Spirituality is required to understand human motivation and personality

Summary. More and more people in many parts of the world are becoming increasingly spiritual but not necessarily religious (Willard & Norenzayan, 2017). As a force urging us to quest for meaning in life, spirituality is considered to be a natural human condition (Kim & Esquivel, 2011) with individual preferences according to personality type (Hall, 2012). Contemporary psychology has to further account for the difference between religiosity and spirituality, as well as reaping the possible benefits from more integrated psycho-spiritual approaches to human motivation.

Towards a definition of spirituality in the psychology of individual differences and personality

Despite the difficulty to gather scientific evidence for a defined concept of spirituality, its relevance for the scientific community (Skrzypińska, 2014), as well as for secularizing societies such as parts of Europe, the US and Canada (Willard & Norenzayan, 2017), is growing.

Skrzypińska (2014) defines spirituality as a motivational force urging individuals to search for meaning in life (p. 298). While in Rogerian terms it is about realizing one’s true self (Winston, 2016), Viktor Frankl calls an authentic personality one that is in harmony with its biological, psychological, and spiritual elements (Martínez & Flórez, 2015). The common and innate human spirituality (to be differentiated from religiosity) may develop mainly during adolescence with the increase in cognitive capabilities in general (Kim & Esquivel, 2011). This adds the possibility of an additional source of human motivation at a later stage than proposed by the Freudian theory of all-determining human sexual and aggressive drive that is ever-existing and shaped mainly before adolescence and adulthood. According to Skrzypińska (2014), Maslow’s (and Rogers’) self-actualization theory provides evidence for spirituality as a human condition.

Personality types and spirituality

Ross and Francis (2010) found a relationship between the Myers-Briggs-Type Indicator (MBTI) test, which bases on Jung’s personality archetypes, and religious orientation. Similar findings were confirmed by Khoynezhad, Reza Rajaei, and Sarvarazemy (2012) for the link between Big Five, another personality trait instrument, and religiosity. Although religiosity and spirituality weren’t treated separately for a long time (Kim & Esquivel, 2011), there is evidence today for the distinct nature of the two concepts, spirituality being openness for the mythical and religiosity being more related to a traditional religious belief (Willard & Norenzayan, 2017). Also, more specifically regarding spirituality, the MBTI is valued as a tool for self-understanding, and it proved to predict differences in people’s preference for spirituality according to their personality type (Hall, 2012).

Theist approaches to psychotherapy

Frankl’s logotherapy established during the last decades as an effective existential therapy, bases on the presence of a spiritual dimension that can reveal and activate life purpose through open and honest therapist-client encounters (Martínez & Flórez, 2015). Relatively new movements to integrate spirituality in psychology have led to so-called theist approaches to psychotherapy, acknowledging the possibility to consider the aspect of meaning in life, including less naturalistically measurable factors such as spirituality (Slife, Stevenson, & Wendt, 2010).


Freud’s theory of the unconscious mind and drives, Rogers’ self-actualization concept, Jung’s spirituality dimension, or Frankl’s authenticity, it might be beneficial to integrate psycho-spiritual approaches in contemporary psychology further. Besides the strive for evidence for these concepts (which could remain hard to get due to its nature), a diverse toolset would be beneficial for both research and therapeutic intervention anyway.

How do you see that, especially the ones who already have experience in different psychotherapeutic situations?

Photo credit: avi_acl (pixabay.com)


Hall, G. (2012). Applying psychological-type theory to faith: spirituality, prayer, worship and scripture. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 15(9), 849-862. doi:10.1080/13674676.2012.685619

Khoynezhad, G., Reza Rajaei, A., & Sarvarazemy, A. (2012). Basic Religious Beliefs and Personality Traits. Iranian Journal Of Psychiatry, 7(2), 82-86.

Kim, S., & Esquivel, G. B. (2011). Adolescent spirituality and resilience: Theory, research, and educational practices. Psychology In The Schools, 48(7), 755-765. doi:10.1002/pits.20582

Martínez, E., & Flórez, I. (2015). Meaning-Centered Psychotherapy: A Socratic Clinical Practice. Journal Of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 45(1), 37-48. doi:10.1007/s10879-014-9281-0

Ross, CFJ, and LJ Francis. 2010. “The relationship of intrinsic, extrinsic, and quest religious orientations to Jungian psychological type among churchgoers in England and Wales.” Mental Health, Religion & Culture 13, no. 7/8: 805-819. CINAHL Plus, EBSCOhost (accessed June 10, 2017).

