Thursday, March 1, 2007

Spirituality in Counseling

A short reflection on the matter written for an ethics class:

When I first began my current internship I was told never to bring up religion in a session. I asked “why not?” and was told that religious views are very varied and you may insult someone or cause a serious debate that would get in the way of therapy. I then asked “what about bringing up spirituality?” and was told that spirituality and religion were the same thing. I disagreed with this, but decided that my place would be best served by accepting the rules of the organization.

In the latest issue of the Journal of Counseling and Development, Young, Wiggins-Frame, and Cashwell (2007) describe the role of spirituality in counseling and what training a counselor may need in order to be competent in this area. Young et al. based their research off of a former article which “reported that 75% of Americans reported that religion and spirituality are important to them” (p. 47, 2007). Young et al. also point out the difference between religion and spirituality. According to this study, spirituality is defined as

A capacity and tendency that is innate and unique to all persons. The spiritual tendency moves the individual toward knowledge, love, meaning, peace, hope, transcendence, connectedness, compassion, wellness, and wholeness. Spirituality includes one’s capacity for creativity, growth, and the development of a value system.

Religion, on the other hand is defined as “the specific organized and codified form through which individuals may express their spirituality” (p. 48, 2007).

In this study, the authors report that 68% of counselors felt that it is important or very important for counselors in training to have formal training in addressing spiritual and religious issues. However, only 46% of respondents said that they were prepared to integrate spiritual issues into counseling. What we have here is a huge demand with little supply. The authors point out a number of ways in which we can help start the process of working spirituality into counseling.

The first suggestion is that there is a need to build curricula with an emphasis on spirituality. They suggest that this can be either one course, or it can be worked into all areas of study. Second, there is a need for research on the subject and knowledge on how one can incorporate spirituality into counseling. Third, there is a need to evaluate the role of spirituality in the lives of others and how religion and spirituality may contribute in the development of psychological disorders. Finally, there is a need for greater dialogue on the subject in professional literature. The word needs to get out on the subject in order for the subject to gain ground.

I have always felt that spirituality is one of the greatest assets to a counselor. The majority of people have some sort of spirituality, whether they have religion or not. Without spirituality, we would essentially be robots who only performed basic life functions. Spirituality plays a huge role in the psychology of our minds. Spirituality helps to develop our morals, our place in the world, our relational issues, our connectedness with others, etc. Major breakdowns in one of these areas can cause huge psychological illness.

As counselors, I feel that it is our role to acknowledge the spirituality of a person and let that be a major factor in the person’s recovery. The counselor does not have to have the same religion or any religion at all when counseling a person, but we should have a basic awareness of our own spirituality and the empathy to understand another’s spirituality when helping a person recover. I feel that we need to examine innate qualities such as spirituality when treating a person and use that as much as possible in their treatment. Essentiality, the counselor acts as a guide while the client seeks out the answers that they can best come to terms with. It’s important to teach a client how to pay attention to their moral traces when examining any given situation and to trust their gut feeling when appropriate.

In order for this to become an effective mode of treatment, more education needs to be given on the area. The authors of this article suggest this as well and give a starting point for how to incorporate spirituality training into courses. As I mentioned before, I feel that spirituality plays a major role in a client’s recovery and it is our duty as counselors to have knowledge in this field.

Reference: Young, Wiggins-Frame, & Cashwell. (2007). Spirituality and counselor competence: A national survey of American Counseling Association members. Journal of Counseling and Development. (85)1, p. 47-52.

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