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Media Advisory/Press Release

MSPP Establishes Center on Psychotherapy and Spirituality

Center will increase understanding of role of spirituality in healing process

January 31, 2011–Boston (West Roxbury), MA–Most people have some form of spiritual practice or belief system that helps them find meaning in life. This orientation can profoundly impact the psychotherapeutic process, according to the founders of a formal center for the study of spirituality and psychotherapy at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP) in West Roxbury. “It is an aspect of the human condition that we as therapists need to pay attention to if we are to look at the whole person,” says Dr. John McDargh, the newly named director of the Center for Psychotherapy and Spirituality at MSPP.

The Center, which is the culmination of eight years of dedicated exploration by a committee of MSPP faculty, board members and outside experts, will help MSPP students understand how a person’s spiritual life might contribute to emotional healing and how they as therapists can incorporate it into the clinical process.

The formation of the Center, which is the first at a freestanding graduate school of psychology on the east coast, makes sense at this point in the history of clinical psychology, according to McDargh, an Associate Professor in the Theology Department at Boston College, who has spent much of his 30-year career investigating the relationship between psychology and spirituality.

Although the earliest practitioners of psychology, including William James, believed in the importance of spirituality, other theorists such as Freud and BF Skinner focused more on biology and instinct then on what some current thinkers call the “meaning-making” systems of human beings. Some have even considered the attraction to the spiritual part life as neurotic behavior.

However, in recent years, there has been a growing recognition that “the categorical exclusion of the spiritual dimensions of clients’ lives limits the resources we can give them to fully heal,” according to McDargh.

“We might even be doing harm to our clients by not acknowledging this aspect of their experience,” says Colleen Sharka, LMHC, a member of the advisory committee for the Center. Sharka was formerly the assistant director of Trinity Boston Counseling Center, including their masters-level internship-training program, which specializes in psycho-spiritual integration.

Dr. David Stern, another member of the advisory committee and an MSPP alumnus, agrees, adding that the idea of spirituality goes beyond the religious. “Even the atheist or agnostic is left with existential questions about the meaning of life and his or her connection to the larger picture,” he says. Stern has spent the last 20 years in private practice, committed to exploring how practices such as meditation and mindfulness can change the human experience, behavior and the lives of his clients.

The American Psychological Association now encourages practitioners to have experience and training working with clients from a wide variety of religious and spiritual perspectives, according to Christine Kowalcky, a second year doctoral student at MSPP. A student member of the committee with a background in spirituality, she adds “many of the clients I have met in my internship experiences have referred in some way to faith and God. My training and understanding of how spiritual beliefs impact a person's life and way of making meaning has made me a more effective therapist.”

The MSPP Center has already planned a number of opportunities for students, faculty, alumni and other professionals in the field to learn more about various forms and different aspects of spirituality and how to tune into and integrate their clients’ beliefs and values in therapy. The Center will hold discussion groups, conferences, courses and continuing education programs during the coming months and year.

The Center also sees itself as a home where professionals and professionals-in-training can explore the spiritual or philosophical underpinnings of their lives. “As therapists it is vital to be in touch with our own spirituality and how that connects with our work. It is core to the integration of psychology and spirituality. Most importantly, we must constantly stay attuned to ensure we are always working from our true and whole selves in service to and with the client," says Sharka.

By giving prominence to the Center, MSPP is not presuming anything about the personal spiritual lives of students. “But what we are saying is that they should listen for and respond to this aspect of their clients in a way that is insightful and respectful,” says McDargh.

Although spirituality has been of interest at MSPP since its inception, school leaders credit Dr. Stanley Rosenzweig with keeping it alive and growing, especially in the past decade. “He inspired an initiative that brought leaders in the field together, organized day-long conferences and numerous continuing education programs,” according to McDargh, who adds that it was Rosenzweig’s dedication to the initiative that resulted in a formal course for MSPP students, Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapies (HU 535), which is being offered today.

The Advisory Committee includes:

  • John McDargh, PhD, Associate Professor Boston College
  • Dean Abby, MEd, Director of Continuing Education at MSPP
  • Jane Adelizzi, PhD, Faculty, Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. Professor Emerita, Curry College.
  • Rev. GF Chonyi Richard Allen, Psychotherapist/Healer, Teacher and Guide.
  • Hilary E. Bender, PhD,ThD, faculty, MSPP
  • Nilda M. Clark, PsyD, Head, Counseling Psychology Department
  • Ronald E. Cobb, PhD, Faculty, MSPP
  • Dan L. King, EdD, Vice President for Academic Affairs, MSPP
  • Chris Kowalcky, MSPP PsyD student (2nd year)
  • Julie Oxenberg, clinical psychologist in private practice
  • Stan Rosenzweig, PhD, MSPP professor (retired)
  • Colleen Sharka, MA, LMHC, psychotherapist and spiritual director in private practice, clinical consultant for Trinity Boston Counseling Center
  • David J. Stern, PsyD, psychologist in private practice
  • Robert L. Weber, PhD, psychologist and consultant in private practice , director ContemplAging Project

About MSPP—Founded in 1974 and located in Boston, Massachusetts, the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology strives to be a preeminent school of psychology that integrates rigorous academic instruction with extensive field education and close attention to professional development. We assume an ongoing social responsibility to create programs to educate specialists of many disciplines to meet the evolving mental health needs of society. MSPP is committed to bringing psychologists into nearly every facet of modern life through our graduate programs in Clinical, School, Counseling, Forensic, Organizational, Higher Education Student Development and Executive Coaching Psychology.

For more information about MSPP, its new Center on for Psychotherapy and Spirituality and its programs, call 617-327-6777.

Updated 6/24/11

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