Benedictine echoes. Adopting lectio divina practice as self-supervision for psychotherapists

What if you approached your life as a sacred text? What if you defined every moment as ‘scripture’, a divine revelation with the capacity to point you in the direction of oneness, love, and fulfilment? Now that would be a radical way of living. I suggest that the practice of psychotherapy (especially transpersonal psychotherapy) can be exactly this. In this post I am going to suggest a form of self supervision which could support this.

The Benedictine practice of Lectio Divina provides a simple methodology for radical self supervision.  This is a method I have been using in private self-supervision for many years, and has proved to be a loving way to bring the eye of contemplation into my psychotherapeutic work.IMG_2923

Lectio Divina is a way of engaging with scripture, which is designed to allow the text to reach the reader in a profound and rich way, which extends beyond rational awareness. Through applying a sequence of modalities the reader encounters the material at progressively deeper levels. The practice is undertaken prayerfully, and with the utmost respect, humility, and curiosity.

It is my experience that this same procedure can be applied to reflection in self supervision of psychotherapy practice. The ‘text’ in question becomes the therapy session (or a part of it) which is being recalled – the aspect of the client’s life which they are sharing with you becomes the sacred text, the window on to truth, gateway in to love. I know this can seem a surprising way of looking at life – we like to think of scripture as set apart and holy and as ordinary life as somehow dirty and set aside and profane. I challenge that. It depends on how you allow it to reach you.  I am content to make the leap, and I suggest that you give it a whirl – what could be more holy as a text than the unfolding process of a person, when it is met with curiosity, humility and love?

‘We will show them Our signs on the horizons and in themselves, until they know the truth.’ (The Quran)

The Lectio Divina method has been well described in several places, and my notes here draw on Cynthia Borgeault’s book on centring prayer.

The method has four stages (Bourgeault, 2004) and possibly a fifth stage.

 

Lectio or reading (or listening to something being read). In an attitude of openess one reads a very short passage (if of the Bible only a few verses would be read), and allows oneself to notice that to which one is drawn in the passage. Be open to allowing that certain words or phrases will contain a certain kind of attunement or vibrancy, that this may be alive in the moment for you. So in self supervision this stage would involve recalling a moment or series of moments from the therapy, opening to this encounter with the client.

Meditatio is the next stage of the practice, during which you bring all your faculties to exploring the piece you have read, getting inside it. Consider your associations with it, your intuitions, imagine what it is like to be the person or people in the story, or to experience the events or feelings described. Become intimate with the piece. In self supervision this stage involves bringing your roaming and curious mind to the exploration, allowing yourself to think, to make links, and then open to creative imagination and allow imagery through, letting this gently unfold itself in to your awareness. What else can you know about this client from this moment or series of moments which you are reflecting on?

Oratio, or prayer is the next stage in the traditional practice and this means to allow your own deepest feelings to be touched and affected by the piece, not through your mind but through your heart. It is a ‘dropping down’ in to the material, letting go the analytical faculties and the discursive thoughts and an allowing of a deeper response to emerge. You then stay with that deeper response, allowing it to infuse you, and surrendering to any change that may be invoked in you. In self supervision this ‘dropping down’ is to the deep stage of the feelings below the feelings, and allowing an opening in to what is not yet known. It is hard to describe this stage beyond urging you to allow yourself to not know, and see what arises.

Contemplatio or contemplation is the final classical stage of the practice, often called ‘resting in God’. This is where all mental and emotional ‘work’ is suspended, there is nowhere to go and nothing to do. The practitioner has found the still place at the centre, the womb, the peace that passes understanding. The scripture is reborn in the heart, from the heart and becomes living in a new way. But it is reborn from stillness. So in self supervision we allow a period of meditation, a letting be, in faith that there will be a rebirth of awareness. This is the eye of the heart.

Actio or action – moving back gracefully in to action in the world, so that the practice may cycle through stages of rest and movement. In self supervision we review the material at this stage to see what is needed next in the therapy, what has arisen out of the work.

I commend this method to you for your private supervision work with your clients and I would be very interested to know how you get on with it.

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