There are many kinds of helpers in our world, the caregivers among us. They are the social workers who serve the vulnerable, the nurses and doctors who treat the ill, the teachers who instruct the young, the first responders who rescue the imperiled, the faith leaders who comfort the congregation, the volunteers who support the community. And whether or not it is our professional calling, each of us is likely to serve as a caregiver at some point in our lives, as a parent raising a child, for instance, or as a loved one caring for an aging relative. These and many other efforts to serve are among the most noble pursuits we can imagine, but they come with a danger worth recognizing.
In their devotion to the well-being of others, caregivers routinely put their own well-being last and can unintentionally burn themselves out physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Their self-neglect, paired alongside a deep desire to help others, has the potential to stir up feelings of anger and resentment, leading to a sense of guilt and shame. They often believe that if they were to grant themselves any rest or grace, they would be at risk of failing in their duty.
In The Soul of the Helper, Dr. Holly Oxhandler shows caregivers and fellow helpers a more self-compassionate way to cope with their overwhelming responsibilities and to attend to their own needs, particularly when it comes to their mental health and spiritual journey. She invites them to pause and realize that if they let their personal resources run dry, they cannot possibly care for others as fully as they wish. In fact, their efforts are likely to cause more harm than good.
With a background in spiritually-integrated mental health, Dr. Oxhandler teaches helpers a seven-step process to slow down and reconnect with the stillness within themselves. It is in this space of stillness that Oxhandler guides helpers to reconnect with the “sacred spark” within their soul. By allowing themselves to enter that stillness, caregivers will recognize that they, too, are worthy of care. And with that realization, they will see anew the sacred spark that dwells inside everyone else, especially within those they’re helping.
As a social worker, researcher, and person of faith, Dr. Oxhandler writes in a warm and welcoming style, shares many relatable stories, and widens her scope to include believers of all faiths and spiritual traditions. Her book is for caregivers everywhere who sense the sacred spark within them saying, in effect: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”Back to Tabs
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“This book joins insights from mental health research, contemplative theology, and Dr. Oxhandler’s own spiritual journey to guide helpers in transformational healing and growth. Dr. Oxhandler’s presentation of Namaste Theory nurtures awareness of the Sacred within ourselves and those we help in a wise, heartful, humble, and skillful way. She extends her deep faith to embrace the diversity of everyone’s spiritual paths. As a result, her approach joins head with heart and contemplation with active service while honoring the Sacred in all.”
—Edward R. Canda, PhD, professor emeritus and coordinator of the Spiritual Diversity and Social Work Initiative at The University of Kansas, and author of Spiritual Diversity in Social Work Practice: The Heart of Helping
“The Soul of the Helper is a deep exhale and a warm embrace for all who care for others but too easily forget to care for themselves. Dr. Oxhandler’s expansive, approachable work will shine a guiding light into your heart, mind, body, and soul—helping you release what is not yours to hold so that you might be more awake to the belovedness that radiates within you and around you.”
—Kayla Craig, author of To Light Their Way: A Collection of Prayers & Liturgies for Parents
“The true gift of Dr. Oxhandler’s writing is that she engages her own curiosity and tenderly shares helpful tools to make our inner worlds and the world around us spiritually healthier. In this book, she helps the helpers by reminding us that our care matters and that the world is a better place when we meet those needs alongside recognizing the Divine in everyone. Please buy this book and give yourself the space to read and actively embody its practices—you will be so glad you did.”
—Kaitlin Curtice, essayist, poet, and award-winning author of Native
“In The Soul of the Helper, Holly Oxhandler gently reminds us that soul-work is an essential component of health, healing, and helping. A timely and much-needed read; spot-on, brilliantly unpacked, and beautifully written.”
—Rev. Courtney Ellis, PCUSA, pastor, and author of Uncluttered: Free Your Space, Free Your Schedule, Free Your Soul, and Happy Now
“It takes a special type of person to run into the difficult situations of others. These helpers rarely see what they do as valiant or sacrificial. They are simply acting from a place of authentic desire to serve others. In The Soul of the Helper, Dr. Holly Oxhandler reminds them of the importance of tending to their own inner spiritual and mental landscape. Holly guides the reader through a transformational seven stage journey to seeing the Sacred, through a combination of research, personal stories, and reflection questions. The Soul of the Helper provides a needed framework to help those within various service professions preserve their own wellbeing as they serve others.”
—Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, physician and author of Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity
“Through years of academic research combined with much inner work, Dr. Holly Oxhandler offers us helpers Namaste Theory—seeing the Divine spark in ourselves, and thus, in turn, being able to better observe it in others. Only in embracing our belovedness, our enoughness, God’s love for us, can we identify God’s image in others, their belovedness, and thus serve them well. Not only is the theory brilliant, but Oxhandler peels it back like an onion, layer by layer, teaching us how to see and embrace our belovedness. Only then can we offer others the belovedness we observe in them, back to them—the greatest of gifts! Herein we find Oxhandler an able, wise, and humble guide. It is hard to give to others what we do not have; may we learn from her how to receive it.”
—Marlena Graves, author of The Way Up Is Down: Becoming Yourself By Forgetting Yourself
“In this groundbreaking, ovarial work, Dr. Oxhandler makes ancient contemplative wisdom easily accessible and applicable to the helping professions. The field of social work and mental health will be forever enriched by Oxhandler’s sound research and application of her Namaste Theory. This is a must-read not only for those in a helping career but for anyone interested in being of service to others. Thank you, Oxhandler, for living this work with your life.”
