What is Spiritual Psychology?
Spiritual psychology blends the science of psychology with elements of spirituality and religion. Many experts use the term spiritual psychology interchangeably with transpersonal psychology. This type of psychology, according to the definition provided by the American Psychological Association (APA), explores the existence and occurrence of transcendental experiences that take a person beyond their immediate needs and desires. In other words, spiritual or transpersonal psychology examines a person's ability to achieve a state of consciousness that connects to their deeply held beliefs and, in some cases, a higher power.
To get a better understanding of the phrase "spiritual psychology," it's helpful to examine each of the terms individually. Psychology involves the study of the human mind, behavior, emotions, and thoughts. The goal of a psychologist is to understand why people make the choices that they make, how the brain functions, and how feelings manifest. Psychologists can use this knowledge to treat patients coping with mental health conditions, personality disorders, and abnormal behavior.
Spirituality is a broad term that generally refers to a person's belief in something beyond themselves. A spiritual person might follow a particular religion or may find connections through nature, art, or music. People seek and express spirituality in different ways, but they do so with the intention of finding peace, comfort, and meaning.
When psychologists combine their scientific principles with spirituality, they practice spiritual psychology. In a practical sense, they integrate aspects of different belief systems into their treatment and counseling methods. They might do so by using techniques like:
- Guided visualization
- Altered states of consciousness
The specific strategies spiritual psychologists use depend on where they work, the types of patients they serve, and whether they are affiliated with a particular religion or religious institution.
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What Is the Difference Between a Spiritual Psychologist and a Traditional Psychologist?
Spiritual psychologists and traditional psychologists have many overlapping characteristics, especially the desire to help patients cope with mental health problems. However, a spiritual psychologist also treats a person's spiritual well-being, which is not the case for most traditional psychologists.
One of the areas in which traditional and spiritual psychologists differ is treatment strategies. Traditional psychologists use a variety of techniques to treat patients. Many of them focus on different types of psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, including:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Interpersonal therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Supportive therapy
Spiritual psychologists also rely on these techniques, but they combine them with spiritual practices associated with eastern and western religions. For example, a spiritual psychologist might use yoga as a method for treating a patient who is struggling with debilitating stress. Yoga has deep associations with religious systems, including Hinduism and Buddhism, and has become a popular spiritual practice for millions of people worldwide. The spiritual psychologist might coach the patient on how to use the breathing and stretching techniques in yoga to encourage calm and focus and reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. A traditional psychologist is less likely to focus on this particular type of treatment.
Despite their different approaches, spiritual psychologists and traditional psychologists help patients cope with many of the same challenges. Some of the most common conditions both traditional and spiritual psychologists address include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
In addition to the items on this list, spiritual psychologists also help patients cope with spiritual crises in which they might begin to question their belief systems. A spiritual crisis of this nature can be deeply unsettling and can affect multiple aspects of a person's life, from their personal relationships to their career. A spiritual psychologist can help the patient navigate feelings of confusion and despair by exploring the specific elements of their faith and religious beliefs. Because they have completed coursework focused on religious practices, spiritual psychologists are uniquely qualified to offer this kind of guidance and support.
What To Look for in a Spiritual Psychology Degree Program
Finding the right spiritual psychology degree program involves evaluating your personal goals, interests, and background. Some of the criteria students can consider when researching potential schools include:
- Accreditation: Attending an accredited program can have long-term effects on your education and career. The APA accredits psychology degree programs that have met certain standards of quality. Many employers will only accept degrees from APA-accredited programs. Similarly, state licensure boards may not recognize a degree earned from an unaccredited institution.
- Concentration: Students interested in becoming spiritual psychologists should look for colleges that offer this particular type of degree program. However, if a school of interest doesn’t offer a degree specifically in spiritual psychology, it may still be an acceptable option. Many colleges and universities offer concentrations or specializations in spirituality that may closely align with your academic goals.
- Support services: To ensure that you will receive the best possible educational experience, look for schools that offer ample support services for students. Offerings such as tutoring, career counseling, and accessibility are essential to success for many students.
