ArticlePDF Available

Abstract and Figures

Spirituality is a fundamental dimension of wellness. However, scholars have noted that not all spiritual processes are healthy. One of those processes is spiritual bypass, defined as a defensive psychological posture cultivated by a tendency to privilege spiritual beliefs or experiences over and against psychological needs creating a means of avoiding or bypassing difficult emotions or experiences. This study’s purpose was to explore the phenomenology of spiritual bypass through eight, semi-structured interviews. The results of the phenomenology yielded 48 codes clustered into 10 categories, two broader themes and one stand-alone category. Clinical implications and directions for future research are discussed.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
http://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=wspi20
Download by: [89.154.73.222] Date: 01 January 2018, At: 07:02
Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health
ISSN: 1934-9637 (Print) 1934-9645 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wspi20
A phenomenology of spiritual bypass: Causes,
consequences, and implications
Gabriela Picciotto, Jesse Fox & Félix Neto
To cite this article: Gabriela Picciotto, Jesse Fox & Félix Neto (2017): A phenomenology of
spiritual bypass: Causes, consequences, and implications, Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health,
DOI: 10.1080/19349637.2017.1417756
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/19349637.2017.1417756
Published online: 28 Dec 2017.
Submit your article to this journal
Article views: 8
View related articles
View Crossmark data
A phenomenology of spiritual bypass: Causes,
consequences, and implications
Gabriela Picciotto
a
, Jesse Fox
b
, and Félix Neto
a
a
Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal;
b
Department of
Psychology, Stetson University, DeLand, Florida, USA
ABSTRACT
Spirituality is a fundamental dimension of wellness. However,
scholars have noted that not all spiritual processes are healthy.
One of those processes is spiritual bypass, defined as a defen-
sive psychological posture cultivated by a tendency to privi-
lege spiritual beliefs or experiences over and against
psychological needs creating a means of avoiding or bypassing
difficult emotions or experiences. This studys purpose was to
explore the phenomenology of spiritual bypass through eight,
semi-structured interviews. The results of the phenomenology
yielded 48 codes clustered into 10 categories, two broader
themes and one stand-alone category. Clinical implications
and directions for future research are discussed.
ARTICLE HISTORY
Received 11 October 2017
Revised 12 December 2017
Accepted 12 December 2017
KEYWORDS
Spiritual bypass; spirituality;
phenomenology;
conventional content
analysis
Spirituality is ubiquitous in human history and contemporary society. It
empowers human existence with meaning by establishing goals and value
systems that potentially organize and drive all aspects of a personslife
(Pargament, 2011). Because of the range and scope of spirituality, it is
difficult to define with precision. Despite this lexigraphic challenge, scholars
of the psychology of spirituality and religion have sometimes defined it in
overlapping terms including the connection to a transcendent reality which
gives meaning to life; connection to ones community and the whole of the
human race, potentially experienced through a religious practice; or, as in the
case of Western secular culture, through meditation, nature, arts, and differ-
ent practices of personal piety based on a connection and search for the holy
or sacred (Peteet & Balboni, 2013).
In the last several decades, researchers have focused on exploring spiri-
tuality and its influence on human development (Beutler & Clarkin, 1990;
Fowler, 1981), as well as searching for how to prove the association between
spirituality and health (Levin, 1994). The integration of spirituality within the
fields of psychology and counseling has awakened the curiosity of researchers
since the mid 1990s (Parker, 2011), focusing primarily on the inherent need
and various ways to incorporate spirituality into clinical contexts (e. g.
CONTACT Gabriela Picciotto up201608739@fpce.up.pt;gabipicciotto@thesunjar.com Rua da Venezuela,
227, Hab. 2.302, Porto 4150-744, Portugal.
JOURNAL OF SPIRITUALITY IN MENTAL HEALTH
https://doi.org/10.1080/19349637.2017.1417756
© 2017 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
Cashwell & Young, 2011; Maher & Hunt, 1993; Miller, 2003; Pargament,
2011; Parker, 2011; Richards & Bergin, 2005). This is also true of a robust line
of research building momentum over recent years exploring the relationship
between spirituality and well-being (e.g., Koenig, 2012; Larson & Milano,
1995; McCullough, Hoyt, Larson, Koenig, & Thoresen, 2000; Pargament,
Smith, Koenig, & Perez, 1998).
Though spirituality is increasingly accepted as a vital component of
wellness, often the potential shadow sides of spirituality are overlooked
(Welwood, 2000). One growing area of research in this literature is the
concept called spiritual bypass, which can be defined as, a defensive
psychological posture cultivated by a tendency to privilege or exaggerate
spiritual beliefs, emotions, or experiences over and against psychological
needs creating a means of avoiding or bypassing difficult emotions or
experiences (Fox, Caswell, & Picciotto, 2017). Within the limited num-
ber of published works on the topic, all previous works on spiritual
bypass are etic focusing on an outsider view (from the perspective of the
observer) and not emic, from the viewpoint of those who inhabit the
particular social group (from the perspective of the subject). To address
this gap, the current study explored the phenomenology of spiritual
bypass through semistructured, individual interviews.
Phenomenological research aims to investigate and describe the lived
experience of a phenomenon from a first person perspective (Van
Manen, 1990). In the context of the current manuscript, the purpose
of using phenomenology was to understand how someone would per-
ceive, understand, and make meaning of their own experience of spiri-
tual bypass.
Background of the study: Spiritual bypass
John Welwood first coined the term spiritual bypassing in 1984, and saw it as
particularly tempting to individuals who struggle to navigate their way
through lifes basic developmental stages. Welwood observed that the net
result is that many people end up trying to use their spiritual practices to
suppress their personal needs and identity. Spiritual bypassers may read
books on spirituality, engage in spiritual practices, visit spiritual teachers
and gurus, go to spiritual retreats, be part of spiritual communities, but they
do not care for and directly nurture their psychological needs, all the while
believing that their spiritual work may deliver them one day from their
psychological suffering. As some have theorized, by ignoring their psycholo-
gical work they run the risk of stagnated emotional development and even
greater psychological suffering (Welwood, 2000; Wilber, 2000).
The term spiritual bypass was later described in the recovery literature by
Charles Whitfield (1987,1991,2003)), persons in recovery avoid, or bypass,
2G. PICCIOTTO ET AL.
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
necessary psychological work on their addiction by leaping (i.e., bypassing)
directly into spirituality (whether it be shifting the focus of conversation onto
spiritual concerns or, avoiding directly confronting psychological work
through spiritual practices). Regardless of the nomenclature used, the basic
premise of the condition has remained the same: taking refuge in spirituality
as a way of avoiding unresolved psychological problems. From his clinical
experience, Masters (2010) identified the main symptoms of spiritual bypass
as repression and emotional alienation, exaggerated detachment, overempha-
sis on the positive, blind compassion or excessive tolerance, minimization or
denial of the shadow side of ones personality, overconfidence about self-
awakening, the notion that everything is an illusion including suffering, and
disregarding the personal or mundane.
Although researchers have yet to determine how spiritual bypass pro-
liferates, some theorists have considered it a common process for people
who pursue a spiritual path. Though there are likely many negative
consequences to spiritual bypass (see next), authors like Forman (2010)
and Masters (2010) explained that spiritual bypass, in some cases, is
inevitable and is a natural stage of the spiritual development. However,
in the clinical fields, the exploration of this theme is still recent
(Cashwell, Myers, & Shurts, 2004). The fact that psychological work
could be derailed by spiritual bypass makes it important enough for
counselors to know how to identify, contextualize, and therapeutically
intervene(Cashwell&Young,2011). Possible negative outcomes of spiri-
tual bypass include the need to excessively control others and oneself,
shame, anxiety, dichotomous thinking, emotional confusion, exaggerated
tolerance of inappropriate behavior, codependence, compulsive kindness,
obsession or addiction, spiritual narcissism, blind allegiance to charis-
matic teachers, and disregard for personal responsibility (2007; Cashwell
et al., 2004;Masters,2010;Welwood,1984,2000). Despite these pro-
blems, scholars have also suggested that spiritual bypass functions as a
coping mechanism to minimize the effect of psychological pain suggest-
ingthatthereareadaptivereasonsforitsuse(Foxetal.,2017). We
conducted this study with the specific intention in mind to explore such
nuances from the first-person perspective of individuals who have experi-
enced spiritual bypass.
