Academic journal article Social Work

Spiritual Life Maps: A Client-Centered Pictorial Instrument for Spiritual Assessment, Planning, and Intervention

Academic journal article Social Work

Spiritual Life Maps: A Client-Centered Pictorial Instrument for Spiritual Assessment, Planning, and Intervention

Article excerpt

As Thayne (1998) observed, consumers' spiritual cosmologies can be a powerful resource in helping consumers deal with life's challenges. Indeed, major reviews on spirituality and religion have found a generally positive association between these two constructs and a wide array of salutary characteristics (Johnson, 2002; Koenig, McCullough, & Larson, 2001; Pargament, 1997). Furthermore, many consumers desire to integrate their spiritual belief systems into the therapeutic dialogue. Gallup data reported by Bart (1998), for instance, indicated that 81 percent of respondents wanted to have their spiritual values and beliefs integrated into the counseling process.

Although these developments have helped spark an interest in reintegrating spirituality into clinical settings, surveys have repeatedly found that most social workers have received little training on how to assess or operationalize consumers' spiritual strengths (Canda & Furman, 1999; Murdock, 2004). Without instruction on spiritual assessment, social workers are unlikely to tap consumers' spiritual strengths (Ronnau & Poertner, 1993). Accordingly, this article introduces practitioners to a new pictorial instrument for spiritual assessment--the spiritual lifemap.

Although spirituality and religion have been defined in a number of ways, they are generally understood to be overlapping although distinct constructs (Canda, 1997; Carroll, 1997). For the purposes of this article, spirituality is defined as an existential relationship with God (or perceived Transcendence) that fosters a sense of meaning, purpose, and mission in life. In turn this relationship produces salutary change, such as an increased sense of other-centered love, which has a discernible effect on an individual's relationship to self, others, and God (Hodge, 2000a).

Conversely, religion flows from spirituality, expressing the existential spiritual relationship in particular forms, rituals, beliefs, and practices that have been developed in community with other individuals who share similar phenomenological experiences of Transcendence (Hodge, 2000a). Although many exceptions exist, for most consumers spirituality is expressed through religion (Pargament, 1997).


As a client-constructed pictorial narrative of a spiritual journey, spiritual lifemaps are animated by what Hoyt (1998) refers to as the constructivist perspective, a family ofpostmodern therapeutic approaches that share a number of underlying assumptions regarding the client-practitioner relationship. In this perspective, hierarchical relationships that privilege practitioners' status are de-emphasized in favor of a more egalitarian alliance in which clients are considered to be experts on their own situations. Therapeutic goals are coconstructed and consumers' strengths, as opposed to deficits, are understood to be central to the clinical process. Empathic respect for divergent constructions of reality and a belief in the power of the therapeutic dialogue to foster empowering narratives are also stressed.

More specifically, the philosophical roots of the instrument can be traced back through 16 centuries of tradition in spiritual direction to the African writer Augustine (354-430/1991) and his seminal work, the Confessions, which is widely considered to be the first autobiographical work in recorded human history (Clark, 1993). In what Clark refers to as "an act of therapy," this spiritual biography chronicles Augustine's spiritual journey.

Spiritual lifemaps are a pictorial delineation of consumers' spiritual journeys. At its most basic level, a drawing pencil is used to sketch spiritually significant life events on paper. Thus, much like road maps, spiritual lifemaps tell us where we have come from, where we are now, and where we are going. The method is analogous to approaches drawn from art and family therapy in which a client's history is depicted on a "lifeline" (Tracz & Gehart-Brooks, 1999). …

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