An integral approach to spiritual wellness in school counseling settings.
The issue of spirituality in education has received increased attention in the past decade particularly as spirituality has become recognized as a construct distinct from religiosity. Working openly with spirituality in education has been written about generally (Best, 1996; Cummins, 2002; Dennis & Dennis. 2002: Levine, 2002; McMurtry, 1998; Suhor, 1999) as well as in specific educational specializations like gifted education (Chauvin, 2000; Lovecky, 1998; Morelock, 1995; Piechowski, 2000), library-media science (Barron, 2002), vocational education (Lakes, 2000), and educational administration (Bhindi & Duignan, 1997; Hoyle, 2002; Sokolow, 2002; Wheatley, 2002). While some works devoted to spirituality could be integrated into school counseling work with students (Benson, 1997; Dowd, 1997; Koepfer, 2000; Love, 2001), it is time to specifically address spirituality in school counseling.
Although integrating religion and public schools is fraught with political problems (Mawdsley, 1998a, 1998b, 2001), spirituality in public schools is less controversial when spirituality is understood as a developmental line innate to human beings. There is ample support for understanding spirituality as a normal human line of development like cognition, emotion, or sexual identity (Ingersoll, 1994; Sisk, 2002; Vaughan, 1995, 2002; Wilber, Engler, & Brown, 1986; Wilber, 2003). While there has been some resistance to this idea (Blake, 1996), spirituality conceptualized as a universal human construct is important to education and school counseling (Halford, 1999).
In this article we discuss integrating spirituality into school counseling using the spiritual wellness construct and the integral model developed by philosopher Ken Wilber (1995). We begin by operationalizing spiritual wellness and summarizing the integral model. Next we discuss the importance of understanding spirituality as both a line and level of development as well as the role of non-ordinary states of consciousness in spiritual wellness and development. Finally we illustrate integrating various dimensions of spiritual wellness into school counseling using the four perspectives from the integral model (behavioral, intrapsychic, cultural, and social).
In summarizing the literature on spirituality or spiritual development, the biggest problem is how to operationalize these words (Wiggins-Frame, 2003). Since spirituality is a broad concept that ultimately transcends concepts in general, there are two traps commonly encountered in operationalizing it. The first trap is when groups with vested interests lobby for one particular definition to be used exclusively. The second trap is to make the construct so broad that it is meaningless. To preclude these traps we must rely on research-based constructs that point toward spiritual health while admitting we do not know the full extent of what spirituality is. Spiritual wellness and spiritual well-being are examples of such constructs that have been pioneered by researchers in sociology and psychology over the past 30 years (e. g., Ellison, 1983; Ingersoll, 1998; Moberg & Brusek, 1978). These constructs provide a vocabulary to work with spiritual issues in secular settings like public schools. Man), such constructs have been proposed and supported with research that we draw on in this article. We use the general construct "spiritual wellness" in this article since it is the one most commonly used to describe spiritual health.
According to Westgate (1996), spiritual wellness has its origins in the medical wellness movement where wellness is seen as the optimum integration of various dimensions of human functioning including spirituality (Bensley, 1991). In this sense, optimum integration is supposed to lead to optimum functioning and, of course, optimum functioning is a goal of public education. Spiritual wellness has been operationalized by Banks (1980), Chandler, Holden, and Kolander (1992), Hinterkopf (1998), and Ingersoll (1994, 1998). All the latter researchers concluded that there are dimensions to spiritual wellness just as there are dimensions to physical wellness. Common dimensions to spiritual wellness include hope, meaning, purpose in life, connectedness, honesty, compassion, forgiveness, rituals, recognition of what is held to be sacred, and transcendent beliefs/experiences that may include a sense of a higher power.
It is important to note that the beliefs referred to here are the result of experiences. They are not beliefs accepted second hand and divorced from experience. In that sense there is also a dimension of entelechy to spiritual wellness. Piechowski (2001) described this entelechy as a vital realization that may include a sense of a force directing life (also described in spiritual wellness research as "conception of divinity"), a will toward self-determination (also described as "desire for knowledge and learning"), and a sense of destiny (similar to "meaning" or "purpose in fife"). As well as being consonant with dimensions of spiritual wellness listed above, this notion of entelechy is compatible with the mission of public education. Whether viewing education as an agent of cognitive and moral teaching (Bennett, 1988; Kaestle, 1983) or empowerment (Bowers, 1987), its mission has always included cultivating self-determination and realization of purpose in life.
