Academic journal article Counseling and Values

Religious Identity Status as a Model to Understand, Assess, and Interact with Client Spirituality

Academic journal article Counseling and Values

Religious Identity Status as a Model to Understand, Assess, and Interact with Client Spirituality

Article excerpt

Spirituality and religion are important concerns for many people; consequently, counselors must possess the knowledge and skills required for assisting clients with these issues. This article offers a conceptual framework, based on E. H. Erikson's (1980) notion of identity formation, for understanding, assessing, and discussing spirituality and religion. Religion can play a significant role in the structure of identity and can be categorized into four statuses: Diffusion, Foreclosure, Moratorium, and Achievement. Religious identity status can provide direction and guidance for counselors who wish to integrate spirituality and religion into counseling.

Gallup (1994, p. 72) survey respondents found that 88% of identified religion as either "very important" (59%) or "fairly important" (29%) in their lives. According to the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (1992), 66% of people surveyed indicated that they preferred a professional counselor who represented spiritual values and beliefs, and 81% preferred to have their own values and beliefs integrated into the process. Because spirituality and religion are important to so many individuals, counselors should not be surprised that some clients may want to talk about their faith as it relates to various life issues (Storey, 2000). Whereas a survey of clinical psychologists revealed that 74% of them viewed religious issues to be relevant in clinical practice, two thirds agreed with the statement, "Psychologists, in general, do not possess the knowledge or skills to assist individuals in their religious or spiritual development" (Shafranske & Malony, 1990, p. 75). Because of the complexity of these issues, counselors may feel ill equipped and, therefore, reluctant to enter this domain. This article presents a framework for understanding spirituality and religion, provides criteria for assessment, and offers suggestions to assist clients in their spiritual or religious development.

Concise definitions of spirituality and religion are difficult to construct. According to Schneiders (1989), spirituality is "the experience of consciously striving to integrate one's life in terms not of isolation and self-absorption but of self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives" (p. 684). Others suggest that spirituality is the core unifying process that provides direction and meaning in life (Witmer & Sweeney, 1992). Kelly (1995) described spirituality as "a personal affirmation of a transcendent connectedness in the universe and religion as the creedal, institutional, and ritual expression of spirituality that is associated with world religions and denominations" (p. 4). Religion is one manifestation of spirituality and, as a cultural phenomenon, "tends to involve societal institutions, shared beliefs, symbols, and rituals" (Wong, 1998, p. 367). Religion can be very spiritual when it is well integrated and internalized, or it can be devoid of spirituality when rituals and beliefs are meaningless (Wong, 1998). Although spirituality and religion are two distinct concepts, there is considerable overlap between them. This article focuses on religiosity but has implications for spirituality as well.

Spirituality and religion seem closely linked to Erikson's (1980) concept of identity, established during the transition between adolescence and adulthood. According to Erikson, identity is related to one's commitment to occupation and ideology (religious and political) and whether or not those commitments were made after a period of crisis or exploration. The ego virtue of fidelity is established through this developmental transition and "provides a conceptual link between religion and identity formation" (Markstrom-Adams, Hofstra, & Douigher, 1994, p. 453). Marcia (1966) expanded Erikson's stage of Identity vs. Identity Diffusion to include four possible categories of identity status: Diffusion, Foreclosure, Moratorium, and Achievement. Identity status is determined by exploration of and level of commitment to five content domains: vocational choice, political ideology, gender role attitudes, beliefs about sexual expression, and religious beliefs (Waterman, 1993b). …

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