Method
The purpose of this study was to develop a phenomenology of spiritual
bypass. To this end, we created five research questions. Each research ques-
tion is listed here, and we have provided examples of interview questions in
parentheses that were posed to each participant:
JOURNAL OF SPIRITUALITY IN MENTAL HEALTH 3
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
How did people who experienced spiritual bypass get involved with religion and spiritual-
ity? (How did you get involved with spirituality/religion?)
In what context did spiritual bypass occur and what were its main causes and symptoms?
(Could you tell me about your spiritual/religious journey up to the moment, including how
and when you experienced spiritual bypass?)
What were the main consequences of spiritual bypass and how did the person realize that
he or she was experiencing it? (What were the main consequences of spiritual bypass in
your life and in the lives of people around you in your social circle?)
How did the person treat spiritual bypass and how was their spirituality affected as a result?
(How are your spiritual practices and beliefs now that you have overcome your experience
with spiritual bypass?)
What are possible ways to prevent spiritual bypass? (Do you believe that something could
have been done in order to prevent spiritual bypass? If so, what would that be?)
Sample
This study used a sample of eight people who self-identified as having
experienced spiritual bypass sometime in their past. After receiving approval
from our Institutional Review Board, participants were invited by mail (the
first author has a blog about human development with a newsletter list) and
Facebook communities to inform them about an online seminar by the lead
researcher on the topic of spiritual bypass. A total of 73 people attended the
seminar. During the seminar it was explained to participants the definition of
the spiritual bypass and its potential manifestations. At the conclusion of the
seminar, the purpose of the study was presented and people who in their own
view believed they had experienced the phenomenon in the past were invited
to participate. Ten people volunteered to take part in the study. Two parti-
cipants were unable to schedule an interview. The remaining eight partici-
pants completed semistructured interviews (four males and four females).
Regarding their nationality, seven participants were Brazilian and one was
Norwegian. All eight participants were Caucasian and their average age was
36 years old. In terms of religious affiliation, six participants were spiritual
but not religious and two were Buddhist. Table 1 enumerates each inter-
viewee and summarizes demographic details for each participant. All quotes
that will be presented over this article are identified with the respective
participant number mentioned in Table 1.
Data collection and analysis
The semistructured interviews were recorded through video conferencing
and lasted approximately one hour. The interviews were transcribed and
analyzed using conventional content analysis (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005).
Qualitative researchers use conventional content analysis to conduct
research on phenomena that are relatively underexplored (Hsieh &
Shannon, 2005). Consistent with guidelines put forth by Hsieh and
Shannon (2005), the lead researcher read the interview transcripts to
4G. PICCIOTTO ET AL.
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
familiarize themselves with the content of each interview. Afterwards, the
lead researcher read each interview again and developed codes for each
identifiable unit of meaning. Working definitions for each code were
developed and then clustered into related meanings as categories. Each
category was also defined to get to a more precise understanding of its
specific meaning.
Threats to validity and verification strategies
Creswell (2013) recommended that all qualitative research studies should
include at least two forms of verification strategies in their methodology. In
this study we included at least five: positionality and reflexivity (see the next
Table 1. List of interviewees.
Spiritual practices/religion
Interviewee
no. Gender Age Nationality Past Actual
Biggest issues faced
related to spiritual bypass
1 Female 21 Brazilian Catholic
since birth
Spiritual but not
religious for 3 years
Depression
Isolation
Blind following
2 Female 52 Brazilian Catholic for
14 years
Buddhist for 38 years Avoidance of unspiritual
people
Arrested development
Blindness
3 Female 21 Brazilian Catholic for
17 years
Spiritual but not
religious for 4 years
Emotional dissociation
Exaggerated optimism
Unrealistic relationships
4 Female 30 Brazilian Catholic for
10 years
Spiritual but not
religious for 20 years
Anxiety
Loss of self-love
Disconnection from the
body
5 Male 42 Brazilian Catholic for
32 years
Spiritual but not
religious for 2 years
Disregard to familial
obligations
Spiritual for
8 years
Depression
Unrealistic living
6 Male 26 Brazilian Catholic for
22 years
Spiritual but not
religious for 4 years
Avoidance of unspiritual
people
Arrested development
Fear of confrontation
7 Male 43 Brazilian Gnostic for
25 years
Spiritual but not
religious for 8 years
Depression
Isolation
Spiritual narcissism
8 Male 52 Norwegian Evangelic
for 30 years
Buddhist for 20 years Anger-phobia
Isolation
Rationalization
JOURNAL OF SPIRITUALITY IN MENTAL HEALTH 5
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
section), investigator triangulation (three researchers), data triangulation
(multiple semistructured interviews), thickrich description (transcript cita-
tions reported in our findings), and peer debriefing (included under posi-
tionality and reflexivity).
Positionality and reflexivity
The research team included a doctoral student and a faculty dissertation
advisor. The lead researcher is a doctoral student conducting their disserta-
tion about spiritual bypass. While conducting each interview and reporting
their results, the lead researcher invested in a continuous process of self-
reflection and awareness of the relationship between the researcher and each
participant, acknowledging their individuality to speak to the experience of
spiritual bypass beyond a single theory of explanation. The lead researchers
reflexivity was encouraged through the use of a peer debriefer. The peer
debriefer (the second author) was identified as an expert in the field of
spirituality and religion in counseling with specific research interests in
spiritual bypass who also worked with populations who have experienced
spiritual bypass. As the peer debriefer, they reviewed the research questions,
interview protocol, and data analysis to provide perspective to the lead
researchers thought process, development, and implementation of the
studys aims.
Findings
In the interviews, 48 distinct units of meaning (codes) were identified, all of
which are defined in Table 2. Each code was reanalyzed within context of the
interviews and all of the codes were clustered into 10 categories. These
categories were clustered in two broader themes, and one stand-alone cate-
gory. The first theme was called the development of spiritual bypass and
included the following categories: (a) contact with spirituality/religion, (b)
causes, (c) natural, (d) insight, (e) resolving spiritual bypass, and (f) spiri-
tuality after spiritual bypass. The second theme was called effects of spiritual
bypass including the categories: (g) symptoms, (h) negative consequences,
and (i) benefits. The stand-alone category was (j) prevention. The results are
organized in Table 2 for clarity. Next, a description of each one of these
categories will be presented and thickrich descriptions will be provided to
clarify their meanings.
The development of spiritual bypass
The first theme, the development of spiritual bypass, included all the cate-
gories and codes related directly or indirectly to how spiritual bypass evolved
overtime. It is important to note this theme does not propose a precise linear,
6G. PICCIOTTO ET AL.
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
Table 2. Conventional content analysis codes and categories with definitions.
Themes Category Definition Code Definition
The
development
of spiritual
bypass
Contact with
spirituality/
religion
What made the person come into contact with
spirituality/religion and engage in a search for the
sacred
Searching A quest for answers to important existential questions
Suppression Desire to relieve pain, reduce suffering, or to put at ease existential
emptiness
Family Influence of familys spiritual/religious beliefs and practices on
participant spirituality
Causes Why people experience spiritual bypass Escape A desire or urge to disengage from reality or to renounce basic
needs
Avoiding pain A low level tolerance for facing, entering and working through
various sources of difficulty
Social context Living in an environment that discourages spiritual and
psychological growth
Religious/spiritual
leaders and
communities
The influence of religious/spiritual leaders on their communities
doctrines, ways of being, and habits which encouraged spiritual
bypass
Natural When going through spiritual bypass is something
necessary or even inevitable
Stage Seeing spiritual bypass as a natural or inevitable step in the
development of the person
Short-term coping
strategy
Spiritual bypass as a means of effectively dealing with crisis or high
stress situations or conditions
Insight How the person became aware that they were
experiencing spiritual bypass
Angst A deep feeling of existential crisis as the turning point for
becoming aware of spiritual bypass
Feedback When the person realizing that they are spiritual bypassing through
the help and observation of others in their social context
Concrete
experience
Activities of daily living revealed that a spiritual practice or belief
was unhealthy
Relational conflict Relational disagreements led the person to question their own
behaviors and develop awareness about their own spiritual bypass
Education Coming into contact with information about spiritual bypass
through books
(Continued )
JOURNAL OF SPIRITUALITY IN MENTAL HEALTH 7
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
Table 2. (Continued).
