Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Christian Clients' Preferences regarding Prayer as a Counseling Intervention

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Christian Clients' Preferences regarding Prayer as a Counseling Intervention

Article excerpt

Spirituality has increasingly become a consideration for mental health practitioners. As a result, spiritual interventions, including prayer, are now more frequently used in counseling. However, no research has explored Christian clients' expectations regarding prayer in counseling. This study surveyed first-visit Christian clients and their therapists to ascertain client expectations and therapist beliefs and practices. Analysis with two sample t-tests with unequal variances, one-way analysis of variance, simple linear regression, Pearson correlations, and Fisher's exact tests indicated that (a) 82% of clients desired audible prayer in counseling; (b) they preferred that therapists introduce the subject of prayer; (c) they had strong expectations that prayer would be included in counseling; (d) they wanted counselors to pray for them outside of session; (e) religious conservatives had higher expectations for prayer than did liberals; (f) clients with prior Christian counseling had higher expectations of prayer than did clients without. Research implications are discussed.


Spirituality has been increasingly recognized as important in mental health practice (Miranti & Burke, 1995; Wade & Worthington, 2003; West, 2004). Half of mental health professionals claim some type of religious affiliation, believe that spirituality is personally relevant, and value personal prayer (Bergin & Jensen, 1990; Carlson, Kirkpatrick, Hecker, & Killmer, 2002; Shafranske & Malony, 1990). Perhaps as a result, many mental health professionals consider spirituality to be important to people's well-being, including their clients' (Decker, 2007; Genia, 2000; Miranti & Burke, 1995; Wade & Worthington, 2003;). In fact, prayer is the most frequently used spiritual intervention by Christian counselors (Sorenson & Hales, 2002; Wade & Worthington, 2003). Even practitioners working in secular settings regularly incorporate prayer into their practices in some way (Ball & Goodyear, 1991; Marsden, Karagianni, & Morgan, 2007; Yoon & Black, 2006). For instance, such providers believe that praying for a client is appropriate, although most believe that praying with a client is inappropriate (Carlson et al., 2002; Gubi, 2004; Shafranske & Malony, 1990).

Many clients also want their religion or spirituality included within the context of counseling (Rose, Westefeld, & Ansley, 2001), perhaps because around 80% of the US population believes in God (Gallup, 2007) and the power of prayer (Princeton Survey Research Associates, 2003). Christian clients, in particular, expect prayer to be included in Christian counseling (e.g., Belaire & Young, 2002). Because sensitivity to clients' expectations helps build the therapeutic alliance, which in turn contributes to positive outcomes (Horvath & Symonds, 1991; Kim, Ng, & Ahn, 2005; Strauser, Lustig, & Donnell, 2004), methods for including prayer in counseling with some clients need to be examined. Important to this examination is determining client expectations about prayer in counseling; research is currently lacking about such expectations. This study rectifies that lack by surveying primarily Christian clients about their preferences regarding prayer in counseling. It further surveys their therapists about their beliefs and prayer practices in order to determine whether therapist factors are related to client expectations.


Historically, religion and psychology have been mutually exclusive disciplines, each field relying on competing theoretical assumptions (Wolf & Stevens, 2001). As indicated above, this situation is changing, and spiritual issues have more recently been deemed worthy subjects of study and research within mental health fields. "Religious or Spiritual Problem" was added to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 1994), and studies have linked people's spirituality with their mental health and clients' spirituality with effective psychotherapy (e. …

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