To these we add one more crucial dimension of humor. Spiritual growth requires an evolving capacity to disidentify from false or incomplete notions of ourselves that we mistake as our total self. Humor is one of the most common ways we "get some distance" from these false or incomplete ideas of ourselves. Perhaps this is why it is said that the highest form of humor is laughing at oneself. The distance being able to laugh at ourselves affords allows us to experience a more expanded sense of self that is more fully extended into the world. Humor has been written about generally in relation to education (Furman, 2001; Lipp, 2001; Palumbo, 1999; Thomas & Montgomery, 1998) and counseling (Berg & Van Brockern, 1995; Goldin & Bordan, 1999), but there is tittle literature linking humor to spiritual wellness in the schools. It goes without saying (but we say it anyway) that no guidance program can succeed without the support of the administrators overseeing it and those administrators are the ones who perhaps more than anyone will benefit from a sense of humor (Chapko & Buchko, 2001).
In this article we use the integral model to illustrate how dimensions of spiritual wellness (drawn from the authors cited above) can be part of a school guidance program. As for theoretical grounding, these dimensions are consonant with humanistic and transpersonal theories of counseling. In particular these dimensions of spiritual wellness are clearly present in the theories of Rogers and Maslow (Benjamin & Looby, 1998).
THE INTEGRAL MODEL
Wilber's (1995) Integral model is dedicated to integrating body, mind, soul, and spirit in sell; culture, and nature. The model's primary strength is reminding us of the multiple faces of reality or truth. For example, is spiritual wellness simply behaviors that demonstrate compassion? Perhaps it is an inner subjective experience of meaning or an experience of connectedness within one's culture. The integral model would suggest that spiritual wellness is all of these things and more. These examples of spiritual wellness are partial truths about spirituality. From an integral perspective, we must draw on as many partial truths as we can to approach the whole truth because spirituality, if anything, is about the truth.
Our society is one of overspecialization, and we have experts for most issues who present us with partial truths from particular perspectives. The "truth" such specialization brings us is always partial. The problem with this lies in the human tendency to take a partial truth and misinterpret it for the whole truth. This leads to incomplete approaches to solving problems. Whether trying to understand human beings, the universe, or spirituality in a guidance program, an integral exploration considers multiple perspectives, lines of development, levels of development, and states of consciousness. For the purposes of this article, the general description of Wilber's model is brief but the interested reader can refer to the citations of his work (Wilber, 1995, 1996a, 1996b, 1997, 2000) in the reference section.
Spirituality as a Line of Development in the Integral Model
School counselors need to recognize that spirituality is a line and level of development and that both can be reflected in the guidance program. This is important because all dimensions of spiritual wellness will unfold developmentally. Meaning is not the same thing to a first-grader and a sixth-grader but is equally important to both students. As we illustrate in this section, there is ample support for specifically addressing spiritual development in the guidance curriculum as one of the primary lines of human development that should be nurtured by school counseling and public education in general. While disagreement exists on how many lines of human development there are, most counselors will agree that at least a dozen or so exist including cognitive, affective, sexual, spiritual and so on.
There are many ways to conceptualize spiritual development for the purposes of including it in the guidance curriculum. Many lines of development are dependent on or intersect with others. For example, spiritual wellness and spiritual development rely to some extent on cognitive development, which is one way to support its inclusion in education. In addition, spirituality as a line of development may really encompass several strands like moral development (Kohlberg, 1984), faith development (Fowler, 1981), or even creative development (Gardner, Phelps, & Wolf, 1990). Spiritual wellness and development also include spiritual maturity, which requires an ability to tolerate ambiguity, which in turn requires formal operational thinking. In this sense, education can be conceptualized as a spiritual enterprise and has been valued as such in different cultures at different times in history. As Meland (1953) noted, the quality, of intellectual activity available in any school is a measure of its spiritual depth and commitment to developing the whole person.
Spiritual Development and Community
As a profession, school counseling relies heavily on knowledge of human development and how it relates to academic and personal growth. As noted, personal growth takes place in the context of community, and healthy individual development is essential for healthy community. Development in general and spiritual development in particular tend to progress away from preoccupation with self (narcissism) toward care for others (Kegan, 1982). Noddings (2003) proposed an alternative moral development perspective based on caring. From this perspective, the highest level of moral behavior grows from an empathic caring for others. This caring for others is the base for dimensions of spiritual wellness like connectedness and compassion and is consonant with the values espoused in public education through activities like peer-mediation (Mastroianni & Dinkmeyer, 1980) and peer-helping (Myrick & Bowman, 1983).
