One Approach to a Counseling and Spirituality Course

Article excerpt

The authors describe the design of and student reaction to a counseling and spirituality course offered to full-time resident counselor education students at the University of Virginia, a secular university, The course was offered as a blended Internet-based and seminar course. The Internet components were the result of student feedback from previous distance Internet courses. Positive student reactions to both the content and the method were reported. The students viewed the Internet discussion of spiritual and religious issues as a positive feature of the course. Their most common suggestion was to have more seminar meetings to discuss the issues raised in required Internet postings,

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The accreditation standards of the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2001) for counselor education programs and counselors' professional and ethical commitment to diversity are evidence that spirituality should be recognized as one aspect of counselee diversity. The need to include spirituality in counselor training has been recognized for more than a decade in the literature of the profession (Burke et al., 1999; Curtis & Gass, 2002; Fukuyama & Selvig, 1997; Meyers & Willard, 2003; Pate & Bondi, 1992). Given the recognition of the importance of spirituality in the lives of counselees for over a decade, why is spirituality an often neglected aspect of counselor education with regard to diverse populations (Kelly, 1994; Pate & High, 1995)? Perhaps a simple answer can be found in counselor educators' perception that it is difficult to deliver such a course to religiously diverse student populations. Secular institutions are supported by public funds and staffed by faculty members who might not be at ease discussing spiritual issues.

A course on counseling and spirituality was offered at "Mr. Jefferson's University" during the spring semester of 2003. It was the first course of its kind at the University of Virginia (UVA), which is a public institution. The institution is mentioned because the separation of church and state is often associated with Thomas Jefferson, the founder of UVA. Jefferson is often cited as one of the founding fathers who did not subscribe to the conventional religious views of his era.

Counseling and Spirituality was a two-credit course (with an optional third credit awarded for completing a project). It was offered as an elective within the counselor education program. The course was offered under a special topics number that allows for a new course to be taught twice before a faculty review is undertaken to assign a permanent course number. This course represents one example of a way for counselors and counselor educators to expand their understanding of clients' spiritual and religious beliefs and enhance their appreciation of how those beliefs can influence the counseling relationship. For the first author, a counselor educator, the course was his attempt to overcome some of the perceived and real obstacles to a course that focuses on counseling and spirituality. The second author, a doctoral student in teacher education, had conducted her dissertation research on teaching and spirituality; she evaluated the course as part of her assistantship. In this article, we describe the particular approach taken for teaching this course and the students' reactions to it.

Background of the Counseling and Spirituality Course

The first author had written (Pate & High, 1995) about the need to include spirituality in counselor education curricula, but for a variety of reasons that included his teaching and administrative responsibilities, had not personally done so. His recent teaching responsibility had involved internet-based courses on counseling and technology and ethical and legal aspects of counseling, in addition to courses delivered by the traditional lecture/discussion/seminar method. …