Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness

Melanie Purdy and Peggy Dupey
The Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness is a conceptualization of spirituai health and well-being thot has implications for clinical practice and research. The model is unique in its placement of the spirit at the center of life and in its fluid vision of the spirit. The authors present the modei after a discussion of spirituolity and the detinitions of "flow" and a brief review of existing wellness models. The model's components are belief in a universal force, making meaning of life, making meaning of death, connectedness, faith, and movement toward compossion. Included in the article are descriptions of spirit, the components of spirifualify. and a sample applicafion of the model.


he curiosity of human nature dictates that individuals wonder about that which they do not know. Interest in one's personal spirit is not a new phenomenon. For centuries, spirituality has been pondered. Ancient theologians, mystics, oracles, shamans, and witch doctors first discussed the concept, and since then, many leaders of organized religion and philosophers have claimed to know the nature of the spirit. Only in the last 20 years has spirituality become equally important in the world of counseliiig, psychology, and medicine (Ingersoll, 1994; Lawrence, 2002; Richards & Bergin, 1997). The question becomes. What is the role of spirit in our work as helping professionals? The meaning of spirit and an individual's approach to and development of spirit is highly personal and varied. Religion, literature, philosophy, psychology, counseling, and science all have perspectives on the nature and purpose of spirituality. The belief that one's personal spirit can be nurtured and developed without conventional religion is gaining acceptance among many counselors and other helping professionals. Those in helping professions try to assist as people attempt to bring happiness into their lives each day. Individuals acquire possessions, begin new relationships, and engage in new activities to try to fill the void that inevitably touches each life at some point, but rarely do people look to spiritual awareness as a means to happiness and health (Hamilton & Jackson, 1998). The Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness that we present in this article provides a means through which helping professionals can explore spiritual health in both clinical practice and research. We explain how the model enhances holistic wellness by purposefully developing components of an individual's spirit. We describe the components of spirit and how they affect life tasks. When approached with creativity and openness, spirituality and the concept of one's spirit can increase the effectiveness of counseling.
Melanie Purdy, Office for Prospective Students, University of Nevada, Reno; Peggy Dupey, University of Nevada School of Medicine. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Peggy Dupey, University of Nevada Schoal of Medicine, Penniuglon Medical Education Ritildiiig/MS 357, Reno, NV 89557 (e-mail: pdupey@med.unr.edu).

Counseling and Values • January 2005 • Voiume 49


&: Kolander. & Witmer. nutrition. As Young. It includes feeling accepted and belonging with larger social groups. it is nurturing what is best" (Seligman & Csikszentmihaly. p. 2000. and rest. Many existing models of holistic wellness include spirituality as a component. social. • Emotional health is the ability to identify. Eberst. In their article introducing the concept of positive psychology. analyze. Myers et al. 2000. • Social health is the ability to create and maintain loving. cardiorespiratory wellness. 1984. Eberst's (1984) Health Cube Model includes the areas listed above. endurance. • Spiritual health has varied meanings in the models but typically includes the concept of spirit as the life-giving force. and flexibility. Hettler. Maples. 1992. • Intellectual health is the ability to reason. Purdy & Dupey. and express emotions in an appropriate way and includes the ability to cope with distressful situations and to adjust to change. 65). and occupational realms (Eberst. Several models identify spirit as the central energy source that allows an individual to engage in the activities that are associated with the other components of Ufe (Chandler.Models of Wellness Before exploring the various components of the Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness. In fact. cominon definitions for these life tasks include the following. The life task components of most wellness models include the physical. Holistic approaches to wellness maintain that "treatment is not just fixing what is broken. • Occupational or career health includes doing work that is n:\earungful and fulfilling. Concepts of wellness and health now permeate the literature in psychology and counseling. intellectual. and Woolington (1998) have described spirituality. however. In addition. 1996. Sweeney. 2000. Holden. be creative. genuine relationships. 1996. Hawks. Cashwell. 1984. 2003). 2000. there are no models that identify spiritual wellness as the primary focus that influences all aspects of an individual's life.. the components in this model are separate but considered to be intimately related 96 Counseling and Values • January 2005 "Volume 49 . 10). 1991). emotional. 1984. it is important to review traditional models of wellness that focus on life tasks. 1994. Sweeney & Witmer. wellness has become a desirable point at which to begin psychological assessment. Selign:\an and Csikszcntmihaly (2000) suggested that the social and behavioral sciences can "articulate a vision of the good life" and can "show what actions lead to well-being" (p. The goal is a strong body that includes muscular strength. Despite son:\e variation. manage. • Physical health includes exercise. it is the "core reciprocal component of the overall wellness of the individual rather than as a stand-alone or isolated dimension" (p. Maples. 9). spiritual. and make rational decisions. Myers.

