This week, a gem from the archives: an early talk between Jeff and Dr. Keith Witt–part of a series that eventually became The Shrink and The Pundit.
Dr. Keith Witt has been practicing psychotherapy in Santa Barbara for over 40 years, and is also a master martial artist and devoted spiritual practitioner with experience in many traditions. Who better to talk to about integrating psychotherapy and spirituality, the two major approaches to human development?
It’s a topic that causes so much confusion and consternation among seekers of higher consciousness. Spiritual teachers and psychotherapists are often at odds and people who participate in both modalities often reflect that conflict in their own minds. Which is the best way to go? Is it more fruitful to work with our personal history and iron out the stuck points in our lives (psychotherapy) or to work to transcend them by seeking enlightenment (spirituality)? Do we work with our story or drop our story?
Most spiritual traditions are rooted in pre-modern schemas that see dysfunction as a spiritual problem, whether possession by evil spirits or a separation from God. Even a non-theistic religion like Buddhism perceives the manifest world as a fallen and corrupt place that is to be transcended (and in more advanced Buddhist thought, re-embraced) through meditation.
A lot of spiritual teachers, because they deal so much in metaphor, begin to think you can transcend biology, like giving up all critical judgment and stuff like that. No, we can’t give up all critical judgment, because human nervous systems are making critical judgments regularly. But we can alter the way we habitually process them, and that’s spiritual growth. ~Dr. Keith Witt
Psychotherapy, on the other hand, works with the circumstances of our lives, and we are encouraged to look deeply into our own dramas and traumas, and even to re-experience them in the controlled psychotherapeutic container created with the therapist.
Anyone who has practiced both systems can see the value of each, yet their trusted guides, the spiritual teachers and psychotherapists, often deny the veracity of the other approach.
The integral solution, as you might expect, is to find the “piece of the truth” revealed by both spiritual practice and psychotherapy, to map the territories that each inhabit (and the territories they don’t), and to work with both in an integrated and harmonized way. That way the benefits are multiplied.
I know of no more qualified (and stimulating!) guide to this endeavor than Dr. Keith Witt. Check out our conversation below, as well as an essay Keith wrote on the topic.