25 Spiritual Questions
Psychiatrists Are Afraid to Ask

© 1997, Dennis Gersten, M.D. Excerpted with permission from ARE YOU GETTING ENLIGHTENED OR LOSING YOUR MIND? A Spiritual Program for Mental Fitness (Harmony, a Division of Crown Books, May 1997) This excerpt may not be reprinted without written permission from Harmony Books.

Modern psychiatry has become so Cartesian in its outlook, now that we are developing a body of technical knowledge, some of us are calling our work a "hard" science. But many of us are focusing so exclusively on the brain that we're starting to ignore feelings! A psychiatrist friend of mine recently attended a psychiatric meeting that focused on psychopharmacology. The word "feeling" never came up once during the entire conference. Psychiatry has tried to wear the mask of science at a great price.

As a psychiatrist, I try to be open to all the possibilities, open to psychiatry as art and science. In psychiatry, you tend to get information for which you are looking or for which you have formulated questions. If you think you need to find out about a patient's work history or sex-life, you'll find out. If you're a Jungian, your patients will start to have Jungian dreams. If you're a Freudian, your patients will start having Freudian dreams. Likewise, a spiritual history will always elicit specific spiritual information.

My belief in the usefulness of integrating God, spirituality and psychiatry has led me to stop beating around the burning bush. I confront issues about God as directly as I deal with anything else in my practice. Here are some of the questions that I may ask when taking a spiritual history:

25 Spiritual Questions Psychiatrists Are Afraid to Ask
Guideline #1

1. In what religion were you raised?
2. What religion are you now?
3. What do you believe in? Is there a God?
4. What's God's job description?
5. Is God an important part of your life?
6. Is He nearby or out on a distant star?
7. Do you feel there is a purpose to your life?
8. Is there life after death? What is it?
9. Do you pray? If so, how often?
10. Do you meditate? If so, how often?
11. What do you call God?
12. Have you had any experiences in life that you couldn't explain? Have you ever known things that you simply had no way of knowing?
13. Do you go to church, synagogue or some other organized religion? If so, how often do you attend?
14. Is God a man or a woman? Or both? Or neither?
15. Are there saints or other holy figures who have special meaning to you?
16. Does God listen to you?
17. Are you and God on good terms?
18. Does He or She scare you? How do you feel about God?
19. Do you deserve God's love?
20. Is God critical, watching every move you make, looking for mistakes?
21. Have you ever had a mystical or spiritual experience?
22. If so, how has that experience changed your life? (Did it change your life?)
23. Do you believe there is a heaven or a hell? If so, where do you believe you'll be going?
24. Do you have any particular spiritual practices?
25. If you met God, what would you ask for?

These questions are both spiritual and religious, for religion is the structure within which spirituality may flow. Religion is the rites, rituals and beliefs, the external or expressed form that spirituality takes. The term "spirituality" relies on one's direct and immediate experience of God or Spirit, and the rites and rituals can facilitate that experience. Unfortunately for some people, the rites and rituals of their first religion have lost their power. Their spiritual challenge is to rediscover the tremendous depth, power, love, beauty, awe and divinity these rituals can convey or to find a new spiritual direction. Currently, I am treating a Catholic woman who told me that on one occasion she experienced a blazing light piercing the glass of the church and passing through the Eucharist. For her, religion and spirituality came together in a beautiful visual way.

Of course, most of you reading this book don't need to visit a psychiatrist to have your vision or your miracle diagnosed accurately. You need to know what to call your vision, and you'll know that by the time you've finished reading this book. I know that what is sacred to me may not be what is sacred to you but I invite you to explore your spirituality, your sacred awareness, so that your life and the lives of those you love may be richer.

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