Themes Category Definition Code Definition
Resolving
spiritual
bypass
How the person treated their spiritual bypass Professional help Utilizing the services of psychiatrists, therapists, or coaches
Self-help Committing to personal growth and development
Help of a spiritual
teacher
Working with a spiritual teacher that knows about psychological
development
Spirituality
after spiritual
bypass
How someones spirituality is experienced after he
or she developed an understanding about their
spiritual bypass
Holism A commitment to working on all areas of wellness
Combining
resources
Conjoining spiritual practice with psychological processes
Hybrid spirituality Developing their own spirituality with a foundation in many beliefs
and practices
Practical living Having a spiritual practice that allows for engagement in the real
world and with other people
Effects of
spiritual
bypass
Symptoms The primary ways spiritual bypass manifests Isolation Avoiding contact with common people or ordinary tasks of daily
living
Unspiritual people Avoiding contact with people considered unspiritual or spiritually
disruptive
Unrealistic
relationships
Idealizing that a relationship can only be possible with an ideal
spiritual partner
Confrontation Fear of putting up boundaries or conflict
Spiritual narcissism Acting as if one was spiritual superior to others, the authority of
reason, bearer of all answers, the only one who sees
Blind following Following the lead of a charismatic leader without question
Unrealistic Living Avoiding responsibilities especially related to job or finances or
refusing to take a career seriously and plan financially
Emotional
dissociation
Disconnection from ones emotions
Anger-phobia Viewing anger as an inappropriate emotion for spiritually advanced
people to experience
(Continued )
8G. PICCIOTTO ET AL.
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
Table 2. (Continued).
Themes Category Definition Code Definition
Exaggerated
optimism
Focusing too much on the positive side of situations, being
unrealistic
Shadow Side Refusing to acknowledge the darker parts of personality or personal
history
Rationalization Avoiding uncomfortable emotions by focusing on facts and logic
Embodiment A disconnection or lack of grounding in-the-body experience
Negative
consequences
The negative effects or outcomes of spiritual bypass Arrested
development
A general sense of stagnation or regression resulting from a
hyperfocus on spirituality
Familial obligations Not being able to earn enough money to help at home and fulfill
responsibilities as a parent and/or spouse
Depression Developing depression as a consequence of spiritual bypass
Anxiety Developing anxiety as a consequence of spiritual bypass
Blindness A lack of self-awareness
Social
disconnection
A disruption in empathic attunement
Loss of self-love Becoming overly critical with oneself and lacking self-compassion
Benefits The positive and motivating effects of spiritual
bypass that reinforces its use
Superiority Feeling more important or more advanced compared to those who
dont practice spirituality
Pain relief Using spirituality as a means of coping
Universality Spirituality attenuating the crisis of meaninglessness
Stand-alone
category
Prevention What could have been done to avoid spiritual
bypass.
Psychological
support
Viewing a lack of competition between psychological help and
spiritual guidance.
Psycho-spiritual
education
Receiving more information about the phenomenon of spiritual
bypass through texts, lectures, seminars, videos and books
Spiritual leadership
(continued)
The importance of spiritual leaders who are informed about
psychological and spiritual work and serve as an example to
members of the community
Spiritual
community
Being part of a spiritual community that understands the
importance of psychological work
JOURNAL OF SPIRITUALITY IN MENTAL HEALTH 9
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
trajectory. Instead, the categories in this theme appear to fit into a sequence
but what that order may be is, at this point, unknown.
Contact with spirituality/religion
The first category, contact with spirituality/religion, was defined as What
made the person come into contact with spirituality/religion and engage in a
search for the sacred.The category captured the specific motives for making
their initial contact with spirituality/religion. Their motivation was expressed
in one of three ways. The first, searching, related to the goal of obtaining
answers to important existential questions. Participant 1 said: I went in
search for the spiritual to acquire answerssuch as What is God?”“Why are
we here?”“Where did we came from?The second way was suppression,
described as a desire to relieve pain or putting at ease existential emptiness.
Participant 3 stated, I went to Church because I was suffering too much. I
felt in distressed, sad about the ending of that relationship and I believed
religion could help me with that pain.Lastly, the third motivation for their
initial contact with spirituality was family in which the participants framed
their closeness to spirituality or religion within the context of their familys
beliefs and practices.
Causes
The next category identified, causes, represented why people experience
spiritual bypass.The interviews revealed four distinct causes. The first,
escape, indicated where participants stated that a motivation for spiritual
bypasswouldbeanurgetoescapereality by renouncing the ordinariness
of life. Participant 5 said, Trying to escape from reality, I found an
escape route within spirituality, a way to flee my mundane life which
appeared meaningless.The second code, avoiding pain indicated an
overall low level of pain tolerance. The third cause was social context,
referringtotheuseofspiritualbypassasawaytocopewithdifficult
familial history or other problematic social contexts. Participant 4 said,
My family history didnt contribute for me to reach a healthy level of
maturity. I was physically assaulted by my father, my mother passed away
and I was being sued by my sister.The last code in this category was
religious/spiritual leaders and communities, which highlighted the nega-
tive influence of negligent practices by spiritual or religious leaders and
communities. Participant 7 stated: Theinfluenceofthecommunityitself
by of the doctrine I was following because it has a misguiding way to
experience spirituality, an extremist way which has no regard for the
psychological perspective.
10 G. PICCIOTTO ET AL.
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
Natural
Although participants identified several examples of when spiritual bypass
brought distinct negative consequences, some participants also stated that
spiritual bypass was something that was necessary for them to experience.
Thus, the category natural we defined as, when going through spiritual
bypass is something necessary or even inevitable.This category was made
up of two codes. In the first, stage, the person believed that spiritual bypass
was a natural or unavoidable step in their spiritual development, as the
following quoted from Participant 2 illustrates: I think I needed it, it was
a part of my spiritual growth, it was a necessary stage, inevitable even. I had
to live through that collapse and it made me wake up.The second code,
short-term coping strategy, captured the idea that spiritual bypass possessed
utility to cope with high stress or difficult situations for a short period of
time.
Insight
This category was defined as how the person became aware that they were
experiencing spiritual bypassand was made up of five codes. The first code,
angst, captured a deep feeling of existential crisis as the turning point for
becoming aware of spiritual bypass, as Participant 5 said, It got a point, you
know, of angst . . . that bad feeling, lack of heading, being lost . . . existential
angst. And so that was the trigger to look for that help I had.The second
code, feedback, denoted when participants realized they were spiritual
bypassing through the help and observation of others in their social context.
Participant 2 said:
My current boyfriend started to question me . . . then I started to realize that faith
is very powerful. But when you become an extremist and only focus on the
spiritual and stop caring for the rest, it can hurt you, alienate you.
The next code, concrete experience, captured the experience of investing
time and energy in nonspiritual activity that made the exaggerated focus on
spiritual practices become apparent. Participant 3 said:
I was accepted into university and after I became a volunteer. I started to have
contact with the real world, I had to leave my isolation and I started to see new
possibilities. That almost naturally made me realize that I was alienated.
The fourth code we called relational conflict and described the distress
participants sometimes experienced in a relationship that helped them
become aware of their spiritual bypass. Participant 6 stated: I think it started
with our fights. I was unable to hold up that mask of a person who is always
well and is very tolerant in the relationship. So I started to feel a lot of anger
and later on, guilt as well.The last code in this category, education,
described coming into contact with more information about spiritual bypass
JOURNAL OF SPIRITUALITY IN MENTAL HEALTH 11
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
through articles or books that raised their self-awareness, as Participant 8
said: I recognized by reading that book from Robert Augustus Masters,
realizing that spiritual teachers can have psychological issues and also some
of the readings of Ken Wilber were very helpful.
