By BRENDAN COLLINS, core faculty in the East-West Psychology and Integral Counseling Psychology departments. Collins is also the co-director of the Chaudhuri Center for Contemplative Practice, Interreligious Dialogue, and Social Justice at CIIS.
Today a doctoral student in our East-West Psychology program, Dave Odorisio, sent me a link to an article in the New York Times on Columbia University's new concentration in spiritual psychology, the first time an Ivy League university has offered a master's degree integrating psychology and spirituality.
CIIS was mentioned as already teaching from a "similar perspective" (the reference to the Institute of Transpersonal Studies was actually an error—the reference should have been to ITP, now known as Sofia University); but CIIS has pioneered in the integration of psychology and spirituality for over 40 years; no university has been doing it longer or more comprehensively.
I appreciated the distinction made by Julie Exline, president of the APA's Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, who pointed out that Columbia's (and CIIS') approach to psychology and spirituality is very different from that offered by faith-based schools, and it is rare in academia.
The most wide-ranging approach to the integration of psychology and spirituality at CIIS is actually in the School of Consciousness and Transformation, particularly in East-West Psychology, because there are limits to how much spirituality can be formally incorporated into the curriculum of license-eligible clinical degrees. In our clinical programs the spiritual component is typically, and notably, embodied in the teachers (and students). Still, I believe it is possible to make spirituality even more explicit in our clinical training programs (as we are doing in the Mindfulness and Compassion in Psychotherapy certificate offered through CIIS Public Programs & Performances).
Columbia is a great research institution, and I was struck by the fact that they are developing a Spirituality & Mind/Body Institute along with their new concentration in spiritual psychology. That Institute recently received $2.5 million to study depression and other disorders in late adolescence from an integrated spiritual/psychological perspective. CIIS began the first Transpersonal/East-West Psychology clinical training program in the world (the Intergal Counseling Psychology program), but we can hardly afford to rest on our laurels. What Columbia's initiative suggests to me is that we should be developing more explicit spiritually based clinical interventions, and obtain more research funding in psychology and spirituality both in the School of Consciousness and Transformation as well as in the School of Professional Psychology and Health.