Skrzypińska, K. (2014). The Threefold Nature of Spirituality (TNS) in a Psychological Cognitive Framework. Archive For The Psychology Of Religion / Archiv Für Religionspsychologie, 36(3), 277. doi:10.1163/15736121-12341293

Slife, B. D., Stevenson, T. D., & Wendt, D. C. (2010). INCLUDING GOD IN PSYCHOTHERAPY: STRONG VS. WEAK THEISM. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 38(3), 163-174. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.liverpool.idm.oclc.org/docview/758431235?accountid=12117

Willard, A. K., & Norenzayan, A. (2017). “Spiritual but not religious”: Cognition, schizotypy, and conversion in alternative beliefs. Cognition, 165137-146. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2017.05.018

Winston, C. N. (2016). An existential-humanistic-positive theory of human motivation. The Humanistic Psychologist, 44(2), 142-163. doi:10.1037/hum0000028

  • Spirituality, religion or even atheism seem to be a direction for ones beliefs in validating their own significance. What I labeled , possibly not the first, as the gradient of belief are determiners such as emotions that guide it such as preconceived notions from secondhand information or reason. It seems to me too many are willing to jump on this without balancing their beliefs through faith and doubt which also brings out the importance of bias. In the long run bias is the cornerstone that protects our beliefs and mental health; at least that’s what I have rationalized so far.

    • Thanks a lot for your philosophical stimulation! I agree with your statement. Spirituality I understand to be a journey rather than something “I jumped on” (to use your words) for personal confirmation and comfort. This can also be called Spiritual Materialism that is hindering us from real (spiritual) growth, with negative consequences on well-being in the long-run as you aptly put.

  • Your welcome, I dedicated plenty of thought to it all this year and decided somethings are best left alone. I think fear of invalidating everything I’ve ever believed in was a sign to not push the limits of my desire to understand what is clearly out of the reach of my comprehension. Ignorance is bliss.

    • Thank you for the discussion! I accept your view, although I personally don’t share the point of ‘ignorance is bliss.’ I already know too much to follow that road of rationale with good conscience:-)

  • I’ve learned more about Frankl recently and he was an inspiring person, considering what he had to go through.
    ” it might be beneficial to integrate psycho-spiritual approaches in contemporary psychology further”…For me that is not a ‘might’ but a ‘certain’ beneficial aspect we should address in therapy/counseling. Although maybe not always easy, because different cultures, different spirituality…However, a multi-cultural approach is so important. Besides physical, social, psychological aspects, the spiritual aspect could definitely also help to gain a better understanding of oneself, of the meaning in life and possible also lead to the understanding of the meaning OF life.

    Thank you for addressing this Mathias.

    • Thanks for adding that, Patty. I agree on the importance of the spiritual dimension for a holistic approach. An interesting point indeed is how far spirituality is a general personality factor and how much it is culturally shaped (I’m not speaking about religion).

  • I am glad you have mentioned that spirituality may not mean something religious which most of the people think. I love to connect with people who are spiritual beings.

    • Thank you for your valuable feedback, I am glad that the article makes the distinction between religiosity and spirituality clear. Religion for me is a form of spiritual materialism. But actually, I think “We are not human beings in search of a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings emersed in human experience.” – Wayne Dyer

      • Your Welcome, You actually think so right-“We are not human beings in search of a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings emersed in human experience.”

  • In this short life that we have on earth it is most reasonable to seek to understand and know just what it is that we should be about in terms of “The Spiritual “.

    It seems reasonable as we should seek are to live beyond this physical life (both while we live in the body and when this physical body dies).

    The Spiritual drive always seems to seek questions to these questions

    origin meaning morality and destiny

    Psychology is wise to recognize the innate nature the spiritual.

    • Excellent points, thank you! I agree with the centrality of the questions you mention. Indeed, it is for sure wise to acknowledge the spiritual nature of our being as there is no evidence against its relevance even after death. Take care!