Resolving spiritual bypass
This category refers to those codes that clustered under a common
definition of how the person treated their spiritual bypass.Three
codes were identified in this category. The first, professional help, referred
to how the participants successfully treated spiritual bypass through med-
ication and therapeutic treatment or coaching. Participant 2 said: First I
started taking a certain drug and having psychological counseling to have
conscience of my alienation. And it was then that I created the internal
condition to take care of really looking at a bunch of stuff.The second
code, self-help, referred to personal commitment to growth and develop-
ment that helped successfully ameliorate spiritual bypass, as Participant 3
noted: I started to read and study about personal development and
slowly gained awareness. I dug and dug within myself until I found
these beliefs and began to work on them.Thelastcodeinthiscategory,
help of a spiritual teacher, denoted where participants experienced growth
through treating spiritual bypass with the help of a spiritual teacher that
knows about psychological development. Participant 8 stated, For me it
was very important to find someone that could help me in the psycholo-
gical domain, but that was aware of a spiritual dimension to a certain
degree.
Spirituality after spiritual bypass
The last category of the first theme grouped every code that was related to
how someones spirituality is experienced after he or she developed an
understanding about their spiritual bypass.Four codes were identified in
this category. The first, holism, described the participantscommitment to
working on all areas of wellness, including work, family, friendships,
health, spirituality, and emotions. Participant 5 said, Today I have a
more balanced, more integrated spiritual practice, one where I try to
payattentiontoeveryaspectofmylife.The second code, combining
resources, captured the participantsattempts to integrate spiritual prac-
tices with the therapeutic process. Next, hybrid spirituality, coded the
development of participantsspirituality within a foundation in diverse
beliefs and practices, as Participant 3 shared, I have a spirituality that
involves different beliefs and practices of yoga, meditation, and being
always studying personal development and be observant of myself.The
final code in this category, practical living, referred to a spiritual practice
that allows for engagement in the real world and with other people.
12 G. PICCIOTTO ET AL.
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
Participant 6 said: I try to engage with the world and with people by
practicing being kind to those around me, empathy, and discernment. I
chose not to pull away from whats real but to grow spiritually
through it.
Effects of spiritual bypass
The second theme, effects of spiritual bypass, encompassed three categories
that denoted the varieties of influences of spiritual bypass in people lives.
Symptoms
Symptoms we defined as, the primary ways spiritual bypass manifests.
The first and most commonly referenced symptom was isolation from
people and the world. Participant 1 said, Contact with other people was
zero, I totally isolated myself! I wouldnt leave the house. I would stay
locked inside studying the bible and praying.There were a number of
identified symptoms that also referenced interpersonal relationships, such
as unspiritual people. In this code, participants spoke about avoiding
contact with people considered unspiritual or spiritually disruptive. As
participant 2 said: I pulled far away from some people in my family or
from old friendships because I thought that those people werentspiri-
tual.Similarly, unrealistic relationships, referred to the difficulty of start-
ing and developing relationships either by refusing to remain open to new
relationships, or idealizing the self as above the basic human need for
relationship, or that relationships are only possible with a spiritual part-
ner. Participant 3 said, I placed a belief in me of not being able to relate,
that I would end up alone and that would make me shut down completely
to other people.A fourth symptom, confrontation, described the pro-
pensity to avoid disappointment by refusing to create boundaries or
confront people appropriately, as Participant 6 said, Iwouldrunaway
from conflict, from confrontation. That state of never engaging in conflict
for fear of disappointing others.
A fifth symptom, spiritual narcissism, described a process in which the
participant felt and acted spiritually superior to others, as the authority of
reason,orasthesourceofallanswersthe only one who sees. Participant
4said:I thought I was sort of superior sometimes. I would place myself
on a pedestal of superiority, thought of myself better than the others
because of being more spiritual.The sixth code, blind following, captures
a blind belief and trust in a charismatic, spiritual leader. Participant 1
described this as I thought he was a superior being because he was
playing the role of spiritual indoctrinating leader. I was blind, I developed
a blind belief in him and fell completely in love.The seventh code,
unrealistic living, described a tendency to avoid responsibilities, especially
JOURNAL OF SPIRITUALITY IN MENTAL HEALTH 13
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
when it related to work or money, by refusing to seriously engage in
professional careers or make long-term financial plans. Participant 5
said: I set aside my professional life, renounced the material a lot. Its
like I was only recognizing value in my spiritual life.
Following these codes were several symptoms that related to emotional
processes. The eighth code in this category was emotional dissociation.
This code described an avoidance of difficult emotions as Participant 3
said: I would run away from my emotions, my pain, I was disconnected
from my feelings.The ninth symptom was anger-phobia, understood as
viewing anger as an inappropriate emotion for spiritually advanced people
to experience, as described by the following quote by Participant 8:
Anger-phobia! Because we label anger as, you know, you shouldntbe
angry, we should be nice,but then youre dissociating from that clarity
that energy provides.The tenth code, exaggerated optimism, identified
instances when the individual excessively focused on the bright side of
situations, being unrealistic. Interviewee 3 said: Iwouldalwaystryto
emphasize the positive side of things. My religion told me I had to see the
good side, always be well. So I would lie to myself telling me everything
was alright.Similarly, the next code, shadow side, described the refusal to
acknowledge darker parts of personality or personal history, as Participant
6reported:I think it was about not wanting to deal with the pain, like, to
the shadow. Its like, as if I didnt have anything to heal. As I just have to
follow that practice and I would be free from all of my suffering from the
past.
The twelfth code, rationalization, described an overemphasis on reason
(such as focusing on facts or logic) as a means of avoidance. Participants 8
said: I was overemphasizing the mental, an excess of rationality and a
spiritual whiplash of self-criticism.Finally, the last code in this category
was embodiment and captured a lack of grounding in-the-body experience,
as described in the following statement by Participant 4: I was completely
disconnected from my body, disregarding it. I was aerial, I needed to land,
reconnect with my physical body and honor it.
Negative consequences
Next, negative consequences focused on the negative effects or outcomes of
spiritual bypass.The participants presented eight consequences. The first,
arrested development, referred to a general sense of stagnation or regression
resulting from a hyperfocus on spirituality. Participant 6 said: I felt sort of
paralyzed, without clarity. Not knowing where to go, what I wanted from life,
going around in circles.The second code in this category was familial
obligations and indicated the fact of not being able to earn enough money
to help at home and fulfill responsibilities as a parent and/or spouse, as stated
by Participant 5: The financial side is one of them, I didnt earn enough, I
14 G. PICCIOTTO ET AL.
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
couldnt help my family as I should. Im married, with two kids.The third
code and fourth codes, depression and anxiety referred to the pathological
ramifications of spiritual bypass. The fifth code in this category, blindness,
designated the lack of a broader vision and loss of contact and access to
oneself as exemplified in the following statement by Participant 2: The
damage was that I was blind, failing to understand myself, to see myself. I
didnt listen to myself.The next code, social disconnection, identified the
difficulty to connect and empathize with others. Participant 7 said: Another
thing was, a disconnection towards other people, having trouble to relate in
general in account of being very alienated while in that spiritual superiority.
The last consequence, loss of self-love, described an overly critical view of
oneself and lacking self-compassion, as Participant 4 said: I ended up losing
all the love I had for me. The excess of spirituality made me disconnect from
my light.
Benefits
This category was defined as the positive effects that a person experienced
from spiritual bypass that motivated them to continue engaging in it.Three
codes were identified in this category. The first, superiority, described feeling
more important or more developed compared to those who do not practice
spirituality. Participant 1 reported, Its as if you felt, elevated, more impor-
tant, enlightened, more than other common people, lets say, people who
only live in the physical world.The second benefit identified was pain relief
defined as the use of spiritual bypass as a means of coping. An example from
Participant 7 would be: It was important to help me deal with pain, at least
in a short term my religious practices would provide relief, would make me
forget suffering.The last code, universality, encapsulated the sense that
spiritual bypass was attenuating the existential crisis of meaning.
Prevention
The last and our stand-alone category, prevention, was defined as what
could have been done to avoid spiritual bypass.The interviewees men-
tioned four distinct possibilities in their interviews. The first, psychological
support, stated that having psychological support could help avoid spiri-
tual bypass, as exemplified in the following by Participant 6: If I had had
a bigger support psychologically, information about the importance of
working on your emotions or if I was more mature and more developed
psychologically, this would not have happened.The second code, psycho-
spiritual education, referred to the fact that some participants received
more information about spiritual bypass through lectures, seminars,
videos, and books as a means of prevention. Participant 5 said: If I had
known more about spiritual bypass itself, of how important is
JOURNAL OF SPIRITUALITY IN MENTAL HEALTH 15
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
psychological development, not overrate the spiritual world in detriment
of the material world and so on, it could have been avoided.In the code
spiritual leadership, participants described having a spiritual guide that
was informed about the importance of integrating psychological and spiri-
tual development who served as role models to their community as a way
to help avoid spiritual bypass. Lastly, spiritual community evoked the idea
of being a part of a community that understood the importance of work-
ing psychologically on oneself to prevent spiritual bypass.