Both Gilligan's (1982) and Kohlberg's (1984) work demonstrate that development in general typically begins with a focus on self(egocentric), moves beyond that to a level of care that includes some others (local care), and ideally moves to a level of care that is universal (universal care). In this sense, the facilitation of individual morality is the facilitation of group morality (Rest, 1995). When creating a guidance plan therefore, it is important to note that spiritual development, as operationalized here, facilitates spiritual wellness, which in turn facilitates healthier school communities.
Spiritual Levels of Development in the Integral Model and Non-Ordinary States
Once we understand that there are numerous fines of development, we can understand that most people do not progress through them evenly (Wilber, 2003). Indeed one goal of public education and school guidance is to develop well-rounded citizens. Despite our best efforts, we still find people who are very well developed in some lines and undeveloped in others. Take for example a student who is cognitively highly developed but may be poorly developed morally (e.g., the student may cheat on tests to avoid getting anything less than a grade of "A"). Thus, there are different levels of development that we all go through in any given line.
Wilber (2003) has made the case that the upper levels of any line of development may be spiritual, but, he adds, a person can certainly have a spiritual experience at any level of development. There are countless examples in the literature of how deep insights into academic disciplines (mathematics, music, etc.) show an almost mystical quality to them. This understanding of development can help counselors when students bring issues that may be related to some non-ordinary state they have experienced. In this case we are not referring to chemically altered states of mind but rather states available to all human beings.
It appears that prior to moving to a new level in any line of human development, we get "glimpses" into that new level through peak experiences and non-ordinary states of mind. When looking at the spiritual experiences reported by children, a great majority of them seem to involve non-ordinary states like dream, meditative, or trance states (Coles, 1990; Hoffman, 1992; Morse, 1991; Piechowski, 2001). These can occur as temporary peak experiences for a child that give them a temporary glimpse into the upper levels of human development but with that glimpse the child may then progress more quickly to that level.
Adults with whom they may share these experiences can then either help them integrate the experiences in a meaningful way or dismiss them as "imagination." For example, the second author in counseling a 7-year-old boy had a startling revelation. The child was constructing an elaborate airplane from Lego blocks and asked, "Do you know what happens after you die?" When the second author asked him what he thought happened, the boy stated, "Well, if you were male you come back as female and the other way around." When asked where he heard about reincarnation, the boy said, "That's just the way it is" in the same tone as someone might explain how oaks grow from acorns. Another child had since third grade said she wanted to be a doctor. In junior high she went as far as to tell her counselor that this was her purpose in life. This student also shared that she had "seen" this in several dreams and once "felt it" very strongly in a doctor's office. This is an example of the entelechy dimension of spiritual wellness. School counselors must be prepared to affirm and deal with such statements and the relevant non-ordinary states of mind that foster them.
Four Perspectives on Truth in the Integral Model
In addition to levels and lines of development, another primary component of the integral model is a four-quadrant model that provides four different perspectives or types of information on whatever is being examined through the model. For the purposes of this article we refer to these perspectives as behavioral, intrapsychic, cultural, and social. The summary below elaborates on each perspective and how it can help integrate spiritual wellness into a guidance curriculum. The key is to remember that each perspective has correlates in the other three perspectives. For example, a behavior (from the behavioral perspective) has correlated attitudes in the intrapsychic perspective and both the behavior and the corresponding attitude have correlating elements in the cultural and social perspectives. You cannot have one perspective without the other three nor can you reduce any of these perspectives to the other ones. For a more elaborate description of these and how to apply them see Ingersoll (2002).
The behavioral perspective on spiritual wellness. In counseling the behavioral perspective represents the medical or disease model in its search for objective facts related to the individual. The behavioral perspective collects information through objective measures obtained from clients through observation without clients ever saying a word (although it could include self report measures). From the behavioral perspective we ask the question, "If a person (student, faculty, or staff member) is spiritually well, how does that person act or behave?"