beauty. and stated that" it is possible to suggest that the spiritual aspect of health is much more than just one of the six dimensions" (p. The Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness (Purdy & Dupey 2000. and occupational health. some possess a rigid and predictable spirit. 253). These second-order factors are coping. thoughtful model that depicts spirit as a circle from which the other components sprout. More recently. and tendency to seek to. However. Chandler et al. 169). In this model.2003) incorporates the following life tasks associated with holistic wellness: companionship. Myers and Sweeney (2003) introduced the Indivisible Self: An Evidence-Based Model of Wellness. mind. an individual's optimum wellness occurs when the five areas are balanced and "developed potential in both the spiritual and personal realm" (p. friendship. Theirs is a strong. and physical (Myers & Sweeney. 171) is met. transcend one's current locus of centricity. body. life's work. The new n:\odel places the Adlerian concept of the Indivisibility of self at the center. The model integrates five life tasks: spirituality. physical. creative. visionary spirit. The Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness defines common components of spirit but suggests avenues through which the spirit can be developed to enrich the quality of life. as in one of the axes of his cube. (1992) asserted that the spirit is "the innate capacity to. The Wheel of Wellness considers wellness a way of life geared to optimal health in which the mind. 1991).and function in a synergistic relationship with one another.. sociai. spirit has been moved from the central position that it occupied in the Wheel of Wellness and now appears as a con:\ponent of the second-order factor called "essential. 2000. with five second-order factors clustered around the center. Some individuals possess a flexible and hopeful spirit. well-developed model is Sweeney and Witmer's (1991) Wheel of Wellness. Spirituality is prominent in this model and is defined as "an awareness of a being or force that transcends the material aspects of life and gives a deep sense of wholeness or connectedness to the universe" (Myers et al. work and leisure. p. which transcendence involves increased knowledge and love" (p. body. emotional. social." All of the models discussed in this article focus primarily on the life tasks of intellectual.. The authors asserted that spiritual wellness is a balance between repression of one's spirituality and total immersion in one's spirituality Maples's (1996) Holistic Adult Development Model places spirit at the center and describes three potential configurations. Counseling and Values • January 2005 •Volume 49 97 . Another prominent. essential. the descriptors have been updated to reflect the increasing diversity and multicultural perceptions of human experience. Eberst began to define spirituality as a deeper dimension on which the other areas "pivot" or converge. 2003). 101). and some possess an unpredictable. In the new model. updated in 2000 by Myers et al. while acknowledging spirituality. none of them address how to grow and develop the spirit to make the life task areas richer. Although the life tasks of this model share similarities with other models of wellness. self-direction. and religion. and love with subtasks that are associated with development of each life task. and spirit are integrated and an individual can live fully (Myers et al. Sweeney & Witmer. emotions. 2000.

