The growing interest in the role that spirituality and religion play in mental health has spawned research investigating the relationships between spirituality, religion, and career development. To date, only a limited number of studies have explored these variables in tandem, but generally these investigations have found aspects of spirituality and religion to relate positively to career decision self-efficacy, career values, and job satisfaction. Theoretical models that explore the connection between these variables are outlined, and future research directions and counseling implications are suggested.
Over the past decade, psychologists' interest in understanding the role that spirituality and religion play in healthy human functioning has increased greatly. Religiousness generally refers to a person's relationship with a certain religion, church, or faith community. Spirituality, in contrast, can refer to varying concepts, such as an individual's relationship with a higher power or powers, a type of energy or guiding force, or a belief system in a common good (Hill & Pargament, 2003; Miller & Thoresen, 2003). The study of spirituality and religion has catapulted into mainstream psychology as an area that can shed light on many variables, including those tied to work and working. Thus, the purpose of this article is to explore how aspects of spirituality and religion relate to career development in research, theory, and practice. An overview of the current research regarding the role of spirituality and religion in health is presented, and connections between these variables and the career development process are explored.
Until recently, research on spirituality and religion in the field of psychology was generally confined to their relationships with physical health. A large body of literature supports the notion that individuals who are highly spiritual or religious suffer fewer physical health problems, recover from illness more quickly, and experience less stress during serious illness than those who are not (Koenig & Cohen, 2002; Thoresen, 1999). Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain these correlations, most notably that spirituality and religiousness serve as protective resources against contracting disease and as coping mechanisms when people are ill (Powell, Shahabi, & Thoresen, 2003). Research regarding the influence of spirituality and religion has slowly been broadened to encompass mental health as well as physical health (Hill & Pargament, 2003).
Spirituality and religiousness have each shown unique connections to aspects of mental health. Despite the varying definitions of spirituality, one way to conceptualize how it relates to mental health is through a support framework. Research has shown that across many mental health variables, strong social support contributes positively to life satisfaction and wellbeing (Turner, 1999). This research has been extended to suggest that individuals who feel supported by God incur a host of positive mental health attributes, such as less depression, lower levels of psychological stress, less loneliness, and higher levels of self-esteem (Larson, Milano, & Lu, 1998; Plante & Sharma, 2001). This support can also lead highly spiritual individuals to develop a worldview that promotes well-being and an optimistic outlook on life (Dull & Skokan, 1995; McIntosh, 1995; Sethi & Seligman, 1993). Research suggests that a person's spirituality can be analogous to a human relationship: Within this relationship, a person forms an attachment with a higher power or powers, which, if secure, can help that person feel supported and loved (Rowatt & Kirkpatrick, 2002; Sim & Loh, 2003). However, because an individual's spirituality is often very unique and nontraditional, the nature of spirituality as a support or coping mechanism remains an issue for debate and is still in need of extensive research.
Religiousness, whose definition has remained much more stable, has shown similar positive relationships to aspects of mental health. …