While we could devote some space to describing student behaviors correlated with the dimensions of spiritual wellness, the first rule for integrating spirituality into any discipline is to "walk the walk," as the saying goes. Therefore school counselors seeking to integrate spiritual wellness into the guidance program must have their own practices (behaviors), through which they themselves cultivate the dimensions of spiritual wellness. In addition, the behavioral perspective would include activities and assessments that access information about the dimensions of spiritual wellness. Many of these activities may be accomplished without any overt discussion of spirituality. For example one does not need a policy on spiritual wellness to work with children on issues of hope, forgiveness, compassion, meaning, or purpose.
Many of the guidance lessons or small group activities designed to address student competencies suggested in the National Standards for School Counseling Programs (Dahir, Sheldon, & Valiga, 1998) also address dimensions of spiritual wellness. These include acquiring self-knowledge by identifying and expressing feelings, using effective communication skills, applying self-knowledge through identifying long- and short-term goals, and knowing how to apply conflict resolution skills. Orange County Florida Schools created classroom guidance lessons addressing these issues that had statistically significant results in student academic and interpersonal behaviors (Myrick, 2003). Peer facilitation projects, strongly endorsed by the American School Counselor Association (1990), add a dimension of compassion and learning to care for and about others to the school environment. Perhaps because the quality of altruism leads to hope and optimism (Yalom 1995), peer facilitation literature has documented as much benefit to the helper as to the one helped (Anderson, 1976; Ashwin, 2003; Mastroianni & Dinkmeyer, 1980). All of these activities in classroom guidance or peer facilitation lead to behaviors that are included in dimensions of spiritual wellness.
What sort of behaviors might we expect from a spiritually well person? For one thing they manifest a positive energy or optimism that allows them to effectively cope with challenges. This optimism may also have a contagious effect on others and serve as a source of inspiration. They also tend toward a commitment to truth or (drawing on the Hebrew roots of the word) that which is real. While in principle most of us would agree this is a positive attribute, people who pursue the truth are frequently not valued in unhealthy hierarchies. People committed to truth make it difficult to maintain unhealthy, power over relationships. On the other hand they are an invaluable resource in healthy hierarchies.
The behavioral perspective also raises the question of what behaviors would we expect to see in children who have hope, meaning, purpose in life, connectedness, forgiveness, and transcendent beliefs/experiences? Can we develop guidance curricula that help children practice things like compassion or forgiveness? Again, these constructs are not tied to any particular spiritual tradition and can even be embraced at the existential level by those professing to hold non-spiritual worldviews. The behaviors of spiritually well students will foster a healthy school community as well as academic achievement.
The intrapsychic perspective on spiritual wellness. The intrapsychic perspective is the focus of most counseling where dialogue is used to explore feelings, thoughts, and attitudes. This perspective is also addressed in classroom or small group lessons that facilitate student identification of emotions in self or others (affective education). This perspective deals with the "insides" or subjective aspects of the individual including attitudes and relies on "I" language to reflect the realm of a person's subjective experience (e. g., "How do I feel, what do I mean?"). Safety is a crucial component to any exploration of the intrapsychic perspective as one can only learn about this perspective if a person fees safe enough to share their thoughts and feelings. While certain attitudes are correlated with the behaviors of spiritual wellness, we cannot legislate the attitudes. The best we can do is foster them with activities designed to facilitate insight into their worth as well as insight into the destructive nature of their antithesis attitudes. For example, hopelessness is rampant in many schools and affects not only the climate of the building but academic performance (Kozol, 1991). What is the point in studying if you do not believe your actions matter (Garbarino, 1996)?
Activities correlated with attitudes of spiritual wellness include mentoring (Cannister, 1999), reflectivity (Mayes, 2001), and heightening students' awareness of what they hold sacred (Beringer, 2000). While some of these examples of activities were developed outside of guidance programs, they can be easily converted to be part of any guidance program. The exploration of the sacred is particularly important component of character education (Lickona, 1998, 2003). That which is sacred forms the basis for values that are socially accepted (Passe, 1999) and here again, cross-cultural language is important when discussing those values.
