The reported religious values of a sample of licensed professional counselors, psychologists, and upper division college students were examined. The survey assessed level of religiosity, religious enhancement (i.e., religion seen as a positive influence), and religious negativity (i.e., religion seen as a negative influence). In summary, counselors reported a higher level of religiosity than students, who reported a higher level of religiosity than psychologists. With regard to religious enhancement and negativity, there was not a significant difference between counselors and students. However psychologists reported a less positive attitude toward religion than either counselors or students. The discussion focuses on implications for clinical practice and future research.
Bergin (1991) reviewed evidence that mental health professionals differ from the general population in terms of religious/spiritual values, a phenomenon he referred to as a professional "religiosity gap." For example, while two thirds of the population consider religion to be "important" or "very important" in their lives, only 29% of therapists rate religious content as important in therapy. Also, he reported that 20% of mental health professionals indicated they had no religious preference compared to nine percent of the general public. Whereas 72% of the general public indicated that their approach to life was based on their religion, only 46% of mental health professionals endorsed this position. Mental health professionals have higher rates of atheism and agnosticism than the general population, according to Gallup (1989). Bergin and Jensen (1990) noted that data from numerous surveys suggest that therapists are less committed to traditional values, beliefs and religious affiliations than the general population.
Based on these data, there appears to be a discrepancy between the values of mental health professionals and a significant proportion of the clients they serve. A relevant question concerns the practical impact of this "religiosity gap." There is evidence that this value discrepancy contributes to the reluctance of some religious individuals to use mental health services (Larson, Pattison, Blazer, Omran & Kaplan, 1986; Larson, Donahue, Lyons, Benson, Pattison, Worthington & Blazer, 1989). Additionally, data suggest that when religious clients do pursue mental health services, they prefer therapy from ministers or church staff to secular therapists (McClure, 1987).
There appears to be considerable variability across different mental health disciplines in terms of religious/spiritual values. For example, Bergin and Jensen (1990) examined religious preferences and attitudes across four mental health disciplines (i.e., Marriage & Family Therapists, Clinical Social Workers, Psychiatrists, and Clinical Psychologists). In summary, family therapists were the most religious and clinical psychologists were the least religious. The authors concluded that a majority of the population probably prefers an orientation in counseling which is sympathetic or sensitive to a spiritual perspective, and that for two thirds of the population, a completely secular approach to therapy may provide an alien value framework.
While there may have been some moderation in recent years, the profession generally acknowledges psychology's cynical position on religion. For example, in a recent edition of the monthly newspaper of the American Psychological Association, Clay (1996) noted that psychologists have often taken a hostile stance toward religion, often viewing religious beliefs as a sign of weakness or even pathology. While the empirical literature examining the association between religiosity and mental health is laden with conflicting results, comprehensive meta-analysis and narrative reviews suggest that there is essentially no correlation between religion and mental illness (Bergin, 1991). Discrepant results are generally attributed to the multidimensional nature of religion. That is, when examining the relationship between mental health and religion, it is necessary to consider the nature of the religious beliefs. While it is beyond the scope of this manuscript to review this literature, the research suggests that beliefs based on a "caring and supportive" religious model are beneficial, while belief based on a "harsh and condemning" religious model is potentially harmful (Bergin, 1991; Clay, 1996; Pargament, Ensing, Falgout, Olsen, et al., 1990)
While religious beliefs and practices influence various aspects of human experience relevant to counseling situations, many therapists have attempted to avoid any discussion of religion or values (e.g., Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 1993; Duncan, Eddy, & Haney, 1981; Henning & Tirrell, 1982). The maintenance of this therapeutic neutrality is usually framed as an ethical consideration based on avoiding the imposition of the therapist's views on the client. However, it has been argued that such neutrality is not realistic since non-verbal behaviors, the selection of therapeutic responses, and even the decision to avoid religious issues, communicate a value-laden message (Corey et al., 1993; Lawrence, 1987).
In addition to efforts to maintain therapeutic neutrality for ethical reasons, some therapists may avoid religious discussion as a result of the previously mentioned skepticism toward religion. In this context, therapists may view religion as authoritative and repressive, and feel science is the only appropriate avenue for addressing mental health issues (Stander, Piercy, MacKinnon, & Helmeke, 1994). An additional ethical concern involves professional competence. That is, therapists are obligated to practice within their limits of professional competence, which may not include discussing religious issues. To address this issue, it may be necessary to refer clients to clergy to address issues of church doctrine or teaching (Lawrence, 1987). Because of these issues, many mental health professionals consider it inappropriate to incorporate religion into therapy. However, some clinicians and researchers argue that religion can be ethically and effectively utilized in therapeutic settings. For example, research suggests that religious individuals display superior treatment responses when therapeutic values are placed in a framework that is more consistent with their religious values (Azhar & Varma, 1995; Propst, 1980; Propst, Ostrom, Watkins, Dean, & Mashburn, 1992). However, not all researchers support this position. For example, English (1990) argued that Christian models of counseling have not been proven to be more effective than pure psychological models and that Christian counselors make the same logical mistakes that they criticize in nonChristian counselors.
