Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

The Effects of a Manualized Group-Psychotherapy Intervention on Client God Images and Attachment to God: A Pilot Study

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

The Effects of a Manualized Group-Psychotherapy Intervention on Client God Images and Attachment to God: A Pilot Study

Article excerpt

The goal of this pilot study was to examine the effects of an 8-week, manualized, outpatient group-psychotherapy intervention on client god images and attachment to God. Participants were 26 adults who reported a Christian religious affiliation and who sought religiously based, group-psychotherapy treatment for difficulties in their emotional experience of God (i.e., negative god images). The treatment protocol reflected a psychotherapy-integrationist approach to treating god-image difficulties. Treatment chiefly included psychoeducational, dynamic-interpersonal, and cognitive interventions, although it also included allegorical-hibliotherapy and art/music interventions. The pre- and post-test questionnaire included the Attachment to God Inventory (R. Beck & McDonald, 2004) and a brief God adjective-checklist, along with several open-ended questions. Participants reported experiencing adaptive shifts in their god images and attachment to God. Specifically, when pre- and post-questionnaire ratings were compared, they reported experiencing God emotionally as more accepting, intimate, and supportive and as less disapproving, distant, and harsh. In addition, they reported experiencing significantly both less attachment anxiety with God and less attachment avoidance with God. Furthermore, they reported experiencing more congruence between their emotional experience of God (god images) and their theological beliefs about God (god concepts). The interventions that were deemed the most therapeutically effective were the allegorical-bibliotherapy and the cognitive-restructuring interventions. Clinical implications and limitations are discussed.

As Hathaway (2003) has highlighted, within the broad field of mental health, the past 20 years have marked a significant increase in the clinical attention that is devoted to religious/spiritual issues. For example, the American Psychological Association's (2002) Ethics Code now includes religion among the domains of diversity that mental-health professionals must address in a respectful and culturally responsive manner (Hays, 2007; Richards & Bergin, 2000). Another such development is the inclusion of the Religious or Spiritual Problem diagnostic category (V62.89) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition-Text Revision (American Psychiatric Association, 1994; see Turner, Lukoff, Barnhouse, & Lu, 1995). As its name implies, this category is meant to be used "when the focus of clinical attention is a religious or spiritual problem" (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, p. 685). For religiously/ spiritually oriented clients, god-image difficulties are a common Religious or Spiritual Problem that motivates them to seek psychotherapy (Allmond, 2009). In particular, such clients often experience a clinically significant discrepancy between their god concepts and their god images (Yarborough, 2009)-that is, between their head knowledge of a divine attachment figure (DAF; e.g., God, Allah, Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, etc.) and their heart knowledge of that same figure, respectively (Davis, 2010; Moriarty & Davis, in press).

In the current article, we report findings from a pilot study of an 8-week, manualized, outpatient group-psychotherapy intervention (entitled "Discovering God") that was designed to treat god-image difficulties, with a specific view toward improving client god images and attachment to God. Our treatment protocol reflected a psychotherapy-integrationist approach (Norcross & Golfried, 2005; cf. Moriarty & Davis, in press). It chiefly included psychoeducational, dynamic-interpersonal, and cognitive interventions, although it also included allegorical-bibliotherapy and art/music interventions. In the section that follows, we will briefly describe our psychodynamic-cognitive conceptualization of god images, on which both our treatment manual and our clinical interventions were based.

DEFINITIONS, DEVELOPMENT, AND DYNAMICS

Definitions

As Davis (2010) has described, god images are the affect-laden mental representations that underlie a person's embodied, emotional experiences in relationship with a DAF, such as God, Allah, Jesus, Buddha, or Krishna. …

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