Spiritual Development and Counseling for College Students


M.B. Sharan

Ex-Professor of Psychology & Head

Dept. of Humanities & Social Sciences

IIT, Kharagpur

E-mail: mithilasharan@yahoo.co.in


Premshila Sharan

Senior Lecturer in Psychology

Madan Ahilya Women's College


E-mail: sharan.premshila@yahoo.com

What is spirituality?


Spirituality is a new buzz-word. It is being used today quite frequently with different meanings. Traditionally, being spiritual signified having an attachment to religious values, or matters related to spirit, rather than material or worldly interests. Recently, it has also taken as to mean reaching higher levels of consciousness using yoga, prayer, meditation and similar other practices. Therefore, it has been rightly said that it is a state of mind in which we are connected to God, Nature, each other, and the deepest part of ourselves.


A human being is a combination of three entities: body, mind and spirit. In order to function fully, we need to be in harmony with each other and maintain a balance among these three. Is it not a fact that we become spiritual when we enjoy listening to a beautiful piece of music, looking at an amazing work of art, or reading an inspirational poem? We become spiritual because when we are immersed in, it touches our soul and connects us to the artist and the creation itself (God). We experience a spiritual connection with others when we work together to reach a common goal, such as raising a fund to help those in need, being in a musical band or orchestra, or anything that involves mutual love and cooperation. Thus, when we are in tune with God, Nature, or His any other creation, we become spiritual. And, there are so many wonderful ways that we can make, and take time to "connect" with spirit or God. For example:


  1. By taking time for ourselves: By listening to relaxing music; reading some inspirational writings, etc.

  2. By helping those in need of our assistance: When we help others, we automatically get a different kind of feeling of satisfaction.

  3. By practicing gratitude: There are so many things for which we can be grateful to God, our family members, and friends.

  4. By practicing mindfulness: When we sit for prayer or meditation, we feel automatically connected to some higher power.

  5. By expressing ourselves: Every person has some creative talents which attract others. It could be playing a musical instrument, singing or dancing and getting lost in it.

Being aware of and cultivating spirituality greatly contributes to our overall joy and happiness (enlightenment). It is never too late to develop it further and enjoy the benefits it brings.


Spiritual Development


The word "spirituality" has a root that is spirit. This suggests some reference to the unseen. So by implication, it should be confined to that eternal part of humanity -- the soul or atman that does not die. This is the reason why Clark describes it as the inner experience of the individual when he/she senses a Beyond. This Beyond could be soul, gods, supernatural power, or ancestors. Therefore, some persons define spirituality in terms of developing relationships with these eternals. In a nutshell, spirituality deals with issues of inner beliefs and feelings. This is the beauty of spiritual development; tapping into the part of mind and soul that is so deep and so driven that it can change our thinking, health and life. So in one word, spiritual development depends on faith.


The stages of spiritual development begin with a start-up seed. We need to see that it gets all it needs to grow and be a part of our everyday life. It is said that a healthy mind is in a healthy body, and a healthy soul is in a healthy mind. Therefore, spiritual development is for development of all the entities: body, mind and spirit. Once we start this inward journey, we realize that our Soul is a God given gift -- our unseen navigation system, and there are many ways in which we can attune to this system. Edgar Cayce readings suggest the following seven ways:


1.      Prayer: It is talking to God.


2.      Meditation: It is listening to God.


3.      Study of dreams: Dreams reveal all the spiritual and moral possibilities hidden within the unconscious mind.


4.      Service to others: Service to others is the greatest service to God.


5.      Purpose of life: The quest for understanding the deeper meaning of life is the turning point in the life of individuals.


6.      Establishment of ideals: Ideal is the principle behind what we think, say and do -- the patterns that we use to measure and shape our life.


7.      Law of guidance: There are three laws that define how to get the guidance we need in order to deal with any situation in our lives: (a) Seek first the spirit within, and you will find, (b) Ask the spirit with faith, and you will receive, and (c) Knock, with faith in spirit, and the door will be opened.


What is spiritual counseling?


We have seen that spiritual development depends primarily on Faith: Faith in Self, Faith in potential, Faith in inward journey, and Faith in Spirit and/or God. It is something that can help us in times of trouble, stress, fear, and uncertainty. This is the reason why spiritual counseling has become important today for everyone. Spiritual counseling thus has an extended view of life: it takes into account belief systems, universal and personal energy systems, intuitive psychic realities, karmic interplay, subconscious and superconscious states of awareness, and higher-self cosmic connections.


What is counseling for college students?


The term "counseling" is used generally for giving an expert advice to others. But in educational institutions, it is primarily a way of addressing and resolving problems related to students. It is an interactive process characterized by a unique relationship between counselor and client that leads to change in the client. The counselor acts as a facilitator in helping clients to understand feelings, behaviours, relationships with others, situations, choices and decisions.


Personal and psychological problems of college/university students


College and university students must adapt to environments plagued by rapid change, ambiguity, uncertainty, and depleted support systems. They must also cope with a myriad of personal and psychological problems that range from basic adjustment, poor academic performance, and career concerns to clinical-level mental illness. Therefore, a comprehensive view of counseling is needed in the institutions of higher learning -- not only educational, career, and developmental services. The aim of this kind of counseling is to help clients express themselves and their world with intimate wisdom, spiritual awareness and personal authenticity -- using integrity and wise use of their spiritual gifts, skills, and knowledge.