g. 98 Counseling and Values • January 2005 • Volume 49 . Both spirit and water are alternatively fluid. fluctuating. To date. and essential elemetits of life. the dynamic nature of the spirit is compatible with Csikszentmihaly's (1999) flow experience (Seligman & Csikszentmihaly. life sustaining. is not separate. The nature of the flow of people's spirit into the various aspects of their world (e. The spirit as the energy source from which individuals act. In the context of this model. When an individual is in a state of balance and higher functioning. but rather emerges into one's consciousness in an almost imperceptible manner" (p. the mind. emotions. the spirit is like water. 262). One of the most compelling aspects of the Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness is the fluidity of the spirit. shallow. is adaptable and embraces change. Perhaps Bergin (1988) was accurate when he stated that the spirit is another cog in the holistic structure of people's being. Csikszentmihaly defined "flow" as "a state of total involvement in an activity that requires complete concentration" (p. feel. and "individual flow" as there are raindrops in a thunderstorm. It is not dammed or overflowing in any area or causing drought in other areas. At times light and moving freely and at others heavy and sluggish. as when one feels frozen in a state of discomfort or fear. none of these approaches address the role of spirit. It is open-ended and ever unfolding (Helminiak. and. 2000). The self may become confused. beauty and religion. deep. Other areas of the human experience have been well researched. and life n:\ay seem chaotic. 821). At other times. Spirituality is innate and ever present. moving freely. fresh. personal energy. however.Counselors and psychologists are attempting to identify effective ways to assess spirit in order to incorporate it better into clinical and research practices. Entire academic disciplines concentrate solely on how thoughts and behaviors influence the human psyche. think. Hamilton and Jackson (1998) likened the spirit to fog "that permeates every element. Some disciplines of psychology state that how iiidividuals think and behave determines how they react emotionally. exist is complex and varied. spirituality. out of controi. the state of an individual's spirit resembles the ice phase of water. whereas other disciplines of psychology maintain that certain emotions occur naturally and are not associated with behavior. The involvement is so intense that it transcends conscious thought—one Hterally becomes lost in the satisfaction of one's activity. Csikszentmihaly proposed that an individual's happiness is dependent on whether he or she is able to derive flow from his or her activities. spirituality is defined as the individual hfe energy of each person. The Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness considers spirituality the flow of energy that allows individuals to be active in all dimensions of life. The properties of the spirit presented in the Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness can be conipared with water. life's work. or depressing. 2001). when in a healthy state. thin. At times. the body. perpetuates the drive for transcendence. the spirit becomes similar to a vapor and lacks strength and may manifest itself in an inability to cotacentrate or focus one's thoughts or in chaotic mo ven^ent from one realm to the next. constant. and companionship) is variable and fluid. There are as many ways to describe spirit. thick.

the ability to make meaning of life. Mack (1994) stressed the experience of an individual having a "momentary loss of self-definition" (p. Spirituality in the context of the Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness is the covering that flexes and contracts as aspects of life become unbalanced. is reflected in the buoyant nature of spirituality in this model. For example. Hedstrom. some clear. if an individual is feeling out of balance with his or her physical wellness. he or she may assess what exercises to do to feel better physically. connectedness. and the ability to make meaning of death (see Figure 1. In the Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness. common themes regarding the essential elements of spirit are clear. Components of Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness In this model. development and growth in spirit allow an individual to enhance existence in all aspects of life. he or she may also choose something that promotes one of the spiritual components. and Crowther (2002) stated that by intimately integrating a reliance on the transcendent. Parker. Flkins. 1998). Many theorists discuss transcendence in the context of spirituality. an individual's life may be flat or dimensionless. and it will not be possible to integrate the elements of spirituality into a new way of life (Benjamin & Looby. Without spiritual awareness and spirituality. spirituality is the central force that determines an individual's health and satisfaction within each dimension. 2000. faith. The multitude of philosophies regarding spirituality is a conceptual cacophony. 1994. Larimore. or change in one's perception of self. It represents a movement toward change that makes growth possible. 178). and that with change. Spiritual health allows one to accept that change is the only constant in lives. Transcendence is a fundamental drive for individuals to move beyond the self and is vital to the process of making meaning and understanding the "ultimate" (Conn. despite apprehension about the uiiknown. spiritual awareness is crucial. p. no new frame of reference will be developed. In his book The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. Hughes. transcendence represents the natural tendency to reflect and improve one's vision of self. Consequently. Counseling and Values • January 2005 •Volume 49 99 . Conn (1994) stated that self-transcendence is a primary element of personal authenticity. 18). such as connectedness (perhaps with others or with nature). Maslow (1971) outlined 35 variations on the meanings of transcendence. authentic way of being. The common themes derived from other theoretical models and described in the Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness (Purdy & Dupey. If an individual does not move outside the old box of thinking. Human transcendence is similar to the caterpillar's push to pass through the chrysalis to become the moth. As the individual assesses this. individuals are able to acknowledge their self-limitations without despair. there are both positive and negative consequences. movement toward compassion. a kaleidoscope. Transcendence is moving out of one's misconception of self into a new.The notion of transcendence. In reviewing the richness of the literature. As individuals attend to growth and development in specific areas of life. Transcendence is the foundation of flow. 2003) include a belief in an organizing force in the universe.

