Spirituality and Religion: Implications for Counselors

By Hall, Charla R.; Dixon, Wayne A. et al. | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Spirituality and Religion: Implications for Counselors


Hall, Charla R., Dixon, Wayne A., Mauzey, Edward D., Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


Spirituality and religion have become more prominent in the counseling literature in recent years. Researchers have only begun the tedious task of designing and implementing quality research studies in this area. Miller and Thoresen (2003) recently published an article highlighting the following areas that should be of concern to those interested in furthering the field: (a) basic assumptions contributing to the sparsity of research dealing with spirituality; (b) overview of the emergence of research dealing with religion and health; (c) definitions of spirituality, religion, and religiousness; (d) a levels-of-evidence approach to reviewing studies; (e) the unique variance and causal modeling approaches to statistical control; and (f) criticisms and concerns about religion and health. The following is a review of Miller and Thoresen's article along with some implications for counselors and the counseling profession.

BASIC ASSUMPTIONS CONTRIBUTING TO THE SPARSITY OF RESEARCH DEALING WITH SPIRITUALITY

Miller and Thoresen (2003) stated that the assumptions that spirituality cannot and should not be studied scientifically have had an impact on the meager amount of research in this area. They believe these assumptions are erroneous and that the area is a prime one for developing and conducting quality research projects. Of course, researchers must maintain objectivity while delving into one of the most important areas of people's lives and belief systems.

RELIGION AND HEALTH RESEARCH

During the 1990s, more and better studies investigating the relationship between religion and health emerged, and Miller and Thoresen (2003) indicated that physical, mental, and substance use disorders were an closely linked to variables related to religion. The National Institute of Health funded research studies, and controlled investigations were initiated. Although the amount of research is increasing and the quality is improving, the majority of the most dependable studies have been performed in the United States. Expansion of this research to include other cultures and populations would be ideal.

DEFINITIONS OF SPIRITUALITY RELIGION, AND RELIGIOUSNESS

As one might expect, defining spirituality, religion, or religiousness is not an easy task. Miller and Thoresen (2003) indicated that these constructs have both shared and idiosyncratic characteristics. They noted that most empirical studies have treated the terms as almost synonymous, with the focus on the religious rather than the spiritual aspect, probably due to ease of measurement. Thoresen (as cited in Miller & Thoresen, 2003) suggested that one possible way to differentiate among the three constructs is to view religion as primarily a social phenomenon while understanding spirituality on an individual level. Furthermore, religiousness is generally viewed as being rooted in religion, whereas this is not necessarily the case for spirituality. It is noteworthy that when studying differences between those claiming to be religious and those claiming to be spiritual, Woods and Ironson (as cited in Miller & Thoresen, 2003) found that God was viewed as loving, forgiving, and nonjudgmental by those who considered themselves spiritual, whereas those identifying themselves as religious saw God as more judgmental.

A LEVELS-OF-EVIDENCE APPROACH TO REVIEWING STUDIES

Miller and Thoresen (2003) discussed the National Institute of Health Working Group on Research on Spirituality, Religion, and Health and suggested criteria that this group might use for judging how well hypotheses related to spiritual, religious, and health variables were supported. Miller and Thoresen recommended a levels-of-evidence approach to summarize the scientific evidence. The basic intention was to provide parallel standards of evidence across reviews, similar to the way some epidemiologists have endeavored to standardize criteria for evaluating efficacy trials across various health areas. …

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