Multicultural Training in Spirituality: An Interdisciplinary Review

Article excerpt

Is spiritual diversity a neglected dimension in preparation for multicultural competency? The authors present an interdisciplinary overview of research related to multicultural training in spirituality and religion to address this issue. Findings indicate that counseling program leaders have minimal preparation in spiritual and religious diversity and interventions. In addition, spiritual and religious themes appear to be minimally included in counseling program curricula. Some evidence also indicates that religious and spiritual diversity is not considered as important in multicultural training as are other kinds of diversity. A movement to include spirituality and religious content in accreditation guidelines, however, points to a possible shift to expand preparation for religious and spiritual competency. The article concludes with implications for counselor preparation and supervision.


Although research indicates that most counseling professionals support the principle of expanding multicultural training to include spiritual and religious aspects of diversity, it is uncertain whether counselor preparation programs actually do so. Graduate programs may be slow to adapt their training curricula to meet new educational requirements when faculty themselves lack competency in these areas. For the benefit of clients and their communities, mental health professionals need to obtain specialized knowledge and preparation in spiritual and religious aspects of diversity (Richards & Bergin, 2000a).

Reluctance on the part of programs to integrate content related to spiritual and religious diversity into training for mental health professionals is not new. Historically, an effort was made to define psychology and mental health in opposition to spirituality and religious experience (Freud, 1927; Watson, 1924/ 1983). Although a minority of early psychological theorists valued the exploration of religion and psychology (e.g., James, 1902; Jung, 1936), psychology as a whole portrayed religious beliefs and behaviors negatively and situated itself within a 19th-century naturalistic science that highlighted deterministic, reductionistic, and positivistic assumptions (Richards & Bergin, 1997). Philosophical underpinnings for the exclusion of spiritual and religious experience from the counseling field have, however, recently begun to shift (Zinnbauer, Pargament, & Scott, 1999). A zeitgeist is now emerging that supports the infusion of the spiritual dimension into clinical theory, practice, education, and research (Bergin, 1980; Brawer, Handal, Fabricatore, Roberts, & Wajda-Johnston, 2002; Fukuyama & Sevig, 1999; Pargament, 1997; Yarhouse & Fisher, 2002).

The impetus for this movement appears to come from several developments in the fields of counseling and counseling psychology as well as in U.S. society. The first development is the growth of behavioral health research that has linked clients' spirituality and religiosity with improved health outcomes (W. R. Miller & Thoresen, 2003). A second important development is greater awareness of the prominence of religion and spiritual issues in the life of the general population. Gallup polls have found that two thirds of Americans, when faced with a serious problem, would prefer to see a therapist who personally holds spiritual values and beliefs (Lehman, 1993). Most people who were questioned further indicated that they would prefer a therapist who integrates their values and beliefs into counseling and therapy (Gallup & Bezilla, 1994). The American Counseling Association (ACA) acknowledges the importance of spirituality and religion in clients' lives in its 2005 ACA Code of Ethics by pointing out, for example, the meaning of religious and spiritual support networks (Section A.1d.).

A third development is the significance of the multicultural competencies in the counseling literature and their significance as a foundation for counseling work (Arredondo et al. …