Therapists' Integration of Religion and Spirituality in Counseling: A Meta-Analysis

By Walker, Donald F.; Gorsuch, Richard L. et al. | Counseling and Values, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Therapists' Integration of Religion and Spirituality in Counseling: A Meta-Analysis


Walker, Donald F., Gorsuch, Richard L., Tan, Siang-Yang, Counseling and Values


The authors conducted a 26-study meta-analysis of 5,759 therapists and their integration of religion and spirituality in counseling. Most therapists consider spirituality relevant to their lives but rarely engage in spiritual practices or participate in organized religion. Marriage and family therapists consider spirituality more relevant and participate in organized religion to a greater degree than therapists from other professions. Across professions, most therapists surveyed (over 80%) rarely discuss spiritual or religious issues in training. In mixed samples of religious and secular therapists, therapists' religious faith was associated with using religious and spiritual techniques in counseling frequently, willingness to discuss religion in therapy, and theoretical orientation.

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Therapists' integration of religion and spirituality in counseling has been evaluated in 26 studies of 5,759 psychotherapists from the fields of clinical and counseling psychology, psychiatry, social work, and pastoral counseling. We suggest that it is now appropriate to perform a meta-analysis of the existing research. We discuss the relevance of religion and spirituality to counseling, review methods of integrating religion and spirituality in counseling, and conduct a meta-analysis of studies concerning therapists' integration of religion and spirituality into counseling.

Relevance of Religion and Spirituality to Counseling

In the area of multicultural theory, psychologists have continued to call for psychological treatments and interventions that are culturally sensitive and relevant and that integrate aspects of client culture into the counseling process (D. W. Sue & Sue, 1999; S. Sue, 1999). In addition, psychologists have increasingly recognized that religion and spirituality are relevant aspects of client diversity that psychologists should be able to recognize while treating religious or spiritual clients with sensitivity (Ridley, Baker, & Hill, 2001; D. W. Sue, Bingham, Porche-Burke, & Vasquez, 1999).

Richards and Bergin (2000) have proposed that the integration of religious and spiritual culture in counseling is conceptually similar to the dynamics of more general multicultural counseling attitudes and skills previously advanced by other multicultural researchers (e.g., D. W. Sue & Sue, 1999). Richards and Bergin (2000) further suggested that multicultural competent attitudes and skills regarding religion and spirituality encompass several domains.

Among the domains of multicultural attitudes and skills most pertinent to this study are (a) an awareness of one's own cultural heritage, (b) respect and comfort with other cultures and values that differ from one's own, and (c) an awareness of one's helping style and how this style could affect clients from other cultural backgrounds. Hence, knowledge of religion and spirituality is an important element of therapists' multicultural competency.

Religion and spirituality are important aspects of multicultural competency for therapists to consider given the religious culture in America. Researchers have found that more than 90% of Americans claim either a Protestant or Catholic religious affiliation (Keller, 2000), 40% of Americans attend religious services on a weekly basis, and more than two thirds of Americans consider personal spiritual practices to be an important part of their daily lives (Hoge, 1996). Thus, it is important for counselors to understand how their own religious and spiritual culture may differ from that of the general populace and the clients whom they serve.

This meta-analysis has several aims. One purpose of this study was to examine via meta-analysis the spiritual and religious culture and values of counselors. We use this information to suggest ways in which therapists' religious cultures may differ from those of their clients and to explore how such differences might be constructively approached in counseling. …

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