As more and more clients present with issues, it is becoming increasingly important that counsellors take into account the Spiritual and/or Religious needs of the client.  This can be achieved by undertaking to do a Spiritual Needs Assessment Profile, listening to what a client may be saying though maybe in a veiled fashion, or by exploring with the client about their needs. The use of open-ended questions is a good way to begin this exploration.

 

We shall look at some definitions concerning the term, ‘Spirituality,’ and seek to address the issue of Spirituality in as far as it pertains to the counseling process.  In researching this issue, I have drawn on a number of texts, both professional texts accepted by the Profession itself, and allied texts. Other texts consulted, though not standard texts, help to highlight the relevant arguments made herein.

 

I trust to address the need for counsellor awareness of a client’s spiritual outlook, the need for counsellors to respect the right of clients to follow a spiritual path, and to increase their skills as counsellors to incorporate the three core skills of genuineness, acceptance and empathy when dealing with clients – as found in the Person-Centred approach.  A number of questions are put forward along the way merely to assist in facilitating awareness as counsellors.

 

I trust that after today, we will have a deeper appreciation for the need to include an assessment of client spirituality.  Apart from looking at some possible real-life situations and suggestions for appropriate use of interventions, I attach a lengthy reference list for those desiring to research the issue more comprehensively.

 

SPIRITUALITY AND ITS PLACE IN COUNSELLING

 

Plato, writing in 380 B.C, wisely said:

 

As you ought not to attempt to cure the eyes without the head, or the head without the body, so neither ought you to attempt to cure the body without the soul…for the part can never be well unless the whole is well …And therefore, if the head and body are to be well, you must begin by curing the soul.(Charmides, or Temperance )

 

What do we mean when we use the term “Spirituality”?   One author, Danesh, (1994) informs us that

 

Spirituality…is not simply the opposite of materialism—Far from it. Spirituality is an active process that is inherently purposeful. Its objectives are growth, development, and transcendence. Through our spirituality, we seek to achieve the highest and noblest in ourselves and to create a united and ever-advancing civilization…It follows that a spiritual lifestyle calls for a major review of our thinking about our life experiences and perspectives

 

We can see that an individual’s concept of spirituality in relation to themselves is a matter of deeply going within and “finding” their place in the world. According to Carl Jung, the self is central in achieving spiritual growth and one such method for achieving this is “inner” or “self reflection.”—”Until you make the unconscious conscious,
it will direct your life and you will call it fate
.”

 

Another definition from 1971 White House Conference on Aging

 

We shall consider ‘the spiritual’ as pertaining to man’s [woman’s] inner resources, especially his [her] ultimate concern, the basic values around which all other values are focused, the central philosophy of life…which guides a person’s conduct, the supernatural and non-material dimensions of human nature. We shall assume, therefore, that all men [women] are ‘spiritual’ even if they…practice no personal pieties. (Topper, 2003)

 

The Ramakrishna magazine, Vedanta Kesari, explains it like this: “We all want our life to have some meaning, some direction, some self-evolved authority for guidance. Values give us all this, so it would be foolish to close our eyes to them.” (Vedanta Kesari, 1996).

 

Corey (2001) points out to counsellors that while some clients embrace a spirituality in the context of a formal religion, others may embrace same yet without recourse to formal religion. It shows the importance that counselors need to be alert, to the difference between Spirituality and Religion, and the nuances contained within each.  It has been advocated (Hepworth, Rooney and Larsen 2002) that people fall into one of four categories:

 

 

  1. Spiritual & nonreligious
  2. Religious and dispirited
  3. Dispirited &nonreligious
  4. Spiritual and religious

 

 

Lastly, an even broader definition can be seen in the following as addressed by the Summit on Spirituality:

 

Spirituality may be defined as a capacity and tendency that is innate and unique to all persons. This spiritual tendency moves the individual toward knowledge, love, meaning, hope, transcendence, connectedness, and compassion.  Spirituality includes one’s capacity for creativity, growth, and the development of a values system.  Spirituality encompasses the religious, spiritual, and transpersonal (as quoted in Corey, Corey and Callanan, 1998)

 

From the foregoing, we have a fairly wide scope in which to work by.

