Having caught the ‘travel bug” early in life, I’ve made it a priority to explore the world by any means necessary. Typically that has translated into sleeping on many cold floors, going without water (and showers!) and growing a mutual respect for exotic bugs. In fact, after experiencing resort life and the glory of all-inclusive piña coladas, I’ve realized that I prefer the type of travel that forces me to step outside of my comfort zone.
For my dissertation I was given the unique opportunity to examine the intimate dynamic between spirituality and psychological healing. In June 2009, I packed my bags and traveled as a research assistant to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. Our small research team set out to examine the healing effects of Candomblé, a West African derived religion, for Afro-Brazilian trauma survivors. We were specifically interested in how Afro-Brazilians who practice Candomblé construct meaning of their traumatic experiences and overall healing practice. As a child of a Jamaican immigrant, the expression of non-Western healing experiences was quite familiar to me.
Upon arrival, I immediately felt that this international excursion would be drastically different than my previous adventures. Immediately, I fell into the rhythm of my beautiful surroundings. The constant drumming and celebratory spirit was contagious and I could not help but cling to it. I embraced the unknowns and all along, the process of therapy mirrored my journey: Observe, initiate new behaviors, link the unknown to the familiar and attend to intuition.
One particular moment that resonated deeply within me was during one of my qualitative interviews. When I arrived at a popular Candomblé terriero in Bahia, I immediately felt that this house was different than the other houses we visited. Previously, I was able to maintain a distance from myself and the subject matter. Throughout this interview I became increasingly aware of my internal reaction while listening to the Mão de Santo openly share about her faith in a tangible manner. Although my personal belief system is not Candomblé, I was captivated by her conviction as she elaborated on the healing effects of her faith.
It occurred to me that, for many, there is a fine line that separates psychological and spiritual healing. In Bahia these two healing constructs are viewed as one in the same. In fact, the majority of my clients in America conceptualize healing as a balance between mind, body and spirit. Therefore, my awareness of diverse healing belief systems not only assisted me during my time in Brazil but it continues to inform my clinical practice. I went to Bahia to discover the strength of spirituality, and found within myself the ability to connect with the human psyche.
My time in Salvador taught me that I am not simply an observer of clinical change but I am a participator, as well. I was invited into a cultural and spiritual belief system that has a reality all of its own. A reality that differs from my own but, nonetheless, I learned about the common human thread that binds us all together—spirit. Not only did my spirit feel alive in that place but I also felt my perspectives of reality exposed, stretched and examined. A type of psychology that is able to challenge the status quo that we unconsciously yield to and create a transformation within me from the inside out is what continues to drive my work in the international psychology field.
Thanks for reading,