Academic journal article Counseling and Values

Atheism and Nonspirituality as Diversity Issues in Counseling

Academic journal article Counseling and Values

Atheism and Nonspirituality as Diversity Issues in Counseling

Article excerpt

Counseling professionals have begun to realize that, in order to be as effective as possible, counselors must explore and understand the spiritual and religious beliefs of their clients. The literature on client belief systems and diversity, however, does not include discussion of individuals without religious or spiritual beliefs. The purpose of this article is to (a) suggest that atheism and nonspirituality should be included in the multiculturalism conversation and (b) offer ways that counselors might effectively help and nurture such clients.

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There has been a growing realization among counseling professionals that, in order to be as effective as possible, counselors must explore and understand the spiritual and religious beliefs of their clients (Hinterkopf, 1994; Ivey, Ivey, & Simek-Morgan, 1993; McCullough, 1999). Researchers and scholars have worked hard to give voice to these beliefs by exploring ways that counselors and counselors-in-training can use these personal beliefs to maximize the effects of treatment (Hinterkopf, 1994; Wolf & Stevens, 2001). Respecting diversity is not only vital to the helping relationship but also has become a question of ethical practice. Attention to religious and spiritual beliefs is so essential to the course of treatment that it has been incorporated into the ACA Code of Ethics (American Counseling Association [ACA], 2005; Section C.5., Nondiscrimination). Ceasar and Miranti (2001) have suggested that "counselors who choose to ignore these dimensions may be in violation of the code," and may "fail to promote the growth and development of their clients" (p. 211). Counselors adhere to a code of ethics that ensures acceptance of each person who seeks treatment, help, or support. Counselors pledge--if not to themselves, to their profession--that they will see all clients as individuals and accept them as they are, whatever they may believe about their existence and purpose. Clients expect counselors to respect, rather than challenge, their beliefs (Schaffner & Dixon, 2003).

The literature on counseling and spiritual and religious beliefs is vast and growing, as is that for other important diversity issues, such as gender, socioeconomic status, disability, age, culture, sexual orientation, language, trauma, and ethnicity (Weinrach & Thomas, 1996). Few counselors would argue with the fact that clients' contexts and what they believe about the meaning of life, morality, and life after death informs the counseling or therapy process.

The literature on the importance of client belief systems, however, does not include discussion of clients without religious or spiritual beliefs. No articles in the Journal of Counseling & Development or in the major educational, medical, and psychological databases (e.g., ERIC, Medline, PsycLIT, and PsycINFO) address atheism or how a counselor might approach a client who identifies as nonreligious or nonspiritual. The few articles that do address atheism tend to focus on the compatibility of beliefs between counselors and clients (Richards & Davison, 1989), the effects of nonbelief on the spiritual and psychological well-being of clients (Herzbrun, 1999), or the importance of respecting clients' religious/spiritual life during the counseling process (Miovic, 2004). As far as we can ascertain, very few articles focus on the counseling process specifically with atheistic and nonspiritual clients, and none address nonbelief as a diversity issue.

Weinrach and Thomas (1996) suggested that the reason this group has largely been ignored in the counseling literature is because scholars tend to focus their attention on topics that are politically correct and publishable, therefore ignoring topics that are likely to draw controversy. In our view, the current sociopolitical contour of the United States makes it unpopular to acknowledge, let alone focus, on this particular group, as is evidenced by the scarcity of scholarly material on this topic. …

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