The Soul: The Missing Ingredient in Mind-Body Medicine and Self-Care

Updated: Apr 1, 2020


By Dr. Karen Shields Wright

The Missing Soul

Today what has become popular is the "body-mind-spirit" term in the self-help, wellness, and mind-body movement. More often than not, the spirit is often presented as simply one's self-created driver that expresses one's personality in seeking meaning and purpose.


Moreover, God, the personal self-revealed Creator, has been sealed up in the religious box not to be open till Christmas, if at all, freeing the person to be 'spiritual but not religious.' And now the contemporary God has been renamed the 'Other' or 'Higher Power' to be politically correct, or just another 'being' with 'beingness' that we can choose to draw down its universal energy for our needs.


As a healthcare provider, in the field of complementary 'medicine' for 40 years - focusing on natural and drug-free ways of maintaining health, and in my training in chaplaincy - I have been continually perplexed, and stressed, by the lack of language around the term 'soul', no less its reality being ignored.




History of Searching

About 20 years ago, I had the privilege of taking a private tutorial one summer course with a Jesuit philosopher on Christian anthropology in which we focused on the history of thought about the human Soul. As a healthcare provider, my mind automatically categorized the powers and operations as in anatomical and physiological terms. Though it is a spirit and not material, it does affect the operations of the materiality of the body – that I have found fascinating.


After finishing my studies in Christian Spirituality and Ignatian Spiritual Direction, I proceeded with little success to integrate the language of the Soul into the language of the allopathic dominated world of health care as it related to the mind-body model. The two worlds I inhabited had no use for the term. Yet, I held tight onto that word 'soul' for it had meaning way beyond a personality checklist, though I was unable to articulate how it could fit in.


Recently I found an online course "Aquinas 101" offered by the Thomistic Institute in Washington DC. Knowing St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, had written much about the Soul, in particular the rational human soul and its powers of operations, I decided to take up the challenge to find a way.


This simple outline here below with descriptions of the powers and operations of the human Soul are taken from my notes from the online course on what was presented: we are composite of Body and Soul - can be described as an ensouled body or an embodied spirit.


Finding a home for the Soul

Below is my attempt of finding a home for the term 'soul' in the integrative practices related to self-care, I used. For me, it is the missing ingredient in the mind-body medicine and self-help care movement which I believe it will help support healing in those who suffer from an existential and spiritual crisis of producing depression, isolation, loneliness, and identity issues. It will help one see the reality of the eternal Soul, its functions, and Who created it.


I hope to continue reflecting upon and writing more on this topic. This is my first attempt taking a Thomistic look at the anatomy and physiology of the Soul for having a comprehensive integrative self-care model and increasing the effectiveness of mind-body practices for those of faith.


Disclaimer for this notes, they were not meant as a word for word. Just an outline for future discussion.


Whatever is Living has a Soul


The Soul is the principal source of life. All living things have a soul, for it is the soul that animates the matter it embodies. Yet, there are different types of soul- – Plant, Animal, and Human. Souls cause a thing to live.


Our Human Soul is a Rational Soul with certain powers:

It has an Organizational Pattern

It is a Developmental driver

It is the Inner source of life


Our Soul makes us be a living human being. It is not static, and it animates, it activates our functions and operations. It makes the heart to be, and the heart to beat.


The human person is a human being, an animal animated by a rational soul.

We are a composite – an ensouled body or an embodied spirit. For without the Soul, the body becomes a corpse. The Soul lives beyond the body by exercising higher operations of knowing and loving.


While our vital activities are the work of the organs, even our cognitive activities are also of the organs such as seeing and hearing, imagination, and memory are sensory impulses.

All our vital activities are working of an organ, other than knowing and loving which are spiritual operations of the intellect and will.


Knowing and loving are the work of the intellect and the will, which are properly spiritual powers.
It's a higher kind of knowing; spiritual power is not just a physical activity of the brain.

Human Soul (Rational Soul)

These first two are only in the Human Soul (Rational Soul), which are the prime actors in the lower operations; they perfect and exercise over the lower powers.


1. Intellect (Intellectual Cognition) - is how we can grasp the nature of things – the essence to extract the abstract – our ability to know - associated with seeking truth and the highest Truth (God)


2. Will – (Rational Appetite) - the power that includes us to what is apprehended as good or fitting. It is our ability to love – and associated with seeking the good and the highest Good (God)


God is the highest Truth and Good


Animal Soul (Sense Soul)

These five operations below are shared with animals who have an Animal Soul (Sense Soul). Sensory powers are common to animals and humans.

3. Locomotion

4. Sense Cognition – has 5 external senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell

5. Sense Appetite – has 4 internal senses

· common sense (coordinates sense experience)

· imagination (generates sense images)

· memory (storage sense images)

· estimate powers (animal reason)


Sense Appetite has two parts:

1. Concupiscible power - Passions with a simple good or evil for their object

2. Irascible Power - Passions with a difficult good or evil for their object



Plant Soul (Vegetative Soul)

These three below humans and animals are shared these operations with Plant Soul (Vegetative Soul)

6. Self-nutrition – perverse one's own existence

7. Growth – helps to come to full term from infant to adult

8. Reproduction – hand on the fullness of bodily life to ensure the species endure beyond the next generation