Discussion
The purpose of this study was to explore the phenomenology of spiritual
bypass. Five specific research questions were posed to answer and from
which developed a protocol that would elicit phenomenological data using
semistructured interviews. A review of each research question will now be
made in conjunction with the data unearthed.
The first research question was, How do people who experienced
spiritual bypass get involved with religion and spirituality?We found
that the interviewees first became involved in spirituality and religion for
three distinct reasons: (a) to search for answers to existential questions,
(b) to ameliorate feelings of pain and emptiness, and (c) because of
family influences. It is interesting to note that the second motivation
to ameliorate feelings of pain and emptiness, coincides with one of the
possible causes of spiritual bypass that not only was proposed by the
interviewees but was also hypothesized in the literature on spiritual
bypass (see Welwood, 2000). Critics of spirituality and religion have of
course long proposed that what motivates their continued proliferation
in society is that they are used almost exclusively for defensive purposes
(see Freud, 1928/1989;Marx,1982;Nietzsche,1881/2008; 1885/2005;
Skinner, 1971/2002). Our findings suggest that such suspicious motiva-
tions are comingled with an authentic search for answers to real and
difficult questions of the human condition that must be given their due
diligence. However, in contrast to the historic criticisms of religious and
spiritual experience, scholars of spiritual bypass have also allowed room
for authentic spirituality and thus refrain from reducing all spirituality
to mere illusion (Fox et al., 2017). The findings in this study support this
conclusion.
The second research question explored the causes and symptoms of
spiritual bypass from the viewpoint of the participants: In what context
did spiritual bypass occur and what are its main causes and symptoms?The
findings reinforced previous theory that spiritual bypass can be a method of
avoiding pain (Welwood, 2000) while simultaneously motivating participants
to get in touch with their spiritual experience. We also observed other causes,
16 G. PICCIOTTO ET AL.
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
including the urge to escape mundane existence, the lack of a supportive
familial environment to promote healthy psychological and spiritual devel-
opment in unison, and the influence of spiritual or religious leaders and
communities who tended to propagate spiritual bypass. In this study, 13
distinct symptoms of spiritual bypass were identified which provided support
to previous theoretical postulations and added new content to others through
the participantsrich descriptions.
The third research question was: What are the main consequences of
spiritual bypass and how did the person come to realize that they were
experiencing spiritual bypass?The participants pointed out eight negative
consequences of spiritual bypass in their lives that affected their psychologi-
cal and professional development. Other people in their social circle also felt
these consequences (e.g., lack of support to the family either with money or
care, disconnection from old friends, lower level of productivity on work). A
final consequence reported by some participants, not previously reported in
the corpus of works on spiritual bypass, was that they experienced a loss of
self-love. Thus, in addition to the varied manifestations of symptomology,
the degradation of self-conception appears to be a potentially clinically
significant topic of exploration.
This study uncovered, in the experiences of participants, several causes
and symptoms of spiritual bypass. However, it also revealed possible benefits
from spiritual bypass that reinforced itsuse. These experiences were of
particular interest to us because they have so far received considerably less
attention in the literature when compared the negative effects of spiritual
bypass. The interviewees brought up at least three distinct benefits simulta-
neously related to their deepening engagement with spirituality. The first
benefit they observed was the pain relief they experienced as a short-term
coping mechanism. This observation was similar to Carver and colleagues
(1989) findings on coping; spiritual bypass can be used as a strategy of coping
with acute distress (e.g., trauma). The initial benefit of pain reduction,
however, carries with it the possibility of diminishing return in the long-
term if it is not accompanied by a psychological intervention. A second
benefit of spiritual bypass is that it could provide a larger sense of life (i.e.,
sense of transcendence), which again is connected to spirituality as an
authentic quest to answer existential questions. However, there was also a
diminishing return to this benefit as well. Some of the participants men-
tioned that their sense of transcendence was temporary; and because they did
not directly address their psychological problems, their pain seemed to
compound on itself and brought about greater suffering as a sense of internal
void. The final benefit was experiencing a feeling of superiority.
Unfortunately, this benefit also came with a cost. Though a confidence in
ones identity is a positive outcome of sincere spiritual development (i.e.,
humility see Davis et al., 2010) the sense of superiority in spiritual bypass is
JOURNAL OF SPIRITUALITY IN MENTAL HEALTH 17
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
probably connected to narcissism (Cashwell, Glosoff, & Hammonds, 2010).
To what extent this spiritual narcissism is unique to spiritual bypass remains
an open question. It is possible that the narcissism innate in all human
personality could lend someone more or less vulnerable to enduring patterns
of spiritual bypass depending upon how narcissistic their personality may be.
Or, it is possible that this could be a unique type of narcissism. Future
research (see next section) should explore this problem further.
Next, we asked: How did the person treat spiritual bypass and how was
their spirituality effected as a result?In terms of treatment, the participants
identified four distinct forms. Three of them involved professional helpers
and one could be classified as self-help. All the participants who reported
having depression also reported treating their depression with medication.
How their spirituality was affected was broad but generally aimed in the
direction of more effective balance between their spirituality and other
dimensions of their wellness.
The final research question was: What are possible ways to prevent
spiritual bypass?We identified two types of answers to this question. On
the one hand, the participants spoke of factors missing in their development
that would have helped avoid spiritual bypass. On the other hand, some of
the participants also believed that experiencing spiritual bypass was some-
thing necessary or even unavoidable for them. Regarding ways to avoid
spiritual bypass, three were mentioned, including professional help (e.g.,
going to therapy), obtaining more information about spiritual bypass, and
having spiritual leaders that can serve as examples of embracing holistic
wellness. For those who believed that spiritual bypass was an inevitable
experience, some of them realized that it was a natural part of their spiritual
development whilst others saw it as a short term coping strategy; all of which
fell in line previous experts descriptions of spiritual bypass (Forman, 2010;
Masters, 2010).
An important question to consider why, from the 73 seminar attendants,
only 10 volunteered to participate in the study. There are several possible
reasons, none of which can we assert with any confidence. For one, it is
possible that some attendees did not think experienced spiritual bypass.
Alternatively, maybe they did experience it, but only as a natural step of
their spiritual development and not in a problematic sense, never having
experienced noticeable consequences from it. Another possible explanation is
that some attendees experienced spiritual bypass but remained unaware of
either their personal process or make the connection between their spiritual
bypass and any negative consequences they experienced. Lastly, for other it is
possible that they could identify with the experience of spiritual bypass but
just did not feel confortable or even embarrassed about sharing their own
experience. In conducting the interviews, it was possible to observe how
18 G. PICCIOTTO ET AL.
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
difficulty was for some participants to tell their experience as they recounted
the pain they lived through in conjunction with spiritual bypass.
Clinical implications
Given the importance of spirituality in the lives of many people, it is
important that counselors are capable of discerning how their clientsspiri-
tual beliefs and practices can interact with spiritual bypass. This includes
being able to identify, contextualize, and effectively treat spiritual bypass. The
current study can serve to broaden cliniciansunderstanding of how clients
experience spiritual bypass, including its symptoms, causes, and conse-
quences. The findings suggest that spiritual bypass likely runs together with
an authentic quest for spiritual fulfillment. It is possible that because the
effects of spiritual experiences are so rewarding that even manufacturing
them through some form of premature transcendencedescribed by
Welwood (2011) as a way of trying to rise above the raw and messy side
of our humanness before we have fully faced and made peace with it(p. 1),
can be reinforcing and effect other dimensions of personal wellness.
However, participants acknowledged that this kind of coping would even-
tually run its course and those other aspects of their health and well-being,
now neglected for a significant period, would atrophy. These individual
coping processes must also be placed into larger social contexts. Some
participants noted how vital it was to them to restore a healthy balance in
their lives by seeing it modeled in their spiritual or religious leaders. Working
with clients who experience spiritual bypass must, therefore, also involve an
assessment of how spiritual bypass is addressed in their communities of faith.
