The New ASERVIC Competencies for Addressing Spiritual and Religious Issues in Counseling

By Cashwell, Craig S.; Watts, Richard E. | Counseling and Values, October 2010 | Go to article overview

The New ASERVIC Competencies for Addressing Spiritual and Religious Issues in Counseling


Cashwell, Craig S., Watts, Richard E., Counseling and Values


In 2009, leaders in the Association for Spiritual, Ethical and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC) developed new competencies for addressing spiritual and religious issues in counseling. This article briefly addresses the need for new ASERVIC competencies, provides an overview of the process whereby the new competencies emerged, and concludes with a listing of the new ASERVIC-endorsed competencies.

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In May 2009, the Board of Directors of the Association for Spiritual, Ethical and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC) voted unanimously to approve the newly revised competencies for addressing spiritual and religious issues in counseling. The new ASERVIC competencies may be found in the Appendix as well as on the ASERVIC website (http://www.aservic.org/).

The purpose of this article is to address why the ASERVIC leadership deemed new competencies necessary, as well as provide a brief overview of the process whereby the new ASERVIC competencies emerged. In addition, this article serves to archive the competencies in the journal sponsored by the organization that developed them.

Why New Competencies?

In 1995, a group of counselors and counselor educators gathered for the first Summit on Spirituality. Challenged even to define spirituality given its numinous qualities, the Summit working group ultimately developed a description of spirituality and a set of competencies that would support counselors in serving clients from various religious and spiritual traditions. After a series of town hall meetings at professional conferences over several years, at which the competencies were discussed and refined by the Summit working group, a final draft was submitted for acceptance by ASERVIC. These competencies were endorsed by ASERVIC and have since been endorsed by the American Counseling Association Governing Council. The competencies were first archived in the Journal of Counseling & Development (Miller, 1999) and provided the impetus for a textbook for counselors and counselor educators (Cashwell & Young, 2005).

The establishment of these competencies was groundbreaking and supported the burgeoning groundswell of interest in spiritually sensitive counseling. The competencies were not, however, without some problems. Cashwell and Young (2005) chose to combine Competency 8 ("The professional counselor is sensitive to and receptive of religious and/or spiritual themes in the counseling process as befits the expressed preference of each client") and Competency 9 ("The professional counselor uses a client's religious and/or spiritual beliefs in the pursuit of the client's therapeutic goals as befits the client's expressed preference"), arguing that the two were inseparable at a practical level. There were also issues of clarity of language. What had been abundantly clear to the Summit working group when they developed the competencies was, at times, less clear to others. Furthermore, the original competencies emerged at a time in the counseling profession when leaders were still arguing for the legitimacy of including spirituality and religion within the counseling process. In time, however, the argument has changed from whether to include spirituality and religion into counseling to how best to do this, that is, from "if" to "how" (Briggs & Rayle, 2005). Finally, although the original competencies emerged through a diligent process from a working group, there is limited empirical validation (Young, Cashwell, Wiggins-Frame, & Belaire, 2002). Because of this, ASERVIC leaders opted to convene another Summit, called Summit II, beginning in the summer of 2008. One of the primary tasks of Summit II was to revise the competencies.

Summit II

In the fall of 2007, Lisa Jackson-Cherry, ASERVIC president, asked Craig Cashwell to serve as coordinator of Summit II. Working with ASERVIC leaders, Cashwell convened meetings in the summer of 2008 and spring of 2009.

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