Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Integrating Spiritual Direction into Psychotherapy: Ethical Issues and Guidelines

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Integrating Spiritual Direction into Psychotherapy: Ethical Issues and Guidelines

Article excerpt

Integrating spirituality and religion into clinical practice or psychotherapy has become a significant area of interest in the mental health field today. The present article focuses more specifically on integrating spiritual direction into psychotherapy, discusses ethical issues involved, and provides ethical guidelines for the appropriate and helpful use of spiritual direction in the context of psychotherapy and counseling


Integrating spirituality and religion into psychotherapy (Tan, 1996b, 1999c, 2001b) has become a significant area of interest and emphasis in the mental health field in general (e.g., Akhtar & Parens, 2001; Becvar, 1997; Canda & Furman, 1999; Cornett, 1998; Fukuyama & Sevig, 1999; Genia, 1995; Griffith & Griffith, 2001; Kelly, 1995; Lovinger, 1984, 1990; G. Miller, 2003; W. R. Miller, 1999; Nielsen, Johnson, & Ellis, 2001; Richards & Bergin, 1997, 2000, in press; Shafranske, 1996; Steere, 1997; Walsh, 1999; West, 2000), as well as in Christian counseling in particular (e.g., Anderson, Zuehlke, & Zuehlke, 2000; Benner, 1988, 1998; McMinn, 1996). A more specific focus that is receiving greater attention recently is integrating spiritual direction into psychotherapy and counseling (see Benner, 1998). These recent developments are part of a larger movement in the mental health and health arenas that has emphasized the significant relationship, often positive (though not always), between religion and health (e.g., Koenig, 1998, 1999; Koenig & Cohen, 2002; Koenig, McCullough, & Larson, 2001; Larson, Swyers, & McCullough, 1998; Plante & Sherman, 2001; also see Francis & Kaldor, 2002; Mills, 2002), although there are critics of this movement (see Sloan & Bagiella, 2002).

The literature on spiritual direction itself has mushroomed especially in recent years. Anderson and Reese (1999) reviewed contemporary definitions of spiritual mentoring or spiritual direction by Barry and Connolly (1982), Coombs and Nemeck (1984), Edwards (1980), Foster (1988), Guenther (1992), Jones (1982), Laplace (1988), Leech (1977), Merton (1960), and Peterson (1989). They also recommended a bibliography for spiritual mentoring or direction that further included Allen (1994), Gratton (1992), Hausherr (1990), and Kelsey (1983). More recently, several other significant books on spiritual direction have been published (e.g., Benner, 2002; Rosage, 1999; Ruffing, 2000; Stairs, 2000; also see Crabb, 1997, 1999; Moon, 1997a), including a more comprehensive text covering 12 biblical and practical approaches to spiritual formation (Boa, 2001).

A well-known definition of Christian spiritual direction is the following provided by Barry and Connolly (1982): "We define Christian spiritual direction, then, as help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God's personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship" (p. 8).

Benner (2002) most recently defined spiritual direction as a "prayer process in which a person seeking help in cultivating a deeper personal relationship with God meets another for prayer and conversation that is focused on increasing awareness of God in the midst of life experiences and facilitating surrender to God's will" (p. 94). He further pointed out that spiritual direction is not new, is not authoritarian, is not giving advice, is not discipling, is not preaching, is not moral guidance, is not teaching, and is not counseling, although it shares several common features with counseling or psychotherapy. Spiritual direction differs from counseling in at least three major ways, according to Benner: (a) counseling is problem centered whereas spiritual direction is Spirit centered; (b) counselors seek to be empathic to the inner experience of those seeking help from them, whereas spiritual directors make their empathic focus not so much on the directee but more on the Spirit of God; and (c) counselors engag e in note-taking and record-keeping whereas spiritual directors usually do not (also see Moon, 1994). …

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