 

Within the fields of counseling it is becoming increasingly acknowledged that by addressing the clients’ spiritual and religious needs, such can assist them to be able to move towards growth and healing. By exploring such issues with the clients in relation to their presenting problems, clients may be helped to find solutions to their struggles (Corey, Corey and Callanan, 1998). Evidence for the interest that spirituality and religion plays in our clients lives can be found in the increased number of articles in this area in professional journals and in presentations at professional conferences. (Corey, 2001) The American Psychiatric Association added the term religious or spiritual problem to its diagnostic manual in 1994 to describe: “examples include[ing] distressing experiences that involve loss or questioning of faith, problems associated with conversion to a new faith, or questioning of spiritual values that may not be related to an organized church or religious institution.” (Topper, 2003)

 

Carl Jung firmly believed in a broader view of life. According to his view, religion is not harmful; on the contrary, it is of great help. (Akhilananda, 1952)

 

 

As one writer put it

 

If we do not have a meaningful purpose that guides us every day and over the course of our lives, making important decisions, resolving internal and external conflicts, planning for the future, choosing friends and partners, and making sense of suffering become very difficult. Without a chosen, “higher” purpose, life gives us a sort of default purpose: avoid suffering as much as possible. If this is all life means, we are sure to suffer more, not less, because the human mind and spirit need creativity, accomplishment, fulfillment and meaning that the avoidance of suffering alone cannot provide. Further, the experience of some suffering is necessary for us to learn and grow; if we try to avoid it at all costs (which is impossible anyway), we never mature. (https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/life-purpose)

 

Why is it important to understand the role of religion and spirituality in a client’s life? Ratliff (1996) in discussing health care settings, informs us that:

 

Religious beliefs may dictate food choices, clothing styles, customs of birthing and dying, etiquette in the sick room, use of modern conveniences, invasive procedures, organ donation, reception, use of blood products, certain diagnostic tests, gynecological procedures, spiritual influences on or control of sickness and healing, the wearing of protective devices or tattoos, and the need for prayers and rituals performed by various religious specialists (cited in Hepworth, Rooney and Larsen, 2002)

 

The Professional counsellor needs to develop awareness of, and respect for the clients’ view of their spirituality (or lack thereof) and their adherence to religion and what this means to them.  It is important never to assume what a client believes simply based on one’s own understanding of what Spiritual or Religious Path the client may identify with.   For example, if a Christian man is struggling with issues surrounding his sexuality, he may present with feelings of confusion, guilt and/or shame.  These may be due to how he perceives the teachings of his Church, the Bible, and his own concept of spirituality.   He may say that if he acted on his feelings of attraction to other man, he will be barred from the Kingdom of God or, even more frightening, shall burn for an eternity in hell.

 

Yes, there are groups who still push this line.

 

 

If one has had it driven into their head that their sexuality is wrong, because the Bible says so, and if their religion is ultimately important to them, then we can appreciate how those statements might cause great internal trouble. How can one justify their existence, their worth whilst apparently living outside of God’s laws?

 

Indeed, I feel some of the so-called “Christian” attitudes regarding “healing” gay people to do more harm than good. For example, Christian author Gordon Dalbey (2003) writes about Gay men seeking a Father-figure—which is really saying that two men (or women) cannot ‘truly care’ for one another, for there is naturally a part of themselves that ‘if healed’ would turn them into ‘normal, healthy, functioning heterosexuals. Others are at least addressing it in a more positive way yet remaining true as to how they see the word of God (Attridge, 2000 p.213)

 

Given that counsellors have an ethical responsibility to become aware of their own beliefs and how these affect their work with their clients (Corey, 2001, Geldard, 2003), the client’s story should be heard without any judgment. By being able to go with the client’s “frame of reference,” and empathically listening to what may lie behind their words, the client is placed in a better position to be therapeutically assisted.  I would suggest that a Person-centered approach is required here.

 

We can extend this further to include the divorced person, the person who may come across as not “toeing the line,” the victim of domestic violence, the woman who either seeks or has had an abortion, being pregnant outside of wedlock, HIV/AIDS issues or the so-called “unruly” child or issues surrounding addiction and abuse issues—I am thinking here of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Of course, then there is Spiritual Abuse and issues surrounding the desire to join a group that may be perceived by family and friends as negative, for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Hare Krishna movement. Some faiths even frown on issues such as depression, anxiety and other illnesses as being caused by a lack of faith either in God or, in the case of a cult, its leader.

