Psychology and spirituality: is there a conflict?

“How do you reconcile the seeming conflict between psychology and spirituality where the former’s goal is to integrate or mend ‘the Self’ and the latter; to transcend ‘the Self’?”

My Answer:


Thank you for this interesting question. I do not really see a conflict. During our training, we were told to inquire about an individual’s religious or spiritual beliefs in the same way we would inquire about any aspect of their identity. I try and see people from a holistic point of view. We are minds, bodies, souls all rolled into one. Our cultural and social context impacts on all aspects of our identity, including how we engage in relationships to ourselves, those around us, and to that which is beyond our knowing.

In terms of your distinction between psychology (as orientated towards integrating/mending the self) and spirituality (as orientated towards transcending the self) I feel that this is really another situation where a “both and” approach is needed rather than an “either or” one. Both goals are equally useful and can be achieved concurrently or consecutively, depending on the individual in question. I do not personally ascribe to any one system of spirituality but am open to having discussions about the meaning of spirituality, which I think is determined on an individual basis. I see “psychology” and “spirituality” not in opposition to each other but more in terms of different layers of human experience. Like an onion, each layer is separate and yet entirely connected to the other layers as one by one they form the whole.

I’ve always like this question:

“Are we human beings living spiritual lives or are we spiritual beings living human lives?”

I think it is a philosophical conundrum much like the chicken and egg scenario. But what is important for me, is that there is recognition that both versions should result in the acknowledgement that we have the potential to connect with a great mystery or universal (“Godly”) consciousness while at the same time connecting to ourselves as embodied mammals on planet earth where the forces of time, space and gravity take effect.

So to this end, I believe that both psychology and spirituality are needed. Spirituality helps us understand our place in this vast universe, that there are things beyond our brain’s perceptive abilities that we might not ever know with the use of scientific inquiry. And this can be greatly calming and humbling and therefore good for you. In addition it is important to acknowledge that we are also living human lives and that we are all interconnected with other beings sharing this planet, in relationship to one another. Psychology helps us to find our selves within these systems and to do so with greater consciousness and awareness.



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Showing 6 comments
  • Greg

    Does every adult need a psychologist? because we sure seem to be fucked trying to perform in this fake flawed adult world…

    • Carly

      It sounds like you’re fed up, Greg. I do think having a psychologist helps but we do not have to be dependent on someone else’s help. It’s more about enjoying and making use of a high quality interpersonal relationship with a skilled professional. It renews our faith in ourselves and humanity. Human beings are simple. A good, healthy relationship goes a long way to improve self esteem and gives you faith in your environment. In turn, things start to fall into place when you change your attitude and are able to receive life’s gifts. Good luck!

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      Oh dear. I have no way of testing that as I don’t use Internet explorer. I can’t imagine why this would be? But thank you for your concern and for your lovely comment 🙂

  • Daniel Sher

    Thanks for this really interesting question, and for your answer, Carly, which I totally agree with.
    If we wanna get all academic on this thing, I would say that the notion of the individual ego vs the experience of Divine connection/ego death is a false dichotomy. They’re probably better understood as two points on a continuum. One could argue that the idea of an ego/self is actually a ‘false’ construction….But the (seemingly) opposite idea of transcending the ego also takes as its starting point the existence of a separate ego, thereby re-affirming its existence. (I think I’m reiterating exactly what Carly said, just with some poncy concepts thrown in for good measure).

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