Psychology and Spirituality - Similarities and differences

I integrate both psychology and spirituality into my daily practices.

This article considers some of the similarities and differences between the two approaches.

I go to church. At times in this article, I also consider a religious approach.

I include personal references to how in a time of chronic illness, I drew and continue to draw on both psychological and spiritual approaches.

Contents for Psychology and Spirituality

  • How do these approaches help you feel ok with the life you have?
  • Can psychology and spirituality help you improve your circumstances? Are you deserving? Are you entitled?
  • Can these approaches serve to raise self worth?
  • What do they say about the importance of how you are treated by others?
  • My continuing journey with psychology and spirituality and religion
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Psychology and Spirituality:
Can they help you to feel ok with the life you have?

Psychology often aims to give you the support to help you feel OK about your life right now. 
For example, with a low sense of self worth you might judge someone's bad behaviour towards you as being a reflection on your worth.
With greater self worth you might get clear that it is 'their behaviour'. You are not defined by their behaviour, and their behaviour says more about them than about you.

The psychological approach can also help you to lower your expectations so that they are realistic, with the aim of living happily with the life you have.
A practice such as CBT might help with this.

A spiritual path can also help you to feel ok with the life you have by helping you to rest in the peace that passes understanding – a peace available regardless of the circumstances.

When I was severely disabled with inadequate care, I found the advice in many psychology self help books to be of limited help. They often advised avoidance of certain people or taking action.
These options were often not available.

And I don't think it was achievable, in any sustained way, to feel OK about this life. In fact the attempt to do so was counter productive.

Finding myself unable to manipulate my environment or myself to find happiness, spirituality helped me to reach out for the peace that passes understanding.

Without an experience of this peace and this JOY! I would not have kept going.
I had wonderful moments of sinking into the reality of Oneness - of being part of something so much bigger - a self that could not even be ill.
This is not the "feeling OK" to which psychology often aspires.

Psychology and spirituality - what is the overlap in the outlooks they offer us.

Can psychology and spirituality help you to improve your circumstances?

Psychology self help is often about how to change something in your outlook or behaviour to allow you to get more... more happiness, more wealth, better relationships etc.

Some spiritual approaches also help you to reach out for more, for example the Law of Attraction (the LOA). 

The Law of Attraction can be seen as an application of certain Bible teachings - religious teachings - which give permission to say the following:

"This life does not match up with the God I know – the God of abundance and love.
I align my thoughts with a vision of my positive outcome, and choose to believe that this vision can come to pass.
I give God access to my mind to change my thoughts.
I hold a vision for a bigger, better life than this."

In addition, if someone believes in a Creator God they may appeal to that God through prayer to change their circumstances.

See an article on Why do we pray?

Click for a psychology self help article

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Can psychology and spirituality
raise your self worth?

Are you deserving of good things? Are you entitled?

Psychology self help may guide you in how to set boundaries and how to behave in a way which is more likely to lead people to treat you well, with possible benefits for your self-worth.

Psychology self help can help you to raise your self worth by telling you that you deserve love, financial security etc.

Psychology self help may help you to get clear on how you feel you need to be to be deserving of a good life, and help you to move in the direction of behaving that way.
If you can learn to behave in line with your own idea of what it takes to be deserving, this may raise your self worth. For example, you may reach the point of feeling you are a good citizen or a good mother.

Spirituality tends to place less emphasis on being deserving or raising self worth than the psychological approach.

Spirituality says:

"You as a body, as a human, may or may not deserve anything.

This body is not who you are. It is only here for a little while (or an illusion – not really here at all).

The good news is that regardless of what you deserve, you are entitled to WONDERFUL THINGS.

Your entitlement doesn't come through your own efforts, but simply because God is everything and you are a part of God.

You are part of EVERYTHING."

For example the Bible says we are joint heirs with Jesus

In this world, an inheritance is the closest we can get to understanding that we don't have to deserve or work for something.
We receive an inheritance, not because of what we do or what we deserve, but because of the family we are from and because of the abundance of the person who left the Will.

