he was able to tell very little of it because it was even more beyond human language. “It is a land of freedom – a land of happiness and smiles,” he communicated, adding that they can be in close touch with loved ones still in the physical environment and can try to influence them.  “In saying we can and do influence people on Earth, I do not propose to go into the precise process of how we work,” he explained. “It is near enough to say that you know how you influence each other on Earth; here the result is the same, although the process is quite different…”  However, he stressed, while spirit friends can attempt to guide a person, they cannot act for him. “He sets his own destiny in motion and he alone can alter it.”

Stead concluded by emphasizing that the physical world is a training school.  “…you are there to learn the truth about your own character, and how to control and develop it, to make full use of all Earth’s beauties and pleasures,” he ended, “but you must be master and not allow them to master you.”

Next blog post: Feb. 17

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.


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The Hidden Door – Introduction by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick – Accounts of dreams are as old as human history. People have always been fascinated by their own dreams, and have always looked for significance· in them. From the most ancient civilisations of Assyrians and Babylonians through to Biblical times it was believed that dreams brought messages from the gods in the form of warnings, omens and portents. In ancient Greece they were seen as prophecies, or instructions from Zeus. Read here
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