The heart of the personal 3

In 1968 the psychotherapist Harry Guntrip gave a lecture entitled ‘Religion in relation to personal integration’ where he explored religion and psychotherapy as what he calls ‘great areas of human living’ that take us beyond the obsession with purely material ends – phrased so beautifully by Wordsworth in his famous lines: ‘Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.’

By religion Guntrip meant a basic human experience which however differently it can be expressed in different times and places is essentially the same for all people. He understood that science is not concerned with finding meaning, value or purpose in life or how we relate to one another – all things that make our existence significant . Rather he thought there was a need to move beyond science into the realm of moral and spiritual values to find the forces that can control science (which all things considered is mor elikely now to destroy us than save us) and then this brings us to the field of mental health and religion.

Guntrip thought that integration, maturity, mental health and religious experience are all closely related. he writes: ‘Integration is a product of personal relationship, and, as I see, human love and religious experience are two levels of the same phenomenon.’ He saw religious experience as:

‘an overall way of experiencing life, of experiencing ourselves and our relationships together; an experience of growing personal integration or self-realisation through communion with all that is around us, and finally our way of relating to the universe, the total reality which has, after all, evolved us with the intelligence and motivation to explore this problem: all that is meant by experience of God.’

Both ‘religious experience’ and ‘personal relations experience’ promote personal integration or wholeness of personality in which a human being feels ‘at home’ in both the human and the universal. They are about subjective personal meanings and values and so it is often the poet that can explain this best. Guntrip in his lecture again quotes Wordsworth:

I have felt,

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts, a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:

A motion and a spirit that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still

A lover…

This is the kind of knowing that involves experiences of beauty, of love and of the personal and religious way of feeling our oneness with the totality of the ‘real’. In this way religious experience is a natural phenomenon and usually expressed in emotionally meaningful symbols. Both religious experience and therapy bring healing.