Case #208 - Recognizing spiritual authority

Jacinda talked about going to the Vatican. She felt a great deal of religious sentiment - awe, excitement, respect, anticipation.

But she went into one church there, and was told rudely by the priest that she could not join the service. There were some exclusive people in the vestibule, and not everyone was welcome. Jacinda was affronted, and felt excluded. This hurt her sentiment, and her retaliation was internal - she decided that the whole place was just ordinary; it held no spiritual power; it was just a historical relic. Then some years later, her husband died. She went to the local priest, wanting to receive some solace from him. Although her husband was quite well known to the priest, he seemed to forget who she or her husband were. Susanna was furious. She resolved internally not to recognize the priest as any kind of authority.

From this time on, she had not given up spirituality, but had instead found her own version of faith. She had spent many years working on this, developing herself without being dependent on external authorities to instruct or guide her. She had also further suffered - a son had died. Throughout this time, she had reached deep inside, and found a solid ground of spiritual meaning, purpose, and practice for herself. Jacinda was now in her 60's. She dedicated herself to the teaching work she did with her university students. She exuded a kind of deep strength.

I spoke to her, telling her that I recognized that she had achieved a place in her life where I believed it was appropriate for her to be recognized as an authority. I explained: there is authority which is 'given' - that of a role such as priest. And authority which is earned - by virtue of experience, insight, and deep reflection. It seemed to me that she was in this second category, and I suggested to her that she could take up this mantle - as a person who could be a guide for others. Even though she was not in a formal role of a spiritual teacher, I suggested that she could legitimately offer herself in some way as a spiritual guide to others.

Jacinda was deeply touched, and was able to recognize the truth of what I was saying. It provided a meaningful way forward for her, to move into sharing what she had learned over the years, with others. After all, many people seek spiritual guidance, and the best comes from someone who has really lived it. In this case, Jacinda did not need a therapeutic process. I believed that, apart from witnessing her story, she did not need help in digesting her experience - she had already done that work. What I could offer her was using some of my role-power as a therapist to recognize something valuable about her, which she would not otherwise recognize as clearly. Because she had moved away from religious authorities, it would not occur to her to offer herself as any kind of authority in the spiritual realm. Yet, she had in fact exactly the characteristics that make up the best authorities. So, by recognizing her in this way, I strove to empower her to consider stepping into a larger role. This is a Gestalt that is oriented towards the future, and in this case was not based so much on a horizontal/dialogical process, as an empowering/vertical one.

Gestalt is greatly flexible - we use the resources we have to address the uniqueness of the client.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther