Case Study: A Spiritual Identity Crisis

In the darkest depths of my own lost identity I once said, “Hope knows the sun has risen even when the clouds cover every ray of light”. I wonder why it is that as humans we question pain and suffering so intently, yet we continue on? Where does our endurance come from? Why are we enfolded in both weakness and in hope (Vanier, 1998, p. 163)? How is it that some of us seem to grow in times of trouble, and others of us seemingly fall apart and crumble? How is it that in crisis there is both danger and opportunity (Dass- Brailsford, 2007, p. 94) that can break humanity, yet paradoxically make it at the same time?

In a sense these questions are not new questions, humanity has been asking since the dawn of time, perpetuated with curiosity, laying in want for answers that may never come (Conn, 2008, p. 39). Nonetheless, the mystery of human pain and suffering, dialectic to human wholeness, is a complex paradigm unique to each individual. Moreover, in light of a counsellor’s perspective, in order to help someone come to understand their unique wholeness, I must first understand my own. This comes in consideration of philosophical, psychological, sociological, and theological perspectives of human nature and how these notions pervade my modes of thinking and helping (Sabates, 2012, p. 54).

As such, I have conceptualised one of my most significantly afflicting life crises (see Appendix B – Chasing a Miracle Prologue). The crisis, in hindsight, opened the door to unfathomable wisdom that paved the way towards the pursuit of truth, my own human wholeness, and ultimately the modes of thinking that will influence my practice.

To develop this understanding of humanity in a holistic, integrated, and Christ- centred, Bible-based manner (from here on in known as a Christ-centred, Bible-based Worldview – CCBBW), I have intellectualised the abovementioned crisis (see Appendix One – Case Study). In doing so I am able to offer a notion of human wholeness, identification of the areas of humanness effected by the crisis, as well as argumentation toward an ultimate need for strategies that encapsulate sense making and integration in order to reestablish a sense of wholeness after crisis (Dass-Brailsford, 2007, p. 94).

Human Wholeness: A Model Based in a Christ-Centred, Bible-Based Worldview

A fundamental presupposition to human wholeness is that of knowing one’s identity in which the overarching premise is relationship. That is to say, though identity is unique to each individual, and guides wholeness, identity cannot be formed in isolation (Bridger & Atkinson, 2007, p. 119). As humans, we need relationship to build identity and identity to build relationship in order to make sense of life events (Siegel, 2010, pp. xi-xxvii; Briere & Scott, 2015, p. 31).

As such, I propose a model of wholeness (see Appendix D – Human Wholeness) that views all parts as interdependent working in unison with each other (Weber, 2000, p. 35). It cannot be negated that identity is a combination of psychological function, social milieu, as well as philosophical and theological context each unable to be divorced from each other (Bridger & Atkinson, 2007, p. 22). It further cannot be negated that, when integrated and whole, each element holds implicit and explicit common goals in which one is able to function effectively in recognition of their own “finite knowledge” and the “essential mystery” that life itself holds (Bridger & Atkinson, 2007, pp. 42, 44, 53, 55, 56).

With this in mind, and in order to produce a coherent picture of reality (Bridger & Atkinson, 2007, p. 62), in its essence – sense making, one can begin to explore those elements that are implicit. This then allows one to construct a notion of self and other human nature, how it permeates thinking, the way in which one observes and interacts with others, and the conclusions drawn from these modes of thinking (Bridger & Atkinson, 2007, p. 62; Sabates, 2012, pp. 54 & 56; Wright, 2010, p. 25).

More personally, within this pursuit of truth and wisdom, grounded in a CCBBW (Sabates, 2012, p. 57), I am able to surmise that to be “whole” is to be intrinsically created, made in the Triune Image of God (one in three, three in one) as body, soul, and spirit (Gushee, 2005; Marshall, 2011; Genesis 1:27). I have come to humbly understand that throughout life one is faced with “big questions” or challenges that encapsulates both rational thinking and intuit or heart thinking. These often-paradoxical challenges are led by that which is the balance of body, soul, and spirit: mental characteristics, attitudes, morals, and actions; alternatively known as mind, will, and emotions in balance with the physical being (Marshall, 2011; Siegel, 2010, pp. 153-182; Saucy, 1993, pp. 18 & 40; Wright, 2010, p. 27; James 1:2-4, NIV; Romans 5:3-5, NIV). Furthermore, in life, when one encounters these “big questions” or challenges they are often driven by an inherent need for purpose and value. Moreover, it cannot be overlooked that the decisions made are relationally, socially, and/or culturally influenced as well as based in one’s own view of ultimate reality (Sire, 2009, p.v22). This then, brings the notion of “wholeness” to a secure and coherent triune identity encapsulated in Him, surrounded and in tune with the Holy Spirit, based in relationship and community (see Appendix D – Human Wholeness).

Identification of the Areas of Humanness Effected by Crisis

In abstracting a notion of human wholeness, it is easy to ascertain how, when challenges or adversity is faced, one’s diverse dimensions are so easily thrown into disarray, particularly when there is a lack of relational and community compassion and support.

Such is evident in the case of Sophia (see Appendix A – Case Study) where it is clear that Sophia is facing a challenge that, although begun as a socially constructed and expected building block in life (Stronger, 2005, p. 25), quickly penetrates into the dimensions of physicality, spirituality, sexuality, morality, cognition, emotion, purpose, vision, creativity, and relationship (see Appendix C – Case Study Notes). This event then, can be conceptualised as extreme stress caused by a lack of compassionate connection resulting in a spiritual and identity crisis; a disequilibrium caused by an inability to make sense of events and integrate implicit and explicit knowledge, mystery, and goals (Edwards, 1993, p.185; Dass-Brailsford, 2007, p.94).

The inability to make sense caused Sophia a level of tension and frustration (Edwards, 1993, p. 185) that, due to a lack of compassionate connection and understanding, led to the perception of a physical and moral integrity threat (Rothschild, 2011, p. 19; Edwards, 1993, p. 191). There is an extraordinary demand placed on Sophia’s diverse dimensions where unexamined ineffective “out-of-awareness” memory structures and unexamined social and cultural input activated a physical, emotional survival mode response (Frame, 2003, p. 47; Rothschild, 2011, p. 19; Edwards, 1993, p. 191). This response then resulted in the disequilibrium that led to Sophia’s crisis (Edwards, 1993, p. 194).

In the confines of practice, one can unambiguously see the disequilibrium in the form of discontinuity in Sophia’s identity in a multitude of manners. Most pertinently is the displacement of anger toward God, as well as high levels of self-blame, jealousy, intolerability of uncertainty, and restrained freedom causing fear and depredation (Sanderson, 2009, p. 386; Bridger & Atkinson, 2007, pp. 192 – 206; Kushner, 1981). Furthermore, Sophia’s anguish, disconnection, continued questioning and confusion indicate well-established patterns of dysfunctional thinking, feeling, and thus behaving (Edwards, 1993, pp. 176-177; Conn, 2008, p. 39). Equally as important in practice is the acknowledgment that Sophia has a lack of self-knowledge and awareness that allows her to recognise her own humanness. Further, this lack inhibits her in producing coping mechanisms that draw wisdom and purpose from the crisis, and allow her to return to wholeness (Warren, 2002, pp. 17-20; Lewis & Roberts, 2001, p. 19; Kushner, 1981, p. 168; Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 5:10; James 1:2-4; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Jer 29:13-14).

Approaches that Assist a Client in Returning to Wholeness

“When pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all” CS Lewis

As briefly mentioned above, a crisis is often seen as the paradox of opportunity in danger (Dass-Brailsford, 2007, p.94) or the paradox of good in evil (Kushner, 1981, p.67). Yet the question still remains, particularly when conceptualising events full of anguish, pain and suffering, such as that of Sophias’s: How does one make sense of this? Or, with a base knowledge in what it means to be whole, how does the counsellor in practice assist in bringing the client towards sense making and integration?

First and foremost in moving toward wholeness, one must consider the statement that identity cannot be formed in isolation (Bridger & Atkinson, 2007, p. 119). Within a CCBBW people are God’s language. Therefore in crisis it is imperative that an environment of safety, underpinned by trust and hope is created (Kushner, 1981, p. xii; Bridger & Atkinson, 2007, p. 211; Siegel, 2010, p. 75). For although there are a multitude of empirically based therapies that could assist Sophia through her crisis (See Appendix E – useful therapy models in spiritual and identity crisis) without compassion, kindness, and reassurance in her value, courage, and ability to have self-assurance, Sophia will be unable to move past the fears that have left her in crisis (Kushner, 1981, p. 78).

Furthermore, in a holistic manner it must be noted that verbal language simply allows the rational and non-rational thoughts to be expressed, while therapeutic relationship – God’s language of love – is the heart to emotional expression (Edwards, 1993, p. 197). That is to say, though language is vital in changing that which is explicit and within conscious reach, in order to change emotional beliefs and that which implicitly directs identity, Sophia must come to a place of safe respectful relationship in which her emotional responses to deep pain are held in value and appreciation (Edwards, 1993, pp. 196-197; Seigel, 2010, pp. 54-55; Briere & Scott, 2015, pp. 99-100). Within this, it is the responsibility of the counsellor to ensure that they themselves are of clear mind in order to offer a stable space (Siegel, 2010, p. 259). This is where resonance is used effectively and sustained patience and compassion keeps the therapeutic relationship balanced, unhindered, and safe (Siegel, 2010, pp. 54-73; Briere & Scott, 2015, pp. 100 & 105).

As a result of building relationship, Sophia’s sense of isolation is decreased and she will be able to fathom that there is a place where faith is the assurance of all things hoped for (Heb 11:1, NIV; Bridger & Atkinson, 2007, pp. 246 & 272), and that there is a place where purpose and meaning reside (Bridger & Atkinson, 2007, p. 246; Warren, 2004; Psalm 138:8, NIV; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV; Revelation 4:11, NIV). This then, ultimately gives Sophia the courage she needs to confront the elements of her diverse dimensions that have been thrown into disarray (Briere & Scott, 2015, p. 100).

With the courage to confront the elements of her being that have been hidden, Sophia may begin to find the paradoxes of good in evil, opportunity in danger (Kushner, 1981, p.67, Dass-Brailsford, 2007, p.94) and to develop coping mechanisms based in sense making and integration (Briere & Scott, 2015, pp. 100, 101 & 106; Siegel, 2010, p. 25). Once again, in light of a CCBBW, this sense making begins with Sophia’s identity in Christ and recognising the freedom of choice and will within this (Kushner, 1981, p. 92). This involves Sophia’s ability to choose to make existing perceptions explicit and to develop her faith and ultimate views of reality that seeks answers to questions of “values, beliefs, mission, awareness, subjectivity, experience, sense of purpose and direction, and of striving towards something greater than oneself” (Frame, 2003, p. 3). With this in mind, the counsellors role would entail further exploration of Sophia’s worldviews as based in her childhood, adolescent, and present day social and cultural milieu’s (Washburn, 1998, p. 92). This facilitating a space for a level of mindfulness that opens the door to the “out-of- awareness” memory structures that are driving her dysfunctional thinking, feeling, and thus behaving (Frame, 2003, p. 5; Siegel, 2010, pp. 76-79).

Furthermore, it cannot be dismissed that an essential element in Sophia’s sense making and integration process is the resolve of the displacement of anger toward God, self-blame, jealousy, intolerability of uncertainty, and restrained freedom causing fear and depredation (Dass-Brailsford, 2007, p.100; Sanderson, 2009, p. 386; Bridger & Atkinson, 2007, pp. 192 – 206; Kushner, 1981). Through processes of introspection, visualization, meditation, and psychoeducation resolve can be made in continued mindfulness of the false beliefs driving Sophia’s dysfunction (Briere & Scott, 2015, pp. 125-128; Siegel, 2010, pp. 90-91; Edwards, 1993, p. 187). These processes address the diverse dimensions of Sophia’s identity in Christ and acknowledgement of spiritual transformation through the power of new knowledge of faith, hope, and love based in the consistency of Christ (Edwards, 1993, p. 186).

Additionally, though the aforementioned processes begin the journey toward wholeness, there are aspects to identity that are driven by an inherent need for purpose. As such, the consistency founded in a CCBBW gives meaning and vision (Warren, 2004, pp. 17-21) and allows one to replace questions of angst based in “why” with questions of hope based in acceptance, courage, significance, and ultimately loving relationship (Kushner, 1981, pp. xv, 47, 57 & 59; Ciocchi, 1993, p. 231; Romans 8:28-29). Furthermore, in the process of sense making, integration begins to physically change aspects of the brain and body – once again moving Sophia out of disequilibrium and towards wholeness (Edwards, 1993, p. 177; Siegel, 2010, p. 100).

Finally, though it is not contextualised explicitly the counsellor’s implicit view of pain and suffering in light of the holistic being is vital within the therapeutic relationship. With a view of pain and suffering in light of hope, meaning, and purpose, the counsellor is able to hold deeper levels of distress and disequilibrium (Sabates, 2012, p. 58). This then, demonstrates the initial proposition: we need relationship to build identity and identity to build relationship in order to make sense of life events.


What if the simplest answer was the answer? That there was no answer, there is only awareness? The paradox of good in evil and of opportunity in danger can perhaps only be understood when we understand ourselves in light of a holistic approach to what we believe and why. Though there is and always will be chaos in the world, the way that we, as uniquely created in the image of God, come to make sense of the events in our lives is ultimately the key to the integration we need in order to build and sustain a solid identity and stable relationships.

When Sophia’s social and cultural expectations of reproduction were unable to be met, the stress caused by a lack of understanding and support, coping mechanisms, and secure values led Sophia to question her purpose and her beliefs in a good God, demonstrating how within a crisis, when support is not offered, a person can be thrown into disarray where nothing makes sense. Without the ability to make sense, all elements of Sophia’s diverse dimensions of physicality, spirituality, sexuality, morality, cognition, emotion, purpose, vision, creativity, and relationship were out of unison, leaving her in a spiritual and identity crisis.

As a counsellor, when I come to understand wholeness in the image of God, the relationships I reside in, the mechanisms I use to answers to my own “big life questions”, and the inner workings of my body, soul, and spirit, I am able to help others come into their own unique wholeness. Though I may not have, nor should I explicitly answer someone else’s unique questions of pain and suffering, I can, within my own understanding offer faith, hope, and love… The greatest of these, love.


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Pasadena, CA: Fuller Seminary Press.
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treatment. DSM-5 Update (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, LA: Sage.
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Dass-Brailsford, P. (2007). A practical approach to trauma: Empowering interventions. London, United Kingdom: Sage Publications.

Edwards, K. J. (1993). The nature of human mental life. In J. P. Moreland & D. M. Ciocchi (Eds.), Christian perspectives on being human: A multidisciplinary approach to integration (pp. 175-206). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Frame, M. W. (2003). Integrating religion and spirituality into counseling: A comprehensive approach. Pacific Grove, CA: Thomson/Brooks-Cole.

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Lewis, S., & Roberts, A. R. (2001). Crisis Assessment Tools: The Good, the Bad, and the Available. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 1(1), 17-28. doi:10.1093/brief- treatment/1.1.17

Marshall, T. (2001). Living in the Freedom of the Spirit. Kent, United Kingdom: Sovereign World.

Rothschild, B. (2011). Trauma essentials: The go-to guide. New York, NY: W.W. Norton. Sabates, A. M. (2012). Social Psychology in Christian Perspective: Exploring the Human Condition.

Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Sanderson, C. A. (2009). Social psychology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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Sire, J. W. (2009). The universe next door: A basic worldview catalog. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Vanier, J. (1998). Becoming human. New York, NY: Paulist Press.
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Appendix A – Case Study

Sophia G presents as a 27-year-old Caucasian female who has been married for two years, within the relationship for ten. The client’s husband is 28, Caucasian and works full time as a sales representative. The client is employed full time as a marketing coordinator for a real estate agency; she has been with this company for a year.

Sophia has come to counselling because she is experiencing overwhelming and intense emotions that are impacting her relationship and her job. She quickly associates these emotions with her current IVF treatment and recent missed miscarriage (5 weeks).

Describing both difficulties with sleep patterns and concentration, Sophia has also mentioned feeling a sense of disconnection to herself and other people – predominantly her husband. She further indicates feeling alone and overwhelmingly confused about her faith.

Sophia talks about not being able to move past the questions she has and the confusion that “all these questions bring”. She discusses feeling distressed trying to “figure out” what she has done to “deserve not being allowed a baby”.

Within the first few sessions of counselling it was identified that while Sophia was not raised a Christian, nor practiced any Christian based customs as a child, their home had a high moral standard based in authoritarian parenting. Sophia was also sent to a Christian high school where authoritarian teaching was present with an old testament Christian framework.

Sophia further revealed that at age 11 she lost her mother to cancer and since then she felt “she never had a family” and always “wanted to be the family she never had, to believe in someone, to show someone what she had learned in life, and to learn from her mistakes: to grow from her past”.

On many occasions Sophia reiterated the questions “why should I be denied?” “Am I selfish?” “I don’t want to be rich and famous, I don’t want to be better than anyone else, I just want unconditional love” “Why me?”

In recent sessions, questioning of Sophia’s relationships revealed that her husbands family, with who she had been associated with since age 17, have a high priority for larger families, and that status, wealth, and family appearance go hand in hand. Sophia’s mother in law, with who she appears to respect, has identified the issue as Sophia simply “needing to relax” – this has been a high concern for Sophia leading to more questions surrounding her inability to “believe in a miracle”.

Rarely speaking of her husband in regards to the IVF treatment, and on further questioning, Sophia reveals that her husband’s involvement simply revolves around the statement “whatever you want”. She stated that he did not like to talk about it and that his view of faith was simply “something for you, if it gets you through”.

Sophia’s emotions within all the sessions were sporadic. They quickly turned from rational to highly emotional outbursts that she quickly stopped while looking away. In the last session Sophia disclosed that she had “no idea who she was anymore” and that she “didn’t know where to go from here”. She asked why she couldn’t have what she wanted, that it was “unfair” and that she couldn’t stand the “uncertainty” anymore. Specifically “that there were never answers, only questions”.

Appendix B – Chasing a Miracle Prologue

I opened my eyes and stared at the same speck of dirt on the yellow beige wall for five long minutes, just as I had done yesterday, and the day before and the day before and just as I would do for so many days more. What was I going to do? I said that I couldn’t do this anymore, I said that this was too much like a nightmare that I just wanted to wake from, I said that I was sick of being scared.

Why me? Was I being punished for something I wasn’t meant to go into? What have I done to deserve this? As I stared at the wall I realised that I was sick of being scared and I was sick of worrying, I was sick of thinking what I had done was wrong, sick of watching every dime, wondering where we would find the money for the next round knowing it would surely fail, and I was so sick of my biggest concern in life being whether we should put one or two embryos back in. I just felt sick.

Why couldn’t I fall pregnant naturally? My mind wondered and wondered and wondered, not for the medical diagnosis, I knew I had polycystic ovaries, but as I sat there and stared at that wall each and every morning wondering why God was punishing me, why my faith wasn’t strong enough to believe in an unassisted miracle? Wondering why I was so torn about deciding whether to continue on with IVF or just believe that a miracle could happen to me. Wondering why I still hadn’t cleaned that little back spot off my yellow beige walls.

Why was I so torn? Why did logic always win? Why did this internal debate make me sick? I didn’t even know if I wanted the answers. Or maybe living on the fence is what I wanted? I was scared; I was worried that no matter how hard I tried, how hard I prayed, no matter how much I hoped against hope, that God just didn’t want me to have a baby. Was I wasting our money? Was I wasting our time? And if I did fall again, will it be taken once more from me? And why could I not be satisfied with what I had? Why could I just not have faith that miracles happen? Was I denied a child because there are bigger things for me? And what about my husband? Didn’t he deserve to make a baby with the one he loves? I felt like I never had a family, like I wanted to be the family I never had. I wanted to believe in someone, give them strength, show them what I have learned in life, show them an unconditional love, I wanted someone to learn from my mistakes, grow from my past. I wanted to feel what it is like to have a life grow inside of me – teach them, nurture them, and hold them when they cry. And why should I be denied that? Was I just being selfish? I never wanted to be rich, I never wanted to be famous, and I never wanted to be better than anyone else. I just wanted to have a child, someone to share my love I share with my husband.

What is it about faith that makes things so confusing? Shouldn’t it be clear? And what if it is clear and I was not accepting it? What then? If it all ended right at that point, what would I do, I didn’t know who I was and I didn’t know where I was to go from there. There were no answers; there were always only questions. I couldn’t stand that I felt so torn, I couldn’t stand that I couldn’t have what I wanted, I couldn’t stand that it felt so unfair. I was so angry and I was so hurt, and I was still sitting there looking for answers in a little black spot on my yellow beige walls.

Appendix C – Case Study Notes

Case study notes- download here

Appendix D – Human Wholeness

A model of Humanness

Appendix E – Empirically Based Therapy Resources

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

“Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a cognitive behavioral treatment that was originally developed to treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and it is now recognized as the gold standard psychological treatment for this population. In addition, research has shown that it is effective in treating a wide range of other disorders such as substance dependence, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eating disorders.” (Behavioral Tech, 2016)

Interpersonal Neurobiology

Integration: At the Core of Our Well-Being

“Integration is at the heart of both interpersonal neurobiology and Dr. Siegel’s mindsight approach. Defined as the linkage of differentiated components of a system, integration is viewed as the core mechanism in the cultivation of well-being. In an individual’s mind, integration involves the linkage of separate aspects of mental processes to each other, such as thought with feeling, bodily sensation with logic. In a relationship, integration entails each person’s being respected for his or her autonomy and differentiated self while at the same time being linked to others in empathic communication.” (Siegel, 2010)




Polyvagal Theory

According to the Polyvagal Theory (including the concept of neuroception), our range of social behavior is limited by our human physiology, which has evolved from that of more primitive vertebrates. When we are frightened, we are dependent upon the neural circuits that evolved to provide adaptive defensive behaviors for more primitive vertebrates. These neural circuits provide physiological mechanisms that reflexively organize mobilization or immobilization behaviors before we are consciously aware of what is happening. When, on the other hand, neuroception tells us that an environment is safe and that the people in this environment are trustworthy, our mechanisms of defense are disenabled. We can then behave in ways that encourage social engagement and positive attachment. Focusing on biologically based behaviors common to all humans allows practitioners to imagine new intervention paradigms to help children whose social behavior and attachment are compromised. We can alter the caregiving environment so that it will appear—and be— safer for children and less likely to evoke mobilization or immobilization responses. We can also intervene directly with children, exercising the neural regulation of brain stem structures, stimulating the neural regulation of the social engagement system, and encouraging positive social behavior.

Integration in the practice of Christian counsellors – behaviour, beliefs and being

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