Spirituality and Counselor Wellness

By Cashwell, Craig S.; Bentley, D. Paige et al. | Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview
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Spirituality and Counselor Wellness

Cashwell, Craig S., Bentley, D. Paige, Bigbee, Amy, Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Spirituality often is conceptualized as a vital, if not essential, aspect of holistic wellness. The spiritual lives of counselors and counselors-in-training, therefore, are considered with an emphasis on healthy spiritual practices that encourage mindfulness, heartfulness, and soulfulness.


People say that what we're seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we are seeking is an experience of being alive, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

--Joseph Campbell (Campbell & Moyer, 2001)

Various scholars have posited that spirituality is the core of wellness and inseparable from other aspects of wellness (Chandler, Holden, & Kolander, 1992; Myers, Sweeney, & Witmer, 2000; Sweeney & Myers, 2005; Witmer & Sweeney, 1992). In addition, spirituality is receiving attention in the counseling profession at a level unparalleled in history, as evidenced by the inclusion of spirituality in the accreditation standards of the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2001), a V-code for Religious or Spiritual Problems in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text, rev.; American Psychiatric Association, 2000), and a proliferation of scholarly writing on the subject (Cashwell & Young, 2005; Frame, 2003; G. Miller, 2002). Although the emphasis of wellness models, accreditation standards, diagnostic criteria, and much of the scholarly literature on spirituality is on client wellness and development, the spiritual lives of counselors and counseling students warrant attention as well. The purpose of this article is to define spirituality, to consider how the spiritual lives of counselors may affect their overall wellness and effectiveness, and to consider how disciplined spiritual practice may enhance counselor mindfulness, heartfulness, and soulfulness as aspects of counselor wellness.


Spirituality has been described as a universal phenomenon (W. Teasdale & Dalai Lama, 1999), and empirical evidence attests to the importance of spirituality and religion in the lives of Americans. One group of researchers (Princeton Religion Research Center, 2000) found that 96% of persons living in the United States believe in God; more than 90% pray; 69% are church members; and 43% have attended a church, synagogue, or temple within the past 7 days. These numbers only paint part of the picture, however, because there are many persons for whom their primary expression of spirituality is private rather than public. Furthermore, researchers have found spirituality to be highly important in the lives of mental health professionals (Carlson, Erickson, & Seewald-Marquardt, 2002; Young, Cashwell, & Wiggins-Frame, in press). Although our assumption cannot be empirically validated, it is our working assumption in this article that spirituality is universal.

Although research evidence suggests that spirituality and religion are far-reaching within society, there are challenges inherent in defining the construct of spirituality. Although we, the authors, consider spirituality to be a universal phenomenon (i.e., available to all people), it is also highly personal and developmental. That is, each person develops a highly personal spiritual life that changes over time. Thus, it is not possible to provide a single definition that is wholly inclusive (Fukuyama & Sevig, 1999). When individuals attempt to define spirituality, they discover not its limits but their own (Kurtz & Ketcham, 1992). As a result, many have chosen global definitions of spirituality. Unfortunately, such definitions lend themselves to a type of relativism that does not adequately mirror the growing body of literature on spiritual development (Faiver & Ingersoll, 2005).

These caveats notwithstanding, we choose here a discussion of spirituality that is highly practical.

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