My colleagues in the spa industry sometimes ask me why I focus so much on the science of psychology. In fact, people often assume that if I am studying psychology I must be preparing myself to leave the world of spas. The connection between spas and psychology does not seem to be clear at first glance.
My research on spas and well-being is not limited to psychology, but revolves around ideas of holistic well-being, i.e. considering the whole person. This means not simply focusing on the physical aspects nor the psychological aspects but looking at both (as well as the interactions between the two.)
But it is the psychological aspects of well-being that do not seem to get their fair share of attention. The physical aspects of health and wellness are simply more obvious to a greater number of people. Most of modern medicine seems to be based on the idea that the body is a complex machine and that by understanding all of the components we can better learn how to repair and replace the parts that get broken.
Even in the spa world, which promotes a more holistic understanding of health and well-being, the physical side still seems to get preferential treatment. Research on massage, for example, has been based primarily on therapeutic interventions done to clinical or diseased populations. The effectiveness of massage is usually based on measurements of physical health measurements such as heart rate, blood pressure, hormonal releases in the blood stream, or subjective reports of physical pain.
While the spa industry promotes and works in the psychological and spiritual realms as well, it seems to do so less scientifically. On these aspects of their services, spas are more likely to cite “The Secret” or the latest Wayne Dyer book, rather than research from scientific journals of psychology and spirituality. If the spa industry does not begin to take the psychological aspects of their experience more seriously, how can we expect our customers to?
Spas offer the promise of healing across “body, mind, and spirit”. My intent is not to elevate the importance of the psychological domain, but I don’t think that all three are on equal footing. As we move from body to mind to spirit, we are moving from our exterior, more superficial appearances towards the core of who we really are. Many people see the spa as a place to treat the body: work out the kinks, smooth out the lines, enhance the beauty. And spas do help with this. But many spa experiences go deeper, creating a shift in the way a client, thinks, feels, acts, and interacts.
For me, this is where the spa experience gets interesting. How do we create spa experiences that are engaging and meaningful? How do we create healing experiences that help people not only enhance their physical well-being, but their mental well-being, their emotional well-being and perhaps even their sense of purpose and meaning. Lofty goals, perhaps, but worth exploring . . .
- The Psychology of Spas and Wellbeing (Book Review) (positivepsychologynews.com)
- The Kiss of Health (psychologytoday.com)
- Gray Matter: Neuroscience and Moral Responsibility (nytimes.com)