Ethical Aspects of Spirituality in Counseling

By Steen, Rheta LeAnne; Engels, Dennis et al. | Counseling and Values, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Ethical Aspects of Spirituality in Counseling


Steen, Rheta LeAnne, Engels, Dennis, Thweatt, W. Tom,, III, Counseling and Values


The authors review the professional literature related to spirituality and ethics in counseling. The American Counseling Association's (1995, 2005) code of ethics was used as a basis for exploring the possibilities and limits/ boundaries appropriate for discussion of spirituality in counseling. Implications for practice and research are discussed.

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An extensive review of the counseling literature reveals a trend toward incorporating more spiritual components in the counseling and counselor preparation process (Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2003; Emmons & Paloutzian, 2003; Engels, 2001; Faiver, O'Brien, & Ingersoll, 2000; Helminiak, 2001; Jankowski, 2002; McClure & Livingston, 2000; Miller, 1999; Myers & Truluck, 1998; Myers & Williard, 2003; Polanski, 2003; Swinton, 2001; Wolf & Stevens, 2001). However, ethical dilemmas related to spirituality in counseling can range from counselors' concern of imposing personal values onto the client to issues regarding separation of church and state in school counseling. These and related dilemmas may hinder counselor educators, supervisors, practicing mental health counselors, and school counselors from adequately addressing spirituality as a counseling component (Corey et al., 2003; Henning & Tirrell, 1982; McClure & Livingston, 2000; Miller, 1999; Myers & Williard, 2003; Slife & Richards, 2001; Watts, 2001).

This article explores selected literature related to ethical aspects of spirituality in counseling regarding four topics addressed in the American Counseling Association's (ACA; 1995) A CA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice: (a) client welfare, (b) respecting diversity, (c) personal needs and values, and (d) professional competence. These four areas of the ACA code of ethics specifically address and are applicable to aspects of spirituality in a variety of manifestations, spanning the counseling experience from counselor preparation and supervision to client demographics and client experience. Although discussions concerning the secularization of spirituality in counseling are not novel, this article ties together standards of practice in the ACA code of ethics; the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2001) standards; and findings of a literature review of this controversial domain of counseling, counselor preparation, and supervision.

Definition of Spirituality

In this article, we use the following definition of spirituality provided by the Association for Spiritual, Ethical and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC; 1998):

   Spirit may be defined as the animating life force, represented by
   such images as breath, wind, vigor, and courage. Spirituality is
   the drawing out and infusion of spirit in one's life. It is
   experienced as an active and passive process. Spirituality is also
   defined as a capacity and tendency that is innate and unique to all
   persons. This 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. Spirituality encompasses a variety of phenomena, including
   experiences, beliefs, and practices. Spirituality is approached from
   a variety of perspectives, including psychospiritual, religious, and
   transpersonal. While spirituality is usually expressed through
   culture, it both precedes and transcends culture. (para. 3-4)

This definition of spirituality is meant to encompass a multitude of perspectives and experiences, including atheistic and agnostic viewpoints. Although increasing attention to spirituality has afforded other definitions and perspectives, there seems to be no consensus in the professional literature about a definition for spirituality. …

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