The Ways of the Soul: A Psychiatrist Reflects: Essays on Life, Death and Beyond

Author(s) : Andrew Powell

The Ways of the Soul: A Psychiatrist Reflects: Essays on Life, Death and Beyond

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In pursuit of scientific credibility, psychiatry has neglected the spiritual dimension. Yet psychiatrists are daily confronted by problems of meaning and purpose that neither medical nor psychological treatments alone can relieve. In each of us, however, there is a spiritual resource that helps overcome emotional distress and encourages us to serve life in our own unique and creative way. In this work of great humanity that takes us far beyond the prevailing medical model, Dr Andrew Powell shows how we can draw on the wisdom of the soul to awaken love and confer healing on heart and mind.

‘Andrew Powell has written a wise and compassionate book which seeks to put the soul back into psychiatry. He shows that spirituality is not an optional extra in psychiatry but at the heart of good clinical practice. Readable and insightful, this volume is recommended for all those concerned to reunite care for the soul with care for mind and body’.

-The Rev. Professor Christopher Cook, Professor of Spirituality, Theology and Health, Durham University, UK, and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist.

‘Andrew Powell has succeeded in honouring the spiritual dimension of the psyche as fundamental to psychiatric and psychotherapeutic treatment. He does this in a very human way that is easy to relate to and understand. This is an important step in refocussing clinical treatment on a more balanced and whole approach. Highly recommended’.

-Dr Nigel Hamilton, Director, the Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy Education, UK.

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Neville Hodgkinson on 30/01/2020

Drawing on Andrew Powell’s lifetime of work as physician, psychiatrist and psychotherapist, this book is a treasure trove of practical and professional wisdom. But above all, it is a work of great humanity. With humility and compassion, Dr Powell explores ways of healing the limitations and distortions to which the human spirit has become subject. His casebook stories are illuminating and liberating for us all, as he sets them in the context of the ego’s struggle for survival in a world divorced from the spiritual dimension of reality. He writes: ‘To treat every situational crisis as a spiritual one would be misguided. Yet beneath the difficulties relating to partners, parents, families, children and the workplace, there is often a painful lack of, and searching for, core spiritual values. Sometimes it takes a breakdown to find them.’
He tells us that to suffer without finding meaning diminishes us; yet suffering that holds meaning is a spur to growth. Psychiatry utilises a comprehensive bio-psychosocial model of development in trying to help, but if breakdown is to become breakthrough, a new sense of purpose - often a new goal - is needed for the shattered self to recover. This journey of healing is a spiritual one, greatly helped by an awakening in both experience and understanding of the ‘ways of the soul’.
Twenty years ago, Andrew Powell established the Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Now, with close on 4,000 psychiatrist members, the group has contributed to a pronounced and continuing shift in the public perception of psychiatry. Fear of being subjected to unwanted diagnostic labelling and enforced treatment is giving way to trust in the humane intentions and capabilities of the profession. This book points the way towards a further shift in that direction and deserves the widest possible readership and recognition.

Andrew Clark on 26/11/2019

This book is a collection of 15 papers written by Andrew Powell either for journals or conference presentations between 1997 and 2005. Andrew was the founding chair of the Spirituality and Psychiatry Special interest Group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which for over twenty years has provided a forum for psychiatrists with an interest in spirituality.

All the papers draw on Andrew’s experience of working clinically as a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, his understanding of psychoanalytic and Jungian psychology, as well as quantum physics and comparative religion. These influences are all brought together with Andrew’s characteristic clarity of thought and personal warmth.

Each paper stands alone and has been thoughtfully tailored to the specific audience being addressed. The writing is refreshingly jargon-free and accessible to non-clinical and clinical audiences alike. Rather than summarise each chapter, which Andrew does in his preface, I will highlight the main themes which thread through the pages.

The first theme is the centrality of Love, both in the world of the human psyche and in the world of the cosmos. This is what all human beings long for, either consciously or unconsciously and, whether we know it or not, this is what we are all born to embody. The struggle to experience love, both within ourselves and in relation to others, is a major source of mental suffering as well as a potential spur for growth. Andrew helpfully explores the varieties of love, including the distinction between love that is ego-driven, which can be manipulative, and love that emanates from the soul which is only capable of good. Drawing on his long psychotherapeutic experience, he also describes the many different ways in which the ego creates obstacles to love through protective psychological defence mechanisms. This allows him to take a compassionate look at the human struggle with hatred and with evil. His key clinical point is that regardless of any other therapeutic intervention, people suffering with mental health problems, and indeed all of us, are in need of love.

The second theme is the search for wholeness. More than once we are reminded that our words “wholeness” and “healing” share the same etymological root. True healing usually involves a journey to a greater sense of wholeness. In this regard, healing (wholeness) is helpfully distinguished from the notion of “cure” (absence of disease), which continues to have such a powerful hold over medical professionals and patients alike. Several of the papers refer to Carl Jung’s concept of “individuation” in which the human journey is viewed as one towards ever greater integration of the different aspects of our selves. Andrew emphasises the relational aspect of this search for wholeness. As social beings, human beings are born to connect and the yearning to belong to more than ourselves is given as a succinct description of the spiritual impulse in us all. In the face of the ever increasing destructive potential of human beings, the reader is reminded of the importance of this process of integration for the future well-being of the human race and of the world we inhabit.

