Integrating Spiritual Intelligence into Psychotherapy: Five Key Capacities for Transformative Healing

As a therapist and CEO coach, I’ve worked with clients from all manner of religious and spiritual backgrounds. When we begin therapy, some of my patients are hesitant to believe that the principles of spirituality can be integrated into psychotherapy. But, as I’ve seen time and time again, spirituality (more specifically, the set of qualities I’ve identified as “spiritual intelligence”) not only serves as a good framework for therapy, it can also aid patients as they work towards psychotherapy goals.


During my Ph.D., I studied spiritual intelligence (SI), both how to define and measure it and its effect on leadership. We discovered that SI is associated with greater well-being, satisfaction with life, and effective leadership. I’ve carried these insights with me into my current practice as a therapist, where I often help people struggling with all kinds of issues, from learning to stay open-minded, present and aware of our emotions, to practicing egolessness, to finding the wisdom in oneself. 


There are twenty-two capacities of spiritual intelligence I have identified, all of which can yield transformative results. However, here are five that I have found to overlap the most with psychotherapy and its practices, guiding patients toward healing, meaning, and improved quality of life.


1. Purpose

For many, if not all, of my clients, cultivating a sense of meaning and purpose is crucial to well-being, quality of life, and long-term fulfillment. It is also a fundamental cornerstone of spiritual intelligence. 


A question I like to pose to my patients is, “If your life were a movie, how would you sum it up in one line?” One client memorably answered, “Boy grows to be a powerful man, proving others wrong.” This client was still reacting to his childhood trauma in which he was told he would fail, and now he lived his life primarily to prove his naysayers wrong.


From a psychological standpoint, this client and I worked to process how this narrative meant that those childhood bullies were still controlling him. And from a spiritual standpoint, he and I worked to create a new story—a journey of healing and transformation. In this new story, he could spread creativity, love, and joy by identifying his unique gifts and talents and learning to share them.


All of the spiritual intelligence subjects I interviewed in my research emphasized the importance of acting from a sense of purpose. However you experience purpose in your life, it can draw forth your unique gifts in service to a future that is waiting to be born through you.


2. Connectedness

Any psychologist will stress the necessity of meaningful relationships in patients’ well-being. The SI capacity of connectedness is not just a deterrent to loneliness (loneliness being a leading cause of depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia); it can also motivate us, uplift us, and even transform our pain. 


One client of mine was feeling dejected when the market took a turn, and she had to initiate layoffs at her company. To help her find her connectedness, I guided her in a Buddhist compassion practice called Tonglen (giving and receiving), in which she imagined her suffering and her staff’s suffering as grey smoke, which she inhaled directly into her heart. There, it transmuted into a clear, bright energy of compassion. Then, she exhaled that compassionate, loving energy from the middle of her chest back out—imagining herself and those in similar circumstances receiving it. She described the outflowing energy as a golden light and described feeling more expansive and open herself, with a glowing warmth in her chest. 


While traditional psychotherapy was helpful for this client, integrating the spiritual practice into her therapy gave her a readiness she didn’t have before. Through Tonglen, she could see she wasn’t alone in her suffering and that she could use her heart’s capacity to transform suffering into kind and compassionate, soothing energy. Rooted in her compassion, she was better prepared to dive in and tackle the challenges ahead. 


Every one of my spiritually intelligent research participants spoke of their sense of interconnectedness and interdependence with their intimate relationships, families, communities, and, for many, with all of life. They mentioned the importance of listening deeply and expressing empathy and compassion as foundational qualities for experiencing the connection of our shared humanity, whether in joy or in suffering. It is by invoking our compassion toward our own and everyone else’s suffering that we reintegrate ourselves into the web of life. 


3. Openness

For all my clients, openness to the truth plays a key role in helping them respond skillfully to situations that present themselves. Opening towards the truth starts with acknowledging our resistance to it since our resistance is also part of the truth. Opening to our feelings, however uncomfortable they may be, liberates them. 


One of my patients was struggling, having just learned about a former employee who was allegedly badmouthing his company. In our session, he became incensed, motivated to react quickly, and shut down any rumours. But as I guided him through exploring how he felt, opening to the alternative explanations, he was able to step back and create a more thoughtful first warning response. He learned from the totality of his experience and could react more effectively as a result. 


Virtually everyone I interviewed in my spiritual intelligence research observed the significance of opening to reality, to life, to themselves, and to other people. Most psychotherapists will agree that patients must learn to open themselves to the truth, but of course, the “truth” may take on a different meaning when a spiritual lens is applied. Without a spiritual lens, the truth may just entail the facts as we best know them. Still, when a spiritually intelligent patient approaches openness, they do so knowing a deeper truth: that we are all interconnected. Whatever difficulties they encounter in their pursuit of truth, they do so in the wider context and deeper truth of their essential Being.  


4. Higher-self

Since it may not be obvious, higher-self is a capacity that entails learning to connect with our inner wisdom and accessing our better-imagined selves, which can serve as immense resources for guidance. 


One of my clients was struggling with an upcoming confrontation at work. I led her through a meditation that drew on a practice developed by renowned psychologist Carl G. Jung called “active imagination.” I guided her through an encounter with her future aspirational self. Meeting her future self not only provided her with sage advice but also helped her feel inspired to become more like this calming, wise person she encountered in her meditation.   


Connected to our higher-self, we can tap into a vast evolutionary power and intelligence that animates and sustains all of life. These conversations with higher-self figures don’t always need to be our future selves—they can be with any imagined voice we consider wise, such as our predecessors, mentors, or public figures. And, of course, some people ask for wisdom in this way through prayer (one of the most tried and true spiritual practices). 


5. Centeredness

Our lives are so demanding and busy that it’s no surprise that centeredness has been one of the most crucial capacities for my patients to develop. Accordingly, I have created a protocol that helps my clients reliably find their center, which I call “Allow and Include,” or AI.  


The AI method has been effective for all my clients at one time or another, but particularly so for one client who was facing pressure to sell his company and feeling consumed by his fear of failure. I suggested he allow his thoughts and physical/emotional states to simply be, just as they were, without judging or trying to change them. Then, I asked him to include the sensation of the floor below him, supporting him. Slowly, I instructed him to allow and include various parts of his body in a progressive, specific order, not rejecting any feeling as it arose. 


Afterwards, my client reported that the ball of tension in his stomach had begun to soften, the stress of his situation didn’t seem quite as dire as it did before, and he had even felt some vibrating energy moving through his body. He had located his centre. Soon, he found himself gravitating towards a strategy, thinking through his predicament more clearly, and working from an open, relaxed state. 


All my spiritual intelligence research participants highlighted the importance of returning to their centres amid life’s inevitable challenges. There, rooted in our spirit, we are resourced. Our thoughts stop racing, and our minds quiet down. We have access to greater clarity and creativity to deal with whatever challenges we face. And, in contrast to AI (usually referencing artificial intelligence), with Allow and Include we tap into the natural intelligence of our being. Connected to our centre, our sacred life force, we are grounded, empowered, and open-hearted.


To read more about spiritual intelligence, check out my book, Spiritually Intelligent Leadership: How to Inspire by Being Inspired










Written by Dr. Yosi Amram, author of Spiritually Intelligent Leadership.