 

To downplay a client’s beliefs and associated fears as somehow being “too out there” or “too abstract ” in no way validates their worldview – with the possibility that they may abandon therapy, and therefore remain “stuck” in their conflict. I would imagine that this would create further turmoil for them or even worse.

 

As counsellors take such clients, their own beliefs and values will be challenged as they listen to their clients and the stories that they share with us – and  it may assist us in our need to be on guard against being too directive with our clients (Corey, 2001)

 

To overcome such hurdles, counsellors are consistently taught to adhere to the three core concepts of genuineness, acceptance and empathy (Sharf, 2000) as taught by Carl Rogers and Person-Centred Therapy.

 

Again, we are told that: “The key is for counselors to be sensitive to the needs of their clients, to listen to them and let them lead the way, and to talk about areas they indicate they want or need to explore.” (Corey, Corey, and Callanan, 2001)  In the case of our Christian man above, we should simply let him talk and tell us about what it means for him to be kept from the Kingdom of God, to allow him to talk as he sees his problems not as we may see them (that is, how we may perceive sexuality in a Christian or spiritual context or the Kingdom of God scenario). A counsellor  might  be liberal in their own beliefs yet the client’s more orthodox views are what need to be dealt with. Of course, a counsellor may likewise be closed in their own religious outlook.

 

Other spiritual paths also either condemn outright certain so-called ‘Sins’ against God—Divorce, questioning the ‘Sacred Books’ of the group, questioning  even ‘God ‘ Himself.  Indeed, some even say that to question God is akin to sinning against the Holy Spirit, which, in the Bible, is known as “the Unpardonable Sin,” as taught by Jesus in Matthew 12:31-32.

 

As we can see, exploring with a client how they view life from a Spiritual and/or Religious context, will assist the counseling process tremendously.  Here we need to keep in mind that:  “Religious beliefs strongly influence when, how and why persons seek help for emotional dysfunction, and how others [ie. Counsellors] perceive their [clients] symptoms of emotional distress.” (Wilson and Kneisl, 1983)

 

By way of an example, a young Jewish man may be perceived as paranoid if he were frequently to leave open a female counsellor’s door while he in there, however, upon investigation we learn that his religion advises against his being alone behind closed doors with a woman who is not a family member  (Hankoff, Blumenthal and Borowick, 1977). This is known as Yichud or seclusion.  It could work the opposite way where a similar though less orthodox client may feel too exposed to disclose certain issues to the counsellor if the door were left ajar on the assumption of this same Jewish admonition is applicable to all Jewish male clients; that all Jewish male clients would accept it.

 

 

 

On way to obtain a lucid understanding of our client’s spiritual needs is to perform a Spiritual Assessment of Needs profile when initially meeting with our clients.  This Assessment can also explore the depth and practice of a given faith in terms of the individual client.   It can assist the counsellor to gain a deeper awareness of the client’s needs, and the client may feel at ease in talking about their respective spiritual beliefs.

 

Another factor to consider is that counsellors do not see a client’s needs only arising from out of a psychological basis – such as low self-esteem, anger, loss or frustration.  As people, we have the four aspects of Physical, Psychological, Emotional and Spiritual – each with its own independent, yet interdependent needs. Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ fits in well here (Diamond, 1994). Pagans have a similar tool – the 4Fs.

 

Clients also have spiritual needs for meaning, for hope, and for deeper connections in life and beyond.  Indeed, one’s spiritual needs are a deeper perspective of and/or completion of psychological needs.  (Topper, 2003).  Likewise, the spiritual contains a psychological need and neither should exclude the other.

 

One author describes such the division as leading to what he calls Counterfeit Recovery (Means, 2002) where a person is treated only as a spiritual being, not one who possesses other aspects such as physical, psychological and emotional needs.  He explains that “one dimensional recovery only drives the pain underground where it will later break out in some other form.”   Telling a client who may present with a problem such as guilt, to simply remember, and rely upon, a set of Scriptural injunctions, will not magically solve their problem.  It may certainly offer some form of comfort or respite but other interventions need to be concurrently in place, also an exploration of the client’s thoughts and emotions surrounding the issue of guilt. This author further adds that: “Many secular psychologists have their own version of one-dimensional recovery, because they leave God entirely out of the healing equation.” Too many people see problems in terms of “Sin” alone.