The purpose of the current research was to examine religious values of a sample of licensed professional counselors, licensed psychologists and a sample of upper division college students. Specifically, a survey was administered to assess three aspects of religion: (a) level of religiosity (i.e., religious commitment and involvement), (b) religious enhancement (i.e., religion is useful in addressing life problems), and (c) religious negativity (i.e., religion is misleading, harmful, and of little use).
The current study was initiated to examine the attitudes and perceptions of mental health professionals (i.e., counselors and psychologists) and university students on a variety of issues related to religion and therapy. To this end, questionnaires were administered to licensed professional counselors, psychologists, and university students. The questionnaires were developed for this study. Prior to using these questionnaires, they were reviewed by a pilot group of mental health professionals and college students to identify questions that were ambiguous or poorly worded. The questionnaires administered to counselors and psychologists were identical. The questionnaires administered to students contained parallel questions to those administered to mental health professionals, but differed somewhat with regard to demographic and educational information (copies of questionnaires can be obtained from Dr. McClure). University students were recruited from graduate and upper level undergraduate classes at a state university in Texas. Mental health professionals were solicited through a mailing to licensed professional counselors and psychologists in Texas.
Four hundred questionnaires were mailed to licensed counselors and psychologists, of which 180 were returned for an overall return rate of 45%. Through university based solicitation, 212 questionnaires were completed by upper level students (i.e., juniors, seniors, & graduate students). Participants with incomplete demographic data or incomplete scale items were deleted from the analyses. This resulted in 137 viable questionnaires from mental health professionals (i.e., 63 counselors; 74 psychologists) and 198 student questionnaires. Thirty-eight percent were males and 62% were females. The majority of participants were Protestants, some were Catholics, and others were from a scattering of other faiths.
In addition to demographic questions, the questionnaires contained 26 items that were scored on a four-point scale (I = disagree strongly; 2 = disagree; 3 = agree; 4 = agree strongly). Additionally, two questions addressed level of religiosity, and one question assessed the desirability of incorporating religious issues in therapy. To enhance analysis and interpretation through data reduction, items with similar content were combined to form composites or scales which reflect the face validity of the items (also referred to as "parcels" in the psychometric literature: Floyd & Widaman, 1995). The following scales were used in subsequent analyses:
Scale I-Religiosity (i.e., religious commitment/involvement). This is a composite of two items: Question 8-Do you consider yourself: not religious; mildly; moderately; or very religious., and Question 9-How often do you go to church: never; 1 or 2 times a year; monthly; twice monthly; weekly; more than weekly.
Scale II-Religious Enhancement. This is a composite of 8 items: Question 13d-religion: reduces anxiety; Question 13e-is helpful solving bad problems; Question 13f-is of major use in life; Question 13-answers all important questions; Ql4a-helps cope with depression; Q14b-helps cope with major life problems; Q14c-answers questions about values; and Q14d-helps direct life.
Scale III-Religious Negativity. This is a composite of 4 items: Q13a-- religion: has caused more problems than it has solved; Ql3b-is of little use; Q13h- is not realistic; Ql3i-is really mythology.
Data analysis was executed utilizing PC SAS 6.04. Prior to the primary analysis, a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was performed to test for gender differences on the three scale scores. This analysis indicated that there was not a significant effect for gender (F (3, 331) = .60, p > .62) and subsequent analyses were performed on groups collapsed across gender. The primary analysis involved a MANOVA performed to test whether mean group differences (i.e., students; counselors; & psychologists) on the three scales (i.e., Religiosity; Enhancement; Negativity) were significant. Post-hoc analyses were performed to further investigate the nature of the relationships among the independent and dependent variables.
Initially, the three dependent variables were examined for outliers and univariate normality. While there were moderate deviations from normality (e.g., Scale III was positively skewed), there were no extreme outliers. Since both ANOVA and MANOVA are robust to modest violations of normality if the deviations are due to skewness rather than outliers (Tabachnick & Fidel, 1989), no transformation of variables was undertaken. Additionally, the relatively large sample size should ensure robustness.
The primary analysis involved a one-way multivariate analysis of variance performed on three dependent variables: Scale I-Religiosity, Scale II-Religious Enhancement, and Scale III-Religious Negativity. The independent variable was research group (i.e., students; counselors; & psychologists). Results of the MANOVA were significant (Wilks' Lambda (6, 660) = 6.93, p < .0001). Univariate ANOVA's for the three dependent variables were all significant: Scale I-Religiosity (F (2, 332) = 9.39, p <.0001); Scale II-Religious Enhancement (F (2,332) = 6.23, p < .0022); and Scale III-Religious Negativity (F (2, 332) = 6.93, p < .0001).