- Format: Some spiritual psychology degrees are offered exclusively in traditional, in-person formats, while others are offered fully online. Determine which format works best for your learning style and schedule.
- Faculty: When deciding which school is the best fit for spiritual psychology, consider the focus and interests of the faculty members in the psychology department. Review their profiles on the school website to learn whether their research involves any aspects of spirituality. These faculty members could serve as important mentors and guides during your degree program.
- Cost: No matter how perfect a degree program may be, it’s important to consider whether it’s within your budget. Reach out to the financial aid office with questions about the cost of tuition, fees, and materials, as well as to inquire about opportunities for financial aid.
In addition to speaking directly to the school, networking with alumni can be extremely useful when deciding whether a spiritual psychology degree program will provide the training that you need to pursue your future career. These former students have in-depth knowledge of the program and how it has benefited them. It may also be helpful to review key metrics like graduation and job placement rates, which may serve as indicators of student success.
What Can You Do with a Spiritual Psychology Degree?
Many spiritual psychology students enroll in their programs with the goal of becoming spiritual psychologists. These mental health professionals offer counseling services to patients who are struggling with mental health conditions, trauma, and crisis situations. Like clinical or counseling psychologists, spiritual psychologists must obtain a license and a doctoral degree in addition to a master’s degree.
However, not all graduates of spiritual psychology programs go on to become licensed psychologists. Spiritual psychology degrees are also well-suited to a number of other promising careers. After graduating, you may pursue a position as a:
- Life coach
- Psychology researcher
- Grief counselor
- Psychology teacher
- Spiritual advisor
Some of these positions have lower minimum education requirements and do not involve licensure. For example, after completing a master’s degree in spiritual psychology, you may become a lecturer or instructor who teaches psychology courses in a college or university.
In addition to becoming qualified for a variety of positions, earning a spiritual psychology degree may also help you qualify for positions with a broad pool of employers. The types of organizations that hire spiritual psychologists include:
- Government agencies
- Correctional facilities
- Mental health and substance abuse facilities
- Rehabilitation centers
Some spiritual psychologists also choose to open private practices. They work independently and offer one-on-one and group therapy sessions to patients seeking psychological and spiritual guidance, support, and treatment.
How to Become a Spiritual Psychologist
Spiritual psychologists often take unique paths toward achieving their career goals because only a few colleges and universities offer degree programs that combine the study of psychology and spirituality. While spiritual psychology is a popular and in-demand practice, it is not taught as widely as other types of psychology, such as clinical psychology and forensic psychology.
As a result, students wondering how to become a spiritual counselor or psychologist may need to consider different approaches to their education. Rather than studying the specific field of spiritual psychology for the duration of their degrees, many spiritual psychologists take courses in theology and religion while majoring in psychology.
Most states require that practicing psychologists hold a license that grants them legal permission to treat patients. Spiritual psychologists hoping to work in hospitals, private practices, and treatment facilities typically take a series of steps to receive their licenses. Although requirements differ by state, they usually involve the following stages:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree: Prospective spiritual psychologists often major in psychology during their undergraduate years, but this isn’t a strict requirement. Completing any type of bachelor’s degree may be sufficient when applying to master’s programs in psychology, particularly if you can show that you have taken a variety of psychology courses. A bachelor’s degree in theology also serves as a strong foundation for a career as a spiritual psychologist.
- Earn a master’s degree: Some spiritual psychologists hold master’s degrees in spiritual psychology, while others have advanced degrees in psychology or counseling with a concentration in spirituality.
- Earn a doctoral degree: If your goal is to become a licensed psychologist, you will most likely also need to earn a Ph.D. or PsyD. These terminal degrees are commonly required by state psychology licensure boards.
- Complete clinical hours: After earning your degree, the next step is to complete your postdoctoral clinical hours. These hours involve direct contact with patients and must be completed under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. The number of required hours varies by state, but they often range from around 3,000 to 4,000.
- Pass a standardized exam: To gain licensure in most states, you will need to pass a standardized exam. The Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), which is administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, is the most common exam required for licensure.
