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Pathways to SpiritualityReview - Pathways to Spirituality
Connection, Wholeness, and Possibility for Therapist and Client
by Bill O'Hanlon
W. W. Norton, 2005
Review by Bob Lane, M.A.
Jun 12th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 24)

The inside flap tells us that Bill O'Hanlon is a bestselling author and that this is "a groundbreaking book about how a secular spirituality -- available to anyone . . . -- can serve as a powerful tool to help therapists make stronger connections with their clients...". I am no therapist so I may well have missed the groundbreaking quality of this slight work.

 First, a few problems that I have with this book: In the introductory chapter O'Hanlon wants to establish that there is a correlation between spiritual or religious beliefs or practices and the prevention or recovery from many behavioral, emotional, addictive and psychological problems that people face. Since there really is not much evidence for such a claim even though "there is also a great deal of research on the correlation between religious practices ... with various aspects of mental health" he reminds his readers that "a few cautions must be noted about this research" since it is "a relatively new area of research" and that the research "is correlational."

It is always fair to warn of the difference between correlation and causation. Notice also that to say that there is "a great deal of research" about the efficacy of spiritual/religious beliefs and healing is not to say much about the quality of the research or its outcomes. There is a great deal of research about the paranormal too; it's just that none of it has shown anything positive that supports the claims made by the researchers. The problem here though, comes when he writes of the research that it is analogous to the research on cigarettes and cancer. [9] We are told that , " the correlational research that exists between smoking and lung cancer, I would not be inclined to wait until the causal links are proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to stop smoking, even though this decision rests on shaky scientific grounds at the moment." [Emphasis added]. Comparing the research in this way is a faulty analogy. We have years of evidence supporting the link between smoking cigarettes and contracting lung cancer. In fact the evidence has led the National Cancer Institute to warn on their web site, "Cigarette smoking causes 87 percent of lung cancer deaths. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. Smoking is also responsible for most cancers of the larynx, oral cavity and pharynx, esophagus, and bladder." It is in the nature of statistical hypotheses that we do not have certainty, but to compare these two relationships (smoking/spirituality) is misleading.

A bit later (11) he sets out to define spirituality in a way that will be inclusive of all religions by pointing to commonalities of religious and spiritual approaches to life. Doing so is an important first move in developing his idea that therapists should introduce spirituality into their practice. It is here that O'Hanlon first introduces what he calls his 3 Cs (connection, compassion, contribution). He writes, "CONNECTION, that is, when people feel connected to something beyond their petty, little selves (or egos)." Why "petty"? The point could be made without insult to individuals.

Second, there are some printing errors that detract. On page sixteen, e.g., he writes, "Even when the teens were not connected to their families, there [sic] were connected to their best friends (their "second family"). Or, watch the movie title What Dreams May Come (60) change for no apparent reason to What Dreams May Come Together (61). Picking nits is no fun but these sorts of errors suggest a careless rush to publish.

 In the six chapters that follow the introduction O'Hanlon develops strategies for talking with clients about the 3 Cs. The value of the book is in the suggested questions and other strategies for dealing with various kinds of problems presented by clients. His chapters are short and provide a mixture of examples, suggestions, and reports of what has worked for him in a clinical setting. The reading list at the end is extensive and useful.


© 2007 Bob Lane


Bob Lane is a retired teacher of English and Philosophy who is currently an Honourary Research Associate in Philosophy at Malaspina University-College in British Columbia, Canada. He is not a therapist.


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