The third theme is the need to question the assumptions we hold about the nature of reality. We all see the world through our own particular lens which is shaped by powerful personal and cultural influences. Andrew makes frequent reference to the hold that the mechanistic view of the natural world has had over Western Science, in particular and hence over Western culture. Andrew has had a longstanding interest in quantum physics and gently introduces us to some of the headline findings and implications, in particular for how we view consciousness and the mind. A recurring theme is the non-locality of consciousness in which, rather than being seen as secondary to the activity of the brain, consciousness is viewed as primary so that the brain “picks up” consciousness rather like a radio might pick up a particular frequency. This allows a whole new perspective on phenomena familiar to many clinicians such as thought possession, projective identification, and group processes, as well as other phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance, mediumship, near-death experiences and reincarnation.

In the final, and most personal, paper entitled “Spirituality and Later life - a Personal Perspective”, Andrew writes about the profound existential challenge of facing our own death and reflecting on the life one has led, sometimes with painful clarity. He is sustained by a view of the universe which “extends beyond time and space, where all flows together in a vast ocean of consciousness and from which...our souls venture forth into this phenomenal world of sense perception so that we can learn and grow through experience.” Andrew ends with an acknowledgement of his indebtedness to his patients. “Our patients hold up a mirror to us and if we choose to look into it, we are aware that we are far more alike than different. In my efforts to try to help them, it turns out my patients have been helping me!”

I found these papers a joy to read. They are accessible and well referenced. They offer a fresh perspective on some familiar and some less familiar territory. Despite the breadth of the metaphorical canvas on which Andrew paints, the clinical consulting room is never far away and he offers some wise thoughts on clinical practice. I have no hesitation in strongly recommending this book to any mental health professional with an interest in spirituality, whether or not this is linked to a religious faith.

David Lorimer on 25/11/2019

In The Way of the Physician, Jacob Needleman argued that in order to be a fine physician, one had first to be a fine human being. This is highlighted by Peter Fenwick in his foreword to The Ways of the Soul when he describes how, during a talk by Andrew Powell on soul therapy, he was ‘bowled over by his humanity, his loving presence, his maturity and his deep insight into who we truly are.’

Twenty years ago, Andrew initiated the Special Interest Group in Spirituality and Psychiatry in the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which now has some 3,000 members. This is a forum for psychiatrists who wish to put the soul into psychiatry and a way of re-contextualising what Andrew calls ‘the institutionalised disregard for spiritual and religious concerns’ that discourages psychiatrists from making deeper connection with their patients. Andrew takes the view that by limiting ourselves to a science-based exchange ‘we may meet the patient but we will not meet the person, and we will certainly not engage with the soul, so important for the journey of healing and recovery.’ This encounter is an opportunity to move beyond ‘the medicalisation of human anguish’, now annually costing $77 billion worth of psychiatric drugs worldwide.

The papers included here date from between 1997 and 2005 and were delivered or written in a number of contexts. They are firmly based on a holistic and spiritual understanding of life aligned with the view of C.G. Jung quoted as saying that ‘despite the materialist tendency to understand the psyche as a mere reflection or imprint of physical and chemical processes, there is not a single proof of this hypothesis ... There is no thus no ground at all for regarding the psyche as something secondary or as an epiphenomenon’ (p. 27). Like Jung, Andrew also draws inspiration from the implications of quantum physics in terms of wholeness and connectedness. Along with his professional training, he has pursued a more personal path that has given him direct insight into such areas as healing, past lives and spirit release therapy.

In these papers, Andrew integrates his professional expertise with his own spiritual experience and vision, drawing on a number of fascinating case histories that indicate a deeper interconnectedness through realms beyond the physical. He stresses the importance of treating patients’ experiences as real, regardless of one’s own view, giving them an opportunity to work through their issues towards a greater sense of wholeness. In this respect, spiritual care and love are quite critical, not incidental.

The same applies to spirituality more generally, which Andrew defines as that which makes life meaningful and purposeful, calling for a perspective on life beyond one’s own small being - when the ego steps out of the way. Some papers address the importance of the shadow and shadow work, both individually and collectively, as a key to the evolution of consciousness and culture on Earth. One does not have to look very far in the current geopolitical scene to see this splitting and projection where people who regard themselves and their cause as good and just project the shadow on their enemies.

I hope this wise and compassionate book will be widely read not only within therapeutic and healing professions, but also by those seeking a deeper understanding of life. Andrew’s passionate conviction is that spiritual awareness needs to be the cornerstone of psychiatry, and indeed of psychotherapy. In that sense, he sees compassionate love as spirituality in action as a means of helping patients towards healing and greater wholeness (integration or individuation) without forgetting the parallel spiritual journey of the carers themselves.