Spirituality says that who you are is a child of God.

Spirituality says God’s Will is that you receive His Love.

Spirituality says you don't need to deserve God’s Love to receive it.
God’s love is not a reflection of your character or ability.
The availability of God’s love for you is a reflection of God’s character and God’s ability.

When we receive God’s love, self worth follows as a natural consequence.

Once again, a difference between psychology and spirituality is that the aspiration, this time of self worth, is achieved as a by-product of the spiritual relationship rather than as an aim in itself.

When you are living with illness (just as if you are living with other severe challenges), you may no longer be able to behave in a way that helps you to feel deserving.

You may feel that because you can't function in the way you used to, you do not deserve help.
You may even feel that you shouldn’t be here at all.
You may even feel a nuisance for taking up other people’s time and resources. (See the article: I Choose Life.)

The spiritual message that I have inherent value and don't have to 'earn' value through action has been a valuable teaching for me.

Religion often includes outreach to help the poor, the outcast, and the elderly.
It tends to preach the importance of the dignity of each and every human being.
When it does this well, it contributes to the self-worth of those it serves.

In theory, religion does not insist on someone being deserving in order to give to them. It gives anyway.

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Psychology and Spirituality and Religion:
The importance of how you are treated by others

Spirituality places less emphasis than psychology on the importance of being treated well and being seen to be treated well.

Consider that Christians and Muslims revere Jesus despite the fact that he experienced profoundly difficult treatment from others to the point where he was hung on a cross.
(Mohamed, Ghandi, Martin Luther King - none of these had an easy life.)

The psychological approach is likely to encourage us to build up a healthy ego. 
Spiritual practice, on the other hand, often  encourages us to let go of the emphasis on the ego and instead identify with the eternal Self, a self which is not the body.

By improving our relationship with self, psychological self help potentially make us more resilient to changing levels of approval or treatment by others.

Spirituality and religion can offer an additional way of feeling peace during the experience of bad treatment.
It sometimes places emphasis on an after life which is eternal and within which your sufferings will be forgotten.
In some religions, it can also be seen as a great service to offer your sufferings to God.

My continuing journey with psychology spirituality and religion

I draw on both psychology and spirituality in my approach to life.
But my main aim is to go deeper with my experience of receiving God's love. 

The need for my sense of self worth to be rooted in something other than this world became apparent to me in a time when so many of the normal joys of life were not available to me. In addition, I was too ill to be seen as useful or deserving by the world.

No matter how good our circumstances or how much we are able to physically contribute, it is never certain that such a situation will continue.

It is in my relationship with God, Source, that I have found a happiness, a more fulfilling life, a far richer relationship with self and greater resilience to the difficulties of life.

Psychology self help is profoundly important to me in helping to clear away the junk that blocks my access to God's love.

A religious community, is less essential but important to me. I am deeply grateful for those who run the church I attend.
Religion assists me by being a lynch pin for my spiritual practice, an opportunity to join in community and a way of making 'normal' my spiritual practice by sharing it with others.

Final words for your own journey with psychology and spirituality

I am fond of saying that “there is no such thing as good advice”. (See the story of the monk and the student in my free ebook.) By this I mean that what constitutes good advice is different for different people and under different circumstances.

Psychology and spirituality are broad categories. Writing this article has reminded me that within both you can find directly opposite points of view.

Make sure to feel free to identify the approaches that work for you in the circumstances you are in.
Both allow for a rich journey of discovery.
Good luck!

With my love, and every good wish on your journey,


Katherine T Owen, webmaster at
Author of Be Loved, Beloved (Kindle)

Further articles related to psychology and spirituality

What do psychology spirituality and religion say about inner voices and about the importance of quietening the mind.
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For 14 years, Katherine T Owen was severely disabled with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, unable to walk, with little speech, and with inadequate care.

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