Otherwise, clinicians may neglect to leverage a potentially powerful source of
extra-therapeutic sabotage or change.
Limitations and implications for future research
The results of the study must be read in the context of the following
limitations. The findings provided a window into the experience of spiri-
tual bypass, but that experience was subjective and not able to deal with
the dynamic dimension of ones spiritual bypass. This study did not
attempt to develop generalizable data through inference (i.e., inferential
statistics). Some work is already being done to overcome this limitation
(Fox et al., 2017), but this information is really only beginning to take
shape. Secondly, the sample in this study represented a primarily Brazilian
population. Thus, some of the findings may be further limited by the
cultural homogeneity and lack of diversity in race and in religious affilia-
tion of the sample. The sample consisted of people that attended the
online seminar and therefore were aware that the first authorswork
JOURNAL OF SPIRITUALITY IN MENTAL HEALTH 19
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
focused on personal, holistic development and therefore could have influ-
enced some of their self-report in the direction of holistic spiritual devel-
opment. To address the limitations in this study at least two avenues of
future research would prove vital. The first direction would be to replicate
the methodology on sample groups from other nationalities and with an
alternative method of selecting interviewees. The second direction would
be to study how spiritual bypass would affect psychological development
using variables that encompass the symptoms, causes, and positive and
negative consequences of spiritual bypass with other constructs like
depression, anxiety, and narcissism that were identified in this study.
Conclusion
Research on spiritual bypass using the methods of the social sciences is
scarce. This study examined fundamental questions of spiritual bypass and
was successful in providing a description of its phenomenology using an
international sample. The findings provided substantial answers to the five
research questions that were posed and added content which can not only
help counselors in identifying spiritual bypass in their clients and better
comprehend its relationship to their health and wellbeing. The findings
also provide future directions for research that could provide substantial
empirical foundation to the therapeutic potential of working through spiri-
tual bypass with clients.
References
Beutler, L. E., & Clarkin, J. (1990). Systematic treatment selection. Toward targeted therapeutic
interventions. New York, NY: Brunner/Mazel.
Carver, C. S., Scheider, M. F., & Weintraub, J. K. (1989). Assessinc coping strategies: A
theoretical based approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,56, 267283.
doi:10.1037/0022-3514.56.2.267
Cashwell, C. S., Bentley, P. B., & Yarborough, J. P. (2007). The only way out is through: The
peril of spiritual bypass. Counseling and Values,51, 139148. doi:10.1002/j.2161-
007X.2007.tb00071.x
Cashwell, C. S., Glosoff, H. L., & Hammonds, C. (2010). Spiritual bypass: A preliminary
investigation. Counseling and Values,54,162174. doi:10.1002/j.2161-007X.2010.
tb00014.x
Cashwell, C. S., Myers, J. E., & Shurts, M. (2004). Using the developmental counseling and
therapy model to work with a client in spiritual bypass: Some preliminary considerations.
Journal of Counseling & Development,82, 403409. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2004.tb00327.x
Cashwell, C. S., & Young, J. S. (Eds.). (2011). Integrating spirituality and religion into
counseling: A guide to competent practice. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling
Association.
Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five
approaches. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
20 G. PICCIOTTO ET AL.
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
Davis, D. E., Hook, J. N., Worthington, E. L., Van Tongeren, D. R., Gartner, A. L., &
Jennings, D. I. (2010). Relational spirituality and forgiveness: Development of the spiritual
humility scale (SHS). Journal Of Psychology & Theology,38(2), 91100.
Forman, M. (2010). A guide to integral psychotherapy: Complexity, spirituality, and integration
in practice. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Fowler, J. (1981). Stages of faith: The psychology of human development and the quest for
meaning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Fox, J., Caswell, C. S., & Picciotto, G. (2017). The opiate of the masses: Measuring spiritual
bypass and its relationship to spirituality, religion, mindfulness, psychological distress, and
personality. Spirituality in Clinical Practice. Advance online publication. doi:10.1037/
scp0000141
Freud, S. (1928/1989). The future of an illusion. New York, NY: Norton, W. W. and
Company.
Hsieh, H. F., & Shannon, S. E. (2005). Three approaches to qualitative content analysis.
Qualitative Health Research,15, 12771288.
Koenig, H. (2012). Overview of the research. In H. Koenig (Ed.), Spirituality and health
research: Methods, measurement, statistics, and resources (pp. 1327). West Conshohocken,
PA: John Templeton Press.
Larson, D. B., & Milano, M. A. (1995). Are religion and spirituality clinically relevant in
health care? Mind/Body Medicine,1(3), 147157.
Levin, J. S. (1994). Religion and health: Is there an association, is it valid, and is it causal?
Social Science & Medicine,38(11), 14751482. doi:10.1016/0277-9536(94)90109-0
Maher, M., & Hunt, T. (1993). Spirituality reconsidered. Counseling and Values,38,2128.
doi:10.1002/cvj.1993.38.issue-1
Marx, K. (1982). Critique of Hegelsphilosophy of right. London, UK: Cambridge University
Press. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=uxg4AAAAIAAJ&printsec=
frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
Masters, R. A. (2010). Spiritual bypassing: When spirituality disconnects us from what really
matters. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
McCullough, M. E., Hoyt, W. T., Larson, D. B., Koenig, H. G., & Thoresen, C. (2000).
Religious involvement and mortality: A meta-analytic view. Health Psychology,19, 211
222. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.19.3.211
Miller, G. (2003). Incorporating spirituality in counseling and psychotherapy. Hoboken, NJ:
Wiley.
Nietzsche, F. (1881/2008). The gay science. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Nietzsche, F. (1885/2005). Thus spoke Zarathustra. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble Books.
Pargament, K. (2011). Spiritually integrated psychotherapy: Understanding and addressing the
sacred. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Pargament, K. I., Smith, B. W., Koenig, H. G., & Perez, L. (1998). Patterns of positive and
negative religious coping with major life stressors. Journal for the Scientific Study of
Religion,37, 710724. doi:10.2307/1388152
Parker, S. (2011). Spirituality in counseling: A faith of development perspective. Journal of
Counseling & Development,89, 112120. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2011.tb00067.x
Peteet, J. R., & Balboni, M. J. (2013). Spirituality and religion in oncology. CA: A Cancer
Journal for Clinicians,63, 280289. doi:10.1002/caac.21187
Richards, P., & Bergin, A. (2005). A spiritual strategy for counseling and psycho-therapy (2nd
ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Skinner, B. F. (1971/2002). Beyond freedom and dignity. Indianapolis, IN: Hacckett. Retrieved
from https://books.google.com/books?id=CtF6FDfUcQoC&printsec=frontcover&source=
gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
JOURNAL OF SPIRITUALITY IN MENTAL HEALTH 21
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
Van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive
pedagogy. New York, NY: Routledge.
Welwood, J. (1984). Principles of inner work: Psychological and spiritual. The Journal of
Transpersonal Psychology,16,6373.
Welwood, J. (2000). Toward a psychology of awakening: Buddhism, psychotherapy, and the
path of personal and spiritual transformation. Boston, MA: Shambhala.
Welwood, J. (2011). Human nature, Buddha nature: On spiritual bypassing, relationship, and
the Dharmaan interview with John Welwood by Tina Fossella. Retrieved from http://
www.johnwelwood.com/articles/TRIC_interview_uncut.pdf
Whitfield, C. (1987). Healing the child within. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.
Whitfield, C. (1991). Co-dependence: Healing the human condition. Deerfield Beach, FL:
Health Communications.
Whitfield, C. (2003). My recovery: A personal plan for healing. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health
Communications.
Wilber, K. (2000). Integral psychology. Boston, MA: Shambala Publications.
22 G. PICCIOTTO ET AL.
Downloaded by [89.154.73.222] at 07:03 01 January 2018
... Ironically, the hyper-spirituality of spiritual bypass may prevent people from ultimately experiencing the most benefit from their spiritual strivings. Qualitative studies have yielded similar findings from the perspective of those who have experienced spiritual bypass as well as experts who have treated it in the context of psychotherapy (Picciotto & Fox, 2018;Picciotto, Fox, & Felix, 2017). Still, spiritual bypass researchers have not yet fully addressed the various implications of this clinical phenomenon. ...