Since the dependent variables are correlated, they reflect overlapping aspects of the same underlying psychological functions, and caution should be exercised when interpreting these results. Tabachnick and Fidel (1989) recommend stepdown analysis of correlated dependent variables in addition to ANOVA's. In stepdown analysis each dependent variable is analyzed with higher-priority dependent variables treated as covariates. As an adjunct analysis, this procedure was performed with the following priority order: Scale I, Scale II, and Scale III. Stepdown analysis produced the following results: Scale I-Religiosity (F (2, 332) = 9.39, p < .0001); Scale It-Religious Enhancement (F (3,331) = 4.08, p < .0177); and Scale III- Religious Negativity (F (4, 330) = 7.21, p < .0001).
Group means and results of post-hoc Scheffe tests are depicted in Table 1. An examination of the post hoc results indicates that licensed counselors reported a higher level of religiosity (Scale I) than students, who reported a higher level than licensed psychologists. With regard to Religious Enhancement (Scale II), psychologists reported a lower value than either students or counselors. There was not a significant difference between students and counselors on this scale. Finally, with regard to Religious Negativity (Scale III), psychologists reported a higher value than either students or counselors. Again, there was not a significant difference between students and counselors.
In sum, these analyses suggest that counselors report a higher level of religiosity than students, who report a higher level of religiosity than psychologists. With regard to religious enhancement and negativity, there was not a significant difference between counselors and students. In contrast, psychologists reported a less positive attitude toward religion than either counselors or students.
The results of this study highlight differences between mental health disciplines with regard to reported religious values. In sum, there appears to be substantial differences in religious values and beliefs between licensed counselors and psychologists in Texas. Relative to psychologists, licensed counselors reported a higher level of religious commitment, a greater belief in the positive influence of religion in their lives, and a lower belief in religions causing negative effects. In contrast, psychologists were less religious, expressed less belief in positive religious influences in their lives, and reported a stronger belief in religion causing negative life effects than either counselors or college students. Thus, the earlier reported research on therapists and religious beliefs might be better amended to be psychologists and religious beliefs (at least in the state of Texas). This is consistent with the results of Bergin and Jensen (1990) and extends their findings to another mental health discipline (i.e., licensed professional counselors).
A natural question involves the source of this variance. That is, are differences in religious values/beliefs across disciplines the result of pre-existing personality variables (i.e., prior to professional training) or the result of the professional training? With regard to the first hypothesis, it is possible that religious individuals are less likely to seek training in clinical psychology. For example, due to differences in state licensing requirements (e.g., master's degree required for licensure in counseling; doctoral degree required for licensure in psychology), individuals with different backgrounds may elect to apply to different training programs. An individual with previous training in education or religion might be more inclined to select a counseling program over a psychology program. In contrast, students entering psychology training program may tend to have psychological or scientific backgrounds. It is also possible that religious individuals are less likely to be accepted into clinical psychology programs. For example, Gartner (1986) found evidence of anti-religious prejudice in admissions to doctoral training programs in clinical psychology. In essence, he found that the probability that a conservative Christian applicant would be admitted to an APA accredited clinical psychology training program was less than an identical application without religious mention.
The second hypothesis suggests that training programs in counseling and psychology provide different training and experiences that influence the religious values and beliefs of students. In Texas, many licensed professional counselors have master's degrees and many counselor-training programs do not require an empirical research experience (e.g., a master's thesis). In contrast, licensed psychologists have doctoral degrees and tend to have experience including empirical research. This is consistent with the national trend for counseling programs to place less emphasis on research and statistics than psychology programs (Gray, 1995). In addition to the different attention paid to empirical research, it is possible that counseling and psychology programs promote different views regarding religion. For example, a proposal for reorganizing psychology training programs suggested that religiously affiliated programs are inappropriate for the training of psychology because they lack a commitment to psychological science (Fox, Kovacs & Graham, 1985).
An interesting question would be whether professional counselors, who appear to hold religious views that are more consistent with those of potential clients than psychologists, are more or less effective delivering services? One indication of the answer to this question is the selection by students of providers of counseling services (i.e., Q 15). Students' first preference for counseling help was a friend (87%), followed by a professional counselor (83%), a minister (80%), and a psychologist (76%). Why would the university students choose a professional counselor or a minister more often then a psychologist? This difference might be price, perceived social stigma, perceived acceptance, familiarity, or it might reflect a perception of more similar values.
In summary, although some mental health professionals may endorse religious/spiritual values that are inconsistent with the general population, this phenomenon does not include all disciplines. The current results indicate that licensed professional counselors largely report religious values that are consistent with those of university students. In contrast, psychologists reported less positive attitudes toward religion than either professional counselors or students. This appears to be consistent with Bergin and Jensen's (1990) research that found that among the disciplines they examined, clinical psychologists were the least religious. For professional counselors, this may be viewed as positive information, suggesting that they are more "in sync" with the clients they intend to help. For psychologists, it may be cause for concern if this "religiosity gap" is perceived as reflecting insensitivity or intolerance of the values and beliefs of religious clients.
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Robert F. McClure is a Professor and Ronald B. Livingston an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, The University of Texas at Tyler.…