and unobservable force or power are typical of individuals with spiritual health and wellness (Hawks. while intrinsically important. 1994). 1994. 2000. unproven.1998. 2002). an individual may choose to meet with a close friend each week for coffee. Ingersoll. 2001. All components.Model [Transcendenofe • ComanionshipVI FIGURE 1 Components of Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness Leaf. discussion of Ufe issues with a friend enhances connectedness and may contribute to a deeper meaning of life. Stanard. & Painter. Communion or personal relationships with this unknown. Thoresen & Harris. 1998. It is an 100 Counseling and Values • January 2005 • Volume 49 . For example. 2001). Sandhu. he or she has connected with a dynamic essence and is capable of being one with nature (Helminiak. When an individual is able to feel integrated with this energy. Hamilton & Jackson. & Saunders. 1994. Hawks. An Individual who is healthy in spirit tends to integrate activities into his or her daily life that develop and strengthen the components of spirituality. Belief in an Organizing Force in the Universe The belief in an organizing force or power in the universe is essential to the concept of spirituality. 1988. are interrelated and action in one component naturally affects another. Murgatroyd.

1998. 20) Counseling and Values • January 2005 • Volume 49 lOI . pain. for individuals who identify as spiritual. in a work environment where all parties are thinking of like mind in a very productive flow). According to Murgatroyd (2001). which may or may not be defined as God. To have compassion {cofeeliiig) means not only to be able to live with the other's misfortune but also to feel with him any emotion—joy. anxiety. Cormectedness can be the feeling or state of beiiig one with others (e. 1984. is constantly changing. by its nature. Thoresen & Harris. . and a life-sustaining environment" (p. or. "All lives are interdependent because one's life is sustained by relationships with other people. 26). compassionate manner will end up in a situation that is for the best. Other researchers identify faith as hopefulness and describe it as believing that suffering is temporary (Ingersoll. 1994. In the hierarchy of sentiments. as Murgatroyd (2001) said. 700/1994. Faith allows individuals the motivation to act with purpose.individual's image or experience with divinity. And there are no limits to our continuity of development. life. even if the original goal was not met. 1998) also discussed mystery or the ability to deal with ambiguity. 2002). (Kundera. Movement Toward Compassion In languages that derive from Latin. one with nature as when standing on a mountain top with nothing but the trees. means they believe and hope that their worldview is a true depiction of reality (Hawks. or one with a universal force as when one feels transparent and all important and not at all important in the same moment. Ingersoll. It is essential to think outside tiie self. having faith is one way that individuals can make meaning of the unexplainable. that allows transcendence (Ingersoll. animals. and leading to impermanence. Connectedness provides transcendence on a physical and emotional level and increases an individual's appreciation of the reality outside oneself. "compassion" means: we cannot look on coolly as others suffer. Belief in an organizing force provides an individual with the capacity to feel interconnected. 1994). happiness.g. . flowing. In a sense. it is supreme. 97). For example. The ability to Hve with and make meaning of ambiguity and change through faith is crucial to a healthy spiritual life because. 1993). we sympathize with those who suffer. this interconnectedness means that there are no gains without a loss to others or to oneself in another area of one's experience (Murgatroyd. p.. Ingersoll (1994. 2001). to feel a part of something greater than oneself to be happy (Maher & Hunt. Thoresen & Harris. plants. . . p. . therefore signifies the maximal capacity of affective imagination. This kind of compassion . 2002). Connectedness "There are no boundaries to our interconnectedness with limitless dimensions and universes. an individual may create a worldview in which people who work hard in a positive. bad or good" (Sambhava. 1998. 1998). Oneness with nature and beauty and a sense of connectedness with others are crucial to that spirituality (Hawks. Faith Faith. Furthermore.