 

There is an interesting comment made in relation this very point by Swami Vivekananda, (1863-1902):

 

Do not talk of the wickedness of the world and all its sins. . . . The world is made weaker and weaker every day by such teachings. Men are taught from childhood that they are weak and sinners.  Teach them that they are all glorious children of immortality, even those who are the weakest in manifestations. Let positive, strong, helpful thoughts enter into their brains from very childhood. Lay yourselves open to these thoughts, and not to weakening and paralysing ones.

 

And again by Sri Ramakrishna, (1836-1886) who said to Vijay, one of His followers:   “Will you tell me one thing? Why do you harp so much on sin? By repeating a hundred times, ‘I am a sinner,’ one verily becomes a sinner. One should have such faith as to be able to say, ‘What? I have taken the name of God; how can I be a sinner?” (Gospel, p. 159)

 

Let us imagine that a client has a need for connecting to a group of like-minded individuals. The psychological need may consist of the fulfillment of issues pertaining to self-esteem or a feeling of ‘belonging.’  The spiritual need: To find purpose in one’s life via connecting with others who share the same outlook, the same hopes and dreams.  I follow Paganism as a spiritual path for it helps me – as an individual – to make sense of the world; it adds meaning to my life and to the life around me.   Without this ‘meaning,’ I would question the purpose of life and yet to no avail – for without finding a ‘meaning;’ a purpose, I feel life would lack that something for which I get up for each day. Finding the Spiritual meaning supplies my psychological and emotional needs for peace, inner strength and understanding of the ‘purpose’ of life per se.

 

If a counsellor seeks to specialize in a given ‘Spiritual’ or ‘Religious’ path, such as Christian Counselling, then they need to be aware of how they deal with their clients.  One example would be the appropriate and timely use when employing, for example, scripture to assist in healing (Cloud and Townsend, 2003). If a client were to present with distress concerning a pending divorce from an estranged partner – so as to remarry – yet concurrently feels “condemned” by the Bible, it would be remiss of the Christian Counsellor to say to him or her: “Well the Bible clearly teaches that divorce is wrong – let us turn to the book of Romans 7:2-3…”   To do so invalidates that person’s feelings and will simply add to their original distress.  Here inappropriate use of scripture could lead to them experiencing deeper guilt, grief and loss issues, and anger at God for creating this scenario in their life. They could turn from their faith yet hanker for this loss of faith, for this ‘meaning’ in their life.

 

As Christian author writes, “Although we often downplay suffering unintentionally with well-meaning comments such as “Everything happens for a reason” or “God has a plan for you,” spouting platitudes or Bible verses inappropriately can actually add to a person’s pain. This kind of use of Scripture can also prevent us from entering into the suffering of the other person.” (Sims, 2016)

 

In the Jehovah’s Witness magazine, The Watchtower of January 1, 1972, a reader asked whether the gay life a married person constitutes a Scriptural ground for divorce, freeing the innocent mate to remarry?     The answer given is one example of how an inappropriate response can be made—

 

 

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus Christ said: “Everyone divorcing his wife, except on account of fornication, makes her a subject for adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matt. 5:32) On a later occasion he told the Pharisees: “Whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.” —Matt. 19:9. Thus “fornication” is seen to be the only ground for divorce that frees the innocent mate to remarry… While both homosexuality and bestiality are disgusting perversions, in the case of either one is the marriage tie broken. It is broken only by acts that make an individual “one flesh” with a person of the opposite sex other than his or her legal marriage mate.

 

Let us remember that the person presenting this issue to the Elder of the Kingdom Hall, was desiring resolution from a difficult and emotionally-challenging episode of her marriage commitment.  We cannot assume that she has the capacity—Spiritually, Emotionally or Psychologically—just to “withdraw” from the Kingdom Hall, for to do so would then see her “disfellowshiped,” thus losing her anchor, and meaning, in life.

