The reported religious values of a sample of licensed professional counselors, psychologists, and upper division college students were examined. The survey assessed level of religiosity, religious enhancement (i.e., religion seen as a positive influence), and religious negativity (i.e., religion seen as a negative influence). In summary, counselors reported a higher level of religiosity than students, who reported a higher level of religiosity than psychologists. With regard to religious enhancement and negativity, there was not a significant difference between counselors and students. However psychologists reported a less positive attitude toward religion than either counselors or students. The discussion focuses on implications for clinical practice and future research.
Bergin (1991) reviewed evidence that mental health professionals differ from the general population in terms of religious/spiritual values, a phenomenon he referred to as a professional "religiosity gap." For example, while two thirds of the population consider religion to be "important" or "very important" in their lives, only 29% of therapists rate religious content as important in therapy. Also, he reported that 20% of mental health professionals indicated they had no religious preference compared to nine percent of the general public. Whereas 72% of the general public indicated that their approach to life was based on their religion, only 46% of mental health professionals endorsed this position. Mental health professionals have higher rates of atheism and agnosticism than the general population, according to Gallup (1989). Bergin and Jensen (1990) noted that data from numerous surveys suggest that therapists are less committed to traditional values, beliefs and religious affiliations than the general population.
Based on these data, there appears to be a discrepancy between the values of mental health professionals and a significant proportion of the clients they serve. A relevant question concerns the practical impact of this "religiosity gap." There is evidence that this value discrepancy contributes to the reluctance of some religious individuals to use mental health services (Larson, Pattison, Blazer, Omran & Kaplan, 1986; Larson, Donahue, Lyons, Benson, Pattison, Worthington & Blazer, 1989). Additionally, data suggest that when religious clients do pursue mental health services, they prefer therapy from ministers or church staff to secular therapists (McClure, 1987).
There appears to be considerable variability across different mental health disciplines in terms of religious/spiritual values. For example, Bergin and Jensen (1990) examined religious preferences and attitudes across four mental health disciplines (i.e., Marriage & Family Therapists, Clinical Social Workers, Psychiatrists, and Clinical Psychologists). In summary, family therapists were the most religious and clinical psychologists were the least religious. The authors concluded that a majority of the population probably prefers an orientation in counseling which is sympathetic or sensitive to a spiritual perspective, and that for two thirds of the population, a completely secular approach to therapy may provide an alien value framework.
While there may have been some moderation in recent years, the profession generally acknowledges psychology's cynical position on religion. For example, in a recent edition of the monthly newspaper of the American Psychological Association, Clay (1996) noted that psychologists have often taken a hostile stance toward religion, often viewing religious beliefs as a sign of weakness or even pathology. While the empirical literature examining the association between religiosity and mental health is laden with conflicting results, comprehensive meta-analysis and narrative reviews suggest that there is essentially no correlation between religion and mental illness (Bergin, 1991). Discrepant results are generally attributed to the multidimensional nature of religion. …