Recently, there has been a big concern for looking into the cases of failures and suicides in institutes like IITs and IIMs. It has surprised many how students coming through toughest exams like J.E.E., MAT or CAT are also failing in some subjects and committing suicides. Some are even not attending their classes properly and are abusing Internet services just for fun and erotic pleasure. Researches suggest that these students are doing badly in the examinations not because they lack intellectual abilities but they lack the following 'effective study skills':


  1. They don't know how to listen to their teachers in the classroom

  2. They don't know how to concentrate and have confidence

  3. They don't know how to study and prepare notes

  4. They don't know how to face interviews and take tests and examinations


Therefore, it has been rightly suggested that the counseling programme should extend its activities to take care of such study skills so that they develop good study habits.

How to listen?


Listening is different from hearing because body language of the speaker is also involved in it. It is an important element in any successful conversation. Most of the input that students receive comes from listening in class. Therefore, students who listen well have a marked advantage over students who do not listen. The main purpose of in-class listening is to understand and identify the information one will need later. Usually, our mind is filled with the daily activities of living. Therefore, to listen to someone, we need to pay extra attention. This is known as 'Active Listening' which suggests that:


  1. Always 'listen' with your eyes as well as with your ears

  2. Look at the speaker directly

  3. Put aside distracting thoughts and environmental factors

  4. 'Listen' to the speaker's body language

  5. Recognize that listening has to be learnt and practiced



How to concentrate and have confidence?


Concentration is the ability to focus on a single object, idea, concept or problem, while remaining aware of what is going on around. It has powerful effects when it is used correctly as it is indispensable to becoming successful in all aspects of life. Studies show that the more one concentrates on something, the faster he/ she attains them. To improve concentration, following steps are suggested:


How to study and prepare notes?


  1. Relax: As you prepare to concentrate, try to clear your mind of everything except the material you are working on. For this, you need to sit on a comfortable chair at a quit place and start breathing slowly for about 5 minutes.
  2. Concentrate on one object for two minutes: To start with, try to concentrate on one object for a few seconds. Then, go on increasing for two minutes. If any negative thought comes to your mind, just pull your mind back to the object.
  3. Concentrate on the same object for additional four minutes: Your goal is to free your mind from all the thoughts and focus on the object of your choice for additional four minutes that you want to accomplish and attract into your life.

  4. Do this exercise a few times daily: Learning how to concentrate and focus has many benefits such as peace of mind, improving your memory, controlling your thoughts, and becoming better at meditation and visualization. The more you practice the art of concentration, the faster you will master it.

  5. Set definite times for how long you want to work: Try to work in short stretches, 20 minutes or so at a time with 10 minutes break at the end of each stretch.

  6. Confidence is a belief and an assurance in one's own abilities or in the abilities of another person. In short, it is essentially a feeling secured of having an expected success. Improved concentration leads to better learning which ultimately leads to higher confidence.



Study is done to (a) develop a broad understanding of the study materials, and (b) identify the specific information to be learnt. The SQ3R method has been a proven way to sharpen study skills in which S stands for Survey, Q for Question, and 3R for Read, Recite and Review.


  1. Survey: Get the best overall picture of what you are going to study. It is like looking at a road map before going on a trip.

  2. Question: Ask questions for learning. Questions should include about headings, sub-headings, graphs, tables, etc. and emphasize on what, why, how, when, who, and where of the study contents.

  3. Read: Reading is not running eyes over a textbook. Read actively to answer questions you have asked yourself.

  4. Recite: After reading for about 20 to 30 minutes, one should try to recall what he/ she has learnt.

  5. Review: A review is a survey of what one has read. It is something like summarizing or counting main points on the fingers without seeing the book.


Even if a person is a good reader or a good listener, he/ she is sure to forget the large majority of what he/ she has learnt. Therefore, preparing notes is a must for all. Everyone should keep the following points in mind while preparing notes:


  1. Having an accurate, reliable set of notes for each class is critical to effective study.

  2. Note-taking is a skill which must be learned and refined.

  3. Everyone should learn to keep notes legibly and logically.

  4. The best place to keep notes is in a loose-leaf notebook.


How to face interviews and take tests and examinations?


Interviews are the most common means of selecting employees. Therefore, everyone needs to master interview skills. One purpose of the interview is to allow the candidate to communicate with the interviewers using verbal and non-verbal communication skills. In addition, interviewers are also seeking to establish intellectual skills of a candidate to solve various problems of their organizations. Every candidate, therefore, needs to remember a number of points:


  1. Always look at the interviewer and other members of the panel.

  2. Use effective verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

  3. Always be positive and optimistic when you are replying to questions.

  4. Never be derogatory, cynical, facetious or sarcastic.

  5. Be honest, don't invent answers.

  6. Answer the question that is posed, not the one that you wish had been asked.

  7. If you don't understand the question, ask for it to be repeated.


The major output measure in a school or a college is usually test or examination.  Most of the time, students are graded primarily on the basis of correct answers. As one progresses in college, themes, essays, and papers become more important to their grades, but tests never disappear. Therefore, throughout the test, one should try to remain relaxed and should follow the following guidelines:


  1. Begin to go through the test carefully as soon as it comes to your desk.

  2. Before you begin answering, preview the test -- what type of questions are there, how many of each type are included. Get a feel for the test as a whole.

  3. At the end, make a point to check your answers before you submit your answer book.

  4. Learn from the mistakes you committed in the past


 A final word

Before you even begin to learn about the process of learning, you should develop a schedule. If you don't have a schedule or a plan of study, then you will not have any way of allocating your valuable time when the unexpected comes up. A good, well thought out schedule can be a lifesaver. It is up to you to learn how to develop a schedule that meets your needs, revise it if necessary, and most important, follow it. Thus, the success of study skills depends on your good study habits and on your Faith in self and Faith in Spirit or God.