 

A more appropriate and timely response to her might have been, “It sounds like it’s really difficult for you to reconcile your wanting to remarry with what the Bible is saying to you.  Remember the words of Jesus from Matthew 11: 28 when he says to you: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

 

Such a response would certainly allow a different experience for the client and offer her an avenue of hope as opposed to predetermined despair.  It allows the client to be able to open another “window of opportunity” that might otherwise have remained shut (if not hidden).  Here the appropriate use of scripture can be validating and, given that it is uplifting – for no judgment has been placed on her – it should add to the healing process.

 

For men, in particular, it is important for the Christian counsellor to allow the client the opportunity to explore their wounds not simply to seek for more strength via exhortation and admonition. (Koepcke and James Wilder, 1994)     By appropriate and timely use of scripture the counsellor may bring to awareness that which was previously hidden.

 

This is a bit akin to the Johari Window which, though used to represent the total person in relation to other people (Wilson and Kneisl, 1983), can be made to include an individual’s awareness of hidden thoughts – Quadrant 4: The Unknown.      By using alternative Scriptures to instill hope, such can generate new awareness and healing, for the client.  However, allowing men to speak up is very validating and can generate a whole new emotional awareness which, often hidden, will free men from their pain. (Means, 2002;  Diamond, 1994).

 

Other techniques are, though not limited to Christianity, are Prayer, Meditation, Reading holy texts and Spiritual books, Visualization, Mandala drawing, Yoga, Confession and Self-Examination, Practicing Mindfulness, Journaling, Dream Recording, Retreat, Attunement with Nature, Solitude.

 

For others of different spiritual persuasions, a more eclectic ‘Spiritual and/or Religious’ outlook needs to be employed.  For instance, often men who are starting out on the Pagan path tend to have difficulties relating to the God of Paganism and WICCA (Conway; 1997, Drew, 1998) for they may equate the word ‘God’ with the concept of a ‘Patriarchal Judgmental God’ as often taught in the various Abrahamic Faiths.  These men may feel alone as they have lost the ‘God’ of their family-of-origin, yet find it difficult to get over that hurdle – they find it hard to embrace such a God as a Creator of Life – yet the Pagan God is many things: a creator, a protector of animals, a joker, a god of judgment (Drew, 1998).  Yet without the embrace, these men can feel lonely, dejected, and that there is no Male Deity with which they can turn to and model in love.  As such, male pagans often turn to the Goddess as a Mother figure – but we men need a Father figure too.  As one Occult author C succinctly puts it, “In spiritual terms, we create a spiritual path through the combination of our personal masculine and feminine energies.”  (Conway, 1997)

 

Personally, it was difficult for me to embrace the God of the Pagan ways as I have been brought up in a predominantly ‘Christian’ society and family – with all the attendant teachings about what I would incur if I were to deny the God of the Bible.

 

Yet for me, as I have journeyed through the Pagan path, I have definitely become far more accepting of myself as a ‘Male’ – by learning more about the myths surrounding the Pagan God (Conway, 1997, Drew, 1998,  Farrar, 1984), I have been able to slowly identify with His ways.  His tales have taught me about issues relating to strength, courage, compassion, healing, acceptance, discernment, to walk in peace, to respect All Life as gifts from the gods.

 

When a professional counsellor can respect my right as a client to choose and then follow my own Path – not view it as somehow “out there” or “that’s far too abstract”– then naturally this quality causes me to disclose deeper than what may have been my original intent.  When the professional counsellor truly listens, then, and only then, do I believe that deep healing can begin to occur.

 

Counsellors need to be as respectful to a Pagan’s (or others) concerns as when dealing with any client’s concerns. Sadly, there is often confusion here.  I was told personally by a psychologist that “People who follow your path always end up suffering problems, I know, I see them everyday!”   I felt sad for this man’s limited worldview. But that was what he said – and believe me, if I were not as strong in my own beliefs as I am I would have faltered.  As one with a strong interest in counseling, I hope to be able to simply be there for others and “not to make decisions for clients but to let clients choose how their own values will guide their behaviors.” (Corey, 2001)  One way that I propose to do this is by reading more about different spiritualities and religions, yet taking on board the notion of not compartmenting these into small boxes.