- Apply for licensure: After passing the necessary standardized exam, you can submit an official application to the licensure board in the state where you hope to practice. The board will review your academic and professional background and determine whether you are eligible for licensure.
Keep in mind that states do not have a specific designation for spiritual psychologists. Rather than applying for a spiritual psychology license, you can apply to become a licensed psychologist. After your license is approved, you can choose to focus your practice and treatment methods on the principles of spiritual psychology.
Spiritual Psychologist Salary and Job Outlook
The salaries for most psychologists are above the average for all occupations. The median annual salary for all types of psychologists as of May 2021 is $81,040, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is well above the average for all occupations, which was $45,760 during the same time period.
It’s important to remember that your potential earnings depend on a number of variables, including:
- Where you live
- Your industry
- The extent of your experience
- The demand for your specialization
Salaries for psychologists vary widely based on these factors. For example, according to the BLS, school psychologists have a median salary of $78,780 a year. However, psychologists categorized as “all other,” which would include spiritual psychologists, make median annual salaries of $102,900.
These salary differences also exist based on industry. As of May 2021, the median annual salary for a psychologist working for state, local, and private hospitals was $99,330, compared to $103,850 for psychologists employed by the government. The state where you work plays a similar role in determining how much you earn. For example, according to the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, as of 2021, the annual mean wage for “all other” psychologists in Oregon was $112,570, while the mean wage for those in West Virginia was $55,990.
In addition to earning competitive salaries, the job market for psychologists is also expected to grow at steady rates through 2031. The BLS reports a projected growth rate of 6%, which is about the same as the 5% average growth rate for all occupations. This rate is slightly higher or lower depending on the specific type of psychology that you hope to pursue. According to the BLS, clinical and counseling psychologists have a projected growth rate of 10%, which is faster than average.
In terms of job openings, a 6% growth rate translates to approximately 14,100 positions for psychologists each year for the next several years. This aligns with recent numbers reported by the APA. A 2021 APA survey found that the demand for anxiety, depression, and trauma-related treatment experienced a notable rise between 2020 and 2021. As patient demand grows, the number of needed psychologists and other mental health professionals logically also increases.
How Much Does a Spiritual Psychology Degree Cost?
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cost of any academic degree because of the effect of such a wide array of factors. Many different aspects of a degree program influence the cost, including:
- Whether the school is private or public
- Your status as an in-state or out-of-state student
- The availability of financial aid
- The number of required credit hours
- Any transferable credits that you may have from previous academic degree programs
The full cost of your education is also dependent on how many degrees you pursue. If you want to become a licensed psychologist, you will most likely need to earn a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degree. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of each type of degree is as follows:
- Bachelor’s degree: $102,828 for in-state institutions
- Master’s degree: $62,650
- Doctorate degree: $103,700
These averages do not account for expenses like housing, parking, and transportation. Students who have concerns about their budgets may be able to save funds by enrolling in online degree programs, which allow them to live at home while studying and cut back on fees.
The amount of money you spend on your degrees also depends on how long it takes to complete your education. Students who complete accelerated degree programs or combined master’s and doctoral degrees may pay significantly less. In contrast, students who need additional time to earn their degrees or who have to retake classes are likely to spend more.
Financial aid can also significantly lower your out-of-pocket expenses. Scholarships, federal loans, state grants, and teaching or research assistant positions may offer opportunities for savings over the course of your academic programs.
Every spiritual psychology program has its own set of admissions criteria. When applying for a degree program, it’s crucial to follow the school’s application instructions closely. In addition to an official application, many schools require students to submit:
- Transcripts: Graduate-level spiritual psychology degree programs require evidence that you have earned a bachelor’s degree. You will need to submit official transcripts from any undergraduate and graduate degree programs you have attended. Some programs may also require you to demonstrate that you have completed specific types of coursework or earned a minimum GPA.
- Personal statement: Many degree programs require applicants to submit a personal statement or essay that describes their background, explains their interest in the program, and outlines their future goals. Students who want to enroll in spiritual psychology degrees may want to focus on articulating their interest in the combined study of psychology and spirituality.
