Academic journal article Counseling and Values

Perceptions of Clients and Counseling Professionals regarding Spirituality in Counseling

Academic journal article Counseling and Values

Perceptions of Clients and Counseling Professionals regarding Spirituality in Counseling

Article excerpt

Although current research indicates that psychotherapeutic change both affects and is affected by spiritual concerns, relatively little is known about the degree to which spirituality is used as an intervention in counseling and how it is perceived by clients and mental health professionals. The purpose of this study was to examine the perceptions of clients and professionals regarding the use of spirituality in counseling. The results suggest that more professionals may be using spirituality in counseling than has previously been reported.


Many individuals in today's society are pursuing a journey of spiritual development consistent with their belief that spirituality is vital for growth and essential for dealing with life's problems (Sperry, 2003). Approximately 95% of Americans polled declared that they believe in God or a Higher Power (Gallup & Lindsay, 1999), and many have stated that their faith is a central guiding force in their lives (Gallup, 1995). There are also signs that public interest in spirituality is rising. Recent research indicates that approximately 75% of Americans surveyed report that religion and spirituality are important to them (University of Pennsylvania, 2003).

In keeping with this national trend, it is not surprising that there has been a movement among clients who are seeking to deal with spiritual issues and concerns in the context of counseling. Two thirds of Gallup respondents indicated that they would prefer to see a counselor who held similar spiritual values and beliefs (Lehman, 1993), and it has been noted that clients are increasingly expecting that counselors will treat their spiritual concerns (Sperry, 2003). As a result, many mental health professionals are now considering the healing potential of a holistic view of mind, body, and spirit when it is incorporated into the therapeutic process (La Torre, 2002).

Defining Spirituality

Various definitions of the word spirituality exist in the professional literature, and there is little agreement on either the reality or the nature of the boundaries between religion and spirituality (Stanard, Sandhu, & Painter, 2000). Religion and spirituality are both thought to relate to the sacred, yet spirituality is usually described as a more subjective experience, and religion is defined as a set of beliefs or doctrines that are institutionalized (Stanard et al., 2000). The Association for Spiritual, Ethical and Religious Values in Counseling (1998) defined spirituality as "the drawing out and infusion of spirit in one's life" (para. 3), which involves an innate "capacity for creativity, growth, and development of a value system" (para. 4).

Use of Spirituality in Psychological Practice

Over the last 20 years, the role of religion in counseling and psychotherapy has become an important topic for discussion with serious implications for training and professional development (Worthington, Kurusu, McCullough, & Sandage, 1996; Young, Wiggins-Frame, & Cashwell, 2007). Not incorporating issues of spirituality and religion into counseling is to ignore an essential aspect of a client's life (Burke et al., 1999; Frame, 2003; Young et al., 2007). As a result, mental health professionals are starting to recognize the role that religion and spirituality can play in emotional well-being (Cashwell, 2001; Davis, Kerr, & Kurpius, 2003).

Although the majority of mental health professionals report that client spirituality is an important area of functioning, most do not routinely assess this topic or address it in treatment planning (Hathaway, Scott, & Garver, 2004). The recognition that the spiritual domain does not seem to be receiving an adequate level of clinical attention in routine practice may be due to mental health professionals' own disbeliefs in the spiritual realm, lack of education on the subject, or other unknown reasons (Gubi, 2004; La Torre, 2002; Miovic, 2004). …

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