Spiritual and Religious Considerations of Michigan Counseling Association Members

By Langeland, Jennifer M.; Anderson, Mary L. et al. | Michigan Journal of Counseling, Spring-Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Spiritual and Religious Considerations of Michigan Counseling Association Members


Langeland, Jennifer M., Anderson, Mary L., Bischof, Gary H., Will, Bradley, Michigan Journal of Counseling


As counselors, avenues for explicitly exploring the role of spirituality in our own lives and in the lives of our clients have been wrought with uncertainty, mired by potential threats to personal freedoms, and filled with ethical dilemmas. Counselors, more and more are finding the need to navigate this interplay of secular life and spiritual life as clients wrestle with how to overcome obstacles, delusions and suffering (Burke, Hackney, Hudson, & Miranti, 1999). However, in the United States, the separation of church and state has been woven into the fabric of daily life. In an effort to ensure religious freedom, our founders separated religious or spiritual endeavors from the practices of government and education.

This split has created an implicit distinction in the American psyche, in that matters of religion or spirituality are of a personal nature and carry with them inherent bias and morals. While the usefulness and ethical importance of separating these domains is clear, the current resurgence of professional discussion on these topics suggests that religion and spirituality are not so cleanly addressed in artificial isolation (Burke et al., 1999; Burke & Miranti, 2001; Hickson, Housley, & Wages, 2000; Kelly, 1995; Miller, 1999). It is important to note this larger social discourse which separates religion and spirituality from public life. This principle, on which our country was founded, can inform our understanding of the relationship between spirituality and religion in the therapeutic process.

Spirituality and Religion

In order to provide an adequate discussion of the literature looking at the role of spirituality and religion in the lives of counselors, it is important to consider a confluence in the language used to describe these constructs. First, we will look at the ways in which the constructs have been defined by the counseling field and then how the concept of values has been used in conjunction with these terms.

There is a wide variety of literature attempting to discern the distinction between religion and spirituality; however, there has been no clear agreement in defining these interrelated concepts that are often used as interchangeable in the literature (Maher & Hunt, 1993). Counseling and psychology literature has attempted to define them as distinct constructs with overlapping meanings. Kelly (1995) states that "religion and spirituality have overlapping meanings insofar as they both point to a transcendent, meta-empirical dimension of reality" (p. xiv). He goes on to say that "spirituality generally signifies an affirmation of and participation in the in-depth, transcendent, holistically connected, and inherently meaningful dimension of reality" (p. xiv). Religion on the other hand "embraces spirituality, but also generally signifies specific modes and systems of belief, imaging, and practice that are often institutionalized in creeds, rituals and moral codes" (p. xiv). Burke & Miranti (2001) echo these definitions stating that spirituality is more of an internal and private experience that emphasizes purpose and meaning, while religious expressions take place in a public space and are situated within institutions. Spirituality is also described as being the unifying dimension of a person's life. That is, spirituality is an important component of health which integrates and gives meaning to the physical, emotional, intellectual and social needs of the person (Fuller, Brown, & Mills, 2006). While diverse definitions abound, an underlying commonality of both spirituality and religion has been described as a search for meaning and the sacred (Hill & Pargament, 2003). While definitions of these terms continue to evolve, however it is not clear how counselors define these terms in relation to their personal and professional lives.

One potential problem with using standard definitions of these constructs is that those counselors claiming religiousness may not see religion and spirituality as distinct (Richards & Bergin, 1997), while others may feel aligned with the concept of spirituality and reject institutionally based forms of religious belief (Kelly, 1994). …

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