- Test scores: The requirement for GRE or standardized test scores has become less common, but it still exists for many programs. Some schools ask students to submit minimum test scores prior to enrollment, while others make test scores optional and allow students to submit them only if they feel that they would strengthen their applications.
- Recommendations: Prior instructors and supervisors who are familiar with your work ethic, interests, and abilities can make a real difference in the application process. They have firsthand knowledge of your skills and ability to keep up with advanced coursework.
- Resumé or CV: Spiritual psychology degree programs often require prospective students to submit a resumé that gives a full picture of their academic and professional experiences. Relevant jobs, volunteer work, and publications should all be included on a resume when applying to enroll.
Because of the nature of a spiritual psychology program, emphasizing experience in faith-based learning, spiritual extracurricular activities, or employment with religious organizations may be especially useful.
Common Courses in a Spiritual Psychology Degree Program
Each spiritual psychology degree program has a unique curriculum. However, there are some common courses that most students in the field can expect to take, such as:
- Research methodology: In this course, students learn how to conduct effective research and communicate their findings clearly, both of which are essential skills for the additional courses and for a career as a spiritual psychologist.
- Practical theology: Students in this course explore the theological or religious implications of human behavior, which is the foundation of spiritual psychology.
- Spirituality and counseling: This course focuses on strategies that incorporate spirituality into counseling through practices such as meditation, prayer, and reflection.
- Ethics: In this class, students learn the importance of professional ethics when working with patients, including developing ethical boundaries and behaviors.
- Psychopathology: This course centers on the study of mental health conditions and disorders, with a focus on causes, development, classification, and treatment.
- East-West psychology: Students taking this course learn about Eastern and Western forms of spirituality, religious practices, and customs and discover how they can be incorporated into psychological treatment.
Students who choose a particular concentration or specialization during their degree programs will most likely take courses related to that focus. For example, a spiritual psychology degree program may offer a concentration in family and couples counseling. The curriculum for this program might include electives focused on family dynamics, relationships, and conflict resolution.
In addition to the mandatory coursework, most spiritual psychology degrees also involve a capstone project, thesis, or dissertation. These components involve intensive research, and students complete them under the guidance of a faculty mentor. This final project presents an excellent opportunity to focus your academic experience on specific aspects of spiritual psychology, which is especially important if your degree program has a broader focus that isn’t strictly related to spirituality.
How Long Does It Take to Complete a Degree in Spiritual Psychology?
The amount of time it takes to complete a degree in spiritual psychology differs based on the type of degree and the structure of the program. In most cases, full-time students can complete a master’s degree in spiritual psychology within two years. However, programs with dissertation, thesis, or practicum requirements may involve longer periods of study.
Most schools are transparent about the expected timeframe for a degree. Students who want to narrow down the amount of time it will take to graduate can follow the school’s stated expectations. They can also evaluate other program characteristics, such as:
- The number of mandatory credit hours
- Requirements for capstone projects
- Curriculum schedules and outlines
Knowing these points helps prospective students realistically determine how long they will need to graduate from a degree program. However, the time required to earn a spiritual psychology degree also depends on the student’s personal circumstances. Some colleges offer accelerated master’s and doctoral programs that students can complete within a shorter period of time, but participating in such a program requires a full-time commitment. Students who have other obligations, such as work or caretaking responsibilities, may need to enroll in their degree programs part-time. In those cases, it may take three years or more to graduate with an advanced degree in spiritual psychology.
When researching spiritual psychology degrees, it’s crucial that students determine whether the school has a limit on the amount of time that students can spend enrolled in a particular program. Colleges sometimes cap the number of years that students can remain in the program before graduating. Likewise, students who are hoping to graduate more quickly are well-served to research the maximum number of credit hours the schools allow students to take each semester, whether they can take courses over the summer, and whether there is a condensed or accelerated option available.
In addition to completing coursework, students in spiritual psychology programs may also have to complete internships. These programs can substantially extend the duration of a degree program. Although an internship requirement may necessitate that students spend more time in their degree programs, it’s often time well-spent. Internships allow students to gain firsthand experience in the field, which can help them determine whether they enjoy a particular career path. Many state licensure boards for psychology also require internships when awarding psychologist licenses.