 

It is crucial that counsellor’s recognize that the spiritual domain offers solace, comfort and often great sustaining power for a client in crisis.  The guilt, anger and sadness that clients experience often results from a misinterpretation of the spiritual and religious realm, which can lead to depression and a sense of worthlessness. (Corey, 2001).  A fair example here is the issue of sexuality – If one identifies other than heterosexual, not many religions will “truly” accept that person; rather, they might tolerate the person but rarely truly embrace them. Even some WICCANS tends to “shun” under the guise of it being a “fertility cult” whereby male-female is the rule.  No wonder there is guilt, anger and sadness. Sadly, these invariably will lead some folk to experience feelings of low self-esteem, loneliness and, if not healthily resolved, depression – possibly suicide.   This is a result from ‘a misrepresentation of the spiritual and religious realm’ as being heaped on the client by another’s understanding, be it from an individual, a cultural injunction or simply society.

 

There are some unwise religious teachers who erroneously emphasize the sense of sin and guilt and they are likely to create mental disturbances in some people. Dr. Fritz Kunkel makes an appropriate comment:

 

Why has nobody thus far provided a real and practical system of Christian psychology? Probably the deepest reason for this is to be found in a general mistake on the part of Christendom itself: Namely, in its approach to the problem of sin.   Vices, character difficulties, and nervous symptoms are said to be related to sin, and sin is only to be shunned, never to be discussed or investigated. Sin is bad, and the good man turns away in horror. This emotional attitude is one of the gross fallacies of theology, whether it takes itself out in indignation or pity.  We psychologists know that this attitude betrays the deficiencies of the Christian workers themselves.   The individual worker has not yet solved his own problems; therefore he cannot solve the problems of his clients. (Cited in Sw. Akhilananda, 1952)

 

We have already seen that Sw. Vivekananda condemns seeing people as ‘Sinners

 

Yet other writers on the psychology of religion, such as Edwin Diller Starbuck and William James, go so far as to conclude that the sense of guilt is a necessary qualification for religious conversion.

 

To my own way of thinking, there are two types of guilt – 1. Guilt that causes us to convert to a spiritual path—of whichever persuasion is attractive to us and 2. Guilt that is bound up with shame.  This latter form of guilt is what can cause us to experience a mass of psychological problems. As Sw. Akhilananda (1952) writes:

 

The highest religion neither creates tension nor does it emphasize sinfulness. No doubt it gives a sense of inadequacy at times but it also gives in great measure inspiration, hope, and encouragement for the attainment of a harmonious life according to the supreme goal of life. The primary emphasis is not on sin, but on love of God

 

For a lot of clients who have experienced disaster or trauma, exploring issues with them surrounding grief and loss, anger, guilt, the concepts of good and evil, and forgiveness, can be a central part of the healing process (Hepworth, Rooney and Larsen, 2002). However, many people have their doubts about the religious ideal of forgiveness. They feel that others will take advantage of them if they practice this ideal.  Yet did not Jesus advocate: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Again, it was said by Buddha: “If one man conquer in battle a thousand times a thousand men, and if another conquer himself, he is the greatest of conquerors.” Dhammapada, trans. Max Mailer, VIII: 103.

 

Exploring such issues, though possibly anathema to some clients (i.e. a committing of blasphemy), may assist the client in coming to terms with whatever issue is affecting their life.     But to do so, I believe that counsellors need to have undertaken some form of deep soul-searching themselves on these various issues.

 

How can we deal with issues relating to a client’s anger at God if the client were to voice that “I hate and detest God with all my heart and wish him no longer in my life,” all the while tears streaming down their face!  What if I felt their anger to be most blasphemous – surely my body language (if nothing else) would convey my discomfit at the person’s need to express their anger. Yet by dealing with these issues beforehand, I feel counsellors are in a far better position to remain person-centred and to allow such expression as a natural outpouring of the client’s grief.

 

Corey (2001) points out the following for us:

 

In some ways a spiritual/religious perspective and a counseling perspective have similar goals. Both perspectives emphasize learning to accept oneself, forgiving others and oneself, admitting one’s shortcomings, accepting personal responsibility, letting go of hurts and resentments, dealing with guilt, and learning to let go of self-destructive patterns of thinking, feeling and acting….Because spiritual and therapeutic paths converge in some ways, integration is possible, and dealing with a client’s spirituality will often actually enhance the therapy process [italics mine].

