Spirituality and Counselor Competence: A National Survey of American Counseling Association Members

By Young, J. Scott; Wiggins-Frame, Marsha et al. | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Spirituality and Counselor Competence: A National Survey of American Counseling Association Members


Young, J. Scott, Wiggins-Frame, Marsha, Cashwell, Craig S., Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


Until recently, many mental health professionals neglected issues related to religion and spirituality in their work with clients (Bergin, 1980, 1983; Frame, 2003; Henning & Tirrell, 1982; Hedge, 2001; Richards & Bergin, 1997; Schulte, Skinner, & Claiborn, 2002; Slife, Hope, & Nebeker, 1999; Zinnbauer & Pargament, 2000). Part of the explanation for excluding religion and spirituality from clinical work came from the conflict between the scientific, objective perspective of psychology and the transcendent, subjective aspects of religion (Burke et al., 1999; Lovinger, 1984; Pattison, 1978; Prest & Keller, 1993; Rayburn, 1985; Reisner & Lawson, 1992; Wallwork & Wallwork, 1990). The influence of Freud and, more recently, theorists such as Ellis and Skinner on psychology and the issues of separation of church and state in American politics and culture (Frame, 2003; Kelly, 1995; Myers & Williard, 2003) also contributed to the chasm between counseling on the one hand and religion and spirituality on the other.

In addition, with the exception of pastoral counselors, few mental health practitioners have received formal training in working with spiritual and religious issues in counseling (Burke et al., 1999; Collins, Hurst, & Jacobsen, 1987; Frame, 2003; Genia, 1994; Jensen & Bergin, 1988; Schulte et al., 2002; Shafranske & Malony, 1990). In fact, Kelly (1994) found that only 25% of 341 accredited and nonaccredited counselor education programs reported that spirituality and religious issues were included as a course component. Further research by Pate and High (1995) and Kelly (1997) revealed higher percentages of programs (60% in the Pate & High, 1995, study; slightly more than 50% in the Kelly, 1997, study) accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2001) that provided some attention to religious and spiritual issues in their curriculum.

Despite the fact that many counselors do not receive formal training in working with clients' religious and spiritual issues, surveys reveal that approximately 75% of Americans report that religion and spirituality are important to them (University of Pennsylvania, 2003). Indeed, a majority of families adhere to some religious system for the expression of their spirituality (Campbell & Moyers, 1988). Because there is such widespread commitment of the general population to some form of spirituality, it is not surprising that when faced with a major difficulty, two thirds of Gallup respondents indicated that they would prefer to see a counselor who held similar spiritual values and beliefs (Lehman, 1993). Furthermore, counselors themselves report spiritual and religious beliefs and practices at rates comparable with those of the general population (Kelly, 1995). Not to address issues of spirituality and religion in counseling is to ignore a vital aspect of clients' lives (Burke et al., 1999; Ellison, 1991; Frame, 2003; Hadaway, Marler, & Chaves, 1993; Miller, 1999; Wuthnow, 1994).

* Rationale for the Study

Beginning in 1995, a group of American Counseling Association (ACA) members, under the endorsement of the Association of Spiritual, Ethical, and Religious Values in Counseling (ASERVIC) met together in Belmont, North Carolina, at a gathering called the "Summit on Spirituality." The Summit was the result of conversations held by ASERVIC leaders who were interested in infusing spirituality into counseling (Miller, 1999). Mary Thomas Burke and Judy Miranti hosted the first meeting. Fifteen individuals from a cross-section of ACA divisions and representative of various regions of the United States were invited to participate. These persons were selected because they had published articles on spirituality in ACA journals or had written books on the topic (Miller, 1999). By the end of the 2 1/2-day meeting (which they attended at their own expense), they developed a description of spirituality rather than a definition and generated 10 competencies, which went through several drafts (J. …

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