There seems to be two competing paradigms used to describe the causes of severe mental distress. One takes a more objective scientific approach by focusing on an anatomical or biochemical imbalance of the brain. The other takes a more social-spiritual approach by viewing mental distress as a developmental process in which the psyche is working to rebalance itself after facing traumatic or unfamiliar circumstances.
I sought out Dr. Daniel Siegel to interview because I admire his attempts to bridge the gap between science and spirituality from a neurobiological and clinical point of view. His goal is to bring together common principles from Anthropology, Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, Psychiatry, Psychology and Sociology to further our understanding of mental health and mental distress. Referring to his discipline as Interpersonal Neurobiology, he stresses the importance of mindfulness training and healthy personal and community relationships on mental health and well-being. His books, Mindsight and Brainstorm, and his lectures have earned him a large following worldwide.
Spirituality is such a loaded term. Dr. Siegel mentions that he never thought of his approach as “spiritual”. Then, after being asked to speak at spirituality conferences, he learned that he aligned with spirituality defined as a sense of being connected to something larger than oneself. He goes on to say that the brain is a ‘social organ’, therefore, the most important treatment for someone experiencing a severe mental disturbance is being connected to a supportive family and community.
Having supportive interpersonal connections with family and community to address mental distress is a theme we are hearing over and over. I would love to hear your definitions of spirituality and how you create community in your life.