The social perspective. This perspective focuses on the social dynamics and institutions that impact the individual and guidance programs incorporating spiritual wellness. The social perspective includes objective elements like economic modes of production, laws and the legal system in general, socio-economic status, and even the linguistic structures of a society. The social perspective outlines the objective aspects of the society into which the individual must "fit," however it cannot examine the value of those aspects (whether they are "worth" fitting into). Perhaps the most important social considerations about spirituality or spiritual wellness in schools from this perspective are the legal question relating to separation of church and state (Mawdsley, 1998a, 1998b, 2001) and the inclusion of values education in the guidance curriculum (Aspy & Aspy, 1996). Again, the spiritual wellness construct serves us well here in that it includes many dimensions honored across religious traditions without relying on religiously specific language. As far as values go, there is no way to separate values from public education and here the guidance program is advised to start conservatively. It is hard to imagine potent resistance to including things like honesty, hope, forgiveness, and compassion in a guidance curriculum. Those who do dissent should be "invited to the table" to discuss the language and constructs they would be comfortable with. We have found where spiritual wellness is concerned, exploring semantics can diffuse a great deal of dissent.
School counselors can use the same approach when they find themselves in sensitive territory when leading grief groups or working with grieving or traumatized students. These types of situations evoke questions of faith and spirit, and it is only natural that children will frame questions in the language of the faith path practiced in their homes. Answering the inevitable and very human questions about what happens after death in an authentic manner that also respects spiritual differences is challenging but possible. While some counselors think it wise to turn the question back to the child (e g., "What do you think?"), it has been our experience that children and adolescents will often turn the question right back to the counselor. In these cases the best compromise that also allows the therapeutic dialogue to continue seems to be framing one's answer in the language of the dimensions of spiritual wellness. One counselor when asked what she though happened to people when they died turned the question back to the student who said "I don't know--that's why I'm asking you." This counselor stated that she thought while bodies died, love did not, and the human spirit was energized by the love it shares in this life. It is this love that continues on even after the person's body dies. The student in this case (a 12-year-old girl) reflected for a minute and then said, "That's funny because that is the same as what my aunt said." This led to a discussion of the student's conversation with her aunt.
The cultural perspective. This perspective uses "we" language ("what do we value, what do we mean?") to examine the shared worldviews, values, and meanings of groups. Where the social perspective measured the parameters of how individuals fit into the larger social structure, the cultural perspective examines whether or not certain groups feel that a given structure is worth fitting into. In our multicultural society, this perspective reminds us to use dimensions of spirituality that are broad enough to include the different cultures represented in the student body and the staff: It also calls on us to both teach and model respect for cultural differences.
In addition, this perspective calls on us to examine the culture of the school district and the particular buildings. Are these cultures where the dimensions of spiritual wellness are valued? If so, who are the key people facilitating that? If not, what (or who) are the primary obstacles? The cultural perspective also includes the cultures of students that exist in every school building. Some descriptive research would be useful in identifying subcultures in the school building, then exploring key dimensions of spiritual wellness within each subculture. Ratcliff (2001) noted that in his school such explorations revealed numerous rituals that children considered expressions of spirituality. While guidance staff may not have time for such explorations, the counselor education department at the closest university, may be able to help out.
The Four Perspectives and Preventing Category Errors
The importance of the four perspectives is that they preclude category errors (Wilber, 1995). A category error basically occurs when someone tries to explain all four perspectives with only one. An example would be the argument that guidance and school counseling is simply about behaviors related to academic achievement and need not delve into attitudes, cultures, and social dynamics that impact students. Another example of a common category error has to do with the belief that academic achievement is somehow divorced from psychosocial adjustment and that schools can refer out any "mental health" problems that children experience. In today's world, schools seem prone to this type of error as they attempt to focus entirely on academic content and standards while ignoring social and personal concerns. Children who are hungry find learning difficult, as do children in emotional pain. People are not one-dimensional, and the institutions that serve them cannot afford to be either. As stated at the beginning of this section, the point of the four perspectives is that they go together. Taken alone, each perspective can at best deliver partial truth.
If nothing else, the reader may have concluded that spiritual wellness is indeed a complex topic. We have provided a broad treatment of the topic here and how the integral model can be used to begin organizing what spiritual wellness means and how it can be infused into school counseling programs. The integral approach to this topic raises more questions than it answers but does provide a framework from which to begin systematically addressing the questions. As Wilber (2003) put it: the goal is to be integrally informed and understand the depth and breadth of issues one is facing. We hope we have outlined what some of those issues are and provided a base from which to start addressing them.
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R. Elliott Ingersoll, Ph.D., PCC, is chair and an associate professor.
Ann L. Bauer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor. Both are with Counseling, Administration, Supervision, and Adult Learning, Cleveland State University, OH. E-mail: email@example.com
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|Author:||Bauer, Ann L.|
|Publication:||Professional School Counseling|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2004|
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