Relational Spirituality Model

The Relational Spirituality Model is a framework we have been developing and empirically-testing in the Research Center at the Danielsen Institute to foreground the role of relational dynamics in spiritual development, clinical practice, and clinical training.  Given our preference for relational models of psychotherapy at Danielsen, we have found it helpful to study spirituality through a relational lens. We start by defining spirituality as “ways of relating to the sacred” (Worthington & Sandage, 2016, p. 38). This approach opens up conceptual space to consider a myriad of ways individuals relate to whatever they consider sacred, which can include trust, avoidance, mindfulness, bargaining, intimacy, complaint, and many others. Relational spirituality also involves dynamics of alterity or developmental forms of relating to perceived otherness, and we are seeking to understand patterns of association between relational spirituality and responses to diversity.

In conceptualizing these differing types of relational spirituality, we are drawing on research in interpersonal neurobiology that shows spiritual experiences often engage limbic-based brain processes of “perceived relatedness.” Attachment theory, differentiation-based family systems theory, and psychodynamic models also help us understand how interpersonal experiences across development can shape relational templates – or “internal working models” – about the sacred. In reciprocal fashion, spiritual experiences – experiences that can range from terrifying to transformative – can impact how individuals approach their close relationships, for better or for worse.


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