... Thus, if problems arise, the solution is thought to be spiritual and thus to require some spiritual intervention or interventionist. In the end, this psychological maneuvering makes troubled people feel spiritualized and, for a limited time, can make them feel well (Picciotto & Fox, 2018;Picciotto et al., 2017). However, it might inhibit psychological processing of the person's problems and in the long-term result in a less satisfactory psychological adjustment. ...
... Throughout this study, we found direct and indirect associations of religious commitment and spiritual variables (except for nature spirituality) with psychological help-seeking attitudes. This expands existing research (Fox & Picciotto, 2019;Picciotto & Fox, 2018;Picciotto et al., 2017) by examining religious commitment, a previously untested construct, and also by showing the importance of other types of spirituality. We also did not find that spiritual bypass moderated the relationships between either religious commitment or spirituality, and psychological help-seeking attitudes. ...
... I interpret the text to allow Kirt to spiritually bypass (Welwood, 1984) the work of antiracism, which is indicated by her friend's immediate forgiveness of her after her psychedelic/spiritual experience. Coined by Welwood (1984), a "spiritual bypass" is when an individual takes "refuge in spirituality as a way of avoiding unresolved psychological problems" (Picciotto et al., 2018). As Sherrell and Simmer-Brown (2017) highlight, when applied to systemic socio-cultural issues (typically the wellness industry), "structural spiritual bypassing" as a result of the teachings of spirituality (e.g., "emptiness, oneness, and connection"; Sherrell & Simmer-Brown, 2017, p. 80) create conditions whereby spiritual seekers disengage from discourse about power, privilege, and oppression as they believe that by simply practicing spirituality, one can transcend these power imbalances (Sherrell & Simmer-Brown, 2017). ...
... The text depicts this as a favorable change, a transformation caused by her mushroom trip, and she is rewarded by earning her friend's forgiveness: the text's "structural spiritual bypassing" (Sherrell & Simmer-Brown, 2017). To revisit the notion of the spiritual bypass further, as Picciotto et al. (2018) suggest, spiritual bypassing is accompanied by particular symptoms, one of which is "anger-phobia," or the idea that anger is an inappropriate emotion for "spiritually advanced people to experience" (p. 346). ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Currently, psychedelics are entering the pharmaceutical industry and their use is being decriminalized in waves across the United States. As an illicit substance, the ways in which psychedelics are portrayed in entertainment television offer pedagogical and humanist implications. The purpose of this study is to assess the portrayal of psychedelics in two contemporary texts which are critical to this topic for the ways in which they approach race and gender: Dear White People (2017–present) and Betty (2020–present). Applying a cultural approach through the frameworks of feminist studies and critical race theory, this textual analysis looks at the ways in which a character’s use of psilocybin-containing mushrooms transformed their identity. What resulted was the determination that these two texts represent psychedelics as transformative devices. However, these transformative devices were portrayed as either necessitating collective liberation (Dear White People) or, paradoxically, stunting it (Betty). In this textual and rhetorical analysis, I clarify how psychedelics may be used as transformative devices in fictional media to enhance the rhetorical goals of a particular text with varying degrees of success. Finally, this thesis invites the continuation of media scholarship that addresses the representations of psychedelics in media in order to understand their contextual, theoretical, and cultural implications.
... Often thought of as an inherent marker of wellness (Picciotto, Fox, & Neto, 2017;Tabei, Zarei, & Joulaei, 2016), a helpful resource for dealing with various types of trauma experiences and ultimately an antidote to chaos, meaninglessness and despair, spirituality has been conceptualized as a gateway towards acceptance and adaptation to a variety of existential concerns. Nowadays, the established relation of spirituality to the construct of spiritual intelligence (SI) provides a promising field of empirical exploration in crisis intervention, such that enhanced spirituality could cancel out the effects of ontological threats, such as DA and associated mental illness outcomes for immediate victims/survivors and disaster-exposed professionals. ...
... As a matter of fact, a spiritual understanding of life has been associated with vulnerability to mental disorder in the past; The idea of the existence of dysfunctional or pathogenic forms of spirituality (i.e. spiritual pain, bypass, detachment, emergency; self-destructive forms of transcendence, i.e. suicide-bombings, etc.) has been present for some time (Burton, 2003;King et al., 2013;Koltko-Rivera, 2006;Masters, 2010;Picciotto et al., 2017;Vaughan, 2003). ...
Article
Full-text available
This cross-sectional study sought to examine spiritual intelligence (SI) as a moderator between death anxiety (DA) and dissociative post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD-DISS) among first responders. A convenience sample of 182 first responders (aid workers and firefighters) was recruited from the regional directorates of Western Greece. Participants provided sociodemographic details and were assessed on SI, DA, and PTSD-DISS related symptomatology. We hypothesized that DA would successfully predict prodromal PTSD-DISS, with SI inversely moderating the relationship between the aforementioned constructs, such that an increase in SI would correspond to a decrease in PTSD-DISS. The overall model confirmed that DA, SI and their linear combination significantly explained 77% of PTSD-DISS variance. Furthermore, SI significantly moderated the relationship between DA and PTSD-DISS, though in the opposite than expected direction: At low SI values the association between DA and PTSD-DISS was nonexistent (t = .45, p = .07), whereas DA had an incremental effect on PTSD-DISS analogous to increasing SI values (average SI, t = .2, p = .05; high SI, t = 2.54, p = .01). The results indicate diverse trajectories of spiritual (death anxiety-related) experiences and SI in mental health outcomes. Conceptual considerations and suggestions for future research are discussed.
... Based on their phenomenological study, Picciotto and colleagues present four causes of spiritual bypassing: to escape from reality or the ordinariness of life, to avoid pain, to cope with problematic social contexts, and finally, to avoid the negative influence of religious leaders and communities. 13 Fortunately, people can become aware that they are using spiritual bypass, a significant step towards realizing the importance of this element in pastoral work. The discovery that they are not honestly using their faith practices usually happens in one of five ways: through living a deep feeling of existen-tial crisis, by feedback or help from others in their community who are more mature, by concrete experience of nonspiritual activity that makes an exaggerated focus on spiritual practices clearly visible and finally, through relational conflict or distress in a relationship. ...
Article
Full-text available
For centuries, spiritual growth has been one of the major topics in theology. In this context, spiritual guides have attempted to help people discern between true and false paths towards God. Today, we are again witnessing a growing interest in spirituality itself and in finding means to develop the spiritual potential in human life. Because of the increasing number of people venturing into more advanced spiritual practices, spiritual bypass is appearing more frequently. Recently, this topic has become a study subject of the psychology of spirituality and religion. This article presents major findings from this research and discusses their validity for pastoral work.
... As described by the DSM-5, spirituality can provoke distressing responses or questioning of spiritual values that can be a reason for clinical attention (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 725). Likewise, it has been shown that spirituality can trigger a defensive posture over and against certain psychological needs, and even depressive and anxiety symptoms (Fukai et al., 2020;Picciotto et al., 2018;Rowell et al., 2020). However, most research reports positive relationships between spirituality and mental health. ...
Article
Full-text available
Certain studies identify spiritual health and family functioning as predictors of a healthy lifestyle. Both constructs influence the presence of symptoms of depression and anxiety. To obtain more empirical evidence on this relationship, 128 adults from Northeast Mexico were administered the Spiritual Health Scale (ESE-UM), the Assessment of Family Functioning questionnaire, the Beck Anxiety Inventory and the Beck Depression Inventory. Significant effects of spiritual health and family functioning on depression and subjective anxiety were found. It is inferred that spiritual health and family functioning are protective factors for emotional problems.
... At the same time, spiritual bypass has been described as the tendency of some patients to avoid personal challenges and conflicts by using spiritual terminology and hiding behind spiritual world views. This can be an obstacle to psychological change and needs to be addressed appropriately in therapy (Picciotto, Fox, & Neto, 2018). ...
Article
Full-text available
This article explores the significance of religious/spiritual approaches to existential issues in psychotherapy in Norway, with its secular, Western-European society. A content analysis of eight semi-structured interviews with psychologists who are experienced in the intersection of psychotherapy and religion/spirituality confirms the perceived therapeutic benefit of addressing religion/spirituality. Participants reported “sacred moments” in therapy and the significance of religion/spirituality for their therapeutic identities. Religious/spiritual self-disclosure and ethical borders emerged as challenging topics. As core competencies, the interviewees named existential sensitivity, self-reflection, and self-disclosure management. The article discusses what is needed to create safe spaces for existential/religious/existential issues in secular psychotherapy.
