Addressing spiritual bypass in clinical practice for insecure attachment

Welwood (1984) defined spiritual bypassing as the tendency to try to avoid or prematurely transcend basic human needs, feelings, and developmental tasks through the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to ameliorate the suffering from past wounds.  Sheridan (2017) concluded that “From a psychological perspective, such bypassing cuts off the opportunity to address and resolve important intra- and interpersonal issues” (p. 359).  In adults who have had a history of insecure attachment, the potential exists to ‘bypass’ the involvement of psychotherapeutic work by pursuing the practice of altered states of consciousness within New Age spirituality. 

Since the connection between insecure adult attachment and spiritual bypassing in psychotherapy has scarce research, there are many gaps in the study of this phenomenon.  Studies explored in this review have shown that there are limited amounts of psychotherapeutic clinicians exploring the religiosity and spiritual domain within their practices.  This is a significant issue considering the findings by Shafranske & Malony (1990) that found that one in six psychotherapy clients present clinical issues involving religion or spirituality.

The available empirical research has been focused upon the compensatory role that religion or spirituality provides clients who are adults with insecure attachment issues.  This body of literature has seemingly not been concerned with how those religious or spiritual compensations may actually be stunting the psychological development and growth of these clients.  This lack of concern indicates the importance of these topics as developing into a field of study.

One way to further the research is by drawing upon the existing work of psychotherapists studying adults with insecure attachment histories in collaboration with scholars studying New Age spiritual practices to explore the development of spiritual bypassing assessment tools and treatment interventions for more comprehensive and beneficial treatment outcomes.

In learning more about the phenomena of spiritual bypass, its connection to New Age spirituality practices and possible underlying insecure attachment histories in clients, implementation of standards of care can be initiated to provide more comprehensive assessment and treatment protocols for the greater psychotherapeutic community.

Full article this conclusion was based upon located here


Shafranske, E. P., & Malony, H. N. (1990). Clinical psychologists’ religious and spiritual

orientations and their practice of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, 27(1), 72–78.

DOI: 10.1037/0033-3204.27.1.72.

Sheridan, M. J. (2017). Addressing spiritual bypassing: Issues and guidelines for spiritually

sensitive practice. In The Routledge handbook of religion, spirituality and social work (pp. 358-367). Routledge.

Welwood, J. (1984). Principles of inner work: Psychological and spiritual. Journal of

Transpersonal Psychology, 16(1), 63–73.

Copyright 2022 Eileen Dey Wurst

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