—Phileena Heuertz, founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism, and author of Mindful Silence and Pilgrimage of a Soul
“As a researcher, Holly Oxhandler has shown that people want to talk about spirituality in psychotherapy and that mental health practitioners attuned to their own spirituality are more likely to attune to the spirituality of their clients. In The Soul of the Helper, Oxhandler becomes a spiritual guide. In language rich with warmth, clarity, and humanness, she describes practical strategies to help caregivers nourish their own spiritual selves. The Soul of the Helper is soul food for helpers.”
—Russell Siler Jones, ThD, LPCS, author of Spirit in Session: Working with Your Client’s Spirituality (and Your Own) in Psychotherapy and developer of ACPE’s Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy Program
“In these days of overwhelm and trauma, The Soul of the Helper is a vital resource to support folks in their own healing, and ultimately in becoming a healing presence in the world. Dr. Holly Oxhandler has lovingly woven together with threads of spirituality, mental health, and the inherent Divine spark we each carry. I’m immensely grateful for Dr. Oxhandler’s book; it’s something I will return to again and again.”
—Aundi Kolber, MA, LPC, therapist, and author of Try Softer and The Try Softer Guided Journey
“The Soul of the Helper is far more than a self-help book for helpers. Grounded in research yet deeply personal and profoundly practical, it’s a radical invitation into greater wholeness. Whether our helping role is personal or professional, accidental or a vocational calling, this book is a guide that illuminates with clarity both the pitfalls of ignoring our limits and the promises of turning toward the Sacred within each of us.”
—Ryan Kuja, licensed therapist, spiritual director, and author of From the Inside Out
“In The Soul of the Helper, Dr. Holly Oxhandler offers a fresh perspective on the complex intersection of spirituality and mental health, weaving in research and gently guiding readers to reflect upon their own spiritual and mental health journeys. Written from a background in mental health and a place of humility and respect for diverse faith traditions, Holly invites fellow helpers to wake up to the Divine spark within themselves and remember their identity as Beloved. This book is a vital and brilliant guide for each of us navigating the spiritual and mental health journey as we serve others.”
—Melody Moezzi, The Rumi Prescription: How an Ancient Mystic Poet Changed My Modern Manic Life
“This is a book first and foremost about the spirituality of the helper. How can helpers care for others, Holly Oxhandler asks, without attending to their own souls? With wisdom, compassion, patience, and the courage to share her personal story, Oxhandler teaches helpers to see themselves and others through a sacred lens. The Soul of the Helper is an invaluable, indeed essential, book for helpers, regardless of their orientation to religion and spirituality, interested in weaving spirituality more fully into the ways they care for others and themselves.”
—Kenneth I. Pargament, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology, Bowling Green State University, author of Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy: Understanding and Addressing the Sacred
“Like many other ‘helpers,’ I’ve often been haunted by a need to work harder, do more, and serve better that’s led to weariness and burnout. In The Soul of the Helper, Dr. Holly Oxhandler upends the lie that we can love others well if we don’t truly love ourselves. With tender vulnerability and simple practices we can all implement, Dr. Oxhandler gently leads us toward a life grounded in our belovedness. If you want to love others well but want to do it from a place of rest, health, and wholeness, this poignant and timely book is for you.”
—Sarah J. Robinson, author of I Love Jesus, But I Want to Die: Finding Hope in the Darkness of Depression
“The Soul of the Helper is a timely reminder to all healthcare practitioners that taking care of others necessitates taking care of ourselves and receiving care from others. Oxhandler masterfully interweaves her personal experiences, clinical anecdotes, and the latest research on spirituality and mental health to illustrate how a spiritual worldview can engender greater recognition of our inner greatness and that of our patients.”
—David H. Rosmarin, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, director of the Spirituality and Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital, and author of The Connections Paradigm: Ancient Jewish Wisdom for Modern Mental Health
“It’s truly the vulnerability for me. Dr. Oxhandler’s truth in the words of The Soul of the Helper is inspiring and breathtaking. It reads as if I’m having my own personal conversation with her in my living room. The reflection exercises are profound and yet still easily applicable to the everyday experience of a helper. One will truly connect or re-connect with the Sacred within them after reading this book.”
—Dr. Amber Thornton, clinical psychologist, and motherhood wellness consultant
“Well-researched and incredibly written, The Soul of The Helper is an outstanding resource. Dr. Oxhandler blends her own story with practical ideas that are important for anyone that calls themselves a helper, regardless of the context.”
—Robert Vore, therapist and host of CXMH: A Podcast on Faith & Mental Heath
PART I Spirituality and Mental Health: Two Key Considerations for Seeking the Sacred Within
1 Considering the Spiritual Journey
2 Considering the Mental Health Journey
3 Namaste Theory for Helpers
PART II The Journey of Seeking the Sacred: Finding the Sacred Within Ourselves to See It in Others
PART III “So What?”: Cultivating a Practice of Seeking and Serving the Sacred for the Journey Ahead
11 Seek and Serve the Sacred
References and Notes
About the Author
“[A]n insightful and research-informed guide to spiritual self-exploration for personal and professional growth.”
—Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work