... Φυσικά, η παροχή στήριξης σε αυτή τη μερίδα ανθρώπων απαιτεί ιδιαίτερη ευαισθητοποίηση και κατανόηση των τρόπων με τους οποίους μπορούν να εκδηλωθούν οι δυσπροσαρμοστικές ή παθογόνες μορφές πνευματικότητας (π.χ. πνευματικός πόνος, πνευματική παράκαμψη, πνευματική αποσύνδεση, πνευματικό κατεπείγον, κ.λπ.) (Burton, 2003;Koltko-Rivera, 2006;Masters, 2010;Picciotto, Fox, & Neto, 2018;Polemikou & Vantarakis, 2019), τους τρόπους με τους οποίους το τραύμα μεταβάλλει τα γνωστικά σχήματα της θρησκείας και της πίστης (McIntosh, 2018), αλλά και τους τρόπους αποφυγής του κινδύνου επανατραυματισμού του πελάτη με την εισαγωγή Π/Θ παραμέτρων στην ψυχοθεραπεία, γεγονός που καθιστά απαραίτητη την εφαρμογή πιστοποιημένων διαδικασιών πνευματικών παρεμβάσεων. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
The cumulative effect of increasing migration flows on the prevalence of mental disorders necessitates the introduction of culturally appropriate interventions in the context of psychotherapeutic practice. Spiritually modified cognitive behavioral therapy (SMCBT) is an emerging, empirically evidenced approach that takes into account both the socio-cultural traits and the unique needs of populations receiving mental health services in a variety of contexts. SMCBT places particular emphasis on the role that religious and spiritual beliefs, practices, and experiences play in the psychological life of the client. The present chapter considers the utility of this modality in the treatment of mental disorders and existential crises of refugees and other migrant populations. Toward this end, it presents an overview of the traditional cognitive behavioral approach and attempts to explain how religion-as-a-schema can affect the mental health of migrant populations. Finally, it illustrates the benefits and limitations of incorporating spirituality in clinical practice and provides suggestions on how to implement spiritual orientations in cognitive behavioral modalities, as seen in SMCBT. The chapter concludes by proposing future directions of development which may assist mental health professionals working with migrant populations.
Article
Full-text available
Mindfulness is everywhere, but the term is often used mindlessly. This article discusses the growth of mindfulness-based interventions in many countries over the past fifty years and, more recently, the emergence of the idea of ‘McMindfulness’, with particular emphasis on the concept of ‘spiritual bypassing’. Critical discourse is a valuable resource in any discipline. Proportionate, mindful incorporation of reasoned critiques strengthens mindfulness, rather than undermining it. Misunderstandings and misinterpretations of mindfulness highlight a need to counter the notions that mindfulness involves avoiding difficult issues in our lives or simply accepting social problems that need to be addressed. The opposite is true: mindfulness of reality inevitably generates insights about change. Before we change the world, we need to see it. Mindfulness practice is opting in, not opting out.
Article
The Black Superwoman Phenomenon refers to the idea that Black women should be caretakers and assume various roles and responsibilities without the opportunity to be emotionally transparent and expressive. Popular media images and historical narratives reinforce and perpetuate this notion of Black women as able to assume these responsibilities without emotional release and support. Thus, Black women may seek solace from these unrealistic expectations in their faith and find purpose in serving their local church communities. This article explores the ways the BSW phenomenon may intersect with religious coping practices and provides implications to respond to potential mental health consequences.
Article
Full-text available
This article discusses the development of the Spiritual Bypass Scale-13 (SBS-13). Spiritual bypass is a clinical process of avoiding difficult psychological material using spiritual beliefs, practices, or experiences. A major limitation to the literature on spiritual bypass is that no psychometrically sound measures of the phenomenon exist, thus preventing scholars and clinicians from understanding its causes and treatment implications beyond anecdotal case reports. The SBS-13 was developed using a community sample of 661 participants. The factor structure of the SBS-13 was investigated using exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis which identified two facets (Psychological Avoidance and Spiritualizing) with a second order facet (Spiritual Bypass). The reliability of SBS-13 was satisfactory, with alpha coefficients ranging from .75 to .87 across two different samples. The convergent, discriminant, predictive, and incremental validity of the SBS-13 was assessed using several criterion variables including measures of spirituality, religiosity, religious problems-solving style, mindfulness, stress, anxiety, depression, and the Five Factor Model of Personality. We concluded that the SBS-13 is a significant contribution to the research on spiritual bypass and can be used in clinical settings as a screening tool and for future research.
Book
Full-text available
A Spiritual Strategy for Counseling and Psychotherapy, Second Edition shows mental health professionals how to deal sensitively with clients whose spirituality or religion is an important part of their lives. This book highlights the therapeutic possibilities religion and spirituality can offer. Building on the success of the first edition, the new edition provides timely updates and additional theoretical grounding for integrating a theistic, spiritual strategy into mainstream psychology. Also ideal for students and scholars, this book provides helpful background and insight into the history and philosophy of science and psychology, the world religions, the practice of psychotherapy, and the process of research and scientific discovery.
Article
A therapist's guide to psychotherapy, spirituality, and self-development. This book provides a practical introduction to Integral Psychotherapy, which positions itself as the most comprehensive approach to psychotherapy yet offered. Grounded in the work of theoretical psychologist and philosopher Ken Wilber, it organizes the key insights and interventions of pharmacological, psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, humanistic, existential, feminist, multicultural, somatic, and transpersonal approaches to psychotherapy. The Integral approach does not attempt to unify these diverse approaches, but rather takes a metatheoretical perspective, giving general guidelines for which is most appropriate in a wide range of clinical situations. It also strongly emphasizes the therapist's own personal development, under the premise that the depth and complexity of the human psyche must be understood first within the self if it is to be understood fully in others. This essential text is for therapists and others drawn to holistic approaches to psychotherapy, and serves as a theoretical ground and precise guide for those interested in taking an Integral approach to therapeutic practice.
Book
Cover Blurb: Researching Lived Experience introduces an approach to qualitative research methodology in education and related fields that is distinct from traditional approaches derived from the behavioral or natural sciences—an approach rooted in the “everyday lived experience” of human beings in educational situations. Rather than relying on abstract generalizations and theories, van Manen offers an alternative that taps the unique nature of each human situation. The book offers detailed methodological explications and practical examples of hermeneutic-phenomenological inquiry. It shows how to orient oneself to human experience in education and how to construct a textual question which evokes a fundamental sense of wonder, and it provides a broad and systematic set of approaches for gaining experiential material that forms the basis for textual reflections. Van Manen also discusses the part played by language in educational research, and the importance of pursuing human science research critically as a semiotic writing practice. He focuses on the methodological function of anecdotal narrative in human science research, and offers methods for structuring the research text in relation to the particular kinds of questions being studied. Finally, van Manen argues that the choice of research method is itself a pedagogic commitment and that it shows how one stands in life as an educator.
Article
Research on spirituality and forgiveness has begun to examine the types of dynamic, spiritual experiences that can promote forgiveness. Specifically, we explore how victims may see an offender's humility in relationship with the Sacred, and how this appraisal affects forgiveness. We also describe the development of the Spiritual Humility Scale (SHS). In Study 1 (N = 300; F = 166, M = 134), the SHS had a single-factor structure using exploratory factor analysis. In Study 2 (N = 150), the factor structure replicated and evidence supporting construct validity was adduced. Specifically, the SHS was moderately correlated with other spiritual appraisals and with judgments of general humility. It was correlated with forgiveness, even after controlling for other spiritual appraisals. This relationship was moderated by religious commitment, such that appraising spiritual humility affected forgiveness for those high, but not low, in religious commitment.
Article
At a time when attention to spirituality within the counseling profession is unparalleled, 1 potential problem is that clients who engage in spiritual bypass will be supported in this dysfunctional pattern by their counselor. The purpose of this article is to define and describe spiritual bypass and to discuss the use of the developmental counseling and therapy model to assess and intervene with a client who is in spiritual bypass.