 

Following is a brief outline of some of the attributes that a Spiritual Care Giver / Counsellor should try to emulate in their counseling of clients who identify spiritual or religious needs. It needs to be stated that where the term ‘God’ is employed, this is simply indicative of the authors own spiritual heritage yet does not detract from that which is meant to be conveyed.

 

  • Counselors need to allow clients to tell their stories. It is imperative that counselors communicate a sense of being loved by God and that clients are not responsible for what happened to them as a child.
  • Counselors give permission to clients to be angry, especially with God. Be nonjudgmental in allowing clients to explore spiritual issues. Counselors expressing unconditional acceptance may be the survivors’ only experience that demonstrates the possibility of God being able to love them in the same way.
  • Counselors help clients recognize that forgiveness is not simply an act but a process that can be begun and completed only after working through the issues concerned and their accompanying feelings. Do not try to rush this process by questioning their pace or suggesting forgiveness as the first step.
  • It is recommended that counselors use every avenue to give clients reassurance of their accountability before God and their place in God’s plan.
  • When appropriate, counselors celebrate, bless, and praise survivors’ rediscovery of a God of hope, a God of great comfort, and a God of great respect for them

 

(McBride and Armstrong, cited in Topper, 2003 – slightly paraphrased)

 

I have attempted to highlight the need for counsellors to be open to a client’s spirituality, religion and faith. To deny that such is important for the client, is tantamount to ignoring the client as an individual.  Even if the counsellor does not follow a spiritual path they must allow for their clients to have choice when it comes to the path they choose. If they are unable to respect the client’s right to this end, then I propose that they seriously need to question their motivation for entering the profession in the first instance.  Counsellors have an ethical obligation to continually undertake professional development so as to keep up-to-date and to better understand both future trends and their clients.  If a counsellor cannot assist a client for any reason, then referral is the natural outcome for the overall benefit of the client. Note that I say ‘Cannot,’ as opposed to ‘unable’ due to their own inherent bias or prejudice.

 

Some questions for possible reflection by a counselor include:

 

  • What is the counsellor’s own faith and spiritual prejudices?
  • Can a strong Christian-oriented counsellor work with clients of other faiths and more-so those faiths they believe their own negates – Paganism, for one example?
  • How do counsellors grow in awareness of other faiths, spiritualities etc., and thus develop empathy with clients whose persuasion is of these faiths, spiritualities etc?
  • Can an atheist work with a client holding deeply-held beliefs which may be seen, by the counsellor, to rule the clients life? How does the atheist develop their empathy for such clients?
  • How does a counsellor assist a client who presents with an issue that is totally at variance with their own beliefs?
  • If a counsellor feels all life is sacred and therefore abortion wrong, how can they overcome this belief to counsellor the woman wishing to work through this issue? Indeed, should they counsellor such a client? What if the woman herself believes abortion to be wrong but sees no other positive outcome than to have an abortion?

 

These are just some questions that I feel professional counsellors may need to ponder over in anticipation of meeting with such clients.  By thinking about issues such as these now, the counsellor shall certainly both grow in themselves and, I believe, be at an advantaged when meeting with clients who may hold to a Spiritual outlook on life.    I wish to conclude this paper on linking spirituality with counselling with the following quote which, for me, sums up best that which I have attempted to say.

 

Indeed, as one comes to learn the true meaning of life, both in general terms and in relation to individual purpose, every thought, every action is recognized for the full responsibility it implies as a representative of its author [the Creator, God, Universal Spirit etc]. The realization, not only that everything has a purpose, but more significantly, that that purpose is the acceptance of a very special responsibility, [such] is a measure of true initiation into the secrets of the inner [spiritual] self (Phillips, 1988)

REFERENCE LIST

 

  1. Akhilananda, Sw. (1952) Mental Health and the Hindu Mind. Jarrod & Sons Ltd UK p.8
  2. Attridge, C  (2000)   The Fruit of The Spirit,   The Dawn Book Supply   UK   2nd  Ed..
  3. Cloud, H & Townsend, J (2003)  Making Small Groups Work,   Zondervan  USA
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