The foundations of his philosophy rest on the concept of freedom of the will. "Without an open and loving heart. Making meaning of life allows an individual a sense that his or her life is truly worth living (Ingersoll. meaningful lives. and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of lighl between two eternities of darkness. 1998). One way of assisting in making meaning is to help individuals prioritize what is of value or what is important to them (Comett. Nature expects a full-grown man to accept the two black voids. healthy. as stolidly as he accepts the extraordinary visions in between. 700/1994. Elkins et al. Forgiveness is a techruque that allows an individual to manage shame. to decide what it means that life is finite. The importance of being able to make meaning of life events is stunningly clarified by Frankl's (1955) logotherapy. (1988) described this process as a quest througli which one can see that life is deeply mearungful and that one's own existence has purpose. 1995). 1947. and the meaning of life (Frankl. 2001). pp. p. Individuals who are spiritually knowing will understand and act in compassionate ways to create a better world. Several researchers have proposed that individuals with healthy spirits have a life purpose and are able to create an ultimate n:Teaning. often by being able to face important events such as death and the termination of self (Hawks. This perspective is similar to Frank]'s (1955) belief that individuals must take the responsibility of making life meaningful. Abiliti/ to Make Meaning of Life "A soul's continuing life-process endlessly goes through the phases of death state. Smith. but hecause we know in our bones it cannot automatically bring 102 Counseling and Values • January 2005 •Volume 49 . 213). p. He noted that it Is crucial to help people understand tliat a major task is to find meanings unique to their own life. Comett (1998) pointed out that people may believe that there is one overall meaning that should be attached to all people's lives and that all people are in this world for the same reasons with the same problems and tasks. grief. and to take responsibiiity for their lives. people could withstand the worst of conditions and lead happy. 1998). 1969). guilt. you can never taste the nectar and pure bliss of Ufe" (Sams & Carson. fore and aft. Compassion is behavior in which the individual does not act selfishly. and life state" (Sambhava. (Nabokov. Ability to Make Meaning of Death The cradle rocks above an abyss. He stated that this often leads clients to a severe depressive state because they lack motivation and initiative to engage in a life full of expectations that they cannot meet.In external interactions. West. 1998. and depression that are associated with blocking compassionate living (Ingersoll. 1988. 1994. 20-21) Another view of death is that individuals are so afraid of death "not because we know it is nothing. 33). between state. He believed that by having the abiUty to make meaning. the will to making meaning. individuals who are described as spiritual tend to express themselves in compassionate ways (Hawks. From the counseling and psychotherapy perspective. An individual's abiUty to both receive and grant forgiveness allows movement toward compassion. 1994).

