Academic journal article Counseling and Values

Spirituality: A Coping Mechanism in the Lives of Adults with Congenital Disabilities

Academic journal article Counseling and Values

Spirituality: A Coping Mechanism in the Lives of Adults with Congenital Disabilities

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to gain insight into the perspective of individuals with congenital disabilities about spirituality as a coping mechanism during crucial times in their lives, Qualitative analysis of interviews assessing turning points in the lives of 15 adults (6 women and 9 men; M = 37 years) with spina bifida, cerebral palsy, or attention deficit disorder was performed to determine how spirituality assisted them at these crucial times. Four recurring themes were identified: God as a guiding force, inner strength, meaning in life, and appropriateness of the use of spirituality in counseling, The authors discuss their findings and the use of spirituality in counseling adults with congenital disabilities.


Spirituality refers to the basic human need to experience meaning, purpose, and connectedness. It is a critical component of life that is central to all beliefs and faiths both within organized religion and outside it (McColl et al., 2000; Townsend, DeLaat, Egan, Thibeault, & Wright, 1999).

Mental health practitioners see the need to treat the whole person in the therapy session; however, few of them actually address spiritual beliefs in their daily practice (Shafranske, 1996). A recent meta-analysis (Walker, Gorsuch, & Siang-Yang, 2004) indicated that although most therapists viewed spirituality as important, few participated in spiritual or religious practices. Furthermore, the meta-analysis indicated that there was a positive relationship between participation in spiritual or religious practices and the use of spirituality in counseling. One may interpret these findings as recent support for earlier conclusions that few counselors address spiritual beliefs in their daily practice (Shafranske, 1996). This lack of discussion may be because of the minimal coverage that spirituality received in the training of mental health practitioners (Miller & Thoresen, 2003) or in the self-perceived inadequacy of faculty members to include such training (Young, Cashwell, Wiggins-Frame, & Belaire, 2003). It is an issue, however, that needs to be addressed given that 90% of people in North America have never doubted the existence of God and that 80% believe that prayer or meditation can lead to a cure (McCarthy, 1995). Gallup and Lindsay (1999) reported that 90% of people in the United States prayed and most of them (67%-75%) did so on a daily basis. Given the high number of people who hold spiritual beliefs, counselors may be remiss if they ignore this aspect during therapy, because it has the ability to shape and influence the lives of their clients.

The discussion of the role of spirituality and religion in counseling seems to have moved from questioning whether or not they can be beneficial in the therapy process to trying to determine how best to address their role. A recent issue of Counseling and Values (Engels, 2001b) was devoted entirely to spirituality and counseling. As Engels (2001a) noted, "there are various ways to express why and how spirituality relates to human development, and there are also various ways to attend to how and why counseling and psychotherapy might or must include attention to spirituality" (p. 162). This special edition raised many issues about the concept of working with spirituality in the therapy session, but the conclusion seemed to be that it is a framework within which counselors should operate.

Recent research has been concerned with how best to train counselors to work with spirituality issues in therapy sessions (e.g., Curtis & Glass, 2002). In addition to training, interest in issues surrounding different groups of people has also emerged as an area of research. Some of the groups of interest are (a) people with a conservative Christian background (Belaire & Young, 2002; Eriksen, Marston, & Korte, 2002), (b) people who are elderly (Benjamins, 2004; Pargament, Koenig, Tarakeshwar, & Hahn, 2004), (c) people with an African American background (Constantine, Lewis, Conner, & Sanchez, 2000; S. …

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