they tend to develop a well-defined worldview. This model has potential for both practical application and empirical research and is relevant to virtually al! practices in psychology and counseling because of its inclusive and adaptable nature. Kinnier. and to retain idealism for the betterment of the world (Conn. Simply put. The model has been created to reflect the increasing diversity and richness of human experience by accommodating various philosophical and spiritual perspectives. In addition. and behaviors that promote growth and transcendence. of the psychological stress related to this. Hawks. giving. because it provides a basis from which helping professionals can assist clients in their spiritual development. there is significant potential for research between and within the components of the model. meaningless lives. Elkins et al. Facing death is one of the most difficult life events. and many counselors are increasingly integrating the concept into practice and research. and Vaughan (2001) iiiterviewed individuals who had near-death experiences and found that after confronting their own mortality. As individuals develop spiritual awareness and begin to integrate thoughts. Smith (1995) talked of the difficulty and the importance of developing one's own death perspective. with each transition there is a death of something that is familiar and comfortable (Conn. Implications Value of Flow Model in Counseling The value of spirituality in counseliiig is widely discussed and debated among counselors. there was less fear of death. Tribbensee. He or she is able to act in selfless. 700/1994. p. more appreciation of life. Counseling and Values • Jonuary 2005 • Volume 49 103 . This worldview defines the individual's reality and allows him or her to maintain a positive. According to the interviewees. to act with meaning and purpose.. and a deep need to make relationships meaningful. The significant influence of mortality on human development and on the way that an individual conducts his or her life is undeniable.us nothing" (San:ibhava. and how this perspective is typically explored when working with terminally ill individuals. The Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness is an important contribution to the body of literature regarding health and quality of life. 1994). frightening event and that the denial of death plays a great part in people living purposeless. optimistic outlook on life and death. 26). and as one transcends oneself and events in life. 1994. altruistic ways. actions. making meaning of death seems to enhance an individual's ability to make meaning of life. to maintain a strong value system that promotes wellness of self and others. 1994). Kiibler-Ross (1969) stated that death is viewed as a bad. it took facing death to emphasize the importance of the spiritual effects of connectedness and meaning in life. Rose. Regardless of whether or not the client has a religious orientation. the treatment of spirituality in the model is inclusive of all philosophies of the meaning of life and development throughout the life span. 1988.

This allowed her to increase her sense of belonging and gave her much needed social support. Another component. She arranged to have lunch with a close friend with whom she liad lost touch. The spiritual aspects selected were belief in a universal force. felt relief at connecting with her friend. she established a plan to reconnect witli them for support. The young woman was depressed about the deaths of her grandmother and a close friend. The counselor and the client explored three of the six spiritual aspects of the model and discussed interventions associated with the life task components. Positive thinking can be used to help make meaning of life and enhance faith. thereby improving her grades. She spent time there and journaled her experiences and conversations with this force. Because in her grief the client had pulled away from her close friends. which the student described as worn down. was explored through the companionship realm. presenting issues of poor academic performance and lack of motivation. During discussion about her activity. The client began to feet less anxious and less distraught with her feelings over the deaths. connectedness. she shared some of the trauma of recent life events. meditation. During lunch. the counselor and student discussed the condition of her spirit. The client contemplated her belief in what happens to one's spirit and energy after death. She was also concerned about her sister who was banished from the family because of cultural differences between her and her parents. For example. in the Buddhist sense.Practical Application of Model A case study best illustrates the practical application of the model. connectedness. The case shows that change can occur with appropriate interventions that use three components of the spirit as they are outlined in the Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness. 104 Counseling and Values • January 2005 • Volume 49 . involves the development of deep and active compassion. The counselor clarified that the student's perceived lack of resiliency was contributing to her depression and frustration. Developing values may be used to help individuals understand and develop a meaningful relationship with their concept of the universal force. the client stated that by focusing on the beauty and the universal force in which she believes she felt less isolated. One intervention selected by the (nonreligious) student that involved the belief in a universal force component was visiting a place in nature that she considered beautiful. Conclusion There are many ways to help clients strengthen and build vitality within these components. The counselor and client discussed death and the goal of making meaning of the deaths of those close to the client. In using the Holistic Flow Model of Spiritual Wellness. This example illustrates the model's capacity to explore spirituality as a tool for balance as an individual works to develop interventions to resolve life's issues. and the ability to make meaning of death. and was able to refocus her energy on her studies. A college student sought counseling.

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